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Vikings stay firmly in NFC race with bounce-back win – Minnesota Vikings Blog

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MINNEAPOLIS — The reeling, injured and discombobulated Detroit Lions are not a good football team.

The Minnesota Vikings treated their divisional opponent as such in a 20-7 win at home on Sunday.

With its defense under an intense microscope entering the final quarter of the season, Minnesota left little in doubt against an overmatched opponent to stay firmly in the NFC playoff picture and wild-card race.

The Vikings face their other two NFC North foes — Green Bay and Chicago — in Weeks 16 and 17 and continue to hold a firm grip on their postseason destiny as they head to Los Angeles for a meeting with the Chargers next Sunday.

QB breakdown: The Vikings offense didn’t exactly blow the doors off U.S. Bank Stadium on Sunday (354 total yards, 5.1 yards per play), but it’s not like they had to dig deep into the playbook to keep the Lions off balance. Offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski deferred to the play-action game often, allowing Kirk Cousins to go 12-for-12 for 114 yards and a touchdown on such throws in the first half, the highest number of play-action completions in any half since ESPN started tracking that data in 2006. Cousins picked apart an injury-depleted Lions defense and had all day to throw, as has been the trend in each of his meetings against Detroit this season. In Week 14, Cousins averaged 3.58 seconds from snap to pass, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. His previous longest was 3.38 seconds in Week 7 at Detroit (he’s averaged 2.97 seconds this season). Cousins finished 24-of-30 for 242 yards and a touchdown after not needing to throw the ball more than two times in the fourth quarter.

Ground game goes: With Dalvin Cook dealing with a chest injury, the Vikings turned to their deep crop of running backs to carry the load against Detroit. Cook notched 20 touches on 32 snaps and gained 75 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Alexander Mattison had 14 carries for 46 yards and two catches for 18 yards while Mike Boone got in five carries for 13 yards late in the game.

Promising trend: After Xavier Rhodes’ struggles came to a head with a sideline outburst in Seattle, having earned a not-so-great recognition as having allowed the highest completion percentage (84) as the nearest defender among all defensive backs this season, coach Mike Zimmer opted to rotate his cornerbacks against Detroit, choosing to scheme towards matchups instead of having his top two corners — Rhodes and Trae Waynes — play their respective sides. Mike Hughes alternated with both veteran corners, notching an early third-down pass break-up and three tackles in 25 defensive snaps. Holton Hill also played a considerable amount once Rhodes exited the game in the third quarter with an ankle injury.

The Vikings defense treated a rookie backup quarterback the way you’d expect. It took the Lions 40 plays into the game to eclipse 100 yards of offense, and David Blough was harassed repeatedly (sacked five times) in his second NFL start, going 24-of-40 for 205 yards, a garbage-time touchdown and two interceptions.

Danielle’s dynasty: Fifth-year defensive end Danielle Hunter etched his name in NFL history as the youngest player to reach 50.0 career sacks (25 years old and 40 days). Having flown under the radar for most of his career, Hunter has emerged as one of the league’s best pass-rushers, leading the NFL in total pressures and moving his season total to 12.5 sacks after dropping Blough three times in the first half Sunday. All three of Hunter’s sacks came on third down. Hunter now has 11 career sacks against the Lions, more than any other opponent in his career.

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RB Lamar Miller, Patriots agree to one-year deal, agent says

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Running back Lamar Miller and the New England Patriots have reached agreement on a one-year contract, pending a physical, agent Drew Rosenhaus told ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The Patriots were eyeing another option at running back after No. 1 option Sony Michel underwent offseason foot surgery and opened training camp on the active/physically unable to perform list, and valuable backup Brandon Bolden opted out of the 2020 season.

Miller missed the 2019 season after he tore his ACL in the Houston Texans‘ third preseason game against the Cowboys.

He joins a depth chart in New England that includes “passing back” James White, versatile eight-year veteran Rex Burkhead, 2019 third-round pick Damien Harris of Alabama, and undrafted free-agent J.J. Taylor (Arizona).

During his three active seasons in Houston, Miller ran for 2,934 yards and 13 touchdowns on 716 carries. He also caught 92 passes and scored five touchdowns. Miller’s best season for the Texans came in 2018, when he averaged 4.6 yards per carry.

Before Miller tore his ACL, Texans head coach Bill O’Brien praised Miller’s ability in pass protection.

During the 2019 offseason, Miller focused on dropping his body fat and continuing to work on his speed and his lower body strength. He said he felt quicker during training camp and he felt the agility work he had done in the offseason had paid off.

Miller, 29, was a free agent for the first time since signing a four-year, $26 million contract with the Texans in 2016.

He began his career with the Miami Dolphins, who selected him in the fourth round of the 2012 draft and has 7,429 total yards from scrimmage in his career and 40 total touchdowns.

ESPN’s Mike Reiss and Sarah Barshop contributed to this report.

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Healthy Alvin Kamara says he’s not concerned about Saints contract

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METAIRIE, La. — Alvin Kamara insisted that he isn’t concerned about his contract heading into the final year of his rookie deal. In fact, the New Orleans Saints running back said he told his agent not to even mention it to him unless something serious develops.

Instead, the three-time Pro Bowler said his main focus this offseason was healing from the knee and ankle injuries that plagued his “rocky” 2019 season.

“I’m just here to do my job. I’m healthy and back with my teammates, and we’re working toward getting ready for Tampa [in Week 1],” said Kamara, who missed only two games (Weeks 7-8) last year but was noticeably hobbled after he returned.

Earlier this offseason, Kamara tweeted that he was about 75% healthy and playing on “one leg.”

But he said the competitor in him wanted to be on the field and provide whatever he could for his teammates.

Kamara said he “basically tore my knee” during Week 6 of last season. But he said the injury did not require surgery after the season. Just “a lot of rehab.”

“[In the past], I normally wouldn’t even think twice about being able to break a tackle or bounce it outside or turn a 2-yard gain into 10. But last year was a lot of just, ‘Get what I can get and go down and don’t do too much because I could possibly hurt my knee more or it’s too painful to even think about making another move,'” said Kamara, who finished with 797 rushing yards, a career-low 533 receiving yards and a career-low six touchdowns.

“So it was a lot of — I wouldn’t say ‘uncharacteristic’ because obviously I was injured. But it wasn’t what I would like to put on film.”

Kamara acknowledged that he was frustrated by the injury limitations — and that as a result, his body language “was terrible, and I know it.”

He said it didn’t bother him that fans were noting his body language on social media. But he said it’s “another thing” when his teammates mentioned it.

“They knew what I was going through. And at times it’s like, ‘Hey AK, I know you’re hurting, but come on.’ So I’m like, ‘All right, now I’ve got to snap back,'” Kamara said. “I’m healthy now, so I’m happy to be in this space.”

Kamara, who turned 25 two weeks ago, said he focused a lot on his legs during his offseason training — strengthening them, as well as adding flexibility and mobility.

He said he also changed his diet to be more plant-based, while cutting out some sugar and sodium. But he said he is still around 211 pounds, which is close to his usual offseason weight of 212-215. Kamara is officially listed at 5-foot-10, 215 pounds.

Kamara also credited the Saints’ training staff for working so hard to get him as close to 100% and “as close to AK and feeling like myself” as possible last year.

If Kamara gets back to his usual self, it could pay big dividends for both the Saints and his next contract.

Kamara finished with 728 rushing yards, 826 receiving yards and 14 touchdowns as a rookie, even though he didn’t start playing significantly until Week 4. Then he finished with 883 rushing yards, 709 receiving yards and 18 TDs in 2019. He has finished with exactly 81 catches every year.

If he gets back to numbers like those, he could potentially command a contract in the range of the $16 million per year that fellow fourth-year pro Christian McCaffrey inked earlier this offseason. However, the reduced salary cap could affect things for pending free-agent running backs like Kamara, Dalvin Cook, Joe Mixon and several others. And the Saints will be particularly squeezed by the cap in 2021.

Although a source told ESPN earlier this summer that Cook was prepared to hold out from some team activities without a reasonable contract extension, Kamara does not appear to making any sort of push for a new deal — even though he is scheduled to make just $2.133 million in 2020.

“It’ll happen when it happens,” Kamara said. “Me and my agent talked briefly about it, and I told him, ‘Don’t tell me anything about a contract until it’s like something where it’s happening or there’s something I need to know.'”

When asked if he also decided to “bet on himself” having a big bounce-back year, Kamara said, “I bet on myself every year.”

“It’s never been something … like I didn’t come in [to the NFL] thinking about like, ‘Ooh, I can’t wait till I get a contract,'” Kamara said. “It’s like, ‘I’m playing, and when that comes it’s gonna be well deserved and it’s gonna be perfect timing for it.’ It’s just not something that’s at the forefront of my day. It’s not something I wake up thinking about.

“I just wake up thinking about, ‘All right, I gotta do what I have to do for this team to win, put myself in the best position to be successful, and then with team success comes individual success.’ So that’s what I’m focused on, and that’s been my message since I’ve been here.”

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Jaguars’ Yannick Ngakoue, yet to sign franchise tag, parts ways with agent

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Yannick Ngakoue is searching for new representation after parting ways with his current agent, a league source confirmed on Monday afternoon.

Ngakoue has yet to sign his non-exclusive franchise tag tender with the Jacksonville Jaguars and has not been at training camp. Ngakoue has been adamant that he no longer wants to play for the franchise because he feels the Jaguars offered him a contract last season far below what he believes he’s worth.

NFL Network first reported Ngakoue’s decision to change agents.

The 25-year-old Ngakoue has been very vocal about his dissatisfaction with the Jaguars on social media and during an April Twitter tirade against Tony Khan, the son of owner Shad Khan and the team’s senior vice president of football administration and technology. He called Tony Khan spoiled and a clown.

The Jaguars reportedly offered Ngakoue a deal that would have paid him up to $19 million annually last July, but Ngakoue wanted more than $20 annually and turned it down. He played last season — after an 11-day training camp holdout — for $2.025 million and announced on Twitter that he told the Jaguars he would not sign a long-term deal and wanted a trade.

Ngakoue, whom the Jaguars drafted in the third round in 2016, had eight sacks and four forced fumbles in 15 games last season and has 38.5 sacks in his career, which places him second on the franchise’s all-time list. He also has forced 14 fumbles, which is more than all but three players from 2016-19: Chandler Jones (17), Khalil Mack (17) and T.J. Watt (15).

In addition, Ngakoue has been directly responsible for five of the 12 defensive touchdowns the Jaguars have scored since 2016: a pick-six, a fumble return, and three forced fumbles on sacks that other players recovered for touchdowns. He also forced a fumble that resulted in a touchdown in the 2017 playoffs.

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