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ProFootballTalk: Falcons still the team to beat?
Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander has been a useful NFL player for the last decade, seeing time on defense and special teams for a variety of teams.
Alexander’s play this season has taken things to another level, however. Pressed into a starting role after injuries to other linebackers in Buffalo, Alexander has responded with at least a half-sack in each game and a league-high nine sacks overall while also playing his usual role in the kicking game.
Alexander had one of those sacks against the Patriots in Week Four and Patriots coach Bill Belichick called him “one of the best players we’ve seen all year” while they head into this weekend’s rematch.
“He’s been great,” Belichick said in his Wednesday press conference. “He’s had a great year. [He’s] been a tremendous run player, pass player, every special team, impact player in the kicking game and impact player on defense, hard to block, rushes inside, rushes outside, good tackler, great motor. He’s really good.”
The Bills defense took a step backward last Sunday after playing a major part in the team’s four-game winning streak. Keeping Alexander in check would do a lot to help the Patriots extend the downturn, although doing that has proven to be difficult for any of Buffalo’s opponents so far this season.
Before the start of the regular season, the Eagles made a trade with the Titans to acquire wide receiver Dorial Green-Beckham.
Green-Beckham has caught 13 passes for 139 yards and a touchdown for the Eagles’ 29th-ranked passing game in the first six games of the season. That low ranking has helped spark some talk that the Eagles might want to make another deal for a wide receiver before next week’s trade deadline.
During his Wednesday press conference, Eagles coach Doug Pederson said that there’s no “legitimacy” to any such chatter because the Eagles are happy with the players they have at the position. Jordan Matthews, Nelson Agholor and Josh Huff join Green-Beckham in that receiver group.
Comments like Pederson’s should always be taken with a grain of salt because we’ve seen too many examples of teams saying one thing before doing another, especially when there’s a need to boost production in the area under discussion. Given how many other changes the Eagles have undergone on offense since Pederson took over, however, it isn’t hard to understand why they might like to focus on what’s already on hand rather than shaking things up again in the middle of the season.
Dolphins receiver Jarvis Landry put Bills safety Aaron Williams in the hospital with a brutal hit to the head on Sunday. That hit drew a 15-yard penalty, but Bills coach Rex Ryan suggested afterward that ejecting Landry would have been appropriate as well.
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said on NFL Network that Landry wasn’t ejected because the officials can’t say for sure that Landry was specifically aiming for Williams’ head, as opposed to just making a block and going too high.
“It’s certainly a foul,” Blandino said. “It’s certainly something that we’ll review for potential discipline, but it’s still a football play, and it’s tough to read intent there. That’s why the officials kept him in the game. It’s not an automatic ejection. It’s up to the discretion of the crew and they didn’t feel like it was flagrant enough to throw the player out of the game.”
In college football, a hit like that would be an automatic targeting ejection. In the NFL, there are fewer plays that result in automatic ejections.
“We have very few automatic ejections in the game today,” Blandino said. “If you get two unsportsmanlike conduct fouls in the same game, if you put your hands on a game official in an aggressive way, those are automatic ejections. Punching an opponent.”
That’s an area where college football’s rules make more sense than the NFL’s. If there are going to be automatic ejections at all, an illegal hit to the head that sends a player to the hospital should be something that draws an automatic ejection. College football’s targeting rule has its problems, but it’s a rule that makes more sense than the NFL’s rule of ejecting a player for two taunting fouls, but letting a player stay in the game after a vicious and illegal hit to the head.
One of the biggest lingering questions regarding the Josh Brown case relates to the decision to suspend him for the May 2015 incident that resulted in his arrest. With the NFL now using a six-game suspension as the baseline for first-offense domestic violence, why was he suspended for only one game?
The Personal Conduct Policy, as revised after the Ray Rice debacle, establishes the six-game suspension for a first offense, with the possibility of the suspension increasing or decreasing, based on aggravating or mitigating factors.
“Possible aggravating factors include, but are not limited to, a prior violation of the Personal Conduct Policy, similar misconduct before joining the NFL, violence involving a weapon, choking, repeated striking, or when an act is committed against a particularly vulnerable person, such as a child, a pregnant woman, or an elderly person, or where the act is committed in the presence of a child,” the policy states. As to mitigating factors, there is no similar explanation.
So what are the mitigating factors? Absent an effort to identify them, mitigating factors can be whatever the NFL wants them to be.
As to Brown, there were two mitigating factors, from the league’s perspective. First, the NFL didn’t regard the incident as a serious instance of domestic violence, since Brown simply grabbed his now-ex-wife’s wrist. (Many would say that any incident of domestic violence is serious.) Second, the NFL considered its difficulty in getting cooperation from Brown’s now-ex-wife or from law enforcement to be a mitigating factor.
The better approach would be to stick with the default penalty of six games for any incident of domestic violence, unless and until the player can articulate and prove true mitigating factors on appeal. The structure of the policy, however, suggests that the NFL doesn’t want to impose a standard of this nature, possibly since it would strip the league of the ability to point to any factor it wants as a mitigating factor — regardless of whether it actually is.
When the 1-6 49ers return from their bye, an effort will be made to force the team to bid farewell to G.M. Trent Baalke.
Via 49erswebzone.com, an anti-Baalke banner will fly over Levi’s Stadium in connection with the team’s next home game, on November 6 against the Saints. The public funding goal of $1,076 was quickly reached, allowing for the “#FireTrent” message to be displayed to anyone at the game.
Maybe the good news is that ongoing “traffic problems” will ensure that fewer people will see the banner.
The reality is that, as the 49ers continue a stunning fall from perennial contender to perennial doormat, the paying customers need to be engaged. Surely, plenty of them currently are tempted to disengage, indefinitely.
Which will result in plenty of them pressuring the team to disengage from Baalke, permanently.
Regardless of whether the 49ers fire Baalke or make other changes during or after the year, much must be done to turn around a team that seemed to be setting the gold standard for the NFC, if not the NFL.
Eagles wide receiver Josh Huff returned a kickoff 98 yards for a touchdown last Sunday vs. the Vikings, and on Wednesday Huff was named NFC Special Teams Player of the Week.
Huff’s touchdown was the Eagles’ first score of the game. They went on to hand the Vikings their first loss of the season, 21-10.
The touchdown gave a nice boost to Huff’s kick return average, which is now up to 38 yards per return on the season. He also had a kickoff return for a touchdown in 2014.
Huff’s return marked the first time in Eagles history that the Eagles returned kickoffs for touchdowns in back-to-back weeks. Wendell Smallwood ran a kickoff back 86 yards for a touchdown the previous week at Washington.
Whether it was jet lag or just the continuation of a season-long lack of consistence, the Giants offense didn’t get much done against the Rams in London last Sunday.
The Giants were still able to return home with a victory, however, and safety Landon Collins was a big reason why they won. Collins had two of the team’s four interceptions of Rams quarterback Case Keenum and scored the team’s first touchdown of the game.
The score came on a play that’s sure to be a staple of highlight films for a good long while. With the Giants trailing 10-3 in the second quarter, Collins picked off a pass that went off Tavon Austin’s hands and began a trip to the end zone that took him from one side of the field to the other while breaking several attempted tackles.
Collins’ second interception came on another attempt to get the ball to Austin in the fourth quarter and set up the touchdown drive that put the Giants up 17-10. Keenum would throw two more interceptions and the score stood up for a victory that had Collins’ fingerprints all over it.
In the absence of a reliable running game, the Packers needed someone to take on a larger role.
Wide receiver Davante Adams did just that.
Adams was named NFC offensive player of the week after catching 13 passes for 132 yards and two touchdowns in last Thursday’s win over the Bears.
Adams hadn’t caught more than five passes in a game all season, but made the most of the opportunity, and helped spark a Packers offense which has been off sync all season.
Raiders punter Marquette King was good with his right foot and did a little work with both feet in last Sunday’s win at Jacksonville.
Wednesday, King was named AFC Special Teams Player of the week. King averaged 50.6 yards on five punts in the game. He landed four of those five inside the Jaguars’ 20-yard line.
King also picked up a botched snap in the fourth quarter and ran 27 yards for a first down.
He also won an AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award last December.
It’s one thing to play hurt. To play hurt and play well gets you recognized.
Chargers linebacker Denzel Perryman was named AFC defensive player of the week, after his work in helping the Chargers beat the Falcons in overtime last week, while playing through a shoulder injury.
Perryman’s interception of a Matt Ryan pass helped set up a game-tying field goal for the Chargers. He followed that up with an even bigger play, stopping Devonta Freeman for a loss on fourth down in overtime, which allowed the Chargers to kick their game-winning field goal.
The second-year linebacker from Miami also had seven tackles and a pass defensed.
Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi joined a small group last Sunday against the Bills.
Ajayi ran for 214 yards in the 28-25 victory, which made him the fourth player in NFL history to run for more than 200 yards in two straight games. Ajayi joins O.J. Simpson, Earl Campbell and Ricky Williams on that list and his running has helped the Dolphins to two straight wins.
It’s also made Ajayi the choice as the AFC offensive player of the week for two weeks in a row. It’s a major turnaround for Ajayi, who was left home at the behest of head coach Adam Gase for the team’s opening game of the season and never ran the ball more than 13 times in a game before breaking out for 204 yards against the Steelers in Week Six.
Ajayi won’t get a chance to make it three straight this week because the Dolphins are on a bye. Should he pick up where he left off come Week Nine, the Dolphins’ outlook for the season will look a lot better than it did when they lost four of their first five games.
The Patriots were able to survive four games without their most important offensive piece, and now they could be getting another back midway through the season.
According to Ian Rapoport of the NFL Network, Patriots running back Dion Lewis is expected back on the practice field this week, which would open the 21-day window for him to practice and possibly be activated from the physically unable to perform list.
Lewis had to have a follow-up surgery after last November’s torn ACL, which set back his progress.
But getting Lewis back at some point this season would be a boost, considering the job he did for them last year prior to his injury (622 yards from scrimmage and four touchdowns in seven games).
The Bears are working quarterback Jay Cutler back into the lineup after he was cleared to return from his right thumb injury and he has some company on the back to practice list.
Runinng back Jeremy Langford practiced Tuesday for the first time since he suffered a high ankle sprain in Week Three with designs of getting in the lineup for Monday night’s game against the Vikings. Langford was the starter when he got hurt, but coach John Fox wouldn’t say if he’ll be returning to that role.
“Earlier in the season I mentioned that, way back in the day, there used to be a rule that if you were the starter, when you were hurt, it was yours when you came back,” Fox said, via the Chicago Sun-Times. “Well, that’s not really necessarily the case as much anymore. It can be. You’re going to play the best guy, and there’s competition to be involved in that.”
As Cutler acknowledged, the Bears don’t have much choice other than putting him back into his old job. The Bears have Jordan Howard and Ka’Deem Carey on hand and both have gotten looks as the lead back with Langford out of the picture, which should make for a competitive backfield situation in Chicago over the coming weeks.
Cardinals coach Bruce Arians was furious that Seahawks linebacker Bobby Wagner wasn’t penalized for jumping over the line to block a field goal on Sunday, saying after the game that he was expecting a “bulls–t” explanation of it from the league.
Now Arians has his explanation.
NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said on NFL Network that Wagner did not commit a penalty because he did not land on a player. If Wagner had landed on someone after jumping up to block a kick, that would have been a 15-yard penalty and an automatic first down. Wagner didn’t do that.
“There’s contact and then there’s incidental contact,” he said. “He can run up and jump, but he can’t land on players. Now if he brushes a player or brushes a teammate with incidental contact, that would be legal. So he’s gonna run, jump and clear the line, block the kick. You look at the TV copy replay and you can see that there is some contact. His foot is going to brush the back of the snapper, but that is not significant contact. It’s incidental. He didn’t land on players. So that’s what made it legal.”
We’ll leave it to others to determine whether that explanation is “bulls–t.”
The Ravens had to wait a long while to get wide receiver Breshad Perriman on the field after drafting him in the first round of the 2015 draft thanks to a knee injury that made his rookie year a total washout.
Perriman then dealt with another knee injury this summer, limiting his practice time ahead of the regular season. Perriman has been able to get on the field for all seven Ravens games thus far, but his 14 catches for 183 yards have only made coach John Harbaugh want to see Perriman start taking greater strides in his development as a professional player.
“I told him, ‘I just am impatient. You have all this talent, and there is a lot to learn, but I just want to speed the curve up,'” Harbaugh said, via the Baltimore Sun. “Obviously, he said that he could not agree more. We just have to keep chasing it. It is going to happen, and let’s try to make it happen sooner rather than later.”
Perriman’s snaps went up when Steve Smith hurt his ankle, but his production hasn’t seen a similar spike. Wanting more out of a first-round pick is understandable, but asking for more than a player is ready to give is an easy way to be disappointed by the results and Perriman has looked like a player still finding his way in the NFL.