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Kansas City Chiefs prioritizing league-worst red zone defense – Kansas City Chiefs Blog



KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo immediately laid out the priority for the Kansas City Chiefs in the first team meeting of the offseason. The players could have guessed it.

The Chiefs had the worst defense in the NFL last year when opponents moved inside the 20, allowing a touchdown 77% of the time. Their red zone defense was costly for the Chiefs in Super Bowl LV, when they allowed the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to score three TDs from inside the 20. And it was costly during their two regular-season losses, when the Chiefs gave up seven touchdowns in eight red zone tries.

“If we had just played 50% better in the red zone last year, it would have made a huge difference,” Spagnuolo said last week. “Certainly, when people got in the red zone it was a challenge for us.”

The Chiefs were tied for ninth in red zone defense in 2019 when they won the Super Bowl, allowing a touchdown 51% of the time.

That’s why Spagnuolo in that meeting with defensive players laid out his three biggest reasons why the Chiefs were lousy inside the 20 in 2020. He felt they too often were beaten physically, that they made too many mental mistakes — such as blitzing from the wrong spot or not carrying out the pass coverages properly — and Spagnuolo said he frequently put the defense in a bad spot with his scheme calls.

The Chiefs spent portions of the first two practice sessions working on it.

“Did we have perfect red zone days these last two days?” linebacker Anthony Hitchens said. “No, not really but there are things we see from the offense that we see around this league. We’re getting work at it in May and not waiting until Week 1 or Week 3 or 4.

“We’ve all got it in the forefront of our mind. We know in order to get better at it we have to work at it.”

Spagnuolo said good red zone defense starts with stopping the run. The Chiefs did a decent job of this last season, allowing 2.94 yards per rush. That was slightly more than the league average of 2.90.

“We don’t want to allow teams to run the ball,” Spagnuolo said. “We really do want to force them to throw it and then have that tight coverage. Down there, the throwing lanes get tight [and] you try to force them into throwing into those tight windows.”

This is where the Chiefs let down last season. Opposing quarterbacks had a QBR of 89.7 in the red zone, which was 29th. The league average was 70.3.

The Chiefs were also one of four teams without an interception from inside the 20.

In 2019, opposing quarterbacks had a QBR of 41.5 against the Chiefs in the red zone. The Chiefs also had a league-high four interceptions, including one in the end zone by safety Daniel Sorensen in the final seconds that helped the Chiefs preserve a seven-point win over the Chargers.

“Teams are going to be able to put drives together on us,” defensive back Tyrann Mathieu said. “It’s up to us, it’s up to the players to really go out there and try our best to keep guys out of the end zone. That’s going to give our team a greater chance to win, if we’re able to make teams throw the ball in the end zone instead of running the football in.

“We’ve been harping on it. Coach Spags has really been harping on the details of it. That’s something I would love to see us get better at.”

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Now in ‘place I felt like I could call home,’ optimistic Melvin Ingram energized with Pittsburgh Steelers



PITTSBURGH — At 32 years old with nine NFL seasons under his belt, outside linebacker Melvin Ingram is a seasoned veteran.

But entering his next chapter with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ingram feels like he’s just getting started.

“I feel 18,” Ingram said. “I’m a kid. I’ve still got a lot left in me. I love football and my body feels great.

“Had an injury last year, but that’s a part of the game. It’s a physical sport. Right now I’m 100, 200 percent healthy. I feel amazing.”

Following a lingering knee injury that kept him sidelined for more than half the 2020 season, Ingram became a free agent when the Los Angeles Chargers let his four-year, $64-million deal expire. He put together his best season in 2017 with 10.5 sacks and a defensive touchdown and finished his Chargers career with 49 sacks, 7 fumble recoveries, 360 combined tackles and 108 quarterback hits.

“That has no motivation for me,” Ingram said of his ending in Los Angeles. “It’s a business. I understand the business. I’m not a person that gets salty about it. They changed my life. Nine years ago, they changed my life. 10 years ago, they changed my life. That’s no motivation for me. Me, waking up and doing my work every day is all the motivation. I’ve got two kids and a family. My family, my girl, my kids, that’s what motivates me.”

After an offseason rehabilitating his knee, working out and visiting teams, Ingram opted to sign a one-year, prove-it deal with the Steelers — an organization that prides itself on a strong pass rush and has led the league in sacks the last four seasons.

“I just felt like the program, the coaches, the team, everybody,” Ingram said. “It was a place I felt like I could call home, a place I can come in and fit in. Everything was amazing here, down to the coaches, the players, the city, just how they do everything. They welcomed me with open arms.”

To mark his new start with the Steelers, Ingram, a three-time Pro Bowler, chose a new jersey number, donning No. 8.

“This is a new place for me,” Ingram said. “New place, new start. Still the same me though. First time I ever played football, my number was 44. 4 + 4 is 8, and Kobe (Bryant) is one of my favorite athletes. Kobe year.”

Ingram said the Steelers didn’t discuss their specific plans for his role on the defense, but defensive coordinator Keith Butler said he knew the outside linebackers needed the depth for a three-man rotation similar to the one used last year with T.J. Watt, Alex Highsmith and Bud Dupree.

Ingram was listed as Highsmith’s backup at right outside linebacker in the Steelers’ initial depth chart released Saturday.

“You always want to have three guys that can play,” Butler said. “We did last year. Alex came in and did a good job filling that role when Bud was here. So, we played all three of them quite a bit. We think we’ve got three now that are gonna be capable of playing for us. So, we can rest each other.

“It’s very difficult to sit two outside linebackers out and let them play the entire game when they’re wrestling with guys that weight 300 pounds. You ever wrestled a 300-pounder? Those suckers are strong. You get tired doing that, you know what I mean?”

Ingram has primarily played opposite of Highsmith during team periods in the opening days of the Steelers’ training camp, while Watt participates only in individual drills. Watt got to know Ingram through playing together in the Pro Bowl and through his brother Derek during the fullback’s stint with the Chargers.

“He’s just a player that has a lot of burst off the line of scrimmage,” Watt said of Ingram. “He’s got a phenomenal spin move and just seeing him in person, he is a colorful guy and I am excited to work with him.”

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Cleveland Browns unveil retro uniforms honoring 75th anniversary



The Cleveland Browns have announced they will be wearing retro uniforms this season to celebrate their 75th anniversary season.

The uniform honors Cleveland’s inaugural 1946 season in the All-American Football Conference. The uniform will feature white jerseys with brown numbers and an orange shadow-box with white pants. The helmets will numbers on the sides and gray facemasks.

“The Browns are one of those iconic franchises in all sports, not just the NFL,” Browns executive vice president JW Johnson said in a team release. “We wanted to give a nod to the past and the players that have paved the way for the team we have here today.”

In those uniforms, the Browns were a dominant franchise. They won the first four AAFC titles (1946-49) before the league dissolved and the Browns joined the NFL where they won three of the next six NFL championships (1950-55). The current version of the Browns was a wild card team last season and is seeking to reach the playoffs in consecutive years since going to the postseason five years in a row from 1985-1989.

It was not announced in which games the Browns will wear this look.

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Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers completes usual offseason training cycle



Aaron Rodgers hasn’t been with the Green Bay Packers this offseason, but his ongoing stalemate with the franchise hasn’t changed how he prepares for the season.

As he has done for most of the past decade, the reigning NFL MVP went through his normal offseason training regimen with Proactive Sports Performance, a program that includes field work, a weight room, yoga and sand dunes work.

According to the company, the routine lasts around six to seven weeks for NFL athletes and concluded Saturday as players head off to training camp.

While it remains unknown if Green Bay’s franchise quarterback will be in attendance when the Packers open camp Wednesday, a Proactive Sports Performance representative said Rodgers is “working and he’s ready” for football.

In April, sources told ESPN’s Adam Schefter that Rodgers does not want to return to the team because of issues he has with management. Despite his stance, the Packers have remained adamant that they will not trade the three-time MVP and offered a record-breaking extension to the 37-year-old. Sources told Schefter this week that Rodgers turned down a two-year extension this offseason that would have tied Rodgers to the Packers for five more seasons and made him the highest-paid quarterback and player in football.

Instead, Rodgers has continued to stay away from the team and missed voluntary OTAs for the first time in his career earlier this summer.

Rodgers has otherwise stayed busy this offseason, including appearing as a guest host on “Jeopardy!”, vacationing in Hawaii and participating in a made-for-TV exhibition golf event alongside Tom Brady, Phil Mickelson and Bryson DeChambeau.

Information from ESPN’s Jeremy Fowler was used in this report.

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