What Have We Learned From Week 8 of the 2018 NFL Season

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Carolina Panthers’ Cam Newton (1) scrambles against the Baltimore Ravens in the second half of an NFL football game in Charlotte, N.C., Sunday, Oct. 28, 2018. (AP Photo/Nell Redmond)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 8 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Newton, Panthers’ offense hitting stride under Turner-CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Concerns over how Cam Newton might adjust to Norv Turner’s offense have ceased.

    The worries been replaced by talk of Newton being an MVP candidate again.

    Newton is thriving in his first season under the 66-year-old offensive coordinator. The Panthers are 5-2 and picking up a head of steam on offense entering Sunday’s home game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

    The eight-year quarterback combined for 271 yards and three touchdowns against the NFL’s top-ranked defense over the weekend as the Panthers dominated the Baltimore Ravens 36-21. Turner used all of his weapons — and a variety of misdirection plays — to keep Ravens defenders guessing instead of attacking.

    Baltimore, which had 11 sacks against the Titans earlier this season, never got to Newton, and Carolina scored on four straight possessions to build a 24-7 halftime lead.

    Afterward, Ravens coach John Harbaugh could only tip his hat to Turner.

    “He did a great job scheming us up, keeping us off balance,” Harbaugh said. “He forced us to put certain personnel groups out there and then he had counters for it. He did a tremendous job.”

    The misdirection plays left the Ravens befuddled at times, as Newton pitched out to wide receivers, used fake handoffs to running back Christian McCaffrey to set up the passing game and a naked bootleg to score a walk-in touchdown.

    Asked why defending Carolina’s misdirection offense was so difficult, Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith held up one hand and said, “Look at my hand. Now if I smack you with this (other hand), you won’t see it coming. That’s how it works.”

    A big reason the Panthers were smacking the Ravens was the emergence of rookie wide receiver D.J. Moore, the team’s speedy first-round draft pick.

    The Maryland product compiled 129 yards of offense in the first 2 ½ quarters, the beneficiary of the Ravens focusing their attention on stopping other playmakers like McCaffrey, tight end Greg Olsen, wide receivers Devin Funchess and Curtis Samuel and former 1,000-yard rusher C.J. Anderson.

    Newton spread the ball around, targeting eight different receivers, leaving the Ravens unable to focus on stopping one player.

    “That’s huge for us, because when you do that, it’s like, ‘OK, who are you guys going to try to lock down?'” Rivera said. “… This week (Moore) had a lot of success, and maybe next week he won’t because they’ll be trying to double up on him, and that may leave somebody else open.”

    The Panthers are getting exactly what Rivera was hoping for when he made the decision to jettison long-time offensive coordinator Mike Shula this past offseason in favor of Turner, whom he coached under in San Diego.

    “I understood what offensively we could become,” Rivera said. “We had a chance to follow coach in Minnesota and how he worked with Teddy Bridgewater, who has a lot of the similar traits as Cam. So that was going to be an easy transition for us.”

    Turner’s son, Scott, returned to the team as the quarterbacks coach, too.

    He’d designed many of the plays back in 2001 when Newton joined Carolina as the No. 1 overall pick and was thrust in the mix right away.

    The biggest difference now is how many playmakers Newton has to work with, and that the QB has only been sacked five times in the last five games.

    “We have three or four guys who are really fast on the offensive side,” Rivera said. “It is the most speed we’ve had and because of that you see things opening up.”

    Newton’s numbers through seven games are impressive.

    He’s completing a career-high 66.4 percent of his passes and has 17 combined touchdowns with four interceptions. He’s on pace to be sacked a career-low 21 times, largely because he’s getting the ball out of his hands quicker than ever in Turner’s offense.

    Rivera said it’s too say if Newton is playing as well as he did in 2015 when he combined for 45 touchdowns and won league MVP honors while helping the Panthers to the Super Bowl.

    “The proof will be in the pudding when we get to the end of the year,” Rivera said. “We’ll see. He is playing well and I think we are playing well as a unit.”

 

  • Steelers’ James Conner shines in Le’Veon Bell’s absence-PITTSBURGH (AP) — The Pittsburgh Steelers aren’t surprised by the success of second-year running back James Conner.

    Conner continues to shine in the spotlight while two-time All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell remains away from the team. Conner enjoyed a history-making day, accounting for more than 200 all-purpose yards during the Steelers’ 33-18 home win against Cleveland on Sunday.

    “He’s doing what he’s been doing the whole time,” Steelers right guard David DeCastro said. “He’s keeping his head down and running really hard. He’s a fun guy to block for.”

    Bell, who finished as the NFL’s third-leading rusher last season, still has not reported nor signed his one-year, $14.5 million franchise tender.

    Conner has taken full advantage while Bell has been away.

    He finished Sunday’s game with 212 all-purpose yards, just 25 fewer than the Browns totaled as a team. Conner, a 2017 third-round pick, rushed for 146 yards and two touchdowns. He also caught five passes for 66 yards.

    “I’m just doing what I love to do,” Conner said. “Just trying to be in the right spots for (quarterback) Ben (Roethlisberger) with the check-downs in the passing game, and just trying to put the ball in the right spots in the right game.”

    He also made history while he was at it.

    Conner is the first Steeler to rush for at least 100 yards and two touchdowns in three straight games. He eclipsed 100 yards rushing for the third straight game and fifth time this season.

    “He did a lot of good things (against Cleveland), running the ball and catching the ball for us,” Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey said. “He just looks good all the way around and runs the ball hard. He takes it very seriously and his preparation is very good. I can’t say enough about him.”

    Now, the rest of the league is taking notice.

    Conner’s nine touchdowns rank second in the NFL and his 599 rushing yards are third. Conner, a former University of Pittsburgh standout, is also tied for the most touchdown runs, and has the second-most yards from scrimmage — 922 — through the first seven games of a season in team history.

    “I had a front-row seat for his college exploits, so we are not surprised by his talents, play, demeanor, or his displays of will,” said Steelers coach Mike Tomlin, whose team shares a practice facility with Pitt.

    Conner rushed for 135 yards, gained 192 all-purpose yards and finished with two scores during the season opener at Cleveland. He has 281 yards rushing, 404 all-purpose and four touchdowns in two games against the Browns.

    It wasn’t easy for Conner on Sunday: Conner had 36 yards rushing on his first 12 carries. But on his next 12, Conner added 110 yards rushing. By the third quarter, the fans at Heinz Field were chanting his name — “CON-NER,” ”CON-NER,” — when he finished the period with 114 all-purpose yards.

    “I’m proud of him,” Roethlisberger said. “It was so much fun to watch him go and work and be successful and hear the crowd love on him.”

    Conner didn’t allow the slow start to affect his play.

    “Things aren’t going to go our way the whole game,” Conner said. “You just have to have patience. We just wanted to stay focused and locked in.”

    Conner enjoyed a strong finish with 60 of 75 yards, including a 12-yard touchdown, during a third-quarter scoring drive that gave the Steelers an 11-point lead. He added a 22-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter.

    “It’s just a moment that we have to take advantage of late in the game,” Conner said. “We have the ball, trying to run the clock out and we need first downs. We’re just trying to move those chains and stay on the field.”

    Conner seeks a strong finish to the season, of course.

    “I’m just trying to be a better back every week,” Conner said. “I’m just running hard.”

 

  • At 5-2, NFC East-leading Skins off to best start since 2008-WASHINGTON (AP) — Yes, the Washington Redskins are 5-2 for the first time in a decade.

    And now, forget that the when they started that well in 2008, they ended up 8-8.

    Yes, they’re 5-1 against the NFC for the first time since 2005.

    Yes, they’re leading their division on the strength of a three-game winning streak.

    And, looking ahead, yes, they have an enviable schedule, with only one remaining foe currently holding a record above .500. Next weekend’s opponent, Atlanta , is 3-4.

    There is still a long way to go, though, for a team that scores very little and passes rather poorly, getting by thanks to a terrific run defense and a strong rushing offense led by 33-year-old Adrian Peterson. That formula worked yet again Sunday in a 20-13 victory against the can’t-do-anything-right New York Giants. How sustainable is that approach?

    “We feel good,” said Peterson, who gained 149 yards on the ground with a TD and caught a 7-yard scoring pass from Alex Smith, “but we can’t get too excited.”

    Coach Jay Gruden acknowledges there is a plenty of room for improvement with Smith, acquired in an offseason trade with the Kansas City Chiefs to replace Kirk Cousins and signed to a $94 million, four-year contract.

    Smith hasn’t thrown for more than 178 yards in any of the past three games. His completion percentage has been 60 or worse in four of the last five. His season passer rating of 91.3 ranks only 22nd among QBs with at least 100 attempts.

    “We’re close. We missed some opportunities, of course. But we’re going to get there. Just a matter of (what) might be a missed throw here or there. Might be a poor route, maybe. Might be a protection issue,” Gruden said. “We’re just not quite in full sync right now at this time.”

    Things looked rather bleak for the Redskins after a 43-19 loss to the New Orleans Saints dropped Gruden’s club to 2-2.

    Look where they are now.

    “I knew it was going to take some time, but finally we’re starting to get over that hump and starting to get over that hill,” cornerback Josh Norman said. “We’re just riding our tricycles down it.”

Middle

  • Bay Area Bummer: Raiders, 49ers limp into prime-time meeting- SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) — Jon Gruden’s return to the sideline in Oakland and the prospect of a full season of Jimmy Garoppolo in San Francisco put optimism at a peak in the Bay Area heading into this NFL season.

    That feeling went far beyond the partisan backers of the Raiders and 49ers and extended to the league and television network bosses who decided to put the final Battle of the Bay before the Raiders leave town for Las Vegas in 2020 on Thursday night football.

    That battle has quickly turned into a Bay Area Bummer.

    The game between the Raiders (1-6) and the 49ers (1-7) this week could be the worst prime-time matchup in NFL history. There have been 784 prime-time games played in the NFL on Nov. 1 or later and the .133 combined winning percentage for Oakland and San Francisco is the worst of all of them, lowering the bar set Dec. 18, 2014, when Tennessee visited Jacksonville in a battle of 2-12 teams.

    “I wish the game had two 8-1 or 7-1 teams playing in it,” Gruden said. “Hopefully someday soon you’ll see a game like that, but this is still going to be fun for the fans and both teams.”

    Fun is not the word either team would use to describe this season, which has seen both the Raiders and 49ers blow three fourth-quarter leads, deal with several debilitating injuries, and pile up losses.

    While few considered either team to be Super Bowl caliber heading into the year, there was hope both could compete for the playoffs. Now the only competition is to determine which team is worse and has the inside track at the No. 1 overall draft pick.

    The Raiders’ season turned sour before it even started with the decision to trade holdout star pass rusher Khalil Mack to Chicago just one week before the start of the regular season for a package of draft picks. A defense that came into the season with enough question marks if Mack did play has generated no pressure and offered little resistance to opposing offenses.

    Oakland lost the first three games despite never trailing for a second of the first three quarters as quarterback Derek Carr struggled to adjust to Gruden’s offense and the older players Gruden signed in the offseason failed to deliver.

    An overtime win in Week 4 over Cleveland provided a brief respite but the Raiders have lost three straight since, getting outscored by 54 points during that span as the season is deteriorating quickly.

    Adding to the drama were reports questioning the toughness and leadership of Carr, public complaints from players about how they’re being used and the trade of No. 1 receiver Amari Cooper to Dallas for a first-round pick.

    Now a team that won 12 games just two years ago behind a young core of Carr, Cooper and Mack, has regressed back to where the franchise was in 2014 when the Raiders lost the first 10 games of Carr’s career.

    “I’ve been here before,” Carr said. “I know how to get out of it and it’s not by pointing fingers. It’s not by getting with your buddy and taking trash. It’s about getting together with your buddies and figuring things out, asking your teammates what can I do better, what should I do. That’s how we fix it. I believe that we have guys like that.”

    The Niners have lacked the drama of their neighbors but the results have been no better. San Francisco overcame a 1-10 start last year under first-year coach Kyle Shanahan to win five straight to end the season after Garoppolo was inserted into the lineup following a midseason trade from New England.

    Garoppolo was rewarded with a $137.5 million contract in the offseason and the 49ers were considered an up-and-coming team worthy of five prime-time matchups.

    The team was dealt a setback a week before the season when running back Jerick McKinnon, the team’s top free-agent acquisition in the offseason, blew out his knee in practice.

    Garoppolo then went down with a season-ending knee injury in Week 3 and the Niners haven’t won since, taking a six-game losing streak into this week’s contest.

    “Yeah, we’ve been dealt a tough hand with some of the injuries we have and some of the things that we’ve been going through, but that doesn’t mean we should be 1-7,” Shanahan said. “Those games, we make a few different plays, and I’m talking one to three plays, still wouldn’t feel great about our record but I’d feel better than I do now.”

    San Francisco blew late leads in losses to Green Bay and Arizona and also had a chance at a comeback against the Chargers thwarted by a late interception by backup C.J. Beathard.

    Perhaps the most concerning part is the regression by several young players who were expected to be foundation pieces with defensive tackle Solomon Thomas, linebacker Reuben Foster, cornerback Ahkello Witherspoon and safety Adrian Colbert all struggling with their play and health.

    Now San Francisco is just trying to salvage any positives in the second half of the season.

    “We’re fighting. Unfortunately, we’re not getting the results,” cornerback Richard Sherman said. “These have been some of the toughest losses I’ve seen.”

Downs

  • Football failure in Florida: 3 NFL, big 3 college teams lose-GAINESVILLE, Fla. (AP) — It was a dark week for football in the Sunshine State.

    For the first time since the inception of the Jacksonville Jaguars in 1995, all three of the state’s NFL teams and all three of the state’s most prominent college programs lost on the same weekend.

    The Miami Dolphins started the six-team slide with a 42-23 loss at Houston on Thursday night. The Miami Hurricanes followed with an equally poor road performance the following night, falling 27-14 at Boston College .

    Florida State turned in the state’s worst outing during the four-day stretch, a 59-10 drubbing to No. 2 Clemson that was the Seminoles’ worst home loss in school history.

    No. 9 Florida was considerably more competitive a few hours later, but faltered late in a 36-17 setback to rival and seventh-ranked Georgia in Jacksonville.

    The Jacksonville Jaguars and Tampa Bay Buccaneers had chances to stop the statewide skid Sunday, but both came up short. The Jags lost 24-18 to defending Super Bowl champion Philadelphia at Wembley Stadium in London, and the Bucs got beat 37-34 at Cincinnati on a last-second field goal .

    Not even second-tier college programs USF and UCF could salvage the weekend for the Sunshine State.

    No. 17 Houston drubbed South Florida 57-36 on Saturday, and 10th-ranked Central Florida was off after winning its 20th consecutive game at East Carolina on Oct. 20.

    The six-team losing scenario nearly happened twice before — the final weekend of October in 2004 and an early October weekend in 2011. The state’s big three college teams all faltered along with two NFL franchises, but the Buccaneers were on a bye that week in 2004 and the Dolphins were off that week in 2011.

 

  • Another letdown leaves Lions alone in last-ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — After a listless home loss this past weekend, Detroit defensive lineman Ricky Jean Francois called out his team.

    “I just want everybody to lock back in. Lock in for these next 10 weeks, just lock in,” Jean Francois said after Sunday’s 28-14 loss to Seattle.

    “Leave everything else alone outside of this building. I know you love your family, but tell them you will see them in February. Just lock in and do your job, nothing else is important to us right now.”

    Time will tell whether Sunday’s loss becomes a galvanizing moment for the Lions, but the frustration was understandable.

    For three straight seasons, Detroit has won between seven and nine games, and its fans have experienced occasional optimism followed by quick letdowns.

    After losing to Seattle, the Lions are again in a tough spot — alone in last place in the NFC North, heading into road games against Minnesota and Chicago.

    “I think all of our process every single week as we move through the season here, it has to improve,” said Matt Patricia, Detroit’s first-year coach.

    “Everything does. The season gets harder as you go on and the process has to get better each and every week. So, we have to make sure we’re doing that to the highest level.”

    The Lions lost their first two games of the season but showed an appropriate amount of urgency after that, scrambling back to the .500 mark. They appeared to have fixed their long-dormant running game, and the home game against the Seahawks looked like another opportunity to show progress.

    Instead, Detroit (3-4) allowed three touchdowns in the second quarter and never recovered.

    “We came out flat with no focus. We just weren’t ready to go again,” Jean Francois said. “That team came off that bus ready to go. They were ready to execute everything, they were ready to put their skills on display. We just came out there and weren’t focused at all against this team and that’s the weird part.”

    Running back Ameer Abdullah, who fumbled while returning a kickoff, shared similar sentiments afterward.

    “It’s a long season, sometimes you kind of hit a cruise control and you forget the little things you do every single day,” Abdullah said. “Like same foot, same shoulder, ball security, hold tight, stuff like that. But you have to continue to focus on that stuff as the season goes on.”

    Beyond the intangible notions of focus and intensity, the Lions were outperformed statistically as well. Seattle had a 176-34 edge in rushing — a step back for a Detroit team that ran for 248 yards in a win at Miami the previous weekend.

    The Lions fell behind 21-7 in the second quarter, and that probably played a role in the rushing disparity. Detroit finished the game with only 13 attempts on the ground.

    “I think we talked about it all week last week about how good they are in the run game. They do a good job of loading the box and just put themselves in some really good positions to make some plays,” Patricia said Monday.

    “We have to execute a little bit better and obviously just try to get some more positive plays in the run game going earlier in the game and be able to stay with it and control the game from that aspect of it.”

    Detroit also turned the ball over three times against Seattle, so the Lions have had eight turnovers in their losses to the Seahawks and Jets, but only two in their five other games.

    But two of Detroit’s turnovers Sunday came in the fourth quarter when the team was already facing a double-digit deficit. The game began to slip away long before then.

    “They out-executed us in all three phases last night and we did not execute up to par,” Patricia said. “I just have to do a better job coaching and we have to do a better job of playing.”

 

  • Browns fire coach Jackson, owner cites ‘internal discord’-BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Browns owner Jimmy Haslam finally tried the patient approach with his head coach.

    That didn’t work either.

    Haslam made his fourth coaching change since 2012 by firing Hue Jackson, who won just three of 40 games over two-plus seasons and then lost his job because of a feud with offensive coordinator Todd Haley that went public and threatened to turn a promising season into another one of those Cleveland catastrophes.

    Haslam fired Jackson and Haley within hours of each other on Monday, a day after the Browns (2-5-1) lost their 25th consecutive road game — one shy of the NFL record.

    “Hopefully, we made a big step today,” Haslam said. “It is hard to win in the NFL. If anybody knows that, it is us. I think the message today is we are not going to put up with internal discord. We want people who are collaborative and work together.”

    As for his poor track record in finding coaches, Haslam offered no excuses.

    “I will accept the blame because ultimately, it is the person at the head of the ship,” he said. “I will take the blame as ownership. I can’t explain it more than that. We have had different situations with different people. I know that it is something that we are not going to tolerate moving forward.”

    Defensive coordinator Gregg Williams is Cleveland’s interim coach, and running backs coach Freddie Kitchens will take over for Haley.

    Haslam said Williams, who coached Buffalo from 2001-03, was the only in-house candidate considered to finish the season. While Williams has extensive experience and won a Super Bowl, he also has a checkered past. He was suspended by the league for a full season in 2012 for his role in the “Bountygate” scandal that rocked the New Orleans Saints.

    Haslam said it’s premature to consider the next coaching hire for the Browns, who are 22-81-1 since he and his wife, Dee, agreed to buy the franchise in 2012.

    The main objective now is to get through the season’s second half, beginning with a matchup on Sunday against the high-scoring, Kansas City Chiefs (7-1).

    “We will have a collaborative effort in everything that we do here,” Haslam said when asked about a search for the team’s ninth coach since 1999. “Right now, we are focused on the next eight games and Gregg and his staff winning as many of those games that we can.”

    There are already names floating around as potential candidates to be Cleveland’s next coach, including Oklahoma’s Lincoln Riley, who coached Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield in college.

    “Not right now,” Riley said of his interest in jumping to the NFL. “You sit here and answer these questions and I always want to be truthful. The truth is for me is, I love Oklahoma. I love coaching here. I love college football. I certainly don’t have that itch right now.”

    Just three weeks ago, the Browns, who went 0-16 last season under Jackson, appeared to have turned the corner following an overtime win against Baltimore.

    But things unraveled quickly, thrust in the wrong direction by a power struggle between Jackson and Haley, who joined Cleveland’s staff this season after six in Pittsburgh. Following a loss at Tampa Bay last week, Jackson aimed blame at Haley by offering to help the team’s offense.

    Haley publicly said he wasn’t offended by the remarks. But Jackson’s comments seemed to widen a divide between the coaches, who had disagreed on players getting days off during training camp and whether wide receiver Josh Gordon deserved to start the opener.

    In order to salvage the season, Haslam and general manager John Dorsey felt change was necessary.

    Without pointing fingers, Dorsey said there’s only one way to stop the in-fighting.

    “Treat people the way they want to be treated,” he said. “Come into work every day willing to work. Love what you do. Just take ownership in what you are doing. Come to work every day and treat people the way you want to be treated.”

    Jackson’s the sixth straight Cleveland coach to be fired following the team’s second game against Pittsburgh. Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur, Rob Chudzinski and Mike Pettine all met the same demise, but they were let go following the season’s final game.

    Haslam wouldn’t get into any specifics about the “‘discord” between Jackson and Haley.

    “We made the decision to move on, and it was far bigger than who was going to call plays,” Haslam said. “Unfortunately, sometimes, the best plans don’t work out, and in this case, they didn’t. We were optimistic and hopeful that they would.”

    Jackson was hired in 2016 by the Haslams, who stuck by him despite a 1-15 record in his first season and then last season’s debacle. His failures were always explained away with excuses: not enough talent, injuries, bad luck, a disconnection with the front office.

    Haslam thought hiring a high-profile coordinator like Haley would help Jackson.

    In the end, it was his undoing.

    “Unfortunately, sometimes the best plans do not work out,” Haslam said. “In this case, they did not. We were optimistic and hopeful that they would, but they did not work out.”

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