Connect with us

NFL

Green Bay Packers’ Rasul Douglas savors game-saving INT vs. ex-team Cardinals

Published

on

GLENDALE, Ariz. — If not for a rash of injuries to the Green Bay Packers, Rasul Douglas might have still been on the Arizona Cardinals‘ practice squad instead of intercepting a pass in the end zone of their own stadium to beat them.

Yes, the game-saving hero in the Packers’ 24-21 victory at State Farm Stadium on Thursday was on the Cardinals’ practice squad 22 days earlier. That’s when the Packers, with opening-day starting cornerbacks Jaire Alexander and Kevin King both banged up, gave him the call that jumpstarted his career.

Douglas, a third-round pick of the Philadelphia Eagles in 2017, had never spent a day of his NFL life on a practice squad. It’s not typically where fifth-year veterans reside. After three years with the Eagles and last season with the Panthers, Douglas was cut by both the Raiders and Texans this year, and his only option when the season began was the Cardinals’ practice squad.

In many ways, Douglas was a fitting star for a Packers’ team that played without so many key players – Alexander, King and their top-three receivers among them – and their defensive coordinator, Joe Barry (because of COVID-19 protocols).

His interception with 12 seconds left came just when it appeared the Cardinals would do no worse than a game-tying field goal. But Kyler Murray took one more shot at the end zone. He and receiver A.J. Green got their signals crossed, and Douglas was in the right place at the right time.

“What a great story,” Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers said of Douglas. “How special is this game? Guy’s on the street, comes in, starts for us, finishes the game out for us. Amazing.”

This after Rodgers and the offense couldn’t finish it off themselves, failing to score after getting to first-and-goal at the Cardinals’ 1-yard line on the previous possession. The goal-line plays were about the only failures for an offense that controlled the game with a massive time-of-possession advantage.

“You’re in a crazy mental state being in the league five years, never been on a practice squad before, and then one day you’re just on a practice squad,” Douglas said. “You feel like you’re working for nothing, kinda. And then you get a call and you’re somewhere else, and you’re just playing. So I’m just thankful.

“That was probably the first time I’ve won a game like that. So it was like a shocking feeling, like, ‘Oh snap, we just won off that play.’ I was like kinda surprised.”

Douglas might have been a surprise hero, but this Packers team isn’t surprising Rodgers, who seems miles away from where he was during his offseason of discontentment. They came to Arizona shorthanded and as 6.5-point underdogs. They left by matching the Cardinals for the best record in the NFC at 7-1.

“I think we’re a gritty football team,” Rodgers said. “I think nobody probably expected us to win tonight, definitely not to be — maybe to be in the game but definitely not to win with the guys that we had out. I’m really proud of the guys.”

The entire story of the pregame was all the key players Rodgers would be without: receivers Davante Adams and Allen Lazard because of COVID-19 protocols and Marquez Valdes-Scantling because of his lingering hamstring injury. By the end of the night, Adams and Lazard were able to celebrate virtually, joining the post-game locker-room celebration via FaceTime.

“Our guys believed, no doubt about it,” Packers coach Matt LaFleur said. “I know we were without, you could argue, three of our top receivers. We were without our defensive coordinator. I just think these guys always believe going into every game. That’s pretty powerful. I don’t think anybody within our staff or our players didn’t believe we could come into this environment and come away with a win.”

The only question now is how many more injuries can this team sustain? The Packers lost tight end Robert Tonyan and kick returner Kylin Hill to knee injuries on Thursday. Neither sounded good. In fact, LaFleur got emotional when talking about Tonyan, another key player in the Packers’ offense on Thursday with three catches for 49 yards before his injury.

“I am sick for him, I’m sick for us,” LaFleur said. “My heart goes out to him.”

The way this team is going, general manager Brian Gutekunst might just find another guy like Douglas along the way, if necessary.

“You never know how the team’s going to come together and the chemistry and the relationships and the guys stepping up and dealing with injuries and all the adversity,” Rodgers said. “But we have a good group of guys. There’s a different feeling to the team than even the last couple years. I’m not sure how it’s going to finish up, but I like the energy that we have in the locker room.”

Source link

NFL

Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule doesn’t regret hiring Joe Brady as offensive coordinator

Published

on

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers coach Matt Rhule said the decision to fire offensive coordinator Joe Brady on Sunday was “purely football.”

He made it clear there were no regrets in his 2020 decision to hire Brady, at the time the 30-year-old passing game coordinator for national champion LSU with no experience calling plays in the NFL or at any level.

“When I took the job I decided to be bold and step outside my comfort zone,” Rhule said on Monday. “I certainly don’t look at that as a mistake.”

Rhule wouldn’t go into specifics on what led to his decision, but he has been consistent the past month saying the Panthers needed to be more committed to the run and be better coming out of halftime.

The Panthers (5-7) had only a combined 39 rushes the past two games combined, including 18 in a loss to the Miami Dolphins before the bye week. Rhule said after an Oct. 17 loss to the Minnesota Vikings he wanted 30 to 33 rushes a game.

Brady also wasn’t effective at halftime adjustments. Carolina is averaging only 2.1 points in the third quarter to rank 31st in the NFL, with only Houston, at 1.8 points, worse.

Overall, the team ranks 29th in offense after ranking 21st a year ago in Brady’s first season as a play caller.

Rhule called Brady’s replacement, running backs coach Jeff Nixon, a “calming, steadying influence.”

Nixon was Rhule’s co-offensive coordinator at Baylor in 2019. That team averaged 36 rushes a game.

“He’s done a lot to get us moving in the right direction,” Rhule said of Brady, 32. “But this was something I felt from a football perspective had to be done.”

Rhule said he “anticipates” Cam Newton being his starting quarterback for Sunday’s game against the Atlanta Falcons. He also didn’t rule out mixing in PJ Walker, reminding that the former XFL star is 2-0 as a starter in the NFL.

Rhule said he had some “feelings” a change needed to be made at offensive coordinator coming off the Miami loss. He spent the week evaluating film not only of games, but practice.

He made the decision to fire Brady late last week. The two had a meeting scheduled for Saturday, but that was pushed to Sunday because Brady had a conflict.

Rhule made it clear the decision to move on from Brady was his and not a request from owner David Tepper. He said the meeting with Brady ended in a handshake and a hug.

“I hope this is the right move,” Rhule said. “It was purely football. This is in the best interest of us moving forward.”

Source link

Continue Reading

NFL

Mike Zimmer’s underachieving defense may have sealed his fate in Minnesota – Minnesota Vikings Blog

Published

on

DETROIT – When they needed to dig deep and display their very best, the Minnesota Vikings’ defense made things easy on Detroit Lions quarterback Jared Goff on Sunday.

After the Vikings regained the lead – 27-23 – with a late fourth-quarter touchdown, Goff and the Lions’ offense took the field at their own 25-yard line with 1:50 to go. Over the course of 14 plays, the Vikings blitzed Goff just once, and that play nearly resulted in an interception by Bashaud Breeland, who couldn’t come down with the ball.

Instead of pulling out a stop, Minnesota let a Lions team that was on a 15-game winless streak – and had no timeouts – march 75 yards en route to an 11-yard touchdown and 29-27 win.

“It was as good as you can do it for us offensively, and we were able to walk down the field there on them and made that play at the end,” Goff said. “It came down to one play, and we were able to make it.”

It’s become routine at this point, the Vikings playing “off and soft” – the way Goff described Minnesota’s zone coverage – as a method of preventing a big play from happening, only to allow a team to come back and score at the end. Four times the Vikings have been beaten by their opponent’s final drive.

Coach Mike Zimmer called two timeouts in the last eight seconds to help his defense get set at the 11-yard line, but it backfired and gave the Lions a chance to regroup and figure out how they were going to attack on that final fourth-and-2 play.

Zimmer said he probably should have dialed up more pressure on Detroit’s final drive – Minnesota sent just three rushers on the Lions’ TD – but the Vikings let Goff off the hook. Minnesota blitzed on just 14% of Goff’s dropbacks, the lowest blitz rate they’ve ever had against him, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

“We weren’t covering that great,” Zimmer said. “So, I mean, everything is hindsight, I guess.”

Make no mistake about a loss that drops the Vikings to 5-7 and cuts their chances of making the playoffs to 26%. Offensive playcalling deserves a bulk of the blame for the poor start Minnesota got off to Sunday, but Zimmer’s defense – this once vaunted unit – has failed the Vikings again and again.

It happened in Carolina on Oct. 17, when the Vikings let Sam Darnold force overtime by going 96 yards in 1:27 to score a touchdown and convert a 2-point attempt. It occurred again when Dallas backup quarterback Cooper Rush strung together a 75-yard drive that ended with a touchdown in the final minute to give the Cowboys the win two weeks later.

It even happened against Detroit on Oct. 10, when the Vikings allowed the Lions to take a 17-16 lead with 41 seconds remaining in the fourth quarter and had to rely on a 54-yard field goal to narrowly escape.

Minnesota’s two-minute defense has been a struggle all season, but now it’s closing in on historic lows. The Vikings lead the NFL in points allowed in the final two minutes of any half with 101 (the next closest team is Seattle with 83). The most points allowed in the final two minutes of a half in the last 20 seasons is 107 – a record set by Minnesota in 2020.

For weeks they’ve tried to remedy this problem area by condensing their defensive playcalls and emphasizing the two-minute drill in practice to focus on preventing the pass interference penalties that have killed drives.

None of it has worked.

“That’s been an area we’ve struggled in all year, and it bit us [Sunday],” safety Harrison Smith said. “We’ve got to fix it.”

As they regroup for a short turnaround with Pittsburgh coming to Minneapolis for Thursday Night Football (8:20 p.m. ET, Fox), the Vikings face a stark reality about this defense. It appears this unit was never going to be good enough to stand up against the type of teams it would face in the playoffs, and it very well could be what seals Zimmer’s fate after eight seasons in Minnesota.

There hasn’t been a consistent return on investment for a defense that was the focal point of the offseason. In retooling this entire unit, Minnesota doled out north of $46 million in guaranteed money to defensive players.

Of course, injuries are an issue behind many of their struggles. The Vikings found out Sunday morning that they would be without linebacker Anthony Barr (knee/hamstring) in addition to Eric Kendricks (biceps) while top cornerback Patrick Peterson remained on the COVID-19/reserve list. And even though the Vikings got starting defensive tackles Dalvin Tomlinson and Michael Pierce back in Detroit, their pass rush remains thin, especially at defensive end.

But being the victim of Detroit’s first win is inexcusable, no matter who is on the field. Goff went 6-for-10 for 124 yards and two touchdowns on throws traveling more than 10 yards down field Sunday. He threw one touchdown and four interceptions on throws traveling the same distance in his first nine games of the season combined.

The Vikings made a bottom-tier quarterback look competent and blew another late-game lead. The same issues for this defense in Week 13 were there in Week 1, but Sunday might have been the last straw on what’s been a consistent pattern under Zimmer for years: This team hasn’t been able to put away or stop teams when it matters, and it has regressed each year since losing the NFC Championship Game to Philadelphia in 2017 with a defense that was ranked No. 1.

Source link

Continue Reading

NFL

In Jalen Hurts vs. Gardner Minshew QB debate, answer is clear for Eagles – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

Published

on

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — Monday marks the one-year anniversary of Carson Wentz being benched in favor of Jalen Hurts.

Calls for the Philadelphia Eagles to make a quarterback switch came weeks earlier than that, as Wentz struggled through the worst season of his career. Then-coach Doug Pederson resisted for a while, understanding the weight and potential consequences of such a decision. But with the Eagles trailing the Green Bay Packers 20-6 in Week 13, and the offense once again stuck in neutral, Pederson went to Hurts early in the third quarter.

Hurts brought the offense to life and pumped some juice back into the season. He beat the 10-2 New Orleans Saints the following week in his first career start, and despite up-and-down play over the final three games, he proved to be the more effective quarterback of the two. However, the move to Hurts set in motion a chain of events that led to a disgruntled Wentz being traded and Pederson and most of his staff being fired.

Lessons from that situation should be applied one year later with the Eagles quarterback position once again the subject of conversation. Gardner Minshew got the start Sunday in place of the injured Hurts and lit up the New York Jets, going 20-of-25 for 242 yards with two touchdowns in a 33-18 win. Tight end Dallas Goedert (six catches, 105 yards, two TDs) had a career day and the passing game was efficient, stoking curiosity about what the offense might look like with Minshew at the helm on a longer-term basis.

Coach Nick Sirianni did his best to end the debate before it had a chance to gain steam.

“He’s played really good football when he’s in,” Sirianni said of Hurts, “so when he’s healthy and he’s back, he’ll be our starter.”

Hurts has earned that right.

He is coming off the first three-interception performance of his career against the New York Giants and has been inconsistent in the passing game — his 60.1 completion percentage ranked 28th in the NFL entering Week 13 — but overall, he’s had the offense operating at a pretty high level. The Eagles rank eighth in red zone success rate (66 percent), fifth in third-down conversions (45.4%) and 10th in points per game (25.9) under Hurts. Hurts is second among quarterbacks with 695 rushing yards, behind only Lamar Jackson. From Weeks 7-11, Hurts was the No. 1-ranked QB in the NFL in QBR (75.0) before taking a step back against New York.

This is not a case of the starting quarterback holding a team back. There is not a similar desperation as last year to get things kick-started.

Even if there were, switching to Minshew would not be the right answer. Unlike other positions where you can change starters without much blowback, flipping quarterbacks can have an irreversible impact. It can cause split allegiances in the locker room and force players to second-guess the coaching staff and the entire operation. The chances of pushback are far greater when the demoted QB has cemented himself as a respected team leader, as Hurts has.

With Wentz, whatever trust he had left in the organization flew right out the window the moment he was replaced in the lineup. The risk is not worth the reward in testing the relationship with their current QB1.

With Wentz being granted a trade in the offseason, Hurts was handed the controls. The team has shifted into a state of transition, and with the Eagles holding upwards of three first-round picks in April’s draft — capital they can use to pursue a quarterback if they so choose — this season became largely about figuring out whether Hurts could be the long-term answer.

That remains the most important question facing the Eagles. There are four games remaining on the regular-season schedule, giving Philadelphia four more opportunities to evaluate Hurts before making a franchise-altering decision.

Minshew can be an effective quarterback. He has 39 career touchdowns to 11 interceptions. He looked really good on Sunday. But it was against the Jets, who have a habit of making opposing quarterbacks look really good. Even before giving up 418 yards to the Eagles on Sunday, the Jets’ defense was the NFL’s worst through the first 12 weeks, according to ESPN’s Football Power Index.

Minshew mania is fun. It’s natural to wonder what the offense might look like in their next game against Washington with him at the controls.

But you don’t have to look back very far at this team’s history to know that short-sighted quarterback decisions often blow up in your face.

Source link

Continue Reading

Trending