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Dick LeBeau intends on returning to Steelers next season

Dick LeBeau AP

Pittsburgh Steelers defensive coordinator Dick LeBeau will likely return for another season as the head of the vaunted Steelers’ defense.

According to Chris Adamski of the Associated Press, the 75-year old LeBeau told his players this week he plans on coming back to head the Pittsburgh defense for another season.

LeBeau continues to say that his job status remains purely in the hands of head coach Mike Tomlin. While that may technically be true, the chances Tomlin wouldn’t bring LeBeau back if he wants to return next season is pretty miniscule.

“Let’s just say I really like Pittsburgh and I really like working for the Steelers,” LeBeau said. “Coach Tomlin will tell you if he wants me back or not. It will be up to Mike.”

LeBeau has spent 55 consecutive seasons in the league as a player and then a coach. Next season would be his tenth straight season at the helm of the Pittsburgh defense. During his time in Pittsburgh, the Steelers have led the league in total defense five times in nine seasons.

The Steelers defense has never ranked outside the top 10 in the league in total defense since LeBeau took over in 2004. If LeBeau wants to continue coaching, Tomlin will be happy to have him.

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Former judge to preside over Ray Rice appeal

Rice Getty Images

Two days after the Ray Rice appeal hearing should (in theory) have been conducted, the NFL and NFLPA have selected a hearing officer to handle it.

The NFLPA has announced that former U.S. District Judge Barbara S. Jones has been appointed to preside over the hearing and to decide whether Rice’s indefinite suspension should be overturned.  Previously, NFLPA executive director DeMaurice Smith advised union leadership that Commissioner Roger Goodell had agreed to the selection of a neutral arbitrator.  The announcement indicates that the parties consulted on the selection of Judge Jones, and that the union agreed to it.

Judge Jones was appointed to the bench by Bill Clinton in 1996.  She left the post in 2013 and joined the firm of Zuckerman Spaeder.

And now the process will begin of taking a closer look at Judge Jones’ background, ruling, and past and present clients in an effort to determine whether she brings any bias or inclination to this assignment.  The appointment by a Democratic president typically suggests that the judge will be more open-minded to individual rights, and more willing to scrutinize decisions made by management.

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Seahawks punter Jon Ryan wins player of month honors

Jon Ryan AP

Jon Ryan might not work as much as some other punters.

But when he does, he’s very good at it.

The Seahawks punter was named NFC special teams player of the month for September, after doing solid work in his rare appearances.

He dropped seven of his 12 punts inside the 20 yard line, and had four punts of at least 60 yards. His 48.3 gross average is good, but his net average of 43.3 is a testament to good coverage around him.

He also drilled a free kick after a safety 79 yards to the Denver 1-yard line, showing impressive strength.

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Dez Bryant appreciates Scott Linehan’s play calling

dezbryant AP

NFL Films microphones have at times caught Cowboys receiver Dez Bryant sounding like something less than an ideal teammate, with sideline tantrums and complaints about play calling. But that wasn’t the case on Sunday.

As shown on Inside the NFL, Bryant was his teammates’ biggest cheerleader in Sunday night’s win over the Saints. And although Bryant didn’t have a lot of balls thrown his way — he ended the game with three catches for 44 yards, and three other passes thrown to him were incomplete — he made a point of approaching offensive coordinator Scott Linehan at the end of the game.

Linehan told Bryant, “This was an awesome game.”

Bryant responded, “It was, coach, and I appreciate it, man. I appreciate it because I know there’s more to come.”

The positive vibes from Bryant started during pregame warmups, when he made a point of going around to each wide receiver on the team and offering encouraging words like, “Let’s dominate today” and “It’s our show.” After Terrance Williams caught a touchdown pass, Bryant approached him to say, “That’s big time. Keep killing it, bro.”

Bryant seemed happiest when his downfield block sprung DeMarco Murray for a touchdown. As the replay of the Murray touchdown was shown on the enormous Jerry World Jumbotron, Bryant excitedly pointed to his teammates that he had thrown a good block.

“I told you I’d get you one!” Bryant told Murray. “Keep showing you’re the best running back in the league.”

Murray has looked like the best running back in the league this year, and the Cowboys have been a run-first team. It may surprise some to learn that Bryant is fine with that.

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DeAndre Levy is the NFC’s top defensive player in September

New York Giants v Detroit Lions Getty Images

He might not be the name you hear the most in Detroit.

But no player was better last month than linebacker DeAndre Levy.

Levy was named the NFC’s defensive player of the month for September, after leading the way for the Lions league-leading defense.

Their 267.3 yards per game average is the league’s stingiest, and they lead the NFC North at 3-1.

But Levy has plenty of individual achievements as well, as he’s had at least 10 tackles in three of their four games, and is the only player in the league with an interception and a safety.

Since the start of the 2013 season, he has seven interceptions, the most of any linebacker in the league over that span.

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Kyle Fuller named NFL defensive rookie of month

Green Bay Packers v Chicago Bears Getty Images

The best rookies in the NFL in September will get a chance to face each other the first game of October.

Bears cornerback Kyle Fuller was named the league’s defensive rookie of the month Thursday.

Sunday, he gets to try to stop Panthers wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin, the offensive rookie of the month.

Fuller has three interceptions and two forced fumbles, stepping into an immediate void in the Bears defense upon the injury to veteran Charles Tillman.

The first-rounder had two of his picks in the comeback win against the 49ers in Week Two, showing he has a flair for the bright lights of prime time as well.

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J.J. Watt named AFC defensive player of the month

J.J. Watt AP

There’s an easy case to be made that Texans defensive end J.J. Watt is having an MVP season.

So the fact he’s the AFC defensive player of the month almost seems anticlimactic.

Watt earned the honor after leading the Texans to a surprising 3-1 mark, filling up the stat sheet in the process.

Take a deep breath, . . . he has 16 quarterback hits, 15 tackles, four tackles for loss, three passes defensed, 2.0 sacks, an interception returned for a touchdown, a blocked extra point and a fumble recovery.

Whew.

Oh, and he caught a touchdown pass too.

But his ability to pressure the quarterback sets him apart, as his 16 hits are more than 13 entire teams and double the second-ranked player.

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PFT Live: Packers talk with Tyler Dunne, Week Five picks

Aaron Rodgers, Jordy Nelson AP

The Packers kick off Week Five with a home game against the Vikings on Thursday night and we’ll be looking ahead to the action during Thursday’s edition of PFT Live.

Tyler Dunne of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel will join Mike Florio to discuss what the Packers need to do to win for the second straight week. They’ll talk about quarterback Aaron Rodgers’s strong performance last weekend, the Packers’ readiness for facing Teddy Bridgewater (in the event his ankle feels well enough) and the overall state of the defense in Green Bay.

Florio and MDS will also discuss who they think will win the Packers-Vikings clash along with the other games that will be kicking off on Sunday and Monday. MDS holds a two-game edge on Florio through four weeks, although neither man really set the world on fire with their September prognostications.

It all gets started at noon ET and you can watch it all live by clicking right here.

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Philip Rivers named September’s best offensive player in AFC

Philip Rivers AP

Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers rebounded in 2013 after a couple of off years and he’s climbed even higher in the first four weeks of this season.

Rivers has thrown for 1,155 yards and nine touchdowns while completing 70.1 percent of his passes as the Chargers have followed a season-opening loss with three straight victories.

His play has drawn some early MVP discussion, but he’ll have to settle with being the AFC’s top offensive player in September for now. Rivers was named the winner of the monthy honor on Thursday in a choice that’s pretty difficult to argue with given Rivers’s level of play.

“It’s always appreciated and an honor, but like always, I think it’s more of a reflection of the team this month,” Rivers said, via the team. “It’s an honor collectively because as a unit and a team we’ve put together three really good weeks. From a passing game standpoint, it takes every guy to make it go. The guys up front, the running backs and all the guys getting open in a hurry making tough catches have done that over the last month.”

Rivers will try to extend his franchise record with a touchdown pass in a 25th straight game against the Jets this weekend.

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Report: Signs pointing to Bridgewater not playing

Bridgewater Getty Images

Officially, Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater is questionable for Thursday night’s game at Lambeau Field with a sprained ankle.  Unofficially, it’s not looking good.

ESPN’s Adam Schefter says the signs are pointing to Bridgewater not playing.

The question the Vikings ultimately must ask themselves is whether an impaired and unprepared Bridgewater presents a better chance of victory than a healthy Christian Ponder.  Throw in the risk of aggravation of the ankle injury, and perhaps the right decision is to protect Bridgewater.

Indeed, the smart play for Bridgewater would be to take the night off.  But he surely wants to play.

Either way, it’s likely that the Vikings at some point today will elevate McLeod Bethel-Thompson or Chandler Harnish to the active roster, unless the Vikings plan to use a former quarterback like receiver Jarius Wright, in the event that Bridgewater doesn’t dress and Ponder gets injured.

With 12 games left and the Vikings not likely to win at Lambeau Field even if Bridgewater were 100 percent, maybe it makes sense to see what offensive coordinator Norv Turner can do with Ponder.  Bridgewater may suffer another injury at some point later in the season, and a team with needs at quarterback may decide to make an offer for Ponder at the trade deadline approaches.

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DeMarco Murray runs off with NFC offensive player of the month

Junior Galette, DeMarco Murray AP

There have been many calls in recent years for the Cowboys to make more of a commitment to the running game, but they have gone largely unheeded until this year.

The Cowboys ran the ball early and often with DeMarco Murray over the first month of the season. It has paid off for the team, which has gone 3-1 to confound some predictions of doom, and it has paid off for Murray.

Murray has run for 534 yards on 99 carries, which leaves him more than 100 yards ahead of the next best rusher in the first four weeks of the season. Murray added 68 receiving yards and scored five touchdowns, all of which was enough to make him the NFC offensive player of the month for September.

With his contract expiring after the season, Murray has found the right time to kick his game up to another level. If he can avoid the injury issues that have cost him time in each of the last two seasons, he could run away with the rushing title on his way to free agency.

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McAfee named AFC special-teams player of month

McAfee Getty Images

On Sunday, Colts punter Pat McAfee took a bow after executing a perfect onside kick against the Titans.  He can now take another bow.

McAfee has been named the AFC special-teams player of the month.

As a punter, the former West Virginia kicker-punter leads the league in net punt average at 45.6 yards, and he’s third in gross average, with 49.6.  As Indy’s kickoff specialist, McAfee has a league-high 24 touchbacks and a pair of successful onside kicks, the only two successful onside kicks of the season.

McAfee also holds for the team’s field goals and extra points, where kicker Adam Vinatieri has converted all 24 of his attempts.

Speaking of field goals and extra points, McAfee has said he’d like to inherit that job after Vinatieri retires.  If McAfee does — and if he does it as well as he’s done the rest of his duties — he could be the special-teams player of the month for every month of every season.

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Marqise Lee will miss third straight game

Jacksonville Jaguars v Philadelphia Eagles Getty Images

The Jaguars have been shorthanded at wide receiver all season and that’s not going to change against Pittsburgh in Week Five.

Cecil Shorts aggravated the hamstring injury that kept him out earlier this season against the Chargers last weekend and is expected to be out of the lineup for at least this week’s game as he tries to get things healed up once and for all. If he is on the sideline, he’ll have company from Marqise Lee.

The second-round pick has missed the last two games with a hamstring injury of his own and the team ruled him out for this week on Wednesday. As with Shorts, there’s not much point in playing Lee if there’s a chance of further aggravation to the injury but all the missed time is going to make it hard for Lee to get much out of his rookie year. He missed time during the summer as well and all the injury issues are likely to slow down his transition to the professional game.

Allen Hurns, Allen Robinson and Mike Brown will be joined at receiver by Ace Sanders, whose suspension has come to an end, when they face the Steelers this Sunday.

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Kelvin Benjamin named NFL offensive rookie of month

Pittsburgh Steelers v Carolina Panthers Getty Images

The Panthers are minus one short, angry, bridge-napalming wide receiver.

But they have a young, tall, happy one who is off to a good start.

The NFL announced that Kelvin Benjamin was the league’s offensive rookie of the month for September.

He has 21 catches for 329 yards and three touchdowns, with at least 75 receiving yards in three of his games.

He’s the first Panther to win the award since Cam Newton in 2011, and it’s no accident those two have formed a quick bond.

Benjamin still struggles with routine catches sometimes, but has shown a knack for making big plays.

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Jason Garrett: Any Cowboys charged with domestic violence won’t play

Jason Garrett AP

The Panthers and Vikings are shielding star players awaiting trial on the commissioner’s exempt list. The Ravens cut Ray Rice after video of him punching out his wife became public. The 49ers, on the other hand, are leaving Ray McDonald on the field while he’s investigated for domestic violence.

But the Cowboys have made it clear to their players what will happen to them.

According to Brandon George of the Dallas Morning News, coach Jason Garrett said he told his players they won’t be allowed to play in games upon charges, regardless any due process.

“Part of what our jobs are as coaches is to create the right environment for our players to function both on and off the field,” Garrett said. “So we need to be clear about where we are. We need to be clear that we have a structure in place to help anybody who has any off-the-field issues.

“Me as a coach, position coaches, player programs, departments, we have a lot of resources here to help guys. So that was the first message, if you’re dealing with anything off the field and we can help with, we’re here for you. Having said that, there are standards that we have about all off-the-field behavior and certainly domestic violence applies to that. We’re just very clear with how we’re going to handle things.”

He may get an immediate chance to put that theory in play, with the accusations of sexual assault against defensive back C.J. Spillman.

Of course, Spillman doesn’t benefit from being central to the team’s fortunes, so it might be easier to make an example of him.

 

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Reggie Wayne joins Peyton, Unitas with 200 games as a Colt

Peyton_Manning_Reggie_Wayne_Reunion_Report_Free_Agency Getty Images

Colts receiver Reggie Wayne played his 200th regular-season game on Sunday, all with the Colts, putting him in some very elite company.

The only players who have appeared in more games in a Colts uniform are Johnny Unitas (206) and Peyton Manning (208). Wayne said he’s excited about the prospect of passing his old teammate for the team record late this season.

We all know what Peyton has done for this franchise, for this city. It’s kind of hard to believe that I could pass him up,” Wayne said. “He was here a long time. He won a lot of games for this organization, so just for me to be in the same breath, the same category as Peyton, is obviously an honor.”

Of course, if you’ve played 200 games that means you’re old. And Wayne, who will turn 36 next month, acknowledges that he’s never going to be the fastest guy on the field, especially less than a year removed from a torn ACL. That’s why Wayne said he’s working harder than ever on the mental side of the game, as he goes into the natural physical decline that comes with being an athlete in his mid-30s.

“I know I’m not going to just Usain Bolt run past everybody,” Wayne said. “I’ve got to be that much more in-tune to film watching, watching my opponent to try and find an advantage the best way I can. I probably watch more film now than I’ve watched the past couple of years than I’ve ever watched. It’s worked. It’s helped me. That’s how you get that edge and hopefully I can continue to get that.”

Wayne’s approach to the game may allow him to play a few more years and become the first Colt to play 225 games, or maybe even 250. It’s not realistic to think any receiver could catch former Lions kicker Jason Hanson for the all-time record of 327 games played with one team. Wayne also probably won’t last as long as his teammate kicker Adam Vinatieri, the active leader in games played with 278 (160 with the Patriots and 118 with the Colts). And Jerry Rice’s record of 303 games, the most ever for a non-kicker, is probably safe.

But Wayne looks like he’s in good enough shape to last a long time in Indianapolis.

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