Wednesday, November 28, 2018

A ‘Dream Team’ of Former NFL, NHL and MMA Athletes headed to Congress

By Joe Hammond
November 28, 2018

The annual congressional softball game just got a lot more interesting.

Voters are sent a dream team of former professional football and hockey players along with a former female Mixed Martial Arts fighter to Congress in the midterm elections.

Sharice Davids, a Democrat who will represent Kansas’ 3rd district, won national attention when she became the first lesbian from Kansas and the first Native American woman elected to Congress; a second Native American, Debra Haaland (D-NM), also won election in November.

But Davids first rose to prominence in the ring, where she sported a 5-1-1 as a MMA amateur before turning professional in 2013. She won her first fight via a triangle choke but lost her next bout. After a failed tryout for an MMA reality TV, Davids, a proud member of the Ho-Chunk Nation who also excelled at soccer, basketball, and tennis, hung-up her gloves to focus on her legal career and eventually politics.

“Being a mixed martial artist has helped me developed a sense of discipline that served me well during the campaign,” Davids told the AMI Newswire, “and will be an asset when we set out to do the hard work necessary to make meaningful change in Congress.”

Davids is the second former MMA fighter to be elected to Congress. Markwayne Mullin (R-Oklahoma) was elected to Congress in 2012 after compiling a 3-0 record as an MMA fighter.

The Republican can counter her with Pete Stauber (R-MN), a former professional hockey player. Signed by the Detroit Red Wings in 1990 after helping his lead his college Lake Superior State University in Michigan to a national championship.

“When LSSU went to the White House, Stauber personally met President Reagan,” a spokesperson with the Stauber campaign told AMI newswire. After college he played four years in the minor leagues. After retiring from the sport, he became a decorated police officer.

Stauber’s brother, Robb, coached the USA Women’s hockey team to a gold medal in 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.

Stauber, whose campaign got a boost when President Trump campaigned for him, defeated Democratic incumbent Rick Nolan to represent Minnesota’s 8th district.

This year’s class also included two former NFL players – one Democrat and one Republican.

Colin Allred (D-TX), who defeated Republican incumbent Pete Sessions in Texas’ 32nd district, spent four years as a linebacker for the Tennessee Titans, after starring at Baylor University.

The athletic standout this year might be Anthony Gonzalez (R-OH), who won Ohio’s 16th district in his first-ever political campaign. Gonzalez, a receiver at Ohio State, was a first-round pick of the Indianapolis Colts in the 2007 NFL draft. He caught 37 passes for 576 yards and three touchdowns his rookie season. The next year he caught 57 passes for 664 yards and four touchdowns. He was seriously injured in the 2009 season opener and though he returned to action in 2010 and 2011 he played sporadically. After retiring he earned a business degree at Stanford University.

Gonzalez’s parents fled Communist Cuba whose then dictator, Fidel Castro, once tried out as a pitcher with the Washington Senators.
Gonzalez and his Democratic colleagues will likely find inspiration in other star athletes who became members of Congress. These include several NFL players, such as Steve Largent (R-OK), Heath Shuler (D-NC), Jack Kemp (R-NY), as well as the baseball pitch, Sen Jim Bunning (R-KY) and the basketball hall of famer, Sen. Bill Bradley (D-NJ).

If the newcomers really dream big, they might try to follow in the footsteps of another former congressman who, in 1935, turned down offers from both the Detroit Lions and Green Bay Packers. Instead, the former college football star at the University of Michigan became a boxing and football coach at Yale University while he applied to law school. Fourteen years later the Republican was elected to Congress to represent Michigan’s 5th district; a quarter century later, in 1974, Gerald R. Ford became president when Richard Nixon resigned the office in 1974.

Tuesday, November 27, 2018

Flowers and Wise aid Patriots pass rush

Trey Flowers finished with a sack and four quarterback hits on Sunday.

By Mark Daniels
November 25, 2018

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – The Patriots knew they needed to better their pass rush in order to play a better blend of football.

Mission accomplished.

On Sunday, the Patriots received a major push from their top two pass rushers – Trey Flowers and Deatrich Wise – as they hit Jets quarterback Josh McCown 13 times and sacked him twice. Flowers led the way with four quarterback hits and a sack. Wise finished with three quarterback hits and a sack.

″[We] just put pressure on them – stopping the run, making them one dimensional,” Flowers said. “Put them in situations where we could pin our ears back and get some great rush on them. I think that was one of the things, stopping them on early downs, putting them behind the sticks and we were able to continue to get some production in the rush.”

“We did a great job in coverage allowing the quarterback to hold the ball longer, allowing us to get there faster,” Wise added. “We pretty much married the rush and coverage together.”

Flowers has been outstanding this season, but the stat sheet hasn’t been revealing. He finished with a team-high 6.5 sacks last season, and seven sacks in 2016, but came into Sunday’s game with just 2.5 sacks on the season. Of course, sack numbers don’t tell the whole story, but players love when they’re able to directly contribute. Flowers was able to get his sack at 4:29 of the fourth.

Wise had five sacks last season as a rookie. He now leads the Patriots with 4.5 sacks. He notched the team’s first sack on Sunday at 14:16 of the fourth.

“You’ve got to give credit to all 11 guys out there doing their jobs,” Flowers said. “I think that helped me get production and help my team win.”

“I’m out there playing for my brothers just trying to build the trust in them so they can believe in me out there,” added Wise. “It’s awesome playing alongside Trey. We grew up playing against each other. Now, playing with each other in the league, we just got to keep on balling.”

Friday, November 16, 2018

Austin Blythe, Rob Havenstein lead NFL with zero penalties in 672 snaps

By Cameron DaSilva
November 16, 2018

The Los Angeles Rams haven’t missed a beat on offense this season after leading the league in points last year, and a big reason for that is the play of the offensive line. Andrew Whitworth has been a stud, Rodger Saffold is a road-grader at left guard and John Sullivan is instrumental in making calls at the line.

The right side of the line probably doesn’t get enough credit, though, with Austin Blythe and Rob Havenstein playing like Pro Bowlers. Blythe, in particular, gets somewhat overlooked at right guard after replacing former starter Jamon Brown during his suspension.

Both he and Havenstein have performed admirably this season and haven’t had as much as a false start all year. Nope, not a single penalty in 672 snaps, according to Pro Football Focus. They lead the NFL in snaps played by a lineman without a penalty.

Holding penalties are crushing, especially when they come on a big play by the offense. The Rams haven’t had many of those this season, largely because of Havenstein and Blythe’s play. They deserve more credit for the Rams’ success.

Thursday, November 15, 2018

Ravens Guard Marshal Yanda's Unlikely Path To Stardom

By David Ginsburg
November 15, 2018

The journey to NFL greatness rarely starts on a farm. It doesn't often include a stint in junior college, the relentless pursuit of a division I scholarship or spending the first four years in the pros bouncing around from one position to another.

And with the exception of Baltimore Ravens guard Marshal Yanda, no one has ever traveled that road in a battered truck called Old Blue.

Yanda is a six-time Pro Bowl guard with a bank account containing millions of dollars, yet he spends his offseason fishing and tooling around town in a vehicle that belies his stature and net worth.

"It's a 2007 Chevy Silverado, it's a diesel, it's got around 150,000 miles on it and I love that truck," Yanda said. "It's a consistent-running truck, and I'm a little frugal in the buying cars area. I grew up on a farm with my mom and dad, and that teaches you to save money and be responsible.

"I don't mind driving an old vehicle. Doesn't bother me at all. I have a dealership car I drive here in Baltimore, but during the offseason I drive down to Iowa City in Old Blue and work out down there."

You can take Marshal Yanda off the farm, but you can't take the country out of Marshal Yanda.

"He's not really flashy, not into fancy cars," Ravens teammate Matt Skura said. "He kind of has his set ways. He has a schedule, he likes to eat the same thing every day, prepares for practice the same way, prepares for games the same way."


This unusual success story begins on a fifth-generation dairy farm in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where Yanda was responsible for completing a long list of chores.

"We didn't go a lot of places, but we worked hard and were happy," Yanda said. "My parents milked the cows twice a day. Before and after going to school, my sister and I bottle-fed the calves, and once they got off the bottle we fed them with milk and grain."

Back then, Yanda was part of a family working together to achieve a common goal. Now he's part of a football team striving to win the Super Bowl.

"I always tell people, growing up on a farm showed me the value of a good work ethic and most definitely shaped my life to this day," Yanda said. "You're always working hard toward things you want to accomplish, and there's always a job to do every single day."

Kirk Ferentz knows this all too well. The longtime Iowa head football coach wasn't initially convinced Yanda had what it takes to play in the Big Ten -- until he learned a little bit about the kid's background.

"Guys that are wrestlers and guys that grow up on the farm, it doesn't mean they're going to be great football players but they're never bad," Ferentz said. "They know what it is to work; they know what it is to be responsible. We've had good luck with those guys. Unfortunately, there aren't as many family farms as there were 30 years ago, but in Marshal's case, there's something to that."

It wasn't all school and chores for Yanda growing up. He loved playing football, mostly on defense where he could use his bulky frame to jolt the man with the ball.

"I was always a rough, physical kid. When we played sports, I loved tackling guys and just being rowdy," Yanda said. "Instead of getting in trouble in class for horsing around with your buddies, you could cut it loose on the field. It was encouraged."

Yanda played on both sides of the ball for Anamosa High in Iowa and earned first-team All-Conference honors during each of his final two years. His grades weren't nearly as spectacular, so his next stop was North Iowa Area Community College.

At that point, another reality set in: His days of shedding blocks and leveling the man with the ball were over.

"They didn't play me on defense at all just because I'm not fast enough or quick enough to play defensive line with those guys," Yanda said. "Even though I loved tackling, I was a better offensive lineman, even in high school. I knew that was going to be my route."


Despite doing well in the classroom and excelling on the field at NIA Community College, Yanda only received one scholarship offer, from Iowa State.

Problem is, he had his heart set on playing for Iowa.

"We grew up 45 minutes from Iowa City. We grew up Hawkeye fans," Yanda said. "Obviously at that time, I didn't know I was going to play football in the NFL. I didn't know that any of that was ahead of me. I was just focused on getting a Division I scholarship. But Iowa wanted me to walk on."

Yanda had no intention of going to college without a scholarship, and he wanted it from Iowa. In an effort to make it happen, Yanda drove to the campus every Sunday and watched practice, hoping to catch the eye of the Hawkeyes' coaching staff.

"It was kind of like a dog sitting on your porch," Ferentz recalled. "Reese Morgan was our line coach at the time and recruited at Iowa. I just asked Reese, 'Who is this guy?' He told me, 'It's Marshal Yanda.' And I said, 'That's nice. Who's Marshal Yanda?'"

After getting the lowdown on the big, red-haired kid in the stands, Ferentz told Reese, "Tell him if he's going to come down here, at least bring some film so we can look at him."

Yanda complied ... and heard nothing. So he prepared to make the trip to Ames, Iowa, to sign a letter of intent with Iowa State.

"My sister and my mom came up to the junior college and they were going to drive with me. I told Iowa State we're coming. My mom said, 'Hey, get excited. You're getting a Division I scholarship.'

"So yeah, the gears in my head were kind of shifting. Then, I woke up that morning to go to Ames, and turns out Reese Morgan left me a voicemail like three in the morning. He said, 'Listen Marshal, this isn't an official offer and don't tell anybody, but we are going to offer you a scholarship. Don't go to Iowa State. Whatever you do, do not go.' We got super excited because I knew good things were going to happen with Iowa."

In the end, Ferentz decided that having Yanda for two years was better than having a lesser player for four.

"We don't recruit a lot of junior college players, intentionally, because we would rather get high school players and have them the entire time," Ferentz said. "But when I saw Marshal's film, I really liked his toughness and competitiveness."


Yanda earned the credits he needed in junior college ahead of schedule so he could come to Iowa in January 2005.

"He lived in an apartment where he ate Hamburger Helper. Didn't have much money but made a sacrifice," Ferentz said.

At first glance, Ferentz wasn't so sure he made the right call in giving Yanda a scholarship.

"He was kind of less than impressive, quite frankly. Didn't look like the most athletic guy doing any of the agility things and even some of the lifts in the weight room," the coach said. "It just didn't look like this guy was going to be a great player for us. I was thinking to myself, 'If nothing else we can redshirt him and go from there.'"

His perception changed when the players gathered for spring practice.

"After spending the first two days in shorts, when it came down to actually blocking people it became apparent we weren't going to be redshirting him at all," Ferentz said. "He was one of our top guys, and by the end of spring he was our top lineman."

Yanda started 25 games at Iowa -- 16 at right tackle, five at left tackle and four at left guard -- from 2005-2006. When it came time for Yanda to enter the draft, Ferentz had a story to tell to Eric DeCosta, then a scout with the Ravens (and currently the team's assistant general manager).

"You're going to kill him at the combine. He's going to look like hell," Ferentz told DeCosta. "He's not pretty in his stance when he's got shorts on. Your line coach, he's going to be mad when you draft him and going to hate him when he's out there in shorts. But when you start practicing, that coach is going to wander down the hall and tell you, 'This Yanda guy is pretty good. Thanks for drafting him.'"


After being drafted by Baltimore in the third round of the 2007 NFL Draft, the 6-foot-3, 305-pound Yanda struggled to find a position to call his own.

Yanda played right tackle as a rookie, then started five games at right guard in 2008 before a knee injury ended his season and stalled the start of his third year in the pros.

Yanda got nine starts in 2009 at right guard and played there in the postseason. It seemed he had finally settled in at guard, but the following year tackle Jared Gaither sustained a season-ending injury during training camp, so Yanda started all 16 games at right tackle in 2010.

"It was a roller coaster, those first four years," Yanda said. "I can get it done at tackle, but really, I need to be two inches taller and have arms two inches longer. Against the elite pass rushers, I kind of struggled. Guard is definitely more suited for my framework -- shorter and more powerful, stuff like that."

Yanda finally found a home at right guard in 2011, playing all 16 games there and earning the first of his six consecutive Pro Bowl berths.

But his jockeying on the line wasn't done. In 2014, he played two games at right tackle when starter Rick Wagner was injured. In 2015, Yanda played left guard because of a shoulder injury.

"I couldn't play on the right side because it was my inside shoulder and it was torn," Yanda said. "I knew I was going to be completely awkward as heck playing left, but we gave it a chance in practice. I had to, or I was going on injured reserve. We tried two games at right guard with that shoulder, but any type of inside pressure I wasn't going to be strong enough to stop it."

He's back at right guard now but understands that it may not be a permanent thing.

"I've been the Swiss Army knife," Yanda said. "For the most part my position is right guard, but I've always been a team guy and when you're a young player, as long as you're on the field it doesn't matter. That's always been the thinking. But circumstances arise, and if I know I can play right tackle better than anyone we have left, then I will."

What makes Yanda a notch above everyone else at guard? His work ethic, for sure, but mostly his technique, which is somewhat unorthodox for the position. During his time at tackle, he realized that taking a step back before confronting a pass rusher was better than hitting him head-on.

"The junction point of a tackle is like 3.5 yards back. At guard, they're right on you. I still liked working with that space, so I continued to carry that at guard," Yanda said. "A lot of defensive tackles make their moves right away, and they were beating me on the line of scrimmage. So, through trial and error at practice, I figured it out. That just seemed to work for me. You might not even notice it; it's just like six to eight inches farther back than a typical guard."

Said Ravens guard Alex Lewis: "He's very intelligent when it comes to the game of football. His technique is great; he's always playing at a low pad level, and when he gets his hands on someone, he doesn't let go."


Yanda's value to the Ravens extends beyond his play on the field. He's a mentor in the locker room, constantly talking up his teammates in addition to leading by example.

"We're all in this together and we need all the guys," Yanda said. "I figure I might as well help them all I can just because that's what older guys did for me, too. When [former Ravens center] Matt Birk was here, he helped me along."

His guidance is accepted and appreciated.

"He's been at the top of his position for a very long time, and to have someone like that help you work on your technique, and to ask questions of, has been super helpful for me," Ravens tackle James Hurst said. "It's exciting on Sundays, knowing I'm working next to a future Hall of Famer. It's a huge honor. But even off the field, he's a hard worker. He does everything right. He's a pro as far as watching film, working in the weight room, doing everything he needs to do to set the tone for myself and all the young guys coming in every year."

After missing most of last season with a leg injury, Yanda is sharp as ever this season at age 34.

"Marshal has been great. He had the injuries the last couple years and did nothing but give 100 percent to his rehab and building himself back up, just like he does everything and always has," Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said. "He hasn't lost a step. He's one of the best in football -- if not the best in football. It's just a pleasure to be around him; it's an honor to coach him. Great in the locker room, a great leader, very smart player, just plusses across the board."

Pittsburgh Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin agreed.

"I just have a lot of respect for him and his body of work and how he plays. I always have," Tomlin said. "It's obvious that he's the heartbeat of that unit and has been for a long time."

There will come a time when Yanda calls it a career, hops into Old Blue and heads for a lake to do some fishing. When? Well, that's anyone's guess.

"It's one year at a time right now," Yanda said. "That desire to play is never going to leave, but I have to be aware of my body, too. Because sooner or later, the injuries do add up. You get to the offseason, spend time with your family and then you make the decision that's in your heart and you roll with it."

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

Chiefs rookie Ben Niemann has gone from an unknown to fill-in starter

November 12, 2018

An undrafted rookie who had to fight to make the roster just in order to contribute on special teams for the first half of the season, Ben Niemann found himself starting at inside linebacker for the team with the best record in the AFC on Sunday.

The 23-year-old took a moment or two to gather himself and catch his breath during a 26-14 win over the Arizona Cardinals at Arrowhead Stadium. It wasn’t so much the enormity of the moment or being overwhelmed with how far he’d come in such a short time. No, it was simply being on the field more than he had all season.

“I was still on four phases of special teams, so I got a little tired out there,” Niemann said standing in front of his locker room following the game. “It was good. You want to play as many snaps as possible. I had fun out there.”

Niemann tied for the team lead with six tackles in his first NFL start, and the Chiefs held the Cardinals to 14 points and 260 yards of total offense.
Niemann stepped into the starting spot at right inside linebacker, and Reggie Ragland slid over to the left inside linebacker spot where Anthony Hitchens had started six of the first nine games (Ragland and Hitchens started the first nine games side-by-side).

Hitchens’ ribs were bruised in the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos on Oct. 28. He started last week in Cleveland, though he had to come off the field during the first possession of the game because of the pain. He returned and played most of that game (69 percent of the defensive snaps).

With Hitchens’ status uncertain all week — he did not practice most of the week, but was active for the game — Niemann prepared as though he’d play. A four-year player at Iowa, Niemann made the transition during camp from playing mostly on the perimeter in college to being in the middle of the field in the NFL.

This season, Hitchens has remained on the field in a passing and rushing situations. On Sunday, Niemann played primarily on first and second down (29 plays) while O’Daniel played in passing situations. O’Daniel actually played more defensive snaps than any of the inside linebackers (43 plays).

“Steaming Niemann was the truth,” Ragland said, laughing it the nickname he’d given the rookie. “I love Ben. He’s one of those Iowa guys who is real smart. My position coach (Mark DeLeone) is from Iowa. My linebacker next to me, Hitch, is from Iowa. I guess it’s the Iowa thing they got going on.

“Steaming Niemann, Ben, is very smart and physical too.
I’m very happy for him and Dorian (O’Daniel). Both of them did a great job today, and we’re going to keep building off this.”

A rookie who stood out in training camp and beat out returner Ukeme Eligwe for a roster spot, Niemann admitted he was probably even more “juiced up” and “excited” to play than when he first took the field during the preseason.

“Back then I was just trying to make the team,” Niemann said. “So I’m definitely happy to be in this position, and there was a lot that went into getting this far. I’m happy to be here.”

Niemann’s father, Jay, is the linebackers coach and defensive coordinator at Rutgers, and couldn’t be in town for the game, but Niemann’s mother, Lou Ann, was in attendance to see his first start.

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

Hawks in the NFL: Week 10

November 13, 2018
By Sean Neugent

Chiefs 26, Cardinals 14: Although active, The Chiefs decided to sideline LB Anthony Hitchens, who is battling a rib injury. Next man in: another Iowa LB in Ben Niemann. The undrafted rookie received his first start and led the team with six tackles. The Chiefs move to 9-1.

“I was still on four phases of special teams,” says Niemann. “So I got a little tired out there. But it was good. You want to play. You want to play as many snaps as possible.”’s Week 10 Game Ball:

His six tackles may not look like a lot in the stat book to receive the week 10 game ball, but Ben Niemann deserves it. The undrafted rookie made a huge impact for a team that is hunting for home field advantage in the playoffs. Niemann helped limit the Arizona offense to 14, playing all special teams and defensive snaps. The K.C. offense has not needed much help this year, but they did on Sunday and Niemann and the defense came through. Game Balls:
Week 1: George Kittle, 49ers
Week 2: Josh Jackson, Packers
Week 3: Christian Kirksey, Browns
Week 4: C.J. Beathard, 49ers
Week 5: Christian Kirksey, Browns
Week 6: Desmond King, Chargers
Week 7: Jaleel Johnson, Vikings
Week 8: Brandon Scherff, Redskins
Week 9: Desmond King, Chargers
Week 10: Ben Niemann, Chiefs

Friday, November 09, 2018

Matthew Slater saw future coach in old pal Mike Vrabel

By Kevin Duffy
November 8, 2018

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

That’s a first for Belichick.

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

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

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

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

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

Pro Football Weekly's midseason awards

November 8, 2018

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

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

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

Most Improved Player

Hub Arkush: James Conner

Bob LeGere: James Conner

Greg Gabriel: Bills LB Matt Milano

Arthur Arkush: 49ers TE George Kittle

Eric Edholm: Rams OG Austin Blythe

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

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

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

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

Thursday, November 08, 2018

Former Colts Receiver Anthony Gonzalez Elected To Congress

November 8, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Gonzalez retired from the NFL prior to the 2012 season.

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

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

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

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

By Michael Renner
November 7, 2018

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

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

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

Wednesday, November 07, 2018

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

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

By Mike Reiss
November 6, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Tuesday, November 06, 2018

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

By Doug Kyed
November 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

DE Trey Flowers: .5 sack, seven hurries

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

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

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

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

DE Trey Flowers: three stops

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Friday, November 02, 2018

NFL 2018 Midseason All-Pro Team

October 30, 2018
By Michael Renner

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION: Patrick Mahomes, Kansas City Chiefs

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION: Melvin Gordon, Los Angeles Chargers

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

WR – Adam Thielen, Minnesota Vikings – 91.2 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Julio Jones, Atlanta Falcons

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

WR – DeAndre Hopkins, Houston Texans – 90.3 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Michael Thomas, New Orleans Saints

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION: Travis Kelce, Kansas City Chiefs

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION: Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION: Terron Armstead, New Orleans Saints

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION: Will Hernandez, New York Giants

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

C – Jason Kelce, Philadelphia Eagles – 81.0 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Matt Paradis, Denver Broncos

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

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

HONORABLE MENTION: Shaq Mason, New England Patriots

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

RT Ryan Ramczyk, New Orleans Saints – 86.5 Overall Grade

HONORABLE MENTION: Rob Havenstein, Los Angeles Rams

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

Thursday, November 01, 2018

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

By Nathan Beaucage
October 31, 2018

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

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

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

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