NFL Week 5 game-by-game analysis, grades

The Colts stunned the Chiefs in Kansas City. Green Bay built a big early lead on the road and held off the Cowboys. Wow, Carolina’s Christian McCaffrey (237 scrimmage yards) is good. Here’s Yardbarker’s Week 5 whip-around. 1 of 16

INDIANAPOLIS 19, KANSAS CITY 13

COLTS: (3-2):  Indianapolis’ defense turned in a heroic performance against PATRICK MAHOMES and the Chiefs. The D-line played the biggest part. Indy was without Malik Hooker, Darius Leonard and Clayton Geathers, but Justin Houston, Grover Stewart and the rest of Indy’s front-seven owned the line of scrimmage. The Colts harassed Mahomes and, in particular, suffocated Kansas City’s running game. It was an impressive and surprising effort; Indianapolis allowed three of its first four opponents to rush for at least 100 yards, and Oakland dominated them on the ground in Week 4. The Colts now get a much-needed bye week to get healthy, before they host Houston in a game that could shape the AFC South race. If the Colts win that one, they could easily be 7-2 by the time a mid-November divisional crucible begins. GAME GRADE: A  | NEXT: Week 6 bye, vs. Texans (Sun., Oct. 20)

— Chris Mueller


CHIEFS: (4-1): The first of many national showcases for this Chiefs team illuminated an uncomfortable reality. They may not be sufficiently improved defensively to  capitalize on Patrick Mahomes’ brilliance. When the reigning MVP is compromised or is missing enough key players, the Chiefs’ foundation becomes shaky. The Chiefs entered Sunday night’s game 31st in run defense, and the Colts turned the clock back to expose it. Kansas City used considerable capital on defensive augmentations this offseason but had no answer for Indianapolis’ rushing onslaught. The Chiefs, who did lose key defensive tackle Chris Jones, gave up 180 rushing yards – the third straight game in which they have allowed at least 180. Considering the Chiefs are also below average on pass defense and rush offense, they are again asking Mahomes to walk a tightrope. For a team carrying the NFL’s best contract, its defense still being one of the league’s worst is troubling.GAME GRADE:  D + | NEXT: vs. Texans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 2 of 16

GREEN BAY 34, DALLAS 24

PACKERS (4-1):  It’s about time the coaching staff trusted AARON JONES enough to feed him touches. It took Jamaal Williams (concussion) going down, but hey, maybe everyone can now see he is far and away the best running back option. After the Packers took a big early lead, Jones got a little breather here and there in the second half, but still finished with 182 total yards against an excellent defense. He has natural running skills and is developing as a pass-catcher. This game also showcased Jones’ improvement as a route runner, and he’s getting better in pass protection. Without Devante Adams (turf toe), Aaron Rodgers spread the ball around, with nine Packers catching at least one pass. It’s telling that Jones not only led the Packers in rushing but also was Green Bay’s leading receiver (seven catches for 75 yards) by a significant margin. GAME GRADE:  A-minus | NEXT: vs. Lions

— Matt Williamson


COWBOYS (3-2): With Dak Prescott’s contract looming, it’s impossible for his performance not to be the focus. Although he made this game interesting down the stretch, he finished with three interceptions, the 10th multi-interception game of his career, now early in his fourth season. Prescott threw for 463 yards, 226 to Amari Cooper. But much of that yardage came in the second half, when the Packers’ defense seemed to let up. Green Bay’s defense was especially impressive in blanking the Cowboys in the first half. Cooper, the former Raiders receiver, has been a wise investment for Dallas, but whether he’s enough to help turn Dak into a top-line starter remains to be seen. Two weeks in a row against considerable competition, Dallas was found lacking. Are the Cowboys willing to settle for “just OK”? GAME GRADE:  C | NEXT: at Jets

— Mike Tunison 3 of 16

CAROLINA 34, JACKSONVILLE 27

JAGUARS (2-3): Jacksonville’s run defense had been trending in the right direction the past two weeks, holding the Titans and Broncos to a combined 159 yards in two wins. But the Jags’ run D was a no-show against Carolina. CHRISTIAN McCAFFREY gouged Jacksonville, especially on an 84-yard gallop that saw more than half the defense over-commit to a fake. Even McCaffrey’s backup, Reggie Bonnafon, hit for a 59-yard TD. Jacksonville’s aggressiveness was its problem on that play, too. Multiple members of the front-seven over-pursued because of an end-around fake; the Jaguars’ secondary had no chance to catch him because all the players took a bad angle. Gardner Minshew (374 yards passing) played well enough, but if the Jaguars are going to win the AFC South, they must get more from the defense. GAME GRADE:  C-minus | NEXT: vs. Saints (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


PANTHERS (3-2):  Christian McCaffrey continues to add reasons why he’s an elite back and in the discussion for the best in the game. Sunday’s performance was historic in many ways. The third of his three touchdowns was an 84-yard run, the longest in franchise history. (According to NextGen Stats, he reached a max speed of 21.95 mph on the TD run, his fastest touch since 2018.) McCaffrey’s performance was one of only 18 since 2000 by a running back that resulted in at least 237 scrimmage yards and three touchdowns. That means you’re talking about a roughly once-a-year type of outing, usually done by only the best of the best. The only downside was a sequence in the red zone in the fourth quarter when the Panthers tried to get him a passing touchdown (he had one in his career before Sunday) on third down and it didn’t work out. Then McCaffrey was stuffed on a fourth-down attempt. Carolina held on, but it slightly marred an otherwise excellent game. GAME GRADE: B+ | NEXT: at Bucs (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 4 of 16

BALTIMORE 26, PITTSBURGH 23 (OT)

RAVENS (3-2): In an overtime game, the Ravens had the ball 13 minutes, 26 seconds longer and ran the ball 40 times. Despite being the much fresher unit, Baltimore’s defense was far from impressive. This is more than just an isolated incident for the once-exceptional unit, as it has been abused four weeks in a row. Pittsburgh’s offensive box score isn’t telling (269 yards), because the unit still seeks an identity. It lost MASON RUDOLPH (concussion) to a vicious hit by Earl Thomas, which put third-stringer Devlin Hodges at the offense’s controls. Yet the Steelers still averaged 5.3 yards per play, a yard and a half more than Baltimore. The run defense is a problem without question, but the area of most concern is Baltimore’s pass rush. This is a blitz-heavy scheme, but the Ravens’ secondary is uncharacteristically poor, and the lack of pure pass-rushers hurts. Terrell Suggs, where are you? GAME GRADE:  C+ | NEXT: vs., Bengals (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


STEELERS (1-4): Going back to 2017, Pittsburgh has rushed the passer as well as or better than almost every defense. The Steelers had 52 sacks last season, 56 in 2017. It’s what Pittsburgh (19 sacks) does best this season, too. The Steelers’ rush (five sacks) on Lamar Jackson was superb. But what stood out in Week 5 was their pass-rushing plan. Not only did the Steelers push the pocket really well, but for the most part, they kept Jackson bottled up by staying in their rush lanes. We didn’t see a lot of games or stunting. Jackson (14 carries for 70 yards) got loose here and there. The execution of a pass-rush plan, an underrated important aspect of playing great defense, was impressive. GAME GRADE: B-minus | NEXT: at Chargers (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 5 of 16

NEW ENGLAND 33, WASHINGTON 7

PATRIOTS (5-0): Jamie Collins went from athletic Patriots linebacker to a freelancing player deemed unnecessary during the team’s Super Bowl LII run; the Pats traded him to the Browns in 2016. Cleveland soon gave the outside linebacker a position-record $12.5 million-per-year contract that he did not live up to. Now back in New England on an incentive-laden deal and counting only $3 million against the cap, he has become a Defensive Player of the Year candidate. Against Washington, Collins continued his resurgence by recovering a second-quarter fumble and forcing another on an impressive inside rush that resulted in a fourth-quarter sack of Colt McCoy. A player the Browns cut has been one of the NFL’s best this season, finishing Week 5 with 4.5 sacks (an NFL-high for off-ball ‘backers) and a career-high three interceptions. For a Patriots team coming off perhaps the Super Bowl’s greatest defensive showing, Collins looks like a frightening luxury. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: vs. Giants (Thurs.)

— Sam Robinson


REDSKINS (0-5): In a game the Patriots were bound to win in a laugher, especially amid the swirling rumors of JAY GRUDEN’S impending dismissal, the Washington defense put on a better performance than anyone had a right to expect, even if the final score doesn’t indicate as much. Washington limited Tom Brady to completing three of his first seven attempts en route to taking an early lead, the Pats’ first deficit of the season. A fourth-down stop and a red-zone interception by Montae Nicholson, after the Washington offense had just turned the ball over on its own side of the field, kept the game competitive longer than perhaps it should have been. Think Washington fans are disenchanted? Asked by the Washington Post what he thought about the predominately New England crowd at FedEx Field, Brady said, “I thought it was pretty amazing. That felt like a home game.” Gruden, as expected, was canned early Monday morning. GAME GRADE: C | NEXT: at Dolphins (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison

BUFFALO 14, TENNESSEE 7

BILLS (4-1): With Miami on tap after a Week 6 bye, Buffalo is firmly in contention. The Bills again received spotty offense but have become a matchup nightmare for opposing aerial attacks. After stifling Tom Brady in one of the worst games of his career, Buffalo smothered Marcus Mariota. The Bills’ front seven did not sack Brady but dropped Mariota five times, four by inside rushers. Defensive tackle JORDAN PHILLIPS had a three-sack first half. Buffalo recently lost promising D-tackle Harrison Phillips (torn ACL) for the season. On Sunday, defensive end Trent Murphy (head) and linebacker Matt Milano (hamstring) left with injuries in the second half. Yet Buffalo still held the Titans to 4-for-14 on third downs. The Bills are headed in the right direction in Sean McDermott’s third season. This is a better team than their fluky 2017 playoff squad. GAME GRADE:  B + | NEXT:  Week 6 bye, vs. Dolphins (Sun., Oct. 20)

— Sam Robinson


TITANS (2-3): It was reasonable to assume that a matchup of two of the league’s top-five scoring defenses would produce a low-scoring game. But the Titans must be kicking themselves because of their kicker. Cairo Santos missed all four of his field goals — 50- and 53-yarders, a 36-yarder, and a 33-yarder that was blocked — and those misses were the difference. Santos came into the game 41-for-44 from 30-39 yards and 8-for-15 from 50-plus yards for his career. Titans coach Mike Vrabel says he still has confidence in him. Santos’ difficulties obscured the fact that Marcus Mariota and the offense were sloppy, had touchdowns nullified by penalties and several drives stifled by sacks. The Titans were penalized eight times for 60 yards and allowed five sacks, despite left tackle Taylor Lewan’s return from a four-game PED suspension. GAME GRADE: D | NEXT: at Broncos (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 7 of 16

DENVER 20, LA CHARGERS 13

BRONCOS (1-4): Denver could not curtail the Jaguars’ momentum in Week 4 but managed to stop the Chargers from stealing the win. Los Angeles, however, would have operated differently in the second half had cornerback Kareem Jackson, a former Texan, not provided Denver’s defensive play of the year. Jackson derailed the Bolts’ fourth-and-goal play by forcing an Austin Ekeler fumble near the pylon in the second quarter. This ensured the Broncos carried a 17-0 lead into halftime. Pro Football Focus’ No. 12 cornerback entering Sunday, Jackson made a Broncos-high 10 tackles and helped a Bradley Chubb-less defense hold PHILIP RIVERS to 4.4 yards per attempt. GAME GRADE:  A-minus | NEXT: vs. Titans (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


CHARGERS (2-3): Despite having Mike Williams and Melvin Gordon back in the lineup, the Bolts could not produce enough against a Broncos team down Bradley Chubb, starting linebacker Josey Jewell and would-be starting cornerback Bryce Callahan. Los Angeles totaled 246 yards – 120 fewer than any output of their previous 2019 outings – and were outrushed 191-35. A week after the Jaguars erased a 14-point Broncos lead largely with Leonard Fournette’s 225-yard day, the Chargers were not patient enough with the run. Philip Rivers threw two interceptions. Keenan Allen, the NFL’s receiving leader after Week 4, caught four passes for 18 yards. This profiled as a non-threatening spot for the injury-plagued team, but the Chargers are plagued by inconsistency. LA, which played at home before a big Denver contingent, is in trouble amid a crowded AFC middle tier. GAME GRADE:  D + | NEXT: vs. Steelers (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson 8 of 16

ARIZONA 26, CINCINNATI 23

CARDINALS: (1-3-1): KYLER MURRAY and Kliff Kingsbury each got their first win in the NFL, and it isn’t hard to pinpoint why. Arizona’s offensive line kept Murray upright almost the entire game. The Cardinals allowed only one sack despite coming in having surrendered 20, most in the league through four games. Murray did his part, too, managing to get rid of the football under pressure. The lack of negative plays was a major factor in helping the Cardinals establish rhythm and consistency. He was also more decisive as a playmaker, and he led a 266-yard team rushing effort with 93 on his own. Arizona piled up 514 yards, and while Cincinnati is one of the league’s worst defenses, it was still a big step forward for Murray and Kingsbury. Notable: Arizona prevented a score by a tight end for the first time this season. GAME GRADE: B +  | NEXT: vs. Falcons (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller


BENGALS (0-5): It’s clear the Cardinals are the better of these two poor teams. Here’s the deal with Cincinnati: Its offense has only two players! Joe Mixon and Tyler Boyd; that’s it. Andy Dalton is a professional quarterback, and tight end Tyler Eifert can occasionally make plays, but this team has a putrid offensive line, and every defense the Bengals face (at least until injured A.J.Green returns) is going to make life extremely difficult on Mixon and Boyd. These two touched the ball 30 times, accounting for 232 of Cincinnati’s 370 yards. The offense is far too dependent on them. Hey, I thought head coach Zac Taylor’s forte was offense. GAME GRADE:  D+ | NEXT: at Ravens (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson 9 of 16

HOUSTON 53, ATLANTA 32

FALCONS (1-4): Atlanta’s secondary will be having nightmares about Will Fuller for weeks to come. Part of the Texans receiver’s monster day had to do with several miscommunications in coverage by the Falcons, including both of his first-half touchdowns. Fuller didn’t just reap the benefit of broken plays, he also just straight-up smoked an overmatched Atlanta secondary when defenders had the right idea about where they needed to be. Fuller had 14 catches on 16 targets for 217 yards and three touchdowns. That’s a day that looks almost effortlessly easy; Atlanta’s listless coverage helped make it that way.  GAME GRADE:  D-minus | NEXT: at Cardinals (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison


TEXANS (3-2): If this is what life is like for DESHAUN WATSON with a clean pocket, his offensive line should be the most motivated group on the planet. After an opening three and out, the Texans piled up six touchdowns and two field goals, with only the end of the first half stopping another drive. Watson finished with five touchdowns and a perfect passer rating, consistently shredding the Falcons’ defense with deep shots downfield. This came one week after the Texans didn’t complete a pass longer than 14 yards in a loss to Carolina. Watson’s performance and the line’s protection were by far the most encouraging aspects of the game for Houston, but Will Fuller’s career day was close behind. If he can function as a truly dangerous second option behind DeAndre Hopkins, Houston will be the team to beat in the AFC South. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: at Chiefs (Sun.)

— Chris Mueller 10 of 16

NEW ORLEANS 31, TAMPA BAY 24

BUCS (2-3): Coming off a 55-point outing in a win over the Rams, the Buccaneers must have figured they wouldn’t need quite that many offensive fireworks to top a Brees-less Saints team, although obviously one would like to keep the offense humming regardless. It can be hard to be effective to that degree when your top receiver, Mike Evans, finishes the game with no catches on three targets. Perhaps that’s a credit to Marshon Lattimore, but wideouts considered among the game’s best don’t usually pull disappearing acts such as that. GAME GRADE: D + | NEXT: vs. Panthers (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison


SAINTS (4-1): The idea during Drew Brees’ absence is that the Saints were hoping for just good enough quarterback play to tread water and eke out a few wins. That has been the case for the most part. New Orleans got good QB play and then some against the Buccaneers, as Teddy Bridgewater threw for 314 yards and four touchdowns. One of the knocks against Bridgewater is that he tends to play the short game and not get a lot of air under the ball. Against the Bucs, he had an impressive strike for 33 yards to Ted Ginn for a score and another to Josh Hill on a 26-yard play. GAME GRADE:  A-minus | NEXT: at Jaguars (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 11 of 16

MINNESOTA 28, NY GIANTS 10

VIKINGS (3-2): The Vikings have one of the league’s best running games, making play-action rollouts a highly effective tactic by KIRK COUSINS. Dalvin Cook and Alexander Mattison combined for 184 rushing yards on 28 attempts against New York. Cousins isn’t a great athlete, but he does move well and certainly can throw effectively on the run. Designed quarterback movement off play action played to Cousins’ strengths and put the Giants’ suspect linebackers in compromised positions. This game plan had assistant coach Gary Kubiak written all over it — keep an eye on this the rest of the season. GAME GRADE:  B | NEXT: vs. Eagles (Sun.)

— Matt Williamson


GIANTS (2-3): There are plenty of takes to be had about Daniel Jones coming back to earth following his excellent first outing two weeks ago in Tampa. Sunday’s loss makes it clear there are plenty of issues with the roster even if the Giants get a serviceable performance from their starting quarterback. Before Week 5, Kirk Cousins hadn’t thrown for more than 233 yards in a game. He had that before the end of the first half against the Giants. New York’s secondary was ripe for the picking all game, and it shows in the nearly flawless performances that Cousins (306 yards passing) and Adam Thielen (seven catches and 130 yards) put up in a one-sided game. GAME GRADE:  D | NEXT: at Patriots (Thur.)

— Mike Tunison 12 of 16

OAKLAND 24, CHICAGO 21 (LONDON)

BEARS (3-2): Allen Robinson, who had seven catches on eight targets for 97 yards and two touchdowns, is easily Chicago’s best offensive player. That showed in a big way in Week 5. For the better part of this game, the Bears surprisingly lost the battle at the line of scrimmage. Chicago was also hampered by penalties, poor blocking, a lackluster running game and less-than-stellar defense. But Robinson was spectacular. Rarely is he mentioned as an upper-echelon wide receiver, but he excels at all levels of the field, is good after the catch and often dominant at the catch point. He has bailed out Chicago QBs all season. GAME GRADE:  C | NEXT: Week 6 bye, vs. Saints (Sun, Oct. 20)

— Matt Williamson


RAIDERS (3-2):  With the Raiders producing one winning season since 2003, the bulk of their drives in this era have not been particularly consequential. A drive in London may go down as a season-changing march. Jon Gruden pulling the trigger on a fake punt on a fourth-and-1 from his own 27-yard line ignited a Raiders team on the verge of blowing a 17-point lead. The direct snap to safety Erik Harris doubled as a turning point, with the Raiders then piecing together a 13-play, 97-yard, go-ahead drive against the Bears’ top-tier defense. DEREK CARR, No. 22 in QBR through four games, led the drive without hitting Tyrell Williams or Darren Waller. Oakland rookie tight end Foster Moreau contributed 41 yards on the possession, including a diving grab to set up Josh Jacobs’ game-winner. GAME GRADE: A | NEXT: Week 6 bye, at Packers (Sun., Oct. 20)

— Sam Robinson 13 of 16

PHILADELPHIA 31, NY JETS 6

JETS (0-4): Their offensive line struggles in recent years having bled into 2019, the Jets made changes before Week 5. Despite the two new starters – left guard Alex Lewis and right tackle Chuma Edoga – the Jets gave up 10 sacks to the Eagles. For a team that has seen two quarterbacks go down, this made a third consecutive Jets game nearly unwatchable. One of those sacks resulted in a touchdown, with Eagles in-season
cornerback acquisition Orlando Scandrick ripping the ball from Luke Falk and sprinting for a touchdown. The Jets last allowed 10-plus sacks in a 2012 game against the Chargers, when another backup quarterback – Greg McElroy – was concussed. Falk made it through this game but again finished with a dreadful stat line – 15-for-26, 120 yards, two interceptions. The Jets cannot be properly evaluated until Sam Darnold returns, but their stretch without him exposed plenty of flaws that stand to hinder the starter’s development when he comes back. GAME GRADE: F | NEXT: vs. Cowboys (Sun.)

— Sam Robinson


EAGLES (3-2): Philly was more or less on autopilot in what was always an expected win. The offense (446 yards) plowed through New York with a run-heavy opening drive to take a touchdown lead. From there, the Eagles’ defense forced the turnovers, including a 52-yard pick-six by linebacker NATE GERRY on the ensuing Jets possession, that have been missing in their early season struggles. Still, a big part of being a playoff team is taking care of business when you have the opportunity, so that’s an encouraging sign for an Eagles team that has been erratic and faces a difficult six-week stretch ahead (at Vikings, at Cowboys, at Bills, vs. Bears, vs. Patriots, vs. Seahawks).  GAME GRADE:  A | NEXT: at Vikings (Sun.)

— Mike Tunison 14 of 16

MONDAY: CLEVELAND AT SAN FRANCISCO

BROWNS (2-2): Cleveland got a huge win in Week 4 at Baltimore, but the Ravens no longer have a strong pass-rushing defense. The Browns’ troubled offensive line is going to face a far stiffer challenge on the road against the Niners, who are coming off a bye. It isn’t getting the national credit, but San Francisco’s defensive front is among the best in football. Rookie defensive end Nick Bosa has just one sack, but he is stout. Keeping BAKER MAYFIELD clean should prove to be the most challenging aspect of this game for the Browns. The second-year QB is much more effective when he gets rid of the ball quickly.  | NEXT: vs. Seattle (Sun., Oct. 13)

— Matt Williamson


49ERS (3-0): San Francisco comes off an early bye week with a chance to start asserting itself as the team to beat in the NFC West. There will be no worries about looking past the Browns, even with a road showdown with the Rams looming in Week 6. The Niners’ defensive front has been a major strength so far this season, with the team ranking fifth in the league against the run and fourth in yards per carry allowed. It will face their toughest test of the season in the form of Nick Chubb and the Browns, who found their stride against Baltimore in Week 4.  Arik Armstead, Ronald Blair, DeForest Buckner and Nick Bosa have been productive in terms of generating tackles for loss, and have consistently forced opponents to play from behind the sticks. NEXT: at Los Angeles Rams   (Sun., Oct. 13)

— Chris Mueller

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/yardbarkers_nfl_week_5_game_by_game_analysis_grades/s1__30191483#slide_14

By: Yardbarker staff

Top takeaways from Sunday’s Week 2 NFL action

Sunday’s NFL action represented the first full slate of the season as 14 games took place around the league. It did not disappoint.

The early games included tremendous performances from NFC rivals taking on hostile road crowds. That included the Dallas Cowboys doing their thing in D.C., and the San Francisco 49ers showing that the NFC West might be more competitive than originally thought.

Over in the AFC, the New England Patriots absolutely dominated a horrible Miami Dolphins team while the Pittsburgh Steelers proved that they are a shell of their former selves.

It’s in this that we look at the biggest takeaways from Sunday’s Week 2 NFL action.

Broncos offense is a hot mess

Sep 15, 2019; Denver, CO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco (5) attempts a pass under pressure from Chicago Bears nose tackle Eddie Goldman (91) in the fourth quarter at Empower Field at Mile High. Mandatory Credit: Isaiah J. Downing-USA TODAY Sports

We knew that Sunday’s home game against the Chicago Bears was going to be a low-scoring affair. Both the Broncos and Bears boast tremendous defenses with questionable offense. We didn’t realize just how bad the Joe Flacco-led Broncos offense was going to be. Was Week 1 against the Raiders an exception to the rule? Sunday’s game proved that it wasn’t.

Denver tallied a total of six points through the first 59 minutes of the game before converting on a touchdown and two-point conversion to take the lead before blowing it on defense en route to a 16-14 loss. All said, the Broncos’ offense converted on 3-of-14 third-down opportunities in the loss. That’s just not going to get it done. Now 0-2 on the season and averaging 15 points per game, it’s time to start talking about the Broncos’ offense as one of the worst in the NFL.

Houston, we have a problem

Sep 15, 2019; Houston, TX, USA; Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson (4) runs during the second quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Kevin Jairaj-USA TODAY Sports

It’s simple. The Texans need to do a better job protecting Deshaun Watson. We can use all the excuses available to mankind. That’s fine. But unless Watson stays upright on a more consistent basis, he’s not going to last this season. The third-year quarterback was hit 11 times and sacked six times against the Saints last week. Despite coming out on top 13-12 against a hapless Jaguars team on Sunday, Watson was hit seven times and sacked another four times.

The backdrop is real. Houston lost recently acquired starting left tackle Laremy Tunsil to an ankle injury. He was added ahead of Week 1 to help rebuild a devastated and talent-stricken Texans offensive line. No matter the severity of Tunsil’s injury, these Texans must do a better job protecting Watson. It’s that simple.

This just in: Kyler Murray is good

Sep 15, 2019; Baltimore, MD, USA; Arizona Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray (1) throws to tight end Charles Clay (85) as Baltimore Ravens linebacker Matthew Judon (99) applies pressure during the third quarter at M&T Bank Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Tommy Gilligan-USA TODAY Sports

For the first time since Cam Newton back in 2011, a quarterback has accounted for 300-plus passing yards in each of his first two NFL starts. Shockingly, Murray has accomplished this feat in consecutive road starts to begin his career.

It might not have been good enough to come out on top against the Ravens on Sunday, but Murray continues to prove that the NFL game is not too big for him. The reigning Heisman winner completed 25-of-40 passes for 349 yards without an interception. Since struggling through the first two quarters last week, Murray has been on fire. It’s going to be fun watching him play moving forward on the season.

Chargers blow a chance at 2-0

Following a win over the Indianapolis Colts last week, most figured that the Chargers would not have an issue on the road against the Lions on Sunday. Almost immediately, that proved not to be the case. Philip Rivers and Co. scored a grand total of 10 points in a three-point loss that was capped off by this game-winning touchdown pass from Matthew Stafford to Kenny Golladay.

It’s games like these the Chargers can’t afford to lose in an AFC West headed by the Kansas City Chiefs. And in reality, it was the offense that failed to step up. In fact, the Chargers’ defense was game against Detroit. It just wasn’t to be. And this loss could come back to haunt Los Angeles moving forward on the season.

Kirk Cousins continues to be a joke

Sep 15, 2019; Green Bay, WI, USA; Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins (8) fumbles the football while tackled by Green Bay Packers defensive tackle Kenny Clark (97) during the first quarter at Lambeau Field. Mandatory Credit: Jeff Hanisch-USA TODAY Sports

Minnesota was able to win last week against the Falcons despite seeing Cousins attempt 10 passes. That was in no way going to be the case against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field. Aaron Rodgers and Co. opened up a 21-0 lead early in the second quarter. While Minnesota’s defense picked it up and held the Packers scoreless the rest of the way, Cousins was absolutely atrocious under center.

The high-priced quarterback completed 14-of-32 passes for 230 yards. He threw two interceptions, including a pick in the end zone with Minnesota driving for the potential go-ahead score late in the fourth quarter.

https://twitter.com/packers/status/1173326891689758720

It’s getting to the point that Minnesota can’t rely on Cousins to be anything more than a game manager. Sunday’s loss to the Packers magnified this to a T. Defenses know if they put the game in Cousins’ hands, the quarterback will not be up to the task.

Julio Jones saves Falcons’ season

Sep 15, 2019; Atlanta, GA, USA; Atlanta Falcons wide receiver Julio Jones (11) catches a pass against Philadelphia Eagles cornerback Ronald Darby (21) in the second quarter at Mercedes-Benz Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Jason Getz-USA TODAY Sports

 

Teams that start the season 0-2 since 2007 have made the playoffs just 11 percent of the time. That’s what the Falcons were facing at home Sunday night against the Philadelphia Eagles. Taking on an injury-depleted squad, Atlanta almost gave this game away. That included a 13-play, 73-yard touchdown drive by Philadelphia to take the lead with just over three minutes left.

All looked lost for Atlanta. It was facing a fourth-and-three with the game on the line. That’s when Jones stepped up and hauled in a 54-yard game-winning touchdown to help Atlanta pull it out by the score of 24-20. He had put up another tremendous catch earlier in the game, too, finishing with 106 yards on five receptions. Jones saved Atlanta’s season Sunday night. It’s that simple.

No shame in Pats’, Antonio Brown’s game

Not only did Antonio Brown make his Patriots debut Sunday against the Dolphins, the team featured him early. That included Brown making multiple catches on the first drive and coming away with a touchdown in the first half. All said, Brown caught 4-of-8 targets for 56 yards with a touchdown.

The backdrop here is interesting, to say the least. It was just last week that Brown’s former trainer filed a lawsuit in federal court claiming multiple instances of sexual assault. Given these accusations, the Patriots’ decision to have Brown active for Week 2 tells us exactly where they stand on the situation. Only time will tell regarding the team’s stance moving forward. For now, Brown promises to play a huge role on offense in New England as the season progresses.

Cowboys have no problems with Redskins 

Sep 15, 2019; Landover, MD, USA; Dallas Cowboys running back Ezekiel Elliott (21) carries the ball to score a touchdown past Washington Redskins linebacker Ryan Anderson (52) in the fourth quarter at FedExField. Mandatory Credit: Geoff Burke-USA TODAY Sports

It started out slowly for Dallas against the Redskins in D.C. Sunday. For the second consecutive game, the Cowboys found themselves trailing early against a lesser opponent. But much like what we saw last week against the Giants, Dak Prescott and Co. picked it up big time from that point on.

Prescott followed up a flawless opener by completing 26-of-30 passes for 269 yards with three touchdowns and a pick. He added to a rushing attack that went for 213 yards. Meanwhile, Dallas bottled up the Redskins running game to the tune of 47 yards on 17 attempts. It led to another lopsided win for Dallas. This time, by the score of 31-21. Could this team now be the class of the NFC? The Cowboys are certainly looking like it right now.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/top_takeaways_from_sundays_week_2_nfl_action/s1_12680_30009140

By: Vincent Frank

Robert Whittaker believes Khabib Nurmagomedov won’t lose anytime soon

28 men have tried, 28 have failed. After Khabib Nurmagomedov defeated Dustin Poirier at UFC 242, he improved to 28-0 and looked unstoppable in the process.

For middleweight champion, Robert Whittaker, he doesn’t believe the Russian will lose for a long time. He says his skill set is super impressive given everyone knows what he will do, but they can’t stop it. That of course, is the wrestling.

“I don’t see Khabib losing anytime soon,” Whittaker said on his Grange TV podcast. “I just can’t. He put work on Dustin (Poirier). Dustin is a great fighter. And, you know, every opponent that goes in there to fight Khabib knows what Khabib is going to do. They know. So I’m sure Dustin worked wrestling defense rigorously, like the entire camp.”

In the fight, Khabib Nurmagomedov kept on coming forward and going for takedowns and throwing strikes. He didn’t appear tired at all, and even escaped a tight guillotine choke.

Yet, for Robert Whittaker, the takedowns and escaping the choke was not the most impressive thing for the middleweight champ. Instead, it is the Russian’s chin.

“Khabib is something else,” Whittaker said. “His cardio, his subtle technique, his arm endurance, his stamina, and what blew me out of the water was his chin. He copped one of Dustin’s textbook left hands on the button of his chin.”

Of course, Khabib Nurmagomedov has taken some heavy shots from both Poirier and Conor McGregor in his past two fights. Yet, he kept on walking forward. For Whittaker, Khabib Nurmagomedov’s ability to take a heavy shot, his cardio, and wrestling is so impressive that no one will be able to beat him. So, the Aussie champ expects the Russian to reign supreme over the lightweight division for quite a long time. And, there is no reason to doubt Whittaker right now.

By: Cole Shelton

Grading the offseason for every NHL team

With NHL training camps starting to get under way and the start of the 2019-20 NHL season less than a month away, it is time to look back at the offseason and see what every team did to improve. We assign a grade for all 31 NHL teams. See which teams received a passing mark and which teams did not make the grade.  1 of 31

Anaheim Ducks: D

This could be another long season for the Ducks. Their big move this summer was buying out Corey Perry’s contract, and they really didn’t add anything to a team that was one of the worst in the NHL last. year. Ryan Kesler won’t play, Ryan Getzlaf is a year older, and it is going to be up to John Gibson and Ryan Miller in net to carry this team to respectability. They are a great goalie duo, but they may not be great enough to do the impossible.   2 of 31

Arizona Coyotes: B

Acquiring Phil Kessel has given the organization a much-needed boost at the box office and has the potential to do the same on the ice. The Coyotes have not had an impact offensive player like this in more than a decade. His addition, the under-the-radar pickup of Carl Soderberg and what will hopefully be some better health luck might be just enough to get this young, exciting team over the hump and back to the playoffs. They also committed to another part of their young core by signing Clayton Keller to a huge long-term contract extension.  3 of 31

Boston Bruins: C

Not much here to evaluate. The Bruins lost a couple of depth players to free agency but are mostly returning the same team that was one game away from winning the Stanley cup. They might take a step back just because it is difficult to go through that postseason gauntlet two years in a row, but they are still going to be a contender. They just have not really added much this offseason. 4 of 31

Buffalo Sabres: B

They paid a huge price to re-sign Jeff Skinner, but he seems to work really well with Jack Eichel.  Marcus Johansson, Colin Miller and Jimmy Vesey are nice complementary additions to the core of Eichel, Skinner and Rasmus Dahlin. It was a good offseason and they should be a better team, but I am not sure they added enough to close the gap between them and the top teams in the Atlantic Division or the top wild-card teams in the Eastern Conference.   5 of 31

Calgary Flames: D

The Flames were outstanding a year ago, but a lot of things went right to help them climb to the top of the Western Conference standings. Will all of that happen again? Their big offseason moves were bringing in Cam Talbot to replace Mike Smith in net and trading James Neal for Milan Lucic. Hardly the type of moves that should excite fans and convince them that the team can take the next step this season.  6 of 31

Carolina Hurricanes: A

They will be without some important players from last year’s team (Justin Williams, Curtis McElhinney, and Micheal Ferland) but they did find some solid replacements in Erik Haula, Ryan Dzingel and James Reimer. They also added to an already stacked defense by signing Jake Gardiner to a four-year contract in early September. Their biggest offseason win, though, was the Montreal Canadiens signing Sebastian Aho to a restricted free agent offer sheet they were easily able to match, helping them avoid a summer of painful contract negotiations and getting their franchise player locked in on a team-friendly contract.  7 of 31

Chicago Blackhawks: B

The Blackhawks are banking heavily on their core still being good enough to win.  Instead of making big changes and going for a rebuild, they worked to improve their defense with Olli Maatta, Calvin de Haan and the addition of goaltender Robin Lehner. The Blackhawks were one of the worst defensive teams in the league a year ago and are hoping these additions can help them improve enough to complement their offense.   8 of 31

Colorado Avalanche: A

The Avalanche are beginning to emerge as a power in the Western Conference with their young core of superstars led by Nathan  MacKinnon and Mikko Rantanen. They added to that this summer with the additions of Andre Burakovsky, Joonas Donskoi and Nazem Kadri to bolster their   forward depth. Combined with a young defense that will feature Cale Makar, Sam Girard, and eventually Bowen Byram (No. 4 overall pick this summer), they should be a Stanley Cup contender for the foreseeable future.   9 of 31

Columbus Blue Jackets: D

This is a tough one. Gustav Nyquist was a strong free agent addition, but this team was gutted in the offseason with Artemi Panarin, Sergei Bobrovsky and Matt Duchene all moving on. They still have a strong core of young players, especially on defense with Seth Jones and Zach Werenski, but goaltending is going to be a huge question mark. 10 of 31

Dallas Stars: B

The Stars were the most top-heavy team in the NHL last season and needed to do something to address the lack of depth. They hopefully did that with the additions of Joe Pavelski and Corey Perry. Their impact will ultimately depend on how much both players have left in their tanks in their late 30s, but they at least tried to address their biggest shortcoming from a year ago.  11 of 31

Detroit Red Wings: C

This is only so high because they managed to get Steve Yzerman to return to Detroit and oversee this rebuild. He is one of the league’s top general managers and should give Red Wings fans reason for long-term hope. In the short-term? This is almost the exact same team that has been one of the league’s worst for three years now. Yzerman has a full cupboard of draft picks and some intriguing young talent in the system, but the NHL roster is as weak as it has been in years.  12 of 31

Edmonton Oilers: D

Ken Holland has his hands full with this rebuild. The team made a couple of OK depth signings and took a chance on James Neal rebounding from a down year in Calgary (dumping Milan Lucic’s albatross contract in the process), but Edmonton needs a lot more than that. The roster around Connor McDavid, Leon Draisaitl and Ryan Nugent-Hopkins is as weak as it has been over the past two years and there is little reason to think the results on the ice are going to be any different. This looks like another wasted year of McDavid’s prime. 13 of 31

Florida Panthers: B

There are real questions about how long Sergei Bobrovsky’s contract will be a good value, but in the short term he satisfies Florida’s biggest need. This team is good enough to make the playoffs this season with competent goaltending, and Bobrovsky should be able to provide that. Along with a franchise goalie, the Panthers also lured Hall of Fame coach Joel Quenneville to Florida and made a couple of solid depth signings with Brett Connolly and Anton Stralman. With Aleksander Barkov and Jonathan Huberdeau back, anything short of the playoffs would be a disappointment. 14 of 31

Los Angeles Kings: F

Other than hiring Todd McLellan as head coach, the Kings did nothing to fix what was one of the NHL’s worst teams a year ago. They have been stale for more than four years now and have been badly in need of a rebuild. That process still has not started. They are banking heavily on bounce back years from Anze Kopitar, Drew Doughty and Jonathan Quick, and while all three should be better than they were, improvements from them alone will not be enough to get them back in the playoffs. 15 of 31

Minnesota Wild: D

Mats Zuccarello is a decent enough signing, but he is another big-money player on the wrong side of 30, something the team already has too many of. The Wild also fired general manager Paul Fenton after just one miserable season, making the organization look like it is kind of directionless. Fenton was replaced by Bill Guerin. Guerin is obviously an unknown, but he is going to have a lot of work to do in cleaning up the mess Fenton left behind.  16 of 31

Montreal Canadiens: D

want to give them credit for being bold and signing Carolina’s Sebastian Aho to a restricted free agent offer sheet, but it was such a lame effort that was so easy for the Hurricanes to match that I can’t even give them credit for that. In fact, it makes me actually lower their grade. As if that wasn’t enough, they also made a run at free agent Jake Gardiner only to have him turn them down to sign with, you guessed it, Carolina. Their big addition was Ben Chiarot. Jesperi Kotkaniemi could be ready for a breakout season, but there might be some regression from Max Domi and Tomas Tatar.  17 of 31

Nashville Predators: C

Matt Duchene is a big addition and gives the Predators another top-line forward and hopefully someone who can help fix their awful power play. But to get him they had to dump P.K. Subban’s entire contract, which meant they received almost nothing for him. They have plenty of depth on defense, and they did need forward help. I just don’t know if they are a significantly better team today than they were before that sequence of transactions.  18 of 31

New Jersey Devils: A

https://www.yardbarker.com/nhl/articles/grading_the_offseason_for_every_nhl_team/s1__29963741#slide_1

By: Adam Gretz

10 MLB prospects who will make an impact in 2020

It’s fair to say the 2019 MLB season has been the year of the rookie. All around the league, first-year players have burst onto the scene to make immediate impacts, and in some cases have become instant stars. Just look at what some of these guys have done:

The Mets’ Pete Alonso currently leads the majors with 47 home runs.

Before he got hurt, San Diego’s Fernando Tatis Jr. was hitting .317 with 22 homers and 53 RBI in only 84 games.

Houston’s Yordan Alvarez has crushed 22 long balls in only 240 at-bats.

Toronto’s Vladimir Guerrero Jr. hasn’t quite dominated the way he did in AAA, but he’s shown immense power and potential, and the show he put on at the Home Run Derby will be talked about for years.

Atlanta’s Mike Soroka is a legitimate NL Cy Young candidate.

The Pirates’ Bryan Reynolds is hitting .328 and could well win the batting title.

The list goes on and on. Keston Hiura, Christian Walker, Eloy Jimenez, Austin Riley, among others look like cornerstone everyday players in the big leagues.

This unprecedented wave of talented players making their debuts all around the same time got us thinking. Let’s take a look at 10 players who could make a similar rookie impact in 2020.

1. Luis Robert, OF, Chicago White Sox

The White Sox system has been strong for several years now, and while Yoan Moncada, Lucas Giolito and the above-mentioned Jimenez have already thrived in the big leagues, Robert figures to join them in the near future. The native Cuban dominated three separate minor league levels in 2019, hitting .328 with 32 homers and 92 RBI while stealing 36 bases and adding 31 doubles and 11 triples. He was recently named the minor league Player of the Year by USA Today, and it’s a reasonable assumption that he’ll be patrolling center field at Guaranteed Rate Field very early next spring.

2. Gavin Lux, IF, Los Angeles Dodgers

Lux’s status on this list is a bit tenuous, as he was just promoted to the big leagues this week, and it’s likely going to be close whether or not he accumulates 130 at-bats and loses his 2020 rookie status. Provided he doesn’t, he should be the hands-down favorite to win NL Rookie of the Year next season. In the minor leagues this season the 21-year-old slashed an astounding .347/.421/.607 while crushing 26 homers and driving in 76 runs. He’s a natural shortstop who has played second in his early exposure in the big leagues, a position that may become his ultimate home given the presence of Corey Seager. Regardless at what side of the second base bag he lines up defensively, Lux can flat out hit, and it’s no surprise the Dodgers wanted to give him a look down the stretch to see if he can make a push for a postseason roster spot.

3.  Kyle Tucker, OF, Houston Astros

Houston has been waiting for the talented left-handed slugger to go from dominant minor leaguer to dangerous middle-of-the-order bat in the big leagues, and it seems fair to assume that transition will finally occur next season. With AAA Round Rock in 2019, Tucker hit .266 with 34 homers and 97 RBI — the third consecutive minor league season he drove in over 90 runs. Perhaps even more impressive is the 30 stolen bases he racked up, as no matter what level you’re playing in, it’s incredibly difficult to produce 30/30 seasons. Tucker’s blend of power and speed have long made him desirable to other teams in trade discussions, but the Astros have consistently hung up the phone before talks could get off the ground. His organization’s belief in him hasn’t been deterred, however, and it’s time for the 22-year-old to reward its patience.

4. Carter Kieboom, IF, Washington Nationals

The Nationals took Kieboom in the first round out of high school three years ago, and he’s done nothing but shoot through their system since. In 412 at-bats in AAA this year, the young infielder hit an impressive .303 with 16 homers and 79 RBI while also tallying 24 doubles and 203 total bases. Injuries necessitated a brief big league promotion in late April, and while he did hit his first two big league homers during that 39 at-bat stint, Washington shipped him back to Fresno when it got some veterans back. Next season, however, the Nats figure to have an opening at second base, as Brian Dozier signed only a one-year free agent pact last winter, and his performance has not warranted Washington doubling down, especially given the presence of Kieboom, who conceivably will team with shortstop Trea Turner to form this team’s long-term double play combination.

5. Casey Mize, SP, Detroit Tigers

Mountcastle is far from a perfect prospect, but his power potential is simply hard to ignore. In a little over 500 at-bats for Baltimore’s AAA affiliate in Norfolk, the 22-year-old hit .312 with 25 long balls and 35 doubles. His .527 SLG percentage finished sixth in the International League, and it’s easy to see why the Orioles are high on his bat. That said, Mountcastle does have things to work on. For starters, he doesn’t really have a defensive position. He played third base in 2018 and predominantly first this season while also mixing in some work in left field. A future as a big league DH could very well be in the cards. Plate discipline is also of some concern as the big right-handed slugger walked only 24 times all year, making his .344 OBP simply remarkable. All told, while Mountcastle is raw, the O’s are in no position to not take a flier, and if he gets consistent at-bats in 2020 it may just become too difficult to get him out of the line-up.

8. Ke’Bryan Hayes, 3B, Pittsburgh Pirates

The son of longtime major league third baseman Charlie Hayes, Ke’Bryan has blossomed into quite the hot corner prospect. In 110 games in AAA this season the Pittsburgh’s first-round pick from back in 2015 hit .261 with 10 homers and 55 RBI, but those numbers only tell some of the story. His 31 doubles, 13 steals and renowned defense at an important position help paint the picture of a solid player who can do just about everything on a baseball diamond. The Bucs have started Colin Moran or Jung-Ho Kang most nights at third base this season, and while Kang is no longer in Pittsburgh, Moran is not someone who should block the team’s best position player prospect. Hayes doesn’t profile as a can’t-miss star, but he should be an above-average everyday third baseman for a long time, potentially beginning as soon as next opening day.

9. Justin Dunn, SP, Seattle Mariners

Dunn came to Seattle in the much-discussed winter trade with the Mets that netted the Mariners outfield prospect Jarred Kelenic, and while that alone would seem to make the deal a heist for the M’s, the righty has the potential to make this one of the most one-sided trades of all time. In 25 starts in AA in ’19, the Boston College product worked to a strong 3.55 ERA with a 1.19 WHIP while punching out 158 hitters in 131.1 innings and limiting the opposition to a .236 batting average. Scouts don’t look at Dunn as a future big league ace or even a No. 2, but a strong showing in spring training would put him in discussion for a rotation spot, and it’s certainly feasible he could become a key cog in Seattle’s starting five sometime in 2020.

10. Nate Pearson, SP, Toronto Blue Jays

Toronto is a team to buy stock in, as with youngsters Vladimir Guerrero Jr., Bo Bichette and Cavan Biggio already contributing to the parent club, the organization’s farm system has more talent coming. Pearson paces that group. In 25 minor league starts this season the right-hander posted a 2.30 ERA in 101.2 innings while delivering an 0.89 WHIP and a .176 batting average against. He struck out well over a batter/frame while issuing only 27 free passes all season. And on a team with little to be excited about on the mound, particularly after Marcus Stroman was traded for New York, Pearson is quickly going to become a name to know among baseball fans in Canada.

https://www.yardbarker.com/mlb/articles/10_mlb_prospects_who_will_make_an_impact_in_2020/s1_13132_29960984

By: Justin W Mears

Snap judgments on Jackson, Trubisky, Dalton, other NFL QBs

Yardbarker NFL writers Michael Tunison and Chris Mueller address some of the hottest issues in the league. This week’s topic: Which quarterbacks shined brightest and tumbled farthest in Week 1?

Mueller: Week 1 in the NFL, as you may have heard, is the time for snap judgments, many of which end up being wrong. Still, it was hard not to be impressed by several quarterbacking performances and underwhelmed, to say the least, by others. The goal, of course, is to figure which efforts are a harbinger of things to come and which are blips on the radar.

First, the good. I was skeptical about Baltimore’s newfangled offense, both in terms of what form it would take, and whether or not Lamar Jackson could stay healthy enough and improve enough as a passer to make it work. And while the Dolphins are doing everything short of actively throwing games in an effort to tank, what Jackson (324 yards passing, five TDs) did to them in Week 1 was still stunning. 

Jackson has always thrown a good deep ball, and the Ravens had things schemed up such that he had multiple opportunities to cut it loose, and he took full advantage. His 83-yard TD pass to Marquise Brown was beautifully arced, and even took into account a bump that Brown had to fight through well into his route. Far more impressive was his first touchdown hookup with Brown, a 47-yard play that saw him place the ball perfectly on a slant route, giving Brown a chance to catch the ball out ahead of his body and in stride, and go the distance. 

If the pass had been thrown anywhere else, it might still have been a completion, but it wouldn’t have gone for a score. Again, it was only Miami; teams will adjust, and Jackson — who faces Arizona in Week 2 — won’t always have all day to throw, but if he keeps up a pace anything remotely close to this, Baltimore might successfully defend its AFC North title. 

On the flip side, I’d be concerned if I were a Chicago Bears fan. The defense is great, but Mitchell Trubisky did nothing to impress in the 10-3 loss to Green Bay in Week 1. Pro Football Focus’ passing grade for Trubisky was 53.8 — a bad number, yet one that still seemed generous. He was terrible under pressure, terrible against the blitz, and showed no ability to make big plays. The Bears went 3-for-15 on third downs, and Trubisky — who faces a good Broncos defense on the road in Week 2 — consistently failed to fit the ball into tight windows. 

Chicago’s chances of being a serious NFC title contender hinge on Trubisky making big strides, and for one game, he looked overmatched. His interception wasn’t an unlucky one, either. He stared down Allen Robinson, and made it easy for Adrian Amos to play center field and make the pick. The staredown was enough of a rookie mistake.

What’s just as bad is the fact that Trubisky, knowing he had two downs to get 10 yards, could have thrown underneath and taken a chunk, then had a more manageable do-or-die fourth down. He didn’t, and the game was functionally over after that. This is Trubisky’s third season — we need to see much more.

Sep 8, 2019; Seattle, WA, USA; Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton (14) passes the ball against the Seattle Seahawks during the second half at CenturyLink Field. Seattle defeated Cincinnati 21-20. Mandatory Credit: Steven Bisig-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison: Probably the most overlooked of the new head coaches going into 2019 was the Bengals’ Zac Taylor, who had come over from the Rams, for whom he served as quarterbacks coach in 2018. There are several reasons for why this might be — the Bengals are hardly the most popular franchise in the league, but also because even in Marvin Lewis’ protracted stretch of moderate success, there was an understanding that the team hit its ceiling. In part, that was due to good but not great coaching, but also good but not great quarterbacking.

In some ways, the Bengals are caught in the same purgatory a team like the Lions is: They have a middle-of-the-pack starting quarterback who is just good enough to keep his job forever, but never contend for a championship. Andy Dalton is in his ninth season. How did that happen? There have been a few times his status as starter has been threatened, but ultimately the Bengals decided to ride it out.

Clearly the idea of hiring a coach with a background helping QBs was a last-ditch effort to make an honest go of it with Dalton. In Week 1, though the team ultimately fell short in Seattle, he looked pretty good. He threw for two scores and 418 yards. The main concern was a lack of protection, as he was sacked five times, including one on the final possession that resulted in a fumble that iced the game.

This was without the services of A.J. Green and left tackle Cordy Glenn. The Seahawks no longer have the Legion of Boom, but still on the road, given the circumstances, this was about as encouraging as it could be for Dalton, save for perhaps also coming away with a victory.

On the flip side, there’s Matt Ryan and the Falcons’ offense. They dumped Steve Sarkisian as offensive coordinator and brought back Dirk Koetter, whom the Falcons had success before he had an unremarkable stint as the Bucs head coach. With a supposed return to offensive competence, the Falcons responded with 12 points in Week 1 against Minnesota, and Matt Ryan had his first multiple-interception game since December 2017.

Atlanta stunk up the joint in the first half, trailing 21-0 at the break. This is a team with immense talent on offense, one of the best receiving tandems in the league, and a quarterback who falls just outside the accepted group of elites. Ryan had a chance to possibly get Atlanta into the game early in the second half, only to throw a red- zone interception on the first possession of the third quarter. 

On the second-down play, it was hard to tell whether Ryan was trying to throw it out of the back of the end zone and live for third down or make a sincere attempt to fit one in. Either way the result was essentially a game-ending blunder. Ryan is obviously secure for the foreseeable future, but there’s only so much blame that can be pinned on coordinators for the failure of what should be a dynamic offense.

Mueller: What’s most interesting to me about all of the quarterback-centric stories lately is how many of them seem to involve the play-caller as a co-star. Maybe it’s just my memory failing me, but it feels like the fascination with hotshot offensive coordinators or head coaches is a recent trend. Sure, there was Bill Walsh and the West Coast offense, and Air Coryell further back, but aside from Norv Turner and maybe Mike Shanahan, it never felt like the guys calling the plays in the ’90s and early-2000s had household-name status. 

With Taylor in Cincy, you almost get the sense that he’ll get more credit than Dalton, because there is a perception that Dalton is already known, and any growth will be Taylor’s doing. Same thing in Arizona, where it’s Kyler and Kliff, not just Kyler. I could go on, but you get the idea. 

I don’t want to sound like I’m bemoaning it, either. Feels like a position long described as the most important in all of sports is finally getting the kind of treatment commensurate with such a designation. If you’re trying to find a franchise QB, might as well go all-in on trying to maximize his talents. If that means hiring as head coach a guy they’re comfortable with, like Freddie Kitchens for Baker Mayfield in Cleveland, or surrounding them with players who complement what they do well, like Lamar Jackson and the Ravens, so be it. Better to risk spectacular failure than deal in half-measures.

Sep 8, 2019; Charlotte, NC, USA; Los Angeles Rams quarterback Jared Goff (16) talks with head coach Sean McVay in the third quarter at Bank of America Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Bob Donnan-USA TODAY Sports

Tunison:  I think the playcaller as co-star trend began, as many recent coaching trends have, with Rams head Sean McVay. He came to Los Angeles having been hailed with guiding Kirk Cousins to respectability in Washington, where he was offensive coordinator, and the idea was that he could do the same with Jared Goff, who was already being discussed as a bust after a disastrous rookie campaign during the last year of Jeff Fisher’s regime. That was probably unfair given that it was just one abbreviated season, and Fisher had an impressive track record of destroying quarterbacks in pedestrian offenses.

Yet McVay has not only rescued Goff, he has gotten almost the entirety of the credit for his success. Part of that is because fans and media can point to the fact that McVay has been said to essentially read defenses for him and call plays up until the point that the coach can no longer communicate with the quarterback over the helmet mic before a play. That perception solidified with last season’s Super Bowl loss, when the Patriots developed a strategy to call a second defensive play after Goff could no longer talk with McVay pre-snap. We all saw how muddled the Rams’ offense was in that game.

Some of that criticism seems valid and yet also somewhat of an oversimplification. Goff, after all, still has to make the throws, and he’s not going to the first read on every play, so no matter how savvy the guidance is from McVay, he has to do at least some of it himself. Moreover, if this strategy were so simple and effective, why has it not been emulated league-wide yet? McVay is billed as a wunderkind, but I doubt his offensive acumen is that much more pronounced than a lot of other head coaches around the league.

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/snap_judgments_on_jackson_trubisky_dalton_other_nfl_qbs/s1_13132_29977259

By: Chris Mueller and Mike Tunison

The best and worst moves of the NFL offseason

After a wild NFL offseason, the impact of team transactions is already becoming clearer as teams settle into the preseason.  1 of 24

Best: Bills sign John Brown

Young Bills quarterback Josh Allen has perhaps the strongest arm in the NFL, but the Bills were lacking a true speed receiver going into the offseason. That changed when they signed Brown to a three-year, $27 million contract. While Brown has struggled with injuries recently, he managed to stay on the field in Baltimore last year and averaged 17.0 yards per reception. He gives Buffalo the deep option it desperately needed. 2 of 24

Worst: Bengals re-sign Bobby Hart

Despite his struggles at tackle last year, the Bengals still re-signed Hart to a three-year, $21 million deal. That was much to the chagrin of Bengals fans who watched him struggle last year on what continues to be one of the league’s weakest offensive lines. 3 of 24

Best: Browns acquire Odell Beckham Jr.

The headlining move of the entire offseason was general manager John Dorsey’s trade for Beckham. Often a distraction in New York, Beckham is still undeniably one of the top wideouts in the league and now has a promising young quarterback in Baker Mayfield throwing him the ball. Cleveland is all in for the 2019 season, and Beckham is capable of bringing the Browns to the next level. 4 of 24

Worst: Broncos acquire Joe Flacco

There’s nothing that sets an NFL organization back more than investing in the wrong quarterback. Flacco’s experience is attractive, but he’s been one of the league’s worst starters over the last few years in Baltimore. Since 2015, Flacco is 24-27 as a starter with a mediocre 82.7 Quarterback Rating. It could just be that Flacco is a stopgap for second-round pick Drew Lock, but it looks like he will start most, if not all, of the 2019 season. 5 of 24

Best: Cardinals hire Kliff Kingsbury

Cardinals fans have reason to be excited about the near future even if the team doesn’t win many games this season. Kingsbury was regarded as an offensive genius at Texas Tech, and he has some interesting weapons to work with in Arizona, led by No. 1 overall pick Kyler Murray. Arizona’s defense could be a nightmare, much like Kingsbury’s defenses were with the Red Raiders, as Patrick Peterson is suspended to start the year and No. 2 corner Robert Alford is injured. Still, there should be plenty of scoring, with the hope that Arizona can get the personnel to develop a defense later. 6 of 24

Worst: 49ers sign Tevin Coleman

San Francisco had one of the league’s most potent running attacks last season, even without Jerick McKinnon, averaging 4.5 yards per attempt. Matt Breida and Raheem Mostert proved that they earned more playing time, but that’s unlikely to happen after the 49ers signed Coleman. He has a history with head coach Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, but he has never seen 200 touches in an NFL season and seems replaceable for the two-year, $8.5 million price tag. 7 of 24

Best: Chiefs sign Tyrann Mathieu

The Chiefs defense lost Justin Houston, Dee Ford and Eric Berry in the offseason. Without those key veterans, they clearly needed new veteran leadership for new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense, and Mathieu is set to take on that role. He’s coming off one of his best seasons in Houston despite six years in the league and still just 27 years old. Mathieu’s versatility to play safety or corner is perfect for his new system and the Chiefs’ dire needs in the secondary. 8 of 24

Worst: Giants draft Daniel Jones

https://www.yardbarker.com/nfl/articles/the_best_and_worst_moves_of_the_nfl_offseason/s1__29808668#slide_1

By: Seth Trachtman

Hall of Very Good? Bleh. Let’s make halls of fame great again.

The best part about Hall of Fame debates is that they never end — even after someone gets voted in. No offense to Harold Baines, but really?

I understand why the Veterans Committee decided to put Bill Mazeroski of the Pirates in; and as a Mets fan I totally respect his World Series-ending home run that devastated the Yankees in 1960. But over time, the standards to reach a hall of fame have been lowered in multiple sports. For example, ever since we’ve been watching sports, there have been transcendent athletes who are no-doubt-it, first-ballot hall of famers. And in most cases, all you need to identify them are their first names or nicknames: Magic, Kobe, The Babe, to name a few.

But the Basketball Hall of Fame’s Class of 2019 threw me for a loop. Jack Sikma and Paul Westphal were really good players in their day, but what stunned me was the fact that both of them had the identical career scoring average: 15.6 points. Granted, they played different positions — and Sikma played nearly 300 more regular-season games than Westphal did — but that’s irrelevant. The point is that all halls of fame should not be for really good players; they should house only the greats.

I get that the entire process — and the ongoing debates about candidates — are totally subjective. But when did our definition of all-time great  change along the way? Look at Yankees lefty CC Sabathia, for instance. He more than likely will get voted into the Baseball Hall of Fame because of the precedent that has been set with Mike Mussina’s election earlier this year. 

Sabathia is in his 19th big-league season — Mussina, who will be inducted Sunday, pitched 18 — and both have had exactly one 20-win season. Yet Sabathia will more than likely get a hall call because he is the 17th pitcher to strike out more than 3,000 batters. Fourteen of the pitchers who reached this milestone are in Cooperstown, including fellow lefties Steve Carlton and Randy Johnson. The other two are Roger Clemens and Curt Schilling.

So when evaluating potential HOF candidates, I ask myself the following question: At any point in their careers, were these players ever the best in their sports at their positions? I raise that because in some cases, some recent inductees weren’t even the best pitchers on their particular teams. When Mussina and Clemens were teammates from 2001-03, who was the Yankee ace? Yes, Clemens may have been using PEDs at the time, but that’s a discussion for another day.

Has Sabathia even been the best pitcher of his era? Pedro Martinez and other outstanding hurlers over that span might have something to say about that.

Halls of fame should remain places where no-doubt-about-it, all-time greats end up. I understand why sports halls feel compelled to have an induction class every year; it certainly doesn’t hurt the bottom line to keep this annual tradition going. But it seems as if we’ve reached a point where we have yearly induction classes just for the sake of having them.

Meanwhile, the softening of standards has apparently reached other HOFs. Look at this year’s Rock & Roll Hall of Fame induction class. Janet Jackson, Stevie Nicks, Def Leppard, Radiohead and the Zombies are all worthy inductees. But using my earlier argument, were Roxy Music and the Cure ever the best bands of their respective eras? Jann Wenner and that hall’s voters might disagree with me, but that’s totally debatable. And I happen to love both Bryan Ferry and Robert Smith.

So do we really want a Hall of Very Good? 

Let’s keep halls of fame — and those in them — great. Otherwise, what’s the point of having them?

By Stan Chrapowicki  |  Last updated 7/15/19

Ezekiel Elliott to hold out of training camp without a new deal?

Ezekiel Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys could be headed toward a contract impasse that keeps him out of training camp.

Mike Florio of Pro Football Talk wrote Monday that, “Per a league source, Elliott has privately said that he will hold out of training camp unless he gets a new contract.”

The Los Angeles Chargers are already facing a similar threat. Melvin Gordon has declared through his agent that he will demand a trade and could hold out into the season if he doesn’t get a long-term extension worthy of his production.

Elliott is clearly one of the NFL’s best running backs and is more valuable than the $3.85 million he’s due to make in 2019 without a new deal.

Sitting out of training camp does makes sense, especially if Elliott believes the Cowboys will eventually grant him his new deal. Running backs already deal with tremendous wear and tear, and it’s not like Elliott doesn’t know the offense. There are penalties to missing camp days, but it stands to reason Dallas could waive those in this situation.

However, his situation isn’t as simple as all that. The Cowboys have other players they might see as higher priorities who are also looking to get paid big-time money — quarterback Dak Prescott, defensive back Byron Jones and receiver Amari Cooper being atop that list.

Then there’s the looming legal battle with a Las Vegas security guard, who said he will sue Elliott over an incident at a concert earlier this year.

Needless to say, this game of contract chicken will be fascinating to watch unfold.

Originally posted on Sportsnaut  |  By Jesse Reed  |  Last updated 7/15/19

Cavaliers officially waive JR Smith after failing to find trade partner

JR Smith’s Cleveland Cavaliers tenure is over.

According to Shams Charania of The Athletic, the Cavaliers officially waived Smith at 5 p.m. ET on Monday, having tried and failed to find a trade partner before reaching that point.

The Cavaliers did everything they could to try to trade Smith, right down to getting him to postpone his guarantee date to try to make a move happen. No matter what Cleveland did, nothing materialized.

Smith will now be free to sign with any team he wants. He barely played last season and was not in Cleveland’s plans going forward.

Originally posted on Larry Brown Sports  |  By Grey Papke  |  Last updated 7/15/19