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How to make a big play, we asked the NFL’s best wide receivers


If you’re a fan of clean, well-played football, GiantsBuccaneers might not be for you on Sunday afternoon. If it’s quick strikes from big-play wide receivers that piques your interest, though, then this might be the one to watch.





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Defenses blitzing less this year to curb big plays – NFL Nation


COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers defensive coordinator Gus Bradley is blitzing a little more than he did in years past, trying to limit explosive plays in the backfield before they pick up steam.

Bradley said sometimes as a defensive playcaller he’d like to bring pressure into a jet sweep, but it’s a calculated risk, and he has noticed opponents are blitzing less.

“Some of the things offensively that you’re seeing, and with some of the ways teams are trying to attack defenses, that forces you to be more sound in some of the things you do,” Bradley said. “I’m not sure if that’s taking away some of the pressure. Some teams we watch — I would think as a whole though, as we’re watching plays, we’re seeing less blitzes against opponents we have played thus far.”

Through eight games this season, the Chargers have blitzed five or more defenders 20 percent of the time, compared to 18 percent last year, which was third-least in the league. With Joey Bosa unavailable due to a bruised left foot, the Chargers have looked to blitz more to create pressure.

However, according to ESPN Stats & Information research, the leaguewide blitz rate this year is 24.1 percent of dropbacks — the lowest since ESPN started tracking blitzes in 2006. The previous low was 27 percent in 2016.

Despite the drop in blitzes, quarterbacks are still being pressured on 28.4 percent of dropbacks, which is the highest since 2009.

The quarterbacks who have been blitzed the most often this season include dual-threat signal-callers such as C.J. Beathard (35.9 percent), Blake Bortles (30.2) and Josh Allen (29.8) — players who are less likely to beat defenses with their arm talent.

Quarterbacks who make their living from inside the pocket such as Tom Brady (15 percent), Aaron Rodgers (18.5) and Eli Manning (19.5) do not get blitzed as much.

With quarterbacks focused on getting to their playmakers earlier, the result has been more yards and more points on offense. Five quarterbacks are on pace to throw for more than 5,000 passing yards this season.

And scoring is at 24 points per game, up from 21.7 points per game in 2017 and on pace to eclipse the highest average number in the Super Bowl era (23.4 PPG in 2013).

We asked a handful of coaches around the league why teams are blitzing less, and they point to the uptick in pre-snap movement like jet sweeps, the ascension in popularity of run-pass options and and the fact that quarterbacks are getting the ball out much quicker than in previous years.

“The ball’s coming out so fast now,” Oakland Raiders head coach Jon Gruden said. “There’s built-in passes on running plays now, so what are you blitzing for? I mean the ball’s coming out in 0.2 seconds, so what are you blitzing for? You’re not seeing the quarterback take seven-step drops and two hitches anymore. That ball is coming out at warp speed.

“I think you have to ask yourself, why are we blitzing and can we get there even if we’re free? The ball is coming out rapidly right now and you’re seeing open formations. I’ve seen more no-back formations in the first month of the season than I can recall. So I think that has a big reason for it.”

San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said offensive and defensive coordinators are playing a cat-and-mouse game of who will bring pressure on defense and how can you exploit the extra players coming after the quarterback on offense.

“I know offenses are doing more and more stuff,” Shanahan said. “The more blitzes that you do with the change in motion and all of that stuff and all the jets sweeps that people have, it’s very hard to stay sound and in your gaps and defend every single play.

“Blitzing is an extremely calculated risk. If you never do it, then it’s extremely easy for the offense. But if you always do it, that’s very easy for the offense, too. So the key is keeping people off balance and trying to not give up big plays.”

Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll’s defense is blitzing 18 percent of the time this season, fifth-lowest in the NFL. Like Bradley, Carroll said it’s important to keep explosive plays in front of you, and that’s done easier the less his defense blitzes.

“If a team called a run and there’s a pass involved and you’re trying to pressure — whether it’s the run or the passing game — you might not be right at all,” Carroll said. “So I think it’s just caused a little bit more uncertainty for the callers.

“And the throwing game is just so good. Teams are so adept at spreading the ball around, and the ball’s out so quickly, it doesn’t make sense to bring a ton of pressure right now.”



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Packers’ Geronimo Allison has ‘pretty big injury’; Kevin King likely to miss game


GREEN BAY, Wis. — Wide receiver Geronimo Allison likely will need surgery, and cornerback Kevin King isn’t likely to play Sunday against the Miami Dolphins.

That’s the outlook a day after the Green Bay Packers lost their second straight road game and fell to 3-4-1 at the halfway point of their season.

Allison did not play in Sunday’s 31-17 loss to the New England Patriots after he suffered a groin injury in practice Thursday. The third-year receiver was in Philadelphia on Monday to visit Dr. William Meyers, a core-muscle specialist who has operated on Packers players with groin and sports hernia injuries in the past.

“We’ll work through the final prognosis, but it’s a pretty big injury,” coach Mike McCarthy said.

Allison could miss more than a month. Rookie Marquez Valdes-Scantling took Allison’s spot as the No. 3 receiver on Sunday and caught three passes for 101 yards — his second 100-yard game in his past three outings.

King’s hamstring injury, which forced him out in the middle of Sunday’s game, isn’t as big, but McCarthy said King would be “challenged to play this week.”

The Packers made several adjustments in the secondary against the Patriots. They started the game with cornerback Tramon Williams at safety in place of Ha Ha Clinton-Dix, who was traded to the Washington Redskins last week. Bashaud Breeland started at cornerback in his first game action since the Packers signed him in December. King started at the other corner spot, and rookie Jaire Alexander played in the slot. Fellow rookie Josh Jackson played 41 of the 71 defensive snaps, most of them after King dropped out 24 snaps into the game. The Packers also finished the game without safety Kentrell Brice, who left with a knee injury.

The Packers on Monday added a safety, former fourth-round pick Ibraheim Campbell, off waivers from the Jets. Campbell played for Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine during the 2015 season with the Cleveland Browns.

He took punter Drew Kaser‘s roster spot. Kaser was signed on Saturday as an emergency in case JK Scott‘s wife went into labor and he had to leave New England. He would have done so with the blessings of McCarthy and general manager Brian Gutekunst, who had a plane waiting to take Scott back to Green Bay if needed. Kaser instead was inactive.

Right tackle Bryan Bulaga (knee) and linebacker Blake Martinez (ankle) both have a chance to play against the Dolphins after getting injured against the Patriots. Bulaga didn’t finish the game but avoided a serious injury, while Martinez returned but had significant swelling on Monday. Martinez said tests showed no significant structural damage.

“Once I taped it up and did a bunch of stuff and tried to run around, it started to kind of loosen up and I was getting ready to go,” he said.



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Derek Carr’s big game evokes memories of 2016 in loss to Colts – Oakland Raiders Blog


OAKLAND — This was how Derek Carr was supposed to look and play in Jon Gruden’s offense, right?

A dash of West Coast offense dink and dunk here, a sprinkling of that pixie dust from 2016 there and, voila: a more comfortable and confident Carr in the pocket, exhibiting presence and poise and stepping into his throws.

Indeed, this was the best Carr has looked in the pocket since Dec. 24, 2016, when these same Indianapolis Colts broke the Oakland Raiders quarterback’s right leg and ended his dream season.

Though Carr had three passing touchdowns and his first career rushing score on Sunday, the nightmare of 2018 continued with a 42-28 loss to the Colts in a game the Raiders led, 21-13, in the third quarter. Oakland fell to 1-6 heading into Thursday night’s road game against the San Francisco 49ers (1-7).

Bay Area bragging rights? On one hand, it will be the last time these two teams face each other, shy of a (cough, cough) Super Bowl while repping Oakland and San Francisco/Santa Clara as the Raiders move to Las Vegas in 2020. On the other, this will feature the lowest combined winning percentage (.133) for a prime-time NFL game on Nov. 1 or later, per The Associated Press.

What a time to be alive.

And what a time to be Carr, who trailed the Colts 10-0 before he took his fourth snap of the day.

“It shows that everything we’re doing is right, to me,” said Carr, who completed 21 of 28 passes for 244 yards and had three TD passes for a passer rating of 136.6 and also scored his first career rushing touchdown.

“Everything that Coach is asking me to do, obviously the results haven’t been what we wanted, but I wish I could tell you there was like some magical thing I did different [today], because that would make for a better story. But I’ve been doing the same thing, just listening to my coaches … just trying to get better every week. … I know that with certain guys gone that I do have to step up being more vocal.”

Guys such as Pro Bowl receiver Amari Cooper, traded to the Dallas Cowboys last week. And All-Pro edge rusher Khalil Mack, dealt to the Chicago Bears on Sept. 1.

Gruden has asked Carr to be more vocal.

And Carr has been under scrutiny since essentially bottoming out in London two weeks ago in a 27-3 blowout loss to the Seattle Seahawks, when he was sacked six times and had reportedly lost a “fractured” locker room.

Gruden, though, was not having it Sunday afternoon.

“I don’t think the criticism is anything we are really going to address,” Gruden said. “The critics are going to be critics. I’ve said I think he’s a great player.

“Again, I’ll say I think he’s the strength of this team and I’m excited about him.”

Carr completed 17 straight passes at one point, and his 1-yard score over the top of the pile was his first career rushing TD in his 69th game. It was the first rushing TD by a Raiders quarterback since Terrelle Pryor went 93 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers on Oct. 27, 2013.

“I saw him having fun today,” running back Jalen Richard said of Carr. “I saw him having fun today, like not worrying about anything.

“Everybody has their moments of frustration. … Every now and then he would give you that D.C. straight face, like …”

Richard gave a mean mug.

“But other than that, he was out there having fun,” Richard added. “Didn’t have to yell, nothing like that. He was just enjoying himself.”

Especially when he hit Seth Roberts in stride for a 31-yard TD. And when he found Jared Cook on a similar skinny post pattern for a 25-yard score. Same with the 6-yard TD he threw to Brandon LaFell in the third quarter to give the Raiders a 28-21 lead.

Being kept clean by an offensive line to the tune of just one QB hit and no sacks will grow confidence for both the line and the quarterback.

Just imagine how much more “fun” these games would be with a victory attached.

“I’m not even close to where I can be,” Carr said. “I still missed a few passes today that I wish I had back. I know that things can be better.

“Just to go out there and score some points and be efficient — it does help you feel better as a human. At the same time, I didn’t really feel good, because we lost. I’m tired of losing.”

As are the Raiders and their fans.

“For the most part, we’ve done some really good things,” Carr said. “Today was … just reaffirming what I already knew. When the wins come, hopefully everyone will know, too.”



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Weekend gambling recap – Big bets on Army, sportsbooks win on Brock Osweiler’s Dolphins


Notable bets is a regular Monday roundup of wagers — some sharper than others — made recently at sportsbooks across the nation.

On an NFL Sunday highlighted by a primetime showdown between the Kansas City Chiefs and New England Patriots, the biggest decision for several Las Vegas sportsbooks, of course, came down to the arm of Brock Osweiler.

Osweiler’s performance, the back-and-forth thriller in New England and some more wild bets on the Golden State Warriors — see: $20,000 to win $4,444 on a preseason game — all make appearances in this week’s edition of the notable bets.


NFL

Bears-Dolphins

• Multiple six-figure bets on the Chicago Bears, both on the point spread and on the moneyline, came in midweek at MGM sportsbooks. “There wasn’t much money on the Dolphins at all,” said MGM sportsbook director Jeff Stoneback said.

• At William Hill’s U.S. sportsbooks, Bears-Dolphins was the most-heavily bet of the early kickoffs Sunday, attracting nearly twice the amount of money wagered as any other game at that point in the day. Eighty-five percent of the money wagered was on the Bears. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, the lopsided action on Chicago included a $100,000 bet on the Bears and a $100,000 two-team parlay on the Bears and Los Angeles Rams.

• The Bears entered the week as 3-point favorites. The line began to grow, after Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill was listed on the injury report on Wednesday and Thursday as a full participant in practice. It grew to Chicago -3.5 on Thursday, and, after Tannehill was limited in Friday’s practice, climbed to -4.5 heading into Sunday. Speculation that Tannehill may be out was bubbling Sunday morning, and the Dolphins did not officially rule him out until just hours prior to kickoff. Backup quarterback Brock Osweiler started in place on Tannehill, and the betting public piled on the Bears, who closed as 7-point favorites. Osweiler passed for 380 yards and three touchdowns, and the Dolphins beat the Bears 31-28 in overtime.

• “Big key to the day was the Dolphins winning,” South Point sportsbook manager Tim Fitzgerald wrote in an email.

• “Dolphins, Cowboys and that back door that swung open for the Broncos definitely helped and were the best games for the book,” Station Casino sportsbook director Chuck Esposito wrote in an email. “The players did extremely well on the Steelers and Falcons.”

The Cowboys routed the favored Jacksonville Jaguars 40-7. The Broncos, who were 7-point underdogs, scored a touchdown with 1:22 left in the fourth quarter to cover the spread in a 23-20 loss to the Rams.

• “Basically, our whole morning came down to the last 30 seconds of the Bucs-Falcons game and the Steelers-Bengals game,” Salmons said late Sunday afternoon. “We needed the Bengals and the Falcons.”

The Steelers scored the go-ahead touchdown with 10 seconds to play to cover the spread in a 28-21 win over the Bengals. The Falcons, who were 3-point favorites, were leading Tampa Bay by two with 1:10 left. Facing a fourth-and-2 at the Buccaneers’ 39-yard line, Atlanta coach Dan Quinn elected to let kicker Matt Bryant attempt a 57-yard field goal. Bryant was true, and the Falcons held on to cover the spread in a 34-29 win. “[The Falcons] kicking a 57-yard field goal screwed us so bad. So we’re down a little,” Salmons added.

• Sunday morning direct message from Caesars Palace bookmaker: “According to bettors at Caesars Entertainment, the Colts have won this game [against the Jets] 63-0.” Bettors were loading up Indianapolis; the Jets beat the Colts 42-34. “The Jets ended up being our biggest single game win,” the bookmaker said in an email Sunday night. “The day went quite well.”

• The Golden Nugget sportsbook in Atlantic City said the NFL accounted for 62 percent of its betting handle on football over the weekend, with college football representing 38 percent of the amount wagered.

Chiefs-Patriots

• The sportsbooks at MGM, South Point, Station Casinos and the Westgate SuperBook each reported needing the Chiefs to cover the 4-point spread against the Patriots in the night game.

• Chiefs-Patriots was “by far” the most-heavily bet game of the day for the SuperBook. “There’s just so much two-way action on it,” SuperBook head football oddsmaker Ed Salmons said. “At one point, we were going to need the Patriots for a decent amount; then, we had one of our house guys (a VIP hotel guest) make a big bet on New England, and kind washed that out.”

• New England quarterback Tom Brady was favored in his 56th consecutive start, a record for a starting quarterback in the Super Bowl era, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

• The money wagered on the Chiefs and the Patriots at Caesars Palace books was “essentially dead even.” “We need the under,” a Caesars bookmaker wrote in an email.

• The over/under on Chiefs-Patriots closed at 59.5, making it third-highest total since 1986, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Patriots won 43-40.


College football

• A bettor, nicknamed the “Duffel Bag Bettor” by Las Vegas media for his knack of carrying around cash in a duffel bag, has been placing big bets at sportsbooks on college football throughout the season. He was in play again Saturday.

William Hill U.S. director of trading Nick Bogdanovich told Covers.com that he took a $100,000 bet on Army -15 over San Jose State from the bettor. MGM and South Point also reported taking large bets on Army from the bettor. In total, Vegas Stats and Information Network personality Pauly Howard tweeted that the Duffel Bag Bettor had $240,000 riding on Army. The Black Knights won 52-3. “He won on Army,” said Stoneback of the MGM, “but he also threw some parlays at us, some three- and four-team parlays. So he gave back about half of what he won on Army.”

• “[Saturday] was a really good day for us,” Stoneback said. “We won all our big decisions, and it was probably our best Saturday that we’ve had for the season, probably one of the best we’ve had for several seasons.”

• Memphis covering the spread in a 31-30 loss to undefeated Central Florida produced the biggest win on Saturday for MGM and the Westgate SuperBook.

• Saturday was a big day for under bettors. Thirty-four of the 49 games with over/under totals stayed under.

• Notable opening lines at Caesars Palace:

Michigan -7 at Michigan State
Mississippi State at LSU -6.5
Alabama NL at Tennessee
NC State at Clemson -17

• In an early line, Alabama is a 13-point road favorite in the Crimson Tide’s Nov. 3 showdown at LSU at Caesars sportsbooks.

• Four teams remain unbeaten against the spread: Washington State (6-0 ATS), Utah State (6-0 ATS), Florida International (5-0 ATS) and Appalachian State (4-0 ATS).

• Nebraska fell to 0-6 with Saturday’s overtime loss at Northwestern, clinching the under for season-win total bets at the South Point, where the Huskers were listed at 6.5 wins.

• Updated odds to win the national championship at the SuperBook:

Alabama -200
Clemson +400
Ohio State +500
Georgia +800
Notre Dame +800
Michigan 25-1
LSU 40-1
Oklahoma 40-1
Texas 50-1
UCF 60-1


Odds and ends

• NBA: The SuperBook took a $20,000 money-line wager on the Warriors at -450 odds in Friday’s preseason game against the Los Angeles Lakers. The bet would have won just over $4,444, but the Lakers won 119-105.

• NBA: The most popular NBA futures bet other than the odds to win the championship at BetStars sportsbook is a prop wager on Golden State going 82-0 at odds of +100,000 (1,000-1).

• MLB: Mattress Mack, a Houston icon who uses Las Vegas sportsbooks to hedge some of his promotions on the Astros at his furniture store, was back in action last week. He placed a $150,000 bet on the Astros to win the World Series at 9-5 odds with the South Point sportsbook, among other wagers around town.

• NHL: The Westgate SuperBook took a $100,000 bet on the Vegas Golden Knights to win the Pacific Division at 6-1 odds. The same bettor also placed a $12,000 bet on the Knights to win the Stanley Cup at 20-1.

• UFC: The SuperBook posted odds on the Jon Jones return to the octagon. Jones opened as a -280 favorite over Alexander Gustafsson in a rematch slated for UFC 232 on Dec. 29.

• MMA: Two bettors at the SuperBook placed five-figure wagers on Kevin Ferguson Jr., the son of the late Kimbo Slice, at odds of -1,000 and higher in Friday’s Bellator event. Ferguson was knocked out in the second round.

• Golf: A bettor placed a $1,500 wager at 25-1 that Tiger Woods will finish with over 18.5 major championships. Woods will enter next season with 14 major titles.

• New Jersey sports betting: New Jersey’s regulated sportsbooks took $183.9 million in bets in September, the state’s first football month with legal sports betting. In comparison, New Jersey books handled $95.6 million in bets in August.



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Josh Norman responds to critics by making big plays in Redskins win – Washington Redskins Blog


LANDOVER, MD – The critics long have pounced on Washington Redskins corner Josh Norman, picking apart his contract and whether he’s worth that sort of cash. He’s used to that. But there was something different this past week.

Norman was more under fire than ever. He was benched for a series vs. New Orleans when a situation grew heated with coach Jay Gruden. Then former teammate DeAngelo Hall said he was more focused on being a celebrity, shoving what had been a whisper around Redskins Park into the open. The scabs of Norman’s game were picked apart. In some ways, his week mirrored the franchise as all facets get picked apart.

Here’s how Norman responded: By making the plays Washington long has needed him to make. And he did it against the team that let him walk – and against good buddy Cam Newton.

Norman wasn’t the only reason Washington beat Carolina, 23-17, Sunday. Far from it. Running back Adrian Peterson rushed 17 times for 97 yards and no statistic has mattered more to Washington this season than his yardage totals. In the Redskins’ three wins, Peterson has surpassed 90 yards each time. He allows them to stay in positive down and distance situations and avoid many third and longs.

But Norman was the one under fire this week. He allowed a long touchdown catch vs. New Orleans thanks to a blown coverage. Then he was benched after halftime after Gruden pulled Norman’s headphones off while a coach was trying to talk, according to multiple reports.

Norman handled his week well, addressing the media on Wednesday. There was no residual effect of the tiff with Gruden; the two had a pleasant exchange later in the week. Gruden even admitted he needed to calm down as well after the halftime situation.

Norman, though, counts more against the cap than any other corner and has since signing with Washington after the 2015 offseason. But his play hasn’t matched the salary, something a number of people inside Redskins Park have stated privately.

But in the second quarter Norman intercepted his first pass since Christmas Even in 2016, grabbing an errant deep ball by Newton – his offseason basketball competitor. It didn’t lead to any points, but it did end one narrative. On the next series, Norman punched a ball out from receiver D.J. Moore for a Redskins takeaway that led to a field goal and 17-0 lead. The Redskins held on, with Carolina failing on fourth down at the Redskins’ 16-yard line. So Norman’s strong first half could have resulted in a disappointing finish. Instead, it ended with him in smiles hugging former teammates after the win.

At times Norman’s play has been solid. But the Redskins paid for more than that; they wanted game-changing plays and, finally, received some.



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Rams will need to find some defensive consistency with more big matchups ahead – Los Angeles Rams Blog


SEATTLE — There’s something for coming through when it counts.

After a holding call put the Seattle Seahawks out of field goal range, trailing 33-31 to the Los Angeles Rams, Cory Littleton leaped and deflected a Russell Wilson pass, and Wilson’s next attempt fell incomplete, too.

For a second consecutive week, the Rams’ defense came up big in the final minutes.

The Rams improve to 5-0, and are comfortably in first place in the NFC West, as the Seahawks fall to 2-3. But while the Rams’ defense held with 3 minutes, 38 seconds remaining in the game, their performance left plenty of room for improvement.

Linebacker Mark Barron made his first start this season after he was sidelined the past four games because of a nagging Achilles injury.

But the absence of cornerback Aqib Talib, who is on the injured reserve after he underwent ankle surgery, was apparent as Sam Shields started in Talib’s absence and Troy Hill also played a significant amount of snaps at the position.

Cornerback Marcus Peters, who suffered a calf strain in a Week 3 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers, has not appeared to return to form despite playing every snap in Week 4 and starting against the Seahawks.

Peters allowed for a 39-yard touchdown by Tyler Lockett in the second quarter that put the Seahawks ahead, 14-10, and also gave up a 30-yard touchdown to David Moore in the third quarter that put the Seahawks up 31-24.

Peters finished with five tackles and a pass deflection.

But it was Wilson — who defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said earlier this week could single-handedly win a game — whom the Rams struggled to slow, even as they sacked him twice.

Wilson completed 13 of 21 passes for 198 and 3 touchdowns and the Seahawks were 7-of-12 on third down. In two separate scenarios in the second half, Wilson scrambled as he was chased by outside linebacker Samson Ebukam. The outcomes each favored Wilson.

On the first, Wilson completed a 3-yard touchdown pass to Moore and later, as he scrambled, he threw the 30-yard score to Moore.

With the injuries in the secondary, the Rams’ defense might still struggle with making consistent stops. Facing the struggling offenses of the Denver Broncos and San Francisco 49ers in the next two weeks might help get over some of the ailments, but then bigger tests loom. With matchups with Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and Patrick Mahomes, putting together a complete performance on defense will be crucial.



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Matt Millen to leave Big Ten Network analyst duties to treat amyloidosis


ALLEN PARK, Mich. — Former Detroit Lions general manager Matt Millen is stepping away from his Big Ten Network broadcasting duties for the rest of the season to concentrate on his treatment for amyloidosis.

Millen had been working for the network as a color analyst for the first five games of this season. He had also done preseason radio work with the Oakland Raiders.

“We will certainly miss seeing Matt this fall, but his health is the clear priority for everyone involved,” Big Ten Network senior vice president Mark Hulsey said in a statement Wednesday. “And we plan to support him in any way possible.”

The 60-year-old first opened up about his diagnosis — which leaves him in possible need of a heart transplant — earlier this year to The Morning Call of Allentown, Pennsylvania. Amyloidosis is when amyloid builds up in bone marrow, eventually ending up in organs and body tissue. As it progresses, it can force organ failure by affecting healthy tissue.

In April, the Morning Call reported Millen’s heart was working at 30 percent capacity. Millen, who is a former ESPN employee, told the Morning Call he first began having symptoms seven years ago.

“I know what you have,” Millen said doctors told him, according to the newspaper. “And you’re not going to like it.”

A second-round pick out of Penn State in 1980, Millen played linebacker for 12 years for Oakland, San Francisco and Washington — becoming a two-time All-Pro, one-time Pro Bowler and four-time Super Bowl champion.

In 2001, he was hired by the Lions from the broadcast booth to become the team’s president and general manager. He was fired during the 2008 season, a year when the Lions finished 0-16.

The Mayo Clinic statistics report that 70 percent of people diagnosed with the disease are men, usually between the ages of 60 and 70.



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Jon Gruden singing praises of Marshawn Lynch after big game


ALAMEDA, Calif. — Fears that Jon Gruden and Marshawn Lynch could not co-exist with the Oakland Raiders are dissipating with every Beast Mode moment.

That’s especially true after Lynch’s hard-charging performance in the Raiders’ 45-42 overtime victory against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday, a game in which Lynch rushed for 130 yards, his highest output since going for 140 yards for the Seattle Seahawks against the New York Giants on Nov. 9, 2014.

“If that’s not a Hall of Fame back, I don’t know what is, honestly,” Gruden said Monday in his weekly media conference. “I mean, what he did yesterday, what he’s done since he’s been here, it’s incredible. He wants the ball more, and more, and more.

“We’ve got a good back over there, Doug Martin, who’s ready to roll. And Doug can’t get on the field. This guy (Lynch) does not want to come off the field. He picked up six or seven blitzes yesterday, too, that no one’s talking about. But some of the runs? Good night.”

Lynch forced 11 missed tackled by the Browns, per Pro Football Focus, and leads the NFL with 22 missed tackles. He is third in the NFL with 3.74 yards after contact per attempt among running backs with 40 or more touches.

His 300 rushing yards on the season are fourth-most in the NFL, though he no doubt leads in the unofficial category of most violent runs as he had a potential 75-yard TD run taken away by an early whistle when his legs were still churning.

Lynch seemed to run angrier than usual after being ruled down in the second quarter.

“Why would you have a quick whistle, with Marshawn Lynch?” Gruden asked. “I don’t understand how you can blow a whistle like you did yesterday. But some of the runs he’s making, some of the finishes that he’s putting on tape, it’s unbelievable. I don’t see many guys run like this.”

Lynch is doing this at age 32, in his second year back from a one-year retirement in 2016.

Through the first half-season of his return last year, Lynch seemed more problematic for then-coach Jack Del Rio, especially when he ran on the field to protect then-Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Peters, his cousin, from other Raiders players after a hit on quarterback Derek Carr.

Lynch had to serve a one-game suspension for making contact with a game official in the ensuing melee and then practiced with his high school football team during the week away, to Del Rio’s chagrin.

But when Lynch returned, he was the Raiders’ best offensive player the last half of the 2017 season and has been a leader under Gruden. Late in the first half of the Browns game, Lynch gave an impassioned speech to Oakland’s offensive line on the sidelines.

He also made a rare media appearance following last week’s loss at the Miami Dolphins.

“I think what’s most important is that we rally behind each other, more than anything,” Lynch said at the time. “If you are on the outside looking in, it looks terrible. But we know what we have in this locker room. So if we get behind each other, I think we’ll be able to turn this around.”

Gruden said he has no concerns with Lynch’s workload, despite his age and how hard he runs, seemingly looking to punish would-be tacklers with aplomb.

“Not until he tells me,” Gruden said. “I just keep patting him on the back, Hey, get ready to go. I check on him periodically, and when he can’t go, we go to Doug. Jemal Singleton, our running back coach, has done a great job making sure that Marshawn is in the game when he feels like he can be in a game. And when it’s time to go to Jalen (Richard), in some unique situations, we go to Jalen. And hopefully, in the coming weeks, we’ll be able to get some two-halfback sets going, like we used to around here.”



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Back to their old ways, Saints struggle to stop big plays – New Orleans Saints Blog


METAIRIE, La. — Here we go again.

The New Orleans Saints, who have both gained more yards and allowed more yards than any team in the NFL since coach Sean Payton and quarterback Drew Brees arrived in 2006, are back to their old ways:

Lighting up scoreboards on both sides of the ball.

Sunday’s 43-37 overtime win at Atlanta was exhilarating. And New Orleans has to feel good about sitting in a tie for first place in the NFC South at 2-1 overall despite a shaky start.

But the Saints have a big problem on defense that needs to get fixed in a big hurry. They’re allowing “explosive” plays in the passing game at an alarming rate.

The Saints have been torched for six passing plays of 45-plus yards this season, including a pass interference penalty. That’s twice as many as any other team.

This past Sunday, it was a 75-yard touchdown pass from Matt Ryan to Calvin Ridley, a 58-yard pass from Ryan to Julio Jones and a 45-yard pass interference penalty among several others that looked way too easy as Ryan threw for a career-best five TD passes.

“Look, that’s gonna keep coming now. Those deep balls are gonna keep coming,” Payton acknowledged. “Because if there’s only two things that are happening — a pass interference or completion — and there’s no interception opportunity, then teams are gonna take multiple shots more and more and more.

“I don’t like the fact that we’ve had one takeaway after three games [an interception by safety Marcus Williams in Week 2]. I don’t think we’ve caused a fumble one time. So there are a handful of things that need improvement fast.”

It won’t help that the Saints are facing another one of the NFL’s most dangerous receivers, Odell Beckham Jr., when they play at the New York Giants on Sunday.

And it really won’t help that the Saints just placed veteran nickel cornerback Patrick Robinson on injured reserve with a broken ankle that he suffered on Sunday. Robinson, who is expected to miss the rest of the season, was one of New Orleans’ top free-agent signings this year and one of the most trusted members in their secondary. They signed him specifically because he is so good inside the slot, where they will now have to find a replacement in addition to shoring up their problems on the outside.

Yeah, we know, you feel like you’ve heard those quotes and read this story before, countless times over the past 12-plus years, right? The Saints have allowed 97 passes of 45-plus yards since 2006, to be exact — the most in the NFL over that span despite burning through five different defensive coordinators.

The worst part this time around, though, is that it looked like the Saints had finally started to solve this familiar problem last season when rookie cornerback Marshon Lattimore, rookie free safety Williams and second-year cornerback Ken Crawley all had breakout years. The Saints actually ranked second in the NFL in pass defense from Weeks 2-15.

But there were signs of cracks in the foundation even late during the 2017 season. The Saints allowed at least one passing play of 37-plus yards in each of their final six games last season — including the infamous “Minnesota Miracle” in their playoff loss.

And Payton rejected the word “surprise” when asked about the coaches’ reaction to these early 2018 struggles.

“No, listen, we’ve gotta be able to stay on top of it. Nothing surprises you in this game. You’ve gotta identify what you’re doing,” Payton said. “There’s a mental error on one of the coverage busts. We’ve gotta look closely at that. We gotta ask ourselves, ‘Are we doing too much? Are we putting our guys in the best position?'”

The Saints were already having enough trouble finding cornerbacks they could trust even with a healthy Robinson in the lineup.

They benched Crawley in favor of veteran backup P.J. Williams this past Sunday. But Ryan targeted Williams relentlessly — including touchdown passes of 18 yards and 75 yards to Ridley in the first half — before the Saints switched back to Crawley.

Then Crawley struggled himself in the second half. He drew the deep PI penalty. And he was also in initial coverage on Jones’ 58-yard catch, though it’s unclear if he was expecting help from another defender.

Lattimore has done well the past two weeks after having the worst performance of his young career against Tampa Bay’s Mike Evans in Week 1. But Ryan mostly avoided Lattimore this past Sunday (both when he started the game covering Jones and when he later switched to cover Ridley more).

It also appeared Marcus Williams was shadowing Jones on some of the big plays early before the Saints realized what an issue Ridley was giving them.

“Guys just gotta stay disciplined and stay over the top in some of our coverages. I know I gotta read the ball better,” Crawley said. “We just gotta stay disciplined in coverage and in our zones and in our three-deeps. We just gotta know in the back of our head where we’re supposed to be at. That includes safeties, linebackers and us.”

It’s unclear how much of the deep-ball problems fall on the Saints’ safeties, since we don’t know their assignments. But they certainly haven’t helped much with so many receivers getting open deep behind cornerbacks. So either they need to make better decisions or the coaches need to put them in better positions.

The pass rush was part of the problem in Week 1, when the Saints got lit up by the Buccaneers in a 48-40 loss — though they’ve gotten better in that department over the past two weeks.

Last but not least, Crawley suggested that some of the problems have been the result of communication issues as they have incorporated two new players into the secondary (Robinson and strong safety Kurt Coleman).

“A lot of guys are still learning,” Crawley said. “Even guys like Coleman, these guys gotta keep learning and keep progressing in our defense. [Defensive coordinator Dennis Allen] does a good of disguising the coverages and doing different things. We just gotta be in tune when he changes up a coverage and the different looks he tries to give the offense.

“It’s the little things in coverage we mess up, and we gotta find a way to stop those little mistakes.”

That idea of continuous change with players, coordinators and schemes is perhaps the most constant theme throughout so many years of defensive struggles. Since the start of the 2014 season, 24 different defensive backs have started at least two games for the Saints — the second-highest total in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Information research.

Both are the most in the NFL.

The good news, though, is that we saw the Saints get off to a similar start through two weeks last year, too. Once everyone got acclimated, things turned around in a big way.

There is still plenty of optimism that the same can happen this season. Heck, there’s only one direction they can go at this point.

“I think it’s a little bit of A, B and C,” Coleman said when asked how many of the problems have been assignment or communication errors versus technique issues. “Some of the things we have to clean up is just a little more consistency with our playcalling as far as making sure everyone’s on the same page. And obviously just staying on top. If you’re on top, you gotta stay on top and you gotta make a play.

“But at the end of the day, they’re all correctable, I’ll say that. Every single instance that they were able to be successful on a deep play, it’s all correctable. … I’m a firm believer in this group of guys that we have, the men we have in this locker room. We’re not gonna continue to go back and make the same mistakes over and over.”



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