Aaron Rodgers: We need to keep giving Aaron Jones opportunities

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The Packers running game had its most successful outing of the year against the Dolphins last Sunday and Aaron Jones was at the center of the action.

Jones ran 15 times for 145 yards and two touchdowns in the 31-12 victory. That’s his biggest workload of the season, but Jones has been consistently productive since returning from his suspension at the start of the year.

Jones has the same number of carries on the year as Jamaal Williams, but is averaging 6.8 yards per carry to Williams’ 3.7 yards per tote. That makes it little surprise to hear quarterback Aaron Rodgers calling for more of Jones.

“He’s a great player,” Rodgers said, via Ryan Wood of the Green Bay Press-Gazette. “We just need to continue to give him more opportunities.”

Jones did lose a fumble against the Patriots in Week Nine and that’s the sort of thing that can cost a player chances to run the ball. Even with that risk, the Packers can’t afford to go away from a player producing the way Jones has when their playoff hopes rest heavily on the results of their upcoming trips to Seattle and Minnesota.

Report: Dwayne Allen to miss a few weeks with a knee injury

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The Patriots would be hoping to get a healthy Rob Gronkowski back in the lineup after their bye and it appears they have other injury concerns to sort out at tight end as well.

Mike Giardi of NFL Media reports that Dwayne Allen hurt his knee in last Sunday’s loss to the Titans. Allen does not need surgery, but Giardi reports that he’s expected to miss a few weeks as a result of the injury.

Allen has seen a lot of snaps with Gronkowski out of the lineup in three of the last four games and has had a role in the offense when Gronkowski is active. He hasn’t done much as a receiver in either case — he has three catches on the year — but his absence would leave the team with some shuffling to do.

Jacob Hollister is the only other tight end on the active roster. He’s played 43 offensive snaps in the four games he’s played this season.

Texans expect to “make a lot of strides” with Demaryius Thomas

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Wide receiver Demaryius Thomas caught three passes for 61 yards for the Texans in a Week Nine game that came just a few days after he was acquired in a trade with the Broncos.

The Texans had a bye last week and head coach Bill O’Brien said that Thomas spent it making sure that he has a better handle of the team’s offensive playbook. As a result, O’Brien said he thinks that the team will be seeing bigger and bigger contributions from the wideout in the coming weeks.

“We’ve got to be able to use him more, even more than we did,” O’Brien said, via the Houston Chronicle. “He had three catches. I think they were all basically almost on the first or second drive of the game. He’s a very smart guy, excellent pro. He was in here last week, meeting extra on Thursday, Friday, trying to get some more of the offense down. Go out there [Monday], have a lot of plays we ran in practice, knew where to line up, change his position, change his identity by personnel, knew what to do. I think we’re going to make a lot of strides with him from week to week.”

Thomas’ three catches came on the only three balls that Deshaun Watson threw his way. DeAndre Hopkins is being targeted 10 times a game and his role is unlikely to change much, but the six-plus targets that Will Fuller was averaging each week is probably a fair expectation from what the Texans will look for from Thomas the rest of the way.

Mike Tomlin still hasn’t spoken to Le’Veon Bell

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With fewer than four hours until the door slams for good on running back Le'Veon Bell‘s ability to play in 2018, it’s looking more and more like he won’t show up.

During a weekly press conference, coach Mike Tomlin told reporters he hasn’t spoken to Bell, and that nothing has changed regarding Bell’s situation.

Tomlin also noted that running back James Conner remains in the concussion protocol, adding “that isn’t a negative.” (It’s not quite clear what it is, then.)

However it plays out, Tomlin is ready to proceed without Bell. “So be it,” the coach said as to the possibility that Bell will chose to make his holdout a full-season endeavor.

Bell, who has been in Pittsburgh for roughly a week, could catch a wild hair at any time and show up. As long as he does it before 4:00 p.m. ET. After that, Bell won’t be able to play for the Steelers, or anyone else, in 2018.

Jets working out former Patriots linebacker Marquis Flowers

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The Jets can’t help themselves from taking a look at former Patriots.

According to Manish Mehta of the New York Daily News, the Jets are working out linebacker Marquis Flowers today.

Flowers played part of this season with the Lions, but was released in early October. He had 3.5 sacks for the Patriots last year.

A former sixth-round pick of the Bengals, Flowers has primarily been a special teams player but had a pair of starts last season.

Belichick on Brady blocking and receiving: Won’t do it an excessive amount

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In the last three weeks, Patriots quarterback Tom Brady has found himself playing other roles in the offense on occasion.

He found himself in position to be a blocker against the Bills and Packers, although he didn’t wind up trying too hard to pancake anyone. Brady also caught a pass from Julian Edelman against the Titans last Sunday and those developments were the focus of a question for head coach Bill Belichick on Tuesday.

Belichick was asked on a conference call if he’s concerned about an added risk of injury to Brady when the team calls plays that put him in those kinds of positions.

“I think we’re certainly aware of that, but there’s certain things that I think you have to do sometimes to win the game — and if quarterback sneaks in short-yardage, something like that where the quarterback’s going to get hit on a play like that, but it’s an important play and he’s very good at it,” Belichick said. “So, yeah, we’ll just have to evaluate those things going forward. Not looking to do an excessive amount of them, that’s for sure, but if there’s a situational play or something that comes up, then I think we’d consider it. But, I mean, look, it’s a contact sport out there. Quarterbacks get hit in the pocket and quarterbacks scramble and a lot of people converge on them in a hurry. So, nobody knows that better than Tom does.”

Belichick also noted that if they throw a pass to Brady “once a year it’s a lot” and Brady has only been targeted for four passes — including the one in Super Bowl LII — over the course of his career.

 

Week 11 power rankings

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1. Saints (8-1; last week No. 1): Plenty of teams have delivered a defeat embarrassing enough to get a coach fired; the Saints actually beat the Bengals so badly that they reacted by hiring Hue Jackson.

2. Rams (9-1; No. 2): Sean McVay should get coach of the year votes simply for emerging with a win after one of the toughest weeks any team will face.

3. Chiefs (9-1; No. 4): Tyreek Hill‘s camera-commandeering celebration will be worth every penny of the inevitable fine.

4. Chargers (7-2; No. 5): The second best team in the AFC is also the second best team in the AFC West.

5. Patriots (7-3; No. 3): The bye week will force the Pats to keep the bad taste in their mouths a lot longer than usual.

6. Steelers (6-2-1; No. 6): After Thursday night’s performance against the Panthers, the cool kids are calling the quarterback Ben Fiftyberger.

7. Bears (6-3; No. 11): A dark horse Super Bowl contender is emerging in the NFC.

8. Vikings (5-3-1; No. 8): A dark horse Super Bowl contender still lingers in the NFC.

9. Texans (6-3; No. 10): The AFC South could be a jumbled mess down the stretch, if the Texans can’t keep winning.

10. Washington (6-3; No. 13): One brother could be the best coach in the league this year, and the other brother could be the exact opposite.

11. Panthers (6-3; No. 7): About those complaints that the Panthers weren’t ranked higher. . . .

12. Titans (5-4; No. 19): If the Titans could consistently play like they did on Sunday, they could beat anyone.

13. Packers (4-4-1; No. 14): Postseason chances, and Mike McCarthy’s employment, could be hinging on the next two games, at Seattle and at Minnesota.

14. Cowboys (4-5; No. 22): Just when we thought they were out, they pushed themselves back in.

15. Eagles (4-5; No. 9): Just when we thought they were in, they pushed themselves back out.

16. Seahawks (4-5; No. 16): The sixth seed is still realistic, and the Rams should be fretting about a third round with their division rivals.

17. Ravens (4-5; No. 17): The Lamar Jackson era could be starting, which will end the Joe Flacco era, the John Harbaugh era, or both.

18. Bengals (5-4; No. 12): All jokes and criticisms aside, Hue Jackson is a great assistant coach. But not great enough to get another team to forget about 3-36-1.

19. Browns (3-6-1; No. 24): Cleveland is getting a glimpse of how good the team could be with a different head coach than the one it had for 2016, 2017, and half of 2018.

20. Falcons (4-5; No. 15): The Falcons aren’t back is back.

21. Dolphins (5-5; No. 18): They’re doing a better job of dealing with adversity this year, but there’s still plenty of adversity to deal with.

22. Colts (4-5; No. 26): An inevitably trendy playoff pick in 2019, they still may make it in 2018.

23. Lions (3-6; No. 20): It may not be time to panic yet. After the next two games, it could be.

24. Buccaneers (3-6; No. 21): The deck chairs officially have been rearranged.

25. Broncos (3-6; No. 25): A 5-2 finish is needed to avoid consecutive losing seasons for the first time since 1971-72.

26. Bills (3-7; No. 30): Welcome to the AAF, Nathan Peterman.

27. Jaguars (3-6; No. 23): Welcome to the AFC South basement, Jaguars.

28. Jets (3-7; No. 27): Welcome to hell, Jets fans.

29. Giants (2-7; No. 31): They can’t even tank successfully.

30. Cardinals (2-7; No. 28): A strong draft or two, and the Cardinals could return to prominence.

31. 49ers (2-8; No. 29): Don’t blow your shot at Nick Bosa with another late-season run.

32. Raiders (1-8; No. 32): It’s very brave of Mark Davis to continue to support the guy to whom Davis previously gave a 10-year, $100 million contract.

Mike Zimmer expects run game to be “more of a factor” in cold weather

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The Vikings posted 128 rushing yards against the Lions in Week Nine, which represented their best total since a Week Six win over the Cardinals and their second-highest total of the year.

Head coach Mike Zimmer believes that improvement is right in time. The Vikings play on the road in three of their next four games and there’s a good chance that it will be chilly for their matchups with Chicago, New England and Seattle, which is something that Zimmer thinks will increase the importance of making plays in the ground game.

“I do think with some of these games as it starts to get colder, it is going to be more of a factor,” Zimmer said, via KFAN. “I think we’re getting better at a lot of the areas in the running game. We have to continue searching for more ways to pound the ball.”

The spike in productivity against Detroit came with Dalvin Cook back in the lineup and contributing 89 yards to the effort. With the rest afforded by the bye week, the hope in Minnesota is surely that the second-year back’s health won’t be an issue any longer and that he’ll help provide the kind of success that Zimmer is looking for over the second half of the season.

Seahawks think they have a “good problem” with running back depth

AP

Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said after Sunday’s loss to the Rams that first-round running back Rashaad Pennybusted out” by running 12 times for 108 yards and a touchdown.

On Monday, Carroll continued to rave about Penny but one of the other topics of conversation was how to build on a breakout performance. Those 12 carries represented Penny’s heaviest workload of his rookie season and the change came about because the Seahawks were playing without Chris Carson.

Carson, who has a hip injury, leads the team in carries for the season and Carroll said that he expects to have him back to face the Packers this week. Mike Davis is on hand in the backfield as well, which leaves the team with a balancing act to sort out.

“When everybody’s healthy, not everybody’s going to get the ball a lot,” Carroll said, via the Seattle Times. “That’s just the way it goes, so we’ll figure that out. You’ll see how it comes together. It’s a good group, it’s a good problem. Not a great problem for the running backs, but it’s good for us and we’ll try to make the most of it.”

The Packers have given up at least 123 rushing yards in each of the last four weeks, so whoever Carroll and company decide to roll with should have a good chance at success.

Decision day arrives for Le’Veon Bell

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It’s here. Finally. And some would say thankfully.

The Tuesday after Week 10. The last day for running back Le'Veon Bell to join the Steelers in 2018. The NFL’s ultimate expletive-deleted-or-off-the-pot moment.

So what will he do? The smart money continues to be that he won’t, because the money he stands to make over the rest of the year ($6 million) doesn’t justify the potential impact of a serious injury on the money Bell will make as a free agent.

Yes, Bell will be a free agent in March. The Steelers can’t franchise-tag Bell again without giving him quarterback money, and the transition tag would be a meaningless exercise in delaying the inevitable (and, if anything, driving his price higher to guarantee that the Steelers wouldn’t match the offer). This means that he will get paid. A lot.

Every year, good players in their prime get great money in free agency. What do great players in their prime get in free agency? We don’t know because it never happens.

For Bell, the end result will be much more than the Steelers ever would have paid, and more than enough to justify the year away from the sport.

That said, nothing prevents Bell from deciding that he wants to play, injury risk be damned. But he has resisted the temptation to play for this long. Given his proximity to a generations-altering payday, Bell should continue to sit and wait.

There’s one final caveat for Bell to consider. Collusion happens in the NFL. It just does. And it wouldn’t be a shock to see the offers come in much lower than anticipated in order to not reward a player for staying away, since that would encourage others to do the same.

Still, at this point, Bell’s best play is to keep himself healthy for 2019, and to have his agent work multiple teams in order to get the biggest possible compensation package.

Jerry Jones: Report of Lincoln Riley interest “totally speculation”

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Oklahoma head coach Lincoln Riley’s name comes up a lot when people are discussing potential additions to the roster of NFL head coaches and an NFL Media report on Sunday said the Cowboys “have an affinity” for Riley.

Cowboys owner Jerry Jones was asked about that report during a Tuesday appearance on 105.3 The Fan and he suggested it had little basis in fact.

“That would be total drawing it out of the air. … Totally speculation,” Jones said, via Jon Machota of the Dallas Morning News.

The Cowboys currently have a head coach, of course, and Jason Garrett’s future with the team will likely be determined by what happens over the next seven games. One never knows what Jones will decide to say, but it would certainly be imprudent to start talking about potential successors with half a season left to go.

Jones believes that these seven games can go well for his team. Jones said he has high hopes for a team with “a chance to be one we remember for a long time” and fulfilling them would likely put off a coaching change for at least another year in Dallas.

Landon Collins: I’ll take a one percent chance to make playoffs

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Before the Giants played the 49ers on Monday night, wide receiver Odell Beckham said his goal for the second half of the season was to go 8-0 so that the team would finish the year with a 9-7 record.

Beckham’s two touchdown catches helped the Giants get the first of those eight wins and he said after the game that he’s “working on seven more games.” Beckham isn’t the only Giants player who is looking for an improbable run after the team’s brutal start to the season.

Safety Landon Collins said after the 27-23 win that he agrees with Beckham about the team’s capabilities.

“You heard what Odell said: We can make a 9-7 run,” Collins said, via NJ.com. “They gave us a one percent chance to get in the playoffs? I’ll take it.”

It’s difficult to expect wins from any 2-7 team, but a visit from the reeling Buccaneers in Week 11 would seem to offer the team a chance for their first winning streak of the season.

Bengals announce Hue Jackson hired as special assistant to the head coach

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Hue Jackson is working in the NFL again.

Jackson, the head coach fired by the Browns two weeks ago, has landed in Cincinnati as an assistant to his old friend Marvin Lewis. Jackson’s title will be Special Assistant to the Head Coach.

“I have a great comfort level with Hue and his ability to assist me with the day-to-day responsibilities on defense, including analyzing our opponents and helping me on game days with the players and defensive coaches,” Lewis said in a statement.

Jackson added, “I’m pleased to have the opportunity to join the Bengals this season. There is a lot of talent on this team, and I look forward to doing my part to help it finish the season strong.”

This is Jackson’s third stint as an assistant to Lewis in Cincinnati. Jackson was first hired by Lewis in 2004 as the Bengals’ receivers coach. After Jackson spent a year as head coach of the Raiders, he was again hired by Lewis in 2012 and spent four years in Cincinnati in a variety of roles, including two years as offensive coordinator in 2014 and 2015.

Gregg Williams gives the Browns extra time off after win

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The Browns haven’t enjoyed many victories in recent years, so the opportunities for a victory Monday were rare.

So interim coach Gregg Williams gave his suddenly successful team an extra couple of days off after Sunday’s win over the Falcons.

He told his players that if they lost, they’d have a day of training camp-style competition practice on Tuesday. But after they won, he canceled that as well as the planned Monday meetings.

“I told them going into the game, if we won the game — when we won the game — that I would cancel Tuesday and that they’d be out of here on Monday,” Williams said, via Mary Kay Cabot of the Cleveland Plain Dealer. “I threw them a bone in the locker room after the game and cancelled [Monday],’’ Williams said. “They were off when we walked out of the locker room last night.”

Of course, victory Monday is rare around there for a number of reasons. It was just their second win on a Sunday in the last three years, as their lone win in 2016 was on a Saturday, and their first win this year was on Thursday.

Four of the final six games for the Browns are on the road, so having a little rest late is something they welcome.

“I really can’t remember in my career ever having a bye this late,’’ Williams said. “One of the first things that we think about would be that we have more information to analyze. We have more situational awareness things to take a look at. We have more time on task with some new players and even some old players in that fashion so hopefully, the information might be stronger in some cases.

“The bye week part of it specifically, especially this late in the season, is getting healthier, getting the body to feel better and stronger and getting the mind cleared up a little bit because we all need a little break away from some things. The pressures of the business and the pressures of the day, you have to go about a lot of things and then the distractions and the changes around here also cause a little bit of a distraction.”

Now they have an extra day to work though them, as they all come back to try to save their jobs.

Dirk Koetter took over offensive playcalling “to give our defense a little bit of time”

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The Buccaneers had offensive coordinator Todd Monken call the offensive plays for the first eight games of the 2018 season, but head coach and former playcaller Dirk Koetter took the job back in Week 10.

After the 16-3 loss to Washington, Koetter said only that he “had my reasons” for the change. He expanded his comments on the decision at a Monday press conference.

“I’ve been thinking about it a lot, and I think Todd Monken has done a terrific job calling the plays that why he’s continued to do it,” Koetter said, via the Tampa Bay Times. “But in this game, I just felt like the type of game it was going to be based on Washington’s offense, I thought that we needed to try to control the clock a little bit more and try to give our defense a little bit of time — maybe less time on the field that maybe we need to try to run it a little more and use our [run play options] a little bit more. That was the main reason behind it.”

Koetter, who said he hasn’t decided if he’ll call plays again, succeeded in keeping the defense off the field in the first half as the Buccaneers held the ball for nearly 20 minutes and dialed up plays that put up 501 yards. The Bucs only scored three points, though, and the loss pushed the Bucs closer to a losing season that could cost Koetter his job.