Thursday, September 27, 2018

Austin Blythe, Andrew Whitworth are PFF's top-graded guard, tackle

By Cameron DaSilva
September 27, 2018

For as good as the Los Angeles Rams offense has been this season, one unit continues to get somewhat overlooked because of the talent they have at skill positions. The offensive line might be the best in the NFL, doing an outstanding job protecting Jared Goff and opening up running lanes for Todd Gurley.

But just how good as the line been? Pro Football Focus’ grading system puts it into perspective. PFF shared the top-graded guards and tackles in the league thus far and the Rams are well-represented.

Austin Blythe, who replaced Jamon Brown during his two-game suspension, has been the best guard in the NFL through three weeks and is in no danger of losing his job. Rodgers Saffold, not surprisingly, is close behind as the fourth-highest graded guard.

On the outside, the tackles have been almost as good. Andrew Whitworth ranks No. 1 among tackles with an overall grade of 82.5, topping David Bakhtiari by one point. At No. 5 on the list is Rob Havenstein (79.8), who’s performed admirably after signing an extension this offseason.

Needless to say, Goff is in good hands with those four protecting him, while John Sullivan has been decent at center, ranking 18th among players at his position.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

NFL Week 3 Sunday Standouts: Offense

September 24, 2018

Just about anything can happen week-to-week in the NFL, and as this young season continues to evolve, we continue to see standout performances from both fresh and familiar faces around the league. Sunday brought another action-packed slate of games, highlighted by the NFL’s largest upset in 23 years, led by a hungry Buffalo defense carrying a rookie quarterback who was making his first road start. Without further ado, let’s focus on some top defensive performances from Sunday.

QB Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, 80.5 Overall Grade
The Falcons couldn’t come out with the win against New Orleans Saints on Sunday, but Matt Ryan turned in an excellent performance nonetheless. Ryan completed 24 of 26 pass attempts for 281 yards and four touchdowns when kept clean against the Saints. He also connected on three of four deep attempts for 151 yards and two touchdowns.

WR Calvin Ridley, Atlanta Falcons, 86.0 Overall Grade
The primary beneficiary of Ryan’s big day was Calvin Ridley. Ryan looked Ridley’s way eight times, which generated seven receptions for 146 yards, three touchdowns and a perfect passer rating of 158.3. Ridley picked up those 146 receiving yards on just 29 routes and averaged a whopping 5.03 yards per route run, which ranked second among all wide receivers with at least five targets on Sunday.

RB Marshawn Lynch, Oakland Raiders, 83.9 Overall Grade
Marshawn Lynch’s stat line doesn’t look overly impressive at first glance with just 19 carries for 64 yards – but he was in Beast Mode form on Sunday. Lynch forced seven missed tackles on his 19 attempts (tied for the most among all running backs in Week 3), and he averaged an impressive 3.47 yards after contact per attempt (7th among 32 running backs with at least eight attempts).

G Frank Ragnow, Detroit Lions, 82.5 Overall Grade
After a rough start to the season, the Lions first-round selection appeared to settle in against the New England Patriots. Frank Ragnow was a force in the run game, finishing a 75.5 run blocking grade. He also went 37 pass-blocking snaps without allowing a pressure after allowing 13 pressures in the first two games.

QB Jared Goff, Los Angeles Rams, 95.2 Overall Grade
The Rams picked up another double-digit win in the Battle for Los Angeles, and Jared Goff was right at the center of it. Goff notched an adjusted completion percentage of 88.2 percent, which ranked third among all quarterbacks in Week 3. He was only under pressure on 4 of his 38 dropbacks, but even that couldn’t slow him down as he delivered a perfect passer rating of 158.3 under pressure.

G Austin Blythe, Los Angeles Rams, 83.7 Overall Grade
One of the men keeping Goff clean against the Los Angeles Chargers pass-rush was right guard Austin Blythe. Blythe did not surrender a single pressure in 38 pass-blocking snaps and was one of three Rams offensive linemen to accomplish that feat. He was also very effective in opening lanes for Todd Gurley, recording a run blocking grade of 77.2.

WR Odell Beckham Jr, New York Giants, 88.0 Overall Grade
The Giants offense put forth its best performance of the season on Sunday, and so did their star wide receiver. On just 12 routes run from the slot, OBJ turned in 5 receptions for 67 yards and averaged a staggering 5.58 yards per route run from the slot, which ranked first among all wide receivers in Week 3.

T Taylor Moton, Carolina Panthers, 83.5 Overall Grade
Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey burst out for 184 rushing yards on Sunday, and leading the way for him was right tackle Taylor Moton. Moton’s run blocking grade of 81.1 ranked second among tackles in Week 3, and he also kept a perfect slate on his 27 pass-blocking snaps.

QB Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, 89.5 Overall Grade
After a strong Week 1 showing and a dreadful Week 2 performance, Joe Flacco delivered his best game of the season for the Ravens against the Denver Broncos in Week 3. Flacco got the ball out quickly with an average time to throw of 2.36 seconds which was third-lowest among quarterbacks Sunday. He also successfully pushed the ball downfield, as he recorded 73 yards from deep passes, which was the sixth-best mark among quarterbacks in Week 3.

T Mitchell Schwartz, Kansas City Chiefs, 78.5 Overall Grade
Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes added to his touchdown total against the San Francisco 49ers and one of the key men keeping him upright was Mitchell Schwartz. Schwartz allowed just one hurry in 41 pass-blocking snaps, and he has now allowed only three pressures in three games played this season.

Thursday, September 20, 2018

New ANF Honoree Aaron Kampman Recalls Farming, Time as Hawkeye

By Rob Howe
September 19, 2018

IOWA CITY, Iowa – The Iowa Farm Bureau announced Tuesday that former Hawkeye defensive end Aaron Kampman is this year’s addition to the American Needs Farmers (ANF) Wall of Honor. Kampman, who will be honored at Saturday’s game against Wisconsin, is the eighth Iowa player to be honored on the plaza on the northwest side of Kinnick Stadium.

He grew up in the small town of Kesley, Iowa in Butler County and played for the legendary Ed Thomas at Aplington-Parkersburg High. Kampman then played for one season under coach Hayden Fry before helping Kirk Ferentz rebuild the Iowa program. He went on to a successful career with the Green Bay Packers and Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tuesday he said he was proud of a lot of things during his football career but none of them more than helping Ferentz establish his culture with the Hawkeyes.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

What I Learned: ‘Sleep is my P.E.D.’

Six-time Pro Bowl guard Marshal Yanda, who turned 34 on Saturday, on extending an NFL career while trying to preserve his health for life after football.

September 17, 2018

“The first thing I learned is how far I had to come when I got to the NFL. I was a junior college transfer, so I was a raw player even as a senior at Iowa—then I was gone after two years there. In my first training camp with the Ravens I was so awful I thought they might cut me, even though I was a third-round pick. So my first, second, third, fourth year in the NFL, I kept attacking practice every day. Some players peak when they’re seniors in college, or their first or second year in the NFL. I was not peaking. I kept getting better as the years went by. I’ve achieved stuff I never knew I could—Pro Bowl, all-pro—but I didn’t think about that stuff. I took care of today. I took care of the weights. I took care of practice. I took care of watching film.

“I’ve learned how much I love this game. It’s just more important to me every year so I just continue to grind out every little thing that’s gonna make me better, whether that’s eating, sleeping, lifting, whatever I can do.
A great meal for me has changed. I’m into quinoa now for my carbs. So I’ll eat quinoa, and my protein is chicken, and then I use a Vitamix blender and I blend up spinach and kale for my vegetables.

“Kale is ruthless. It is! I don’t like drinking it. I put a little hot sauce in there too, to try and give it some zing so you can drink it.

“I eat brown and white rice, a mixture. I bought a rice cooker a couple of years ago, and you can cook the quinoa in there too. Also, I drink a gallon of water every day.

“Sleep is huge. Sleep is my P.E.D., my performance-enhancing drug. I’m usually asleep by 9:30. Sleep experts say you want to stay on a schedule. You want to try to go to bed at the same time and get up at the same time.

“For pain management and flexibility, I picked up yoga this offseason. I did it twice a week.
For stretching and range of motion, like range of motion in my hips, it’s good. My hips are looser. In my stance, I just feel a little bit loose and a little more spring in my steps. With my shoulders too … stretching my shoulders is big now. We lift all these weights all the time and it’s always build and build and build and they get you to stretch, but usually I stretch after I lift and I’m fatigued from my lift, I don’t want to necessarily stretch like you should. I kind of go through it fast because I’m tired and I just want to get to the shower and relax. But now I literally spend an hour on stretching, deep stretches, and I definitely feel like I’ve gotten more range of motion and I feel better in my hips and my knees and my shoulders.

“I think about my health more as I get older. I’ve been fortunate—and I’m knocking on wood—I haven’t had any head or neck injuries, and no concussions. That’s pretty amazing. I still think the good of the game and what the game has given me, and how many experiences that the people I’ve gotten to meet, and the neat stuff that I’ve gotten to experience, and my entire family’s gotten to experience, will end up outweighing the stiffness and the soreness and stuff as I get older. The longer I’ve been in the game, I’m learning what I’m doing now is going to help me not only stay in football longer but help my health later in life.”

Monday, September 17, 2018

Should Rams try to trade Jamon Brown with Austin Blythe dominating?

September 17, 2018
By Cameron DaSilva

The Los Angeles Rams were hit with some bad news this offseason when Jamon Brown was suspended two games for violating the league’s substance abuse policy, stemming from a 2017 arrest. It was a disappointing development, especially after seeing the same five offensive linemen dominate for 15 weeks last season.

However, the Rams were prepared for Brown’s suspension and had Austin Blythe waiting in the wings. He was the odds-on favorite to replace Brown for the first two games of the season, and he did exactly that.

Blythe was PFF’s highest-graded right guard in the NFL last week against the Raiders, earning a place on the Team of the Week for Pro Football Focus. On Sunday, he was equally good, clearing running lanes for Todd Gurley and Malcolm Brown, while also providing excellent protection for Jared Goff.

He’s been better the past two weeks than Brown was at any point last season,
which begs the question: What should the Rams do now? Brown’s suspension is officially over and he can return to the team as of Monday. That’s good news, but it also puts the Rams in a tough spot.

Similarly to the way the Bucs have to decide between a hot Ryan Fitzpatrick and Jameis Winston when he returns in Week 4, Sean McVay has to either pull Blythe or keep Brown benched.

There is another option, though. The Rams could attempt to trade Brown to a team seeking a short-term rental at guard with the potential for a long-term connection. And no, that isn’t the slogan for a bizarre offensive line dating site.

Brown is in the final year of his contract and the Rams are likely to focus their resources elsewhere this coming offseason. Brown won’t command top dollar by any means, but with Marcus Peters needing a new deal soon, Rodger Saffold and Lamarcus Joyner hitting free agency and Ndamukong Suh’s contract expiring, it’s easy to see why the Rams might not pay up to keep Brown.

That in its own right makes this trade very attractive from their perspective, especially with Blythe dominating thus far and Joseph Noteboom also on the roster. The Rams have enough flexibility on the offensive line to get by without Brown on the roster, just as they have the past two weeks.

Even if the Rams are able to recoup a sixth-round pick, it might be worth considering trading Brown. That’s likely more than they’d receive in compensatory picks if Brown were to leave next offseason, so why not bring in some assets for the 2019 draft?

He carries a cap hit of $1.87 million in 2018, so he’s not exactly a bargain when compared to Blythe’s $630,000, but that contract could preclude some teams from making a deal. Keeping him on the roster and paying him that amount of money to be a backup isn’t ideal for Los Angeles, but it could be the very reality it faces.

In the end, it’s going to be difficult to move Brown, who’s merely an average guard. However, a team desperate for help at guard like the Texans or Bills could make a call and gauge the Rams’ interest in moving the lineman.

If no move is made, the Rams will need to waive someone to make room for Brown, or place a player like Mike Thomas on injured reserve.

Titans Give Coach Mike Vrabel a Game Ball After His First NFL Win

By Jim Wyatt
September 17, 2108

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Mike Vrabel was a proud coach in an emotional Titans locker room on Sunday.

His team had just beaten the Texans 20-17, on a day when the Titans played with their back-up quarterback, and with reserve tackles. The Titans were also missing one of their key pieces in tight end Delanie Walker, but heading into the game Vrabel refused to take the woe-is-me approach.

So after Vrabel talked to the team on Sunday at Nissan Stadium, Titans center Ben Jones thought he should be rewarded with a game ball after his first win. He stepped in and made sure he got one.

“He said, “Let’s break it down’,” Jones said of Vrabel. “And I said, ‘Hold on a second. Be quiet. We have to handle something right here.”

Vrabel was happy to get the keepsake, even if he didn’t say it.

“I hope someone got a picture of that smile,” Jones said of Vrabel. “He deserved it more than any of us. The way he prepared us all week, keeping us focused all week. He outcoached them. He’s a hell of a leader, and he knows what it takes to win. I think it meant a lot to him.”

Other Titans agreed.

“His first win as a head coach. His first win at home. His first win against his old team. His first win against a division team,” Titans cornerback Adoree’ Jackson said. “He’s a humble guy, the way he carries himself, and the way he coaches and talks to us.
But he has to feel good inside. He may not be showing it, but I guarantee you he is feeling really good.”

Blaine Gabbert started at quarterback in place of Marcus Mariota. Tyler Marz and Kevin Pamphile started at the tackle position, and the team began life on the football field without Walker.

The Titans showed some imagination on offense, using the Wildcat. Vrabel went for it on 4th down in their own territory, and got it. The team executed a perfect fake punt that went for a touchdown.

“Any time you get your first win as a head coach, with a new squad, that’s big,” Titans linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. “It seemed like he was elated. He gave us a Victory Monday, so he was happy. But of course he’ll go back and look at the film and coach us tough on Wednesday, but that’s the way it’s supposed to be to be a great team.”

Vrabel deflected questions about his first win after the game.

He talked about his respect for Texans coach Bill O’Brien, his former boss. And he talked about how tough it is to win in the NFL.

And he was quick to remind another big game is coming up in seven days against the Jaguars.

“It wasn’t about me, and it shouldn’t be, and it won’t be,’” Vrabel said. “It should be about the players and the coaches who got them ready.

“I am proud of our defense, I proud of our offense, I am proud of our coaches. Winning in the NFL will never be about the coaching. It will never be about the head coaching. Losing will, but winning is all about the players, and the staff getting them ready.”

Wells, Kampman to be featured alumni this week

September 14, 2018

The Green Bay Packers are welcoming back featured alumni Scott Wells and Aaron Kampman for the Packers-Vikings game on Sunday, Sept. 16.

Leading up to the game, the alumni will be signing autographs and visiting with fans outside the Lambeau Field Atrium, near the Lambeau Leap statue, on Saturday, Sept. 15, from 11 a.m. to noon.

Wells will be visiting with fans and signing autographs at surprise locations around Lambeau Field on gameday from 10:30 to 11:30 a.m. Kampman will be visiting with fans and signing autographs during that same time in the Legends Club on the Associated Bank Club Level, an area accessible to game attendees with suite or club seat tickets, as a guest of the ‘Alumni Meet and Greet.’

Selected in the seventh round of the NFL Draft out of Tennessee in 2004, Scott Wells played eight seasons (2004-11) for the Green Bay Packers. After seeing his first game action on special teams and as a backup, Wells earned the starting center job in 2006 and went on to start all 16 games, missing only two offensive snaps all season. Known for his textbook technique and explosive strength, he was a key blocker in RB Ryan Grant’s back-to-back 1,200-yard rushing seasons (2008-09). Wells played center in 111 games during his Packers career, starting in 100 of them, and was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2011.

Selected in the fifth round of the NFL Draft out of Iowa in 2002, Aaron Kampman played eight seasons for the Green Bay Packers. One of the team’s premier pass-rushers during his time in Green Bay, Kampman’s 54 career sacks ranks fifth in franchise history. Over the course of his career, he evolved from a dependable, every-down player into an elite, game-changing performer. He was selected to the Pro Bowl in 2006 and 2007, and was named second-team All-Pro both years by The Associated Press. Kampman finished his career with 592 tackles (386 solo), 12 passes defensed, 13 forced fumbles and four fumble recoveries.

Friday, September 14, 2018

Austin Blythe, LA Rams Top Week 2 Storyline

Los Angeles Rams vs. Arizona Cardinals: Top Week 2 storylines

With injuries to Pharoh Cooper and Mike Thomas, the LA Rams have reached a point of no return. Who will be the next man up?


The offensive line gets some love

Pro Football Focus ran the numbers and the Rams’ O-line came out on top, save for C John Sullivan — we still love you, big guy.

This is a huge accomplishment, especially for RG Austin Blythe, who is filling in for starter Jamon Brown — his performance is even starting rumors that he has the starting job going forward. Even everyone’s favorite Canadian TST writer, Sosa, agrees:

Thursday, September 13, 2018

Why Patriots’ Trey Flowers Is More Valuable Than Your Typical Pass Rusher

By Doug Kyed
September 13, 2018

FOXBORO, Mass. — Calling New England Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers a pass rusher is only telling half the story.

Flowers is not only dominant at disrupting the passer, he’s also one of the most complete edge defenders in the NFL.

Consider this: The Patriots allowed just 3.27 yards per rushing attempt while Flowers was on the field in their Week 1 win over the Houston Texans. They let up 5.08 yards per rushing attempt when he was off the field.
You might shrug that off as a small sample size, but Flowers wasn’t on the field when the Texans had their most successful rushing attempt of the game, a 31-yarder by starting running back Lamar Miller.

Houston took advantage of Flowers getting a breather by running at his replacement, first-year player Keionta Davis, who was overpowered by Texans tight end Ryan Griffin. Needless to say, that would not have happened with Flowers. Not with all of the work he’s put into being a stout edge-setter.

“You’ve definitely got to have strength, but overall it’s just the technique and fundamentals,” Flowers said Wednesday. “You talk about basic 1-on-1 football, leverage wins, so you’ve got to have leverage, you’ve got to be able to use your strength to an advantage as far as getting separation, continue to get penetration, continue to drive your feet, all of those fundamentals that you work on. You’ve got to work on them with a purpose so you can build on them when it comes in a game, it’s just second nature.”

And when Flowers says “technique and fundamentals,” he’s talking about “leverage, hand placement, pad level, strike and knockback.”

Setting the edge as a defensive end is not easy. Most of the time, a defensive end is going up against a 6-foot-6, 300-plus-pound offensive tackle. Flowers is listed at 6-foot-2, 265 pounds. It’s easy to get knocked back by a blocker whose sole purpose is to drive you forward or away from the play. So, how does Flowers combat that?

“You just have to understand you have to have precision in your technique and precision in your fundamentals,” Flowers said. “You practice that, you practice that way, you focus on it every snap, every rep. You have to do extra just to create a habit so when you go out there, it’s just a habit that you have as far as being precise with your hand placement, being precise with your leverage, your attack, your get-off, your explosion, things like that.”

Practice makes perfect. That’s why Flowers will stay after summer training camp practices to continue working on his craft. He wants to make having that perfect technique second nature. And he has.

“Trey’s a good football player,” head coach Bill Belichick said. “He’s done a lot of different things for us and he’s a well-rounded player. He can play on all three downs. He’s played outside, played inside. He’s able to play heavy on a blocker. He’s able to play on the edge of a blocker. He makes plays on the backside. He makes plays at the point of attack. He’s got a good skill set. He plays hard. He’s a smart player. He’s instinctive. He’s productive. I’m glad we have him.”

Flowers is a very disruptive pass rusher. He finished Sunday’s game with 1.5 sacks and seven total pressures. He currently ranks second among 4-3 defensive ends in Pro Football Focus’ pass-rush productivity metric. He also ranks second in PFF’s run stop percentage metric.

Flowers will be a free agent after the season, and he’ll likely receive a ton of money after he hits the open market. Teams will pay for his pass-rush prowess. But his ability to set the edge against the run is just as valuable.

“You’ve definitely got to stop the run,” Flowers said. “If you can’t stop the run, then I don’t see you getting too many opportunities to pass rush. So, first things first is stopping the run, so it’s just one of those things that you gotta earn the job, earn the right to rush the passer.”

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

PFF's Week 1 NFL Team of the Week

By Gordon McGuinness
September 10, 2018

After each week of the NFL regular season, and once our exhaustive All-22 review processes are in the books, PFF will be bringing you the insights from our play-by-play grading of every NFL game with our Team of the Week.

The team format will match the improved All-Pro system when it comes to offensive and defensive formation, with a flex player for both sides of the ball that can be either a receiver, slot weapon, tight end or running back on offense, and anybody in the defensive secondary on defense. This gives us the flexibility to reward the player that best deserves it across multiple positions, rather than shoehorning in somebody just to fit a slot receiver or cornerback role.

We lend some weight to playing time, and a variety of factors are considered, but these will largely be the best-graded players at their respective positions throughout the league. This year, our Team of the Week will be coming out before Monday Night Football has been played, featuring the best performances from the Thursday Night and Sunday games. In the occurrence that a performer on Monday Night is worthy of a spot on the team, this list will be updated and those with standout performances from the weekend will still be appreciated.

[Editor’s note: The Team of the Week was originally published on the morning of September 10, but has been amended to reflect some of the dominant performances from the Monday Night Football contests.]


Ryan Fitzpatrick, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 96.1
This was Fitzpatrick at his Fitzmagic best. Delivering dime after dime and picking the Saints apart with back-shoulder throws, he delivered one of the best quarterbacking performances you’ll see all season. On throws 20-plus yards downfield, he went 4-for-5 for 179 yards and three touchdowns.

Running Back
Jordan Howard, CHICAGO BEARS – 80.7
Jordan may not have led the NFL in yards or touchdowns this week, but he was consistently impressive in the loss to the Packers. From 15 carries, he forced three missed tackles and averaged 3.9 yards after contact per attempt.

Wide Receiver
DeSean Jackson, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 94.8
Just like Fitzpatrick, Jackson could do no wrong on Sunday, dominating against New Orleans. Despite being limited to just 13 snaps as a receiver due to a couple of injuries, Jackson averaged 11.23 yards per route run, the most of any wide receiver this week.

Wide Receiver
Tyreek Hill, Kansas City Chiefs – 93.2
Similarly to Jackson, Hill just couldn’t be stopped, averaging 8.45 yards per route run in the win over the Chargers. He showcased how dangerous his speed is downfield, with two receptions on throws of 20-plus yards, and on shorter routes too, scoring on a jet sweep.

Tight End
Will Dissly, Seattle Seahawks – 92.1
A performance that came out of nowhere, Dissly was dynamic as a pass-catcher, averaging 5.25 yards per route run from 20 snaps as a receiver. Too much for the Broncos to handle, he averaged 22.3 yards after the catch per reception and forced a missed tackle.

Flex Offense
Mike Evans, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 91.9
The third member of the Buccaneers offense in our Team of the Week, Evans finally got the better of Saints cornerback Marshon Lattimore at the third time of asking. When being covered by the Saints star cornerback, Evans picked up four catches for 115 yards and a touchdown.

Left Tackle
Andrew Whitworth, Los Angeles Rams – 84.5
(Previous LT prior to MNF: David Bakhtiari, Green Bay Packers – 84.1)
The Rams offensive line as a unit was fantastic, and that starts with Whitworth. He allowed just one hurry, and no hits or sacks, for 36 pass-blocking snaps in the win over the Raiders.

Left Guard
Rodger Saffold, Los Angeles Rams – 86.4
(Previous LG prior to MNF: Ali Marpet, Tampa Bay Buccaneers – 82.4)
Saffold produced a perfect 100.0 pass-blocking efficiency, with no pressures allowed all game. He also impressed as a run-blocker, producing the highest run-blocking grade among offensive guards this week.

Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos – 83.9
Paradis did allow a sack, but it was the only pressure he allowed from 42 pass-blocking snaps in the win over Seattle. He was also really impressive in the running game, producing the highest run-blocking grade at the position this week.

Right Guard
Austin Blythe, Los Angeles Rams – 87.0

(Previous RG prior to MNF: Kyle Long, Chicago Bears – 81.4)
Saffold’s teammate was our second-highest graded run-blocking guard this week, trailing only his teammate. Similarly, he too produced a perfect 100.0 pass-blocking efficiency rating, with no pressures allowed all game.

Right Tackle
Rob Havenstein, Los Angeles Rams – 83.5
(Previous RT prior to MNF: Lane Johnson, Philadelphia Eagles – 76.7)
Like Whitworth, Havenstein didn’t allow any sacks or hits, and just one hurry, from 36 pass-blocking snaps. That’s an impressive duo, with quarterback Jared Goff having to deal with just two pressures against his tackles over the course of the game.

Dean Pees: Long NFL coaching career resumes with new team

DEAN PEES, the defensive coordinator of the NFL’s Tennessee Titans, retired from the Baltimore Ravens in January, but was quickly recruited by the Titans’ new coach. Pees has spent half a century around the game of football, starting with his playing days at Hardin Northern. (Photo by Kent Tarbox)

By Dave Hanneman
September 5, 2018

NASHVILLE — Dean Pees has spent half a century around the game of football.

But he’s not ready to join the BarcaLounger Brigade just yet.

From his playing days at Hardin Northern to his early coaching stints at Elmwood High School, the University of Findlay and Kent State, to his role as the defensive coordinator of Super Bowl-winning teams in New England (2004, 2005) and Baltimore (2013), Pees has spent his last 50-some summers preparing for one thing — another football season.

Even when his coaching career seemed over, it wasn’t.

“It only lasted three weeks. I don’t even count that as a retirement,” Pees said during the Tennessee Titans’ training camp in Nashville in late July.

Pees, who turns 69 this month, originally announced his retirement as defensive coordinator of the Baltimore Ravens in January. Three weeks later, he was back on an NFL payroll, this time with Tennessee.

“I retired (from Baltimore) on, like, Jan. 2. I took the job here on Jan. 22,” Pees said.

Despite a second straight 9-7 regular season, Tennessee’s first playoff appearance in eight years and its first playoff win in 14, the Titans’ coaching staff underwent a major overhaul following the 2017 season.
Mike Mularkey was out as head coach, Mike Vrabel was brought in to replace him, and the transition began.

Former offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie was replaced by Rams’ offensive coordinator Matt LaFleur. And to run the defense, Vrabel looked to Pees, who had been his position coach and then the defensive coordinator when Vrabel (2001-2008) and Pees (2004-2009) were with New England.

Pees said his decision to un-retire was due to a “bunch of things,” but cited three key reasons in particular.

“No. 1 was coach Vrabel,” Pees said.

“No. 2 was Nashville and Tennessee. I knew this area down here was a good football place. I’d been at two great football places before (New England, Baltimore) and I thought, ‘Well, let’s get a third one.'”

Reason No. 3 was a bit more personal.

“The other thing was the opportunity to coach with my son,” Pees said. “That was a huge thing in my life, kind of a bucket list thing. To have that opportunity that coach Vrabel made possible was incredible.”

Pees’ son Matt, who joined the Titans’ staff this season as a quality control coach, breaking down film, agreed.

“When Dad retired in January, I thought, well there went our opportunity of ever coaching together, which had always been kind of a dream of ours,” said Matt Pees, who was a quarterback at Bowling Green High School when the Bobcats faced Fostoria in the 1996 Division II playoffs, then an assistant coach at Ridgemont High School and more recently the head coach at Green Mountain High School in Colorado.

“So when this came along, we felt really fortunate and very thankful to Ms. Amy (Amy Adams Strunk, controlling owner and co-chairman of the board of directors), Jon (Jon Robinson, executive vice president and general manager) and coach Vrabel for giving us this opportunity to coach together. It was something we just could not pass up.”

Matt Pees walked on as a quarterback at Kent State, and later became the video coordinator for the program. He’s the tech guy in the family, while his father is more into Xs and Os. Both feel it’s a good combination.
“There wasn’t any bickering. It was a lot of me just listening,” Matt said when the conversations on the home front turned to football.

“Being around dad and the game so much, I developed a deep passion for it. I love the Xs and Os as well, so I’m always trying to learn as much as possible from him. He’s a wealth of knowledge. Anything he can teach me, I’m just trying to take it all in.”

“Hey, I don’t mess with his job, and he don’t mess with mine,” Dean said. “We work pretty well together.”

The overhaul of the Titans’ coaching staff has not only an Ohio, but also a Blanchard Valley Conference, undercurrent to it. Of the 24 men on the Titans staff, eight were born in Ohio and another eight have college or pro coaching experience in the Buckeye state.

Included on the staff are McComb’s Craig Aukerman, who was elevated from assistant to the Titans’ special teams coach this season, and Arcadia’s Ryan Crow, who was hired by Tennessee this season after serving as an assistant at Ohio State, Purdue and Baldwin Wallace the past few years.

“All these Ohio guys and BVC guys, I love it,” Dean Pees said. “What’s really great is, I’ve known guys like (secondary coach) Kerry Coombs for 25 years, I’ve known Ryan Crow from Arcadia, I’ve known Auk (Aukerman) from McComb … That’s what makes it nice. Coach Vrabel is not only an Ohio guy, but having coached with him before (in New England) makes the transition easier.”

Luring Dean Pees out of his short retirement was a strategically crafty move by the Titans’ new head coach, who knew he was getting one of the best in the business and one of only eight defensive coordinators to make the Super Bowl with two different teams.

During the four years Pees was defensive coordinator at New England, the Patriots’ 17.3 points-allowed average was second among NFL teams. In his six seasons in charge of Baltimore’s defense, the Ravens were ranked among the NFL’s top 10 defensive teams three times. Last season, Baltimore led the NFL in takeaways (33) and turnover margin (plus 17).

Pees may be an NFL football coach, but he credits his first profession — teaching — as a foundation for his success.

“I think that sometimes some pro coaches just take for granted that they have great players and a great scheme,” Pees said. “But the players still have to be taught. That’s why I think it was such an advantage coming up the way I did, being a teacher first at Elmwood and then Findlay College.

“I’m really grateful I came up that way, because even now I think it makes a better teacher out of you, and that’s what we’re doing out here, we’re teaching.”

But Pees proved to be an astute student as well. And he learned from some of the best during his stops in the college and pro ranks.

“If you look at where I’ve been and who I’ve worked with: Lou Holtz (Notre Dame), Nick Saban (Michigan State), Bill Belichick (New England), John Harbaugh (Baltimore), Gary Pinkel (Toledo) … When you take all of those guys and combine all of their different styles and talents and personalities, I can truly say I’ve never worked for a bad boss.

“I’ve tried to learn something from all of them, and all of those guys have had an influence on me in some form or fashion.”

After thousands of miles and hundreds of games — high school, college and pro — Pees still looks to home, where it all began.

“The coach that influenced me first off was coach (Dick) Strahm,” Pees said of the University of Findlay coach who won four NAIA national championships and accumulated a 183-64-5 record in 24 years as UF’s head coach.

“Dick gave me the opportunity to get into college football right after Elmwood (High School). He taught me a heckuva lot about football, and coaching in general. I didn’t have a father at that time. I’d lost my dad when I was coaching at Elmwood, but Dick was kind of like my dad in a way. I looked to him as a father figure.

“I would say Dick (Strahm) was my first influence, along with Tim Rose, who was head coach at Miami (Ohio) and is at Ashland College now.

“Man, that’s been a while. I guess you could say I’ve been around a long time.”

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Los Angeles Rams at Oakland Raiders game balls: OL Austin Blythe lithe in support

Some of the standout performances by Rams during their 33-13 triumph in Oakland.

By Skye Sverdlin
September 11, 2018

After a nerve wracking first half in Oakland, the Rams settled in to handle business in the second half with a strong, multi-faceted team effort. Here are just a few of the contributors that deserved some shine.

And the game ball goes to...

G Austin Blythe

Filling in for Jamon Brown, Blythe could’ve been a leaky valve in the Rams’ normally stable offensive line. Instead, he fit right in, and even got out ahead of a few plays; notably Todd Gurley’s 19 yard touchdown scamper in the first quarter. With Jamon Brown becoming a free agent after this season, having Blythe will be a luxury if he can keep it rolling like he did in Oakland.

RB Todd Gurley/ WR Brandin Cooks

Their skill sets are going to be very complimentry of each other, and last night we got our first glimpse of that. Cooks’ big plays were the result of pass interferences calls, but the Rams let the world know that they are willing to find him behind the defense often, which is really going to make it difficult to key in on Gurley.

Gurley looked fresh, as he should have, having sat out the entire preseason and most of the first half. Whether it is on the ground or through the air, Gurley clearly unlocked the offense in the second half.

DL Michael Brockers

While statistically Donald and Suh’s work was mostly done under the radar, we got to see how they help free up guys like Michael Brockers, as well as Jonathan Franklin-Myers. Brockers looked athletic and ready to capitalize on having a tad more space to operate this season.

P Johnny Hekker

62 yard punts are kicked with gameballs.

That was some fine work in the thick night air of the East Bay Johnny!

ILB Cory Littleton

Game one of the Littleton experiment was mostly a success. 13 tackles and an interception is a good start. He did miss a tackle on Oakland’s Marshawn Lynch in the second half, but Marshawn isn’t the easiest guy to take down either. It seems like Littleton will be a nice piece next to Mark Barron in the near future.

S John Johnson III

This one’s kind of a funny selection, because he was picking up Jared Cook for much of the night, and Cook had a monster night. But Johnson also made plays, and battled with the much larger Cook. Johnson looked pretty physical, and should fair well in more favorable match-ups. Plus he hauled in a nice end zone pick to go with his nine tackles.

Monday, September 10, 2018

Katie Smith’s Legendary Career Leads Her To The Hall Of Fame

By Julian Andrews
September 7, 2018

Katie Smith will be inducted to the Naismith Memorial Basketball Hall of Fame on Friday night, becoming the first ever Lynx player to be enshrined in Springfield.

Smith is one of the greatest to ever play the game. A two-time WNBA champion, a Finals MVP winner, a seven-time All-Star and a three-time Olympic gold medalist, Smith has left an enduring mark on the sport of basketball.

During her time in the WNBA, Smith was known for her knock-down shooting and her physical defense, but more than anything she might be remembered for her leadership. That story is still being written—Smith has transitioned to coaching and currently serves as the head coach of the New York Liberty. When Smith got the news of her selection into the Hall of Fame, she was still in the throes of an incredibly competitive WNBA season. Now, with her season over, she finally gets a chance to enjoy the moment and be celebrated for her accomplishments alongside a star-studded 2018 Hall of Fame class.

During her introduction on Thursday, Smith was as charming as always, thanking the game of basketball for the opportunities it has afforded her and giving props to those who supported the growth of the WNBA from the beginning.

“Who would have thought, basketball, meeting these guys, getting into the Hall, just having a blast traveling the world and making some of the best friendships you could ever have,” she said. “Also [thanks to] those who believed in the WNBA. We have a bunch of folks here who are fans and those who were behind the scenes making that thing happen, which allowed us to have a career here in the States and showcase our talents.”

While she won’t be the last member of the Minnesota Lynx to be inducted into the Hall of Fame, it’s fitting that Smith will be the first. Smith gave the Lynx franchise its first taste of what it felt like to win and the joy of rooting for a superstar. She led them to their first playoff appearance and first playoff win.

The Basketball Hall of Fame doesn’t just honor players for their efforts in professional leagues, however, and Smith’s resume in college and overseas is just as impressive as her performance in the WNBA.

Over the course of her career at Ohio State University, Smith scored more points than any other basketball in Buckeye history—male or female. She won the Big Ten player of the year award, led her team to a Big Ten championship and a national title game and became the first female athlete to have her number retired by the school. In college, Smith averaged 20.8 points per game, adding 5.7 rebounds and 3.6 assists.

Smith also led the US Women’s National Team to gold medals in three Olympic Games—Sydney, Athens and Beijing.

The 2018 Hall of Fame induction ceremony will be broadcast on NBA TV tonight at 6 p.m. CT. Smith, along with the rest of the class, will speak for about five minutes. She will be presented by Dawn Staley.

Friday, September 07, 2018

Blythe Ready to Fill in at Right Guard

By Myles Simmons
September 7, 2018

When the league announced that right guard Jamon Brown had been suspended for Los Angeles’ first two games of the regular season, there was one clear candidate to replace him.

Offensive lineman Austin Blythe has been with the Rams since the 2017 offseason program when the club claimed him off waivers from the Colts. He appeared in a few games last season, successfully subbing in as a center or guard when needed.

Brown still took the vast majority of reps at right guard during training camp — indicating that he’ll reclaim that starting role once his suspension ends in Week 3 — Blythe will be the man between center John Sullivan and right tackle Rob Havenstien on the Rams’ offensive line until that time.

Head coach Sean McVay indicated as much in somewhat of an offhand way on Sunday, when he mentioned Los Angeles is “expecting Austin Blythe to step in and do a great job at that right guard spot.” And the Rams’ unofficial depth chart — released on Wednesday — seemed to confirm that, as it has Blythe listed as the starting right guard with no one behind him s a backup.

Prior to Thursday’s practice, run game coordinator/offensive line coach Aaron Kromer said the Rams “have the ultimate confidence in Austin Blythe.”

Why is that?

“When he’s had to fill in in the past, it's been at guard. He's been training at center and he's been doing a good job training in a multi-position situation where he's left guard, center and right guard,” Kromer said. “This is going to give him the opportunity to play at right guard and we expect a lot of good things out of Austin. We think he can run and pass protect.”

Blythe has started two games in his career — one as a rookie for the Colts back in 2016, and then the Week 17 contest against the 49ers last year. Plus, Blythe was often practicing with the first-team offensive line early in the week in 2017 because Los Angeles would rest the veteran Sullivan to keep him fresh for gameday.

Blythe and Havenstein both said that work has made the transition fairly seamless.

“I think that helps a lot,” Blythe said. “I can slow myself down at guard knowing what I’m supposed to do before John even says the idea and stuff like that. So being able to learn from those guys and take those reps was huge for me in my development.”

“It’s not like he’s a brand-new guy. So, obviously, the comfort is there,” Havenstein said. “Plus, the fact that he has played center, too, so he knows what all the calls are and everything like that. So he’s a guy you can really rely on. So I think that’s a testament to him. He’s done a great job this year of evolving his game, and I think it’s really going to show.”

In a recent interview with, Kromer credited Sullivan for taking Blythe under his wing and teaching Blythe the nuances of the game. According to Kromer, that veteran mentorship helped to advance Blythe’s game in a short amount of time.

And then there’s the skillset and technique that Blythe has displayed over the course of his time with the Rams. Kromer says that is what sets Blythe apart.

“Austin’s extremely quick, and for a guy that’s not 330 pounds, he has a lot of power and leverage,” Kromer told
“And you wouldn’t consider him powerful until you watch him play, and watch him use his leverage to his advantage, and get under players, and be able to control bigger guys that just seeing him, you wouldn’t think he’d be able to do. But he has the combination of quickness, smarts, and strength.”

While Los Angeles’ first-team offensive line did not receive any snaps during the preseason, Kromer said the Rams have created stressful conditions in practice to get the unit to jell with Blythe in place.

“What we've done in practice is this, we've amped up the volume to a point where it's louder than most stadiums — where we can't hear the call next to us and we can't communicate verbally, but we can communicate visually,” Kromer said Thursday. “I think with all that work that we are hardened to a point like we've played in games due to the practice style that we've had.”

All that adds up to Blythe feeling like he’ll be able to excel at right guard starting with the Week 1 contest in Oakland.

“I feel really good, really confident,” Blythe said. “I think it’s a testament to coach Kromer and the guys in the room. I just feel prepared. I feel confident in my abilities, the techniques that we’re taught. And I’m really excited for Monday night.

Wednesday, September 05, 2018

The Award Section

September 4, 2018

The Award Section

Picking the best players for the top awards this early is not advisable, but I’m always up for some preseason idiocy. Here goes:

Defensive player: Geno Atkins, defensive tackle, Cincinnati. Surprising win over the two mega-money guys, Aaron Donald and Khalil Mack. But Atkins will get a huge hand from Carlos Dunlap and Andrew Billings on the defensive front. The Bengals will win the division with this front, and Atkins will lead the way.

The contenders: 2. Aaron Donald, DT, Rams. 3. Trey Flowers, DE, New England. 4. Chandler Jones, DE, Arizona. 5. Marcus Peters, CB, Rams.

Vikings Announce 6 Captains for 2018

By Craig Peters
September 4, 2018

EAGAN, Minn. — The Vikings on Tuesday announced six captains have been chosen to serve in a season-long capacity.

The players selected are QB Kirk Cousins, T Riley Reiff, TE Kyle Rudolph, DE Everson Griffen, DT Linval Joseph and LB Anthony Barr.

Cousins is the only newcomer for 2018 who was named a captain. Reiff, who is heading into his sixth pro season and second in Minnesota, will be a captain for a second consecutive season. Rudolph and Griffen each served as captains in 2017, but this will be the first time for Joseph and Barr to have “C” patches on Purple jerseys.

The six players have played in 542 games in 39 combined seasons.

The Vikings will host the 49ers to open the regular season on Sunday at U.S. Bank Stadium.

Tuesday, September 04, 2018

How Ben Niemann beat out Ukeme Eligwe for the final Chiefs linebacker spot

Two other NFL teams reached out to Chiefs general manager Brett Veach about Ben Niemann. Photo by Scott Cunningham/Getty Images

By Pete Sweeney
Sep 1, 2018

The Kansas City Chiefs kept five inside linebackers at the 53-man roster deadline Saturday afternoon.

We knew going in that the Chiefs would obviously keep starters Reggie Ragland and Anthony Hitchens. How the rest would play out remained to be seen.

“That was a tough one ... I thought all those guys had solid camps,” Chiefs general manager Brett Veach said of the inside linebacker position on his conference all after the deadline.

“You just couldn’t ignore the tape—I mean, that was it.”
- Brett Veach on Ben Niemann.

The Chiefs selected rookie Dorian O’Daniel with the 100th overall pick in the third round of the 2018 NFL Draft, so he was a safe bet.

“Dorian is a guy we’re really excited about,” Veach said. “He’s coming on, he doesn’t really have the playbook down— I think when Dorian’s out there on passing downs, I think Dorian’s speed just jumps out at you.

“He plays at a different speed than anybody that we have out there. He’s a missile. He’s just young, and he’s just got to figure it out and got to get the playbook down. (Inside linebackers coach) Mark DeLeone and our defensive staff is doing a great job with him.”

Then, there was Terrance Smith, who the Chiefs first acquired as an undrafted free agent in 2016. Veach said that he made the team primarily because of his excellent work on special teams.

His special-teams skills had added value at this particular cut with the Chiefs waving goodbye to veteran special-teams ace Frank Zombo.

“Over the last couple of years, [Smith] has been one of our highest point-production players on special teams,” Veach explained, “so it really came down to Dorian, who has a big upside, Terrance, you’re always going to have as our lynchpin on special teams.”

With one eligible spot left, Veach and the Chiefs staff had to choose between undrafted rookie Ben Niemann or 2017 fifth-rounder Ukeme Eligwe.

“You just couldn’t ignore the tape—I mean, that was it,” Veach said of the 23-year-old Niemann. “Actually, we had two teams that called us about Ben Niemann, and we knew that he wasn’t going to get through the waiver-wire claim, and we knew that he was not going to make it to the practice squad.

“In some of these trades that we didn’t do, the guy they wanted was Ben Niemann, so if there was any indecision, I think the dialogue we had with teams told us there’s no we can lose this guy because he’s done so much in such short amount of time.”

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