Wednesday, October 31, 2018

Patriots DE Trey Flowers rated as NFL's top edge defender by Pro Football Focus

Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers reads a play during New England's 25-6 win at Buffalo on Monday. (AP Photo/Chris Cecere)

By Andrew Callahan
October 30, 2018

Not Von Miller, not Khalil Mack, not even J.J. Watt.

The NFL's best edge defender midway through the season is ... Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers.

With eight weeks in the books, Pro Football Focus has ranked Flowers ahead of his peers with a 90.8 grade for the season.
The fourth-year defensive end owns two sacks, 15 tackles and a forced fumble through seven games played. Flowers has taken 55.8 percent of New England's defensive snaps and more than 70 percent since he returned from a concussion in Week 4.

Before the Patriots' trip to Chicago in Week 7, Bears coach Matt Nagy spoke to Flowers' generally understated impact; the type that reveals itself best during a review of the all-22 coaches film.

"He's not the quote-unquote big-name guy, but he's the big-name guy amongst the coaching world," Nagy said Wednesday. "So we know who he is and what he can do and we respect him. We know he's a hell of a player. ... He can hold the point. He's quick, he's strong, he's fast, he plays in front of the quarterback.

"So we know that he's a good football player."

In Buffalo on Monday, Flowers was arguably the best player on the field, as he racked up run stuff after run stuff to go with two TFLs and a couple quarterback hits. Entering Week 7, Flowers had totaled seven hurries, two QB hits, a pair of run stuffs and one holding penalty drawn. He's also now deflected two passes.

Flowers led the Patriots in sacks and QB hits each of the past two seasons. His steady ascension should result in a major pay day soon, as Flowers is set to hit free agency this offseason. New England drafted Flowers in the fourth round of the 2015 draft out of Arkansas.

Shortly after fellow 2015 draft pick Shaq Mason received a five-year, $50 million extension in late August, Flowers said that he was happy for Mason and did not see their contract situations as related.

"What he eat don't make me ... you dig what I'm saying?" Flowers asked, referring to a line from the Jay-Z' song Heart of the City (Ain't No Love).

"That really don't got nothing to do with me. I'm just focusing on myself," he added. "I'm just working, man. I'm going to let that handle itself when the time comes, and I'm going to just keep working. It is what it is."

Flowers and the Patriots return to action Sunday against the Green Bay Packers. Kickoff from Gillette Stadium is set for 8:15 p.m.

Trey Flowers was in full bloom setting a hard defensive edge

With teammate Danny Shelton (71) looking on, Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers (98) gave his full-throated reaction after stopping Bills running back LeSean McCoy for a loss during the third quarter Monday night in Orchard Park, N.Y.MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

By Nora Princiotti
OCTOBER 30, 2018

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. — With 9:10 left in the third quarter and the Bills lining up a second-and-10 play, third-string Buffalo tight end Logan Thomas was assigned to block Patriots defensive end Trey Flowers.

It went predictably badly.

Flowers trampled Thomas, a former college quarterback at Virginia Tech turned NFL tight end, and punished running back LeSean McCoy, dropping him for a three-yard loss that forced the Bills to settle for a 51-yard field goal two plays later.

It was one of several impact plays from Flowers, who looked like the best player on the field on a night when the Patriots defense held its opponent to a season-low six points in Monday night’s 25-6 victory over the Bills.

“I think we came out and we knew it was going to be a tough battle, and I think a lot of our guys responded well to the situational defense,” Flowers said. “Third down, sudden changes, things like that. It was one of the things that we came into the game plan trying to execute and I think we did that today.”

Flowers finished second to Kyle Van Noy with six tackles, two of which went for losses. Flowers hit Bills quarterback Derek Anderson twice and deflected one pass, though he was kicking himself on the play midway through the first quarter because it could have been an interception.

Anderson misfired a pass intended for tight end Jason Croom on a crossing route, hitting Flowers in the face mask, the ball bouncing off before he could grab it.

“I’ve got to work on that,” Flowers said, laughing and shaking his head. “Get on the JUGS machine.”

Safety Duron Harmon, known to snag a few interceptions himself, said he’d give Flowers some coaching if he wanted, but let his teammate off the hook for the play. The Bills punted two plays later on that drive, so Flowers’ deflection was not wasted.

“He’s a D-lineman,” Harmon said, laughing, too. “He gets a pass.”

In the areas where Flowers’ defensive lineman responsibilities do lie, setting the edge and getting in the backfield, he put in a great day of work. Flowers dropped McCoy in the backfield both on the play in the third quarter and on another play that came just before the one where he nearly had the interception, one where McCoy was lined up as a quarterback in the Wildcat formation.

Flowers had no trouble sniffing out the play and tackled McCoy for a loss of three yards.

“We knew they were going to come with a little wrinkle that we probably haven’t seen a lot,” Flowers said. “So for them to come out and establish the Wildcat, they hit us with it a couple times but we settled down and understood that was where they was trying to attack us and I think we did a pretty good job.”

Trey Flowers had little difficulty stuffing Bills running back LeSean McCoy, dropping him here for a three-yard loss in the third quarter. MATTHEW J. LEE/GLOBE STAFF

Overall, the Patriots held McCoy to 13 yards on 12 carries, though he added 6 catches for 82 yards on 8 targets in the passing game. In the run game, however, McCoy couldn’t get much space to bounce outside as the Patriots set a hard edge. On multiple occasions, McCoy ran into a wall of Patriots defensive linemen.

“We understand he’s a dynamic run player,” Flowers said. “You can set the edge one way and he’s going to bounce it, reverse, things like that. So just being able to kind of contain him like you said, being disciplined on the backside so we got him bottled up, he wasn’t able to hurt us as bad.”

Overall, the Bills gathered only 2.4 yards per carry with Chris Ivory having the best mark with 34 yards on six attempts. For his efforts, Flowers earned some praise from Bill Belichick in the coach’s postgame remarks.

“Looked like Trey had a lot of big plays,” Belichick said.
“I thought overall our defensive line seemed to do a pretty good job in the running game.”

Harmon said that the strong performance up front on McCoy helped the safeties, who had far less to clean up since the linemen weren’t letting him escape.

“It helps us a lot. He’s an outside runner guy who likes to get to the outside, get to space and do his thing in the open field,” Harmon said. “Trey, Deatrich [Wise], the whole defensive line, John Simon, Kyle Van Noy, those guys did a great job of just being a strong front for us, turning him back in to our big guys, Lawrence [Guy], Malcom [Brown], Danny [Shelton] and the linebackers and just doing a good job of just tackling.

“It’s one thing to turn him back in, but it’s another thing to tackle him and I think we did a tremendous job of tackling him.”

PNJ Top 50 Greatest Athletes: 31-40

11 Nov 2001: Defensive Tackle Anthony Pleasant #98 of the New England Patriots looking on during the game against the Buffalo Bills

By Tony Adame, Pensacola News Journal
October 25, 2018

The PNJ Top 50 Greatest Athletes ranks the very best in the history of Pensacola-area sports as chosen by the PNJ sports department.

Here's an explanation telling how we picked the Top 50 ahead of the Florida Sports Hall of Fame induction ceremony in Pensacola on Nov. 7.

31. Anthony Pleasant, Century, Football (1986)

The only athlete from Century to make the list, Pleasant was an AP All-American defensive end at Tennessee State in 1989 and a third-round pick by the Cleveland Browns in 1990 … played 14 NFL seasons, and 10 of those were with New England Patriots head coach Bill Belichick on three different teams … career culminated in two Super Bowl wins with the Patriots in 2001 and 2003 … “There is no player I’ve ever had that I feel is more like my kind of player than Anthony Pleasant,” Belichick said before the Patriots defeated the Rams in Super Bowl 36.

Coach of the Week

October 29, 2018

Coach of the Week

Mike Devlin, offensive line coach, Houston.
I’ve thought all along that the performance of a porous offensive line is what will crush the Texans’ chance to play well into January. Just two weeks ago, Houston survived against a bad Bills team despite Deshaun Watson getting sacked seven times. But credit Devlin, and a settled offensive line—with Greg Mancz replacing Zach Fulton at right guard the last two weeks— for steadying the ship. Stat of the night in Houston’s rout of Miami: Sacks/Sack yardage: 0/0. In the last two weeks, Watson has been sacked once, and the Texans have steamrolled Jacksonville and Miami for 329 rushing yards.

Coon pins his way to World finals, guarantees USA its first Greco-Roman Senior World medal since 2015

Photo: Adam Coon pumped up after securing a spot in the World finals. Photo by Robbert Wijtman.

October 27, 2018

BUDAPEST, Hungary – Adam Coon earned his fourth pin of the day to soar into the 130 kg World Championships finals and guarantee the U.S. Greco-Roman program its first Senior World medal since 2015.

"I am in the World Championships finals. This is fun!” Coon said. “I am just wrestling tough, wrestling smart. I am trying to keep my pace and trying to get to a higher level of intensity. I am trying to get my stuff, but I am able to capitalize when he gets out of position."

A Junior World medalist in both freestyle and Greco-Roman, Coon faced off against 2018 Asian Games bronze medalist and 2013 Junior World bronze medalist Min-Seok Kim of Korea.

Coon scored first on a passivity from Kim but was not able to capitalize on top. Moments later, Coon secured a body lock, but Kim was hit with a caution and two for fleeing the hold to give Coon a 3-0 lead at the break.

Shortly into the second period, Coon countered a throw with a body lock, running Kim to his back and picking up the fall at the 3:42 mark and earning a bid to the World finals.

On Sunday, Coon will take on three-time age-group World champion and 2016 Olympic bronze medalist Sergey Semenov of Russia in the gold-medal match. Semenov won Junior World titles in 2013 and 2014 and most recently won the 2017 U23 World Championships.

Coon and Semenov met in the 2014 Junior World semifinals. Semenov took the match with an 8-0 technical fall.

"I wrestled him at Juniors and he throttled me. So I am ready to go to see how much better I have gotten," Coon said.

With a bid to the finals, Coon has now captured a World medal in three different age groups, winning Cadet freestyle gold in 2011 before tacking on Junior World bronzes in both freestyle and Greco in 2014.

Wrestling in the finals at 77 kg is World and Olympic silver medalist Tamas Lorincz of Hungary and two-time Russia Nationals champion Aleksandr Chekhirkin of Russia.

The 97 kg finals will feature 2013 Junior World champion Musa Evloev of Russia and 21-year-old Kiril Milov of Bulgaria.

As it is the final day of the competition, the schedule is different.

Repechage will begin at 1:30 p.m. local time (7:30 a.m. ET) with the medal matches following at 3:30 p.m. (9:30 a.m. ET). Fans can watch all the action live on

at Budapest, Hungary

Semifinal results
77 kg
Tamas Lorincz (Hungary) dec. Hyeonwoo Kim (Korea), 3-1
Aleksandr Chekhirkin (Russia) tech. fall Alex Bjurberg Kessidis (Sweden), 11-0

97 kg
Musa Evloev (Russia) dec. Artur Aleksanyan (Armenia), 3-1
Kiril Milov (Bulgaria) dec. Mihail Kajala (Serbia), 3-0

130 kg
Adam Coon (USA) fall Minseok Kim (Korea), 3:42

Sergey Semenov (Russia) dec. Heiki Nabi (Estonia), 2-0

Finals pairings
77 kg: Aleksandr Chekhirkin (Russia) vs. Tamas Lorincz (Hungary)
97 kg: Musa Evloev (Russia) vs. Kiril Milov (Bulgaria)
130 kg: Adam Coon (USA) vs. Sergey Semenov (Russia)

U.S. Greco-Roman results
77 kg/169.5 lbs. - Kamal Bey, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids/OTC)
WIN Ridong Zhang (China), 9-0
WIN Reiner Jimenez Terry (Guatemala), 8-1
LOSS Elvin Mursaliyev (Azerbaijan), 6-2

97 kg/213.75 lbs. - G’Angelo Hancock, Colorado Springs, Colo. (Sunkist Kids)
LOSS Peter Oehler (Germany), 6-3

130 kg/286 lbs. - Adam Coon, Fowlerville, Mich. (New York AC/Michigan RTC)
WIN Rafal Krajewski (Poland), fall 1:54
WIN Lingzhe Meng (China), fall 4:13
WIN Eduard Popp (Germany), fall 2:32
WIN Min-Seok Kim (Korea), fall 3:42

vs. Sergey Semenov (Russia)

Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Redskins vs Giants Jay Gruden Presser: Brandon Scherff is the best puller in pro football

Jay Gruden talks to the media after today’s win over the Giants

On Brandon Scherff:

Packers-Rams Preview: RG Austin Blythe is an under-the-radar player to watch

We asked Turf Show Times for some names of players who Packers fans don’t know yet but should for Sunday.


Photo by Sean M. Haffey/Getty Images
This week, the Green Bay Packers suit up in Los Angeles against a Rams team with a lot of star power. We know many of the names: Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh on defense, Todd Gurley, Jared Goff, and Brandin Cooks on offense.
However, there are 22 starters and 46 active players on gameday, and there will be several names that fans of opposing teams either don’t know or are relatively unfamiliar with. With that in mind, we asked Joe McAtee of Turf Show Times to break down a few of those under-the-radar players for us so we have a better idea of who supports the stars.
Here’s what Joe had to say.
The Rams are in a unique position of having a ton of notables on offense, especially for fantasy football players. QB Jared Goff, RB Todd Gurley and the WR trio of Brandin Cooks, Robert Woods and Cooper Kupp, who’s doubtful for this one and likely out, are all known commodities. Perhaps, though, Packers fans don’t know just how good the offensive line has been this season.
As good as the Packers’ line has been, PFF ranked the Rams even better as the #1 OL in the entire NFL after Week 6. The most surprising component? RG Austin Blythe. A UDFA from 2016 who the Rams grabbed from Indianapolis Colts cuts last season, Blythe was the backup to RG Jamon Brown in 2017. But a two-game suspension for Brown opened the door for Blythe, and he has been fantastic in response.
On defense, there are less known quantities. LB Cory Littleton is one of the most versatile weapons for the Rams. He’s fantastic in special teams play, and has contributed well as a linebacker to match. I’d be mostly worried about him blocking a sixth punt if only because he’s been so ridiculously gifted in that area. And with rookie LB Trevon Young doubtful as well on the injury report, keep an eye out for #94 DE/OLB John Franklin-Myers in rotation. A fourth-round rookie out of Stephen F. Austin, he hasn’t gotten a ton of time, but given the jump in competition from SFA to the NFL he has looked impressive at times.
And watch for S John Johnson III. He’s leading the Rams in interceptions and is a fine two-way safety. He’s only started 18 games in his young career, so there’s reason to think there’s untapped potential. Given how good he’s looked to this point, that’s pretty scary for opposing offenses in general.
Once again, thanks to Joe at TST and head over there to see our response to the same prompt.

Tuesday, October 23, 2018

Special Teams Player of the Week

October 22, 2018

Special Teams Player of the Week

Chandler Catanzaro, kicker, Tampa Bay.
Seriously: I just block-saved the “Chandler Catanzaro goat entry” and inserted it here and wrote a new top! Tampa coach Dirk Koetter trusted the well-traveled Catanzaro to try a 59-yard field goal on fourth-and-15 from the Cleveland 41 more than he trusted Jameis Winston to convert. I would have too. And with 1:55 left in overtime (Cleveland’s fourth OT game out of seven games this fall), Catanzaro got a perfect snap and spot and booted the 59-yarder comfortably inside the right upright with maybe three yards to spare. His missed extra point early (it scraped the right upright) enabled Cleveland to work its way back to forge a 23-23 tie. But the Bucs got in position to win with an eminently makeable 40-yard field goal with four seconds left. Again, Catanzaro pushed it right. The final outcome saved his bacon.

Dont’a Hightower, linebacker, New England. After playing a vital role in the Patriots knocking the Chiefs from the unbeaten ranks last week, Hightower made the play of the day for New England midway through the third quarter at Chicago. Hightower, playing on the punt-rush team on the defensive line, steamrolled his man—tight end Ben Braunecker (Harvard man, by the way)—and smothered the Pat O’Donnell punt. In the ensuing mayhem, Kyle Van Noy picked it up for New England and returned it for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a 31-24 lead. Textbook example of a brute-strength bull-rush on the punt, and knowing exactly where the block point was on the punt. That’s the first time the Bears have had a punt blocked and returned for a touchdown by an opponent in 31 years.

Monday, October 22, 2018

Bucs' Chandler Catanzaro emotional after making longest-ever OT field goal

October 22, 2018
By Jenna Laine ESPN Staff Writer

TAMPA, Fla. -- Buccaneers kicker Chandler Catanzaro's voice started to quiver and his icy-blue eyes grew misty. He'd just nailed the 59-yard game-winning field goal -- the longest field goal in overtime history -- and all he could think about were those who didn't give up on him after he missed what would have been the game-winner.

"They mean a lot," Catanzaro said of teammates who rushed to give him a hero's welcome.
"As a kicker, you never want to go in there [and miss] when they set you up so well. ... I'm just so thankful it worked out like it did. God is good."

The previous long was Oakland's Sebastian Janikowski from 57 yards on Oct. 19, 2008.

"I almost passed out. I stood up and got dizzy trying to scream too much," said Bryan Anger, the Bucs' punter who was the holder on Catanzaro's kick. "It's tough to keep your head down and push through that.

"He played the wind well. The wind was kind of going in our faces and cross from right to left, so that's tough because he [had to] start outside the uprights. ... So he started outside the uprights and let it draw back in. The wind was a little tricky today. Up top, the wind was going one way and below, it was going the other."

With 4 seconds to go with the game tied 23-23, Catanzaro saw his 40-yard kick sail wide right. In the second quarter, he also missed an extra point -- all from the same hashmark. Anger wasn't sure if that contributed to the misses.

"I was extremely upset with myself. I told the guys earlier, 'This team deserved to win this game,'" Catanzaro said. "They played their tails off all game, and for me to miss a kick like that, it was very frustrating for me, especially after the prep I had this week."

Defensive line coach Brenston Buckner, a fellow Clemson alum who was with Catanzaro when he was with the Arizona Cardinals, said he told him: "Stick with it. You've been here."

Quarterback Jameis Winston told him: "We're gonna give it to you again. Stay in it. Do your thing."

Because of the new NFL overtime rules -- which if the game is tied at the end of the overtime period, it will result in a tie -- head coach Dirk Koetter felt he had to pull the trigger. He had also witnessed Catanzaro drill a 61-yarder in practice this week. Catanzaro made a 57-yarder when he was with the New York Jets last season and was 62.5 percent on kicks of 50-plus yards since 2016.

"I knew he had the distance in him," Koetter said. "If we didn't make that one, we weren't getting it back. You either go for the win or hope you tie. The way the game was going, we were going for the win. But I knew he could make it if he hit it."

Browns head coach Hue Jackson said he was surprised to see the Bucs line up for a 59-yard field goal in overtime.

"I said there's no way he was going to make that. He did. So they won," Jackson said.

Defensive back Damarious Randall was expecting to see the punt team.

"I saw the kicker come out and I thought, 'He just missed a [40]-yarder, there's no way he's going to make a 58- or 59-yarder,'" Randall said. "That's just the nature of the game. He just missed a kick and he just made a hell of a kick. Just tip your hat to him. That's a hell of a kick."

Added Baker Mayfield: "I'm thinking if he doesn't make it, we're getting the ball at midfield, we have less than 20 yards until our kicker is in comfortable reaching distance at that. That's a great kick. You don't see that often."

The Perfect Wrestler

By Dennis Young
October 18, 2018

This piece originally appeared on Victory Journal.

By March 2015, wrestler Kyle Snyder was used to winning. He had gone 179-0 against high school competition and won the world under-20 championships at just 17. Then, in 2015, his freshman year at Ohio State, Snyder lost the NCAA 197-pound* final to Iowa State senior Kyven Gadson. Immediately afterward, Snyder addressed a group of OSU boosters and donors at the tournament hotel. Despite the fact that his dream of being a four-time NCAA champ was dead, Snyder said, “If this is the worst thing that happens to be in my life, I’m a really fortunate guy.”

Snyder’s loss was almost certainly the worst thing that happened to the rest of the world’s men in his weight class. In the three years since, he’s racked up three straight global gold medals, two undefeated NCAA seasons, and three NCAA titles. His 2015 world championship at 19 was the youngest ever by an American; so was his 2016 Olympic gold. His third world championship, though, in 2017, was by far the most impressive. The then-consensus best pound-for-pound wrestler in the world, Abdulrashid “The Russian Tank” Sadulaev, moved up a weight class for the express purpose of taking on Snyder; it seemed that Sadulaev was almost bored with his weight class. Snyder–Sadulaev was the tournament finale and would decide the men’s freestyle team title.

USA Wrestling executive director Rich Bender explains that “most of the matches that are highly anticipated, especially with bigger guys, tend to be really boring, technical, and just not a lot of scoring.” Not this one. Only five seconds in, Snyder charged at Sadulaev, tried to push him out of bounds, and immediately got flipped over. Two-zero, Sadulaev. From there, Sadulaev subjected Snyder to a punishing series of assaults. Sadulaev tried to force Snyder out of bounds; Snyder snuck under him and picked up a point. Both wrestlers were “shooting”—trying to grab the other’s legs—at a ridiculous rate. Then, barely a minute in, Sadulaev picked up Snyder by the knee and carried him out of bounds for a 3-1 lead. Snyder recognized that his relentless offensive strategy wasn’t working, and he shifted to a slower pace and succeeded in pulling Sadulaev to the mat for a two-point takedown, making it a 3-3 tie heading into the final three-minute period. Witnessing the match unfold in front of him, one announcer breathlessly observed that “the difference between truth and fiction is that fiction has to be believable.”

Sadulaev seemed to have taken total control of the match when, with two minutes left, he chased Snyder to the edge of the mat and took him down for a 5-3 lead. Snyder ended up on his knees twice after, narrowly averting disaster, but the score stayed at 5-3. (A takedown requires three body parts to be touching the mat.) Then, despite the fact that a 213-pound man had been pulling on his neck nonstop for five minutes, Snyder appeared to get a second wind. He may just have been letting Sadulaev tire himself out. Snyder shot at Sadulaev once and was barely held off; he shot again, this time pushing the Russian out of bounds. With 40 seconds left, it was 5-4, Sadulaev. But Sadulaev was clearly tired; he looked up at the clock. And then Snyder flipped Sadulaev onto his stomach to go up 6-5 and clinch the first men’s team title for the United States since 1995—the year Snyder was born. Snyder was now the best pound-for-pound wrestler in the world.

Kyle Snyder has two life goals: conduct himself as much like Jesus Christ as possible, and technically, creatively, and aesthetically master the sport of wrestling. The first is pretty straightforward, if by definition unattainable—though Ohio State head coach Tom Ryan speaks so effusively about how Snyder lives that he has to pull back and make it clear that Snyder is, in fact, not God.

The second is more elliptic: He wants to move beyond wins and losses and become the perfect wrestler. It’s not that Snyder lacks a competitive streak. He sheepishly tells a story of when he lost a beach volleyball tournament to his father’s team on a family vacation. Apparently, it was one aunt’s fault, and Kyle told her that she “sucked” and that her effort was poor. But Snyder finds pursuing gold medals fundamentally boring. “Winning what I’ve won at a young age helped me realize that that doesn’t completely fulfill you,” Snyder says. “I always dreamed of being an Olympic champion, and then when I won the Olympics I woke up the next morning and I didn’t feel any different.” Kyle’s younger brother, Kevin, also a wrestler on the Ohio State team, says, “If you want to win all the time, that’s just a hard life to live. It’s almost like when you win, it’s a sense of relief. . . . Wrestling is a martial art, and martial arts, there are always the masters. In a kung fu movie, there’s one guy who’s the greatest, and that’s who Kyle wants to be.”

Because of this, there’s a philosophical bent to the way Snyder trains. Ohio Regional Training Center head and OSU assistant Tervel Dlagnev, a two-time world bronze medalist whom Ryan calls the “Yoda of wrestling,” is most deeply involved with Snyder’s coaching. The 32-year-old Dlagnev, who can still hold his own against his charges on the mat, hates “suffer now and become a champion later” rhetoric. “I don’t want him to look back on his career and say, ‘I was legendary, but it sucked. I had no friends, I was miserable, but I did it.’ That’s such a clichéd story that’s not conducive to real life,” says Dlagnev. “I want him to love his time in the sport.”

Snyder does too: “Sacrifice is what people do when they don’t love what they’re doing.”

Both Snyder and Dlagnev agree that to master the sport, he needs to be more open, fluid, and aggressive. Dlagnev explains that maybe the biggest obstacle to Snyder becoming the perfect wrestler is that up to this point, his otherworldly combination of power and endurance has mostly led to winning. Snyder has more moves in his repertoire, but wrestling fans haven’t seen them yet because he hasn’t exactly needed them. During his freshman season, Snyder lost in the Big Ten final to Morgan McIntosh of Penn State. Shortly after that loss, Snyder came to Dlagnev and said he woke up in a panic after a dream where he had finished his wrestling career and realized that he had never touched his potential. Not that he had a dream where he didn’t win the Olympics, or the NCAA meet, but that he, as Dlagnev puts it, “didn’t see all of me.”

The most striking thing about Kyle Snyder’s physique is his back, which contains an enormous indent around his spine because the muscles on either side of it are so developed. Ryan says that when you hug Snyder, your entire hand fits in there. Because so much of wrestling starts with pulling on the opponent’s head and neck, the strength of the muscles on the posterior chain—the back of the body—is vital. Ryan, who has been a Division I head coach for more than 20 years, says it’s the strongest back he has ever seen.

But Snyder has never participated in the Ohio State strength-and-conditioning program. Instead, he credits his strength-and-conditioning guru, a family friend named Neil Serafenas, who was an elite shot putter. This is an unusual arrangement, but it suits him: “I think a lot of people are over-coached,” he says. “I like the relaxed culture of, if you need help, go ask coach.” Dlagnev is deeply involved with Snyder’s technical and tactical preparations, but other than that, it’s clear that Snyder makes a large amount of his own day-to-day decisions. He’s not brash about it, saying he frequently consults with his parents and coaches, but admits, “I know myself better than anyone else on this earth.”

Ryan and Snyder both give Serafenas an enormous amount of credit. Because of Serafenas’s blend of spirituality and science, he says, “I’ve never wrestled anyone of my weight class that feels stronger than me . . . My system is so much better than theirs that even if they’re taking [steroids], I’ll be able to beat them.” Serafenas also liberally incorporates spirituality into his coaching: “Neil talks to Him. He’ll pray, ask what type of thing he needs to do.” This suits Snyder. He was raised Catholic and went to Catholic high school, but says that he was too “immature” at the time for it to really set in. That changed during his senior year, when he moved from his family’s home in Woodbine, Maryland, to train with the country’s best wrestlers at the Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs. The USA Wrestling coaches Gene Davis, Brandon Slay, and Bill Zadick hosted a weekly Bible study that Snyder began attending. By his own admission, he might have never gone if Davis and Slay weren’t Olympic medalists. But these conversations ended up changing Snyder’s life. He now hosts his own weekly group at the apartment that he shares with his brother and his fiancée, Maddie Pack, a Syracuse soccer player whom he met in high school. Religion runs deep in American wrestling. Many of the best wrestlers in the country, and their coaches, are devout Christians—both Ryan and Snyder tell me that they do not believe humans evolved from apes. But there are outliers, and Snyder says that when he engages with them, his attitude is, “if you disagree, let’s learn together.” With a smile on his face, Snyder recounts the time at a training camp when a Team USA teammate told him that he would “never believe unless Jesus literally walked through the door, in his flesh, and shook his hand and said, ‘Hi, I’m Jesus.’”

Snyder was paid $350,000 over his last three years at Ohio State for being good at wrestling; strangely, the NCAA knew about and blessed it. In the late 2000s, wrestling-obsessed billionaires Michael Novogratz and David Barry put huge sums in a pot now called the Living The Dream Medal Fund. At the high end, any American wrestler who won Olympic gold would get $250,000; a gold in the World Championship would net $50,000. These are eye-popping numbers for wrestling. There have always been a few meager endorsement contracts and USA Wrestling stipends available, but because they could earn more doing nearly anything else, many of the best Americans stopped competing entirely at a young age, like Cael Sanderson, or went into mixed martial arts after a short Olympic wrestling career, like Chael Sonnen, Ben Askren, and Daniel Cormier.

Part of Novogratz and Barry’s motivation was that wrestling wasn’t just struggling for relevance—it was facing extinction. In early 2013, the International Olympic Committee voted to remove the sport from the 2020 Olympics. This was largely blamed on wrestling’s international governing body, FILA, which had corrupt leadership, a poor relationship with the IOC, and a mediocre product. (It became so toxic in the process that it changed its name to United World Wrestling the next year.) Under well-coordinated international pressure, FILA changed the competition rules, added opportunities for women, and purged widely reviled president Raphael Martinetti. Just six months later, those changes were enough for the IOC to vote the sport back in.

The same year, NCAA rules changed, allowing undergraduates to receive payment from national federations for Olympic medals. (Novogratz and Barry’s fund routed payments through USA Wrestling to ensure compliance.) The payments made it easy for Snyder to stay in college, although he did consider turning pro at one point before ultimately listening to his father, who told him, “I didn’t know you wanted to be the richest man in the world—I thought you wanted to be the best wrestler.” His presence was unquestionably good for college sports, although the fact that the NCAA suddenly found some payments acceptable under amateurism wasn’t lost on the reformers suing the NCAA, who have cited these payments in court. And it isn’t lost on Snyder, who feels that “athletes should be able to make as much money as they can off their name. If Toyota wants to give a truck and a hundred thousand bucks to an Ohio State running back this year, let him do it.”

In addition to the one-off bonuses and an endorsement contract with Rudis, a wrestling apparel company, the Ohio RTC pays Snyder $110,000 a year. (Rudis was cofounded by Jeff Jordan, the brother of ultra-conservative congressman Jim Jordan and the father of Snyder’s teammates Bo and Micah Jordan. Multiple former Ohio State wrestlers have accused Jim Jordan of knowing that a school doctor sexually abused them while he was an assistant coach at the school.) All told, Snyder is easily one of the most well-compensated young American wrestlers ever. But he’s making a tiny fraction of what he would if he followed the well-tread path into the UFC. In the fall of 2016, Snyder set off a minor media furor by tweeting “I want to fight” at the UFC after attending an event. At the time, UFC heavyweight champion and former wrestler Daniel Cormier said that Snyder was “as blue as a blue chip prospect gets in any sport.” And it’s not totally off the table. After a hand-fighting workout against Kevin during which the pair took turns slapping each other on the shoulder very hard and usually laughing when on the receiving end, Snyder offhandedly joked, “I could go in the UFC right now.” But it’s clear that he has no plans to do so, in the short or long term. He wants to wrestle in five Olympics, through 2032, when he’d be 37—still two years younger than Cormier is now.

Kevin Snyder might know the clearest reason of all for Kyle sticking to wrestling: “I don’t think he likes getting punched in the face.” The writer John Irving has waxed about wrestling’s “safe return” rule, which requires wrestlers to bring their opponents safely to the mat after picking them up. Ryan calls wrestling “controlled violence” and contrasts it to MMA, where the objective is, as he puts it, to “concuss someone.”

The Biblical phrase “iron sharpens iron” is unsurprisingly popular across a range of macho sports, but it actually offers real insight in wrestling, where there’s no substitute for and little downside to practicing at full speed against the most formidable opponents possible. No amount of stultifying conditioning workouts or repetitive drills can serve as a substitute for the real thing.

At the beginning of the 2017–18 NCAA season, Snyder was on a collision course with Michigan behemoth Adam Coon, who presented a unique problem. Snyder wrestles against men his size internationally, but the lowest non-heavyweight classification in the NCAA is 197 pounds. The 6′ 6″, 285-pound Coon had redshirted the previous season and, allegedly, had grown in that time. Snyder, who is “just” 5′ 11″, 225, would have to go through Coon three times—a Michigan dual in February followed by the Big Ten and NCAA tournaments in March—to become the first man in 29 years to win three straight NCAA heavyweight titles.

Snyder searched the planet for one of the few men alive who could truly push him in practice. He found the ideal sparring partner in Turkish world and Olympic champion Taha Akgül, who is 6′ 4″, 265, and on any short list of the best wrestlers alive. Snyder direct-messaged Akgül on Instagram in English, Akgül used Google Translate to figure it out, and a mutually beneficial relationship was born. While the Ohio RTC pays for his lodging in Columbus, he’s paid for his own flights to and from Turkey, so it’s obvious that Akgül finds something beneficial in the arrangement. Akgül came to Columbus for his first stretch of training in February, and has been back several times since.

Snyder is studying Russian with a private tutor now. Wrestlers from Russia and nearby countries dominate the sport, and Snyder says, “If I can speak Russian, then I’ll change wrestling in America forever, because I’ll get all the Russians that are really good to come train here.” In his limited conversations with Russian athletes, they say they want to. “Everyone that I’ve ever talked to over there, they’re like: ‘Yes! America’s nice, man!’”

Maybe the Russians are ready to say America is so nice because they’re yearning to be literally anywhere else while in Krasnoyarsk, Siberia, in January, when temperatures reach 30 below. Snyder has traveled there in the last three years to wrestle at the Ivan Yarygin Grand Prix, considered by some to be the hardest wrestling tournament in the world because the Russians have unlimited entries and a home-mat advantage. Going there during the collegiate season is in character for Snyder, who relishes the chance to wrestle the toughest matches possible. When the Russian Tank moved up to wrestle him, the American tweeted “It’s a beautiful day, the sun is shining, the birds are chirping, and Sadulaev is coming up to 97kg.”

Snyder won his last two Yarygins, making him the only American ever to win there twice. The first Coon match was less than two weeks after the 2018 Yarygin. Despite his usual ferocity, Snyder told me, “At the beginning of the season, I wasn’t that excited about wrestling Adam because of how big he was.” This is unusual language for Snyder. He’s so self-assured that before his first senior world championships, as a 19-year-old who didn’t even win the Big Ten just months before, he said, “There is no way that they can handle what I can.” (Of course, this did end up being true.)

But again, Coon is big. At 6′ 6″, 285, he could be a legitimate NFL prospect, although he’s two inches too tall to achieve his dream of being an astronaut. More saliently, he outweighs Snyder by at least 55 pounds. While Coon and Snyder were both “heavyweights,” the gap between them was equivalent to seven weight classes’ worth of difference. (The heaviest non-heavyweight class is 197 pounds; the heavyweight class is capped at 285. In the 55 pounds below 197, there are seven weight classes.)

Maybe it isn’t exactly cutting-edge science to say that a wrestler is tired after flying to Siberia and back, but Ryan says that the program had internal biometrics showing Snyder was exhausted despite his claim that he felt great the week before the Michigan dual. Whether it was due to fatigue or the sheer absurdity of wrestling a man seven inches taller and sixty pounds heavier, Coon beat Snyder 3-1.

It was Snyder’s first loss to a collegian since the 2015 NCAA final, and maybe worse, it was the exact type of low-scoring bruiser battle that Snyder and Dlagnev want to minimize. Coon, who opened up a 2-0 lead with a first-period takedown that would end up as half the total scoring, described the match as “two bears pawing at each other, trying to find that little inch of good position.”

Coon was the perfect opponent for Snyder: incredibly smart and a size that he’d never face internationally. Why bother with him at all when the Russians in his weight class were enough trouble? And besides, the rewards for beating them were Olympic and world gold medals, not Big Ten and NCAA championships. For one, Coon represented Snyder’s biggest loss in roughly a year, and he wanted to avenge it. But he also presented a unique intellectual challenge. Snyder and Dlagnev mostly say that Snyder’s improvement will come from wrestling more aggressively—shooting more rather than relying on his near-unbeatable combination of strength and fitness. Beating Coon required the exact opposite adjustment: “Holding position, not shooting as much, picking and choosing, trying to score late in periods,” according to Snyder.

In other words, Snyder’s whole life is built around creating the most energetic and entertaining wrestling style anyone’s ever seen, but winning a third straight NCAA heavyweight title would require the exact opposite. Beating Sadulaev took one of the greatest wrestling matches of all time, but beating Coon twice would be significantly more quotidian. Snyder avenged the first one, although barely, in a 4-2 overtime win at the Big Ten final. The NCAA final two weeks later in Cleveland would be the rubber match.

When Coon said that he and Snyder were two bears pawing at each other, the emphasis really was on pawing. Their matches look slow, but what’s really happening is that they’re competing on a razor’s edge, and seeking out the tiniest low point or angle to attack. Wrestling journalist Andrew Spey says that when wrestlers “look like an arch with hands on each other’s heads and elbows, there is a nearly imperceptible game within a game going on, like dozens of simultaneous rock-paper-scissors contests. If I pull on his elbow and he reacts, will that open up his opposite leg that I want to attack? Or will he see that coming and attack my opposite side?”

At the NCAA final, neither man scored in the first period. Snyder scored a lone point in the second. Coon tied it in the third, but it was obvious that neither man was eager to attack. With 25 seconds left, Coon blinked first and went for Snyder’s leg; Snyder saw it coming and threw Coon to the ground. A 3-1 lead between these two—much less this late in a match—was like a 5-0 lead against anyone else, and Snyder had it. A man 25 percent larger than him couldn’t stand between Snyder and the title he wanted.

Friday, October 19, 2018

Matt Nagy: Flowers might not be a big name, but he is for coaches

By Phil Perry
October 17, 2018

FOXBORO -- The Patriots rank last in the league in sacks, tied with the Raiders and Giants, with seven. Just a shade over one per game on average.

Not great.

But going into last weekend's game with the Chiefs, the Patriots ranked second in the league in pressure percentage, according to ESPN. And they hurried Patrick Mahomes into some bad decisions. Pressures on the quarterback led to Duron Harmon's interception in and Stephon Gilmore's pass-breakup -- both of which occurred in the end zone.

One week prior, Adrian Clayborn -- who leads the team with 20 quarterback pressures, but hasn't sacked the quarterback -- hit Andrew Luck to force an interception by Patrick Chung.

Bears coach Matt Nagy acknowledged that the Patriots haven't had much production in terms of sacks, but he insisted they made life difficult for quarterbacks at different points.

"That’s kind of what they do . . . and I don’t think that’s ever necessarily changed," Nagy said. "Again, they have a belief in their system and how it goes and how it works and they’ve been successful. Whether there’s a game where they have a lot of pressure or there’s a game where there’s not much, you’ve got to be able to adapt to it. Again, being around the football, tipping the ball in the air, making plays in the red zone, not giving up touchdowns and having three field goals kicked, that type of deal is always going to work when you just do what you’re supposed to do and that’s what they do."

Though Trey Flowers missed almost two full games -- he suffered a concussion early in Week 2 and missed Week 3 -- he's second on the team with 17 total quarterback pressures.

"He’s not the quote-unquote big name guy, but he’s the big name guy amongst the coaching world," Nagy said. "We know who he is and what he can do and we respect him and know he’s a hell of a player. As you would anybody, you always want to know where they’re at and how they do things and that happens in film study. He can hold the point, he’s strong, he’s quick, he’s fast, he plays in front of the quarterback. We know that he’s a good football player."

Patriots linebackers coach Brian Flores said he values pressures a great deal. If his defense can put pressure on the Bears Sunday, even if they're not necessarily sacking the quarterback, they should be in OK shape.

"Well, I think anytime you can sack the quarterback, that's great," Flores said. "With that, when you're sacking him, you're pressuring him, and I think no quarterback likes having pressure on the edge or up the middle. So, yeah, I value pressures a lot, and I think that goes a long way toward marrying a rush and the coverage and playing really good defense.

"So, getting pressure on the quarterback is, I would say, definitely something that we strive to do. I think we've gotten that. I would say Adrian Clayborn's a guy who he doesn't have a sack this season, but he's put a lot of pressure on the quarterback and that's led to some mistakes. He put some pressure on Mahomes that led to some mistakes from Mahomes last week. I think the pressure definitely helps us to create some turnovers. It created some turnovers for us [last week], and hopefully we can continue to do that moving forward."

Monday, October 15, 2018

Winners and losers from Patriots' thrilling win over Chiefs

By Henry McKenna
October 15, 2018

Here are our winners and losers from the New England Patriots’ 43-40 shootout win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night in Week 6.


Tom Brady, QB: This wasn’t Brady’s most brilliant or complete performance, with one particularly costly drive when he nearly threw an interception and then got strip-sacked. The Chiefs immediately converted the turnover into a touchdown. But he finished the day with 340 yards, a passing touchdown and a rushing touchdown. Most importantly, he led a perfectly executed final drive that chewed the clock with just enough time for a chip-shot Stephen Gostokowski field goal to win the game. The drive included this perfect strike from Brady to Rob Gronkowski.

Sony Michel, RB: Another strong outing with 106 rushing yards and two touchdowns. His short-yardage performances were his most impressive achievement. The rookie had been spotty during the season but seemed to gain confidence against the Chiefs’ porous defense, which allowed Michel to poke in for two touchdowns: one for 4 yards and the other for 1 yard. And Bill Belichick will surely love the pass-protection Michel provided on the Patriots’ first offensive play of the second half, as he took on a Chiefs rusher.

Patriots offensive line: They helped the offense finish with 500 yards with some brilliant moments as a unit, including blocking for screen passes where they sold the run before charging downfield for big gains, and a 17-yard gain on a nice job from Joe Thuney.

Trey Flowers, DE: He was all over the field, finishing with seven tackles, one for loss and a quarterback hit. He managed an enormously important pressure on a pass attempt on third-and-7 during the Chiefs’ second-to-last drive. Patrick Mahomes had Tyreek Hill open, but couldn’t lead the speedster because of Flowers’ penetration into the backfield.

Dont’a Hightower, LB: Hightower turned a set of bad snaps into a remarkable one. The Chiefs had been beating Hightower in 1-on-1 coverage by targeting Travis Kelce and Kareem Hunt in the first quarter. Hightower then disguised coverage by pretending to pick up Hunt before dropping into coverage in the middle of the field where he picked off Mahomes. Hightower’s legs may not be as quick as his rookie year, but his mind is infinitely quicker.

Julian Edelman, WR: Edelman shook cornerback Kendall Fuller with enough separation that Edelman had time to fix his glove before hauling in a touchdown. The receiver finished the night with four catches for 54 yards and the touchdown.

Duron Harmon, S: Harmon logged a second-quarter interception in the final moments of the half. The play erased at least three points with the Chiefs in chip-shot range. It wasn’t a game-ending pick — Harmon’s specialty — but it was still quite meaningful.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Week 5 NFL Team of the Week

October 8, 2018

It is time again for the PFF NFL Team of the Week – highlighting the best individual performances from the weekend’s worth of action.

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.

Check out all of our regular season advanced statistics and information including every player’s grade with PFF Elite and Premium Stats 2.0.



Brandon Scherff, Washington Redskins – 90.1

It was a night to forget for Washington, but Scherff reminded everyone of what he’s capable of with an outstanding performance at right guard. From 44 pass blocking snaps, he allowed just one sack, with no hits or hurries. With the flow of the game, they only ran the ball 17 times, but as he has done before, Scherff made several key blocks, both at the line of scrimmage and second level.

Monday, October 08, 2018

Cardinals kicker Phil Dawson entering rare company with 300th game

By Katherine Fitzgerald
October 7, 2018

Phil Dawson never really dreamed of this moment. The Cardinals kicker is on the threshold of a major milestone, but it's not what he envisioned when he was playing linebacker in high school in Texas.

"I never really wanted to be a kicker, so I didn’t look up to kickers, and probably still don’t," Dawson said. "I wanted to be a player."

Dawson laughs as he jokes that kickers aren't players, but after 20 seasons, he's reached a serious point in his career.

On Sunday, Dawson will play in his 300th game, making him just the 11th player in NFL history to amass that many. Eight of the 11 members of the 300 Club are kickers. (George Blanda played both placekicker and quarterback, as one could do back in the 1950s.)

Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is the only active player who has tallied more games than Dawson. Dawson could move to seventh-most games on the all-time list by the end of the season, passing Jerry Rice, Brett Favre, and kickers John Carney and John Kasay.

"I don’t know that I ever could have imagined playing this long, but to reach 300 games is a testament to a lot of people who have supported me over the years and a lot of coaches that have poured into me, and a lot of hard work, so that’ll mean a great deal to me," Dawson said Wednesday.

But Dawson coupled each answer with a caveat.

"Obviously, coming off a game like last week, super downer, so you’re going to have ups and downs, and to be able to survive them and accomplish something like this means a great deal," he said.

With a dry sense of humor, Dawson is still reckoning with a three-point loss to Seattle in which he missed two field goals: one from 45 yards and one from 50.

"You know, I went around today, and I was like, ‘You want to be encouraged?’ And everyone was like, ‘Yeah!’ And I was like, ‘You could be me this week.’ And that put a smile on everybody’s face," Dawson said. "So I’m trying to deal with it with some humor, and obviously I’m suffering each and every moment – just want to get back out on the field, and try to get going."

His next chance to set things right comes Sunday against San Francisco, where he played four of his 20 seasons. After going undrafted, Dawson won the starting job in Cleveland in 1999. He played 14 seasons there before heading to San Francisco and eventually to Arizona in 2017.

He's made 33 kicks in his time as with the Cardinals, including three game-winners. But even a few days after the loss to Seattle, his most recent performance was all he would allow himself to think about.

"It lingers," Dawson said. "I can remember misses from 18 years ago. It’s unrealistic to think that I’ll just all of the sudden forget about it. But I’ll use it for good, and no one will work harder to be prepared next time than I will."

But when the kick is good?

"You know, I wish I could remember those as much," Dawson said. "The high moments in this league are great, but they’re not as intense and they don’t linger as long as the bad ones."

Even if he doesn't remember the makes as well, they've certainly happened. He's made 437 over the course of his career, in 521 attempts, good for 83.9 percent. His latest field goal, a 23-yarder in that loss to Seattle, moved him to eighth most all-time.

"I think it's huge, just from the mere fact of him being in the league this long, with being as accurate," coach Steve Wilks said. "I know that comes with the understatement of what happened last week, but pretty impressive over his career. So I think that says volumes about him."

Wilks said he talked to Dawson about the misses on Monday. He finds in-game corrections on kickers can sometimes do more harm than good, so instead, the coach called Dawson up the next day.

"I’ve been living on egg shells for 21 years, so yeah, anytime you get summoned to the head coach’s office, that makes you think twice, especially coming off a game like I had," Dawson said. "But we had a nice conversation, we’re on the same page, and obviously looking for improvement this week."

Dawson didn't just hear from Wilks. He also heard from the youngest player in the Cardinals' locker room: rookie quarterback Josh Rosen.

Immediately after the game, Rosen championed Dawson to the media.

"Phil’s one of the greatest kickers in the history of football,
and it happens," Rosen said after his first start.

He also reached out to Dawson. Dawson is 22 years and 18 days older than Rosen. That age gap is longer than Rosen's been alive, but Dawson liked the message from the precocious quarterback.

"I think that speaks a lot about his leadership," Dawson said. "Here’s a rookie making his first start, and he comes up to the second-oldest guy in the league and has some words of encouragement. So I was impressed by that, and I think this whole locker room can benefit from leadership like that."

While Dawson speaks highly of Rosen's leadership, the kicker has been able to influence his teammates, as well.

"I've gotten a lot of great advice from him," punter Andy Lee said. "Football-wise, life-wise, money-wise, just advice on certain things. ... I would say just all around, he's just a great guy that you can bounce things off of, and you know you're going to get something truthful and honest and very useful."

When Lee heard about the milestone, he started calculating how much longer he would have to play. He said Dawson reaching 300 games is "inspiring," and that was even before he found out how small the company was.

"I didn't even realize it was that low of a number," Lee said. "But to do something only 11 guys have done is pretty impressive."

Dawson says he hasn't talked to the other 10 – "they’re really old" – but that one day, his place in NFL history will sink in.

"That will be something, when it’s all said and done, I think I will take a lot of pride in," Dawson said. "But like I said, I have a job to do this week, and I just don’t have the luxury to reminisce at this point."

Mike Vrabel an early Coach of the Year candidate for national media

By Matias Wodner
October 8, 2018

Turning water into wine and getting his team to 3-1 at the quarter mark of the year has earned Mike Vrabel praise from the media.

When the Tennessee Titans fired Mike Mularkey after a divisional round loss to the New England Patriots, fans and media were split on the decision. On one hand, the Titans were parting ways with a coach who rattled off a pair of 9-7 seasons in his two full years with the team and won a playoff game for the first time since January of 2004. On the other hand, the Titans should’ve won more games than they did and shouldn’t have struggled against inferior teams, and the insistence on an offensive scheme that was clearly outdated and was hurting the team’s franchise quarterback was an indictment on Mularkey.

When the Titans hired Mike Vrabel to replace Mularkey, fans and media were split on the decision. On one hand, Vrabel left a lasting impression on nearly every player and coach he played and coached with or for, while he also had a strong pedigree as a position coach for Ohio State and the Houston Texans. On the other hand, Vrabel was among the least-qualified of all of the candidates for the Titans’ head coach position, as he only had one year of experience as a coordinator and his defense was underwhelming during that year.

Four games into his head coaching career, Vrabel looks like a home run hire, and all of the talk about his inexperience and qualifications has been thrown out the window.

Vrabel has had to deal with a truly astounding amount of adversity during his short time with the team. His All-Pro right tackle missed the first three games of the season. His Pro Bowl left tackle missed a game and a half with a concussion. His franchise quarterback missed about two full games and still isn’t 100-percent healthy. His Pro Bowl tight end got injured in the first game of the season and is out for the year. His most accomplished wide receiver quit on the team and was subsequently released. There was also the marathon Week 1 game that was delayed several times and featured the left tackle, tight end and quarterback being unable to finish the game.

Despite all of the aforementioned and several other bumps in the road, Vrabel has rallied his team and rattled off three-straight victories. Two of those came in division games and the other was a signature, come-from-behind win against the reigning Super Bowl champions. Within all of that, Vrabel has shown a propensity for gambling in high-leverage situations and trusting his players to make the game-changing plays when put in good positions. The Titans have gone for it on fourth down seven times so far this season and have converted five times, which is first in the NFL by a comfortable margin.

With his team sitting at 3-1 after an improbable first month of the season, Vrabel has gotten recognition from the national media, which rarely gives the Titans the light of day. His performance to this point with a team that’s gone through a lot has earned him praise, and many are calling him the Coach of the Year at the quarter mark of the season.

The 1st place @Titans are 3-1 with an injured franchise QB, and @CharlesRobinson argues Mike Vrabel has earned early "Coach of the Year" honors 🏆 #TitanUp
— Yahoo Sports NFL (@YahooSportsNFL) October 3, 2018

"Mike Vrabel might be Coach of the Year a quarter into the season." – @PSchrags after the @Titans' OT win over the Eagles. Thoughts?
— NFL Network (@nflnetwork) October 1, 2018

#Titans HC Mike Vrabel has @mlombardiNFL’s attention after 1 month.
— Travis Haney (@travhaney) October 2, 2018

Mike Vrabel coach of the year
— Jamey Eisenberg (@JameyEisenberg) September 30, 2018

I had my doubts about Vrabel when he was hired, but those doubts have been effectively crushed after just four games. Yes, it’s early for anything to be decided. No, it isn’t too early to realize the Titans nailed their head coaching hire. Vrabel has infected the team and organization with energy and hope, and it has already translated to wins on the field. Everyone is starting to take notice.

Tuesday, October 02, 2018

The Award Section: Coaches of the Week

October 1, 2018

Coaches of the Week

Mike Vrabel, coach, Tennessee. The Titans have gone bold this season because Vrabel likes to play that way. From the cool fake-punt touchdown throw by safety Kevin Byard in Week 2 to the gut-feeling go-for-it on fourth-and-two in overtime against the Super Bowl champs Sunday, he’s fine with putting his developing rep on the line—and he told me it’s largely because his players love it, and he thinks it makes for a tighter team, all pulling together. Whatever it is, the Titans have beaten two of the NFL’s final four teams from 2017—Jacksonville and Philadelphia—in the last eight days, and they’re 3-1 with the tiebreaker edge in the AFC South after a quarter of the season.

Sean McVay, coach, Los Angeles Rams. When McVay got to southern California 20 months ago, job one was fixing quarterback Jared Goff, who had a lousy rookie year that left his confidence shaken. Since then, Goff has rebuilt his mechanics and footwork and confidence, and he has been one of the game’s most efficient, explosive quarterbacks. The five-TD master-show by Goff in the win over the Vikings reinforced all the work McVay has done with him. Wrote Sam Farmer of the Los Angeles Times post-game: “[McVay] is the quintessential Goffensive coordinator, drawing up plays that allow his third-year quarterback to pick apart opponents with surgical precision.” True.

Trey Flowers Return, John Simon Arrival Key to New England Patriots Defensive Improvements

MINNEAPOLIS, MN - FEBRUARY 04: Trey Flowers #98 of the New England Patriots looks on in the first half of Super Bowl LII at U.S. Bank Stadium on February 4, 2018 in Minneapolis, Minnesota. (Photo by Elsa/Getty Images)

By David Latham, Associate Editor
October 1, 2018

Well, that’s more like it. After two straight weeks of horrible defense, the New England Patriots bounced back with a dominant performance against the Miami Dolphins. New England’s defense held Miami to just 175 yards and seven points on the day, with most of that production coming long after the game’s outcome was decided. While several players were responsible for this dominant showing, none were more important than the edge duo of Trey Flowers and John Simon.

Trey Flowers, John Simon Key to New England Patriots Defensive Dominance

There’s no overstating just how much the Patriots defense missed Trey Flowers. Flowers suffered a concussion early in Week Two against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and the defensive play dipped dramatically.

The Patriots defense sans Flowers allowed a combined 57 points during Weeks Two and Three. During Weeks One and Four, the Patriots defense allowed a combined 27 points, with most of those points coming in garbage time. Obviously, Flowers’ presence can’t be credited for all of that, but this data is indicative of just how important he is to the defense.

According to Pro Football Focus, Flowers has a 90.9 grade on the season. While he hasn’t played enough to qualify for PFF’s leaderboards, his 90.9 grade would place him among the league’s elite edge defenders. He’s a monster against both the run and the pass and is capable of singlehandedly blowing up plays every single time he steps on the field.

His impact is evident when looking at sack totals and run totals with and without him on the field. The Patriots recorded five sacks during the two games he played compared to just one in two games without him. Flowers is directly responsible for 1.5 of those sacks, and has brought the pressure which cause a few other sacks.

Additionally, Flowers’ work in the run game is unparalleled among his teammates. Flowers typically lines up across from the left tackle and the Patriots defense just couldn’t replace him. In two games without Flowers, the Patriots defense allowed an average of 7.3 yards per carry on runs off left tackle. In Week Four, Miami didn’t attempt a single run off left tackle, and only averaged 0.5 yards running behind left tackle.

John Simon

While Simon didn’t have the same impact as Flowers, the newest Patriot looks to be an incredible fit for this defense. It’s only a one-game sample, but Simon’s early returns are promising.

For one, Simon saw 20 snaps against Miami, second among the Patriots defensive ends. In those 20 snaps, Simon graded out well against the run and recorded a sack. The fact that he’s able to see that much action and make plays despite joining the team just under a week ago speaks to just how good he can be for New England.

The Patriots needed a player capable of setting the edge opposite Flowers throughout the entire 2017 season. Deatrich Wise is a fantastic young player, but his work against the run is a little too inconsistent. He has improved in Year Two, but right now he’s best used as the third edge defender.

Simon has a history of being successful against the run and the pass. While his ceiling isn’t as high, he’s a player made in a similar mold to that of Rob Ninkovich. Fortunately, New England won’t need Simon to be as good as Ninkovich was. They’ll just need him to do his job opposite Flowers.

The Improved Grouping

Having both Flowers and Simon on the field made all the difference for the Patriots. So long as Flowers is the on the field, the Patriots don’t have to worry about having an active liability on the edge. Adrian Clayborn is a good enough pass rusher, but he lacks gap integrity and constantly gave up the edge against the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Detroit Lions. Likewise, Keionta Davis didn’t have the size to hold up against the run.

With Flowers on the field, opposing offenses don’t have a weak side to attack. Additionally, Simon manning one edge allows the Patriots to shift one of Flowers or Wise inside on passing downs without worrying about the quarterback escaping the pocket.

As of now, Flowers and Simon are the only linemen capable of consistently playing both the run and the pass off the edge. Deatrich Wise can grow into the role, but he’s not quite ready for that yet. He is getting there though and has notably improved against the run this season.

The Patriots defense can be even more impressive if Flowers, Wise, and Simon can all rotate off the edge. For now, Wise should serve as the third member of the edge rotation, with Simon and Flowers serving as the top two options.

For the first time since 2016, Trey Flowers has a competent starter opposite him. Flowers and Simon have the potential to keep any play between tackles, and Deatrich Wise is good enough to rotate in without a notable drop off. Edge defense has been the Patriots biggest problem for some time now. If Flowers and Simon can stay healthy, this defense has the potential to be a top-10 unit in the league.

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