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Chris Ault thinks his pistol offense will grow in the NFL

Colin Kaepernick, Frank Gore AP

When Colin Kaepernick was in college at Nevada, he was a phenomenal player — the first player in NCAA Division 1 history to pass for 10,000 yards and run for 4,000 yards in his career. But he wasn’t a Heisman Trophy candidate or a first-round draft pick, in part because many people thought the Nevada “pistol” offense was a gimmick.

Now that Kaepernick has led the 49ers to the Super Bowl from the pistol, the man who invented the offense, former Nevada coach Chris Ault, is celebrating what he has accomplished — and predicting big things for the pistol in the NFL going forward.

Ault said on NFL Network this morning that contrary to what some people believe, the pistol isn’t predicated on a quarterback running the ball. In fact, Ault said he believes NFL defenses will be able to take away a lot of the runs that Kaepernick does so well. It’s just that when defenses are focused on preventing Kaepernick from getting to the outside, that leaves a lot open in the middle. Ault said he thought Frank Gore’s two touchdown runs against the Falcons in the NFC Championship Game were set up by the defense having to worry about Kaepernick running in the read-option.

“I think defenses will catch up, but here’s the beauty of the pistol: I know we saw Kaep run for 181 yards against Green Bay — that’s certainly the read part of the game, it’s great — but what you saw last week is what I believe our pistol brings to the table: Kaep didn’t run it. He read it and handed it off because Atlanta was taking away Kaep on the outside,” Ault said. “And those two plays, I believe, that Gore scored on, both of them were read-type plays. The beauty of what we’ve done in the pistol and what I’ve seen the 49ers and the Redskins doing, is, it’s not just the read play itself. It’s also the play-action pass off of it.”

Ault said the pistol formation, in which the quarterback is not under center but is closer to the line of scrimmage than a typical shotgun formation, with a running back directly behind the quarterback, makes it harder for the defense to key on the running back.

“When that back sits behind the quarterback, the linebackers do not have a clear view of what he’s doing,” Ault said. “You can run downhill power games, counters, gaps and all that from the pistol.”

Anyone who thought the pistol was all about the quarterback running the ball after watching Kaepernick’s record-breaking rushing game against the Packers saw in the 49ers’ win over the Falcons that that’s not the case: Kaepernick led the 49ers to a win while running just two times for 23 yards.

“I don’t think the NFL quarterbacks are all going to start running the ball 15 times a game,” Ault said. “But if you’ve got the read in your offense, it is a threat, it’s something you’ve got to be concerned about, and of course if you’ve got a guy like Kaep who can run like a gazelle, you’ve got to be more than concerned with it. You’ve got to put one and a half people on him.”

Ault said that any NFL team, even those with slow, pocket passers, could run its offense out of the pistol.

“They could run the pistol formation,” Ault said. “They don’t need to run the read part of it. When we first put the pistol in, in 2005 and 2006, that’s all we ran — we ran the power, the gap, the counters, the zones, the outside stuff. We did not run the read at that time. So the pistol offense, the most important thing there is you can run any offense you’ve been running.”

Ault isn’t suggesting that his offense is the best for every team — he acknowledged that it has weaknesses and strengths like any other system. But he says it’s not a gimmick. It’s here to stay.

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Giants rule out Weston Richburg

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 13:  Weston Richburg #70 of the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on September 13, 2015 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Ronald Martinez/Getty Images) Getty Images

On Friday, the Giants ruled out left guard Justin Pugh and listed center Weston Richburg as doubtful in a move that proved to be wishful thinking on Saturday.

Richburg did not travel with the team to Washington for Sunday’s game against the Redskins and will miss his first game of the season. Richburg hurt his ankle in Week 10 and didn’t make enough progress over the bye week to get back on the field.

Dallas Reynolds will start in Richburg’s place at center. John Jerry started in Pugh’s place when Pugh missed the Week 10 loss to the Patriots and should start again this Sunday, although Adam Schefter of ESPN reports it will be at right guard with Geoff Schwartz flipping to the other side of the offensive line.

In addition to downgrading Richburg, the Giants also had one of their injured players make an unusual trip in the other direction on the injury report. Linebacker Mark Herzlich was ruled out on Friday because of a quad injury, but his status was shifted to questionable on Saturday so he may make it into the lineup after all.

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Joe Haden won’t play on Monday night

SAN DIEGO, CA - OCTOBER 04:  Joe Haden #23 of the Cleveland Browns looks on prior to the start of the game against the San Diego Chargers at Qualcomm Stadium on October 4, 2015 in San Diego, California.  (Photo by Jeff Gross/Getty Images) Getty Images

Among the things that have gone wrong in Cleveland this season have been a series of injuries to cornerback Joe Haden.

Haden has missed five games already this season and he’ll miss a sixth on Monday night against the Ravens. Haden suffered a concussion in Week Eight and has not been able to make progress through the league’s concussion protocol.

“There is a written test and computer test and that right now is the obstacle,” coach Mike Pettine said, via

Wide receivers Taylor Gabriel and Andrew Hawkins are also out because of concussions. Defensive lineman Randy Starks has been ruled out due to a knee injury. Guard Joel Bitonio and linebacker Nate Orchard are questionable with Orchard landing on the injury report for the first time on Saturday.

The Ravens have plenty of injury issues of their own and don’t expect to have the left side of their offensive line in Cleveland. Left tackle Eugene Monroe and left guard Kelechi Osemele are both doubtful to play on an offense that won’t have quarterback Joe Flacco or running back Justin Forsett after they suffered season-ending injuries last Sunday.

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Report: Charcandrick West will not play today

Charcandrick West AP

Chiefs running back Charcandrick West won’t be able to go today against the Bills.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that West, though listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, will not play. The Chiefs are expected to have tight end Travis Kelce, who is also questionable with an ankle injury.

West is the Chiefs’ leading rusher, having emerged as the starter after Jamaal Charles was lost for the season. Without West, Spencer Ware will get the start at running back.

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Gruden advises patience with Manziel

manziel-johnny101715-getty-ftrjpg_1iltxbxi5cy0z1konw7fwtauff Getty Images

Browns quarterback Johnny Manziel partied (and lied) his way out of the starting job in Cleveland over the balance of the season, but former NFL coach Jon Gruden doesn’t believe it should mean the end of Manziel’s time with the Browns.

“If he wants to be a great quarterback and realize his potential, let this be the day he gets awakened,” Gruden told Mary Kay Cabot of on Saturday. Gruden will call Monday night’s Ravens-Browns game for ESPN.

Some would say that Manziel should have been awakened by now, after a disastrous end to his rookie season and a 10-week offseason stay in rehab. Gruden is hopeful that this time will be the time that Manziel realizes he needs to grow up.

“He’s a young kid,” Gruden said of Manziel, who is still 22. “He should still be at Texas A&M. Sometimes you have to remember that.”

Gruden specifically remembers another young quarterback with a penchant for partying. His number was retired by the Packers two nights ago.

“We traded for a guy when I first got to Green Bay that Atlanta said was a little bit of a hell raiser and it turned out OK for us,” Gruden said of Brett Favre. “You know what I mean?”

Ultimately, Favre could be the best guy to get through to Manziel. Like Manziel, Favre spent time in rehab early in his career. Favre overcame an addiction to painkillers, which forced him to find a way to play for years without pharmaceutical intervention.

If Gruden really wants to help Manziel, Gruden should connect Manziel and Favre. And Manziel would be wise to listen to anything Favre has to say.

“He’s a polarizing guy,” said Gruden regarding Manziel. “You love him. You don’t like him. Everybody has their own feeling, but deep down, I know there’s a good person in there, a lot of talent, and somebody is going to tap into it. I believe that.”

Listening to what Gruden has to say, it’s hard not to wonder whether Browns owner Jimmy Haslam will try to hire Gruden to do what he did with Manziel earlier this year on a full-time basis, as the head coach of the team.

“We went straight at it,” Gruden said regarding his time spent working with Manziel. “We were right out in the open. One day I think we played golf. We talked about some deep and philosophical things. It was very unusual for me, but I care about him. I care about his family. I want to see him realize his potential.”

To realize that potential, Manziel has to overcome his demons once and for all, mature into a guy who obsesses over the details of being an NFL quarterback, and find a way to gain — and to retain — the trust of an NFL team. If he does the first two, the last one will follow.

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Pats promote Asante Cleveland, Darius Fleming

Asante Cleveland, Bene' Benwikere AP

With receiver Aaron Dobson on injured reserve and receiver Danny Amendola out for Sunday night at Denver (and with receiver Julian Edelman still dealing with a broken bone in his foot), the Patriots have added another potential pass catcher — but not a receiver.

Tight end Asante Cleveland (pictured) has been promoted from the practice squad. Arriving in August via trade with the 49ers, Cleveland was cut on September 5 but signed to the practice squad on September 7.

Fleming, a fifth-round pick of the 49ers in 2012, spent two years on injured reserve before joining the Patriots in 2014 and spending most of the year on the practice squad. He was cut on September 5 and signed to the practice squad on September 7.

The Pats also released cornerback Dewey McDonald, who had been claimed off waivers from the Colts last month. He has been on and off the roster since then, bouncing back and forth between the practice squad.

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Harrison Smith, Trae Waynes out for Vikings on Sunday

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The Vikings will be shorthanded in their effort to keep Julio Jones under control on Sunday.

Safety Harrison Smith and cornerback Trae Waynes have been downgraded to out by the Vikings. Both had been listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report. Smith has a knee injury, and Waynes has an ankle problem.

Ben Goessling of reports that Antone Exum will make his first start in place of Smith, getting the nod over Robert Blanton.

The good news for the Vikings is that defensive end Everson Griffen, who also had been listed as questionable, has not been scratched. Griffen has both a hip and shoulder issue.

The 7-3 Vikings and the 6-4 Falcons get together in the Georgia Dome on Sunday, in a key game for NFC playoff positioning. Minnesota currently leads the NFC North by a half game over the Packers, and the Falcons are holding one of the two wild-card spots.

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Giants can take an overwhelming lead in the NFC East on Sunday

Tom Coughlin AP

We don’t often say this about a 5-5 team, but if the Giants can win on Sunday, they’ve all but locked up their division.

Two of the Giants’ NFC East division rivals had disasters on Thanksgiving, and it’s now hard to imagine either the Eagles or the Cowboys making a run at the division title. That leaves Sunday’s opponent, Washington, as the only team left to challenge the Giants.

At the moment, the Giants are a game ahead of 4-6 Washington, and the Giants already beat Washington once this season. A win for the Giants would result in a two-game lead, plus the head-to-head tiebreaker, with just five games to play. The Giants would have to totally collapse to lose the division at that point.

So it’s easy to see why Washington coach Jay Gruden is calling tomorrow a one-game season. He knows that if his team loses, the NFC East race is effectively over.

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Dolphins add Rishard Matthews to injury report

Rishard Matthews, Corey Graham AP

As the Dolphins prepare to face the Jets in New Jersey, receiver Rishard Matthews is dealing with a situation that could keep him from playing in the game.

The Dolphins have announced that Matthews has an illness. He has been added to the injury report as questionable for the game.

Matthews has started all 10 games this year, despite an offseason effort to bring in a bunch of new receivers who could have supplanted him. So far, the 2012 seventh-round pick has 43 catches for 662 yards and four touchdowns.

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Bears change long snappers

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The Bears have made a change at the most interchangeable position in football.

Long snapper Thomas Gafford is out, and long snapper Patrick Scales is in.

Gafford had served in that role for all 11 games this season, after spending six years in that role with the Chiefs. He signed a one-year deal with an $870,000 base salary and an $80,000 signing bonus. He can take the balance of his pay for 2015 with the Bears as termination pay.

Scales, who entered the NFL with the Ravens in 2011, has played for the Dolphins, Jets, and Buccaneers, too.

Gafford will be subject to waivers. If/when (when) he clears waivers, Gafford will be available to be signed out of nowhere when a team decides to make a change at the most interchangeable position in football.

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Erving says critics “can’t touch my fingernails”

Cameron Erving AP

In his first career start nearly two weeks ago at Pittsburgh, Browns rookie first-rounder Cameron Erving got thrown into the feet of running back Isaiah Crowell by Steelers defensive lineman Cameron Heyward. It made Erving the butt of many online jokes, and Erving fired back at the critics on Friday.

“The play where I got bull-rushed. What about it? It’s football. . . . Man, listen, half the people that make those Vines and those judgments can’t touch my fingernails, they can’t do what I can do,” Erving said, via Scott Petrak of the Elyria (Ohio) Chronicle-Telegram. “And I make money doing what I love to do, so I don’t care. Those opinions are irrelevant to me.”

Of course, he won’t be making money doing what he loves to do for long if he keeps getting manhandled by opposing defenders.

“You don’t want it to happen to you,” Erving said. “But if you never got hit, you never played football.”

In all, Erving gave up a sack and a tackle for a loss in his debut as a starter. He also was called for holding, negating a touchdown run. But the coaching staff was happy with his effort, and with his willingness to fight back after getting pushed around.

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McCarthy calls out officials for OPI call

McCarthyChi14 Getty Images

Packers coach Mike McCarthy has plenty of reasons to be upset after Thursday night’s loss to the Bears. He’s specifically upset about a penalty that turned a potential touchdown drive in the first half into a field goal.

Receiver James Jones, who otherwise did nothing for the entire game, was called for offensive interference for picking Chicago cornerback Kyle Fuller on a throw inside the five to receiver Randall Cobb. After the game, McCarthy disputed the call.

“The one play on Randall’s [catch]  is just a flat poor call,” McCarthy said, via Weston Hodkiewicz of “He missed the call. You can shake that any way you want. They’re looking for it.”

They’re also looking for coaches who call out officials, which could get McCarthy fined. And fine or no fine, McCarthy’s complaint misses the mark. While not a full-blown pick, Jones jammed his left forearm into the chest of Fuller, in an apparent effort to shove Fuller into Bears cornerback Bryce Callahan, who was covering Cobb. The move also kept Fuller from peeling away from Jones and getting to Cobb.

“We had some tough breaks from the officials, but that’s all part of the game  the officials, the weather, you can’t control that,” McCarthy added.

Whether McCarthy gets a toughly-worded letter from the league office along with an invitation to make an involuntary contribution to the league’s charitable causes remains to be seen.

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Saturday one-liners

Brandon LaFell AP

WR Brandon LaFell is ready to “step up” for the Patriots (which is always better than stepping off).

With Dolphins DE Cam Wake out for the year, Olivier Vernon has stepped up.

With CB Darrelle Revis out for the Jets, one-time undrafted free agent Marcus Williams probably will start at right corner.

Bills CB Nickell Robey periodically lobbies for a chance to play offense.

Ravens LB Ray Lewis is the latest ESPN employee to make The List of all New England fans (which overlooks the fact that he already was on it).

Bengals coach Marvin Lewis says CB Darqueze Dennard (shoulder) will be ready to go next season.

The Browns will don their orange pants in prime time.

Steelers WR Markus Wheaton is content to wait his turn.

Texans coach Bill O’Brien has a simple nickname for New Orleans WR Brandin Cooks:  “V.G. maybe,” O’Brien said, “Very good.”

Get to know Colts QB Matthew Hasselbeck in a way he’s never really been known.

Jaguars QB Blake Bortles has come a long way since his first career start last season, against the same team he’ll face on Sunday.

Titans LB Brian Orakpo knows that, when his sack-happy defense faces Oakland’s sack-stingy offensive line, “Something has to give.”

Broncos CB Omar Bolden has launched what he calls the Positive Living Award.

Chiefs Hall of Famer Will Shields will receive his Ring of Excellence on Sunday.

Raiders WR Rod Streater, fifth on the depth chart and inactive most of the year, won’t be playing absent injuries at the position.

Chargers coach Mike McCoy’s inability to handle the local media could hasten his exit from the franchise.

Cowboys LB Sean Lee has a simple message for his teammates: “If you’re not motivated to find a way to win, you need to get off the team.”

WR Hakeem Nicks could be active for his first game back with the Giants.

The Eagles are bad because the players aren’t good.

Washington CB Chris Culliver’s bad week included being fined for unsportmanslike conduct due to a throat-slash gesture.

“The sky’s the limit for us, based on where we’ve come from Day One,” Bears LB Willie Young say. “[Beating the Packers] just reassures us that we can win big games. We can beat a playoff contender and a winning team.”

The Packers’ defense did a good job on Thursday night, which only makes the performance of the offense more glaring.

Vikings coach Mike Zimmer is thankful for RB Adrian Peterson; “I told him today how much I appreciated him,” Zimmer said. “Just everything he does for us. His leadership, the way he comes out to practice the way he prepares. Really, everything.”

The last time the Falcons played Minnesota, TE Levine Toilolo finished the game at right tackle.

Panthers G Trai Turner will spend his team’s mini-bye in the enemy territory of New Orleans; “I enjoy the support. I encourage the hate, also,” Turner said.

TE Cameron Brate, a Harvard graduate, is making the Buccaneers look even smarter than him for having him around.

Cardinals CB Patrick Peterson and his wife had their first child on Thursday.

Rams WR Kenny Britt and WR Tavon Austin wore Stedman Bailey’s No. 12 at practice on Friday.

40-year-old 49ers K Phil Dawson says he has at least one year left in his leg.

Pittsburgh QB Ben Roethlisberger says he love Seattle; he may not feel that way after facing the Seahawks there for the first time in his career on Sunday.

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Amendola to miss Sunday’s game

Danny Amendola AP

Another week, another key offensive weapon is out for the Patriots.

Tom Curran of CSN New England, confirming a report from Steve Burton of WBZ, says that receiver Danny Amendola won’t play on Sunday night in Denver.

If, as expected, Amendola doesn’t travel to Colorado, the Patriots will be (or at least should be) issuing an updated injury report downgrading Amendola from questionable to out.

Amendola injured his knee on Monday night against the Bills. He had become the primary replacement for Julian Edelman, who had broken a bone in his foot the prior Sunday against the Giants. A week before that, the Patriots lost running back Dion Lewis for the year with a torn ACL.

The Patriots also recently put receiver Aaron Dobson on injured reserve, leaving them very thin at the position. Which means that maybe coach Bill Belichick, who once had an affinity for moving receivers to defensive back, may have to see whether any of his defensive backs can catch passes.

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Sanders, Osweiler working on chemistry

Emmanuel Sanders AP

With Peyton Manning out for at least two more games, Brock Osweiler will serve as the Broncos quarterback for at least the next two games. Which means that it will be important for Osweiler and his receivers to have good chemistry on the field.

One of those receivers has checked the box.

“The chemistry is good,” Emmanuel Sanders told reporters on Friday, in comments distributed by the team. “Peyton hasn’t been going on Wednesdays, so I’ve had an opportunity to go with Brock and it’s definitely paid off. Today we connected on a couple of deep balls that we were working on. I texted him last night about what I’m seeing and what he’s seeing, so it’s going to pay off.”

A bad ankle kept Sanders out of Sunday’s game at Chicago, so Sunday night will be his first chance at catching passes from Osweiler during a game. Which could help the Broncos become the first team this year to hand the Patriots a loss.

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Bucannon gets big fine for hit on defenseless receiver

Kyle Juszczyk, Tyrann Mathieu, Deone Bucannon AP

Deone Bucannon of the Cardinals has been fined $23,152 for a hit on a defenseless receiver in last week’s win over the Bengals.

Bucannon hit A.J. Green on a pass over the middle was not flagged.

Bucannon is questionable for this week’s game vs. the 49ers due to concussion-like symptoms that didn’t show up until a day or two after the game, so it’s unknown if he suffered a concussion on the hit that brought the fine.

A first-round pick in 2014, Bucannon is listed as a safety and wears No. 20 but generally plays linebacker for the Cardinals.

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