Friday, December 30, 2016

Bengals running back Rex Burkhead cashing in on opportunity

HOUSTON, TX - DECEMBER 24: Rex Burkhead #33 of the Cincinnati Bengals looks for room to run between Benardrick McKinney #55 of the Houston Texans and Jadeveon Clowney #90 at NRG Stadium on December 24, 2016 in Houston, Texas. (Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images)

By Jay Morrison - Staff Writer

December 29, 2016


It took four years and a fast friend’s bad break for Rex Burkhead to finally get his chance to show what he can do as an NFL running back.

And that patience, along with his production, is about to pay off with Burkhead set to enter free agency after the Cincinnati Bengals wrap up the season Sunday against the Baltimore Ravens.

“I’m really not getting caught up in what’s going to happen after the season, as far as free agency goes,” Burkhead said. “I’m just really focusing on my assignments and doing my best.

“It is tough,” he added. “I’ll admit, sometimes in your mind you’re thinking ‘what if this happens, what if that happens or what not,’ but you try not to think about it. Because you can only do one thing, and that’s control what you do out on the field.”

Since Giovani Bernard tore his ACL on Nov. 20 against Buffalo, Burkhead has been the team’s most effective rusher.

In the last five games, Burkhead has 186 rushing yards, which is only slightly less than Jeremy Hill’s 217 despite the fact Hill has carried 87 times to Burkhead’s 41.

Saturday night in Houston, Burkhead had a career-high 12 carries for 42 yards while Hill rushed seven times for 8 yards. Burkhead’s longest run of the game was 9 yards on the final play from scrimmage, setting up 43-yard field goal attempt to win the game, which Randy Bullock missed.

“I wish I could have done more, maybe scored a touchdown there or something, but I just tried to put the team in position to win and it didn’t happen for us,” Burkhead said. “It felt good getting into a rhythm for sure. The more plays you run, the game slows down for you. It felt good to get those carries and be running around out on the field. It doesn’t have to be a carry. It can be a catch or just pass pro. Once you start playing more and get into a rhythm, it helps you out.”

Burkhead, who also leads the Bengals with 12 special teams tackles, could see his role increase further Sunday against the Ravens with Hill missing practice the last two days with a knee injury.

Limited to just 13 carries and 17 receptions in his first three years after the Bengals took him in the sixth round out of Nebraska, Burkhead surely has increased his value over the last month and a half.

“I feel like I have, but I also feel like there’s a lot more I can do,” he said. “I feel like I’m just getting started and hopefully can do more down the road. I haven’t had these opportunities in the past. I’m definitely sad for Gio and his situation but still excited for my opportunity. It’s been fun. I’m enjoying it as much as I can and just trying to relish it.”

The question for the Bengals heading into the offseason isn’t whether Burkhead is capable of contributing, it’s if there is room for him in a backfield with Hill and Bernard.

“I don’t know that answer,” Burkhead said. “I don’t think that’s a question for me.”

The Bengals may not know the answer either, given that Hill, who will be entering the final year of his contract in 2017, has struggled since rushing for 1,124 yards as a rookie with a 5.1 average. And any time a player like Bernard is dealing with ACL rehab, there is an uncertainty about how quickly he can recover and whether he will be the same back once he does.

Regardless of what the future holds for Hill and Bernard, Burkhead knows Sunday could be his last with the Bengals.

“It really hasn’t crept into my mind yet,” he said. “I’m just kind of focusing on my assignments right now and what I’m supposed to do this week. I’m sure right when the game ends, though, I’ll probably be thinking about it.”

Thursday, December 29, 2016

Cleveland Browns DL Jamie Meder came up hard way, remembers Ashland roots

Cleveland Browns defensive linemen Jamie Meder (98) and Danny Shelton (55) celebrate after a win over the San Diego Chargers on Saturday in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Ron Schwane)

By Terry Pluto, The Plain Dealer

December 27, 2016

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- There was a ding on Lee Owens' cellphone. The Ashland University football coach clicked on a message from a friend, a link to the New York Times.

"It was Jamie," said Owens. "There was a picture of him in the New York Times!"

Jamie is Jamie Meder, the Browns defensive lineman who blocked a fourth-quarter field goal in Saturday's 20-17 victory over San Diego.

Meder was one of the stars in the team's first victory of the season, helping them avoid a winless season and all the grief that would accompany it.

"The Pierogi Prince of Parma," is what Browns All-Pro tackle Joe Thomas affectionately called Meder.

After the game, Thomas said Meder "is a man after my own heart ... he is a guy who has fought his way from the bottom to make a huge impact on this team."

Part of the reason Meder is in the NFL is Lee Owens.

Meder was a good player at Parma's Valley Forge High School, but needed to put his academics in order for college. He attended Cuyahoga Community College for a semester, then enrolled at Ashland.

A Division II football program, Ashland has been successful because Owens and his coaching staff find players who are missed by larger colleges.

For example, Meder could have attended a junior college with a football program. From there, he probably would have been recruited to play at the Division I level.

"There's no doubt about that," said Tim Rose. "The first time I saw him, I knew Jamie had Division I talent."

Rose is Ashland's defensive coordinator. He coached at the Division I level for 29 years, including six season as the head coach at Miami of Ohio.

Meder wanted to go Ashland because Owens had recruited him in high school and had waited for him to raise his grades at CCC.

"After he enrolled, we had a workout with him," said Rose. "It was just speed, strength, agility. He had it all. He was a wrestler, and that really helped his footwork."


Owens made sure Meder was set up with study tables and tutors so he'd make the grade in college.

"We wanted to make sure Jamie graduated," said Owens. "Only once did I have to get on him hard about school. It was right before his first college game. He missed a couple of classes. He was supposed to start, but I sat him out a quarter."

Harsher penalties would have followed, but Meder got the message.

He played four years at Ashland and was a Division II All-American as a senior.

"Unlike some kids who have a shot at getting drafted, Jamie didn't leave school early," said Owens. "He made sure he stayed and graduated. He worked out hard with us."

In scouting reports after his senior season, Meder was measured at 6-foot-2, 293 pounds. His 40-time was listed at 5.05 by's Dane Brugler had him rated as the No. 33 defensive tackle in the 2014 draft. Profootball Weekly's Nolan Nawrocki labeled Meder "a priority free agent."

Owens was an assistant coach at Ohio State (1992-94) and then the head coach at the University of Akron (1995-2003). He kept telling scouts about Meder.

"In the end, I think they couldn't get past the fact Jamie was at Division II," said Owens. "They didn't get to see him on tape against teams such as Ohio State or Alabama."

Owens said once Meder played a season at Ashland and showed his talent, "he could easily have transferred to a D1 school, sat out a year and then played. But that's not Jamie. He is a loyal guy."


After his senior season, Owens suggested Meder meet with Cleveland-based agent Neil Cornrich.

It was an excellent pairing. Cornrich found Meder to be "a great guy, quiet, hard-working. He's so humble."

After Meder was ignored in the draft, Cornrich talked to several teams. Baltimore defensive coordinator Dean Pees was intrigued by Meder. So was General manager Ozzie Newsome.

Meder signed with Ravens, made it through rookie camp and opened the season on Baltimore's practice squad.

Meder was cut by the Ravens on November 10, 2014. One of the good moves by former Browns general manager Ray Farmer was to sign Meder the day after he became available.

Meder has slowly worked his way into the Browns defensive line scheme. He played in one game in 2014, and then appeared in all 16 games last season.

He has played in all 15 games this season, starting 14 times. He is now 308 pounds, and definitely will have a nice pro career if he stays healthy.


Owens gushes about how Meder consistently stays in contact with Ashland.

He has attended some spring games. He has appeared in a video for the school.

"He has signed lots of autographs. He does all the right things," said Owens.

At Valley Forge, Meder finished second in the state as a high school wrestler.

Rose talks about Meder having "a certain spirit. He was a high school wrestler and he has that relentless wrestler's mentality."

Owens has been the head coach at Ashland for 13 years. His record is 98-44 and four times he's led the Eagles to the D2 playoffs. Owens relies on players from Ohio. His quarterback is North Royalton's Travis Tarnowski, who has set a school record for touchdown passes.

"It's great to see what Jamie is doing with the Browns because he's a great fit for Cleveland," said Owens. "He's earned everything. He loves playing here. We're so proud of him."

Wednesday, December 28, 2016

Jamie Meder named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week

By Zac Jackson

December 28, 2016

Browns defensive tackle Jamie Meder was named AFC Special Teams Player of the Week for his blocked field goal last Saturday that preserved a lead and led to the Browns getting their first win of the season.

Meder blocked a field goal by Chargers kicker Josh Lambo with 3:49 left, and Lambo then missed another field goal as time expired. There was much rejoicing as the Browns improved to 1-14.

Meder, who grew up near Cleveland, is in his third year with the team and has played in 14 games this season. He broke into the league with the Ravens in 2014 as an undrafted free agent out of Div. II Ashland.

Jamie Meder nominated for Clutch Performer

By Josh Edwards

December 27, 2016

Cleveland Browns defensive end Jamie Meder has been nominated by the NFL for Castrol Edge Clutch Performer of Week 16.

"Cleveland Browns defensive lineman Jamie Meder blocked a 32-yard field goal to save the game against the San Diego Chargers which led to the Browns first win of the season."

The decision will be announced later this week.

Arizona Cardinals kicker Chandler Catanzaro, Miami Dolphins running back Jay Ajayi, Pittsburgh Steelers wide receiver Antonio Brown and San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick were also nominated for the award.

Tuesday, December 27, 2016

How hard will they try to re-sign Rex Burkhead?

From Geoff Hobson's article "Finale kicks off offseason"

December 27, 2016

The Bengals and the Ravens are playing for nothing, so they say, in Sunday's regular-season finale (1 p.m.-Cincinnati's Channel 12) at Paul Brown Stadium.

But it is New Year's Day and so it's rather fitting that the first day of 2017 is going to display for one last time all the questions that Bengaldom will immerse itself in for the rest of the year. So, even though Big Whit and T. Sizzle aren't teeing it up for a play-off spot, the swirling questions in the wake of their first losing season in six years are still going to make for an eventful week around PBS.

Here are just some topics we'll be getting our fill of this week:


All indications are very. The kid has been terrific playing in place of injured running back Giovani Bernard in the last five games. Now you get an idea what it is like to watch the Patriots every week. It seems like they've got 50 guys that play reliably, well, and no nonsense like Burkhead.

He's got 186 yards on 41 carries in the last five games for 4.5 yards per carry and maybe the biggest deals are he's been yet to be stopped on third-and-one and has been absolutely clutch in the one- and two-minute drills.

In that same stretch Jeremy Hill has run it at 2.5 yards per 87 carries. Yes, Hill is banged up but at the same time the numbers are eye-popping. Look for a massive effort to re-sign Burkhead. They'll figure out how to get him on the field later, but you can be sure it won't take four years this time.

And that's just a start. We haven't even got to cornerback Darqueze Dennard , another first-round pick heading into his option year that hasn't played much but may have to if Dre Kirkpatrick leaves in free agency. Or the kicking situation with no heir apparent to Mike Nugent apparent. Or ….

But it's only the first week.

Special Teams Players of the Week

December 26, 2016

The Award Section


Andrew Franks, kicker, Miami. A career-long 55-yard field goal to tie the game with six seconds left in regulation. A 27-yard field goal to win it with 47 seconds left in overtime. Two clutch kicks to help one of the surprise teams in the NFL win its 10th game of the year.

Jamie Meder, defensive lineman, Cleveland. Has there been a more timely blocked kick in recent Browns history? Heretofore winless Cleveland, leading 20-17 with 3:49 to play, lined up to try to block a 32-yard field goal by San Diego’s Josh Lambo. Meder, playing over San Diego snapper Mike Windt, blew past Windt on the snap of the ball, and San Diego right guard Kenny Wiggins failed to get a block on Meder as he slithered through the center-guard gap. As Lambo booted it, Meder stuck his big right paw toward the sky. The ball struck it dead center and died at the Browns’ 22. Huge play by Meder, a free agent from Ashland (Ohio) College by way of the Cleveland suburb of Parma, signed first by the Ravens and now a hard-trying mainstay for the new Browns. I watched a good deal of this game, and Meder chased Philip Rivers at least three times, getting him off his spot and affecting his throws.

Jamie Meder, the 'Pierogi Prince of Parma,' helps save the day for the Browns

Browns defensive lineman Jamie Meder celebrates after blocking a field goal attempt in the fourth quarter of the Browns' win on Saturday. (Joshua Gunter,

By Dan Labbe
December 24, 2016

CLEVELAND, Ohio -- It had to be Jamie Meder who made the play that might have ultimately saved the Browns from the infamy of an 0-16 season and ended their franchise record losing streak. Or, as left tackle Joe Thomas called Meder after the game, "The Pierogi Prince of Parma."

Meder grew up in Parma Heights and went to Valley Forge High School. He rooted for the Browns as a kid. So, yes, it had to be Meder who tunneled through the Chargers line to block Josh Lambo's 32-yard field goal attempt with 3:49 left in the game. The Browns were clinging to a 20-17 lead and were very much on their heels. Meder's block helped them dig those heels in just a little bit deeper.

"I felt something hit my hand," Meder said, "and it felt good after it."

"I didn't hear it, I saw it," linebacker Christian Kirksey said. "It was special. Special moment."

Meder used a swim move to squeeze in between Chargers long snapper Mike Windt and guard Kenny Wiggins. He stuck his right arm up and deflected the ball as he began to stand upright, sending the Browns' special-teams unit into a frenzy.

"I was staying away from him after because he was going to crush my head like he did earlier in the season," defensive lineman Carl Nassib said. "His celebrations are like the Tasmanian Devil."

Nassib, according to Meder, was responsible for freeing him up on the play.

"Carl executed it perfectly," Meder said, "helped free me up and (I) just was right there to make the play."

"It was mostly Jamie," Nassib said. "Jamie did a great job. It was funny, we were talking right before and he was not really making much sense -- he was like, you back out, no, I'll back out, alright, let's both go. Alright we're both going and then we blocked it, so it was really awesome."

Browns head coach Hue Jackson said he didn't have a good view of the play but he was amazed that it happened.

"I just heard 'pop,'" Jackson said. "You hear those things. Then all of the sudden, I heard the crowd then I knew all of the sudden something good happened for us."

"(Meder) is awesome," Thomas said. "I love a blue-collar guy like that. He is a man after my own heart. You do not hear a lot from the guy during the week, but he is a guy that has fought his way from the bottom and he has made a huge impact on this team. If he was standing here, I would love to give him a hug."

If Thomas is handing out hugs, he may want to save one for cornerback Jamar Taylor, too. Two plays prior to the block, the Chargers appeared to have a go-ahead touchdown in the back of the endzone when quarterback Philip Rivers hit wide receiver Tyrell Williams from the 14-yard line on second down. Taylor, though, who was playing press coverage and got behind Williams, recovered to rip the ball out of his arms and preserving the lead.

"He actually had it but you've got to keep fighting," Taylor said. "I think that's what today reflected. We just kept fighting and I fought it and I got the ball out."

Positive momentum and good plays begetting good plays is something unfamiliar to the Browns this season. But it was evident on Saturday and Thomas gave Meder's block at least some of the credit for Lambo's miss as time expired.

"A lot of times people just want to say, 'The kicker missed,' but you force him into those misses with the pressure that you've brought before that with the block," Thomas said. "He's got those things moving through his head. When he has to perform in a pressure situation with the clock winding down, he doesn't get his normal rhythm of the kick. He feels that pressure coming from the edges and up the middle."

Meder, in fact, wasn't even on the field for that final kick. Special-teams coordinator Chris Tabor called for the defense to stay on the field as the Chargers were scrambling their special teams unit out to line up.

"I was just watching from the sideline hoping they'd miss," Meder said.

Meder and every other lifelong Browns fan who had been waiting more than a year for a win.

Yanda finalist for Art Rooney Award

Anamosa native and current Baltimore Ravens offensive lineman Marshal Yanda has been named one of eight finalists for the NFL’s prestigious Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award. (Courtesy Baltimore Ravens)

By Daryl Schepanski Sports Editor

December 23, 2016

BALTIMORE, MD — As a five-time Pro Bowl selection and four-time NFL All-Pro, Anamosa native Marshal Yanda’s resume with the Baltimore Ravens as one of the best offensive linemen in the National Football League is secure.

His legion of fans here in Iowa and across the country couldn’t be any more proud of his accomplishments as well.

Hold that thought for a second.

Yanda, who has a reputation of being the hardest worker in the NFL and displays those leadership skills each and every week to his Ravens teammates, was nominated by those teammates for the coveted Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.

Yet another amazing Yanda accomplishment.

“For me it was an honor just being nominated by my teammates for this award,” said Yanda, who hosted all the Ravens’ offensive linemen at his home in Baltimore Monday, Dec. 19, for a team Christmas party.

“To make it into the final eight, well, that’s an honor that goes beyond words for me. There are a lot of veteran NFL guys on that list. Guys who have played in the league for a long time. To be mentioned with them is as good as it gets.”

Last week the league announced Yanda was indeed one of eight finalists for the award that will be presented Saturday, Feb. 4, on FOX during the NFL Honors Show the night before the Super Bowl 51.

Joining Yanda, a 10-year NFL veteran, as finalists are Brian Cushing (linebacker, Houston Texans), Frank Gore (running back, Indianapolis Colts), Greg Olsen (tight end, Carolina Panthers), Julius Peppers (linebacker, Green Bay Packers), Darren Sproles (running back, Philadelphia Eagles), Joe Staley (tackle, San Francisco 49ers) and DeMarcus Ware (linebacker, Denver Broncos).

Seven of the eight finalists have 10-plus years of NFL experience.

A panel of former players from the NFL Legends Community selected the eight finalists from the 32 total nominees. The panel is comprised of Warrick Dunn, Curtis Martin, Karl Mecklenburg and Leonard Wheeler.

Last year the players selected Charles Woodson, of the Oakland Raiders, as the 2015 recipient of the Art Rooney Sportsmanship Award.

Larry Fitzgerald, of the Arizona Cardinals was the inaugural winner of the award in 2014.

This year’s winner will receive a $25,000 donation from the NFL Foundation to a charity of his choice.

The winner will also receive a trophy that represents the important role that sportsmanship plays in the game and how NFL players that demonstrate integrity and honor on the field serve as role models for players at all levels.

Thursday, December 22, 2016

Trey Flowers continues to grow with Patriots

Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers relies on his work ethic to succeed in the NFL.

By Glen Farley
December 21, 2016

FOXBORO - A year ago at this time, Trey Flowers was on injured reserve. Now, he's on the opposing team's radar.

"He's been doing an outstanding job," New York Jets head coach Todd Bowles said of the Patriots' second-year defensive lineman. "I think (defensive coordinator Matt Patricia) has been putting those guys in great position and they have a great understanding of the game and those guys just end up playing fast and making plays. I think he's doing a great job."

Teammate Chris Long seconds the motion.

"He's one of the elite inside rushers in the league and the fact that he can play outside as well gives him great versatility and value and he's a hard worker and a great teammate," the veteran defensive end said Wednesday. "He's got a lot of unique skills that make him what he is."

After participating in just four snaps as a rookie (battling knee and shoulder injuries, he was finally placed on injured reserve on Dec. 1 of last year) and failing to make much of an impact through the first seven games of this season, Flowers, a fourth-round pick out of Arkansas in the 2015 NFL Draft, has broken out of late.

Flowers will enter Saturday's game with the Jets at Gillette Stadium having registered a team-leading seven sacks, all in the last seven games, with two in a game on three occasions. On the year, he has 35 tackles (ninth on the Patriots), a team-leading 10 quarterback hits, two fumble recoveries (also tops on the team) and one pass defensed.

But Flowers' value, Patriots head coach Bill Belichick says, extends beyond the numbers he may post on his own stat line.

"He's been very productive for us in there, has caused a lot of pressures, and his penetration in the middle of the pocket a lot of times opens things up for one of the other defensive tackles or defensive ends that wrap around into the space that he has created with that penetration," said Belichick. "So it's not just the plays that he makes, but he creates some for his teammates, too."

That's exactly what transpired last Sunday in Denver. Not only did Flowers get to Trevor Siemian twice, he forced the Broncos quarterback into the arms of Malcom Brown once during the Patriots' 16-3 win.

An end by trade, the move to the inside has been a bit of a transition for him.

"I worked a little bit (inside) just on pass-rushing downs (in college)," he said.

"Guys are going to be bigger, but you have to use your speed to your advantage - my speed and my quickness," the 6-foot-2, 265-pounder said. "A lot of times on the inside you don't have a lot of space, so you might have to maneuver around one or two guys at a time. (It's a matter of) just being able to do that, using my quickness, and knowing that even though I beat one guy I might have to beat another one."

The way teammate Rob Ninkovich sees it, what's unfolded during this season has been a story of promise fulfilled.

"Trey's a really good football player," the veteran linebacker-defensive end said. "He works really hard at his technique, and he has a great attitude.

"His first year, last year, I remember saying to myself that this kid's going to be a really good football player. So I'm happy to have played with him and to see his progress and see him grow as a player. This is just the beginning for him. He's got a long way to go."

That's another motion Long seconds.

"You see it," said Long. "He's already very good and he can always continue to get better. He's very young and he works hard."

His work ethic, Flowers said, was instilled in him at an early age.

"As a child, I was instilled in that just with my father (Robert) being on a construction site and things like that. Just knowing that you've got to work hard to get what you want," said Flowers. "So I've always been a hard worker. I've got a lot of brothers and sisters that push each other to work hard, so it just came in the blood."

Wednesday, December 21, 2016

Bengals’ Rex Burkhead Should Be Getting More Snaps

Rex Burkhead has been around for four years. But, is the speedy back finally getting the playing time he deserves? His snap count needs to be increased.

By Emile Pierce

December 21, 2016

Cincinnati Bengals fans are well aware of the situation. The five-year playoff run has come to an end. A promising season has turned into dreams of 2017. But, that doesn’t mean stop caring. Rex Burkhead has emerged as one of the feel-good stories of the campaign. Filling in for the injured Giovani Bernard, Burkhead has quickly honed his skills. If fans didn’t know him before, he’s doing a good job of telling his story.

When Bernard finished the game against the Buffalo Bills, no one was ready for the devastating news that followed. Gio had suffered a torn ACL, to the surprise of everyone. ACL tears are an unpredictable injury and take at least a year to mend. When Bernard comes back, he’ll be in for a serious rehab schedule. But, in that time Bengals brass will have to make some decisions on what to do.

Burkhead has proven that he can take the pounding and keep on ticking (hope that’s not a curse). His shifty, speedy running style is something that hasn’t been seen for years in Stripes. Along with his quick wheels, Burkhead has an element of strength that doesn’t get much recognition.

That’s an element truly necessary to combat the heavy blitz schemes of many defenses. Surprisingly, Burkhead was in on just 36% of the snaps.

Two Battles To Go

With the season coming to an end, this should be the time to really see what Burkhead has to offer. At times, I can truly be a homer. But, facts are facts. Jeremy Hill seems to start out with a head of steam and then fall into mediocrity. Maybe it’s the O-line or Ken Zampese’s zany play calling that makes Hill seem inadequate. Whatever it is, now is the time to find out what Rex is made of.

During the come-from-ahead loss to the Steelers, Burkhead was a beast. But, he inflicted most of his damage in the first half. Let’s not get too happy here. The Bengals employ a two running back system that has its advantages. Hill is supposed to be the big bruising back that slams the line and wears the defensive line down. The change-of-pace back (Gio or Burkhead) is the designated speedster that comes in when the defense has lost their legs in pursuit.

Unfortunately, Hill isn’t performing at the level necessary to get things set up for back No. 2. Against the Steelers, Jeremy ended the day with 43 yards rushing on 20 carries. A strange thing happened on the way to the stats. In the first half, Hill had 44 yards. So, he had a grand total of -1 yards in the second half? That truly needs to be addressed.

With the unanswered troubles at running back, Burkhead should get a chance to shine. After all, he’ll be a free agent in 2017. This is the time to find out what he can do. Gio’s injury could be more costly than expected.

The season is already over. In the last two games, Bengals fans should be treated to winning football showcasing players of the future. Burkhead is on that list for more snaps.

Rex Burkhead stepping up for Bengals in Giovani Bernard’s absence

The fourth-year running back has been elevated to a higher role and has been a multi-dimensional weapon for Cincinnati during the past few weeks.

By Anthony Cosenza

December 21, 2016

Even though Cincinnati is officially out of the 2016 playoff race, there are promising signs that a rebound can quickly be had as soon as next season for the Bengals.

One such sign is the depth at certain positions on the roster—including running back. The Bengals currently employ four talented players in the group, but really only two at any given time receive significant snaps on offense. Because of a season-ending knee injury to Giovani Bernard, suffered in Week 11 against the Bills, Rex Burkhead has seen more time with Jeremy Hill at running back.

Even though the Bengals went 2-2 since the loss of Bernard, with the two losses coming against divisional foes, it isn’t because of a lack of production from Burkhead. Every week we talk about a Bengals “Unsung Hero” and this week, Burkhead gets the nod for his efforts in the 24-20 loss against the Steelers.

But, this post is looking beyond just this week. Burkhead has become the multidimensional guy the team has needed with Bernard’s similar skill set out of the lineup. In the four weeks since Bernard’s injury, Burkhead has 28 carries for 144 yards (5.1 yards per carry), along with 10 catches for 85 yards.

Film Room:

This week, the Bengals surged to a 20-9 first half lead against Pittsburgh, using sound run plays and chain-moving passes. Burkhead was a part of both efforts, finishing with 50 total yards (32 rushing and 18 receiving) on nine total touches.

In the second quarter, the Bengals were driving to what would become a field goal, which would give the Bengals a 20-6 lead at the time. It’s important to note that the drive was set up by an Alex Erickson 72-yard kickoff return. On second-and-10, Burkhead read a hole up the middle and shot through for a much-needed 9-yard gain.

On the subsequent play, Burkhead had a 10-yard outside run, as well as a 4-yard scamper. Drives like these harken back to Burkhead’s days at the University of Nebraska where he was one of the better all-around college players from 2010-2012. The above-noted play shows quickness, shiftiness, ability to read the proper hole and even the ability to break a tackle in the open field.

As a receiver, Burkhead remains a dangerous threat to opposing defenses.
For the second time in as many videos here, Tyler Boyd lines up in almost an H-Back type of spot, while this time, Burkhead runs a route. He beats Lawrence Timmons for an 18-yard gain after Andy Dalton used him on the play-action.

Joe Goodberry
Have you guys been introduced to the Bengals best running back?
11:55 AM - 20 Dec 2016

It’s pretty troubling that the Bengals abandoned the use of Burkhead as a running back in the second half of the game, as he was doing far better than Hill. Against the Steelers, Burkhead averaged 4.57 yards per rushing attempt while Hill had a putrid 2.15 yards per attempt. Why the Bengals used Burkhead for just 7 rushing plays is troubling, especially after Hill left the game appearing hurt, but then returned.

If we’re pointing out the recent good with Burkhead, we have to also look at a little bit of a shortcoming. One of Bernard’s unheralded strengths, especially this season, has been in his pass-blocking ability. Unfortunately, this trait hasn’t consistently carried over to Burkhead.

Ben Stockwell
If you're gonna chip a pass rusher on your way out, do it properly. No half measures from Tyler Eifert here.
6:51 AM - 20 Dec 2016

Obviously, Pro Football Focus’ Ben Stockwell is pointing out the positive with Tyler Eifert, but as you look at the video, a couple of things stand out. Overall poor blocking aside, Burkhead got floored by Timmons, causing Dalton to make a throw off of his back foot.

A Cloudy Future:

Burkhead is an unrestricted free agent after this season. While he’s valuable and athletic, it’s hard to see the Bengals spending any kind of significant money on a guy who will once again be their No. 3 running back. Remember, Hill is under contract through 2017 and the Bengals just signed Bernard to a long-term extension back in the spring.

Furthermore, Burkhead might want a more significant role with another club and other teams might view him as a viable No. 2 running back and kick returner. The Bengals haven’t shown they’ll do that when Hill and Bernard are healthy. When you look at his career stats, they aren’t gaudy enough to warrant a decent contract on the surface, but he’s made the most of limited opportunities. With 4.5 yards per carry and 6.0 yards per reception, he might demand unexpected interest on the open market.

When we talk about the overall roster talent, impending free agents like Burkhead point to a double-edged sword. When you draft and groom solid talent, the possibility of losing another good player after a short stint with the team definitely stings. Unfortunately, this issue has been a big part of the formula for a 5-8-1 record through 15 games this year, after significant talent left in free agency last season. It seems the Bengals could be in for another round of free agent departures in just a few months.

Panthers WR Ted Ginn Jr. remembers when he was last on field with a faster player

Carolina Panthers wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (19) is the fastest 31-year-old in the world, Tom Sorensen says, and he’s having quite an NFL season. David T. Foster III TNS

December 21, 2016

Ted Ginn Jr. is considerably better as a Carolina Panther than he was as a receiver for the Miami Dolphins, San Francisco 49ers or Arizona Cardinals.

Last season I asked him why. He talked about Carolina’s receivers room and his bond with receivers coach Ricky Proehl. Ginn is 31 years old and a 10-year NFL veteran. Proehl, 48, played 17 seasons in the NFL.

Their styles differ. Proehl ran routes so precise you could plot them on a graph. No graph offers enough paper to track Ginn’s routes. He’s running past you, or he’s going to set you up and try. Ginn said that he felt as if Proehl was more of an older brother than a coach.

Ginn, the fastest 31-year-old in the world – yes, the world – has been on a tremendous tear. In Week 11 he scored his first touchdown of the season on a 40-yard catch against New Orleans. In Week 12 he caught an 88-yard touchdown pass against Oakland. In Week 13 he caught a 55-yard touchdown pass against Seattle. Monday against he caught a 30-yard touchdown pass against Washington.

Ginn was one of the best high school players in the country in Cleveland. He knew LeBron James. Or maybe LeBron knew him. They both dominated the surface on which they played.
Ginn starred at Ohio State and the Miami Dolphins took him with the ninth pick in the 2007 draft.

Ginn was good with Miami but not great. In three seasons he caught 128 passes for 1,664 yards and scored five touchdowns.

The Dolphins traded him to the San Francisco 49ers for a fifth-round draft pick. He played three seasons for the 49ers and caught 33 passes for 384 yards, only one of them for a touchdown.

Panthers’ general manager Dave Gettleman hired Ginn in 2013, and the hiring was an immediate success. Ginn fit in the receivers room, the locker room and on the field. Steve Smith, then Carolina’s star receiver, took him in. Smith became a huge proponent and worked to ensure that Ginn’s family would be comfortable in Charlotte. Smith, always so fast, even acknowledged that Ginn had a gear he didn’t.

In 2014 the salary cap jumped and opponents flung money at several Carolina free agents. The one the Panthers least wanted to lose was Ginn. He followed the money to Arizona.

The Arizona Cardinals didn’t hire him. They rented him. Ginn caught 14 passes for 190 yards, none of them a touchdown. In Charlotte, Ginn can do that in a half.

Ginn’s three-year totals at Carolina (with two games to play): 127 receptions, 1,949 yards, and 19 touchdowns.

Ginn lacks, say, tight end Greg Olsen’s hands. But he gets open and defenses have to account for him. One reason Carolina overcame the loss of their (theoretically) top receiver Kelvin Benjamin to injury last season is because of Ginn and Philly Brown. When there’s a pair of 4.4 40-yard dash guys on the outside, life becomes easier over the middle.

When you watch quarterback Cam Newton this season put all 245 pounds into a throw, you know where the ball is going. And you know it’s not going to be overthrown.

I love watching Ginn run because he wastes nothing. He allows only the body parts that are supposed to move to move. I’ve had several greyhounds and they’re built for speed. They waste nothing – unless there’s a piece of bread or something on the sidewalk. Ginn, who ran a 4.3 out of college, is built for speed. I ran track in high school and, OK, he’d lap me in the 40. But I can appreciate what he does.

I once asked Ginn when he last stepped onto on a football field with a player faster than he was. He looked at me as if I was insane. But he leaned against his locker and thought.

Fifth grade, he said.

How old was the other player?

High school.

Four Redskins selected to Pro Bowl

By Tommy Chalk

December 20, 2016

The NFL announced Tuesday that four Washington Redskins will participate in the 2017 Pro Bowl.

Linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, tight end Jordan Reed, left tackle Trent Williams and offensive guard Brandon Scherff will be the Redskins‘ representatives. Cornerback Josh Norman, quarterback Kirk Cousins and wide receiver/kick returner Jamison Crowder will serve as alternates.

Kerrigan will participate in his second career Pro Bowl. This season, Kerrigan has 11 sacks, good for the fifth-most in the NFL. Kerrigan’s 11 sacks are just 2.5 behind his previous single-season high, set in 2014. This is the sixth time in the last eight years that a Redskins linebacker has been selected to the Pro Bowl.

Williams has been selected for the fifth straight season. Williams joins safety Ken Houston and linebacker Chris Hanburger as the only players in Redskins history to be selected to five straight Pro Bowls. An offensive captain for the team, Williams is a critical piece in an offensive line that ranks third in sacks allowed. Earlier this season, Williams was suspended for four games for violating the NFL’s drug policy.

Scherff, in his second NFL season, joins Williams. Since he was drafted with the fifth overall pick in 2015, Scherff has started all 30 regular season games. If he finishes out the season, Scherff will join Jon Jansen and Chris Samuels as the only Redskins offensive lineman to start 16 games in each of his first two seasons. This is the first time Washington has sent two offensive linemen to the same Pro Bowl since 1991, when tackle Jim Lachey and guard Mark Schlereth were rostered.

Reed is enjoying a successful season despite a slew of injuries, including a concussion and a Grade 3 AC joint separation. Reed has 61 receptions for 646 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. Reed is the first Redskins tight end selected to the Pro Bowl since Chris Cooley in 2008.

Brandon Scherff named to first Pro Bowl team

By Master Tesfatsion

December 20, 2016

The Washington Redskins will be well represented at this year’s Pro Bowl. The NFL announced Tuesday that four Redskins have been selected to play in the league’s all-star game in Orlando: left tackle Trent Williams, linebacker Ryan Kerrigan, tight end Jordan Reed and right guard Brandon Scherff.

It’s the most Pro Bowlers the Redskins have had since 2012, when their roster boasted five Pro Bowl players. Washington has had just three Pro Bowl nods over the previous two seasons.

This is Williams’s fifth straight Pro Bowl selection, not surprising as he has been one of the best left tackles since he entered the league in 2010. Although he was suspended four games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, Williams has been playing arguably the best football of his career this season on an offensive line that’s allowed the third-fewest sacks in the NFL (19). Scherff, in his second season, earned his first Pro Bowl selection. The fifth overall pick in the 2015 draft has quickly established himself as one of the top guards in the league.

It’s the first time the Redskins have had two offensive linemen named to the Pro Bowl since 1991, when Jim Lachey and Mark Schlereth were Pro Bowl selections.

Kerrigan was selected to participate in his second Pro Bowl game and his first since 2012. He received a decrease in playing time when Washington shifted to a three-man rotation at outside linebacker, but Kerrigan’s sacks have increased as a result. He currently has 11 sacks, tied for the fifth most in the league, and is just 2½ sacks away from tying his career high set in 2014 (13½).

Kerrigan was a Pro Bowl alternate last year along with Reed, who received his first career Pro Bowl nod Tuesday. Reed has been one of the top-catching tight ends over the last two years and one of the biggest mismatches in the league. Despite missing three games because of a concussion and a shoulder injury, Reed has 61 receptions for 646 yards and five touchdowns in 11 games. He’s averaging 58.7 receiving yards per game, which ranks fourth among tight ends.

Reed is Washington’s first tight end to make the Pro Bowl since Chris Cooley in 2008.

Quarterback Kirk Cousins, cornerback Josh Norman and wide receiver Jamison Crowder (as a return specialist) were named Pro Bowl alternates. Cousins was an alternate despite having the second-most passing yards (4,360) in the league. Norman, in his first season with the Redskins, has 14 pass breakups, one interception and two forced fumbles. Crowder returned his first career punt 85 yards for a touchdown in Week 5 against the Baltimore Ravens. He’s averaged 13 yards on 22 punt returns this season.

Monday, December 19, 2016

Patriots' Flowers continues to bloom

New England's Trey Flowers sacks Denver Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian in the fourth quarter of Sunday's game.

By Mark Daniels

December 18, 2016

DENVER - The Patriots' most productive pass rusher this year is a player that not a lot of people were taking about heading into the season. But one of the biggest stories for the Patriots defense this year is the emergence of Trey Flowers.

The second-year defensive lineman led New England with two sacks on Sunday to bring his team-leading total to seven. Flowers has amassed all seven sacks since Week Eight and has his teammates gushing at his potential.

"Trey has been outstanding. He's one of our best players," Chris Long said. "I think he has seven sacks and he's pretty much done it all rushing inside, which is even more impressive. There's very few inside rushers in our game that's put up numbers like him. As far as that's concerned, that's something people don't really think about. That would make him a pretty elite rusher."

The Patriots fourth-round pick in 2015, Flowers played only one game last season before finishing the year on the injured reserve with a shoulder injury. This season, he's been rotating in at defensive end with Long, Rob Ninkovich and Jabaal Sheard. He's playing more than all other defensive ends, however, as he's staying on the field as the Patriots third-down pass rusher.

"Opportunity and just being prepared," Flowers said of his success. "Obviously I was out last year so just over the offseason making sure I was preparing and coming back full speed. Then opportunity and blessing from god that allows me to go out and play this game the way I can."

Flowers had a sack in the first half and then got to Denver quarterback Trevor Siemian again in the fourth quarter.

"He's a great pass rusher. He's so underrated. So young," Logan Ryan said. "He doesn't even know how good he's going to be, but that kid's special. We see it. This guy is getting sacks on the nose guard. That's just insane to me. This guy is a great player."

Added Flowers: "I always have confidence, but just being able to go out there and accomplish it – it's big."

New England Patriots have an emerging star in DE Trey Flowers

By Kevin Duffy
December 18, 2016

DENVER -- On the Monday night broadcast a week ago, Jon Gruden raised some eyebrows when he declared, "Trey Flowers might be the best defensive player" on the New England Patriots' roster.

Maybe ole Chucky was onto something.

After the Patriots' 16-3 destruction of the Denver Broncos Sunday, and after two more Trey Flowers sacks, veteran defensive end Chris Long offered a similar opinion.

"Trey has been outstanding," Long said. "He's one of our best players."

Flowers now has seven sacks since Week 8. He has posted three multi-sack games, better than Von Miller, Khalil Mack and Olivier Vernon, among others.
He has moved all around the defensive line, rushing from the edge and then bumping to the interior on third downs.

"I'm not one to look into sack numbers," Flowers said. "It's more about pressuring the quarterback, more about having him look at the rush instead of looking downfield at open guys. Anytime you can fluster the quarterback and get his mind rattled a little bit is big."

Flowers nearly had a third sack Sunday, but Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian spun out of his grasp. Defensive tackle Malcom Brown quickly finished the play, dropping Siemian for the fourth time.

With the four defensive ends rotating, the Patriots have seen an increase in pass rush production across the board. Jabaal Sheard, who fell out of favor a month ago, had arguably his best game of the season Sunday.

"Just to have strength in numbers is a big thing," Flowers said.

Are the Pats defensive ends feeling fresh in the fourth quarter?

"I wouldn't necessarily say fresh, but fresher than we would," Flowers said. "We just know that any one of those defensive ends can make a play."

A second-year pro out of Arkansas, Flowers appeared in only one game during the 2015 season before being placed on injured reserve.

Patriots cornerback Logan Ryan has been impressed by Flowers' rapid development.

"He's so underrated and he's so young, he doesn't even know how good he's going to be," Ryan said. "That kid's special. We see it. This guy is getting sacks as the nose guard. That's just insane. He's a great player. He's definitely on the up and up in this league."

Friday, December 16, 2016

Opponent spotlight: Broncos must avoid Patriots’ Trey Flowers

By Zack Kelberman
December 15, 2016

The evil genius Bill Belichick's latest invention -- an edge rusher by the name of Trey Flowers -- poses an imminent threat to the Denver Broncos' consistently inconsistent offensive line.

After trading away Chandler Jones, a move that caught many by surprise, Belichick has his defense thriving with Flowers, who leads the Patriots with five sacks in as many starts.

His latest -- a Monday night takedown of Ravens QB Joe Flacco -- should've put the Broncos on notice.

Flowers, a 2015 fourth-round pick, has blossomed under Belichick this season. Given an uptick in playing time, the former Arkansas Razorback has shown solid all-around ability, grading out as the No. 47 edge player out of 110 qualifiers, according to Pro Football Focus.

Flowers can win both inside and outside, making him a moveable chess piece in Matt Patricia's unit and a big problem for Denver's struggling offensive line.

When the teams meet on Sunday, Flowers will be matched up against the Broncos' weakest links -- right guard Michael Schofield and right tackle Donald Stephenson, the team's lowest-rated player and the league's second-worst tackle, per PFF.

The Broncos' front-five, which has allowed 36 sacks and 87 QB hits, will be tested in Week 15. To give their club any shot of a victory, they'll need to be up to the task.

Tuesday, December 13, 2016

A.J. Derby: The Future (and Present) of the Broncos TE Position

By T. Kothe

December 12, 2016

The Story So Far

Given the outcome of Sunday's game, I think it'd be good to spend a little time focusing on some of the good things we've seen happening for our team in recent weeks. And the specific good thing I want to talk about is A.J. Derby.

Derby is, of course, one of the newest Broncos- having been traded to Denver by the Patriots in exchange for a 2017 5th round draft pick. Fans questioned John Elway's decision a bit, and not unfairly considering that Derby was a 2015 6th round pick who had yet to produce anything. Up to that point, in fact, his career closely mirrored that of an incumbent tight end on the Broncos squad: 2015 3rd round pick Jeff Heuerman.

That's when the similarities would end, though. Derby technically made his debut for the Broncos against the Oakland Raiders on November 6th, but his real debut would come to the tune of two catches and 44 snaps in the Broncos' improbable road victory over the Saints. Since the start of that game he's racked up 152 offensive and 20 special teams snaps in four appearances. Moreover, he's picking up steam as he and quarterback Trevor Siemian get comfortable with each other. Two catches in New Orleans became four against Kansas City (and a critical conversion on 3rd & 12 from the Denver 3 yard line) and now five versus Tennessee. In fact, after failing to bring in his first two passes as a Bronco (1 vs the Raiders, & the 1st pass his way vs the Saints), Derby has become Mr. Reliable with twelve consecutive catches. For contrast, Virgil Green is sporting a career-low 58.1% catch rate this season.

If you're looking only at the raw stats, you might be tempted to shrug and ask "So what? He's only got 12 receptions for 125 yards and a lost fumble, so what's the big deal?"

The big deal is that things are only pointing up for him from here- and for a guy who's only been with the team for 48 days, that's pretty darn good. Just look at how his arrival has impacted the other tight ends on the roster:

• John Phillips: Cut
• Jeff Heuerman: 28 total snaps in the last 4 games. Zero receptions on zero targets. To be fair, he had no receptions in his last 4 games prior to New Orleans either, but he played 63 snaps during those games.
• Virgil Green: 2 receptions on 9 targets for 24 yards. Played fewer than 50% of the offensive snaps vs the Titans, which is a first for him in the 2016 season.

If you go to the Broncos' team website right now and look at the tight end depth chart, the order is still 1) Green, 2) Heuerman, 3) Derby. Frankly, that's not true. AJ Derby is already the Broncos' undisputed #2 TE and is arguably already the #1 guy in the position group- at least for receiving. At the very least he has already become Trevor Siemian's safety blanket, which is exactly what you want to see for a TE in this offense.

Looking Forward

Odds are pretty good that after the Patriots game this Sunday, Derby will already have surpassed both Heuerman and Phillips in the total number of snaps taken as a Bronco this season. He won't catch Green in snaps, or even come close... but with three games remaining I'd bet you $100 that he'll surpass Green's season totals in targets, receptions, and yards. And if another Denver tight end is going to catch a touchdown pass this season (John Phillips caught the only one all the way back in week 3), my money is on Derby for that too.

But won't the fumble hurt him? It had better not. Watching the video of that play, I see Derby wrap the ball up with both arms as soon as he recognizes the tacklers' proximity. He fights for it, and had very nearly fought off Williamson when Johnson's hit jarred him just enough for Williamson to rip the ball out. He probably didn't do everything perfectly, but he had the ball in tight and wrapped up with both arms and did not give it up easily. I'm satisfied that him getting stripped will prove to be just an unfortunate outlier.

From a longer term view, I'm really excited about what we have in Derby. He's got two more years on his rookie contract, and is perfectly positioned to grow along with our young QB(s). He might already be the most dynamic tight end we've had since Julius Thomas, and I wouldn't be surprised if he becomes the most productive one since JT well before the 2017 season slides into December.

Here's hoping he makes his first mark as a redzone threat this Sunday when the Patriots come to town!

Friday, December 09, 2016

Dean Pees earning high praise with Ravens owning NFL's top defense

The Ravens defense ranks first in the NFL, and players say Dean Pees deserves plenty of credit.

By Jeff Zrebiec
December 9, 2016

Ravens defensive coordinator Dean Pees kills the minutes before practices begin and the hours before games start by walking around the perimeter of the field. His pace is usually brisk and his eyes are trained toward the ground. He is almost always by himself and that's by design.

Pees wants there to be no distractions as he visualizes how the next couple of hours might unfold.

"It's just to get my thoughts together, what I'm looking for in practice, or even in a game, what am I going to do if they do this or that," Pees said after Thursday's practice. "I just want to be by myself and think about it."

More often than not this season, Pees' vision for his defense has been realized. The Ravens have confused quarterbacks, overwhelmed opposing running backs and forced turnovers. They have the No.1-ranked defense in the NFL and players say their veteran defensive coordinator's game plans are a major reason why.

Defensive tackle Timmy Jernigan called Pees a "genius" and the "mastermind of it all." Safety Lardarius Webb used the word "special" three times in one sentence in describing Pees. Strong-side linebacker Elvis Dumervil said Pees runs one of the most sophisticated defenses in the NFL.

On Monday night, Pees and the Ravens will face one of their biggest challenges yet in trying to stop the New England Patriots and future Hall of Fame quarterback Tom Brady. That Pees spent six years working under Patriots coach Bill Belichick, the first two as the linebackers coach and the next four as the team's defensive coordinator, only adds to the experience.

"The meaning for me is the fact that we're in first place in our division and we need a win to keep that spot," Pees said. "The other significance is, anytime you're playing against a team that is a really, really good organization and good team — they have been a good team for a long, long time — it always means a lot. The fact that I was there, yeah, it's kind of like playing against your brother in golf.
Sometimes you want to beat your friends and your family more than you want to beat somebody you don't know."

This season has provided vindication of sorts for Pees, but good luck getting the well-liked and widely respected coach to acknowledge it. He understands and appreciates the expectations Ravens fans have for their defenses, and he has also been in the pressure cooker of the NFL long enough to not be consumed by outside opinion.

However, when the Ravens got off to a poor start last year and their defense was giving up points and yards at an alarming rate, the criticism was unavoidable, and the team's 67-year-old defensive coordinator was the target of a lot of it.

"I'm the same guy I was a year ago," Pees said. "The way I look at it, I go out every day and try to give it the best I got. That's all I can do. I'm going to try and call the best game I can. Sometimes it comes out good, sometimes it doesn't. Sometimes it's my fault, sometimes it's not. No one person should ever get all the blame and no one person should get all the praise. It's all of us.

"There are so many factors. The biggest thing is you just have to stay confident in yourself and in your ability to do your job. Whether somebody criticizes you, they aren't here every day. They don't know. They have no idea. They don't even know what coverage we are in half the time, so I don't know how they can explain the coverage. It's just gratifying that we're playing well, but it was gratifying last year, too.
It was a struggle at the beginning, but hey, we got it turned around and we've got it going in the right direction."

Pees and his players pointed to the team's second-half turnaround last year as one of the factors behind this year's success.Despite injuries to several of their top players, the Ravens had the league's No. 2-ranked defense and the top-ranked pass defense in the second half of 2015.

"If you look at last year, with all the injuries we had, we were able to stay a top-10 defense," Dumervil said. "That just shows you the body of work that Dean has."

Dumervil played for six different defensive coordinators in his seven seasons with the Denver Broncos. He said Pees is unique because of his ability to teach and direct complex schemes in simpler terms. The longtime football coach isn't regarded as a yeller or screamer, but players appreciate how he makes his point without singling anybody out for criticism.

As far as his defensive play-calling, Pees is known throughout the league as a guy who loves to disguise coverages and show different looks to prevent quarterbacks from getting too comfortable. This past Sunday, the Ravens frequently played zone defense and that seemed to confuse Miami Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. During other games, opposing teams have acknowledged to being caught off-guard by a few looks from the Ravens defense.

The Ravens lacked the healthy personnel last year and they became more predictable by necessity, but their defense is now far better equipped this season with the additions of Eric Weddle, Jerraud Powers and Tavon Young, along with the healthy return of Terrell Suggs. Not only are the Ravens allowing the fewest total yards per game in the NFL (296.1), they're first against the run and on third downs, and they're tied for second with 14 interceptions.

"He's the one that's orchestrating everything we do," Ravens cornerback Jimmy Smith said of Pees. "He's been excellent this season as far as mixing it up, pressuring. We're sitting atop of the league right now because of the things that he's doing."

Said Jernigan: "Coach Pees, he's what makes this stuff work. All we have to do is just go out and play."

Pees is in his fifth season as the Ravens defensive coordinator after he replaced Chuck Pagano, who was hired to be head coach of the Indianapolis Colts. Under Pees, the Ravens ranked 17th and 12th defensively in 2012 and 2013 before finishing eighth in each of the past two seasons.

The defense's performance this year has caught the attention of several analysts. In a phone interview with The Baltimore Sun on Thursday, former NFL head coach and Monday Night Football broadcaster Jon Gruden said Pees "uses his roster as well as any coach in the league." He backed his point by citing the contributions of unheralded players like Zachary Orr and rookies Young, Michael Pierce and Matthew Judon.

"All you have to do is turn on the film and just remember the slogan: 'Play like a Raven.' That's what I see from this defense. They play their [butts] off," Gruden said. "They can line up a couple of different ways in their base defense, but they never really play a base defense. They're always in their sub package and I love it. They have a very creative, three-down, three-linebacker, five-defensive-back sub package that I love. They play man coverage, they play zone coverage and they play zone pressure coverage, and they don't give up big plays. They can all tackle. It just looks like they're having fun."

On Showtime's "Inside the NFL" this week, former NFL quarterback Phil Simms called Pees a difference-maker. "We never talk about some of these coaches that give their team a great chance to have success, and he's one of those guys," Simms said.

Pees quickly pointed out Thursday that the Ravens still have four regular-season games to play and the difficult season-ending stretch begins with a matchup against the Patriots. Brady has thrown 19 touchdown passes and one interception this season, but as Suggs pointed out Wednesday, "Dean Pees is also playing games at an all-time high, too."

Thursday, December 08, 2016

Dede Westbrook AP Big 12 offensive player of the year, Stoops named coach of the year

By Brooke Pryor
December 6, 2016

NORMAN — As a state, Oklahoma nearly swept the Associated Press' top four All-Big 12 postseason awards.

A day after being named a Heisman finalist, Oklahoma wide receiver Dede Westbrook was named the Big 12's offensive player of the year by the Associated Press. Coach Bob Stoops was tabbed as the conference's coach of the year for a record fifth time.

Oklahoma State Running back Justice Hill was also named the conference's newcomer of the year.

OU placed seven players on the AP's All-Big 12 first team and four more on the second team.

Westbrook was also a unanimous selection to the AP's All-Big 12 first team along with Texas' D'Onta Foreman, Kansas State defensive end Jordan Willis and West Virginia cornerback Rasul Douglas.

Quarterback Baker Mayfield, offensive tackle Orlando Brown, running back Joe Mixon, tight end/wide receiver Mark Andrews, linebacker Jordan Evans and cornerback Jordan Thomas were all named to the first team.

Running back Samaje Perine, offensive guard Ben Powers and linebacker Ogbonnia Okoronkwo were all put on the second team. Mixon also landed on the second team as an all-purpose player.

Oklahoma State was also well represented in the postseason honors, placing three — receiver James Washington, defensive tackle Vincent Taylor and safety Jordan Sterns — on the first team.

OSU also had five players on the second team: offensive tackle Victor Salako, tight end Blake Jarwin, linebacker Devante Averette, kicker Ben Grogan and punter Zach Sinor.

Quarterback — Baker Mayfield, Oklahoma
Running backs — u-D'Onta Foreman, Texas; Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Tackles — Connor Williams, Texas; Orlando Brown, Oklahoma,
Guards — Terrale Johnson, Kansas State; Kyle Bosch, West Virginia
Center — Tyler Orlosky, West Virginia
Receivers — u-Dede Westbrook, Oklahoma; James Washington, Oklahoma State
Tight end — Mark Andrews, Oklahoma
All-purpose player — Shelton Gibson, West Virginia
Kicker — Cole Netten, Iowa State

Ends — u-Jordan Willis, Kansas State; Dorance Armstrong, Kansas
Tackles — Vincent Taylor, Oklahoma State; Will Geary, Kansas State
Linebackers — Travin Howard, TCU; Elijah Lee, Kansas State; Jordan Evans, Oklahoma
Cornerbacks — u-Rasul Douglas, West Virginia; Jordan Thomas, Oklahoma
Safeties — Jordan Sterns, Oklahoma State; Orion Stewart, Baylor
Punter — Michael Dickson, Texas

Quarterback — Patrick Mahomes, Texas Tech
Running backs — Samaje Perine, Oklahoma; Justin Crawford, West Virginia
Tackles — Dalton Risner, Kansas State; Victor Salako, Oklahoma State
Guards — Ben Powers, Oklahoma; Adam Pankey, West Virginia
Center —Kyle Fuller, Baylor
Receivers — Jonathan Giles, Texas Tech; KD Cannon, Baylor
Tight end — Blake Jarwin, Oklahoma State
All-purpose player — Joe Mixon, Oklahoma
Kicker — Ben Grogan, Oklahoma St.

Ends — Josh Carraway, TCU; Breckyn Hager, Texas
Tackles — Daniel Wise, Kansas; Aaron Curry, TCU
Linebackers — Ogbonnia Okoronkwo, Oklahoma; Devante Averette, Oklahoma St.; Malik Jefferson, Texas
Cornerbacks — Ranthony Texada, TCU; D.J. Reed, Kansas State
Safeties — Denzel Johnson, TCU; Fish Smithson, Kansas
Punter — Zach Sinor, Oklahoma State

Coach of the year — Bob Stoops, Oklahoma.
Offensive player of the year — Dede Westbrook, WR, Sr., Oklahoma.
Defensive player of the year — Jordan Willis, DE, Sr., Kansas State.
Newcomer of the year — Justice Hill, RB, Fr., Oklahoma State.

Wednesday, December 07, 2016

Marshal Yanda ranked as NFL's best guard through Week 13

By Michael Kaskey-Blomain
December 7, 2016

Through 13 weeks of action in the 2016 NFL season, Baltimore Raven Marhsal Yanda is the best guard in football.

At least according to Pro Football Focus, who recently ranked Yanda as the NFL's top guard with an overall season grade of 89.1.

Directly behind Yanda on PFF's list of top-graded guards is Oakland's Kelechi (88.4) and Dallas' Zach Martin (88.2). Yanda, 32, has been to five consecutive Pro Bowls and looks poised to head to his sixth straight.

It is safe to say that Pro Football Focus is fond of Yanda. Earlier this year, they named him the best Baltimore Raven of the past decade.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

Broncos special-teams concerns, Derek Wolfe’s take, A.J. Derby’s development and more

November 29, 2016

Broncos coach Gary Kubiak has a list of concerns about his team that seems to grow by the week.

After Sunday’s overtime loss to the Chiefs, special teams became a glaring concern after an array of mistakes that included multiple holdings calls on punts, two muffed punts by Jordan Norwood, an illegal formation penalty on a Chiefs field goal attempt, and a Broncos free kick that Tyreek Hill returned 86 yards for a touchdown.

“That’s really disappointing because that had been a consistency for us,” Kubiak said. “There have been a couple of times here in the last month where we have not played well on special teams. … There are two phases of the game. Field position, we lost that phase of the game and we lost the turnover battle in that phase of the game, too. It’s very disappointing. We need to rebound.”

Critical stretch. The pressure is on high after the divisional loss. If the playoffs started this week, the Broncos wouldn’t be in the postseason field. Which means their final five games are raised in importance.

But defensive end Derek Wolfe said the pressure would have been there even after a win.

“We’re the type of team where we don’t feel pressure, we try to apply it,” he said. “That’s something that we’re going to have to emphasize. … It happened last year. We were in the same type of situation. The margin for error is not there. We can’t be messing up. We can’t be making mistakes.”

Derby’s development. Among the bright spots for the Broncos’ offense Sunday night was tight end A.J. Derby’s involvement. Derby, who was acquired in a trade with New England in October, caught all four targets for a season-high 43 yards. One of those catches was for 13 yards on a critical third down in the fourth quarter that led to Bennie Fowler’s touchdown.

“(We’re) excited about how far he’s come since we’ve gotten him,” Kubiak said. “Obviously, he’ll continue to take more of a part of what we’re doing, but (he) makes a lot of plays (and) he catches the ball well. He can improve in the physical part. Blocking and those types of things are the things that we need him to improve upon, but I think that he has a chance to be a really good player.”

Tale of two halves. Weak pass protection upfront stalled the Broncos’ offense and left quarterback Trevor Siemian little to time to create much of anything in the first half Sunday. So what changed in the second half?

“In the first half, we couldn’t hold the ball to throw anything, to be honest with you,” Kubiak said. “In the second half we found a way to get the ball down the field a little bit and make some plays. We stood committed to the run even though we were down. We didn’t run the ball great, but we ran the ball enough that we could still run play-action. He played extremely well. He made a lot of plays. He made a lot of plays with his feet.”

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