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Here is What Have We Learned from Week 11 of the 2018 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.
- Rams roll into bye week buzzing from epic win over Chiefs-LOS ANGELES (AP) — Just like everybody fortunate enough to be at the Coliseum on Monday night, Sean McVay was still buzzing when he left the building after the Los Angeles Rams’ epic victory over Kansas City.
When he finally reached his suburban home, the coach wasn’t ready to lose that feeling. Instead, McVay and some friends kicked off the Rams’ bye week by watching highlights of Los Angeles’ 54-51 win deep into the night.
“I was pretty wired, man,” McVay said Tuesday afternoon, about 21 hours after kickoff. “I would say right now is about the first time I’m starting to wind down and to be able to take a nap hopefully here soon.”
McVay and the Rams have absolutely earned their sleep.
Los Angeles (10-1) is this season’s first team to reach double digits in victories after holding off the Chiefs in a game that featured so many eye-popping digits: a 14-touchdown, 105-point, 1,001-yard masterpiece of pure entertainment.
The third highest-scoring game in league history was the latest peak in the Rams’ two-year transformation under McVay, whose staff has put this long-downtrodden franchise in position to clinch its first back-to-back division titles since the 1970s as soon as this weekend if Carolina beats Seattle.
The win over Kansas City also was the culmination of two difficult weeks for the organization and its city.
Players, coaches and team employees were forced from their homes by wildfires two weeks ago while many were still reeling from a mass shooting near their training complex in Thousand Oaks. The Rams then spent the previous week on the road in Colorado Springs to train for the high altitudes of Mexico City — only to have the Monday night game moved back home to LA on six days’ notice.
“I think the players did an outstanding job of handling what seems like two weeks that was about two years’ worth of things that they had to go through,” McVay said. “All they did was just handle it like pros and do everything the right way that makes you appreciative of just being able to work with people like this.”
The final snap against Kansas City felt like closure to the players who persevered through this two-week stretch. McVay and the Rams now get a holiday week to contemplate what they’ve accomplished and how far they’ve still got to go.
Because for all their success, McVay knows the Rams have ample room for improvement.
McVay and his staff will use part of their bye week to study this triumph over the Chiefs, likely turning a critical eye on ways to help a defense that relied on big plays to survive this thriller. Kansas City outgained Los Angeles 546-455 with six touchdown passes by Patrick Mahomes.
The Rams are desperately looking forward to the probable post-bye return of standout cornerback Aqib Talib. They were also happy to get contributions from surprising defensive sources in an otherwise offense-dominated night.
Samson Ebukam, the Rams’ unsung second-year outside linebacker, might have been the most important player on the field against the Chiefs. Ebukam returned a fumble forced by Aaron Donald for a touchdown, made a preposterous one-armed interception and returned it for another TD, and finally pressured Mahomes just enough to impede his throwing motion on a pass subsequently intercepted by Rams teammate Marcus Peters with 1:18 left.
“It’s crazy we had five takeaways, just to see they still put up 51 points,” Rams receiver Robert Woods said. “We tried to eliminate the big plays, but we know they have some talented players. At the end of the day, we sealed them off.”
The Rams can also use their time off to get healthy, which is always a good thing at this time of year.
Los Angeles dropped those 54 points on Kansas City even with mild contributions from NFL rushing leader Todd Gurley, whose 13-game touchdown streak ended while he made just 12 carries for 54 yards and caught three passes for 39 yards.
Confirming what many suspected during the game, McVay said Gurley was limited by an ankle injury after “getting rolled up on” earlier in the game.
McVay doesn’t believe it will be a long-term problem, and he said Gurley’s light action in the second half was mostly due to the Chiefs’ schemes — particularly a set with 11 men in the box late in the game, leading to McVay’s decision to call passing plays in a last-minute attempt to get a game-clinching first down.
“There were a lot of instances where they were playing some defensive structures where they were basically daring you to throw it,” McVay said. “That’s a result of the respect they have for Todd and our running game.”
- Improved defense plays crucial role in Colts’ winning streak-INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — The Indianapolis Colts made a firm commitment to Matt Eberflus in January.
They stuck to it after the man who initially hired Eberflus to be Indy’s defensive coordinator, Josh McDaniels, reneged on a deal to become the next coach and they lived up to their promise after eventually hiring Frank Reich in February.
It’s worked out well for the Colts.
“He’s a consistent guy, he’s got a consistent message every day and he believes in the system,” middle linebacker Anthony Walker said Tuesday. “That’s what you want as a player, a guy who believes in the system.”
The system looks awfully familiar to longtime Colts’ fans.
Eberflus reinstalled the Tampa 2 defense, the zone concept popularized by Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy. General manager Chris Ballard saw it work in Chicago under Lovie Smith, one of Dungy’s former pupils, and Reich worked with it on Dungy’s staff when he first started coaching in 2006. Indy capped that season by winning the Super Bowl.
The low-key personalities and focused approaches also proved a perfect match.
But the real investment came in free agency and the draft.
While Colts fans waited impatiently for Ballard to make a splashy move, he mostly avoided the high-priced free agents and instead went with less-familiar names who could excel in Eberflus’ system.
The results have been remarkable.
Linebacker Darius Leonard, a second-round pick, has a league-high 104 tackles and Walker has 67 tackles, nearly four times as many as he had in 2017.
Defensive end Kemoko Turay has shown flashes of being a disruptive pass rusher and Tyquan Lewis showed promise in his first two games after missing the first eight with an injured toe. Both were second-round draft picks in April.
“We’re getting to the ball, causing turnovers,” Leonard said. “We don’t do a lot, there’s not a lot of thinking so it’s very easy for me to go out and play.”
Not just for the young guys, either.
Jabaal Sheard moved from outside linebacker to defensive end and already has matched his sacks total (5½) from last season. Veteran defensive linemen Margus Hunt has gone from rotation player to starter and has had a career-best season.
Safeties Clayton Geathers and Malik Hooker have been rounding into form after missing most of last season and part of this season with injuries, and outsiders have noticed a difference.
“They hustle. They have great team effort. They have very good team speed. They stunt the front and they are all very good hitters,” Oakland Raiders coach Jon Gruden said recently. “They seem to really like each other. They seem to have a really good, I think, overall down to down competitive nature about them.”
The individual numbers only tell part of the story.
After finishing 30th in the league in yards allowed per game in 2016 and 2017 and 26th or worse in four of Chuck Pagano’s six seasons as head coach, Indy has jumped to No. 20 this season. Through 10 games, they have 26 sacks and are on pace for their highest total since 2013.
The Colts have allowed 17.5 points to their past four opponents and only four teams have more takeaways than Indy (19).
Not surprisingly, the Colts (5-5) have won all four, moving back into the playoff picture largely because of a defensive resurgence few expected in Eberflus’ first season.
“I think you have to go through this process. Sometimes you take a couple steps forward and one step back or three or four steps forward and one or two back,” Eberflus said. “But it’s really about the guys buying into it.”
It could be just the start.
The young Colts are still getting acclimated to Eberflus and his scheme, are still learning how to play consistently well and still must demonstrate they can withstand the late-season rigors to make a playoff run.
But for the first time in a long time, the Colts’ defense no longer looks like the weak link. Instead, Eberflus has demonstrated just how promising the future could be.
“I think guys are buying into the style slowly but it’s not consistent yet,” Eberflus said. “Today in the film room we pointed out all the loafs and all the missed assignments, so we can definitely get better week to week and now it’s about being consistent week to week.”
- For a game, calling Lamar Jackson’s number kept working-Lamar Jackson ran 27 times and threw only 19 passes to win his first NFL start.
That’s not a typo.
Filling in for injured quarterback Joe Flacco, Jackson ran for 117 yards in Baltimore’s 24-21 victory over Cincinnati on Sunday. The 2016 Heisman Trophy winner had more rushing attempts than any quarterback since 1970 and became the first to gain over 100 yards since Colin Kaepernick had 113 on Nov. 27, 2016.
Calling his own number worked so Ravens coach John Harbaugh let Jackson tuck it and take off all day. But old-school football won’t cut it in a pass-crazy league where quarterbacks are posting ridiculous numbers every week. Even Harbaugh realizes Jackson can’t run the ball at that pace in the future.
“Yeah, you don’t want your quarterback getting hit that much,” Harbaugh said Monday. “It’s not going to last that way. So, that’s pretty self-evident.”
Plenty of running quarterbacks have been successful, though taking hits exposes them to more injuries. Michael Vick is the all-time leading rusher among quarterbacks but he missed a bunch of games during his career. Carson Wentz isn’t considered a “running QB” but he tore two knee ligaments on a scramble last season and missed the playoffs and Super Bowl.
“Quarterbacks don’t run forever in the NFL,” Bengals coach Marvin Lewis said after Jackson juked and sprinted his way past his team. “Sooner or later, they get hurt, and they don’t run the same.”
- 54-51: The Big 12 has come to the NFL-The Big 12 conference has come to the NFL.
Without a doubt, the Monday-night scoring extravaganza between the Rams and Chiefs was entertaining. It had more spectacular plays and head-spinning twists than a game of Madden or a matchup of teams from college football’s defense-challenged conference.
As for it being a pro football classic, no way.
And for those yearning to see a rematch in the Super Bowl, don’t count on it — unless each team finds a consistent defense.
Yeah, we know, there were several big defensive plays that produced points in Los Angeles’ 54-51 victory, the highest-scoring Monday night contest ever and the only time two teams have each exceeded 50 points in the same game. Aaron Donald might have cemented a second straight NFL Defensive Player of the Year award with his strip-sacks of Patrick Mahomes.
There were three picks, though two came when Mahomes was in desperation mode. There were four lost fumbles as each defensive line made its present felt — for a few seconds.
The box score looks as long as one of Andy Reid’s play sheets.
What America saw was Madden 19 at its most frenetic. And that’s exactly what much of the current sporting public covets. Give them receivers running free like deer in a meadow ; light shows of points on the scoreboard; announcers fawning over the action while ignoring the quality of performance; and offensive records galore.
This was a home run derby with major league sluggers in a Little League park. It was a hockey shootout with NHL skaters facing amateur goalies. A dunk contest on 9-foot rims.
Fantastic fun? For sure.
But it can also be seen as an indictment of how the NFL — helped along by college football’s evolution — has headed toward flag football.
How did we get to a point where the third-highest scoring game in NFL history, chock full of flying flags (21 accepted penalties for 195 yards), terrible coverage and some overzealous coaching is labeled a masterpiece?
“A couple of things are contributing,” says Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, now an analyst for NBC. “The skills of the players on offense and the way the coaches are designing things is one. And the practice schedule that has been reduced really favors the offense now.
“You can’t do as much work in the offseason and at training camp, and that hurts the defenses. Quarterbacks take their groups and they can get together and throw and work on their timing for two or three weeks. Defenses can’t do that, so they are behind the eight ball from the outset.”
And the rules and officials have evolved to favor receivers and quarterbacks.
It comes to fruition weekly. Consider that the NFL has had the most points scored (7,791), most touchdowns (895) and most touchdown passes (570) through 11 weeks in its history. The 54-51 frenzy is the punctuation mark.
At least so far.
Dungy and his NBC studio partner, former safety Rodney Harrison, bemoan the lack of fundamentals on defense. We saw as many examples of that on Monday night as we did tight spirals from Mahomes and Rams quarterback Jared Goff.
“A lot of coaches in general go over scheme so much and designing things and how you play your responsibility and all the things offensive teams can do,” Dungy says. “We have lost sight of the basics, you see the poor fundamentals.”
Adds Harrison, one of the best tacklers and cover guys at his position:
“One thing I have learned weekly and has become a lot more prevalent because of all the emphasis on the changing of the rules is that they don’t teach a lot of technique in college anymore. It’s all about a scheme and all these different formations and you try to trick people and do all this misdirection. Coaches spend so much time on plays they forget about teaching technique.
“Cornerback don’t have technique, they panic when they are down the field. The ball is in the air, they don’t look back, can’t make a play.”
It was something we saw plenty of Monday night. Of course, receivers such as Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, Brandin Cooks and Robert Woods can make any defenders look bad. But when skill players are uncovered so often, it makes you wonder if the offense is on a power play.
“As old school guys, we appreciate and we respect defense,” Harrison adds. “I said something (Sunday) night: If I was a general manager, I would never hire a defensive-minded coach as a head coach. The league is about scoring points and developing young quarterbacks; see Andy Reid and the Chiefs, Sean McVay and the Rams, Matt Nagy and the Bears. You have these coordinators that have a very creative mind for offense. But look at their defenses, they don’t have great defenses.
“The league has really changed.”
54-51 bears witness to that. With more likely to come.
- Tirico, Dungy, Harrison set to call Falcons-Saints-NEW YORK (AP) — When fans tune into NBC’s Thanksgiving night broadcast of the Falcons-Saints game, they might do a double take.
Rather than seeing Mike Tirico, Tony Dungy and Rodney Harrison in the studio for the pregame and halftime programs, those three will be calling the game.
It’s nothing new for Tirico, who does play-by-play on Notre Dame games for NBC, spent years as the main voice on ESPN’s Monday night games, and has been working nationally televised contests on holidays since 2002.
Dungy has worked in the booth before, too, including with Tirico. For Harrison, though, this is a first-time experience.
“This is definitely unfamiliar territory for me,” says Harrison, who played 15 pro seasons at safety and won two Super Bowls. “I’m trying to figure what I want to talk about, how I want to focus on the offense or the defense. Mike tells me just to talk about what you see, that my being on the field and in the locker room as a player, just talk about what you feel like you want to talk about and have fun.
“I am not going to try to be Cris Collinsworth or Troy Aikman. I will trust my instincts.”
There’s one thing Harrison definitely knows he won’t do.
“One of the things I am focusing, there are many announcers who think they have to talk about every single thing they see on every single play,” he says. “That’s one of the things that really irks me when I watch a game. I promise I will not be that guy. There will be no one saying, ‘Shut the hell up Rodney, I am tired of listening to you.’ That will not happen.”
Dungy laughs when the Harrison remark is relayed. The Hall of Fame coach, like Harrison, is not one to pull his punches, but he also knows he can’t be wailing away verbally.
What Dungy and Harrison can bring to the game is something not delivered by most NFL broadcasts: the perspective of the defense. So their critiques figure to be refreshing when you consider how many analysts in booths on the networks are former quarterbacks.
“I think Rodney really will give some insight they do not really get elsewhere,” Dungy says. “Especially in a game like this, which will be so much of an aerial attack and passing. So, what should and can be done on defense to counteract it. In that area, I think we will both have good things to say.
“It is a fine line how much to say, and I have worked with Mike twice and he is great because he will lead us into things, help us know when to talk and when not to. When I have something to say that will be helpful to the audience, that is when you want to say it. If it is not going to add to their knowledge, then you keep quiet.”
Tirico recognizes the importance of the comfort level the trio of announcers can carry into the broadcast. After all, they not only spend all of Sunday together, they also share thoughts via text or phone during the week.
That can be a key for any broadcast crew. If there is any tension or animosity, it often is detected by the audience.
“It’s a bit easier having the last couple of years together, or the few Thursday nights we worked on the field, being around the package when we had it,” Tirico says. “Every Sunday for the better part of 11 to 12 hours we are catching every game in the league and then doing the pregame show live and then watching the Sunday night game.
“There is no learning curve for getting comfortable with the guys.”
And the viewers are certain to benefit.
- Turnovers, leaky defense compound Buccaneers QB quandary-TAMPA, Fla. (AP) — Jameis Winston or Ryan Fitzpatrick.
It doesn’t seem to matter who’s playing quarterback for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Turnovers and a leaky defense are hindering the team’s chances of being successful.
The Bucs (3-7) have dropped seven of eight games following a 2-0 start, vacillating back and forth between Winston and Fitzpatrick, who’ve played well enough at times that Tampa Bay leads the NFL in passing yards and total offense.
The quarterbacks have also been turnover-prone, with their mistakes compounded by a porous defense that not only has yielded a league-high 329 points but hasn’t forced a turnover in the past seven games.
Coach Dirk Koetter, who has not announced who’ll start this week against the San Francisco 49ers, conceded Monday that the team’s turnover differential of minus-23 through 10 games is a mind-boggling statistic.
“It’s boggling on both ends. That we have that few takeaways and that many giveaways. It’s a ridiculous number to have the disparity be that much,” Koetter said Monday.
“What’s even crazier is we play a team coming up this week that has one fewer takeaway than we do,” the coach added. “It seems impossible. But it is a fact (although) they don’t have as many turnovers as we do.”
Koetter changed quarterbacks for the third time this season, benching Fitzpatrick during Sunday’s 38-35 loss to the New York Giants.
Winston, benched last month after throwing four interceptions in a loss at Cincinnati, entered the game after Fitzpatrick was picked off three times in falling behind 24-7 and led touchdown drives on four consecutive possessions.
Koetter said Monday he’d made a decision on which quarterback will start Sunday’s home game against San Francisco, but he did not want to announce it because he had not yet talked to Winston and Fitzpatrick individually.
“Even though I know what we’re going to do, I’m not going to be able to say it today because I would never tell the media before I told the quarterbacks themselves,” Koetter said.
The 35-year-old Fitzpatrick began the season as the starter while Winston, the No. 1 overall pick from the 2015 draft, was serving a three-game suspension for violating the league’s personal conduct policy.
Since topping 400 yards passing in back-to-back wins over New Orleans and Philadelphia, Fitzpatrick has lost five consecutive starts. Winston is 1-2 as a starter this season and also has played twice in relief of Fitzpatrick.
The common denominator in the team’s seven losses is the team has fallen behind early and been unable to escape double-digit deficits. In wins over the Saints, Eagles and Cleveland Browns, the Bucs led most of the way before holding on at the end.
“Almost every game we get some beautiful, beautiful play at quarterback. Some tremendous throws, good decision-making, some beautiful adjustments,” Koetter said. “But at other times we have some bad decision-making that result in turnovers. That’s hurting our team.”
Although the coach did not confirm whether Winston performed well enough against the Giants to reclaim the starting job, Koetter acknowledged the fourth-year pro “played better” and “for the most part made good decisions with the football.”
“Our quarterback play in general has been spectacular at times and not good enough at times,” the coach said. “That’s just the story of where we’re at on offense right now.”
Fitzpatrick said after Sunday’s game that he was proud of the way Winston led the team back against the Giants.
“It’s not easy to not have any preparation and be working with the scout team and get thrown in there during the middle of the game,” Fitzpatrick said.
Winston, meanwhile, would not speculate on who might start against the 49ers.
“I’m worried about finding a way to win our last six games. … I don’t have that much control over that, but my play can speak for me,” Winston said. “That’s the only thing I can control, and I’m going to do my best … if I get the opportunity.”
- Chargers look to regroup after loss to Broncos-LOS ANGELES (AP) — The Los Angeles Chargers remain in strong position for a playoff spot at 7-3, but injuries on defense and special teams struggles are concerns for coach Anthony Lynn.
Los Angeles lost a defensive starter for the second straight week when Corey Liuget suffered a season-ending knee injury during the second quarter of Sunday’s 23-22 loss to the Denver Broncos. He is the third starter who will be headed to injured reserve, joining linebackers Kyzir White and Denzel Perryman.
Liuget missed the first four games for violating the league’s policy on performance enhancers but bolstered the pass rush in the six games he played. Darius Philon, who started the first seven games and has 2.5 sacks, will move back into the starting spot and rookie Justin Jones will see more snaps.
Lynn said he was pleased with how defensive end Joey Bosa played in his first game. Bosa, who missed the first nine games due to a bone bruise to his left foot, played 31 of 56 snaps. The plan going into the game was for Bosa to see 20 plays.
“For his first game back I thought he looked good. He had good speed and explosion plus he came out of it healthy,” Lynn said.
The Chargers’ struggles on special teams will require more shuffling. They allowed a fake punt for the second straight week, which Lynn said was unacceptable. Kicker Michael Badgley made all three field goal attempts but missed an extra point. Los Angeles has missed six PATs this season. Caleb Sturgis missed five before being released.
One possibility to prevent another fake punt is to leave the defense out there with Desmond King as the returner.
“We ran punt safe some yesterday. The one time we didn’t we got faked on. There’s some things we’re going to do differently there,” Lynn said.
Los Angeles had 14 penalties Sunday, which was the team’s most in Lynn’s two seasons as coach. He said a lot of the penalties early were offensive linemen trying to get a jump on Denver’s pass rush.
The Chargers — who had a six-game winning streak snapped by the Broncos — have a two-game lead over Baltimore for the first wild card. They host Arizona on Sunday before a challenging December stretch that includes Pittsburgh, Cincinnati, Kansas City and the Ravens.
“It was a game we could have and should have won. It was definitely a wake-up call for us,” Lynn said.
- Steve Wilks mulls unspecified changes after Cardinals’ ugly loss-TEMPE, Ariz. (AP) — A bad season got much worse for the Arizona Cardinals with a home loss to Oakland.
Embattled first-year coach Steve Wilks is mulling some changes, although he didn’t say what they were, and there’s only so much the Cardinals can do considering their injuries and the overall state of their roster.
“Right now, being 2-8, you’re open to a lot of things from a standpoint of personnel changes, things that you think will give us an opportunity to be successful and win a football game,” Wilks said at his Monday news conference.
Sunday’s 23-21 loss left three teams tied for the worst record in the NFL: the Cardinals, Oakland and San Francisco. And the remaining schedule is formidable for the Cardinals.
They play at the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, followed by a trip to Green Bay the following week. There are also games at Atlanta and the season finale at Seattle. Arizona has only two remaining home games — Dec. 9 against Detroit and Dec. 23 against the Los Angeles Rams.
The Cardinals’ chances for many more, if any, victories seem slim, especially if play doesn’t improve.
“It’s not playing smart, just beating ourselves,” veteran safety Antoine Bethea said after the game. “That’s the most frustrating thing about it. Week in and week out, it’s just like the same thing.”
A positive aspect of the mistake-laded Arizona effort was the continued resurgence of David Johnson.
The dynamic back rushed for a season-best 137 yards, 53 of them on a run that set up Josh Rosen’s 5-yard TD pass to Larry Fitzgerald that put Arizona up 21-20 with 5:02 to play. Johnson had a 57-yard touchdown run called back by a holding call against tight end Ricky Seals-Jones.
It was one of several Arizona mistakes in the game’s final minutes. Jermaine Gresham was called for unnecessary roughness and Josh Bynes dropped an interception.
The Cardinals allowed Oakland, with no timeouts, to drive 63 yards in the final 1:53, setting up Daniel Carlson’s decisive 35-yard field goal as the game ended.
Rosen threw for three touchdowns — two to Fitzgerald — but was intercepted twice, both picks leading to first-half touchdowns. Rosen had only nine completions in 20 attempts for 136 yards.
“I think a lot of it is just the mental errors across the board on offense and defense,” Rosen said of the team’s performance. “I know I had a bunch. Just little mental errors that aren’t a part of the game plan. Dumb little things we just have to clean up overall.”
Why is a team making those mistakes 10 games into a season? Nobody seemed to have a good answer.
“That’s why it’s an issue that was brought up because it’s very late in the season,” Rosen said. “That’s a good point.”
It’s been a rough introduction for Wilks to life as an NFL head coach.
“No. 1, you have to learn how to persevere,” he said. “It’s tough. You have to learn how to hit the reset button and not linger on things because, once again, one loss can turn into two. I try to pull out the positives and try to learn from the negative stuff and try to get those guys to see the big picture.”
Wilks said he knew it would be a tough job when he was hired.
“Did I expect to be where we are? No, but again you have to learn how to persevere” he said. “You have to learn how to continue to push and be that example. I am not going to quit. That’s what I just told the guys, and neither are they. We’re going to find a way to get on track and win a football game.”
Arizona was last 2-8 in 2006. That team finished 5-11 and coach Dennis Green was fired.