Brian Daboll went beyond X’s and O’s to revive the Buffalo Bills’ offense and his career

Brian Daboll went beyond X’s and O’s to revive the Buffalo Bills’ offense and his career

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — Buffalo Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll loves his players.

Not just their talent, fit or production. No, Daboll loves his players for the people they are, and that love is palpable.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen‘s grandmother died the night before a 44-34 win against the Seattle Seahawks in Week 9, although you would hardly be able to tell based on his play; 415 passing yards and four total touchdowns marked one of the best games of his career.

“I kept a cool head until after the game and I saw Dabes,” Allen said. “I’m just glad Dabes was there and I just let it all out. I love Dabes and I appreciate everything that he’s been to me here.”

Knowing what his quarterback was going through, Daboll met him in the locker room after the game. They shared an embrace and cried together.

“When he came in off the field and into the locker room, he kind of fell into my arms a little bit,” Daboll said. “A lot of emotion there, particularly for him, but for me also. When you love somebody and something happens like that, it’s tough.”

It’s not just X’s and O’s with Daboll, and that’s why those around him see him as an ideal leader — and why the Bills might be without their offensive coordinator of three years when the 2021 NFL season begins.

As they prepare to host the Baltimore Ravens in an AFC divisional round matchup Saturday (8:15 p.m., ET, NBC), the Bills do so in spite of Daboll’s potential departure, as he is a trendy candidate for some of the seven open NFL head-coaching jobs.

Daboll, 45, has interviewed with the New York Jets and Los Angeles Chargers and is believed to be a candidate with the Houston Texans — a reward for the brightest season of his seven as an NFL offensive coordinator. The Bills finished the 2020 season ranked second in scoring (31.3), second in yards per game (396.4) and third in passing yards per game (288.8). It’s the first time a Daboll-coached offense has ranked higher than 20th in those categories.

After stints with the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Kansas City Chiefs and the University of Alabama, working under coaching legends such as Bill Belichick and Nick Saban along the way, Daboll found his wheelhouse in his hometown of Buffalo.

Interest in him as a head coach stems from his creativity on the field and his ability to forge relationships off it — especially with Allen, who has vaulted into the league’s MVP conversation with Daboll’s help.

Those relationships run so deep his players are hesitant to brag about Daboll publicly.

“I hate to keep giving him so much credit because I don’t want anyone to steal him from me,” wide receiver Stefon Diggs said. “He’s a guy that knows what he’s doing, he knows the flow of the game, knows when to call what. We just trust him, whatever he calls, I’m running it. … He always has our back and I ain’t seen him miss yet.”

Daboll’s Buffalo roots have made this season’s success even sweeter. For him, this isn’t just a job, it has been a dream come true.

He grew up in Buffalo, graduating from St. Francis High School in Hamburg in 1993 — the next town over from where the Bills play in Orchard Park. So when the Bills won their first playoff game in 25 years Saturday, he felt it on a deeper level.

“These people around here have waited a long time for a competitive team. And we’re working to try to give it to them,” Daboll said. “To be part of this community, to grow up here, to understand that the Buffalo Bills mean a lot to this area, it’s important. It’s a testament to the people that came out and all the good people that had their parties going, watching on television. Just an awesome football town.

“It’s not surprising, I’ve seen it for my entire life here.”

‘A chef’s only as good as his ingredients’

The Bills’ offensive renaissance is even more impressive considering where it was over the past two seasons under Daboll.

Buffalo ranked 28th in total offense during his first two seasons (2018 and 2019) and was one of four teams to average fewer than 200 passing yards per game.

Especially after last season, when the Bills scored a paltry 19.6 points per game, Daboll became a popular scapegoat among fans.

But general manager Brandon Beane was realistic when it came to evaluating the Bills, Daboll included.

“Going back to when Brian was here in ’18, obviously [we were] very young on offense and inexperienced at critical positions,” Beane said. “Then you go to ’19 and, all right, we helped the O-line, it’s Year 2 for Josh and we gave him a couple weapons in [receiver] Cole [Beasley] and John Brown — but we still don’t have enough here yet … I thought what Brian did from ’18 to ’19 showed growth and it obviously starts with the most critical position — look at Josh’s growth and what he did. Brian was hands-on that, [QBs coach] Ken Dorsey, too.

“That’s what kind of gave us promise, ‘Hey, if we could just add some more, Brian and his staff will be able to help us score more points.'”

Beane said he wasn’t ready to make the same hasty decisions Daboll’s previous teams made when he spent one season with the Dolphins and one with the Chiefs. Before that, he was fired after two seasons in Cleveland.

But those offenses were lacking playmakers when Daboll was there. He had a couple of standouts — wide receiver Brandon Marshall in Miami and running back Jamaal Charles in Kansas City — but those front offices weren’t patient enough to let him incorporate his system and add enough talent to do so.

“I do see in the league sometimes where I feel like coaches get graded on players that there’s only so much you can do with,” Beane said. “A chef’s only as good as his ingredients.”

True to Beane’s word, Buffalo led the NFL in measurable continuity this season — the number of coaches and players returning. It included 10 returning starters on each side of the ball.

Daboll said that continuity is critical, not just in terms of the players’ development, but also the chemistry he builds with his fellow coaches.

“When you have continuity, it helps,” he said. “You can draw from past experiences. We could be sitting in a staff meeting and one of the coaches will say, ‘Hey, remember two years ago? We did this on this third down.’ That’s hard to do in the first year. It’s hard to do sometimes in the second year. We made a lot of changes from Year 1 to Year 2 with the coaching staff, we also did it with the players. So, chemistry is really good as long as you have it with the right kind of guys that you’re working with.”

That chemistry also led to arguably the biggest development in the Bills’ attack this season.

The birth of a new offense

Perhaps the most obvious change in Buffalo’s scheme for 2020 is how Daboll has used his personnel. For the first time in his career, he had the players to run a pass-heavy offense.

The Bills traded for Diggs in March and drafted wideouts Gabriel Davis (fourth round) and Isaiah Hodgins (sixth round).

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Lamar Jackson reveals he has never played in the snow and is hoping it doesn’t in the Ravens’ game against the Bills on Saturday.

Buffalo ran the second-most plays in the NFL this season with four or more wide receivers on the field (155) after running 14 over the past two seasons combined. With the offseason truncated because of the COVID-19 pandemic, however, it wasn’t immediately clear what the Bills had on offense.

“We knew the tight ends and the backs, but that whole four-wide package really didn’t come about until training camp, seeing the type of individuals we had and how they competed against the guys that we had on our defense and then the production that they had. And then you build it from there,” Daboll said.

Bills coach Sean McDermott called the decision to run more four-receiver personnel groupings a product of “collaboration and communication,” and even though it was unprecedented during his tenure with the Bills, they were quick to roll it out.

In Buffalo’s Week 1 win against the New York Jets, it ran 22 such plays in what became Allen’s first 300-yard passing game. By season’s end, Allen had set franchise records in passing yards (4,544), completions (396) and passing touchdowns (37) in a single season, thanks in large part to the scheme changes.

Allen and Daboll have an open line of communication over the course of a game, to the point the former often suggests plays to his coach — who trusts his quarterback’s judgment.

During the Bills’ rout of the Broncos in Week 15, Allen hit Diggs on a 55-yard completion to seal the game. The playcall was all his.

“I went to Dorsey, and I said, ‘This is the play I want to get called,'” Allen said. “And Daboll gave me the opportunity to do it. He trusts me in those situations if it’s not there to find my outlets down underneath. But it’s one of those plays we kind of got them with a quick count and our guys outran theirs, and I gave him the chance to go catch the ball.

“It means the world to me to know that [Daboll] trusts me enough to listen to my input. … When it’s a play I suggest to him and he calls it and it hits, it feels a little extra special.”

A blessing and a curse

If Daboll leaves, it puts a halt to the continuity that helped the Bills go from 6-10 in 2018 to a legitimate Super Bowl contender in 2020. But it’s a sign the organization has taken a step forward.

“When you win, people want a piece of winners and success and I get that,” McDermott said.

Beane hopes it makes Buffalo’s assistants more selective when considering other opportunities.

“What you hope is that you have a good situation — which I think we have here — to where Brian’s not just going to take the first job that’s offered to him,” Beane said. “If he’s going to leave, you hope that it’s a place that he feels good that he can win.

“[Defensive coordinator] Leslie [Frazier] is the same way, Leslie deserves a chance as much as anybody I know … He has done the head coach thing but definitely wants another taste of it, I’m sure. You hope that here in Buffalo, they’re both going to get interviews, that they say, ‘I like the opportunity, I liked the interview but I don’t know if they’re ready to win. I don’t know if it’s the right situation for me, I’ll go back to Buffalo for another year,’ or something like that.”

Beane made it clear there will be no hard feelings if Daboll moves on.

“Unless they’ve been [a head coach] before, I think most guys want to test themselves at the highest level,” the Bills’ GM said. “Brian hasn’t been a head coach, so I’m sure he falls into that category, like most, and he’s going to want to test his wits.”

Regardless of whether he leaves his hometown this offseason, Daboll said he is thankful for the opportunity to coach the team he grew up rooting for.

“It’s a class-act organization that does things the right way.”

Published at Wed, 13 Jan 2021 14:22:26 +0000

Why Deshaun Watson is unhappy with Texans, and what comes next

Why Deshaun Watson is unhappy with Texans, and what comes next

HOUSTON — The Houston Texans took a step toward moving past their 4-12 season and previous regime when they hired former Patriots director of player personnel Nick Caserio as their general manager on Thursday.

But instead of getting to celebrate the hire, Texans chairman and CEO Cal McNair reportedly upset his franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson with the hiring process.

According to Adam Schefter, McNair paid search firm Korn Ferry hundreds of thousands of dollars, but ignored their recommendation of hiring Pittsburgh Steelers vice president of football and business administration Omar Khan or ESPN Monday Night Football analyst Louis Riddick — both minority candidates — and instead went with Caserio, a close tie to Texans executive vice president of football operations Jack Easterby.

Now, as McNair and Caserio focus on finding the right head coach, they have to worry about mending fences with their franchise quarterback because he did not have a say in the general manager search.

How did we get here?

Watson’s frustration with the Texans’ organization started in March when the team traded wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to the Arizona Cardinals for running back David Johnson without letting the quarterback know about the deal before it happened.

While many feel the Texans did not get adequate value for the All-Pro receiver — the Texans also received a 2020 second-rounder (which became DL Ross Blacklock) and a 2021 fourth-round pick and sent a 2020 fourth-round pick to Arizona (which became DL Rashard Lawrence) — former head coach and general manager Bill O’Brien was right about one thing: Watson didn’t need Hopkins to put up big numbers.

Will Fuller V set career highs in receptions (53), receiving yards (879) and touchdowns (eight) in 11 games before he was suspended, and the addition of Brandin Cooks (team-high 81 catches and 1,150 yards, along with six TDs) helped Watson finish with an NFL-best 4,823 passing yards, as well as a career-high 33 passing touchdowns and career-low seven interceptions.

The frustration came back — and increased — after the Texans hired Caserio last week.

In November, the month after the Texans fired O’Brien, McNair had dinner with Watson. They discussed the direction of the franchise, McNair told ESPN, and he wanted to hear Watson’s opinion on who should be the next head coach. In November, McNair told ESPN “that he welcomes Watson’s input, respects his opinion and wants the star quarterback to be happy.”

Watson and his agent David Mulugheta later spoke to McNair again over Zoom to discuss potential candidates.

However, on Thursday, the day the Texans announced the hiring of Caserio, ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Watson was not happy with the process because, according to league sources, “Watson offered input on potential general manager candidates, but the Texans neither considered nor consulted with those endorsed by their franchise quarterback.”

Regardless of whether there was a miscommunication or McNair misled Watson about what the quarterback’s involvement would be in the hiring process, now Watson is not returning McNair’s calls.

“I’ve come to understand that it’s been reported that Deshaun feels left out of the process, but he and I had several visits and I understood his point of view before meeting with candidates,” McNair said Friday. “I’ve reached out to Deshaun about Nick’s hire, and I look forward to him getting back to me when he returns from his vacation.”

How bad is it?

On Sunday, Schefter reported that after the Texans traded Hopkins, Watson’s anger level was “a 2. … This time, it’s a 10.”

According to Schefter, Watson found out on social media that the Texans intended to hire Caserio. While there have been several reports about his unhappiness, Watson’s lone reaction about the general manager hire came in the form of a since-deleted tweet that stated, “some things never change …”

Watson said after the season that the organization needs “a whole culture shift.” By hiring Caserio, who spent 20 seasons in New England, it may be that Watson believes the Texans went back to the same well that brought them O’Brien, who was with the Patriots for five years before becoming the head coach at Penn State. O’Brien stayed with the Nittany Lions for two seasons before moving on to the Texans.

The Texans also have Easterby, who spent six seasons in New England. Easterby was part of the Texans’ traveling party that went to pick Caserio up before his interview and McNair said he “sought out Jack [Easterby]’s feedback on Nick [Caserio] as a leader” during the process of hiring a general manager.

Easterby was given responsibility over personnel after O’Brien was fired, but McNair made it clear Friday that Easterby will not be in charge of the roster or free agency going forward.

“Those are the GM jobs that Nick [Caserio] is doing, and he will look to Jack [Easterby] to do some of these other things that Jack has done really well in the past,” McNair said.

What happens next?

According to multiple sources, Watson has not responded to texts and calls from McNair and others in the organization, but he is on vacation. The team is hopeful, a source says, that Watson will return calls as they continue their search for the franchise’s next head coach.

According to a league source, Watson has been assured by the organization his opinion will be taken into account during the search for a head coach.

Watson hasn’t publicly listed head coaches he wants considered, but did mention them to McNair during the Zoom call. In his end-of-season news conference, Watson said he spoke to McNair about keeping offensive coordinator Tim Kelly around for “as long as possible.” Watson has credited Kelly with taking his game to another level “over the past two years.”

“His knowledge of just the game of football is very, very bright and he really helped me take my game [there], especially this year, the best football I’ve played in my career,” Watson said in early January.

Watson has publicly stated his admiration for Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy, who got a ringing endorsement to Watson from Patrick Mahomes. According to multiple sources, the Texans have not requested an interview with Bieniemy.

What options does Watson have going forward?

Play for the Texans: This seems like the most likely scenario for Watson, who signed a five-year, $156 million contract extension in September, making him the second-highest-paid quarterback (with an AAV of $39 million) behind Mahomes.

The new NFL league year begins March 17 and not a lot will happen before then. The best-case scenario for the Texans is McNair and Caserio can talk to Watson and get on the same page. The Texans want Watson’s input into the head coaching hire because McNair knows how important it is to get this move right, so as to not waste any more of Watson’s NFL career.

Force a trade: A team source says the Texans will not trade Watson, although there is certainly a chance the quarterback refuses to show up to optional organized team activities and mandatory minicamp this spring (if those even happen in person due to the continued COVID-19 pandemic).

If they do trade him, how does that work? Watson has a no-trade clause in his contract, so he would have final say on any deal. According to Schefter, if the Texans did trade Watson, they would have to absorb a salary-cap charge of $22 million. For a team already projected to be more than $17 million over the cap in 2021, that is a large amount of money for a player who isn’t on the roster. Even if the Texans got significant draft capital for Watson, the team would still have to make several money-saving cuts and would have a hard time building via free agency.

Of course, if the Texans made it known they are taking calls for Watson, there will be a long list around the league of interested teams. It’s hard to even estimate a price for Watson because this is such an unusual situation.

Sit out: Ultimately, because Watson is under contract, the Texans don’t have to do anything about this situation. If he sits out, the team could choose to fine him up to $40,000 per day for every day he skips during training camp. He would also be subject to additional loss of money if he does not report for the start of the season and misses games.

Retire: In an extreme circumstance, the 25-year-old Watson could choose to retire instead of playing for the Texans if they refuse to trade him.

Generally, when a player retires, it works in a similar way to him being released. The guaranteed money in Watson’s salary would count against the cap, but Houston could also choose to go after the money. For example, when quarterback Andrew Luck retired in 2019, he and the Indianapolis Colts reached a settlement, where the team chose not to recoup $24.8 million from its former quarterback.

If Watson retires, his rights are maintained by the Texans. He could not un-retire and sign with another team (unless Houston cut him while he is retired), because contracts are counted in seasons accrued, not in years.

Published at Wed, 13 Jan 2021 04:15:17 +0000

Who’s in the QB market? What every NFL team needs this offseason

Who’s in the QB market? What every NFL team needs this offseason

Six NFL playoff games down, seven to go. The offseason is nearly here — and for 24 teams, it already is — bringing the opportunity for every team to get better and make changes as they prepare for the 2021 season.

How will free agency shake out? Who will land playmakers in the 2021 draft? How will coaching shuffles alter the direction of a handful of franchises? All 32 teams need something this spring. So we asked our NFL Nation reporters to identify the biggest area of need for each team as we enter the offseason.

Jump to:
ARI | ATL | BAL | BUF | CAR | CHI | CIN
CLE | DAL | DEN | DET | GB | HOU | IND
JAX | KC | LAC | LAR | LV | MIA | MIN
NE | NO | NYG | NYJ | PHI | PIT | SF
SEA | TB | TEN | WSH

AFC EAST

Bring in a premier edge rusher.

Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison anchored a Bills pass rush that ranked second in pass rush win rate this season, but they are 32 and 33 years old, respectively. Buffalo spent a 2020 second-round pick on A.J. Epenesa, who has turned in a strong end to the season after spending Week 1 as a healthy scratch, but the team could stand to add another edge rusher as it looks to the future. This is a team with few, if any, glaring needs, however, and even edge rusher does not represent an immediate concern. — Marcel Louis-Jacques


Add playmaking offensive weapons.

The Dolphins were one of the NFL’s worst teams in receiver separation and yards after contact in 2020, showing they need more speedy, elusive players who threaten defenses. Miami’s offense simply wasn’t good enough to compete with AFC elite. Improvement from quarterback Tua Tagovailoa and a new offensive coordinator may help, but upgrades at receiver and running back should both be top priorities this offseason in both free agency and the draft as the Dolphins look to surround their QB with the adequate weapons to thrive. — Cameron Wolfe


Improve the wide receiver group.

Damiere Byrd was the team’s No. 1 target in 2020, playing a receiver-high 901 snaps — almost double his previous career high. While Byrd is deserving of praise for his effort, he was also playing above his level. That reflects why the Patriots, who also have a major question to answer at quarterback, figure to make receiver a top priority this offseason. — Mike Reiss


Nail the head coach decision.

The search is underway, and the Jets are talking to all the right candidates, including top coordinators Eric Bieniemy (Chiefs) and Robert Saleh (49ers). Now it’s a matter of finding the right fit. The Jets need more than an X’s-and-O’s guy; they need a leader who can galvanize the organization and change the losing culture. Easier said than done. — Rich Cimini

AFC NORTH

Get a No. 1 wide receiver.

Quarterback Lamar Jackson has a Pro Bowl tight end in Mark Andrews and a budding star in running back J.K. Dobbins. What Jackson and this offense need is a proven go-to wide receiver. Baltimore banked on Marquise Brown developing into that, but he has not been consistent, though he did have a 100-yard day in the team’s wild-card win over Tennessee. The Ravens need to repeat what Buffalo and Arizona did last season and acquire an upgraded target on the outside for Jackson. — Jamison Hensley


Shore up the offensive line.

When quarterback Joe Burrow suffered his season-ending injury, it was clear that the Bengals needed to revamp their line. Between the draft and free agency, the Bengals should attack this unit in the offseason. As a rookie, Burrow showed he has the tools to be a franchise quarterback — as long as he is upright. — Ben Baby


Add defensive help — especially in the secondary.

The Browns need help defensively, particularly at defensive back, where injuries and inconsistent play plagued them at times. Second-round pick Grant Delpit making a healthy return from the Achilles injury he suffered in training camp would help. But Cleveland could use reinforcements at every level of its defense. — Jake Trotter


Solve their offensive issues.

The Steelers have a mountain of needs after a shocking first-round playoff exit, beginning with a new playcaller. The offensive system was broken this season, most evident in the evaporated run game. The fix goes beyond a new running back or an upgraded offensive line. The system itself needs an overhaul. Maybe that’s a new offensive coordinator. Maybe that’s giving more responsibilities to Matt Canada. Whatever it is, the Steelers need to solve it before the 2021 season. — Brooke Pryor

AFC SOUTH

Get on the same page as Deshaun Watson.

The Texans’ franchise quarterback is reportedly upset with the way Houston CEO Cal McNair and the organization handled hiring new general manager Nick Caserio. Watson reportedly wanted more input into the hiring process and did not feel Houston considered the candidates he endorsed. McNair said Friday that he had reached out to Watson on vacation but had not heard back from the quarterback. Houston still has to hire a head coach, but before doing that, it needs to make sure it mends the relationship with Watson. — Sarah Barshop

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Pablo Torre and Israel Gutierrez discuss if Deshaun Watson should ask for a trade, and if he does, should the Texans honor it and let him go?

Figure out who the starting quarterback will be next season.

Philip Rivers and Jacoby Brissett are both free agents, leaving rookie Jacob Eason as the only quarterback under contract for next season. Rivers had the third-best completion percentage of his career, and his interceptions dropped by nine, but the Colts have to determine if the 39-year-old can take them another step or two if they re-sign him. Buckle up because the offseason will be full of quarterback buzz, especially the longer things remain uncertain in Philadelphia with Carson Wentz. — Mike Wells


Draft Trevor Lawrence. Quarterback is the team’s biggest need, just as it has been for most of the past 15 years. Luckily, the Jaguars have the top pick, and they’ll take Clemson’s Lawrence, which will give them a franchise signal-caller for the first time since Mark Brunell led them in the early days of the franchise. — Mike DiRocco


Acquire more pass-rushers.

Not being able to dominate up front really hurt Tennessee’s defense last season. The Titans swung and missed last season when they signed Jadeveon Clowney and Vic Beasley to one-year deals. After finishing with only 19 sacks and a 25% pressure rate, the Titans still need a game-wrecker to add to their front four. — Turron Davenport

AFC WEST

Hire a new general manager.

The Broncos are conducting interviews now. They have a young roster — especially on offense — and salary-cap flexibility. And while John Elway is still the team’s president of football operations, the new GM will control the roster, the draft and free agency. A big offseason under a new GM could nudge Denver back into the playoff conversation. It is easily the team’s most important hire since former owner Pat Bowlen coaxed Elway back into the organization in 2011. — Jeff Legwold


Figure out a way to keep Tyrann Mathieu.

The Chiefs have more than $190 million of salary-cap obligations for 2021, and all of those salaries won’t fit under the league’s limit. So they have some major work to do. They need to extend the contract of Mathieu, who would otherwise be in the final year of his deal, because he’s just too important for them to lose. The safety is a prime target for extension because his cap number is almost $20 million. — Adam Teicher


It’s all about the defensive coordinator.

The Raiders will rebuild their defense after Paul Guenther was fired with three games to go and Rod Marinelli took over on an interim basis. Coach Jon Gruden wants to maintain a 4-3 front (and Marinelli as his defensive line coach), so any incoming coordinator will have to keep that in mind. Among those already linked to the job: Gus Bradley (Gruden’s linebackers coach in Tampa Bay from 2006-08), Joe Barry (Gruden’s linebackers coach in Tampa Bay from 2002-06 and Marinelli’s son-in-law), Kris Richard (worked with Marinelli in Dallas) and Raheem Morris (a longtime staffer with Gruden in Tampa Bay). — Paul Gutierrez


Hire a head coach and fill out the staff.

The search has begun, although the Chargers won’t say who they’ve interviewed. We know Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy is in the mix and could be a good fit with quarterback Justin Herbert. But whomever they hire, it might not happen until after the Super Bowl. — Shelley Smith

NFC EAST

Fix the defense.

When you have a unit that allowed a franchise-record 473 points against and was 31st in run defense, you have to do anything and everything to get better. While adding new coordinator Dan Quinn was the first step, the Cowboys have to help most levels of their defense: defensive tackle, linebacker, cornerback and safety. Last year, they drafted the best player available when they selected wide receiver CeeDee Lamb in the first round at No. 17 overall. This year, they have to take the best defensive player available at No. 10 overall and maybe follow that rule for their entire draft class. — Todd Archer


Pick your poison: No. 1 WR or edge rushing.

Both are massive voids on the roster, and the Giants have neither at the moment. Both need to be addressed, likely one in free agency and the other in the draft. They can’t go into next season with Darius Slayton as the No. 1 receiver or Kyler Fackrell as the top edge rusher. — Jordan Raanan


Find a coach/quarterback combo.

The search for a new leader begins after the Eagles fired Super Bowl-winning coach Doug Pederson on Monday. Once they make a decision on that front, attention will quickly turn to the quarterback situation, and whether to move forward with Carson Wentz, Jalen Hurts or both. The odds Wentz remains in Philly have likely gone up, however, and the incoming coach will influence how it plays out. — Tim McManus

Find a quarterback of the future.

While Washington had good stories this season — Alex Smith‘s return and Taylor Heinicke‘s playoff performance — it needs a solid long-term solution. Smith is 37; Heinicke has started two NFL games and durability would be a concern. The team also has Kyle Allen, but with a defense ready to win now, it will explore all options — a veteran would make sense but they’ll also explore draft options. One note: Coach Ron Rivera likes mobile quarterbacks. — John Keim

NFC NORTH

Who is the quarterback?

Stop me if you have heard this before: The Bears have another big decision to make at quarterback. Mitchell Trubisky‘s fifth-year option was declined, and Nick Foles looked ineffective this season. Do the Bears draft another quarterback? Do they — gulp — re-sign Trubisky? Do they find another veteran? The story remains the same in Chicago. — Jeff Dickerson

Figure out how much of a rebuild is necessary.

The Lions are going to have a new general manager and a new head coach. What those two people do — and how they decide to construct the franchise in their vision — will be the primary need of the offseason that everything else is going to flow through. Conversations about the futures of Matthew Stafford, Kenny Golladay, Romeo Okwara and entire position groups will all be dictated by how those two people choose to handle things. — Michael Rothstein


Create some salary-cap space.

The Packers are almost never in poor cap positions thanks to contract negotiator Russ Ball’s prudent ways, but this is going to be a challenging offseason. They’re in the neighborhood of $26 million over their projected 2021 cap, making it difficult to re-sign players such as center Corey Linsley and running back Aaron Jones. General manager Brian Gutekunst will have some difficult decisions to make, and Ball will have to find ways to create cap room. Cash floor isn’t a problem for the Packers, but cap space certainly is. — Rob Demovsky


Add help in the trenches.

Some will argue that getting pass-rushers is priority No. 1. Others will say the need for a high-quality guard is most important. Either way, the Vikings need to focus their efforts in free agency (once they make moves to free up cap space) and the draft in shoring up both their defensive and offensive lines. Minnesota generated a franchise-low 23 sacks this year while members of the interior of the O-line were responsible for 20 of the 39 sacks that quarterback Kirk Cousins took in 2020. — Courtney Cronin

NFC SOUTH

Determine a direction for the franchise.

It could be an awfully long list of needs for a team that has to consider just how extreme a makeover it wants to undertake this offseason. But obviously it has to start with identifying to right general manager and coach to guide this team through big decisions. Those decisions will include what to do with Matt Ryan, Julio Jones and the fourth pick in the NFL draft, among others. — Mike Triplett


Make a quarterback decision.

Teddy Bridgewater, despite not having top weapon Christian McCaffrey for 13 games, did not prove he can be the franchise quarterback this team needs to be a playoff contender. An 0-8 record on game-winning drives magnifies this point. That he had four players with 1,000 yards of total offense but had only 15 touchdown passes to 11 interceptions is another strike against him. Bridgewater can be a game manager and could mentor a young player, but long term, he is not the answer. — David Newton


Identify the long-term quarterback.

There is a strong chance that Drew Brees will retire after this season, leaving a void at the position for the first time in 15 years. If he does, Saints coach Sean Payton has suggested multiple times that the next QB is “in the building,” referring to both Taysom Hill and Jameis Winston (who will be a free agent). But the Saints would also have to strongly consider a developmental QB in the draft, as well. — Mike Triplett


Bring back Chris Godwin — and other stars.

Tom Brady told the Sunday Night Football broadcast in the Bucs’ wild-card game that Godwin has some of the “best hands he’s ever seen.” If they want to keep continuity on offense, which Brady has been talking about all season, they need to re-sign Godwin. But he’s not the only one. The Bucs have roughly $30 million in salary-cap space and have to find a way to get linebackers Shaq Barrett and Lavonte David back, too. — Jenna Laine

NFC WEST

Add another reliable wide receiver.

Beyond DeAndre Hopkins, the Cardinals didn’t have a true threat in their wide receivers room. Larry Fitzgerald showed signs of being 37, Christian Kirk made plays but wasn’t as much of a threat as he could’ve been, although that may not have been totally on him, and then the rest of the receiving corps wasn’t consistent. For the Cardinals to take the next step and make the playoffs, they need a WR2 who can complement Hopkins and make defenses pay attention so they can’t commit all their resources to Hopkins. As of now, Arizona doesn’t have that. — Josh Weinfuss


Find a backup quarterback to challenge Jared Goff.

Maybe that is current backup John Wolford. Perhaps the Rams will sign an experienced veteran. They could also use a midround pick to bring in a talent for coach Sean McVay to develop and consider inserting into game action if Goff stumbles. But the bottom line is that competition brings out the best in each player, and while Goff has the talent to lead the Rams to the playoffs, he has performed inconsistently over the past two seasons. And the Rams must try a new avenue to challenge him. — Lindsey Thiry


Figure out the quarterback situation.

Yes, Niners coach Kyle Shanahan and general manager John Lynch have said repeatedly that they expect Jimmy Garoppolo to be their starter in 2021. But they’ve also left a little wiggle room by pointing out that they always look at possible upgrades at every position every year. That means they must figure out if any legitimate upgrades to Garoppolo will be available, if they can realistically acquire one and what it would cost to do so. If no such upgrade is available, they must come up with a better plan behind Garoppolo, as backups Nick Mullens (restricted) and C.J. Beathard (unrestricted) are set to be free agents. The roster is simply too good to throw away another season because Garoppolo is injured, which means upgrades are needed at the position even if it’s not in the starting spot. — Nick Wagoner


A clear answer to what happened on offense, and a plan to make sure it doesn’t happen again.

An upgrade at tight end and to their offensive line would help, but the group of players who struggled for much of the second half of the season and in their wild-card loss to the Rams was pretty much the same as the one that led the NFL in scoring over the first nine weeks. That suggests the offensive ineptitude that doomed the Seahawks was as much about their approach and coaching as it was about personnel and execution. Besides, splashy additions will be hard to come by with no first- or third-round picks and given all the money they need to set aside for key players who need new contracts, notably safety Jamal Adams. — Brady Henderson

Published at Tue, 12 Jan 2021 14:57:49 +0000

Lurie: Decision to fire Pederson not about Wentz

Lurie: Decision to fire Pederson not about Wentz

PHILADELPHIA — The Eagles fired coach Doug Pederson on Monday, ending a partnership that delivered the first and only Super Bowl title in the city’s history.

Pederson was expected to remain as coach despite a 4-11-1 finish this season, but multiple meetings with owner Jeffrey Lurie over the past week left his boss unconvinced that Pederson had a sound vision for how to address the myriad issues facing the team, sources said, from navigating the Carson Wentz situation to fixing an offense that finished 26th in scoring (20.9 PPG) and 28th in passing yards (207.9 YPG) in 2020.

Lurie explained the decision to move on from Pederson during a video news conference Monday.

“My first allegiance is, what will be best for the Philadelphia Eagles and our fans for the next three, four, five years. It’s not based on does someone deserve to hold their job or deserve to get fired, that’s a different bar,” Lurie said.

“It’s not about, ‘Did Doug deserve to be let go?’ No, he did not deserve to be let go. That’s not where I’m coming from, and that’s not the bar in the evaluation process.”

Lurie said the decision to move on from Pederson was not specific to Wentz or one position group, focusing instead on the regression of the offense overall in a season during which the NFL set a record for points scored. He did not commit to Wentz returning next season but suggested the new coaching staff would work with him to get him back on track.

“I don’t think any owner should decide that. Carson, to me and to I think virtually everyone in our organization, is a quarterback that in his first four years was in many ways elite, comparable to some of the great quarterbacks the first four years in the league. The fifth year, obviously not satisfactory for whatever reasons, there are probably multiple reasons for that.

“I think the way I look at it is we have an asset and we have a talent. He’s a great guy. He wants nothing but to win big and win Lombardi trophies for Philadelphia. This guy is tireless. He has his heart in the right place. He is really dedicated offseason, on-season. He’s just what you want. And it behooves us as a team with a new coach and new coaching staff to be able to really get him back to that elite progression where he was capable of, and understand at the same time that there have been many quarterbacks in their fourth and fifth year, if you trace this, you can come up with many, many quarterbacks that have a single year where it’s just, ‘Whoa, the touchdown to interception ratio is not what you want.’ And we’re talking some great ones like Peyton and Ben and guys like that.

“So I take more of a longer view of this was not the best season for our offense, it was a poor season, and we also had a poor season from Carson in terms of what he’s been able to show in the past. Very fixable, and I fully expect him to realize his potential.”

In a statement released through the Eagles, Pederson said it was “an absolute honor serving” as the Eagles’ head coach.

“As difficult as it is to say goodbye, I will always look back on my time here with appreciation and respect,” he said, adding, “… The memories we made here, together, will always have a special place in my heart. To the City of Philadelphia, thank you for embracing me and this team. I truly appreciate that passion you bring every single day — at home, on the road, and in the community. No matter what, you were always right there with us. Although I am disappointed that this chapter of my career has come to an end, I am extremely proud of what we accomplished together. Through all the ups and downs, one thing remained constant about our team — an unwavering commitment to battle through adversity and to achieve our goals not as individuals, but as a collective unit. There is no better example of that than when we celebrated the first Super Bowl Championship in Eagles history together with our city. That is a memory we will all cherish forever.”

Lurie was also not sold on Pederson’s plans regarding his coaching staff, sources said. Pederson pushed for passing game coordinator/quarterbacks coach Press Taylor to be elevated to offensive coordinator rather than bringing in a more established candidate. The issue of how to fill the void left by defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz, who plans to take the year off from football in 2021, also was unresolved.

Wentz regressed dramatically in his fifth year and was replaced in the lineup by rookie Jalen Hurts for the last quarter of the season. Wentz planned to ask for a trade in the offseason because his relationship with Pederson was fractured beyond repair, league sources previously said. The trust issues between the two work both ways, sources said, despite Pederson recently saying that his relationship with Wentz was fine.

Pederson’s firing significantly increases the chances of Wentz staying in Philadelphia, a source told ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler.

Sources describe an Eagles offense in 2020 that lacked an identity, in part as a result of a sizable and mismatched group of assistants and consultants brought in last offseason who struggled to get on the same page. The absence of a central vision for what the offense should look like made quarterbacking an uphill climb, and all the voices created a cacophony for Pederson and Wentz alike, sources said.

As for Hurts, a second-round pick last April, there was not firm clarity from Pederson on whether he had a sense that the franchise had its quarterback of the future if the Eagles should move on from Wentz. The handling of the season’s final game, in which Hurts was pulled in favor of Nate Sudfeld in a 20-14 loss to Washington, also left questions about whether Pederson had lost his players’ confidence.

Tight end Zach Ertz, however, tweeted “love you coach” after news of Pederson’s dismissal was announced Monday. Safety Rodney McLeod also wished Pederson well via Twitter.

Pederson became just the eighth NFL head coach to win a Super Bowl within his first two years at the helm when the Eagles beat the New England Patriots to capture the Lombardi trophy during the 2017 season. That was the first of three straight playoff appearances for the Eagles under Pederson before the wheels came off in 2020. He compiled a record of 46-39-1 over five seasons with the Eagles, including four playoff wins.

Lurie said Monday he expects Eagles assistant head coach/running backs coach Duce Staley to be among the candidates to replace Pederson, calling him “a great representative of the Eagles” who “knows our values.”

ESPN’s Chris Mortensen contributed to this report.

Published at Tue, 12 Jan 2021 00:03:18 +0000

NFL playoffs wild-card round guide: Picks, bold predictions and more for every game

NFL playoffs wild-card round guide: Picks, bold predictions and more for every game

The opening weekend of the NFL playoffs has arrived, with three more games on the wild-card round slate. Our NFL Nation reporters bring us the keys to every game, a bold prediction for each matchup and final score picks.

Additionally, ESPN Stats & Information provides a stat to know for each game, and the Football Power Index (FPI) goes inside the numbers with a matchup rating (on a scale of 1 to 100) and a game projection. ESPN Chalk‘s Dave Bearman hands out helpful nuggets as well. It’s all here to help get you ready for a loaded weekend of NFL football.

Jump to a matchup:
BAL-TEN | CHI-NO | CLE-PIT

Byes: Chiefs, Packers

Sunday, 1:05 p.m. ET | ESPN/ABC
Matchup rating:
84.5 | Spread: BAL -3 (54.5)

What to watch for: Titans running back Derrick Henry has been a thorn in the Ravens’ side. Henry rushed for 195 yards in the divisional-round playoff game last season and 133 yards — including a 29-yard touchdown run in overtime to seal the victory — against them this season. Baltimore will be focused on keeping Henry in check, so keep an eye on how Tennessee offensive coordinator Arthur Smith counters. — Turron Davenport

Bold prediction: Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson will throw four touchdown passes. He has totaled three in two career playoff games combined (both losses), but the Titans gave up 36 touchdowns through the air this season, which is tied for the most ever by a playoff team. — Jamison Hensley

Stat to know: According to research by the Elias Sports Bureau, the Ravens’ 1,337 rushing yards over their past five games is the most by any team in a five-game span since the Super Bowl era began in 1966. They had 3,071 rushing yards this season, the fourth most in a season in NFL history, one year after setting an NFL record with 3,296. But none of top five teams in single-season rushing yards won a playoff game that season.

Injuries: Ravens | Titans

Matt Bowen’s game key: We know that Henry is going to get his touches Sunday. But if a team wants to beat Tennessee, it has to take away the big-play ability of the play-action passing game with quarterback Ryan Tannehill. Watch out for outside-zone looks with wide receiver A.J. Brown running the in-breakers. Read more.Insider

Betting nugget: The Titans have failed to cover consecutive games when the over/under is 50-plus after opening the season 6-2 ATS in such spots. Read more.Insider

Hensley’s pick: Ravens 31, Titans 23
Davenport’s pick: Titans 28, Ravens 24
FPI prediction: BAL, 62.7% (by an average of 4.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: Remember the Titans? Ravens not thinking about past in playoff rematchHow Titans’ Henry can withstand a heavy workload to keep deliveringJackson’s titanic hurdle: Capturing that elusive playoff win for the RavensTitans have had Jackson’s number, but can this defense stop him?How to watch Ravens-Titans wild-card MegaCast


Sunday, 4:40 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
65.2 | Spread: NO -9.5 (47.5)

What to watch for: The Saints could potentially get both wide receiver Michael Thomas and running back Alvin Kamara back in the lineup as they look to finally peak at the right time after three consecutive years of painful playoff exits. And this could be quarterback Drew Brees‘ last chance to get back to a second Super Bowl, since he might retire after this season. Bears QB Mitchell Trubisky, meanwhile, might need an impressive playoff performance to extend his career in Chicago as he heads toward free agency. — Mike Triplett

Bold prediction: Saints playmakers Kamara and Thomas will return to score three combined touchdowns. So much focus is on Trubisky and the Bears’ flighty offense, but Chicago’s defense has worn down in recent weeks. The Bears’ pass rush has been virtually nonexistent at times, even with Khalil Mack. Further complicating matters is the left elbow injury suffered last week by the Bears’ best all-around defender, linebacker Roquan Smith. Chicago’s defense appears to be in real trouble again. — Jeff Dickerson

Stat to know: Bears running back David Montgomery has scored a rushing touchdown in five straight games, the longest streak by a Bear since 1990 (Neal Anderson had five). The Bears’ offense as a whole scored 31.2 points per game over the final five weeks of the season, tied with the Saints for sixth in the NFL.

Injuries: Bears | Saints

Matt Bowen’s game key: New Orleans needs to look for Kamara as a passing-game option when he is flexed from the formation in empty sets. Clear out the boundary and create that space for Kamara to run the choice/option route on a high-percentage throw for Brees. Read more.Insider

Betting nugget: The most recent time the Bears covered in a game in which they were a 7.5-plus-point underdog was November 2017 … against the Saints. Read more.Insider

Dickerson’s pick: Saints 30, Bears 21
Triplett’s pick: Saints 26, Bears 19
FPI prediction: NO, 78.9% (by an average of 10.6 points)

Matchup must-reads: Bears, Trubisky enter postseason with “nothing to lose” attitude“Last Dance?” Why it’s vital for Brees, Saints to win nowSource: Kamara joins remotely for Bears prep


Sunday, 8:15 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
61.4 | Spread: PIT -5.5 (47.5)

What to watch for: Pittsburgh safety Minkah Fitzpatrick calls Cleveland running back Nick Chubb one of the “most complete” backs in the league. Once one of the best run defenses in the NFL, the Steelers have been more porous in recent weeks with injuries mounting. Linebacker Robert Spillane is back, though, and will be key in slowing Chubb. — Brooke Pryor

Bold prediction: Despite being short-handed because of COVID-19, the Browns will hang tough. But for a second consecutive week, Pittsburgh-Cleveland will come down to a 2-point conversion late in the fourth quarter. Only this time, it will be the Browns who come up short. — Jake Trotter

Stat to know: Only Aaron Rodgers has a higher QBR on play-action this season than Browns quarterback Baker Mayfield (93). But nobody defends against it better than Pittsburgh. Mayfield’s yards per attempt dips from 9.5 on play-action to 6.5 without it, and his completion percentage falls from 68% to 61%, so how the Browns’ run fakes work against the Steelers will go a long way in determining whether they can get their first playoff victory since Jan. 1, 1995.

Injuries: Browns | Steelers

Matt Bowen’s game key: What will the Browns change with a new playcaller on Sunday night (coach Kevin Stefanski will miss the game with COVID-19)? I want to see them stay on script. That means two- and three-tight end sets, gap and zone runs with Chubb and Kareem Hunt and defined throws for Mayfield off play-action. Read more.Insider

Betting nugget: The Steelers have covered in four of the past five meetings with the Browns (three straight) after Cleveland had covered in four of five prior matchups. Read more.Insider

Trotter’s pick: Steelers 28, Browns 26
Pryor’s pick: Steelers 21, Browns 17
FPI prediction: PIT, 67.9% (by an average of 6.1 points)

Matchup must-reads: Flip phones, “Friends” and LeBron’s debut: It’s been 18 years since the Browns made playoffsRoethlisberger guides Steelers’ young players through playoff “whirlwind”It’s been 25 years since the Browns broke Cleveland’s heart and left for BaltimoreNFL’s oldest quarterbacks share playoff stage for first timeOnly family, friends allowed to attend Steelers’ playoff game vs. Browns

Saturday’s games

Saturday, 1:05 p.m. ET | CBS
Matchup rating:
73.9 | Spread: BUF -6.5 (51)

What to watch for: The Bills are in the playoffs for the third time in four years after a 17-year postseason drought, but they haven’t won a playoff game since the 1995 season. This Buffalo team is scorching hot, however, outscoring opponents 229-110 since Week 12. Can a Colts defense that ranked in the top 10 this season in both points and yards allowed slow down quarterback Josh Allen and the Bills’ offense? — Marcel Louis-Jacques

Bold prediction: Colts quarterback Philip Rivers will have a season low in pass attempts, meaning 20 or fewer. One of the keys of slowing down Buffalo’s offense is by keeping Allen & Co. on the sideline for as long as possible. And the best way to do that is by running the ball as much as possible. Rookie running back Jonathan Taylor closed out the regular season by rushing for 741 yards — including 253 in Week 17 — over his final six games. The Colts will lean on him even more against the Bills. Rivers’ current season low in pass attempts is 21, which he had against the Jets in Week 3. — Mike Wells

Stat to know: The Bills have dropped back to pass on 64% of their first-down plays this season, the highest first-down passing rate by a winning team over the past 20 seasons. That’s up from 53% last season. Buffalo’s 2,493 passing yards on first down is the NFL’s most this season.

Injuries: Colts | Bills

Matt Bowen’s game key: The Colts’ linebackers have to close the middle of the field for Allen. How? By using Darius Leonard and Bobby Okereke to sink under the deep in-breakers and force Allen to throw the ball underneath. Read more.Insider

Betting nugget: The Bills covered six of eight home games this season, tied for the second-best cover rate at home and a vast improvement over their 6-10 mark at home against the spread (ATS) over the previous two seasons. Read more.Insider

Wells’ pick: Bills 30, Colts 20
Louis-Jacques’ pick: Bills 31, Colts 17
FPI prediction: BUF, 67.5% (by an average of 6.0 points)

Matchup must-reads: Why Colts coach Reich stuck with quarterback RiversFor Bills’ 1995 team, playoff surge evokes memories of last time franchise ruled AFC EastColts need consistency to go with “us vs. the world” mentalityFans attending Bills’ playoff game taking COVID-19 testsHow did Allen make us all look so dumb? Inside his unbelievable rise


Saturday, 4:40 p.m. ET | Fox
Matchup rating:
79.7 | Spread: SEA -3.5 (42.5)

What to watch for: Injuries could play a big role in this one. Rams coach Sean McVay has been tight-lipped about whether quarterback Jared Goff and his surgically repaired thumb will start Saturday. Seahawks safety Jamal Adams, meanwhile, said unequivocally that he’ll be on the field for his first career playoff game. Adams’ status had been in question because of a shoulder injury. Will either or both of them suit up, and how will their injuries play a part? — Brady Henderson

Bold prediction: Rams No. 2 quarterback John Wolford will break the Rams’ two-game streak without an offensive touchdown. Yes, Wolford. McVay won’t declare a starter before kickoff, but expect Goff to give it a try. But with Goff less than two weeks removed from thumb surgery, Wolford could very well need to step in at some point. — Lindsey Thiry

Stat to know: Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson had six passing touchdowns of 30-plus air yards this season, tied with Patrick Mahomes for the most in the NFL. However, he went 2-of-16 (13%) with zero TDs and an interception on those throws over the last eight games of the season. And he went 1-of-6 on those throws against the Rams, who allowed an NFL-low completion percentage on deep balls this season (14.8%).

Injuries: Rams | Seahawks

Matt Bowen’s game key: The Seahawks have transitioned back to their old-school offensive identity over the second half of the season with a more run-heavy approach and play-action throws for Wilson. Why? This passing game looks disjointed, and Seattle has to get back to more rhythm concepts that allow him to get the ball out with speed. Read more.Insider

Betting nugget: The Seahawks were 4-6 ATS this season when favored by more than a field goal, and the Rams are 3-1 ATS when getting at least 3.5 points during the McVay era. Read more.Insider

Thiry’s pick: Seahawks 20, Rams 17
Henderson’s pick: Seahawks 21, Rams 18
FPI prediction: SEA, 59.1% (by an average of 3.0 points)

Matchup must-reads: “The McVay of defense”: Former Division III coordinator Staley latest Rams coaching wunderkindDiving in: Swimming among ways Seahawks’ Metcalf, Wilson have bondedRams coach McVay “not gonna make an announcement” on starting QBAdams’ availability a key to Seahawks avoiding another early exit


Saturday, 8:15 p.m. ET | NBC
Matchup rating:
71.0 | Spread: TB -8.5 (44.5)

What to watch for: Can Washington pressure Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady? Sacks don’t tell the whole story, but Brady is 26-7 in his playoff career when sacked two times or fewer and 4-4 when sacked three or more times. Washington defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio has been excellent with in-game adjustments and adding in wrinkles; he’ll need to add some here to cause some hesitation and allow the front four to get home. It’ll also be interesting to see if Washington’s offense can produce enough. In quarterback Alex Smith‘s six starts this season, Washington has scored more than 23 points once. Will that be enough? — John Keim

Bold prediction: The Buccaneers’ offense will put up three touchdowns on a Washington defense that hasn’t surrendered that many since Week 10 against the Lions. Brady might not be the difference-maker against this pass rush, though. Rather, it will be a healthy Ronald Jones, who was denied 1,000 rushing yards to cap his season after missing two games because of a finger injury and time on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Washington’s run defense is closer to average, giving up 112.8 yards per game (15th in the league). — Jenna Laine

Stat to know: Washington ranked 31st in offensive efficiency this season at 36.1 (scaled 0-100). That is the fourth worst by a playoff team in the past 15 seasons. But surprisingly, all three teams with lower rates won their first playoff game that season (2010 Seahawks, 2016 Texans and 2011 Broncos).

Injuries: Buccaneers | Washington

Matt Bowen’s game key: Given the lack of a consistent vertical element in the Washington passing game, I expect Bucs defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to heat up the pocket. Multiple fronts, second-level pressure, zero blitzes — dial it up against Smith or backup quarterback Taylor Heinicke. Read more.Insider

Betting nugget: Unders were 6-2 in Washington home games this season, and Tampa Bay has covered five of seven games this season when the under comes through. Read more.Insider

Laine’s pick: Buccaneers 24, Washington 21
Keim’s pick: Buccaneers 28, Washington 21
FPI prediction: TB, 73.6% (by an average of 8.3 points)

Matchup must-reads: Bucs’ Evans to be game-time call vs. WashingtonWashington DE Young: I’m not sorry for “I want Tom” Brady comments“He coaches you hard”: How Bucs’ Arians builds relationships with his QBsHow Rivera’s cancer battle, return of Smith galvanized WashingtonWashington coach Rivera mulls rotating QBs in wild-card playoff game

Published at Sun, 10 Jan 2021 12:44:50 +0000

Sources: Watson irked by Texans’ hiring process

Sources: Watson irked by Texans’ hiring process

By hiring former New England Patriots executive Nick Caserio to solve a large set of problems within the organization, the Houston Texans have created additional ones with star quarterback Deshaun Watson.

Watson offered input on potential general manager candidates, but the Texans neither considered nor consulted with those endorsed by their franchise quarterback, league sources told ESPN.

Additionally, the Texans did not inform Watson that they intended to hire Caserio, and he found out about the hire Tuesday on social media. That contributed to Watson taking to Twitter that night to post, “some things never change….”

Watson’s feelings were not directed toward Caserio, sources told ESPN, but instead were indicative of the way business was again conducted by the Texans.

Last offseason, Houston didn’t let Watson know that star wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins would be traded, which led to some disappointment. Now that it has happened again, Watson is said to be infinitely more bothered, sources told ESPN.

This time, Watson had met with Texans owner Cal McNair in several instances, sharing thoughts on certain candidates who came highly recommended, with Watson suggesting that the team at least talk to them, sources told ESPN. He did not expect Houston to hire those he endorsed, but Watson was hoping the Texans would respect the feelings of the group of teammates he was trying to represent, sources told ESPN.

The Texans, however, did not act on their quarterback’s thoughts and charged ahead with a hire that mattered to a much smaller circle than the one Watson was trying to aid, sources told ESPN.

Even if the Texans didn’t want to move forward with any of Watson’s recommended candidates, sources told ESPN that Watson wanted to at least have the opportunity to meet with ownership’s finalists so he could offer thoughts from a player standpoint to benefit the team — and then the Texans could hire who they wanted. That opportunity never came.

Now the focus turns to the fallout from the situation. The Texans clearly have an unhappy quarterback on their hands as they welcome Caserio to their franchise to try to help rebuild it.

There already has been speculation that Watson could demand a trade, though Caserio is only just starting his job and the team still doesn’t have a head coach. If the team were to trade Watson, it would have to absorb a salary-cap charge of $22 million, though it could get back a bounty of NFL draft picks and players.

But the mess that Caserio was hired to clean up is actually larger because of the events that surrounded his hiring, as it now includes a disillusioned franchise quarterback.

Published at Fri, 08 Jan 2021 03:26:36 +0000

Final NFL stat leaders in every major category for 2020 season

Final NFL stat leaders in every major category for 2020 season

In the most unusual of seasons, played amid the coronavirus pandemic, some semblance of normalcy could be found in the names that marked the top of the NFL’s statistical leaderboards.

All-time greats such as Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady added to their Hall of Fame résumés while younger stars such as Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes, Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry and Packers receiver Davante Adams continued to build on impressive careers.

But it wouldn’t be an NFL season if rising stars didn’t establish themselves. Those weren’t hard to find, as Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen and Minnesota Vikings receiver Justin Jefferson can attest.

Here are the 2020 regular-season leaders in the major categories on offense and defense.


Passing touchdowns

Reports of Rodgers’ demise after a down (for him) 2019 season were greatly exaggerated as he once again proved worthy of Most Valuable Player consideration. Rodgers’ 48 touchdown passes led the league and he became just the second player, along with Peyton Manning, to post multiple seasons of 45-plus touchdown tosses. Brady wasn’t too far behind as he reached 40, making him the fifth quarterback with at least 40 touchdown passes in multiple seasons. The young guns also made their presence felt as Mahomes (38 touchdown passes), Allen (37), Houston’s Deshaun Watson (33) and the Chargers’ Justin Herbert (31) combined to make the first season in league history with four quarterbacks younger than 26 to throw for at least 30 touchdowns in the same season.

1. Rodgers, Packers: 48

T-2. Brady, Buccaneers: 40

T-2. Russell Wilson, Seahawks: 40

5: Mahomes, Chiefs: 38

5. Allen, Bills: 37


Passing yards

With Mahomes resting in Week 17, Watson claimed his first passing yardage crown, establishing franchise records for yards and touchdown passes (33) in a season.

Allen’s monster season saw him finish fifth in yards and touchdown passes but he also added eight rushing scores, which made him the first player with at least 4,500 pass yards, 35 touchdown passes and five rushing touchdowns in a season in NFL history.

1. Watson, Texans: 4,823

2. Mahomes, Chiefs: 4,740

3. Brady, Buccaneers: 4,633

4. Matt Ryan, Falcons: 4,581

5. Allen, Bills: 4,544


Completion percentage

Rodgers set a career high in completion percentage for a season and broke the 70% mark for the first time during a full season as a starter in his career. In the process, Rodgers dethroned Brees in this category, a spot Brees has held each of the past three seasons. Watson also cracked 70% for the first time in his career, easily trumping his previous career best of 68.3%.

1. Rodgers, Packers: 70.7%

2. Brees, Saints: 70.5%

3. Watson, Texans: 70.2%

4. Allen, Bills: 69.2%

5. Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers: 69.1%


Rushing yards

The King stays the King as Henry easily outran the competition by posting the best season of his career and one of the best seasons by a back in league history. Henry became the eighth player in NFL annals to reach 2,000 rushing yards in a season and became the first player since LaDainian Tomlinson in 2006-07 to lead the league in rushing in consecutive seasons. The Vikings’ Dalvin Cook might have been able to keep pace but he missed a pair of games, including the season finale against the Detroit Lions.

1. Henry, Titans: 2,027

2. Cook, Vikings: 1,557

3. Jonathan Taylor, Colts: 1,169

4. Aaron Jones, Packers: 1,104

T-5. David Montgomery, Bears: 1,070

T-5. James Robinson, Jaguars: 1,070


Rushing touchdowns

Unsurprisingly, Cook and Henry reached the end zone the most in 2020, making fantasy players who had them in the lineup happy on a near weekly basis.

The Saints’ Alvin Kamara‘s six-touchdown effort in Week 16 tied him with Cook for second, while the Patriots’ Cam Newton was the only non-running back to make the top five.

1. Henry, Titans: 17

T-2. Cook, Vikings 16

T-2. Kamara, Saints: 16

T-4. Nick Chubb, Browns: 12

T-4. Newton, Patriots: 12

T-4. Josh Jacobs, Raiders: 12


Receiving yards

As first impressions go, you’d be hard-pressed to find a player making a bigger difference in his debut season with a team than Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs. Diggs set franchise records in receiving yards and receptions and became the first Bills player to lead the NFL in receiving yards. Jefferson wasn’t far behind as the drafted replacement for Diggs, though, as he posted the most receiving yards by a rookie in the Super Bowl era and the fourth rookie with at least seven games of 100-plus receiving yards in NFL history. Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce broke George Kittle‘s record for the most receiving yards by a tight end.

1. Diggs, Bills: 1,535

3. Kelce, Chiefs: 1,416

2. DeAndre Hopkins, Cardinals: 1,407

4. Jefferson, Vikings: 1,400

T-5: Davante Adams, Packers: 1,374

T-5. Calvin Ridley, Falcons: 1,374


Receptions

Diggs posted the sixth-most receptions in a season in NFL history, while Hopkins continued his consistent dominance by coming up with a career-high in receptions in his first season in Arizona. Perhaps most impressive, the five top pass-catchers in 2020 combined for just eight drops on 775 targets.

1. Diggs, Bills: 127

T-2. Hopkins, Cardinals: 115

T-2. Adams, Packers: 115

4. Darren Waller, Raiders: 107

5. Kelce, Chiefs: 105


Receiving touchdowns

Adams finished with the third-most touchdowns by a wide receiver in a season in NFL history, coming in behind only Hall of Famers Randy Moss (23) and Jerry Rice (22).

That output was easily the best of Adams’ career, but he wasn’t the only one in the top group to set a personal best: the Chiefs’ Tyreek Hill, Minnesota’s Adam Thielen, Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans, Kelce, Green Bay tight end Robert Tonyan and Tennessee’s A.J. Brown also set individual marks.

1. Adams, Packers: 18

2. Hill, Chiefs: 15

3. Thielen, Vikings: 14

4. Evans, Buccaneers: 13

T-5. Kelce, Chiefs: 11

T-5; Tonyan, Packers: 11

T-5. Brown, Titans: 11


Yards from scrimmage

Perhaps the most impressive part of Henry’s monster season is just how much of his damage came after initial contact. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Henry had 836 rushing yards after contact in 2020, the second most of any player in the past 10 seasons. Henry’s output after contact alone would have landed him the top 20 in total rushing yards for the season.

1. Henry, Titans: 2,141

2. Cook, Vikings: 1,918

3. Kamara, Saints: 1,688

4. Diggs, Bills: 1,536

5. Montgomery, Bears: 1,508


Sacks

Even after sitting out the finale, Steelers edge rusher T.J. Watt claimed his first sack title, allowing him to join his brother J.J. in landing atop these standings. Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald continued to do what he does, posting his fourth straight season with at least 11 sacks and the fifth of his career. The most surprising name on the list is the Saints’ Trey Hendrickson, who had never had more than 4.5 sacks before this season.

1. Watt, Steelers: 15

T-2. Donald, Rams: 13.5

T-2. Hendrickson, Saints: 13.5

T-4. Haason Reddick, Cardinals: 12.5

T-4. Za’Darius Smith, Packers: 12.5


Interceptions

Dolphins cornerback Xavien Howard became the first player with double-digit interceptions since Antonio Cromartie in 2007, tying Howard with Dick Westmoreland for a franchise record that had stood since 1967.

Patriots cornerback J.C. Jackson came up just short of Howard, but it tied him with Ty Law for the second most by a Patriot since the merger.

1. Howard, Dolphins: 10

2. Jackson, Patriots: 9

3. Tyrann Mathieu, Chiefs: 6

T-4. Harrison Smith, Vikings 5

T-4. Quandre Diggs, Seahawks: 5

T-4. Justin Simmons, Broncos: 5


Forced fumbles

Ravens cornerback Marlon Humphrey got a big contract extension this season; he earned every bit of it as he became the first defensive back to lead the league in forced fumbles since 2012. In fact, Humphrey’s eight forced fumbles were the most by a defensive back since Charles Tillman had 10 for the Bears that season.

1. Humphrey, Ravens: 8

2. Reddick, Cardinals: 6

T-3. Donald, Rams Jason Pierre-Paul, Buccaneers; Marcus Peters, Ravens; Za’Darius Smith, Packers; Yannick Ngakoue, Ravens; Myles Garrett, Browns; Chase Young, Washington Football Team; Javelin Guidry, Jets; Foye Oluokun, Falcons: 4

Published at Wed, 06 Jan 2021 04:03:31 +0000