Friday, November 09, 2018

Matthew Slater saw future coach in old pal Mike Vrabel

By Kevin Duffy
November 8, 2018

FOXBORO — On Sunday in Nashville, Bill Belichick will face a team coached by one of his former players.

That’s a first for Belichick.

And Mike Vrabel not only will face his old head coach, but a trio of former teammates from his 2001-08 tenure with the team: Tom Brady, Stephen Gostkowski and Matthew Slater.

Slater yesterday reflected on the one season he spent as Vrabel’s teammate.

“In the 11 years I’ve played I think of all the guys I’ve played with and what they may be doing after football and who I would pin to be a head coach and it would be Mike Vrabel,” Slater said. “The two things that stuck out to me in the short time I was with him would be his leadership skills and the way he held people accountable. Those are two things that you really need to be successful as a head coach if you want to run the right type of program and get your team where you hopefully want it to be.”

After transitioning into coaching at his alma mater, Ohio State, Vrabel took over as the Texans’ linebackers coach in 2014. He was promoted to defensive coordinator a year ago, and accepted the Titans’ head coaching job this past spring.

“I think he’s well-suited for the job,” Slater said. ”He’s got the brain for it. He’s got the drive, the passion, the discipline, and he’s a leader of men. It’s really no surprise that he’s moved up the coaching ranks as quickly as he has.”

Pro Football Weekly's midseason awards

November 8, 2018

Every NFL team has now played at least half of their games this season, so it’s time for Pro Football Weekly to hand out its midseason awards.

Remember, Alex Smith and Carson Wentz were the MVP favorites at this time a year ago, so things can change — quite dramatically. But it’s fair to point out the leaders of the pack and the players and coaches who have done yeoman’s work to this point.

We polled five PFW writers for their picks for each of seven categories. Here’s what we came up with:

Most Improved Player

Hub Arkush: James Conner

Bob LeGere: James Conner

Greg Gabriel: Bills LB Matt Milano

Arthur Arkush: 49ers TE George Kittle

Eric Edholm: Rams OG Austin Blythe

Gabriel has a nice off-the-radar choice in Milano, who spearheaded the Bills’ upsets over the Vikings and Titans with some huge plays, noting that the “second-year linebacker has taken big strides” this season.

Conner clearly will be a popular national choice, given his breakout season. The only issue is that we didn’t know how good Conner might have been last season when he was buried behind Le’Veon Bell. Of course, Bell might not have realized that either, as his holdout has cleared the way for a tremendous season from the second-year back who has become Pittsburgh fans’ darling.

Arthur says Kittle might be “the best blocking-receiving combo TE in football with Gronk ailing,” even though he admits he considered Colts DE Margus Hunt for his choice here.

I went a bit out there with the Blythe pick, but it felt wrong not to have one member of this Rams offense represented. And besides, the Colts — who were absolutely starved last year for OL talent — cut Blythe, who was then a center. The Rams smartly picked him up, and he not only pushed Jamon Brown out of a job after his two-game suspension, but the Rams even waived Brown. Blythe has quietly been excellent in one of the league’s most explosive attacks.

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Former Colts Receiver Anthony Gonzalez Elected To Congress

November 8, 2018

INDIANAPOLIS — Anthony Gonzalez is headed to our nation’s capital.

The former Indianapolis Colts wide receiver on Tuesday held off challenger Susan Moran Palmer to serve as Congressman for Ohio’s 16th District.

Gonzalez, a Republican, is a newcomer to politics, but the results from Tuesday’s election certainly didn’t show it; he ran away with about 57 percent of the vote, while Palmer, the Democratic challenger, garnered about 43 percent.

Gonzalez will replace incumbent Republican Jim Renacci, who lost in his bid to defeat Democrat Sherrod Brown for a U.S. Senate seat in Ohio.

“Thank You!” Gonzalez wrote in a statement on his website Tuesday night. “It is with deep humility and gratitude that I accept the awesome responsibility of representing the 16th district in the 116th Congress.”

Gonzalez’s popularity in Ohio was sparked back in high school, when he was a standout football and track athlete at Saint Ignatius High School in Cleveland. He would go on to star at Ohio State in Columbus, where he was named First Team All-Big Ten Conference in 2006 after catching 51 passes for 734 yards and eight touchdowns.

After a strong performance in the NFL Scouting Combine, the Colts — who were fresh off their Super Bowl victory over the Chicago Bears — selected Gonzalez with the 32nd-overall pick in the first round of the 2007 NFL Draft. He would go on to catch a combined 94 passes for 1,240 yards and seven touchdowns in his first two seasons before knee injuries would significantly slow down his career.

Gonzalez retired from the NFL prior to the 2012 season.

After earning his MBA from Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, Gonzalez last August filed to run for Congress in his home state of Ohio, earning financial backing from the likes of former Colts teammates Peyton Manning and Austin Collie, as well as Cleveland Browns owner Jimmy Haslam, according to The Plain Dealer.

Now he’s headed to Washington, D.C., where he says his commitment “is to be a voice for the enduring values that have inspired every generation of Americans since our founding days.”

“It will be with an unyielding respect for the universal dignity and common humanity of every American that I will walk through any door to work on behalf of Northeast Ohio — our families and our workers,” Gonzalez wrote on Tuesday.

2018 NFL Offensive Line Rankings: All 32 teams' units after Week 9

By Michael Renner
November 7, 2018

We’ve crossed the halfway point of the season for all 32 teams which means it’s time to review the top offensive lines through the first half of the season. I’ll be handing out the biggest surprise performer on each – sometimes in a good way, sometimes in a bad way.

[Editor’s Note: Now that we are through Week 9 of the 2018 regular season, we’ve adjusted the rankings to factor in ALL snaps played along each team’s offensive line so far this season. Therefore, the rankings below reflect how every offensive lineman on each team has contributed in Weeks 1-9.]

Right guard Austin Blythe isn’t only the biggest surprise performer on the Rams; he’s the biggest surprise performer in the NFL. The former seventh-round pick had played all of 285 snaps in his career across two different franchises before this season. In those, he allowed more pressures (13) than he has in 607 snaps so far this season (12). His 80.2 overall grade is the second-best among guards in the NFL.

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

Bill Belichick vs. Mike Vrabel: A coaching matchup years in the making

Mike Vrabel will be the first former Bill Belichick player to face the Patriots as a head coach, and he's very well respected in New England. AP Photo/Matt Dunham

By Mike Reiss
November 6, 2018

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- In his 19 years as New England Patriots head coach, Bill Belichick has never experienced what will unfold Sunday when his team visits the Tennessee Titans. For the first time, the opposing head coach will be one of his former players, Mike Vrabel.

Not that Belichick was necessarily forecasting who might be his first player to become an NFL head coach, but if he were, Vrabel would have been close to the top of the list.

“I'm very fortunate to have had a great relationship with Mike through the years -- when he played, and then when he went into coaching, starting at Ohio State, and continued on to the Texans and now in Tennessee,” Belichick said Monday.

“Mike has a lot of great qualities as a person, and that translates into being a good coach. He works hard. He's physically very tough and has a great passion for the game. I think you saw that in his playing.”

Vrabel, who played for the Patriots from 2001-08, was known for physical and mental toughness, coming through in the clutch and his intelligence, among other things. He was part of the core of players who helped the Patriots win Super Bowls in the 2001, 2003 and 2004 seasons.

“He's very astute and picks things up quickly; has a good aptitude for football. I think the game comes fairly easily to him in terms of understanding concepts and situations and things like that,” Belichick said. “He was a great player here, one that hopefully will be recognized into the Patriots Hall of Fame. I certainly think he deserves to be there.”

Vrabel has been a finalist in each of the past two years, edged out by Raymond Clayborn in 2017 and Matt Light in 2018.

The relationship between Belichick and Vrabel did have one rocky patch, however.

"Bill was my coach; he traded me to Kansas City and we didn't talk for a couple of months, maybe a year," Vrabel said. "Then we became friends and I used him as a resource when I started my coaching career. I still talk to him a lot now. This week we're competitors. I guess it's unique from that standpoint."

And there's no doubt that Vrabel's time playing for Belichick affected how he coaches.

"I think spending time there, there are some similarities that I believe in and you grow up as a player believing in," Vrabel said. "We have different personalities. I respect his friendship and his guidance and leadership when I played there. Now we're competitors and we have to do everything we can to beat the Patriots."

Quarterback Tom Brady remains one of Vrabel's close friends.

“Mike would be successful at anything he does in in life because he’s that kind of guy. We’ve been friends for almost 20 years, and we keep in touch regularly,” Brady said in his weekly interview on sports radio WEEI. “He’s smart, hard-working; he’s so charismatic, just a great leader of men. Tennessee is lucky to have him.”

Vrabel’s tenure with the Titans got off to a 3-1 start, but the club lost three in a row before beating the Dallas Cowboys 28-14 on Monday night. Facing a Vrabel-coached team will add another layer to their friendship and competitive banter between them.

“I loved playing with him, I love hanging with him, and I’m sure those guys in Tennessee love playing for him,” Brady said. “It’s going to be a great game.”

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

Patriots-Packers Takeaways, Metrics: Trey Flowers Ramps Up Pass Rush

By Doug Kyed
November 5, 2018

Green Bay Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers wasn’t quite himself Sunday night due in large part to pressure brought on by the New England Patriots’ front seven.

Sure, Rodgers still threw for 259 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions, but he completed just 55.8 percent of his passes in the Packers’ 31-17 loss to the Patriots. The Patriots had their best pass rush performance since Week 1, generating 26 total pressures on 51 passing snaps, according to Pro Football Focus.

The Patriots pressured Rodgers on 46.8 percent of dropbacks. He was the fourth-most pressured quarterback in Week 9. Rodgers went just 6-of-18 for 83 yards with a touchdown, a sack and seven throwaways while facing pressure.

Check out this week’s takeaways and metrics. All stats are via PFF.

DE Trey Flowers: .5 sack, seven hurries

DE Adrian Clayborn: .5 sack, three hurries
DE Deatrich Wise: two QB hits, hurry
LB Dont’a Hightower: three hurries
DT Lawrence Guy: two hurries
DE Keionta Davis: two hurries
FS Devin McCourty: hurry
LB Kyle Van Noy: hurry
LB Elandon Roberts: hurry
DT Adam Butler: hurry

— Flowers and Clayborn shared the Patriots’ only sack. Flowers generated his most total pressures on the season with eight.
— Clayborn brought his four pressures on only 14 pass-rush snaps. Flowers’ eight pressures came on 44 snaps.
— Van Noy has primarily been used as a pass rusher this season, but he took on a bigger role in coverage Week 9. Hightower, meanwhile, increased his pass-rush snaps.
— The Patriots dared the Packers to run, which meant a larger share of snaps for Butler. He’s still having trouble generating pressure this season.

CB Jason McCourty: three catches on six targets, 60 yards, two PBUs
CB Jonathan Jones: 5-5, 47 yards, TD
SS Patrick Chung: 4-6, 43 yards, TD
LB Kyle Van Noy: 5-5, 40 yards
CB JC Jackson: 2-4, 32 yards
CB Stephon Gilmore: 2-4, 15 yards, PBU
LB Dont’a Hightower: 1-2, 12 yards
FS Devin McCourty: 1-2, 5 yards
DE Trey Flowers: 1-1, 5 yards

— Gilmore is playing at an elite level. He’s allowing just 18.5 yards per game over his last six contests. He also hasn’t let up a touchdown in his last six games. He mostly matched up with Packers wide receiver Davante Adams on Sunday. Van Noy, Jones, Jackson and Devin McCourty also let up catches to Adams. Jones allowed his touchdown to Adams.
— Jason McCourty let up a 51-yard catch to Marquez Valdes-Scantling but otherwise had a good game. It’s tough to look past a 51-yard gain, but it’s the truth.
— Devin McCourty had his third straight strong effort. Patriots fans will probably still complain about him.

DE Trey Flowers: three stops

LB Kyle Van Noy: two stops
SS Patrick Chung: two stops
LB John Simon: two stops
DE Adrian Clayborn: two stops, missed tackle
DT Malcom Brown: stop, missed tackle
CB Jason McCourty: stop, two missed tackles
LB Dont’a Hightower: stop, missed tackle
DT Adam Butler: stop

— Since the Patriots were daring the Packers to run, Lawrence Guy and Danny Shelton took on smaller roles. Guy played his smallest share of snaps all season. Shelton was on the field for just 10 plays.
— The Packers ran the ball 25 times for 118 yards. All of those plays were wins for the Patriots since it was taking the ball out of Rodgers’ hands.

— Of Brady’s 13 incompletions, one was dropped and one was thrown away.
— Wide receiver Julian Edelman had the drop.
— Brady was 2-of-5 for 62 yards on passes of 20 yards or more.
— Josh Gordon led the Patriots with 130 receiving yards on five catches. There were still some moments when Brady and Gordon didn’t seem on the same page, but the big wideout more than made up for it with a 55-yard touchdown catch and run.

RG Ted Karras: sack
WR Josh Gordon: hurry
LT Trent Brown: hurry
C David Andrews: hurry

— Among players who received pass-protection snaps, left guard Joe Thuney, right tackle Marcus Cannon, tight end Dwayne Allen, running back James White, wide receiver Chris Hogan, offensive tackle LaAdrian Waddle, fullback James Develin and running back Kenjon Barner were clean on the stat sheet.
— The Patriots’ offensive line, for the most part, did a nice job of keeping Brady clean. Brady had his third fastest release of the season, however, throwing the ball in 2.34 seconds, on average.
— Brady was the least pressured quarterback per snap in the NFL in Week 9.

WR Cordarrelle Patterson: two forced missed tackles, 3.54 yards after contact per carry
RB Kenjon Barner: 2 yards after contact per carry
RB James White: 1.33 yards after contact per carry
WR Julian Edelman: 1 yard after contact per carry

— Patterson carried the ball 11 times for 61 yards with a long run of 17 yards. The Patriots might be on to something with Patterson in the backfield.
— Rookie running back Sony Michel should be back soon. The Patriots proved they could beat a good opponent with Patterson, White and Barner, however, if he misses more time this season.

Friday, November 02, 2018

NFL 2018 Midseason All-Pro Team

October 30, 2018
By Michael Renner

We are eight weeks into the 2018 season, which means it’s time for some midseason awards. Let’s get right to it with PFF’s All-Pro team at the halfway point of the 2018 NFL season.

QB – Drew Brees, New Orleans Saints – 92.1 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

The Saints QB is simply not missing throws. On his 254 dropbacks, he’s been downgraded only 23 times. One can see how much of an outlier that is when compared to other MVP candidates like Patrick Mahomes (33) and Jared Goff (38). Unsurprisingly, his 84.8 adjusted completion percentage would be far and away a PFF single-season record.

RB – Kareem Hunt, Kansas City Chiefs – 79.6 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

Hunt had a bit of a slow start, but over the past handful of weeks, no one has been close to the Chiefs back. His 33 broken tackles on 134 carries are the most in the NFL, and his 88.2 elusive rating ranks second to Steelers running back James Conner.

WR – Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings – 91.2 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

Thielen’s consistency is reaching rarified air at this point. Six of his eight games so far have received grades of 80.0 or higher with two eclipsing 90.0. His 95 targets are eight more than any other receiver in the NFL, and even at such a high rate, Kirk Cousins has a passer rating of 123.9 when throwing Thielen’s way.

WR – DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans – 90.3 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

Not only does Hopkins belong here statistically, but his highlight reel is also at an All-Pro level this season. He’s made 14 contested catches – the most in the NFL – on only 23 attempts, and his one-handed grab against Miami (that, unfortunately, didn’t count) was easily the catch of the season.

TE – George Kittle, San Francisco 49ers – 84.2 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

There has been no more complete tight end in the NFL this season than Kittle. Travis Kelce and Zach Ertz may have more yards, but neither hold a candle to Kittle as a blocker. The 49ers tight end is ranked fourth at the position in receiving and run blocking.

FLEX – Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs – 85.7 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

There’s no more dangerous deep threat in the NFL today, and it’s not up for debate. Hill’s 309 deep receiving yards are the second-most in the league, and he’d be on top if not for an end zone drop against the Bengals.

LT – David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers – 89.5 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints

Bakhtiari is the preeminent pass-protecting tackle in the NFL today. His 94.3 pass-block grade is far and away tops in the league. On 349 snaps in pass-pro, Bakhtiari has allowed only one sack, one hit and seven hurries.

LG – Rodger Saffold, Los Angeles Rams – 79.2 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Will Hernandez, New York Giants

Listed at 6-5, 323 pounds, Saffold has always been a people mover, and that’s no different this season. He’s earned the top run-block grade among all guards. No guard in the NFL has more positively graded blocks than Saffolrd’s 38.

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles – 81.0 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos

Yet another All-Pro nod for Kelce, who is still at the top of his game. Once a player known as a liability in pass protection, Kelce has allowed only five pressures all season long and has the third-highest pass-block grade at the position.

RG – Austin Blythe, Los Angeles Rams – 80.3 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Shaq Mason, New England Patriots

The Rams’ offensive line somehow has gotten better from a season ago, and this man is the biggest catalyst behind that. The third-year guard that the Rams got for nothing after he was waived by the Colts last year has been a revelation. His 72.9 run-block grade ranks fifth among all guards while his 84.5 pass-blocking grade is eighth.

RT Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints – 86.5 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Rob Havenstein, Los Angeles Rams

Other right tackles have higher grades in pass protection, but Ramczyk’s 83.3 run-block grade – the second-highest among all tackles – gives him the edge. Oh, and he’s also only allowed four pressures all season long in pass protection.

Thursday, November 01, 2018

Ravens vs. Panthers: OG Marshal Yanda, CB Tavon Young receive top scores from Pro Football Focus

By Nathan Beaucage
October 31, 2018

Sunday’s game was one the Baltimore Ravens would like to forget, as the team fell to the Carolina Panthers in a disappointing 21-36 defeat. Though it was a dismal all-around performance for the Ravens, the team of analysts over at Pro Football Focus nonetheless identified two Ravens as bright spots in their weekly postgame grades report.

On offense, it was offensive guard Marshal Yanda who got top marks with an overall grade of 76.0. Yanda was particularly impressive in run blocking, posting an 81.5 grade in that category—his second highest-graded performance this season. In pass protection, it was business as usual for the 12th-year lineman (who hasn’t allowed a sack since October 2015), as he posted a commendable 76.0 grade in that area.

On the other side of the ball, cornerback Tavon Young had the best day of any Baltimore player with a 91.0 overall grade. Though the third-year cornerback wasn’t called on often — registering just 25 snaps — he certainly made the most of them. While he had a fine day defending the pass, earning a 90.0 grade in coverage—his highest this season—and allowing one catch for -2 yards on two targets, Young also made some savvy tackles for the Ravens. Young had three tackles on the day, all of which counted as defensive stops—a stat that Pro Football Focus defines as “tackles that constitute a “loss” for the offense.” For his efforts on the ground, Young received a 79.6 tackling grade.

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