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Mike McCoy says Philip Rivers needs to get back to basics

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If the San Diego Chargers are going to make a return to the postseason after three straight seasons sitting on the sidelines in January they will need quarterback Philip Rivers to return to top form.

Both Rivers and head coach Mike McCoy believe Rivers is capable of being that player once again for the Chargers. Rivers says his best days are still ahead of him. McCoy said he believes Rivers can complete 70-percent of his passes. In order to do so, McCoy has a plan to get Rivers back to playing his best.

We have to get him going back to basics; take what the defense is giving you,” McCoy said in an interview on the NFL Network. “Don’t be afraid to check it down. You don’t have to make that big play every play. We are going to do some different things in the passing game with him, raise the completion percentage, get the ball out of his hand a little bit quicker, help the offense line, run the football.”

Rivers had arguably his worst season since 2007 a season ago. While he did complete 64-percent of his passes, he had five-year lows in yards, yards per attempt, touchdowns and passer rating. McCoy believes Rivers tried to do too much last year. He feels simplifying things and getting back to the foundations of being a quarterback will get Rivers back to among the league’s most productive passers.

“You don’t have to do it by yourself. Everyone in the organization – offense, defense, special teams – we all have to play better. That is the way we are going to approach it,” McCoy said.

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Devon and Leah Strong releasing book for kids fighting cancer

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Leah Still is still fighting cancer and will start a new round of chemotherapy on Friday, but that’s not stopping her from finding a way to offer some help to other kids in the same position.

Bengals defensive tackle and Leah’s father Devon Still got a lot of questions from other parents with kids fighting cancer about how their family has approached Leah’s treatment and he asked his daughter for her thoughts. That led the four-year-old and her dad to write an animated book called I Am Leah Strong that will be available online next month.

“I talked to my daughter and asked her if she wanted to do a children’s book to help kids who are fighting pediatric cancer now and kids who will be diagnosed in the future to help them with the transition from normal life to being in the hospital all the time,” Still said, via USA Today. “That book was written by her. I just had an outline of questions I wanted to ask her. Whatever answers she had I wrote in book form.”

Leah Still was diagnosed with neuroblastoma in June and the hope is that her next round of chemotherapy does enough damage to the disease that she’s able to begin stem cell therapy.

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Jeff Blake says every team takes air out of the footballs

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Former NFL quarterback Jeff Blake can’t figure out what the big deal is with Deflategate.

Blake spent time with seven different teams, and he says he always instructed ball boys to take air out of footballs to improve his grip.

“I’m just going to let the cat of the bag, every team does it, every game, it has been since I played,” Blake said on 104.5 The Zone in Nashville, via “Cause when you take the balls out of the bag, they are rock hard. And you can’t feel the ball as well. It’s too hard. Everybody puts the pin in and takes just enough air out of the ball that you can feel it a little better. But it’s not the point to where it’s flat. So I don’t know what the big deal is. It’s not something that’s not been done for 20 years.”

Blake said his pre-game ritual always included checking footballs and taking some air out if they were too hard to grip.

“Well, I would say [to a ball boy], ‘Take a little bit of air out of it. It’s a little bit hard,'” Blake said. “And then he’d take a little bit out and I’d squeeze it and I’d be like, ‘OK, it’s perfect.’ That’s it.”

With the Patriots now facing scrutiny for using under-inflated footballs in the AFC Championship Game, Blake is wondering why this is suddenly an issue.

“I guess it wasn’t a big deal back then, but it is now,” he said.

It’s a very big deal in the media. It may not be a big deal to NFL players, some of whom say deflating footballs is just part of the business.

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Friday morning one-liners

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Looking ahead to Bills S Da’Norris Searcy’s free agency.

Is there a chance that DT Ndamukong Suh could wind up with the Dolphins?

Tom Brady thinks James Develin gives the Patriots the best fullback in the league.

Todd Bowles continues to add coaches he knows from Arizona to the Jets’ coaching staff.

Ray Lewis thinks the window for the current Ravens team is closing.

T Eric Winston hopes to stick with the Bengals for another year.

The Browns may not make a decision about their training camp home for a while.

Former Steelers LB Jack Ham is a big fan of Richard Sherman.

The Texans website breaks down Nebraska RB Ameer Abdullah.

The case for former Colts WR Marvin Harrison to make the Hall of Fame.

The Jaguars added K/P Kasey Redfern to their roster.

Said Titans TE Delanie Walker, “If that don’t make you angry, to go 2-14, I don’t know what would make you angry. It’s kind of sad when your own fans don’t believe in you. It should make you mad. It’s embarrassing to only win two games at any level. But that’s what we did, and now we have to make sure nothing like that ever happens again.”

Broncos S T.J. Ward will be playing for his fifth head coach in six seasons.

Does being a guard hurt former Chiefs star Will Shields’ Hall of Fame chances?

The Raiders need more out of their tight ends.

Jeremiah Sirles recaps his rookie year on the Chargers offensive line.

How can the Cowboys be more like the Seahawks and Patriots?

Giants WR Odell Beckham’s knack for one-handed catches landed him a world record.

The Eagles have found their personnel man.

Predictions of a fruitful relationship for Redskins QB Robert Griffin III and quarterbacks coach Matt Cavanaugh.

CB Charles Tillman has good feelings about the Bears after speaking to coach John Fox.

Barry Sanders thinks the Lions have pieces to contend for a Super Bowl spot in 2015.

Can the Packers hit in free agency for the second straight year?

A look at the new Vikings stadium.

Running backs coach Gerald Brown could stick with the Falcons for another year.

Panthers fans score well on the niceness scale.

CB Delvin Breaux got a partial guarantee in his contract with the Saints.

Super Bowl weekend brings back the memories for former Buccaneers DB and Super Bowl MVP Dexter Jackson.

The Cardinals practice facility has held up well for the Patriots this week.

The Rams looking for an offensive coordinator leads at least one person to think about Mike Martz.

S Antonine Bethea looks back on his first season with the 49ers.

CB Jeremy Lane closed Thursday’s Seahawks practice by knocking the ball away from WR Bryan Walters.

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“Added security” planned for Super Bowl footballs

Super Bowl Football AP

There’s been a lot of discussion about the handling of footballs for the last two weeks and the NFL would prefer not to have a rehash of the topic after the Super Bowl, so they’ve made some changes to the process for Super Bowl Sunday.

The league already announced that the Bears equipment staff has been tabbed to oversee the pregame preparation of the footballs that the Patriots and Seahawks will use and NFL vice president of officiating Dean Blandino outlined some other differences on Thursday.

“There will be some added security just because of the environment we’re in for this game,” Blandino said, via

The 54 balls (the high number is due to “charity commitments” for game-used Super Bowl balls) each team want to use will go to Bears equipment manager Tony Medlin on Friday and will remain in his possession with the additional security in place until referee Bill Vinovich inspects them a couple of hours before kickoff.

Blandino also said that the league plans to review all of their pregame procedures for dealing with footballs this offseason, presumably including the league’s practice of not logging the PSI of the balls during the initial check.

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Confusion continues about refs signaling Patriots’ ineligible receivers

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Seahawks coach Pete Carroll said on Thursday morning that the NFL has instructed its officials to use a new signal in the Super Bowl to inform defensive players which offensive players are eligible receivers and which offensive players are ineligible. That came as news to Patriots coach Bill Belichick.

“I haven’t heard anything about that, so we’ll see what happens,” Belichick told pool reporter Jarrett Bell at the Patriots’ Thursday practice. “I’ll check it out.”

NFL head of officiating Dean Blandino said there’s nothing new for Belichick to check out: Carroll misunderstood, and there is no new signal. It’s unclear where Carroll got that idea, as he said on Thursday morning that he was informed by the league that the officials were changing the way they officiate when the Patriots run trick plays.

“The new signal is the referee will point to the player that has the eligible number and he’ll signal that he is not eligible. That’s the new thing. They’ve never done that before,” Carroll said.

So where did Carroll get that idea? It’s unclear, but Super Bowl referee Bill Vinovich seemed to have the same idea. Vinovich and Blandino had an awkward moment in front of the press when Blandino told Vinovich that he shouldn’t tell the defense which ineligible receivers not to cover, something that came as news to Vinovich.

The Patriots’ trick plays surprised the defenses of the Ravens and Colts in their playoff games. Those plays also seem to have confused everyone else in the NFL. Even the officiating department.

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Cardinals not planning around having Daryl Washington

Daryl Washington AP

The Cardinals were able to advance to the playoffs this season despite the absence of several key players from the lineup.

Most of those absences were due to injuries, but they were also missing linebacker Daryl Washington because of a one-year suspension for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Washington is eligible to be reinstated by the league in May, but that may just be the preamble to another suspension.

Washington pleaded guilty to aggravated assault last March after being arrested for pushing the mother of his daughter hard enough that she fell and broke her collarbone. The league has not handed down any discipline for that case, but it seems likely and president Michael Bidwill said that the Cardinals aren’t planning around Washington’s presence as a result.

“He’ll be facing the issue with the domestic violence and there has been no determination of what happens there,” Bidwill said, via the team’s website. “He was only suspended for the drug issue, so we want to make sure we understand what that (other punishment) is. Last year, we learned about his suspension after free agency. This year we are going to plan to make sure we address all the issues not knowing whether Daryl will be back for part of next season or all of next season. ‘Next man up’ is real but we have to make sure we’ve gone into free agency and addressed that situation.”

Larry Foote, who started 15 games at inside linebacker, is set to be a free agent this offseason so it’s a spot that they’ll need to address regardless of Washington’s situation.

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DeMarco Murray doesn’t think he’s easily replaceable

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Cowboys tight end Jason Witten said last week that it would be “silly” to think that any running back could have been dropped into the lineup and given the team what DeMarco Murray gave them during the 2014 season, a point he made in response to those who feel that the Cowboys offensive line and overall offensive talent played a major role in Murray’s success.

Given their salary cap situation and other free agents on the roster, however, the general feeling is that the Cowboys won’t be breaking the bank to bring Murray back for the 2015. Finding a back to work for less shouldn’t be hard, but Murray echoed Witten’s take Thursday when asked about finding one to play as well.

“I would like to see how it goes,” Murray said on NFL Network. “I would like to see how that plan would work for them. I don’t pay attention to it. You know, I have full confidence in myself and my ability to do what I’m capable of doing. I know my talents, I know how hard I play and, you know, I know what I bring to the table. So I’m not worried about it and, you know, I don’t hear it.”

Leading the league in rushing by nearly 500 yards sets Murray up for a nice payday even by the standards of the relatively depressed market for running backs in today’s NFL. That makes it likelier that the Cowboys will get a chance to see how fungible the running back spot really is in their offense.

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K.J. Wright on Dan Quinn: “In this business, you always want guys to reach the top”

Pete Carroll AP

It’s widely assumed Seahawks defensive coordinator Dan Quinn will become the Falcons’ head coach after the Super Bowl.

Asked Thursday how Seattle’s players viewed Quinn’s potential departure, outside linebacker K.J. Wright offered a reasoned view of life in the NFL, noting it’s only rational to take opportunities for advancement when they are presented.

“In this business, you always want guys to reach the top of whatever it is,” Wright said, according to an interview transcript provided by the league.

“If you’re guys like J.G. (Seahawks defensive quality control coach John Glenn), he’s a quality control guy, you want him to someday become a linebackers coach or tight ends coach. Take (Seahawks linebackers) Coach (Ken) Norton (Jr.) you want him to one day become a D-coordinator.

“You always want guys to grow. If it comes down to players in free agency, one team’s not paying enough, you want them to go elsewhere and get paid the most money they can.

“I want guys to reach the top of their field and just be the best they can be and be able to provide for their family.”

And soon, it appears Quinn will indeed be at the top level of his profession, which will create a ripple effect of opportunity for others.

Wright, for his part, wouldn’t have been surprised to have seen Quinn get a head coaching job last season.

“I thought he was going to leave last year with how good he was,” Wright said. “… He will most definitely be gone. He can bring a nice presence to teach defense, teach fundamentals. Just put a good defensive coordinator around him and offensive coordinator around him and you’re going to win football games.”

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Sean Taylor highlights could be on Bobby Wagner’s Saturday agenda

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On the night before Super Bowl XLIX, Seahawks Pro Bowl middle linebacker Bobby Wagner might pass the time by watching some clips of standout defenders of seasons past.

And Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, too.

“I’m going to chill and probably watch some Ray Lewis, Sean Taylor highlights,” Wagner said Thursday, according to an interview transcript from the NFL. “Probably throw in some Ninja Turtles.”

A surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer, Lewis was Super Bowl XXXV MVP and one of the all-time greats at middle linebacker. The late Taylor, meanwhile, was of the most skilled safeties to have entered the league in recent memory.

We’re less certain how the Ninja Turtles rank among the animated shows of its time, but one should prepare for the Super Bowl as he sees fit.

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Status quo for Seattle’s injury report as all practice fully

Richard Sherman, Earl Thomas AP

Two of the Seahawks’ defensive stars appear to be coming along well as they deal with injuries suffered 10 days ago in the NFC title game.

Cornerback Richard Sherman (elbow) and free safety Earl Thomas (shoulder) both practiced fully on Thursday, according to the injury report. It’s the second straight full workout of the week for both All-Pro defensive backs.

In fact, for a second straight day, all 53 players practiced for Seattle, a good sign with the Super Bowl in less than 72 hours.

Right tackle Justin Britt (knee), tailback Marshawn Lynch (back), and right guard J.R. Sweezy (ankle) are the only other players on Seattle’s injury report. Britt missed the NFC Championship with his injury, but his full participation to begin this week augurs well for his availability for Sunday.

Lynch has been previously dealt with back issues but has not missed any full games. Sweezy, meanwhile, was first listed with an ankle ailment late in the season. However, he’s played and started every game this season.

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Akeem Ayers added to injury report

Rob Ninkovich, Akeem Ayers AP

The Patriots’ injury report grew by one name on Thursday.

Linebacker Akeem Ayers (knee) was a limited participant in the club’s second practice of Super Bowl week. He was not on the club’s initial injury report released Wednesday.

The 25-year-old Ayers has recorded 22 tackles and four sacks for New England since being acquired from Tennessee in October. Including the postseason, he has appeared in 11 games for the Patriots, making four starts. Ayers (6-3, 255) logged 11 snaps on defense and special teams in the Patriots’ 45-7 victory over Indianapolis in the AFC title game.

Ayers was one of five Patriots limited on Thursday. The others — linebacker Dont’a Hightower (shoulder), defensive tackle Chris Jones (elbow), defensive tackle Sealver Siliga (foot) and center Bryan Stork (knee) — were limited on Wednesday.

Quarterback Tom Brady (ankle) was again a full participant.

The Patriots’ final injury report will be released Friday.

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Dick Vermeil recalls how the Marshall Faulk trade went down

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On Thursday’s PFT Live, former Rams head coach Dick Vermeil recalled how the pivotal 1999 trade for future Hall of Fame tailback Marshall Faulk came together.

As Vermeil told it, supply, demand and a good rapport with then-Colts coach Jim Mora were the catalysts for the deal, which netted Indianapolis second- and fifth-round picks and St. Louis one of the most versatile backs of all time.

“They wanted our draft choice, and we wanted Marshall Faulk, and Jim Mora was the head coach there,” Vermeil said Thursday. “Jim and I worked together at Stanford as young assistants. Jim was my linebacker coach at UCLA, so we had a relationship.

“There was no BS in talking and negotiation and game-playing between Jim and I. Our presidents and general managers did a lot of talking and discussing and working out details, but the final decision came down between Jim and I, and we got it done, that’s all.

“And it worked great for us. It worked great for Marshall Faulk. They got the running back they wanted out of Miami who had a great career for them, Edgerrin James, had great success. They already had a great quarterback who was really starting to come on in Peyton [Manning].

“So they got what they wanted. We got we wanted.”

Added Vermeil: “The same trade today would cost a lot more.”

Vermeil’s final thought is especially interesting. In hindsight, the Rams didn’t pay a high price at all for a tailback tailor-made for their offense.

On the other hand, the tailback position perhaps isn’t valued as it was in 1999. Were a similar trade made now, it would likely draw no shortage of dissenters suggesting giving up a second-round pick — a player under club control for four seasons — would be a mistake for a running back entering his sixth NFL season, as Faulk was 16 years ago.

Nevertheless, it’s a fun topic to ponder. Clearly, the Rams made the right call. The question is, when will another club take a big swing in the trade market for a tailback — especially after the Colts’ deal for Trent Richardson didn’t work out?

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Joe Montana thinks Tom Brady ordered footballs to be deflated

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Tom Brady has said many times this week that Joe Montana was his childhood hero. Brady probably won’t be thrilled with his favorite player’s thoughts about Deflategate.

“If I ever want a ball a certain way, I don’t do it myself,” Montana said, via the Boston Globe. “So, somebody did it for him. But I don’t know why everybody is making a big deal out of trying to figure out who did it. It’s pretty simple. If it was done, it was done for a reason.”

Montana doesn’t seem to think deflated footballs are a big deal, but he also doesn’t think the Patriots’ footballs would have become deflated in the AFC Championship Game for any reason other than Brady wanting someone to do it.

“I mean, it’s easy to figure out who did it,” Montana said. “Did Tom do it? No, but Tom likes the balls that way, obviously, or you wouldn’t have 11 of them that way without him complaining, because as a quarterback, you know how you like the ball. If it doesn’t feel like that, something is wrong. It’s a stupid thing to even be talking about because they shouldn’t have the rule anyway. If you want to see the game played at the best, everybody has a different grip, everybody likes a different feel.”

If the Patriots win on Sunday, Brady will join Montana and Terry Bradshaw as the only starting quarterbacks to earn four Super Bowl rings.

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Prop Challenge, Day VII — Will there be a safety in the Super Bowl?

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Leading up to Super Bowl XLIX, we’ll take a closer look at one proposition bet per day, something we’ve dubbed PFT’s Prop Challenge.

Here’s the idea: we present a prop, do some light analysis, then let you decide which side to take — hypothetically, of course. (Previous examples are at the bottom of this post.)

When the Super Bowl wraps up, we’ll tally the votes and see how well PFT Planet did.

Now, let’s get to today’s prop, which is courtesy of oddsmaker William Hill U.S.:

Will there be a safety in the Super Bowl?

Yes: +475 (opened +450).

No: -600 (opening odds).

As of earlier Thursday, William Hill U.S. had written more tickets on the “Yes” side of the safety bet than on any other prop.

The appeal of “Yes” is obvious. At +475, a winning $10 bet will pay $47.50, with $57.50 in total returning to the bettor. That’s the sort of victory that can leave a Las Vegas visitor feeling as cool as Danny Ocean ordering a whiskey at the Bellagio.

Also, the last three Super Bowls have featured safeties, with all coming on different kinds of plays.

Last season, a snap over Peyton Manning’s head got the scoring going as Seattle sprinted to a 43-8 rout.

The previous year, Baltimore punter Sam Koch took a safety in the waning seconds to kill time and to take a block or return score out of play in the Ravens’ 34-31 victory.

Finally, New England’s Tom Brady was flagged for intentional grounding in the endzone to put the first points on the board in Super Bowl XLVI, a 21-17 Giants win.

Overall, there have been nine safeties in 48 Super Bowls — about one per every 5.3 games. And if just considering Super Bowl history, there might be a decent-enough case for the “Yes” for those wanting to take a flier at +475.

However, the Super Bowl safety rate is very high relative to regular-season play.

Since 2011, safeties have occurred about once per every 13.7 regular-season contests.

However, in that same span, the safety rate jumps to one per every 6.1 playoff games.

Take the last three Super Bowls out, however, and the rate is just one safety for every 10 games.

What does this all mean?

Well, we leave it up to you to decide. How would you play it — yes or no?

The poll is open, as are the comments.

Go get ‘em.

Previous props studied:

Day I: Over-Under on Brandon LaFell’s receiving yards.

Day II: Over-Under on Doug Baldwin’s catches.

Day III: Will Rob Gronkowski score a touchdown?

Day IV: Will there be a one-yard TD in the Super Bowl?

Day V: Over-Under on Tim Wright’s receiving yards.

Day VI: Over-Under on LeGarrette Blount’s carries.

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Other granddaughter fires back at family members “publicly harassing” Tom Benson

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The Benson family feud continues to spread.

The latest development comes courtesy of Dawn Jones, a granddaughter of Saints owner Tom Benson who takes issue with the strife caused by her aunt and two cousins.

“Unfortunately it is now public knowledge that an ugly conflict is taking place in our family,” Jones said in a statement released to the media. “I have remained silent over the past week in hopes that the conflict would be resolved quickly and quietly once other family members saw the irreparable damage that was being done by their actions. It has become apparent over the last few days that they have no intention of stopping their relentless attacks, so at this time I would like to publicly state my support for my grandfather, Tom Benson. My husband, my children and I all have a great relationship with my grandfather and Gayle. I have recently spent time with them both and communicate with them on a regular basis. I have witnessed nothing that warrants the actions that are currently being taken. I am brokenhearted that other family members have chosen to publicly harass and humiliate the patriarch of our family — the very person who is responsible for giving them everything they have. During this difficult time I would ask that you pray for the entire family, especially for my grandfather, Tom Benson.”

Last week, Mr. Benson announced a new succession plan for ownership of the Saints and the NBA’s Pelicans, with his wife, Gayle, inheriting the teams. Daughter Renee LeBlance and her children, Ryan LeBlanc and Rita Benson LeBlanc, promptly filed a lawsuit challenging the changes to Mr. Benson’s will.

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