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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 8 of the 2017 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Chiefs back to producing turnovers in big Monday night win-The sight was oh-so-familiar to Chiefs fans: That familiar speed of Jamaal Charles hitting the hole, the talent that made him one of the NFL’s best running backs during nearly a decade in Kansas City.
When he coughed up the ball Monday night, it was another familiar sight.
Not that Charles fumbled, though he had his share of those over the years.
But that the Chiefs’ underperforming defense, which had been among the best in the NFL at taking the ball away the past couple of years, had finally produced a turnover in a crucial spot.
The fact that Marcus Peters picked up his strip of Charles, the first of five forced turnovers, and ran it 45 yards for a touchdown to open their 29-19 victory simply made it that much better.
“That’s big, anytime you can get a strip, plus you score with it,” Chiefs linebacker Justin Houston said. “You put points on the board. You get a turnover. That’s what you want as a defense. If you can turn it over and score yourself? That’s our goal as a defense is to get at least one touchdown a game.”
The problem with the Chiefs lately hasn’t been scoring off turnovers, though.
It’s been getting turnovers at all.
They rolled into their Monday night showdown with Denver with just five interceptions and two fumble recoveries through their first seven games.
Their total of 13 takeaways was tied for 25th in the league, a number that is hardly acceptable for a defense predicated on making big plays.
You see, the Chiefs don’t stonewall opponents like the Broncos. They give up yards in chunks, content to know that their playmakers will often force a turnover when their backs are against the wall.
So compare their totals this season to last season, when the Chiefs led the NFL with 18 picks, 15 fumble recoveries and 33 total takeaways.
Or to the previous year, when their 22 interceptions was second and their 29 total takeaways placed them firmly in the top five of that crucial category.
It made Monday night feel like a throwback in Kansas City.
“Well, we pride ourselves off of turnovers and sacks,” Chiefs linebacker Derrick Johnson said in a joyous locker room Monday night.
“That was a night where we created moments of momentum. Stopping them on fourth down, intercepting a ball, getting sacks. Those are big.”
The Chiefs didn’t force any turnovers the previous week against the Raiders, when they allowed Derek Carr to torch them for 417 yards passing and three touchdowns in a last-second 31-30 loss.
They only forced one the previous week in a 19-13 loss to the Steelers.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid said producing turnovers wasn’t a particular emphasis during the extra time between their Thursday night game in Oakland and their Monday night game against Denver.
Rather, it’s a point of emphasis every day in practice — stripping ball-carriers and picking off passes.
“It’s always a focus. Those things kind of come in cycles, so that’s how it works,” Reid said. “We had opportunities today and we took advantage of it. Caught the ball well, went out and stripped the ball out well when we had an opportunity, but we always stress that and the players are always trying to make the play. It just happened to happen like that.”
Now, the Chiefs were helped out by an impotent Broncos offense and poor special teams.
The first interception thrown by Trevor Siemian looked as if his target the entire time was Peters, who broke on a post route for an easy pick.
The second was a downfield heave that safety Ron Parker was able to leap up and grab. And the final interception by Kenneth Acker was an egregiously poor cross-body throw toward the middle of the field that was nowhere near a Denver receiver.
The Broncos’ second fumble came when rookie return man Isaiah McKenzie dropped a punt and the Chiefs jumped on it deep in their own territory. Kansas City turned it into a field goal moments later.
Still, the Chiefs were opportunistic enough to take advantage of the Broncos’ gifts, and the result was a fourth straight victory over their AFC West rival and now a stranglehold on the division.
“We were focused getting back on the winning side of the ball,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said. “‘Let’s focus on us, not about Denver. Let’s play our game.’ That was the focus point of this weekend. I feel like we did that. We had fun, we created turnovers, everybody jumping up. The crowd got into it. That’s what it is all about.”
- Panthers blitzing more on defense, winning games-The Panthers are bringing the heat under first-year coordinator Steve Wilks — and it’s working.
Carolina is 5-3 at the midway point of the season, due in large part to its blitzing defense.
The Panthers rank No. 2 in the league in overall defense and have held half of the eight opposing offenses they’ve faced this season without a touchdown. They’re second in the league in sacks with 27.
“Steve’s personality is an aggressive style guy,” Panthers coach Ron Rivera said.
The numbers attest to that.
The Panthers are blitzing nearly 42.6 percent of the time this season on passing plays, which represents a dramatic 17.3 percent increase over last season under Sean McDermott, according to Pro Football Focus. McDermott left this past offseason to become the head coach of the Buffalo Bills.
The only team in the NFL blitzing more than the Panthers is the winless Cleveland Browns (45 percent).
Wilks agrees that he has an aggressive, attacking mentality, but said Carolina’s blitz scheme is based on matchups.
“At times it will be more aggressive based off what we see on tape and other times it may be more front coverage,” Wilks said.
“With Tom Brady there’s no real need to pressure him because you’re not going to get (to the quarterback), so you have to be more creative with your front coverage and what you’re trying to take away.”
It helps, of course, the Panthers reacquired free agent defensive end Julius Peppers this offseason to go along with two of the game’s best linebackers in Luke Kuechly and Thomas Davis. In Kuechly and Peppers, the Panthers have two potential Hall of Fame players.
The 37-year-old Peppers has responded with 7½ sacks in eight games, including two strip-sacks.
But Wilks also likes to mix his blitzes up, sometimes sending Captain Munnerlyn after the quarterback on a corner blitz. Carolina’s defense has only allowed six points in the past two weeks.
“We’re playing good,” Kuechly said. “Steve Wilks and all those guys are doing an excellent job of game-planning and putting us in position to be successful and utilizing what we do well.
“Those coaches listen (to the players). They’re not hard-headed. They do a great job with us. They motivate us. They do a good job of making sideline corrections and in-game adjustments. It’s fun to play for them.”
Peppers said the Panthers can still be better.
The Panthers limited the 49ers, Bills, Bears and Bucs offenses to three points each. However, they allowed 34 points to the Saints, 30 to the Patriots, 28 to the Eagles and 24 to the Lions.
They’re a half-game behind the Saints in the NFC South entering a crucial division game this Sunday at home against the Falcons.
“We feel like we’re a playoff team,” Peppers said. “We’re never going to be satisfied with anything we do, but to be 5-3 right now and get the road win, get off the two-game skid, it was big for us.”
One thing the Panthers haven’t done well on defense is create turnovers.
Carolina had only four takeaways in its first seven games. But the Panthers are hoping the tide has turned after forcing a season-high three on Sunday in a 17-3 win over the Buccaneers.
“Sometimes they come, sometimes they don’t,” Kuechly said. “…When we rush and pressure like we did (against Tampa bay), the ball comes out quick.”
- Steelers ditching style points on way to top of AFC North-The offense expected to light up scoreboards is instead grinding it out.
The way the Pittsburgh Steelers defense is playing, it hardly matters.
The team expected to compete for a Super Bowl berth looks the part at the season’s midway point. The Steelers just aren’t doing it the way most envisioned.
Rather than race up and down the field with an offense that features the highest-paid wide receiver and running back in the league, it’s the remade-on-the-fly defense has propelled Pittsburgh.
The proof came in a 20-15 victory over Detroit on Sunday night. And while Pittsburgh gave up 482 yards to Matthew Stafford and company, the Lions never reached the end zone.
Five times Detroit ventured inside the Steelers 20. The results? Three field goals and two failed attempts on fourth down.
“We gave up a lot of yards, but we definitely didn’t break when we needed to the most,” linebacker Ryan Shazier. “And then I feel like it really helped us grow a bit.”
Pittsburgh (6-2) heads into its bye week firmly atop the AFC North after its third straight win. While the defense slipped from second to fourth in total yards after letting the Lions go up and down Ford Field, the Steelers are tied for second in points allowed. Heady territory for a unit that doesn’t have starter over 30.
“I know we had some mishaps, but I’m glad we’re 6-2,” defensive end Cameron Heyward said.
With considerable room for improvement, particularly the $92 million offense.
The unit that once — albeit not this season — said it wanted to make scoring 30 points the norm has struggled at times to reach 20.
Le’Veon Bell’s slow start following his decision to skip training camp didn’t help. Neither has the enigmatic play of wide receiver Martavis Bryant, who spent Sunday night on the sideline in sweat pants after being deactivated by coach Mike Tomlin for making the ill-advised decision to vent his frustrations on social media .
Yet the Steelers have turned things around after a 30-9 mauling at home by Jacksonville, a loss that included a pair of pick-6s thrown by Ben Roethlisberger, who facetiously wondered if he still had “it.”
Three straight victories have followed and while Roethlisberger is still searching for consistency — his completion rate (61.1 percent) is his lowest since 2008 — he’s developed a rapport with rookie wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster, taking some of the pressure off All-Pro Antonio Brown.
Smith-Schuster had career highs in receptions (seven) and yards receiving (193) against the Lions, showcasing a burst even he wasn’t sure he had on a 97-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown in the third quarter that served as the longest pass play in the franchise’s 86-year history.
Smith-Schuster also sealed the win by taking a shovel pass from Roethlisberger and bulling for a first down with less than two minutes to go, a conversion that allowed the Steelers to run out the clock.
“The best player under 21 ever and I mean that,” Bell said of his teammate, who turns 21 on Nov. 22.
One with a burgeoning national profile. Smith-Schuster’s “hide and seek” touchdown celebration with Bell a week ago went viral.
Then the bicycle he rides from his apartment to the team’s training facilitywas stolen , leading to breathless and not entirely tongue-in-cheek news coverage before it was recovered.
Smith-Schuster made light of it after his record-setting score against Detroit, taking a chain and looping it around a stationary bike on the Pittsburgh sideline.
It was a light moment on a night where the Steelers again struggled to put away an opponent. For all of the talent in the huddle, Pittsburgh is 30th in the league in converting red zone possessions into touchdowns.
Even the typically sure-handed Bell had a momentary lapse, fumbling at the Detroit 21 late in the second quarter.
“‘I’m glad we got out of the game with a ‘W’, but we still can go back, look at the film and look at, ‘Oh look, we can clean this up. We can do this,'” Bell said.
“We know we haven’t played our best football yet and we’re just glad that we’re able to get the wins where we’re getting them, whether they’re pretty or not.”
Maybe that’s the surest sign of maturity on a team that will get a much-needed break before beginning the second half of the season at injury-ravaged Indianapolis on Nov. 12 before playing five of their final seven at Heinz Field.
“Going to the bye at 6-2 feels really good,” Roethlisberger said. “It can be frustrating at times offensively because we’re not executing the way we want to, but we’re finding ways to win football games.”
- NFL’s deadline features some big trades for a change-The NFL trade deadline finally featured some big-name buzz.
The winless San Francisco 49ers acquired New England backup quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo , and the NFL-leading Philadelphia Eagles bolstered their running attack Tuesday by adding Jay Ajayi from Miami.
The Buffalo Bills, who at 5-2 are off to their best start since 1993, upgraded their receiving group by acquiring Kelvin Benjamin from the Panthers for their third- and seventh-round picks in next year’s draft.
The trades came a day after the Seattle Seahawks agreed to send cornerback Jeremy Lane and two draft picks to Houston for left tackleDuane Brown .
Midseason trades rarely bring much excitement or shake up the playoff races. Most years the NFL trade deadline comes and goes without much happening.
In each of the past two years, the biggest name bandied about was 10-time Pro Bowler Joe Thomas, but he never left Cleveland for a contender. It wasn’t even a possibility this season after the star left tackle tore his left triceps Oct. 16, an injury that required season-ending surgery and ended his consecutive plays streak at 10,363.
The Niners agreed to send a 2018 second-round pick to the Patriots in the deal that will be official once Garoppolo passes a physical.
San Francisco (0-8) had been expected to either draft a quarterback high in the first round next year or try to acquire a proven starter such as Kirk Cousins in free agency.
Instead, coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch decided to strike early and put the fate of their franchise in the hands in a quarterback who has started just two games in four NFL seasons.
Garoppolo, a second-round pick in 2014, is in the final year of his contract. By acquiring him now, San Francisco gets a head start on negotiating a long-term deal to keep him or can use the franchise tag on him in free agency.
Garoppolo won two starts in place of a suspended Tom Brady at the start of the 2016 season. He completed 42 of 59 passes for 496 yards, four touchdowns and no interceptions. He got hurt in the second quarter of his second start and has thrown just four passes since then.
The Eagles sent a 2018 fourth-round pick to the Dolphins for Ajayi, who has 465 yards rushing and is averaging 3.4 yards per carry with no touchdowns. He went to the Pro Bowl last season after running for 1,272 yards, including three 200-yard games.
Dolphins coach Adam Gase signaled his displeasure with Ajayi last week after Miami was routed 40-0 at Baltimore, noting missed blocking assignments in pass protection.
LeGarrette Blount leads Philadelphia with 467 yards rushing and is averaging 4.7 yards a carry with two touchdowns.
The Eagles (7-1) have the fifth-ranked run offense and have won six straight games heading into Sunday’s game against Denver (3-4), which has lost four of five.
Benjamin immediately becomes the Bills leading receiver with 32 catches for 475 yards and two touchdowns this season. Overall, he’s scored 18 touchdowns in 40 games, and the 6-foot-5, 245-pound Benjamin provides quarterback Tyrod Taylor a big target, particularly in the red zone.
It’s the fourth significant trade by Buffalo since August, when the Bills dealt starting receiver Sammy Watkins to the Los Angeles Rams and starting cornerback Ronald Darby to Philadelphia. On Friday, Buffalo traded its highest-paid player, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, to Jacksonville.
Also, the 49ers sent cornerback Rashard Robinson to the New York Jets for a 2018 late-round draft pick.
It was unclear if Robinson would be available for the Jets’ game Thursday night against Buffalo. He provides depth — and a potential starter — for New York. Morris Claiborne is dealing with a sore foot and Buster Skrine is in the league’s concussion protocol.
- Watson shines, but Houston’s defense struggles without Watt-Texans rookie quarterback Deshaun Watson continued his record-setting play in a loss to Seattle on Sunday.
However, Houston’s defense will have to pick things up for the Texans to get back in the win column on Sunday against Indianapolis.
The Texans (3-4) allowed Russell Wilson to pile up 472 yards in the 41-38 loss as they gave up more than 40 points for the second time in three games on a day when Watson had four touchdown passes to become the first rookie to throw at least three in four straight games.
The unit took a huge hit when three-time Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus both sustained season-ending injuries in a 42-34 loss to Kansas City on Oct. 8.
Coach Bill O’Brien was asked what the defense needs to improve.
“Our defense did a great job of stopping the run, but there were … too many pass plays that were 20 yards or more down the field,” he said.
“Our guys need to do a better job of combining coverage and rush. Our coaches, all of us, starting with me, we all just need to kind of get back in there … and start meeting with these guys and clean up the mistakes and move on to Indianapolis.”
Houston has been good against the run all season, allowing just 96.6 yards a game which ranks ninth in the league. The problems have been in the passing game where the Texans are giving up 238 yards a game, which is 22nd.
The Texans have struggled to generate much of a pass rush in the wake of the injuries. With Watt and Mercilus out, teams have routinely sent two and sometimes three players to keep Jadeveon Clowney out of the backfield.
Clowney was frustrated that the Texans lost another game where they were leading late after also dropping a game to the Patriots on a touchdown in the final minute.
“We have to figure out how to close games,” he said. “This has happened twice, and both teams have been to the Super Bowl. We’ve got to start doing better at the end of games.”
With Andrew Luck still out with a shoulder injury, the Texans face Jacoby Brissett when they host the Colts on Sunday.
The Texans already have history with Brissett after he led the Patriots to a 27-0 win over them last season in his first NFL start while filling in when Tom Brady served a suspension.
Brissett threw for just 103 yards in that game, but added 48 yards rushing and a touchdown to help the Patriots to the victory.
“He’s a good player. He’s big … he beat us with his feet,” O’Brien said. “I think he’s going to be hard to handle.”
Houston’s secondary got a boost by the return of cornerback Kevin Johnson, who missed four games with a knee injury, on Sunday. He finished with five tackles, but O’Brien is looking for more from him this week.
“He’s been out for a while, so I think probably knocking some of the rust off, but I think he, like he always does, he competes hard,” O’Brien said.
“He’s a great kid and he’ll get better and better. He’s been out for a while so it takes a while to get back into it.”
The loss to the Seahawks capped a difficult week where the Texans dealt with owner Bob McNair’s “inmates running the prison” comment.
The majority of the Texans kneeled during the national anthem on Sunday, after none of them had kneeled before.
It raised questions about whether McNair’s comments were a distraction to the team against Seattle, and if what happened will continue to hang over the Texans.
O’Brien said that he supports his players and their right to protest “100 percent” and said he’s discussed the issue with a number of them.
“Hopefully we can move forward,” he said. “I talked to a few guys after the game, I’m not saying I talked to every player after the game, but I talked to a few guys and it’s really time to move forward and concentrate on football.
“In the end, we’re here to coach and to play football and to win football games. That’s ultimately what we’re judged upon.”
- Browns-Bengals trade ditched by paperwork mishap at deadline-Clock management hurt the Browns again.
And this time, it cost them a quarterback.
Failing to get the necessary paperwork to the NFL offices by Wednesday’s 4 p.m. trade deadline, Cleveland’s proposed deal to get Cincinnati quarterback AJ McCarron fell apart in the final minutes, the latest misstep for a team unable to solve its quarterback riddle.
The teams had an agreement in place, sending McCarron to Cleveland for draft picks, but the required documentation — paperwork signed by both clubs — arrived in New York too late, said league spokesman Brian McCarthy. He did not provide any further detail about why the transaction wasn’t finalized.
The Browns have spent much of the past two decades in a failed search to find their franchise quarterback. McCarron might not have been that answer either, but the 27-year-old could have provided leadership and another option while the team develops rookie DeShone Kizer, who has had an uneven first seven starts.
The administrative glitch comes one day after the New England Patriots traded Jimmy Garoppolo — a quarterback on Cleveland’s radar for months — to the San Francisco 49ers for a 2018 second-round pick. The Browns, who have three second-round picks in next year’s draft, had previous discussions about Garoppolo but were unable to strike a deal.
On top of that, Browns fans have had to watch Carson Wentz and Deshaun Watson, two players the team could have drafted in the past two years, excel in Philadelphia and Houston, respectively, while Cleveland has gone 0-8 this season and 1-23 under coach Hue Jackson.
Jackson’s history with McCarron is what drew the Browns toward the Bengals backup, who made three starts, including one in the playoffs, when Andy Dalton was injured in 2015. McCarron could have helped the Browns plug the gap while Kizer develops or until the team drafts another QB.
The 6-foot-3, 220-pound McCarron has completed 66 percent of his passes for 854 yards with six touchdowns and two interceptions with Cincinnati.
Jackson’s future in Cleveland is uncertain as he Browns enter their bye week winless at the season’s halfway point for the second year in a row. He has been criticized for his handling of Kizer, who has been benched three times, as well as some head-scratching decisions during games.
Cleveland’s front office, led by Sashi Brown, is also under pressure as a plan to turn around the team has shown minimal progress.
Browns owners Dee and Jimmy Haslam have professed patience, but it will be tested by the group’s inability to complete even a basic trade.
- Week 8 filled with apologies, anger, anguish-The NFL’s Week 8 was filled with apologies, anger and anguish.
Texans owner Bob McNair and Buccaneers safety T.J. Ward expressed regret for their words. Houston star DeAndre Hopkins and Steelers receiver Martavis Bryant got mad, but only Hopkins channeled that feeling onto the field.
The Chicago Bears cringed as they watched Zach Miller carted off the field with a serious knee injury while officials crossed off his over-the-shoulder touchdown catch.
The week began with Baltimore’s 40-0 whitewash of the Dolphins on Thursday night in which starting quarterback Joe Flacco was concussed on a late hit, and his backup was choked by Ndamukong Suh.
DOUBLE-WHAMMY : Bears rookie QB Mitchell Trubisky thought he had floated a 25-yard touchdown pass to Miller in New Orleans on Sunday. Instead, the Bears were hit with a double-whammy they could not overcome: a serious knee injury to their tight end a replay reversal with which they disagreed.
Miller dislocated his left knee when he landed in the end zone. The gruesome injury, which was replayed several times on the scoreboard, forced the 33-year-old tight end to be carted off and taken to University Medical Center New Orleans, where he underwent emergency surgery to repair a damaged artery and save his leg.
Officials ruled after a replay review that the ball hit the ground when Miller bobbled it on his way down. Miller appeared to lose the ball while seated and trying to deal with the pain in his leg.
“I thought he had control the whole time,” argued running back Jordan Howard.
FLACCO FLATTENED : The Ravens were angered after watching Flacco being helped off the field, bleeding and disoriented following a late hit by Dolphins linebacker Kiko Alonso.
Flacco sustained a concussion after he went into a slide and Alonso hit him, sending his helmet flying.
“He was sliding, and the guy came in high. They’re trying to take that play out, but it happens,” safety Eric Weddle said. “Maybe they’ll look at in in the offseason, and in that situation, the guy should get ejected.”
Alonso was flagged but not kicked out. He insisted the hit to the head wasn’t intentional.
“I thought he was going to slide. And then, I had to hit him, because he slid too late,” Alonso said. “It was bang-bang.”
In the fourth quarter, the oft-fined Suh grabbed Ryan Mallett by the throat after Mallett got in his face for hitting him after an offside whistle.
PLAYER PROTEST : Just when the national anthem hubbub had died down a bit and protests were returning to pre-President Trump criticism levels, three dozen Texans took a knee during “The Star-Spangled Banner” in Seattle. That was in response to McNair’s “inmates running the prison” comment during NFL meetings about player protests.
It was the first time any of the Texans had knelt during the anthem this season. The team stood with arms locked before kickoff on Sept. 24 in New England, the weekend when more than 200 players around the league protested following the president’s barbs.
McNair issued two apologies attempting to explain his comments after a report revealed that he said “we can’t have the inmates running the prison” during a meeting of NFL owners about players who, following the lead of former NFL quarterback Colin Kaepernick, protest social injustices by kneeling during the national anthem.
McNair said he wasn’t referring to players but to the relationship between the league office and team owners.
Hopkins, who didn’t practice Friday after McNair’s comments came to light, had the second-best game of his career Sunday with 224 yards receiving in the Texans’ 41-38 loss.
BRYANT BENCHED : There’s trouble brewing in Pittsburgh even as the Steelers hit their halfway mark at 6-2.
Coach Mike Tomlin benched Bryant after his social media outburst following a victory over Cincinnati last weekend. Bryant complained about his role in the offense and insisted he meant no ill will when he suggested on Instagram that he was better than rookie teammate JuJu Smith-Schuster — who caught a 97-yard TD pass in a 20-15 win over the Lions on Sunday.
Bryant doubled down during the week, saying he feels he’s better than any receiver he’s ever played with, although he did apologize for being a distraction.
Asked Sunday if he’s confident Bryant will help the team over the second half of the season, Tomlin said, “I’m not.”
WARD’S WORDS : After saying he was at “wit’s end” over his rotational role in Tampa Bay, Ward said he wished he’d gone straight to his coaches with his complaints rather than airing them publicly.
The safety complained last week about his lack of playing time in the wake of a last-minute loss to the Bills.
“I did not come here to rotate,” the eighth-year pro said after that game. “I did not come here to be a part-time player. I came here to make this defense better, be on the field 100 percent of the time. I destruct offenses. That’s what I do. I need to be out there.”
Coach Dirk Koetter noted Ward, who’s missed two games with injuries, wasn’t in training camp with the Bucs and missed most of Denver’s training camp with a hamstring injury.
“Then, he’s been hurt a majority of the time since he’s been here,” Koetter said. “I’m sure he’s frustrated. Every player wants to be out there the whole time.”