Field Level Media provides whip-around coverage of the hottest news and latest injury information from all 32 NFL cities after Wednesday’s practices.
Buffalo Bills: Former Notre Dame and NFL quarterback Brady Quinn had lots of praise for rookie quarterback Josh Allen, from one first-round draft pick to another. Quinn, now an analyst for Fox Sports, will work the Buffalo-New York game on Sunday, and he told the Buffalo News: “Right now, Baker’s (Mayfield) playing the best, but I just feel like Josh Allen, he oozes so much potential. Have you seen what he’s doing? First off, he’s 3-5 as a starter with the Bills. … They are so far removed from the team they were last year with things they’ve done and changed. He has given that team and city hope. He is so good. And he has so much upside. I would rank the rookie quarterbacks insofar as they’ve performed this year: Baker, Josh Allen, Lamar Jackson, Sam Darnold, Josh Rosen.”
Miami Dolphins: Hroniss Grasu entered the NFL as a third-round selection by the Chicago Bears in the 2015 NFL draft, and his career went off track with a serious knee injury suffered in the 2016 preseason. The Dolphins signed the 27-year-old offensive lineman on Wednesday. He said he’s happy for the opportunity after being released by Baltimore last month and excited to be reunited with head coach Adam Gase, who was Chicago’s offensive coordinator in 2015. “I feel very blessed, very lucky. Through those injuries and adversity I’ve gotten so much stronger physically and mentally.” Grasu said. “Through all the hard times, I’ve taken it day by day and feel lucky to be here.” Gase said of Grasu: “(He’s) Smart, tough. He picked up that (Chicago) offense fast. He knows enough of what we’re doing right now to be able to jump in there and get himself ready to go. He’ll battle.”
New England Patriots: Defensive tackle Danny Shelton has been a healthy scratch the past two games, and the former first-round draft pick told reporters that it’s been hard. “Definitely. The competitor in me is always going to feel that little bit of frustration,” he said. “At the same time, I believe in my guys. We’re a strong group. They can get the job done. It’s just a minor setback.” The Patriots are allowing 4.9 yards per carry on the season, part of the reason why Shelton hasn’t played, but he said he’s working to get back in the lineup. “Working my hands and staying strong and trying to make the plays when I can,” he said. “For me, personally, I’m just focused on this week. I’m focused on this opportunity. When I get the opportunity, hopefully I’ll be ready. Hopefully, I can execute and dominate.” Shelton has 19 tackles on the season.
New York Jets: Gang Green will be seeing a little less green Saturday night when they play Houston. Since the Jets’ co-tenant, the Giants, play Sunday afternoon, MetLife Stadium will have neutral end zones. Gone will be the green and white of the Jets for the game, as will the blue and white for the Giants, for the second time since the stadium opened in 2010, according to northjersey.com. There will be about just 18 hours between the two games. The process of changing end zones is complex. Northjersey.com said it requires about 30,000 pounds of panels that are installed via forklift to change from Jets to Giants end zones.
Baltimore Ravens: Rookie Lamar Jackson was named the starter over Joe Flacco on Wednesday with endorsements from Flacco and coach John Harbaugh. Flacco said he felt like Jackson played well enough to remain the starter while the veteran nursed a hip injury. Harbaugh said his head and heart told him Jackson was the right man for the job, at least for Week 15. As for Jackson, he wouldn’t take the bait when asked if the Ravens were his team now. “It’s our team. All of us together. I don’t go out there and block. I don’t go out there and catch the ball. I don’t make tackles. I just do my part. It’s all our team,” he said.
Cincinnati Bengals: Wide receiver Tyler Boyd is 10 yards shy of 1,000 receiving yards in 2018, which might be a surprise to some. Quarterbacks Andy Dalton and Jeff Driskel were on the Boyd breakout bandwagon months ago. “Andy and I were talking back in OTAs and training camp, and we were saying every day, ‘Man, Tyler looks awesome. Tyler’s going to have a huge year,'” Driskel said. “All the momentum that he built up in the offseason program really carried over this season. He’s been a huge playmaker for us. He’s made tough plays all year long, and he’s going to continue to do so. He’s had a great year, and he’s a guy we want to get the ball.” Boyd, a second-round pick in 2016, has 72 receptions for 990 yards and six touchdowns this season.
Cleveland Browns: Not in a few moons has a Browns quarterback been able to breathe the phrase “playoff contender” in December and be taken seriously, but Baker Mayfield said Cleveland is pounding that point home ahead of Thursday’s game at Denver. A Browns win, coupled with a Steelers loss to the Patriots and Ravens loss to the Buccaneers, kicks open the playoff possibility matrix for the Browns in the AFC North as well as the wild-card picture. “Absolutely. Like I said after the game, we have to take it one week at a time,” Mayfield said. “You have to have a big picture mindset but also be able to focus in on the task at hand. Right now, everybody knows. We have talked about it. We are still in that hunt. We said it a couple of weeks ago. We just have to handle this week. That is the important thing.”
Pittsburgh Steelers: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger admits it’s a bad time to be frustrated, but the New England Patriots should jar the Steelers back into focus after three straight losses. Since he entered the NFL, the Steelers are 3-9 against the Patriots, and Pittsburgh has no margin for error with a half-game lead on the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North. “We can only control this week. We have had opportunities. We just for whatever reason haven’t found a way to do it,” said Roethlisberger. “I don’t think it’s from a lack of sense of urgency. It could be lack of execution, lack of one thing here or there. We understand what it takes to get it done. We just have to do it. We realize what’s at stake. Not panic.”
Houston Texans: The end of a nine-game winning streak doesn’t feel good to the Texans, and outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney wants to make sure one setback doesn’t turn into a two-game skid when Houston visits the New York Jets on Saturday. “For sure. Trying to get back on that winning streak,” Clowney told reporters. “This is a big week for us. Coming off a loss, we have to bounce back. We need this game for the division, for everything. All these games are important, so we have to go up there and take care of business.” Safety Tyrann Mathieu said the players don’t need to hear anything from outsiders. “I don’t think anybody is a bigger critic (than we are),” Mathieu told reporters. “We always point the finger at each other. We’re going to hold each other accountable. At the end of the day, nobody’s expectations are higher than ours.”
Indianapolis Colts: Rookie weak-side linebacker Darius Leonard is enjoying a monumental season and has a league-high 135 tackles through his first 12 NFL games (he missed Week 5 with an ankle injury). The rookie record for tackles is held by former San Francisco 49ers linebacker Patrick Willis (174 in 2007) so Leonard needs to average 13.3 stops over the final three games to surpass him. The second-round choice from South Carolina State has exceeded all expectations, and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus feels Leonard can only get better. “He’s been able to handle a lot of things and also be able to execute at a high rate,” Eberflus told reporters of Leonard. “So we are excited where he is and he just needs to keep getting the looks and just keep playing faster and faster and faster, and more physical and just making more plays. That’s what he’s there for.”
Jacksonville Jaguars: Coach Doug Marrone is well aware that a 4-9 record with three weeks left isn’t the best evidence when it comes to job security. But he has decided to just do his job like he did last season, when the Jaguars reached the AFC title game. “Every day — same as last year,” Marrone told reporters after being asked about his job status. “I coach every day as if you’re always coaching for it. Everyone knows that. We all know that.” Of course, that also applies to players who will be analyzed closely as well. “You would hope they’re smart enough for that,” Marrone said. “People are going to evaluate everything. I’m sure after the season everything will be evaluated. With players, it’s the same way. They’re going to be evaluated on their performance.”
Tennessee Titans: Derrick Henry’s mundane season changed with his franchise-record 238-yard performance against the Jaguars, and the Titans hope to keep the run game moving when they visit the New York Giants on Sunday. “We have to stay consistent,” Henry told reporters. “We have shown (we can do it), so why not? We have to keep that momentum going, stay focused, and don’t get complacent. We have to keep working to get better.” Quarterback Marcus Mariota is aware his squad is the low team in the pecking order of the four teams competing for the AFC’s second wild-card spot. “All you can worry about is what is going on here,” Mariota said. “If you try and sit there in the clouds and try and figure out all these scenarios, you get lost and don’t really focus on what you have to take care of.”
Denver Broncos: Von Miller was whistled for jumping offside three times last week, and coach Vance Joseph was critical of the outside linebacker on Monday, saying a player of that caliber “doesn’t need to cheat the count.” But while Miller accepted blame, he doesn’t plan to stop anticipating snap counts. “Yeah, I was upset about it, but at the end of the day, if I’ve got 97 sacks, probably 80 of them came off of getting a great jump,” Miller said Wednesday. “So it’s like yeah, I jumped offsides, but quarterbacks throw interceptions, too, it’s not like you tell them to quit throwing the ball downfield anymore. It’s just part of the game. That’s just something that I’ve worked on and I guessed wrong.”
Kansas City Chiefs: With Thursday’s showdown against the Chargers nearly here, all signs point to Chiefs safety Eric Berry playing for the first time since Week 1 of 2017. ESPN reported Berry — who tore his Achilles last year and has battled a heel injury but practiced on a limited basis the past three weeks — is expected to play against the Chargers. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ Twitter account released a promotional video on Wednesday featuring Berry, showing several clips of him emerging from the tunnel and firing up the crowd. Berry is officially listed as questionable for the third consecutive game.
Los Angeles Chargers: The last time the Chargers faced the Chiefs, they spent plenty of time watching college tape to prepare for Patrick Mahomes, who had started just one NFL game at the time. Defensive coordinator Gus Bradley now has much more tape to work with, but that doesn’t make the task any easier. “The challenge for our defense is to understand that this is not some of the normal things that we see from week in and week out, and because of his ability to extend the play, some of those shots turn out not to be 20-yard gains, but a touchdown,” Bradley said. “I think that’s what unique about them. They are very challenging offensively.”
Oakland Raiders: Team owner Mark Davis was asked at Wednesday’s NFL owners’ meeting about wide receiver Amari Cooper’s success since Oakland traded him to the Dallas Cowboys for a first-round pick in October, and he admitted the early returns don’t look great. “In the future, we might be saying, ‘Damn,'” Davis said. He added that he’s not surprised by Cooper’s production, calling Cooper “a great, great player.” “We always had the fastest guy on the field no matter what,” Davis continued. “I think (Davis’ father, former Raiders owner Al Davis,) would have loved Amari, but it just didn’t work out in our system.” In six games with the Cowboys, Cooper has 40 catches for 642 yards and six touchdowns. He totaled just 22 catches for 280 yards and one score in six games with the Raiders this year.
Dallas Cowboys: Running back Ezekiel Elliott wants to win his second rushing title in three seasons. “I would say that’s important to me. Yeah, it would be cool,” he told the Dallas Morning News. There’s just something he wants more. “But I want to go out here and win ballgames. I want to make a run deep into the playoffs,” he said. “I want to have an opportunity to compete for a Super Bowl, so I mean, I’m just going to keep working and whatever happens, happens. You’ve got to let things like that handle themselves and things will work out.” Elliott is the NFL’s rushing leader with 1,262 yards. Following him is Todd Gurley of the Los Angeles Rams, who has gained 1,203 yards.
New York Giants: The 2018 season still has three games remaining, but mock draft season already has begun. Todd McShay of ESPN released his first version on Wednesday, and it showed the Giants taking Ohio State quarterback Dwayne Haskins with their first-round pick. Haskins hasn’t declared for the draft yet, but this is why McShay thinks he makes sense for the Giants. “The more I watch this kid, the more I think he’s a legitimate first-round talent,” McShay wrote. “The Eli Manning era is nearing an end in New York, and Haskins addresses Big Blue’s most glaring need. You have to feel pretty good about an offense featuring Haskins, Odell Beckham Jr .and Saquon Barkley.”
Philadelphia Eagles: Head coach Doug Pederson’s former quarterbacks coach, John DeFilippo, is on the market after being fired this week as the offensive coordinator of the Minnesota Vikings, but Pederson said a reunion isn’t imminent as some have speculated. He didn’t discount DeFilippo’s return to the post in the future, though. “John did a great job for me, he helped us win a world championship and then he had an opportunity. I love my coaches, confident in the guys we have, so at this time, no.” DeFilippo was fired after 13 games with the Vikings, who are 20th in scoring in the NFL.
Washington Redskins: Retired running back Clinton Portis played seven of his nine seasons in Washington, and although he hasn’t worn the uniform since 2010, he still has his pulse on the Redskins. And he doesn’t like what he sees. According to The Washington Post, this is what Portis told 106.7 The Fan after Sunday’s loss to the Giants. “You look at guys who begin to prepare for vacation, and all of a sudden you stop caring. That’s the effort you show. You go back to calling out for fan support and wanting the fans to be out and support you, and all of a sudden you’re down 34-0 at halftime at home. That’s something that you can’t have, that’s something that can’t happen. Especially to a losing team … When you go out and you allow a rookie [Saquon Barkley] to demolish you that you held in check [earlier in the season], that’s just attention to detail. That’s guys who are already on vacation.”
Chicago Bears: Even with the Packers on the losing end of five of their last seven games, the Bears can’t temper their excitement over the potential to clinch the NFC North at Soldier Field. Chicago must win, or the Vikings lose, for the Bears to clinch the division title for the first time since 2010. A win would bounce the Packers from the playoff picture. “It would mean a lot,” rookie wide receiver Anthony Miller said. “It’s something that this city hasn’t seen for a while and we’re just bringing that back, bringing that winning mentality back, and the train is not going to stop rolling.”
Detroit Lions: Running back Zach Zenner — out of football one month ago — looked even more productive to offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter upon review of the Sunday game film from Detroit’s win over the Arizona Cardinals. Zenner had 12 carries for 54 yards and a touchdown and will get another long look this Sunday. “He’s a really unique individual — mentally, psychologically, the guys as smart as they come. As prepared as they come, and works as hard as anybody I’ve ever been around. Takes notes, takes care of his body,” Cooter said. “Glad to see him take advantage of his opportunity. Zach did a nice job of, ‘hey, go in there and get a few carries and see what you can do with them.'”
Green Bay Packers: Interim coach Joe Philbin looked at the NFL statistical rankings put out by the league each week and saw a few too many low, single-digit numbers for his liking associated with the Bears. “There’s a boatload of single digits,” Philbin said. “It’s an excellent defense. It’s well-coached. talented. They’ve been in that system for awhile. We saw 52 (Khalil Mack) in (Week 1). They’re moving him around more, well-designed and executing at a high level. … They lead the NFL in takeaways with 34. That’s a substantial number. It’ll be a great challenge. Tough team to prepare for.”
Minnesota Vikings: Some of the nameplates at team headquarters changed since the last full team practice, but Kirk Cousins said the Vikings need to pay attention to fine details and execution no matter who is listed where in the coaching pecking order. Quarterbacks coach Kevin Stefanski was elevated to offensive coordinator after the firing of offensive coordinator John DeFilippo following Monday’s loss to the Seattle Seahawks. “This far into the season, I have a lot of time spent with Coach Stefanski in the quarterback room for many months now. He knows me well. At the same time, you don’t reinvent much this late in the year. … It’s the hard part of this business. It was tough news. I hate seeing it happen. It’s as simple as that. What needs to change as far as execution? We’ve got to score points.”
Atlanta Falcons: It was their fifth straight loss, but the Falcons were encouraged while scoring just 20 points and losing by two touchdowns to the Green Bay Packers last Sunday. Atlanta coaches said the team made some positive strides by rushing for 107 yards — only its third 100-yard outing of the season — and the offensive line allowed just two sacks after quarterback Matt Ryan had been dropped a combined 12 times over the previous three games. Ryan passed for 262 yards and three touchdowns, and coach Dan Quinn made it clear the signal caller, who has seven 300-yard outings, isn’t the reason for the team’s 4-9 record. “It’s very reassuring knowing that there are some things we need to reset on, but that ain’t one,” Quinn said of his starting quarterback. “That’s a damn good feeling. Not only is he playing really good football, there are things that are not on the stat sheet like he’s a really good competitor.”
Carolina Panthers: Running back Christian McCaffrey has been thriving he is just 10 yards away from breaking the franchise record for most scrimmage yards held by DeAngelo Williams (1,636 in 2008). McCaffrey has 926 rushing yards and 701 receiving yards, and he is close to becoming the 10th player in NFL history to accumulate 1,000 rushing yards and 750 receiving yards in a single season. Also looking like a good bet is McCaffrey setting the NFL record for most receptions by a running back. He currently has 86 and needs 17 catches to surpass the mark held by Matt Forte (102 in 2014). McCaffrey is 18 catches away from Steve Smith’s franchise mark of 103, set in 2005.
New Orleans Saints: Mark Ingram’s next rushing touchdown will be his franchise-record 50th, and it will snap a tie with former Saints star Deuce McAllister (2001-08). “He had such a great career here and set the standard for running backs coming through New Orleans,” Ingram told reporters of McAllister. “He’s always been supportive of me and I appreciate him, so just to be able to have a run in that fashion (against Tampa Bay on Sunday) to tie such a great record in this franchise, it’s good. It’s a good feeling.” Ingram said McAllister always has a word of advice to him whenever their paths cross. “He’ll tell me certain things that he sees. Certain things that maybe I could do better or something that maybe I could switch up. It has just been a good relationship over the years and I appreciate him. I’m thankful for his mentorship and he’s been a good asset to my career.”
Tampa Bay Buccaneers: Learning that run-oriented rookie Lamar Jackson will be the Baltimore Ravens’ quarterback on Sunday didn’t surprise veteran defensive end Jason Pierre-Paul, but he did note it makes things tougher on game day. “Any time when you have a running quarterback, you’re looking at a more physical game,” Pierre-Paul told reporters. “Just to play that is difficult. I’m not going to lie, their option stuff is difficult and anybody in the NFL, D-end-wise, if they say it’s not that’s a lie. That stuff plays with your eyes but you’ve got to be disciplined with it and I think I do a pretty good job and our coaches do a pretty good job game-planning against it.” Pierre-Paul is tied for ninth in the NFL with 11.5 sacks, the third-highest total of his nine-year career.
Arizona Cardinals: After being vague on Monday about defensive tackle Robert Nkemdiche’s knee injury, coach Steve Wilks confirmed Wednesday that the former first-round pick has a torn anterior cruciate ligament. Surgery is scheduled for Thursday, but Nkemdiche’s availability for the start of next season could be in doubt, poor timing as the third-year pro had begun playing better. “He was progressing,” Wilks said. “He had a great game against the Chargers and he was hurt before that. Just on and off the field and then all of a sudden when something like this happens, it just sets him back.” The Cardinals must decide this offseason whether to pick up Nkemdiche’s fifth-year option for 2020, which would be guaranteed only for injury.
Los Angeles Rams: The Rams’ offensive line is coming off of its worst performance of the season, allowing three sacks and five tackles for loss against the Bears, but coach Sean McVay isn’t concerned about the group. “I would say it’s been a combination of some different things,” he said Wednesday. “I wouldn’t say that it’s been a fall off or anything like that.” After facing a tough Chicago front, the test remains difficult this week against the Philadelphia Eagles. “Fletcher Cox is tough because he’s a guy that you can know what he is going to do to you and no matter what you do, he’s going to do it anyway,” left guard Rodger Saffold said of Philly’s 3-technique defensive tackle. Cox had three QB hits in L.A. last year and has 27 this year, second in the NFL behind Aaron Donald (33).
San Francisco 49ers: Coming off an upset win over the Denver Broncos, the 49ers are looking to redeem themselves in a rematch with the Seahawks just two weeks after a 43-16 blowout at Seattle. “Playing a team twice in two weeks is a little different, but it can be fun, too,” San Francisco coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Especially the way it went for us, it was a bad feeling for us, and I’d love to get another chance at them. To be able to do that 10 days later is something you’re excited about, and you know scheme-wise, nothing’s really changing.” The 49ers actually outgained the Seahawks, 452 yards to 331, in that first battle, but Seattle won the turnover battle 3-0.
Seattle Seahawks: With previously suspended Mychal Kendricks headed to injured reserve and K.J. Wright still a few weeks from playing, the Seahawks will turn back to linebacker Austin Calitro to play next to Bobby Wagner. “He really has done it, and he’s done it well for us,” coach Pete Carroll said of Calitro. “He played really good against (the 49ers) last time out. He’s been able to be really consistent with his run fits. Really don’t have any problem with him playing at all. … We feel like we have a guy we’ve developed as a starter stepping (up), and we feel fortunate in that.” Calitro has made four starts this season, posting a career-high 10 tackles and two tackles for loss in Week 13 vs. San Francisco.
–Field Level Media