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Preseason Power Rankings No. 29: Jacksonville Jaguars

Bortles AP

Unlike in recent years, there’s at least reason for hope with the Jaguars in the preseason.

They might be hanging around the bottom of the PFT Preseason Power Rankings, but the arrow is clearly pointing up for them after years of floundering about.

Second-year coach Gus Bradley and General Manager Dave Caldwell have remade the roster rapidly and with a clear plan, and they were willing to not reach last year knowing they couldn’t fix everything at once.

The Jaguars added their quarterback of the future this offseason, but they’re committed to not making him the quarterback of the present until he’s ready.

Along with the steady progress they’ve made building a competitive roster, the Jaguars are more interesting than they’ve been in years.

Strengths.

Bradley made a statement in his first year, getting the Jaguars to a competitive place one side of the ball at a time.

With a solid defense in place, they added parts which should make it even better this offseason.

Bringing in old friends from Seattle such as Chris Clemons and Red Bryant will lend some stability to the defensive line (along with former Steelers first-rounder Ziggy Hood).

They lost a solid starter in linebacker Russell Allen, but with former Buccaneer Dekoda Watson coming aboard, it’s still a fast group.

As their young secondary grows together, it should only get better, and give the Jaguars time to develop on the other side where they need it the most.

Being able to cut a productive veteran like Jason Babin points to the fact the Jaguars think this can be a good group as it stands.

Weaknesses.

For lack of a better word, the Jaguars were painful to watch last year when they had the ball.

And that feels generous.

They’re still in the process of remaking themselves on offense, and kept steady quarterback Chad Henne around to keep a hand on the wheel until Blake Bortles is ready.

The goal is to let Toby Gerhart provide some ballast to the running game. He’s shown enough in glimpses of playing time in Minnesota to make you think he can be a productive every-down player, and that’s what they’re banking on.

They’ll need a productive running game, because their receiving corps is very much a work in progress.

Wide receiver Cecil Shorts has shown game-breaking ability, but he needed help in the worst way. The Jaguars used a pair of second-round picks on wide receivers Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson, and will need both to contribute right off the bat.

With the offense in a bit of a holding pattern until Bortles makes his inevitable rise, it’s hard to know how much to expect.

But at least there’s a plan.

Changes.

As important as anyone the Jaguars brought in this offseason was their decisions on when to let go.

They made the cold, clinical call to let franchise running back Maurice Jones-Drew walk into free agency, when they easy thing would have been to keep around a player who for years was the only reason to watch them.

Then they cut the cord on former first-rounder Blaine Gabbert, trading the guy they thought would be their franchise passer to the 49ers for a sack of beans.

There was also the tacit admission that they’ll never get anything from wide receiver Justin Blackmon by drafting receivers in bulk.

While it’s easier for a new administration to admit the mistakes of a former regime, getting something of value for Gabbert was a coup, and moving on from Jones-Drew before the inevitable decline was probably good business.

We’ll see if staking the running game to Toby Gerhart was the right decision, but drafting Blake Bortles is the clean slate at the position the team so desperately needed.

Camp Battles.

The Jaguars still have some work to do on defense, primarily finding a free safety.

Winston Guy and Josh Evans shared the role last year, and one needs to emerge. The Jaguars have been consistent giving young players chances, but they’ve brought in some depth to push them as well. Former Panthers second-rounder Sherrod Martin is still young enough to be an intriguing prospect, with the kind of range to have a shot.

The Jaguars also need to settle the middle of their offensive line.

With longtime center Brad Meester retiring and stable guard Uche Nwaneri cut, they’re remaking the interior. Former Broncos guard Zane Beadles was a big-ticket free agent addition, and they’re hoping some other young players are ready to step up.

If Mike Brewster is ready to take over at center, and they can find a right guard with the ability to help the run game, they appear to be moving in the right direction up front.

Prospects.

The Jaguars can get better this year, even if their record doesn’t.

Because the only true barometer of this season will be how it helps Bortles develop into the starter.

If he’s not ready to start the opener, they know they can leave Henne in there and be at least acceptable. But if they can use the time to get the third-overall pick up to speed, they’re better off for it in the long run.

Many thought during the draft season that Bortles was the player with the most upside, the classic drop-back passer frame, and the tools to succeed. But there was also a consensus that he needed some time.

The Jaguars appear willing to give him just that.

The way they pursued last season (knowing they didn’t have a long-term quarterback, and not reaching to get one for the sake of having one) indicates a well-thought-out plan.

Now comes the execution part of the plan, and if they can get Bortles ready, they’re set up to be competitive for years to come.

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Rams extend Les Snead, too

ST. LOUIS, MO - DECEMBER 21: Les Snead, general manager of the St. Louis Rams looks on during warm ups prior to playing against the New York Giants at the Edward Jones Dome on December 21, 2014 in St. Louis, Missouri.  (Photo by Dilip Vishwanat/Getty Images) Getty Images

Rams coach Jeff Fisher isn’t the only guy who has gotten a new contract in L.A. G.M. Les Snead has a new deal, too.

PFT has confirmed that the new contract for the coach coincides with a new contract for the General Manager.

Snead, who was hired in 2012 from the Falcons front office, has worked closely with Fisher over the past five years. The fact that Fisher was hired before Snead created the impression that Fisher runs the show, and that Snead sets the table for the draft and free agency.

Snead presumably has a two-year extension as well. It’s unclear whether the extension previously was in place, but given that Fisher’s was, it’s safe to assume Snead’s was, too.

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Sean Payton not a fan of Brandin Cooks trade speculation

NEW ORLEANS, LA - OCTOBER 16:  Brandin Cooks #10 of the New Orleans Saints catches the ball for a first down against the Carolina Panthers during the fourth quarter at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on October 16, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Saints wide receiver Brandin Cooks aired some frustrations after going untargeted by quarterback Drew Brees in last week’s game against the Rams, something that coach Sean Payton said doesn’t concern him but could lead to a move this offseason.

According to multiple reports, Cooks could find himself on the trading block this offseason. The Saints have two other productive receivers in Michael Thomas and Willie Snead and scored 49 points last week despite getting nothing on the stat sheet from the wideout. Trading Cooks could allow them to address other needs on the roster, notably a defense that remains a work in progress in New Orleans.

Or they could just continue on with Cooks. Payton retweeted a Twitter user castigating Ian Rapoport of NFL Media for reporting on the possibility of a Cooks trade, although Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that “some believe” there were talks with the Patriots about a trade involving Cooks and linebacker Jamie Collins before the Patriots traded Collins to the Browns.

Cooks has 51 catches for 736 yards and six touchdowns this season, leaving him on pace to fall short of his totals from last year with five games left this season.

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Jeff Fisher extension was signed “weeks ago”

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - SEPTEMBER 1: Head coach Jeff Fisher of the Los Angeles Rams looks on during the fourth quarter of the game against the Minnesota Vikings on September 1, 2016 at US Bank Stadium in Minneapolis, Minnesota. The Vikings defeated the Rams 27-25. (Photo by Hannah Foslien/Getty Images) Getty Images

For most of the season, league insiders have insisted that the Rams and coach Jeff Fisher already have a new deal in place. In the aftermath of the news that Fisher has a two-year extension, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the deal indeed has been in place for “weeks.”

Which raises an interesting question about the contract: Why was the news of it leaked today?

It could be that the Rams and Fisher became increasingly antsy about the fan base’s willingness to accept a continuation of Fisher’s tenure with the team, given an all-out assault from Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson that has culminated in Dickerson recently playing the “where are the naked pictures?” card.

Then there’s the fact that the news was leaked only a few hours before the Rams face the Patriots, a franchise that has beaten Jeff Fisher-coached teams by the combined score of 104-7 in their past two encounters. Squatting on the secretly-signed contract until after the Patriots hang another 40 or 50 on the Rams would have made it a lot harder to justify the move.

And so while the Rams apparently were waiting for the right moment to announce the deal with Fisher, it could be that they decided there would be no right moment, and that the contract needed to be unveiled before the wrong moment became a worst-case scenario.

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Two-year extension suggests 2017 will be up-or-out for Jeff Fisher

GLENDALE, AZ - OCTOBER 02:  Head coach Jeff Fisher of the Los Angeles Rams walks the sidelines during the second quarter of the NFL game against the Arizona Cardinals at the University of Phoenix Stadium on October 2, 2016 in Glendale, Arizona.  (Photo by Christian Petersen/Getty Images) Getty Images

When it comes to contracts given to NFL players and coaches, the devil takes up permanent residence in the details. As to players, those details always become known. As to coaches, the nuances rarely make their way to the surface.

As to Rams coach Jeff Fisher, who officially has received a two-year extension, the biggest detail relates to the actual security Fisher has received. If, as some league insiders believe, the contract includes a one-year out for the team, Fisher has security only for 2017.

The winds had been blowing in the direction of Fisher staying put. Comments from COO Kevin Demoff strongly suggested that the team’s 4-7 record wouldn’t be held against Fisher, given the changes the team has endured in 2016.

Even without a one-year out clause in the new contract, 2017 now feels like an up-or-out year for Fisher. In 2012, Fisher received a five-year deal, and the exclamation point of commitment that went along with it. With only a two-year Band-Aid currently in place beyond 2016, the not-so-subtle message is that, while Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson isn’t getting what he wants for now, the change he craves could be coming in 2017.

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Washington should be upset about DeSean Jackson report

ARLINGTON, TX - NOVEMBER 24:   Orlando Scandrick #32 of the Dallas Cowboys breaks up a pass to DeSean Jackson #11 of the Washington Redskins during their game at AT&T Stadium on November 24, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

As the Eagles make a last-ditch effort to pull themselves back into the NFC wild-card race, they need to climb over several teams. At a minimum, they need to get past the third-place team in their division: Washington.

And now that Washington receiver DeSean Jackson knows that the Eagles are likely to make a strong push to sign him in free agency, Jackson will have that reality bouncing around inside his head during the final five games of the regular season. Which should make Washington upset about the report.

It’s hard to know with certainty the impact this information will have on Jackson. Will he go out and play even harder in order to attract others to the table? Or will he be more inclined to make “business decisions” aimed at ensuring he’ll be 100 percent when it’s time to take a Philly physical?

Regardless, it’s information he’s not supposed to currently have. And even if no one from the Eagles has told Jackson or his agent on a wink-nod basis that Philly may come calling, the mere fact that ESPN has reported on the plan to pursue Jackson means that someone with the Eagles has made it known that the team intends to try to bring Jackson back — which constitutes a violation of the tampering rules.

Earlier this year, the NFL whacked the Chiefs for speaking directly to former Eagles receiver Jeremy Maclin during the legal tampering period in 2015, when the Chiefs were permitted to speak only to Maclin’s agent. This potential violation strikes more directly at the heart of the rule, putting Jackson on notice as his contract in Washington comes to an end that another team in the same division is ready and willing to sign him to a new one.

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Rams, Jeff Fisher ink contract extension

NEW ORLEANS, LA - NOVEMBER 27: Head coach Jeff Fisher of the Los Angeles Rams reacts during the second half of a game against the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome on November 27, 2016 in New Orleans, Louisiana.  (Photo by Sean Gardner/Getty Images) Getty Images

Apparently a 4-7 record is enough to earn a contract extension in Los Angeles.

Jeff Fisher and the Rams have signed a two-year deal through 2018, Ian Rapoport of NFL Network reports.

Although a contract extension for Fisher has long been discussed, there was talk that the disappointing season this year could change those plans, and that Stan Kroenke could be in the market for a new coach to build his team going forward.

Instead, Kroenke has decided to keep things going with Fisher. The coach’s single biggest task will be developing first overall pick Jared Goff into a franchise quarterback, but the broader question is the simplest one of all: When will the Rams win under Fisher?

Through five seasons with the team, Fisher has gone 7-8-1, 7-9, 6-10, 7-9 and now 4-7. At some point, he’s going to have to do better than that if he wants to keep his job. But that point will apparently not be this year. Fisher will be back.

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Sunday morning one-liners

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Jay Ajayi #23 of the Miami Dolphins reacts to a play during a game against the San Francisco 49ers on November 27, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

Bills LS Garrison Sanborn will be honoring a friend who died of cancer with his cleats on Sunday.

RB Jay Ajayi believes the Dolphins can run the ball on any defense.

Patriots RB Dion Lewis is no stranger to bouncing back from injury.

Five plays that helped sink the Jets this season.

The Ravens have picked up the tempo on offense more often this year.

Can Rex Burkhead help the Bengals run game get going?

Continuity has not been part of the plan with the Browns recently.

S Sean Davis has had an up-and-down rookie season with the Steelers.

The Texans defense will have to come up with a plan that accounts for LB Jadeveon Clowney’s absence.

The Colts will square off with a former assistant in Jets special teams coach Brant Boyer.

The Jaguars pass defense has held up fairly well this season.

An early look at what the Titans could do in the draft.

Broncos LB Brandon Marshall returns to Jacksonville on Sunday.

The Chiefs defense is looking forward to testing themselves against the Falcons.

Raider great Jim Otto likes the way this year’s offensive line looks.

Comparing the Chargers’ injury issues with those for other teams around the league.

What does Herschel Walker think of the Cowboys’ Super Bowl chances?

Giants P Brad Wing will face the Steelers for the first time since they traded him.

It’s no surprise that Eagles G Stefan Wisniewski is a big fan of the Seinfeld episode that includes the Wiz.

The Bears’ draft standing will be impacted by the result of their matchup with the 49ers.

Looking for Lions QB Matthew Stafford to heat up down the stretch.

Defending the Packers’ decision to let CB Casey Hayward walk as a free agent.

The Vikings’ new stadium made a good impression on Jerry Jones.

Falcons T Ryan Schraeder will be matching up with Justin Houston on Sunday.

Can RB Jonathan Stewart lead the way to a Panthers upset?

The Saints would like more from their return game.

A look at how the Buccaneers have improved their pass protection.

Checking in with Cardinals T D.J. Humphries.

The Eric Dickerson feud remains at home, but life may not be any easier for the Rams on Sunday.

Ranking the biggest needs for the 49ers.

Seahawks coach Pete Carroll ranks consistency at the top of his list of goals.

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Kaepernick’s future clouded by potential 49ers changes, anthem protest

MIAMI GARDENS, FL - NOVEMBER 27:  Colin Kaepernick #7 of the San Francisco 49ers warms up during a game against the Miami Dolphins on November 27, 2016 in Miami Gardens, Florida.  (Photo by Mike Ehrmann/Getty Images) Getty Images

The starting point for this one comes from a report that, given the performance of 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick in recent weeks, is fairly obvious: According to Ian Rapoport of NFL Media, Kaepernick will exercise his right to void his contract after the current season, but Kaepernick could indeed be back with the 49ers in 2017.

Even if/when Kaepernick voids the contract, the 49ers will still hold exclusive negotiating rights until the 2017 league year begins in March. Whether the 49ers will try to re-sign Kaepernick depends in large part on whether ownership presses the reset button.

The 49ers currently have lost 10 games in a row, and there’s a growing belief that G.M. Trent Baalke won’t be back. Would ownership also move on from coach Chip Kelly, or would the team set up an inherently awkward and dysfunctional arrangement in which a G.M. is hired but is prevented at least for a year from hiring his own coach?

If Baalke goes, the best approach could be to elevate assistant G.M. Tom Gamble and let Kelly and Gamble run the show. If that happens, Kelly may want to keep Kaepernick around.

The other question is whether any other team, owner, G.M., or coach will shy away from Kaepernick given his refusal to stand for the national anthem. Regardless of whether it shold be a factor (it shouldn’t), the reality is that any team considering the addition of a veteran quarterback (and there likely will be plenty of them) will at least consider the impact of signing a signal-caller who may spark hundreds of angry callers to local sport-talk radio claiming that they will never attend or watch another game if Kaepernick becomes an employee of the team.

The easy part of this is coming to the conclusion that Kaepernick will be available to all 32 teams. The hard part is figuring out where he will land — especially with open questions about the future of the 49ers and the potential impediment arising from his position on non-football issues.

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Michael Crabtree, Latavius Murray expected to play

OAKLAND, CA - NOVEMBER 27:  Michael Crabtree #15 of the Oakland Raiders warms up prior to their NFL game against the Carolina Panthers on November 27, 2016 in Oakland, California.  (Photo by Lachlan Cunningham/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Raiders had a few key offensive players listed as questionable on Friday’s injury report, but it’s not looking like they’re going to have to fill too many holes on the unit when they face the Bills on Sunday.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that wide receiver Michael Crabtree and running back Latavius Murray are “good to go” for the Raiders as they try to push their record to 10-2 on the season. Both players are dealing with ankle injuries and were able to take limited part in practices all three days this week.

That was how things played out for both players in Week 12 as well, so there may not have ever been much threat that they were going to miss the game.

Center Rodney Hudson and left guard Kelechi Osemele were also listed as questionable, which has been a frequent occurrence this season before they wind up in the lineup on Sunday. That suggests they’ll be alongside Crabtree and Murray against the Bills.

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Eagles likely to make a play for DeSean Jackson in 2017

LANDOVER, MD - OCTOBER 2: Wide receiver DeSean Jackson #11 of the Washington Redskins wears cleats displaying police caution tape prior to a game against the Cleveland Browns at FedExField on October 2, 2016 in Landover, Maryland. (Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images) Getty Images

Eagles G.M. Howie Roseman and coach Doug Pederson have a simple philosophy for building their team: Undo everything Chip Kelly did.

That’s already been accomplished through the trading away of many of Kelly’s favorite acquisitions, including Sam Bradford, DeMarco Murray, Kiko Alonso and Byron Maxwell. And next year, the Eagles may begin bringing back the players Kelly jettisoned.

That would include the most controversial move of Kelly’s tenure in Philadelphia, which was releasing receiver DeSean Jackson. After he was cut, Jackson signed a three-year contract with Washington. That contract will expire at the end of this season, and when Jackson hits free agency in March, the Eagles will be ready.

Adam Schefter of ESPN reports that the Eagles are likely to go after Jackson in 2017. That would make sense, as Pederson was an Eagles assistant for five of Jackson’s years in Philadelphia, and Jackson played very well in that offense, which is very similar to the offense Pederson runs in Philadelphia now.

Jackson had a good first season in Washington but struggled with injuries in his second season and has been injured again and not as effective this year. At age 30 he may have lost a step, but the Eagles want to see what he has left.

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Eric Dickerson continues his non-vendetta vendetta against Jeff Fisher

SEATTLE, WA - DECEMBER 27: Head coach Jeff Fisher of the St. Louis Rams looks on during the third quarter of the game against the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field on December 27, 2015 in Seattle, Washington. The Rams won the game 23-17. (Photo by Steve Dykes/Getty Images) Getty Images

Hall of Fame running back Eric Dickerson has said he doesn’t have a vendetta against Rams coach Jeff Fisher. I’m starting to wonder whether Dickerson knows what the word means.

Dickerson, who launched his attack nearly a week ago based on the perception that he was no longer welcome on the sideline due to his criticism of the team, gradually has shifted his platform from objecting to being disrespected to lobbying for Fisher to be fired.

At some point along the way, the narrative changed from Dickerson ultimately having a problem with COO Kevin Demoff to Dickerson having an audience with Demoff, at which time Dickerson made the case for changing coaches. Dickerson explained the discussion on Friday’s The Herd with Colin Cowherd.

“I asked Kevin Demoff point blank last night. I say, ‘So, are you bringing Jeff Fisher back? Does he have an extension?’ He said, ‘We’re talking about it.’ He asked me, ‘What do you think?'” Dickerson said.

“I said, ‘My honest opinion?’ I said, ‘No . . . Look, he’s had five years — five years — of losing.’ I said, ‘Enough is enough.’ I said, ‘I’m a fan,’ and I said, ‘All these Rams fans . . . I feel like I’m their voice.’ I mean, why would you bring him back? I mean, I asked him, I said, ‘Where are the naked pictures at? . . . He must got something on someone.'”

Dickerson argued that Rams fans wouldn’t object to a new coach because it would be different than what the franchise has been doing. Which is losing more games than he’s winning.

Dickerson, without question, is entitled to his opinion. Still, there’s something odd about the way this has all unfolded, with Dickerson gradually making it less about how he’s treated by the team and more (if not all) about getting rid of Fisher.

If the speculation/rumor/belief in some league circles is true that Fisher already has an extension in place, Dickerson’s arguments won’t matter — unless it’s also true that the Rams have guaranteed only the first year of the new deal. In that situation, owner Stan Kroenke could still choose to give Fisher a one-year buyout as a parting gift and move on.

Fisher could help turn that tide by winning some games late in the season. It won’t be easy on Sunday in New England, given that Fisher is facing a coach who has outscored Fisher 104-7 in their last two meetings.

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Nelson Agholor expected to play in place of Jordan Matthews

EAST RUTHERFORD, NJ - NOVEMBER 06:   Nelson Agholor #17 of the Philadelphia Eagles in action against the New York Giants during their game at MetLife Stadium on November 6, 2016 in East Rutherford, New Jersey.  (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

An injury at wide receiver is forcing the Eagles to make a change.

Jordan Matthews is expected to miss today’s game against the Bengals, and that means Nelson Agholor will be active, Adam Schefter of ESPN reports.

Agholor has struggled mightily since former Eagles coach Chip Kelly took him in the first round last year, and last week he was a healthy scratch. This week he’ll get a shot at redemption.

Matthews leads the Eagles in catches (57), yards (686) and touchdowns (three). The Eagles will also be without their leading rusher, Ryan Matthews, so injuries could take a toll on Philadelphia’s offense.

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Raiders will honor victims of Oakland warehouse fire

OAKLAND, CA - DECEMBER 03: Smoke rises above a warehouse as firefighters work to put out remaining hot spots following an overnight fire that claimed the lives of at least nine people at a warehouse in the Fruitvale neighborhood on December 3, 2016 in Oakland, California. The warehouse was hosting an electronic music party.  (Photo by Elijah Nouvelage/Getty Imag Getty Images

Nine people have died and more than 30 more may have been killed in an Oakland warehouse fire during a Friday party. The Raiders will be honoring those affected by the tragedy.

The team has announced that it will match up to $30,000 donated at a YouCaring.com page created by the Oakland A’s.

The Raiders also will observe a moment of silence in recognition of the victims and their families before Sunday’s game against the Bills.

You can make a contribution here.

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Jerry Jones laments inconsistent officiating on Thursday night

ARLINGTON, TX - SEPTEMBER 11:  Dallas Cowboys owner Jerry Jones is seen on the field prior to the game against the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium on September 11, 2016 in Arlington, Texas.  (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images) Getty Images

The Vikings weren’t the only team unhappy with the officiating on Thursday night. The Cowboys, despite prevailing, were displeased, too.

They were inconsistent with their calls, and that was frustrating,” owner Jerry Jones said Friday on 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, via Charean Williams of the Fort Worth Star-Telegram.

It remains to be seen whether that’s enough criticism to warrant a fine from the league office. Typically, the rule against criticizing officials is applied strictly to owners, team executives, and coaches. Players enjoy plenty of leeway; Washington cornerback Josh Norman became a rare exception last month when he individually called out an official by his number.

Whatever the flaws with the officiating on Thursday, the Cowboys managed to win the game and extend their winning streak to 11. There’s a chance the owner’s decision to vent about the game being a closer call than it should have been will come with a price tag.

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Todd Haley touts Pittsburgh’s offensive line

PHILADELPHIA, PA - AUGUST 21: The Pittsburgh Steelers offensive line attempts to block the Philadelphia Eagles defensive line in the third quarter on August 21, 2014 at Lincoln Financial Field in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. (Photo by Al Bello/Getty Images) Getty Images

At a time when most believe the Cowboys have the best offensive line in football, one offensive coordinator begs to differ. Then again, he has a fairly clear bias.

They are playing at a very high level,” Steelers offensive coordinator Todd Haley said regarding his team’s wall of blockers, via Chris Adamski of the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review. “I said at the beginning of the year . . . that I thought they could be the best in the league. I think they are playing at that level right now.”

It’s a surprising development, given that for years the offensive line was a liability. Indeed, the Steelers won a pair of Super Bowls with subpar blocking.

The 2016 Steelers have allowed only 14 sacks in 11 games, second fewest in the league. The ability of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to extend plays likely has been a factor.

Regardless, it’s one of the big reasons for the success of the team’s offense. Despite some disappointments, the Steelers remain viable contenders in a conference that is still fairly wide open, especially with the Patriots losing Rob Gronkowski and the Raiders having a habit of playing up and down to the level of the competition.

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