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Why the Tennessee Titans are optimistic despite losing Derrick Henry – Tennessee Titans Blog



NASHVILLE, Tenn. — Most people outside of the walls at St. Thomas Sports Park, where the Tennessee Titans are headquartered, felt the sky was falling when MVP-candidate Derrick Henry was ruled out for the season because of a foot injury.

Players and coaches acknowledged the loss of their star running back was significant when asked about the NFL’s leading rusher. But they vowed to maintain their “next man up” mindset that has been applied to every other injury this season.

Like their gritty coach, Mike Vrabel, the Titans (7-2) seem to rise to the top when they’re facing the most adverse situations, which had them sitting atop of the AFC standings after nine weeks.

“We have a lot of guys that no matter what the situation is we are going to fight until the end,” defensive linemen Jeffery Simmons said. “We knew that a lot of people were doubting us, that everyone was having thoughts without Derrick. We miss Derrick, it sucks that he got hurt. But one thing about it, defense wins championships.”

Tennessee’s defense is rounding into shape at just the right time. It stifled the Kansas City Chiefs in a 27-3 victory in Week 7. Most recently, the Titans held the Los Angeles Rams to 16 points in a 12-point win, with the Rams’ only touchdown coming when the game had already been put away.

The recent surge in turnovers caused by the Titans’ defense is one of the primary reasons the team is winning. Tennessee’s defense had caused two turnovers through the first four games, and at one point, David Quessenberry, an offensive linemen, led the team in forced fumbles.

The Titans use a ball disruption period during practice which focuses on knocking the ball out of a ball carrier’s hand or catching deflected passes. The focus paid off in Week 5 when safety Kevin Byard picked up a fumble caused by Elijah Molden and returned it 30 yards for a touchdown on the Titans’ first defensive series of their 37-19 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Tennessee forced two turnovers in that game. The Titans would go on to force 11 turnovers over the next six games, winning each of their matchups.

During that stretch, Byard had five interceptions, one of which was returned for a touchdown, had a forced fumble and returned a fumble for a touchdown. The veteran safety was named the Defensive Player of the Month in October and is now a legitimate candidate for Defensive Player of the Year.

Byard’s forced fumble against the Chiefs, when he punched the ball out of quarterback Patrick Mahomes‘ hand, is an excellent example of the results coming to the forefront.

“You can look at Kevin Byard’s ball production,” Vrabel said. “We have tried to study that, and there are other guys that are doing it, it is just that Kevin has been doing that really well as far as stabbing through the pocket and not swatting. All these techniques that we see make the difference between making a play and not making a play. Again, it is the player that goes out and does it, it’s just as coaches, you try to find ways to help them improve. When you do that, there is a sense of buy-in from the player that this stuff is working.”

Byard said they are gaining confidence from what they are putting on tape. The things that are discussed in the classroom and harped upon on the field have led to positive results on game day.

As a result, the Titans’ defense isn’t giving up as many big plays. After giving up six passing plays of 40 yards or more over the first six games, the secondary hasn’t allowed any such plays since.

The defense is forcing teams to kick field goals in the red zone. Over the last three games, Tennessee’s defense has allowed opposing offenses to score touchdowns on 45% of their red-zone visits, which is the sixth-best over that span.

“Some games, the offense doesn’t play well and the defense has to hold it down or vice versa,” Byard said. “It’s all about being a team and not about saying the defense won everything.”

“It just makes it that much more fun for us, knowing we have to make more plays,” linebacker Bud Dupree added. “At the end of the day, it’s something that we know we have to put on our shoulders. Just knowing Derrick was a big key to the offense, we’ve gotta be sure we make up for it.”

For the Titans’ front four, the additions of Dupree and Denico Autry via free agency have paid off in a major way.

Tennessee finished with 19 sacks last season, placing them 30th in the NFL. The Titans already have 23 sacks through nine games this season.

Harold Landry III has elevated his game and is converting pressures to sacks. It’s kind of like a middle reliever in baseball that becomes a light’s out closer.

Landry’s 34 quarterback pressures last season were the 13th-most in the NFL. But he finished with 5.5 sacks. Through nine games, Landry has nine sacks, tying his career high for a season.

As for the interior, Simmons turned in a career day with three sacks last Sunday against the Rams. But his biggest play came when he pressured Rams quarterback Matthew Stafford into an ill-advised throw, resulting in a David Long Jr. interception that set up the Titans’ first touchdown.

“You don’t get sacks unless all 11 on the field are on the same page,” Simmons said. “The quarterback had to hold the ball, we get into the pocket. Props to the guys on the back end. That’s just like with interceptions. We affect the quarterback, make him throw the ball up and that helps get the interception.”

The Titans host the New Orleans Saints (5-3) on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS) at Nissan Stadium.

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San Francisco 49ers WR Deebo Samuel, LB Fred Warner out 1-2 weeks, coach Kyle Shanahan says



SANTA CLARA, Calif. — The San Francisco 49ers breathed a collective sigh of relief Monday after receiving important injury news on two of their best players.

Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said Monday that receiver Deebo Samuel and linebacker Fred Warner suffered groin and hamstring strains, respectively, in San Francisco’s 34-26 victory Sunday over the Minnesota Vikings.

The bad news is that both will miss at least Sunday’s game against the Seattle Seahawks. But Shanahan was more pleased by the fact that both players aren’t expected to miss more than a game or two as the 6-5 Niners make their push for an NFC playoff spot.

“That’s what I was kind of telling you guys last night that I hope for that it was just a strain,” Shanahan said. “And strains usually [last] anywhere from one to two weeks. I think it was very good news considering what it could have been.”

According to Shanahan, both Samuel and Warner could return as soon as the Dec. 12 game against the Cincinnati Bengals. Barring a setback, both would be expected back in time for a Dec. 19 home game against the Atlanta Falcons.

While the Niners got relatively good news in the big picture, the loss of Samuel and Warner even for one week is significant.

Samuel has been the team’s most productive offensive player, establishing himself as the league’s premier multidimensional weapon.

On Sunday, Samuel became just the third player in NFL history to record 1,000 receiving yards, five rushing touchdowns and five receiving scores in the same season.

Without Samuel, the Niners will look to second-year receiver Brandon Aiyuk to continue building on his recent surge, as well as the likes of tight end George Kittle, wideout Jauan Jennings and a burgeoning running game.

“He’s been a big part of our offense,” Shanahan said. “But I think we’re in a spot right now that we can overcome that.”

Replacing Warner also won’t be easy, especially since it’s something the Niners haven’t had to do at any point in his three-plus seasons. When he misses Sunday’s game against the Seahawks, it will be the first contest Warner has missed since he came into the league in 2018, snapping a streak of 59 consecutive regular-season starts.

When Warner departed in the third quarter against the Vikings, the Niners turned to Demetrius Flannigan-Fowles to step in at middle linebacker with Azeez Al-Shaair remaining at weakside linebacker.

How that plays out this week will depend on the status of fellow linebacker Dre Greenlaw. Greenlaw also left Sunday’s game with what Shanahan described as an “irritation” of the core muscle injury that had kept him out since Week 1. Greenlaw is considered day-to-day this week.

And with strongside linebacker Marcell Harris in the concussion protocol, the 49ers figure to enter the Seattle game woefully thin at linebacker. That puts even more onus on Al-Shaair, who had an interception and a fumble recovery in the win against Minnesota.

“Azeez has been ready for anything we’ve asked him to do,” Shanahan said. “He always runs around and plays like his hair is on fire and he loves playing the football game. That’s not changing, but he’s just getting more and more confident of where to be, what to anticipate … He’s been playing at a high level all year and whether he’s inside or outside, I expect it to continue, we need it to continue, because he’s one of the reasons we’re playing pretty good right now.”

Elsewhere on the injury front, running back Trey Sermon suffered an ankle sprain that Shanahan said will keep him out “for a little while” and makes him a candidate to head to injured reserve with a chance to return later in the season.

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Green Bay Packers QB Aaron Rodgers not expected to have surgery to repair broken toe during bye week



GREEN BAY, Wis. — Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers are expected to use rest — not surgery — to help the quarterback’s fractured pinkie toe heal.

Packers coach Matt LaFleur said Monday that Rodgers is “gathering other opinions, so we’ll see where that goes,” but a source said those opinions are not expected to lead to surgery during this week’s bye.

The Packers (9-3) are off until Dec. 12, when they’ll face the Chicago Bears in a Sunday night prime-time game.

“The most important thing is healing and taking care of my toe,” Rodgers said Sunday when asked about his bye-week plans.

NFL Network reported earlier on Monday that Rodgers does not plan to have surgery.

Rodgers said he fractured the toe during his COVID-19 quarantine earlier this month, and he has played in the past three games since with almost no on-field practice preparations.

The only full-fledged practice he took part in during that stretch was on Nov. 19, two days before the Packers’ loss at Minnesota. He said he received a pain-killing injection at halftime of the game against the Vikings but did not need one to play in Sunday’s win over the Los Angeles Rams.

“The difference is I didn’t have to get shot up again at halftime, so definitely the healing this week not practicing [helped],” Rodgers said after he threw for 307 yards and two touchdowns in Sunday’s 36-28 win over the Rams.

“Last week, I tried to do some stuff on Friday, felt like we needed maybe a little jolt and that kind of impacted Sunday a little bit from a pain standpoint. This week, I just did a walk-through on Saturday and obviously all the walk-throughs during the week, but no practice time, I think really helped. It definitely helped looking at the scans. The healing, kind of get to a better spot, so I’ve definitely felt better, but third quarter, late third, early fourth and I got stepped on early in the game, there was definitely some pain I was dealing with.”

Rodgers even had a rushing touchdown on Sunday, beating Rams cornerback Jalen Ramsey around the edge for a 1-yard score. In the past two games combined, Rodgers has thrown for 692 yards and six touchdowns without an interception.

He said after Sunday’s game that he would make a decision about surgery after additional tests on Monday.

“The toe felt good most of the game,” Rodgers said. “Was just actually in talking with the docs. Not sure at this point; we’re going to do some more testing in the morning and get a better view of what’s going on in there, and then make a decision at that time.”

LaFleur said previously that he would leave the decision up to Rodgers and the medical staff.

“I’m not involved in any of those decisions, so I just take any information and hear it,” LaFleur said. “I don’t have ‘M.D.’ after my name. So I’ll let them handle that.”

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Dallas Cowboys DT Trysten Hill suspended two games for punching Las Vegas Raiders OG John Simpson



The NFL suspended Cowboys defensive tackle Trysten Hill without pay for two games on Monday for punching Raiders guard John Simpson following Dallas’ Thanksgiving Day loss to Las Vegas.

The suspension was issued by NFL vice president of football operations Jon Runyan for violations of unnecessary roughness and unsportsmanlike conduct rules.

“After the Las Vegas Raiders-Dallas Cowboys game on November 25, you engaged in conduct that this office considers unnecessary roughness and displays a lack of sportsmanship. Specifically, as both teams were shaking hands, you waited more than 50 seconds for your opponent at the 50-yard line. When you located him, you then walked toward him in the opposite direction of your locker room. You both engaged in a verbal chest-to-chest confrontation which you escalated by throwing an open hand punch to his facemask, forcible enough to cause your opponent’s helmet to come off,” Runyan wrote in the letter to Hill.

Hill is appealing the suspension, a source told ESPN’s Todd Archer. Derrick Brooks or James Thrash, who are jointly appointed and paid by the NFL and the NFLPA, will issue a ruling on the appeal.

If Hill’s suspension stands, he would be eligible to return to the Cowboys’ active roster on Monday, Dec. 13. He would miss games against the New Orleans Saints this Thursday and against the Washington Football Team on Dec. 12.

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