I’m told early diagnosis is Conner avoided a high ankle sprain, will get further clarity this week. https://t.co/ImCPV0NFrY
— Jeremy Fowler (@JFowlerESPN) September 15, 2020
There appears to be a silver lining with the injury to Steelers running back James Conner. Early diagnosis is that he avoided the dreaded high ankle sprain. While any injury puts a damper on Conner’s big redemption season, it could definitely have been worse.
High ankle sprains sideline running backs typically for several weeks. Giants running back Saquon Barkley suffered a high ankle in practice last season. Though Barkley only missed three games, he was not quite the same upon his return.
Conner has not completed a full season since he was drafted in 2017 and missed six games last year.
Benny Snell, Jr. lit a spark in the run game that was non-existent when it started with Conner.
Steelers start slow, pull away late for win over the Giants
L.A. Lakers will stay big, start Dwight Howard at center
While it is easy to say the Lakers’ best lineups have Anthony Davis at center, the numbers say the Lakers are best playing big with another player at center and Davis at the four.
This start was expected, especially after how well Dwight Howard played in the Denver series against Nikola Jokic.
It creates an interesting defensive choice for Erik Spoelstra and the Heat: Do they start Bam Adebayo on Davis and have Jae Crowder on Howard, or reverse that. Adebayo is an All-Defensive Team player who may be the best one-on-one matchup in the league for Davis, but does Spoelstra want to risk early foul trouble for his star center, and would it wear Adebayo down to have to work so hard on both ends. Expect Crowder to start on Davis and Adebayo to get the key minutes later in the game.
The challenge for the Lakers: Howard fouls a lot.
“Probably fouling,” Laker coach Frank Vogel said when asked what was at the top of the team scouting report for the Heat. “I think they are great at getting to the free throw line. If we can play with discipline, not give them opportunities to shoot free throws, set their defense, that will help us win games, because they are great at getting to the free throw line.”
Howard can’t mess that plan up for Los Angeles. But he’s going to get the chance.
L.A. Lakers will stay big, start Dwight Howard at center originally appeared on NBCSports.com
Carson Wentz’s passing has been awful for winless Eagles
The city of Philadelphia was in a foul mood over its beloved Eagles. And after the team’s atrocious performance in a 23-23 tie against the lowly Cincinnati Bengals — at home, no less! — it was a mortal lock that the Eagles’ issues, particularly those of quarterback Carson Wentz, would lead this week’s edition of Things I Noticed.
Against a bad defense, Wentz went 29-of-47 for 225 yards, a touchdown and two picks. That’s unacceptable. And while the Eagles are battling an array of injuries, their inability to bludgeon an overmatched run defense and use the threat of that to get their struggling passing game going raises red flags about the Eagles’ chance to make the playoffs this season, even in the lowly NFC East.
I’m certainly not in the “Bench Wentz” camp. The thought of it is absurd, especially given his outrageous combination of arm and mobility, and how much money the Eagles still owe him. Wentz’s problems are complicated, which are outlined in the video above that was expertly stitched together by my main man (and noted Eagles fan) Ron Schiltz and includes commentary from Wentz, Eagles coach Doug Pederson and running back Miles Sanders.
On the bright side: Pederson hinted at a solution this week.
I’m encouraging you to watch the end of the video to find out what that is. I’d appreciate it too, since these bills don’t pay themselves.
Stop playing man and/or sending extra blitzers vs. Patrick Mahomes
We didn’t need Patrick Mahomes’ masterpiece in the Kansas City Chiefs’ 34-20 win over Baltimore to confirm his brilliance. The man has a chance to go down as the greatest to ever do it, and performances like Monday night, in which he completed 31 of 42 passes for 385 yards, four touchdowns and zero interceptions, explains exactly why.
Baltimore’s new-look defense was extremely strong through the first two weeks of the season, but the Ravens learned some lessons after this humbling, starting with two they probably already knew but had no choice to flout: stop blitzing and/or playing man coverage against Mahomes.
Why did they do it? That’s who the Ravens fundamentally are. They blitz the opposition, from every level and from any position, and they play man coverage. To not do that would essentially admit weakness from the jump. Yet, in the highlights below, you’ll see Mahomes throw pinpoint darts against either five-man blitzes or man coverage:
According to Pro Football Focus, Mahomes completed 17 of 20 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns against the blitz on Monday, turning one of the season’s most anticipated games into a laugher. It served as further proof that the only way to beat Kansas City is to do what San Francisco did in the Super Bowl last season, or what the Los Angeles Chargers did in Week 2: get pressure with four, play coverage behind them and pray.
Though neither team knocked off the Chiefs, they came much closer than Baltimore did Monday. Both those franchises also have the personnel to pass rush with four linemen, something the Ravens can’t do vs. K.C. (Hey, they were interested in Jadeveon Clowney for a reason).
If I were Baltimore general manager Eric DaCosta, I’d look to beef up the pass rush between now and the trade deadline. And if I were Ravens defensive coordinator Don “Wink” Martindale, I’d eschew my blitz-happy tendencies and be more passive the next time I face the Chiefs.
The ultimate test of this football theory on how to stop the Chiefs will come this weekend, when New England and defensive wizard Bill Belichick head to K.C. The Pats are a man-heavy team, so it will be telling if Belichick adjusts his philosophy out of respect for the Chiefs’ dangerous offense.
‘Street justice’ is coming for this Cowboy
By far the dirtiest play of Week 3 came in the fourth quarter of the Seahawks’ 38-31 win over the Cowboys, when Dallas defensive lineman Trysten Hill performed a “gator roll” tackle on Seahawks running back Chris Carson, twisting Carson’s leg and forcing him to leave the game with a knee injury.
It was a dirty and dangerous maneuver, and one he’ll come to regret. Offensive linemen who are about to face the Cowboys will watch the tape of that and, as a matter of principle, take it upon themselves to dispense a little “street justice,” at least in a football sense. They’ll take extra shots at him whenever possible to prove a point.
Considering Hill injured Carson earlier in that game-winning drive, the Seahawks’ line deserves kudos for keeping its cool and not doing anything stupid that would have cost Seattle points, or possibly the game.
But mark my words: The next time Seattle faces Dallas — and if it happens this season, it would have to be in the playoffs — Hill will have to deal with retaliation.
All Hail Aaron Donald
I spent an inordinate amount of time taking notes on Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills’ 35-32 win over the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday, but I’d be remiss if I didn’t show some love to stud Rams defensive lineman Aaron Donald, who repeatedly popped off the screen.
Donald’s stat line — six tackles, two sacks, three quarterback hits, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery — pretty much summed up his day. But included in the Donald highlights are other plays that, when accumulated, reflect his brilliance.
In the first one, Donald — I’m serious — levitates over the cutting lineman for a stuff on first-and-goal from the 1:
The other plays show off his impeccable technique on his swim move (highlight No. 2), extremely violent hands (No. 3) and leaping pass-rush moves that I’ve never seen before (Nos. 4 and 5).
I cannot wait to vote this man into the Hall of Fame.
Laviska Shenault Jr. is a little Tyreek Hill-y
There has been no shortage of rookie revelations — Jacksonville’s James Robinson immediately springs to mind — but there’s another first-year player in Jacksonville who I’m super-excited about, and that’s second-round weapon Laviska Shenault Jr.
I call Shenault Jr. a weapon because calling him a receiver seems short-sighted.
“The receiver we got, Laviska — he’s ballin’,” Jaguars captain Myles Jack said Wednesday.
Shenault’s dynamic athleticism, his ability to make defenders miss, gives him juice with the ball in his hands. As such, the Jaguars have occasionally seen fit to line up Shenault (No. 10) at running back and give him direct handoffs, and boy oh boy am I here for it.
Here he is last week in a loss against Miami:
Through three games, Shenault is second on the Jaguars in catches (11), third in targets (14) and has tallied 105 receiving yards and a touchdown. He has also logged eight carries for 48 yards, and is on track to finish with over 100 touches this season as a change-of-pace option.
Not that this is unexpected. Shenault’s 2018 tape at Colorado was outstanding, as he drew collegiate Sammy Watkins comparisons before injuries derailed his final year on campus in 2019. That didn’t keep one scout I spoke to before the draft from comparing Shenault to San Francisco’s do-it-all weapon, Deebo Samuel.
That’s a good comparison, but the way the Jaguars use him reminds me of the way the Chiefs used Tyreek Hill his rookie year, a jack-of-all-trades big-play threat.
For the long-term, Shenault can complement the likes of Robinson, D.J. Chark and Jacksonville’s two young tackles, Cam Robinson and Jawaan Taylor, all of whom are 25 or younger. So is quarterback Gardner Minshew, who has shown enough to, at the very least, project as a long-time pro, especially if he wins enough games to keep the Jaguars from drafting Clemson’s Trevor Lawrence or Ohio State’s Justin Fields in 2021.
Even if Minshew doesn’t prove to be the guy, Jacksonville’s young offense already has key pieces in place for a fairly quick turnaround. Shenault should be part of that.
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49ers make wave of roster moves official ahead of Week 4
The 49ers on Wednesday announced a slew of roster moves, including the release of long snapper Kyle Nelson, and the addition of a new long snapper to take his place.
San Francisco waived Nelson after some recent struggles bubbled over into five poor snaps against the Giants in Week 3. It didn’t affect the team in that game, but they didn’t want to get to a place where it did have an impact on a win or loss.
Taybor Pepper was signed to a one-year deal to replace Nelson. He made his debut in 2017 as an undrafted free agent with the Packers. Pepper played four games that season, and snapped for the Dolphins all 16 games during the 2019 campaign. He’s the fifth long snapper the 49ers have had since the start of last season.
The team also made the signing of tight end Daniel Helm official. He’ll add depth with Jordan Reed nursing a knee injury that’s supposed to keep him out six-to-eight weeks. To make room on the roster, San Francisco placed linebacker and special teams ace Mark Nzeocha on Injured Reserve with a quad injury. Reed remains on the roster for now, but the expectation is he’ll go on Injured Reserve.
There was some movement on the practice squad as well. Offensive lineman William Sweet was released. With two spots open on their 16-man unit, the 49ers signed offensive lineman Cody Conway and tight end Charlie Taumoepeau.
Conway was an undrafted free agent who was with the Packers after signing with the Titans out of Syracuse in 2019. Taumoepeau was an undrafted free agent after this year’s draft. He signed with the Cowboys and also spent time with the Colts.
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