As we turn toward Week 11 of the 2019 NFL season, NFL.com’s network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
— Kirk Cousins is cutting down on mistakes.
— Jamal Adams‘ approach to chasing quarterbacks.
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DENVER BRONCOS: Sutton on chemistry crash course with Allen. Broncos receiver Courtland Sutton told me Thursday “we have to maximize every rep we get” as they continue to microwave their chemistry with quarterback Brandon Allen, the one-time Arkansas star claimed off waivers in September who got the win in his first NFL start Nov. 3 against the Browns.
All offseason, Sutton and Co. worked to get up to speed in a new offense with veteran Joe Flacco under center, while Allen was in camp with the Rams (and running a similar scheme). Now, Flacco’s on injured reserve with a neck injury, and it’ll be Allen’s show again Sunday at Minnesota and beyond — at least until second-round draft pick Drew Lock, who has missed almost three months with a thumb injury, is ready. The 27-year-old Allen was drafted in the sixth round by Jacksonville in 2016, and his stint with the Rams included time on the practice squad.
“That was my first time getting to see him do his thing. It was a lot of fun watching him work,” Sutton, who is in his second NFL season, told me Thursday. “You wouldn’t even be able to tell that it was his first game starting in an NFL game, because he was so composed, so poised the whole time that he was in there. You want that out of your quarterback, especially a young guy. It was really good to see him go out there and take control and have that confidence.”
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HOUSTON TEXANS: O’Brien on Jackson, Watson and universal QB traits. Texans head coach Bill O’Brien does not think Ravens quarterback Lamar Jackson and his quarterback, Deshaun Watson, both of whom are MVP candidates heading into Houston’s clash with Baltimore this Sunday, are similar.
“I think they’re very different,” O’Brien said this week. “We don’t get into comparisons there on those guys. They’re very different.”
There is no denying that both are extremely talented and have been extremely successful in their young careers. There is also “the elephant in the room,” as Watson put it this week, that they are both young, athletically gifted African-American quarterbacks.
With that said, O’Brien was asked if both these players have changed the way the quarterback position is being perceived. O’Brien answered by stating that no matter how you play the position, there are key traits that a player must possess to be a successful NFL quarterback:
1) “I think it’s leadership. When the lights go on, how do you perform? It’s one thing to perform well on the practice field, it’s a whole other thing to perform well, whatever your skillset is, in front of 80,000 people on the road, third-and-5 to win the game. How do you perform in that deal? Very few guys have it.”
2) “Then it comes down to intelligence, your ability to process a look — I could be up here all day. When you look at Wink (Don) Martindale’s defense (Baltimore’s defensive coordinator), when they put nickel in there, you really don’t know what you’re getting. So, offensively, the quarterback’s got to be really sharp as to how he processes it in a very short amount of time to get us into the right play, to make the right decisions. So, a lot of it goes into your intelligence, your ability to do that.”
3) “I think, obviously, arm strength, accuracy — people don’t talk enough about accuracy. In pro football, the six-inch difference between leaving a ball inside where the DB is relative to a foot outside where the DB isn’t, is a big difference, even though it’s this much. There’s a very slim margin for error when it comes to accuracy, so it’s not all about just arm strength.”
If you look at every successful signal-caller, it would be fair to say, they have all three. It’s also fair to say that Watson and Jackson are showing that, while they may play the position differently (per NFL Research, they are the first two players in NFL history to post 15-plus touchdown passes, five-plus touchdown runs and a passer rating of 100 or better over their team’s first nine games), they also possess all three traits.
One approach to stopping Lamar Jackson. The Ravens declared before the season that they were going to run an offense unlike any other before it. Through 10 weeks, we’ve seen exactly that. Baltimore has the No. 1 scoring offense and No. 1 rushing attack in the NFL.
“No matter what your background is, it’s different relative to how they’re doing it,” O’Brien said this week.
“He’s spectacular,” star Texans pass rusher Whitney Mercilus told me Thursday in Houston, referring to Jackson, who has thrown for 2,036 yards and 15 TDs (against five picks) while also rushing for 702 yards and six TDs in nine games. “The things he can do with his legs and all that. He’s incredible.”
So if you haven’t faced it in the NFL before, maybe going back to your college days could help you prepare for Jackson and Co. Mercilus remembers going against Ohio State and their option style of offense when he was at Illinois, where he played from 2009 to 2011.
“(Former Ohio State QB) Braxton Miller,” Mercilus said. “Also (former Buckeye) Terrelle Pryor. Guys like that. It’s like college. Just like college, for sure. For him, I think pretty much we have to make sure he gives up that ball. He has to give up the ball. If we can do that and not allow him to break us for like 10-20 yards with his feet, keep him contained inside the pocket, we got a chance.”
Mercilus isn’t wrong. When Jackson keeps the ball on those plays, he averages 7.2 yards per rush. But when he’s forced to pitch it or hand it off on option-style plays, the Ravens average 4.4 yards per rush. Actually, Mercilus’ team is the most efficient in the NFL when the QB hands off or pitches the ball on option-style plays, averaging 7.8 yards per rush. Houston has gained more yards this season (341 to 327), on 30 fewer attempts (44 to 74), than Baltimore on option-style plays in which the QB hands the ball off.
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INDIANAPOLIS COLTS: Colts getting much-needed boost. With two straight losses and sitting at 5-4 (second in the AFC South), the Colts are breathing a sigh of relief this week: Jacoby Brissett is back under center for Sunday’s game versus the Jacksonville Jaguars. Brissett was sidelined with a left MCL strain in the second quarter of the team’s Week 9 loss to Pittsburgh, and the offense has been strained ever since. Case in point?
In the first seven games of the season with Brissett, the Colts had a 5-2 record, 22.6 points per game, 98.9 passer rating and only seven giveaways. With Brian Hoyer stepping in for Brissett in the last two games, Indy has a 0-2 record, 18 points per game, 69.4 passer rating, and a whopping six giveaways.
While the numbers have been substantial, the Colts haven’t been the least bit surprised by Brissett’s 2019 success. They knew it was there, even before Andrew Luck retired in August.
“We knew the player Jacoby was,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo told me this week. “It wasn’t just lip service last year when people would talk about ‘We’ve probably got the best backup quarterback in the NFL.’ … We felt that he would be starting for a lot of teams, so when he took over, we had a lot of confidence in him.”
And that’s exactly what Brissett infused the team with — confidence. And a whole host of other intangibles that make the Colts feel like they can defeat anybody.
“He’s got that very quiet confidence that you want out of a leader and out of a quarterback,” Castonzo said. “That trickles down to the rest of the guys.”
All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard agreed by saying he knew the team had a special leader dating back to last season: “I saw last year when he was on scout team. He’s just a competitor. He leads by example. He’s never gonna walk by mistakes — that’s what really makes him special — because I mean, no matter who it is, T.Y. (Hilton), (Eric) Ebron, Jack Doyle — he’s gonna let them know, ‘Hey, that’s not the route we told you to run.’
“He’s definitely dependable. He’s gonna let people know. Put them in their place. He’s a guy that you want to go to war with because he’s so much of a competitor. He wants to win no matter what.”
“I think he just has an aura about him. He plays for everybody and everybody wants to play for him. We all believe in him. You can even just see how our defense is, like on the sideline sometimes, we won’t be moving the ball and they’ll be like, ‘Jacoby, we got you.’ So when you have somebody that you’ll play for, it doesn’t matter how good or bad your quarterback is — and Jacoby’s great — but when you have a quarterback that everybody plays for, it’s hard to beat a team like that.”
Vinatieri’s toughness valued through struggles. Keep your eye on veteran and future Hall of Fame kicker Adam Vinatieri. He currently holds the lowest kicking percentage in the NFL at 71.8, which includes both field goals and extra points. He has 11 missed kicks total (five field goals and six extra points), which leads the NFL. While the Colts hosted four kickers earlier in the week as due diligence, head coach Frank Reich vehemently stood behind Vinatieri this week.
“We believe Adam is the answer,” Reich said. “With 24 years of what he’s done, we believe in him, so if you’re going through a rough patch, we’re going to be a little bit more patient than normal. This is one of the greatest players of all time, but more importantly, one of the great leaders of all time — his mental toughness, I really, really value that.”
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JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS: Foles confident in return. Nick Foles finally returns to game action from a broken clavicle suffered in Week 1. While rookie Gardner Minshew and his mustache held down the fort, the Super Bowl LII MVP is ready to take over a team sitting at 4-5 and looking to claw out of last place in the tight AFC South race starting with the Colts (5-4) on Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
Foles said this week that he is “grateful and happy” to return, and so too are his teammates on both sides of the football. Wide receiver Chris Conley told me this week that Foles has looked the part on the practice field.
“He looks comfortable,” Conley said. “First couple days out there he looked really excited to be back and to be playing the game that he loves. But as we went through the rest of this week, he looked confident, looked like he was on rhythm. And you could tell that he’s where he needs to be when he communicates the way he communicates.
“You know, he just talks to guys after plays, after practice, letting them know what he’s seeing, what he’s thinking, what he’s seen in the film throughout the week and asking them, ‘Hey, is there anything that you’ve seen, anything that you are thinking about?’ And that communication is a big part of his game.”
Foles’ impact on the football field speaks for itself. He boasts the third-highest single-season passer rating in NFL history (119.2 in 2013), but perhaps the biggest impact is the quality of leadership he provides both in the locker room and in the pocket.
“It’s the combination of a few things. One thing is he has a presence about himself when he speaks. He just always says the right thing and motivates the guys the right way,” Pro Bowl defensive end Calais Campbell told me. “And he’s so confident, which generates more confidence among other guys. But also, he has experience on the football field, too. Just seeing him control the huddle, getting guys in and out of the huddle, getting guys lined up and where they need to be. He comes with experience. He really throws a pretty ball. He puts the ball on the money.”
Jags’ focus on stretching the field? One aspect in which Foles can really elevate the Jags’ offense is his ability to strike downfield. And Chris Conley sure likes that aspect of Foles’ game.
“A little unpredictability,” the receiver told me this week. “He can go out there and he’s got some God-given talent with his arm and his vision. He can go out there, and he can make something out of nothing and he can really stretch the field and take some shots. That’s one thing that we’re excited about in our receiving room. Really just stretching the defense and going to attack some guys. Other than that, he’s got a steady presence in the huddle. And steady presence on the sideline that gives guys confidence. That no matter what the score is, we’re in it.”
Colts defenders told me this week that the biggest key in Sunday’s game is shutting down Foles and explosive plays. Interestingly enough, in the Next Gen Stats era (since 2016), Foles’ 9.9 touchdown percentage on passes of 10-plus air yards is the fifth highest in the league. It turns out, they might be right.
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Ready for Mexico City — jackets and all. It was standing-room only inside the Kansas City Chiefs‘ media room on Thursday. Head coach Andy Reid was unfazed by the influx of national and international media ahead of the team’s trip to Mexico City for a highly anticipated matchup with the Los Angeles Chargers on Monday Night Football this week.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes addressed his Week 10 return from a dislocated kneecap that cost him two games, saying he felt great. Mahomes credited his recovery to the Chiefs‘ medical staff and says he’s 100 percent focused on beating the Chargers.
Reid confirmed defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah had surgery on his pectoral muscle, with the muscle tear keeping Ogbah out for the rest of the season, on Thursday morning. Still, he made sure all the players received their custom NFL Mexico jackets by Starter ahead of the game. Several guys told me they’ll be wearing them on the way into Estadio Azteca.
Sharing the wealth. I spoke with Chiefs rookie receiver Mecole Hardman prior to practice about the variety of offensive talent in K.C. Hardman, who has five receiving touchdowns so far this season, told me that spreading the ball around is the key to their success. “No one here is greedy. We just want to do our job and put points on the board to secure a win.”
Seven different Chiefs players have 20-plus targets this season, and eight different players have scored receiving touchdowns. In addition to his trips to the end zone, Hardman has contributed 21 total catches on 33 targets for 437 yards.
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MINNESOTA VIKINGS: Cousins stringing together super-clean stretch. Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins has been playing the most efficient football of his eight-year career. He’s thrown nine touchdown passes and no interceptions over the last four games — three of which ended in victory — and he hasn’t had a single turnover during that stretch.
Cousins has never gone that long in the NFL without giving the ball away to an opponent. When asked why he’s been so effective at avoiding mistakes, he said, “It’s a combination of factors. One is that I’m continuously improving. I’m getting better every year, so even though I’m in Year 8, I feel like I’m better than I was in Year 7. Some of it’s just getting better as a football player — having gone through more experiences and learning what it means to protect the football. We’re protecting well, which gives me a chance to see the defense and not take guesses because I’m not having time to see it out … And then when you run the football well, it takes pressure off the number of times you have to put the football in harm’s way. So it’s a combination of things.”
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Players push for favorite causes. At the beginning of the season, Patriots owner Robert Kraft challenged his team leaders. Kraft said he would match every dollar — up to a quarter of a million dollars — the players contributed to social justice organizations. Fast forward to Wednesday, when the team and players announced they had selected five local organizations to receive $90,000 each, $450,000 in total.
“I think to be able to raise money as a team and to give back in the community we play in, to show we care, to show we want to help be a part of the change is an awesome feeling,” said safety Devin McCourty, while also being sure to commend Patriots ownership for their assistance. “I think we have certain guys that get a lot of the headlines for it, but I think something like this shows that it’s a true team effort. This was every guy in the locker room reaching in their pockets, no matter how much, saying, ‘I want to give something to contribute to this.’ So, it’s one of the things I’m super proud of, to be a part of this team and have a group of guys that say, ‘I want to go make a difference and make a change.’ “
McCourty said the team had numerous discussions and even went so far as to take polls to make sure the money was allocated to causes the players believed in. That’s why Boston Health Care for the Homeless, Boston Uncornered, CommonWealth Kitchen, Roca and We Belong were chosen, organizations that focus on healthcare, gang-involved youth violence, aspiring entrepreneurs and leadership skills, and which aim to improve the lives of those in the communities locally highlighted and rewarded with these grants. McCourty believes it’s energizing to see players with different backgrounds and interests getting involved.
“I think that’s always exciting, when guys are able to step out of line and say, ‘I just want to learn. I want to educate myself. I want to see what it is different people go through that maybe I haven’t been around or experienced.’ So, it’s an exciting time across the league, because I think guys are more aware of what’s going on, and guys want to make a difference.”
And that difference can help change in the communities they’re in.
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NEW YORK JETS: Gase will get a second chance. Jets owner Christopher Johnson told reporters Wednesday, in an impromptu press conference, that Adam Gase will not be fired. Not during the season. Not after the season. Johnson called Gase “a good man, good coach” and indicated he likes his dynamic with new general manager Joe Douglas and his working relationship with quarterback Sam Darnold.
“Changing systems year after year is a disaster for a young quarterback,” Johnson said, a nod to Darnold already learning his second NFL offense in as many years.
How does all of this turn out? No one can say. The Jets have had bad luck this season, Gase’s first in New York — most notably in the form of Darnold’s mononucleosis and C.J. Mosley‘s lost year due to a groin injury sustained in the season opener — and Johnson seems to have weighed those factors into his appraisal of his head coach.
One thing that’s clear: The folks who flew the plane with the banner “Fire Adam Gase” over Manhattan last week, and raised roughly $2,700 on GoFundMe for it, wasted their money.
Darnold looking ahead with optimism. After defeating the Giants, the Jets improved to 2-7. In the aftermath of that game, quarterback Sam Darnold said: “We need every win from now on, because we’ve still got a chance. I mean, if we get on a roll here and we win out, we’ve got a chance at the playoffs.”
While Darnold may be factually correct, he received a mild rebuke from his head coach. “I told Sam, let’s just focus on this week,” Gase said Wednesday.
Adams explains strip-sack TD. Safety Jamal Adams was named AFC Defensive player of the Week after his performance against the Giants, in which he had nine tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles and a fumble return for a touchdown.
Obviously, he was extremely active. Adams enjoys blitzing, and in a conversation earlier this season told me that being successful in those moments comes down to understanding “timing and angles.”
“It was a little bit of (timing and angles),” Adams said. “Also, being instinctive and understanding what (Jones) was trying to do, what Saquon (Barkley, whose job was to chip Adams) was trying to do. And it was a helluva play.”
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