Monthly Archives: September 2018

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Leonard Williams knows exactly what the stat sheet shows from the New York Jets’ last game, and he realizes how it looks to some fans and media.

The big defensive end played 65 of 77 snaps in the 21-17 loss at Cleveland — and didn’t register a single statistic.

No tackles, no sacks, no quarterback hits. Not even a pass defenced. But there was plenty of criticism of arguably the Jets’ best all-around defensive player.

“I just simply didn’t get much action,” Williams said Friday. “That’s pretty much it. In the run game, I was in my gap. It wasn’t like I was getting blown off the ball and was just playing bad. I’m setting the gap and I’m in my B-gap, and the ball goes the opposite way. In pass-rushing situations, I’m getting double-teamed or the ball comes out quick. It just happens like that sometimes. You’re not always going to get all the action in every game.

“I definitely wasn’t worried about the stat sheet.”

That said, he understands why some are.

Williams is in his fourth NFL season after being the Jets’ first-round pick — No. 6 overall — in 2015. He has 12 career sacks, but only two in his last 22 games and none in his last seven. That has raised eyebrows, with some wondering when — or, if — Williams will have the big-time breakout so many anticipated by now.

“That’s the reason why fans go to games, they want to see the big plays, they want to see the sacks, the touchdowns, the hoorah moments,” Williams said. “If you’re looking at a guy you’re expecting to make those type of moments, and it’s not happening, it’s natural for a fan feel that way.”

New York has eight sacks this season, tying for 10th in the NFL, but Williams doesn’t have any. Well, he actually did have a half-sack when he and Avery Williamson took down Miami’s Ryan Tannehill in Week 3, but it was nullified by a penalty.

“That’s kind of disappointing, but at the same time, it’s driving me to get that first one even more,” Williams said. “I know they come in bunches, so once I start getting them, they’re going to keep coming, so I’m definitely hungry to get after it.”

Opposing offences have clearly singled him out in their game plans, intent on not letting him be the guy to punish their quarterbacks.

“Yeah, it started last year, too, so I try to work on beating double-teams,” Williams said. “I’m not making an excuse about it and I try not to say, ‘Oh, because I’m getting double-teamed, that’s why I’m not this and this and this.’ Instead, I’m trying to figure out how to beat a double-team.”

That’s a work in progress, and he’s certainly getting plenty of practice in games.

Also, the statistics might not show the entire story.

In the Jets’ defensive line room, the players have a fines system in which they get dinged for what Williams calls “stupid, silly stuff.” They can have the amount they owe knocked down a bit for examples of what they classify as “hidden production.”

“If I’m running with the outside backer and I pick the guy really good for him and he comes free and makes the sack,” Williams explained, “that’s a ‘hidden-production’ type of thing.”

While the Jets don’t keep actual stats on “hidden production,” it helps explain why coach Todd Bowles gave Williams a positive grade for his game against Cleveland.

“I thought they tried to double him a lot and he got to the quarterback when the ball was out,” the coach said. “He took the pressure off the other guys. They sent two or three guys at him almost every other play, but Leonard caused a lot of other people to make plays and that doesn’t show up on the stat sheet. I’m happy with what he did.”

Make no mistake: Williams would like to have some tackles and sacks next to his name. For now, Williams isn’t putting extra pressure on himself or getting frustrated. He’s focused on making sure he’s doing his job at all times so that the film proves it when the team gathers.

“I’m not going to say that stats don’t matter completely,” he said. “I’m just saying that if there’s a game where I didn’t get as much stats as I wanted to, it depends on how I looked on film. If I didn’t get stats, but I looked good on film — I was in my right spot, I was doing what I was supposed to do, I didn’t have any mental errors and I’m helping the other guys get freed up — then that’s a good game to me.

“But, if I didn’t have any stats and I’m playing bad, then that’s a different story, and I’m going to be really hard on myself. At the same time, we’re all players and production matters in any type of job. I clearly want the stats, but if I’m watching film and it just didn’t work out that way, I’m not going to beat myself up about it if I did I was supposed to do.”

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GREEN BAY, Wis. — The Green Bay Packers might get injured inside linebacker Oren Burks back for their game Sunday against the Washington Redskins.

The rookie appeared to be in line to open the season as the starter inside alongside Blake Martinez when he hurt his shoulder during warmups before a preseason game last month in Oakland.

He was cleared on Wednesday to return to practice as a full participant.

Depth has also been replenished at running back, where Aaron Jones figures to return on Sunday after missing the season’s first two games after being suspended by the NFL for violating the league’s substance abuse policy.

At the least, the returns of Burks and Jones will help the Packers on special teams. They have each shown the talent to contribute in other ways too.

Jones, who was also bothered by a hamstring injury in the preseason, ran for 448 yards and four touchdowns on 81 carries last year. He had two 100-yard games, including 125 and a score on 19 carries in a win at Dallas on Oct. 8.

Coach Mike McCarthy has said that Jamaal Williams and Ty Montgomery will remain atop the depth chart. Jones gives the Packers another option in the backfield with his slashing ability.

“Give the defence a little bit more to worry about,” Williams said Thursday. “Aaron’s just a sparkplug, really. He’s always trying to open holes, especially if one’s closed, he’ll find another one really and bounce it outside.”

A third-round pick out of Vanderbilt, Burks moved up the depth chart after Jake Ryan was lost for the year in training camp with a torn ACL. The Packers traded for Antonio Morrison from the Colts to help with depth at inside linebacker after Burks went down. They also picked up Korey Toomer and James Crawford before the season started.

Burks remains atop the depth chart inside next to Martinez, having raised his profile during the preseason.

“We’ll see what the week brings us, McCarthy said before practice on Thursday. “You could see him progressing through training camp, so it will be great to get him back out there.”

Burks played inside linebacker and safety in college. His experience in coverage could help against the Redskins and running back Chris Thompson, who leads Washington with 19 receptions.

RODGERS UPDATE

McCarthy expected quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who is playing with a left knee injury, to follow a practice plan similar to last week before the Vikings game. Saturday was the only day that Rodgers practiced last week. He played well, especially considering the injury, completing 30 of 42 passes for 281 yards and a touchdown in the 29-29 tie with Minnesota.

This week, McCarthy gave the whole team off from practice on Wednesday and elected to do a walkthrough instead, feeling that his players could use a break after a season-opening night game followed by the overtime game against Minnesota. Rodgers was due to focus on rehab on Thursday.

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ALLEN PARK, Mich. — The Detroit Lions waived running back Zach Zenner from the reserve-injured list.

Detroit made the move Wednesday as it prepared to play at San Francisco.

Zenner hurt his back against Cleveland in the preseason finale.

He earned a spot on the Lions’ roster as an undrafted rookie in 2015. He emerged as Detroit’s No. 1 running back in 2016 when he closed the regular season with more than 200 yards of offence over the last two games.

Zenner had 420 yards rushing and five touchdowns along with 20 receptions for 207 yards in 28 games over three seasons with the Lions.

At South Dakota State, he became the first Division I running back to have for 2,000 yards rushing in three straight seasons.

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CINCINNATI — The Bengals put quarterback Matt Barkley on injured reserve, leaving Jeff Driskel as the backup to Andy Dalton heading into the season.

Barkley hurt his left knee during the Bengals’ preseason finale Thursday night against Indianapolis. Kemoko Turay hit Barkley in the legs after he threw a pass, drawing a roughing-the-passer penalty. Barkley left to get the knee examined and didn’t return.

Driskel is a third-year player who broke the thumb on his passing had in the final preseason game last year and sat out the season. He has never appeared in an NFL game. The Bengals also waived seventh-round pick Logan Woodside, who is eligible to be signed to the practice squad if he clears waivers on Sunday.

The backup quarterback spot opened when AJ McCarron won his grievance and became a free agent after last season.

The Bengals also released 10th-year defensive end Michael Johnson as part of their moves to get down to the 53-man limit, although it could be a temporary separation. Johnson becomes a free agent and could re-sign with Cincinnati for lesser money.

Johnson has played all but one of his nine seasons with Cincinnati. He led the defensive line with 49 tackles and five sacks last season. The Bengals have infused young pass rushers into their rotation, including Carl Lawson and Jordan Willis.

Coach Marvin Lewis described Johnson as “one of those pillars who has been here and given everything he can.” Lewis indicated the Bengals are open to his return as they shape the roster over the next few days.

The move with Johnson came four days after the Bengals gave multiyear extensions to defensive end Carlos Dunlap and tackle Geno Atkins. The deals would pay more than $100 million combined if all terms are met.

The Bengals allowed cornerback Adam “Pacman” Jones to leave as a free agent in the off-season and released safety George Iloka, making the defence younger while saving money. Jones signed with Denver, and Iloka signed with Minnesota.

H-back Ryan Hewitt and centre T.J. Johnson also were released on Saturday. Hewitt was primarily a blocker — no carries and two catches last season — while Johnson became expendable when the Bengals drafted centre Billy Price in the first round.

Linebacker Vontaze Burfict went on the suspended list. He’ll miss the first four games for violating the NFL’s policy on performance-enhancing substances, the third year in a row that he’s suspended for the start of a season.

Cincinnati opens the season on Sunday, Sept. 9 at Indianapolis, which expects to have Andrew Luck back at quarterback for the first time in more than 20 months. Luck has recovered from a shoulder injury that required surgery.

The teams played in the regular season last year as well, with the Bengals winning 24-23 at Paul Brown Stadium on Dunlap’s interception return for a touchdown.

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With an abundance of fantasy football information online, it’s not as though players are unknown when draft day approaches. At the same time, there are always players that could slip through the cracks in relative terms.

Maybe it’s because they are older. The NFL is most certainly a young man’s game, but there’s nothing wrong with having reliable consistency even if it’s not the flashiest fantasy pick.

Maybe it’s because they are competing for playing time, because opportunity plays such a big part of an NFL player’s success.

Maybe it’s a young player who hasn’t done much in the league. Without an established track record, there’s a better chance that they might avoid detection from other fantasy owners.

Maybe it’s due to injury, either their own or an opportunity created by another player getting hurt.

Whatever the reason may be, here are some sleeper candidates for the 2018 NFL season:

Philip Rivers, QB, L.A. Chargers – It’s not like he’s unknown since he’s passed for more than 50,000 yards in his career, but he’s also a 36-year-old that doesn’t make it as a flashy option at the marquee position. Nevertheless, he’s thrown for at least 4,000 yards and 28 touchdowns in each of the past five seasons and has played every game for 12 straight seasons.

Alex Smith, QB, Washington – He threw for a career-high 4,042 yards and 26 touchdowns last season, but Smith moves to D.C. this year and that could still be okay because the Washington offence has helped Kirk Cousins put up big numbers in recent seasons.

Adrian Peterson, RB, Washington – After rookie Derrius Guice suffered a torn ACL in the preseason, the door was opened for Peterson, the 33-year-old who struggled to 3.4 yards per carry with New Orleans and Arizona last season. Maybe he’s done, but it’s worth finding out if the 2015 rushing champ still has something left in the tank.

Carlos Hyde, RB, Cleveland – He has yet to rush for 1,000 yards in a season, but Hyde has 2,439 yards and 17 touchdowns over the past two seasons in San Francisco, and starts this season atop the Browns’ depth chart.

Chris Carson, RB, Seattle – First-round pick Rashaad Penny is knocking on the door, but he suffered a broken finger in camp, so Carson has the opportunity to start. He had a solid showing in brief action as a rookie, putting up 267 yards from scrimmage in four games.

Aaron Jones, RB, Green Bay – He is suspended for the first two games of the season, and is facing competition from Ty Montgomery and Jamaal Williams, but Jones averaged an extraordinary 5.5 yards per carry as a rookie, so he may be the upside play in the Packers’ backfield.

Mike Williams, WR, L.A. Chargers – The seventh pick in the 2017 Draft, Williams had 11 catches in 10 games as a rookie, but the 6-foot-4 receiver has big-time talent and should be a red-zone threat for the Chargers, especially after tight end Hunter Henry suffered a season-ending torn ACL.

Allen Hurns, WR, Dallas – The last time he had more than 500 yards receiving in a season was 2015, when he had 1,031 yards and 10 touchdowns for Jacksonville. Now in Dallas, where the Cowboys have precious few proven receivers, Hurns may end up as Dak Prescott’s best option in the passing game.

Danny Amendola, WR, Miami – The 32-year-old vet had 659 receiving yards for the Patriots last season, his most in a season since 2012, but he’s also had trouble staying healthy. If he stays on the field this year, he could be a reliable slot performer for the Dolphins.

Ryan Grant, WR, Indianapolis – The 27-year-old had a career-high 45 receptions for 573 yards in Washington last season and now moves to the Colts, where he should have a starting job. If quarterback Andrew Luck is back to something approaching previous form, Grant could exceed last year’s numbers.

Keelan Cole, WR, Jacksonville – In the wake of Marqise Lee’s knee injury, Cole – and Dede Westbrook – should move into a more prominent role in the Jaguars offence. Cole was a big-play threat as a rookie, averaging 17.8 yards per catch.

John Ross, WR, Cincinnati – He could be the fastest receiver in the league, but also didn’t catch a pass as a rookie, but as a late-round flier, why not take a chance that Ross can emerge as a big-play threat for the Bengals?

Eric Ebron, TE, Indianapolis – The 2014 first-round pick has spent most of his career on the sleepers list, showing enough flashes to think that he could bring more. In the Colts’ offence this year, he just may have a better chance to produce.

Jake Butt, TE, Denver – Although he missed his entire rookie season, the Broncos tight end was a productive receiver at Michigan, catching 97 passes for 1,200 yards and seven touchdowns in his last two seasons for the Wolverines. Now healthy, he has a chance to become a reliable receiving option for Case Keenum.