What Have We Learned From Preseason into the Regular Season of the 2018 NFL Season

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Falcons Eagles Football

Philadelphia Eagles owner Jeffrey Lurie, right, and head coach Doug Pederson celebrate after the NFL Super Bowl 52 football game against the New England Patriots, in Minneapolis. Before the Eagles begin their quest for a repeat, they’ll have one more celebration when the first Super Bowl banner in franchise history is unveiled in front of a sellout crowd that waited forever to witness the moment. “It’s going to be a great night,” Pederson said. (AP Photo/Chris O’Meara, File)

Here is the 5th season of What Have We Learned from Preseason into the Regular Season of the 2018 NFL Season. Just for this week we will give you 8 points instead of the normal 7, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • After banner goes up, Eagles start title defense vs. Falcons-PHILADELPHIA (AP) — Before the Philadelphia Eagles begin their quest for a repeat, they’ll have one more celebration.

    The first Super Bowl banner in franchise history will be unveiled in front of a sellout crowd that waited seemingly forever to witness the moment.

    Then it’s on to defending their crown.

    Coach Doug Pederson and his veteran players have preached throughout the offseason the importance of moving forward and focusing on the present if the Eagles are going to have any chance of becoming the ninth team to repeat as Super Bowl champs.

    They have a tough opponent Thursday night in the NFL opener. The Atlanta Falcons were 2 yards away from knocking the Eagles out of the playoffs in the divisional round, but Matt Ryan’s pass to Julio Jones fell incomplete in the right corner of the end zone.

    “It’s going to be a great night,” Pederson said. “The fans are going to be crazy and they’re going to be excited. It’s going to be great for the banner to be dropped. It’s going to be a great atmosphere. This football team, though, they understand this is a different season. It’s a new team, new year. We’re sitting here 0-0 with a great opportunity against a great opponent. Quite honestly, that’s their focus.”

    The Falcons understand they were real close to advancing to the NFC championship game. Beating the Eagles this time around won’t make up for the loss in January, but the goal now is to finish the season at home in Atlanta, where the Super Bowl will be played in February.

    “They had a great team last year,” Ryan said. “I’m certain that the atmosphere will be good, obviously with them celebrating (what) they did last year. Once that settles, it comes down to us, our 11 on the field against their 11.”

    Nick Foles filled in for Carson Wentz, led the Eagles to their first championship since 1960 and earned Super Bowl MVP honors . Foles again will be under center; Wentz hasn’t been medically cleared following surgery last December to repair two torn knee ligaments.

    Foles struggled in the preseason, but he was excellent when it mattered in the playoffs. Foles had a 115.7 passer rating, completed 72.6 percent of his passes and threw for 971 yards, six TDs and one interception in three playoff wins.

    “You have to get a rhythm,” Foles said, comparing his quarterbacking to his days playing basketball. “If I go play pickup basketball right now, I’m not going to be very good because I haven’t played in a long time. But if I play for a couple weeks, I’ll be back to who I used to be. I’ll be able to shoot everywhere, I’ll probably be able to dunk again a little bit. It’s the same with football. That’s how I am as an athlete.”

     

  • For Bears, Mack deal shows organization bent on winning

    LAKE FOREST, Ill. (AP) — Still in bed when his girlfriend told him the Chicago Bears made a huge trade for two-time All-Pro Khalil Mack, left tackle Charles Leno Jr. didn’t quite believe it at first.Once it sunk in, he ran down to the basement.

    Leno turned on the camera, cranked up Mark Morrison’s “Return of the Mack” and started dancing. The video he posted on social media of himself pretty much sums up the mood around the Bears.

    “We’re trying to win,” Leno said Monday. “We’re not settling to be last in the pack. We’re trying to win and win games here, change the culture of the organization.”

    The Bears drove that point home Saturday with a blockbuster trade for one of the NFL’s best pass rushers. Chicago also made him the highest-paid defensive player in NFL history with a six-year, $141 million extension that guarantees $90 million.

    Mack practiced for the first time Monday after holding out the entire offseason and preseason trying to get a new deal with Oakland rather than play under the final year of his rookie contract.

    Coach Matt Nagy said the Bears will monitor his conditioning this week before deciding whether he plays in the opener.

    Chicago visits Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers on Sunday night. And that primetime matchup sure has some added intrigue.

    “I hope that everyone’s excited, our fan base is excited,” general manager Ryan Pace said. “I know our organization is excited.”

    The trade for Mack finished off a busy offseason in which Chicago changed coaches and gave quarterback Mitchell Trubisky some new playmakers, including former Jacksonville Pro Bowl receiver Allen Robinson.

    Adding the 2016 NFL Defensive Player of the Year to an already solid defense ratcheted up a building buzz around a team with four straight last-place finishes in the NFC North. Whether the Bears can leap to a playoff spot, they are at least in the conversation.

    “There’s certain moves that are power moves and there’s certain moves that say ‘hey, we’re all in,'” defensive end Akiem Hicks said. “And I think that’s one of those moves.”

    With 40½ sacks in four seasons, Mack figures to have a huge impact on a defense that ranked 10th overall last season.

    Hicks had visions of “a lot more one on ones” with teams doubling up on the Bears’ new star pass rusher. And cornerback Prince Amukamara was seeing more opportunities for interceptions with quarterbacks under pressure.

    “I would say the clock in the quarterback’s head is I’m sure going to be a lot shorter,” he said.

    He also praised the front office for a “great job of due diligence.”

    And guard Kyle Long said: “Our defense just got a lot tougher. And we get to practice against a tougher defense now, and that’s going to be great for us.”

    The trade also emphasizes just how serious management is about turning around a struggling franchise.

    The Bears have just one playoff appearance since the 2006 team reached the Super Bowl, and the most recent time they had a winning record was in 2012. Chicago fired coach Lovie Smith after that season, replaced him with Marc Trestman and went 8-8 the following year.

    Since then, it’s been nothing but last-place finishes in the division and frustration for the fan base. But the past few days?

    “It’s been very exciting,” Nagy said. “Probably the time I think about it the most is when I’m in my car, driving home. That’s really when you can just get away from everybody and everything and you can just kinda sit back and realize where you’re at. Collectively, it’s everybody. It’s an exciting situation for us as a team, as a city, as an organization.”

  • With RG3 aboard, Ravens have ‘three quality quarterbacks’-OWINGS MILLS, Md. (AP) — Keeping three quarterbacks was not an easy decision for Baltimore Ravens coach John Harbaugh, who hasn’t had that many QBs on his opening day roster since 2009.

    Now he’s got to determine the best way to use them.

    Joe Flacco will start Sunday against the Buffalo Bills, but Harbaugh isn’t revealing whether the backup will be Robert Griffin III or rookie Lamar Jackson.

    Griffin has 42 games of NFL experience and Jackson is a slick-footed runner who could be a threat near the goal line, as evidenced by his three rushing touchdowns during the preseason.

    Whether Griffin or Jackson receives spot duty remains to be seen. At this point, Harbaugh isn’t even sure how many quarterbacks will be on the active list each week.

    “It won’t be any more than three, it won’t be less than two,” he said with a grin on Monday. “So, we’ll see. I really don’t know.”

    This much is certain: There’s a lot to like about having a former Super Bowl MVP (Flacco) and a pair of Heisman Trophy winners at the most important position on the field.

    “I’m excited to have three quality quarterbacks,” Harbaugh said. “It makes our quarterback room stronger. That’s really what it does.”

    Griffin went 27 for 41 for 243 yards and two touchdowns this summer. He also proved to very helpful in guiding Jackson through his first NFL camp.

    Still, Harbaugh said after the preseason finale against the Washington Redskins last week that Griffin’s place on the 53-man roster “depends on the rest of the math.”

    After sitting out the Redskins game, Griffin expressed absolutely no anxiety in awaiting the Ravens’ decision.

    “When you put in the hard work and you’ve done everything you possibly can to put your best foot forward and try to show the team that you deserve to be here, there’s no stress,” he said.

    After the Ravens did the math, Griffin was too good to subtract from the equation.

    “From a team standpoint, you can look at it any kind of number of different ways,” Harbaugh said. “There are a lot of factors that were considered, and that was the way it shook out.”

    After going three years without a playoff berth, the Ravens probably can’t afford to have a rookie take over if Flacco gets hurt or plays poorly over an extended period of time. Griffin went to the postseason with the Washington Redskins in 2012 and showed during the preseason he can run this offense.

    Though Jackson showed improvement in each of his five appearances, at this point he’s still going through the learning phase. Fortunately, he has two willing teachers in Flacco and Griffin.

    “You can never have enough experience, good guys, good people to draw on,” Harbaugh said. “He just learns so much from Joe and from Rob.”

 

Middle

  • NFL 2018: Questions abound, from anthems to rule changes

    NEW YORK (AP) — Rules changes and national anthem demonstrations seem to have folks inside and outside the NFL obsessed as the opening kickoff of the season approaches.

    Yes, the Super Bowl champion Eagles and Atlanta Falcons will open things on Thursday night in Philadelphia. What many folks wonder: Will there be any social injustice protests during “The Star-Spangled Banner?” And if players, coaches and officials will have a handle on the adjustment to use of the helmet in making a hit.

    Not to mention the new kickoff rules and, at last, a catch rule that seems to make sense.

    Those are enough issues to grab attention away from Philly’s quarterback situation, as well as the progress of the five first-round QB draft choices expected to make their debuts sooner or later.

    Or from the return from injuries of Aaron Rodgers, J.J. Watt, Richard Sherman, Deshaun Watson, David Johnson and Odell Beckham Jr., to name a few.

    Or Jon Gruden’s return to an NFL sideline in Oakland.

    Plus, Adam Vinatieri’s pursuit of the career points and field goals marks.

    What’s ahead through the penultimate day of the 2018 calendar?

    RULE CHANGES

    The preseason has been dominated, even overridden, by discussion of and doubts about the “helmet rule.” Basically, any player on offense or defense lowering his head and making contact with any part of the helmet is subject to a 15-yard penalty, a fine, and even an ejection. It’s a player safety adjustment for which “the goal long term is to make the game safer and take out some of these hits that should not be part of the game,” says Giants owner John Mara, a member of the competition committee that recommends rules changes to the owners.

    The concerns on many levels focus on players adjusting to the tackling requirements and officials mastering such calls at full speed.

    Gene Steratore, who recently retired as an NFL (and college basketball) referee, expects the critical tempest to die down quickly.

    “Players will adjust because they are that good,” says Steratore, now an analyst for CBS after 15 seasons in the league. “Officials will, too, because they are that good. There will be a learning curve for all of them, but I think in a fast period of time, a trigger moment will come that will show right before that contact if it is worthy of a flag.”

    The fix to the phrasing of the catch rule should eliminate the kind of calls — on Jesse James, Dez Bryant et al — many found bogus.

    “Control. If it looks like a catch and smells like a catch, it’s a catch,” says Troy Vincent, the NFL’s chief of football operations. “(The rule) had become convoluted: what you should do, what you shouldn’t do. It should be clear as day. So our job was to simplify and we put it in practical terms.”

    The other major rule alteration is on kickoffs, where coverage team players no longer can take a running start, and there are regulations on where kick team players can be overall and how they can block.

    “This is certainly a way of trying to keep the kickoff in the game and attempting to cut down on high-speed collisions,” Mara says. “There are a lot of us who don’t want to take the kickoff out unless we can’t find ways to make it safer. It is our most dangerous play.”

    NATIONAL ANTHEM

    Anticipation of whether players will demonstrate during the national anthem again this year is high, fueled in part by reactions from President Trump. Players argue that their message about the need for change in communities nationwide has been misconstrued by the president and his followers, including many team owners.

    With the unilateral policy banning players from any on-field protests during the anthem on hold as owners and players discuss the issue, no one can be sure what’s ahead.

    Everyone can be sure the topic won’t disappear.

    “I think part of the problem is that when you continue the rhetoric that this is controversial or this is somehow a negative thing, people treat it as such,” Eagles safety Malcolm Jenkins says. “But we’ve seen in other leagues when they’ve decided to amplify the voices of their players to also emphasize the importance of the issues that we’re raising, and change the narrative away from the anthem, that not only is it more acceptable, the fan base gets educated on what we’re talking about, and we can actually make some movement.”

    ROOKIE QBS

    Before we reach 2019, it’s a near-certainty that Baker Mayfield, Sam Darnold, Josh Allen, Josh Rosen and Lamar Jackson will get onto the field. Some likely will be starters, maybe even stamp themselves as stars.

    Only in Baltimore, where Joe Flacco is the incumbent, is the rookie (Jackson) a long shot to become the No. 1 quarterback this season. The others — Cleveland’s Mayfield, Buffalo’s Allen, the Jets’ Darnold and Arizona’s Rosen — are with teams considered outsiders in the playoff chase and it makes sense as early as prudent to see if they are the franchise QBs they were drafted to be.

    COACHES

    New coaches in charge of the Cardinals, Titans, Lions, Giants, Bears and Raiders include four newbies to being in charge: Detroit’s Matt Patricia, Chicago’s Matt Nagy, Tennessee’s Mike Vrabel and Arizona’s Steve Wilks. All of them made their marks as proficient coordinators and bring freshness and toughness to their franchises.

    Vrabel, of course, has three Super Bowl rings as a player with New England, which surely earns him some respect in the locker room. If he’s considered a product of the Belichick coaching tree, though, Vrabel could struggle; few of the Patriots coach’s protégés have had much success as a head man in the NFL.

    So the same goes for Patricia, although he has far more experience in coaching.

    New York’s Pat Shurmur had a short stint in charge in Cleveland and probably didn’t get a fair shake. The Giants desperately needed a culture change after the 2017 debacle.

    “I have seen just about all I could see from the top of the mountain to having the second pick in the draft,” Mara says. “Last year still is somewhat of a shock to me, going from a preseason Super Bowl contender to being the second-worst team in the league. It was a perfect storm, just an avalanche of injuries, locker room issues, a relatively inexperienced head coach (Ben McAdoo) who hadn’t had to deal with any of that in the past, and some draft classes not all that productive. And it adds up to a bad season.”

    Oakland also comes off a bad season following a playoff appearance, and the Raiders made the biggest splash by bringing back (and out of the broadcast booth) Jon Gruden. There’s lots of excitement in the Black Hole and throughout the Bay Area about Gruden, who clearly has stamped his personality on the roster by trading his best player, holdout pass rusher Khalil Mack.

    “I love the Raider fans, I love Oakland, and that’s the primary reason why I’m standing here,” he says.

    PURSUING HISTORY

    Vinatieri is a marvel. The NFL’s oldest player at 45, he begins his 23rd pro season in range to pass Hall of Famer Morten Andersen as the leading scorer. He was dependable for a decade in New England and then a dozen years in Indianapolis.

    He needs seven field goals to pass Andersen (565) for the most field goals. Andersen scored 2,544 points in a league-record 382 games and Vinatieri needs 58 points to break the record.

    “It’s one of those things that I haven’t really though too much about it,” he says. “I’m still just trying to help my team win games and keep on putting chapters in this book, and if that happens, fantastic.”

 

  • ESPN’s new Monday night crew prepares for opener- BERKELEY, Calif. (AP) — Jason Witten sat in a room with his new teammates going over video of his latest performance.

    It wasn’t much different than what he did for 15 seasons as a tight end with the Dallas Cowboys. But instead of being one of the faces of perhaps the NFL’s most high-profile franchise, Witten holds one of the most prominent television jobs in the sport: lead analyst for ESPN’s “Monday Night Football.”

    Witten is approaching his new role in similar fashion as he did his old one, when his comprehensive film work made him the second-most productive tight end in NFL history.

    “That’s where you really learn and grow, the ability to go back and see it,” Witten said. “Sometimes it’s good and you’re like we need to build on that. Sometimes it’s not so good and you’re like, man, I’m so disappointed that was a bad rep.

    “No different than a route that you run and that’s not what you’re looking for. What gives me confidence is diving into that process and doing it with guys who I enjoy being around and they have the same mindset.”

    Witten is part of a brand new announcing team for ESPN after Jon Gruden left the analyst chair for a second stint as Oakland Raiders head coach. Witten joins play-by-play announcer Joe Tessitore, who switched jobs with Sean McDonough, who went back to college games; on-field analyst Booger McFarland; and the only returning member of the team in sideline reporter Lisa Salters. The group makes the regular-season debut Sept. 10 when Gruden’s Raiders host the Los Angeles Rams.

    This team was put together following an exhaustive search that featured auditions with about 13 analysts. The tests were thorough, featuring dinners at Tessitore’s house to see what kind of off-screen rapport could be built, as well as practice games in a studio.

    Tessitore and producer Jay Rothman were in agreement that the team of Tessitore, Witten and McFarland was the best. Then began the process of making that belief come true.

    The offseason has been spent doing rehearsal games in studios and at stadiums; holding film sessions; having countless discussions and text message exchanges; sharing dinners and drinks; and broadcasting two preseason games.

    All in an effort to build the chemistry that will make for a smooth telecast each week.

    Tessitore said he’s already spent more time with this team before the start of this season than he did in an entire season with his college crews.

    “In all my years of broadcasting, I only know one way to be on a crew, and that’s you’re now my brothers and my family. That’s the only way I know it to be,” Tessitore said.

    “That means that you’re at my house for dinner, we’re hanging out together and we’re working out together, drinking wine together, traveling together, texting each other, communicating and we know each other’s families inside and out, and we’re serving each other. That just gets extended to the broadcast when the red light turns on. That’s critically important to me.”

    This new group of announcers is being thrust onto one of the biggest stages in broadcasting. “Monday Night Football” has featured some of the industry’s titans over the years: announcers Howard Cosell, Al Michaels and John Madden; Super Bowl-winning coaches and quarterbacks Gruden and Joe Theismann; and Hall of Famers Frank Gifford, Dan Dierdorf and Dan Fouts.

    This crew starts with far fewer accomplishments. Tessitore has had several roles at ESPN for 16 years, doing boxing, horse racing and college football and basketball. This is by far his highest-profile job.

    McFarland started at the SEC Network in 2014 and has done only a handful of games in his career. Witten is a television rookie following in the footsteps of his former Cowboys teammate Tony Romo, who went from the field to the broadcast booth to great acclaim last year as CBS’ lead analyst.

    “He did an incredible job,” Witten said. “As a friend, I’m proud of him. It’s not easy for him to have that success. Although I recognize I’ll always be compared to that and that’s what’s going to happen, I really don’t try to compete from that standpoint.”

    The new crew will also have a bit of a new approach with McFarland, a former NFL defensive tackle, serving as an on-field analyst from a mobile crane that will be positioned about 10 feet off the ground at the line of scrimmage.

    McFarland will have a desk with monitors showing replays, stats and a live look into the broadcast booth, where Tessitore and Witten will have a camera on McFarland to make it a seamless team.

    “I kept using the words extension of the booth,” Rothman said. “How can we give Booger the resources that Jason has up top to truly be an extension of the booth, and how can we make that work and not worry about the orchestration and stepping on each other?”

    Rothman came up with the idea while shaving in May and immediately presented it to his technical staff. Four months later, McFarland did his first game from the “Booger Mobile.”

    He said this setup allows him to contribute as a full-fledged third man in the booth rather than a sideline analyst needing permission to get on the broadcast, and gives him a better appreciation of what’s happening on the field.

    “It’s an entirely different feel,” he said. “You can see the play, but there’s a difference between seeing it and feeling it. Feeling a guy’s speed and power is just a different deal. It’s actually been pretty cool. Once you understand the mechanics of it, it’s worked pretty well.”

    With so many new parts, the crew understands this will be a work in progress, but the members are excited to see how it all develops.

    “There’s still a learning process for all of us,” Rothman said. “We’ll be a lot different in Week 8, a lot different in Week 15 and a lot different in Year 2. All for the good. But it’s been fun.”

 

 

Downs

  • Trump says Nike getting ‘killed’ over Colin Kaepernick deal-WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump says Nike is getting “killed” over an endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick (KAP’-ur-nihk).

    Trump said on Twitter on Wednesday, “Just like the NFL, whose ratings have gone WAY DOWN, Nike is getting absolutely killed with anger and boycotts. I wonder if they had any idea that it would be this way?”

    Nike this week unveiled the deal with the former San Francisco 49ers quarterback, who’s known for starting protests among NFL players over police brutality and racial inequality. The deal spurred debate among fans, with some urging a boycott of the Beaverton, Oregon-based company.

    Some other players say they’re proud of Nike.

    Trump has repeatedly slammed NFL players for kneeling in protest during the national anthem. He says he’ll find it difficult to watch the NFL “until they stand for the FLAG!”

 

  • Police report: Ravens rookie can’t remember apparent assault-BALTIMORE (AP) — A police report says a rookie Baltimore Ravens kicker doesn’t remember the circumstances leading to the apparent assault that landed him in the hospital and on the team’s reserve/non-football injury list.

    News outlets report Baltimore police twice attempted and failed to speak with Kaare Vedvik at the hospital.

    The police report released Tuesday quotes Ravens security head Darren Sanders. The 24-year-old Norwegian told Sanders he couldn’t remember what happened after a teammate called around 3 a.m. Saturday. Vedvik had told the teammate he was good.

    The report redacts Vedvik’s injuries, but says his wallet and phone were missing.

    Ravens coach John Harbaugh says he’s going to tell his young players to “be a little smarter.” Harbaugh says Vedvik’s injuries likely cost him an NFL job.

 

  • Cowboys TE Rico Gathers arrested, still makes final cut-FRISCO, Texas (AP) — Dallas Cowboys tight end Rico Gathers was arrested on a charge of marijuana possession with his roster spot already in question, but survived the club’s final cuts anyway.

    Police in the Dallas suburb of Frisco said the former Baylor basketball player was arrested Friday night for possession of less than 2 ounces of marijuana. Gathers was released on bond Saturday morning.

    Gathers hadn’t played football since middle school when the Cowboys drafted him in 2016. He showed promise in the preseason last year before a concussion sustained near the end of training camp sidelined him for the season.

    The 24-year-old Gathers made the 53-player roster when the Cowboys made the unusual move of keeping four tight ends.

    Attorneys for Gathers say their client “apologizes to his teammates and the Cowboys organization for any distraction his arrest may cause as the team prepares to start the season.”

 

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