Doug Pederson’s ‘pressure’ message to Eagles misses the mark – Philadelphia Eagles Blog

PHILADELPHIA — What was organic last season seems forced this time around.

In the wake of the Eagles’ collapse against the Carolina Panthers on Sunday, coach Doug Pederson said his message to his players in the locker room was that the “pressure’s off of us.”

“Nobody on the outside world is giving us a chance to do much of anything,” he said. “Pressure’s off, so we can go play, have fun, relax.”

The Eagles famously rode the “underdog” theme all the way to a Super Bowl championship in 2017, complete with dog masks the players broke out following each upset win in the postseason — an image the Panthers used to troll Philly following Sunday’s meltdown.

During his epic parade-day speech on the Art Museum steps, center Jason Kelce rattled off a long list of players and execs who had been counted out, capped by a rendition of the chant, “No one likes us. We don’t care.”

It was an easy, natural identity for the Eagles to embrace, considering they were in fact underdogs in every playoff game they played.

It’s more difficult now that they’re the Super Bowl champs. This isn’t a team that is being discounted — not even after it blew a 17-0 lead to Carolina to fall to 3-4. The NFC East is still up for grabs. Most believe the middling division will come down to the wire and the Eagles will be right in the mix for the crown.

Pederson went on to offer some context around his messaging.

“Number one, I think no one has really given us a chance anyway,” Pederson said. “Whether we’re putting pressure on ourselves to perform, to play, whatever it is, live up to a certain expectation, I think that’s the point where I think that no one has given us that type of — maybe with the amount of injuries or whatever it is — given us much credit going into games.

“And I think sometimes we force issues. We try to press just a little bit instead of just — we don’t have to go searching for plays. When the plays come, let’s just make the plays that come to us, and right now, we’re not doing that. So I think that’s the pressure that’s off of us, and we just have to get back to playing and executing better.”

It’s a sharp pivot from the “embrace the target” mantra that he has been pushing since the offseason. Pederson stressed that this group is not going to sneak up on anyone and, as defending champs, will get the opponent’s best shot every week. It’s hard to sell that the Eagles are being dismissed now — injuries and slow start aside — when they’ve been favored in every game they’ve played to this point.

What stands out when you get past the fact that the message doesn’t fit are some of the phrases Pederson used in his explanation: “we try to press,” “we don’t have to go searching for plays,” “we force issues.”

“Sometimes I think players and coaches just put added pressure when they don’t have to, and that’s something that we’ve got to — it starts with me there, just to make sure we’re doing everything, even during the week, getting ourselves in position to win games,” he said.

What seems clear is that Pederson believes his team is trying to do too much and needs to find a way to relieve some of the pressure that is keeping them from performing freely.

It actually seemed like the joy and swagger the Eagles played with last season had returned last week against the New York Giants, and it spilled over for three quarters Sunday. The celebratory touchdowns were back. During one TV timeout, the Eagles’ kickoff unit formed a dance circle, with each player getting a chance to jump in the middle and show off his moves. The fun-loving, dominating squad was back … until everything evaporated in the fourth quarter.

The Eagles play the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday, followed by games against the Dallas Cowboys and New Orleans Saints. Five division games remain, as does a trip to Los Angeles to play the loaded Rams.

As quarterback Carson Wentz said, the Eagles are “at make-or-break time, almost.”

They are entering their most critical stretch of the season. The pressure isn’t off the Eagles, as much as they might like it to be. If anything, it’s about to ratchet up.

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Kirk Cousins is at his best when pressure is cranked up – Minnesota Vikings Blog

EAGAN, Minn. — Sustained quarterback success in the NFL is often derived from making plays while under pressure and/or in a less-than-desirable pocket. Whether it’s a weakened offensive line, facing a plethora of elite pass-rushers or seeing pressure frequency rise in correlation with blitzes, a handful of circumstances determine why some quarterbacks are forced to throw under duress more than others.

Production will suffer for some, but in the case of Kirk Cousins, the Minnesota Vikings quarterback is actually seeing his output near its best in the face of constant pressure.

According to ESPN Stats & Information, Cousins has been pressured on 28.8 percent of his dropbacks through five games, which is the 13th highest rate among qualifying quarterbacks. With pass-rushers breathing down his neck aiming to disrupt the pocket and get home on the quarterback, Cousins has been forced to get rid of the ball quickly. His average time in the pocket is 2.03 seconds this season, which is the fourth fastest in the NFL.

As evidenced by a handful of throws Cousins made in the Vikings win over the Eagles, including the 68-yard pass to Adam Thielen he executed while getting hit at his own 5-yard line, the Minnesota QB has had to rely on the chemistry he has built with his receivers to know that they’re going to be in the spots they’re supposed to, even if he has to throw the ball before they get there.

Cousins’ 64.7 completion percentage and 8.1 yards per attempt under pressure rank second and fifth, respectively. His 51 passing attempts when pressured are the most of any QB without an interception in that situation this season, and he has three touchdowns in those situations.

Throwing from a clean pocket is obviously preferred, but Cousins hasn’t seen that much of a bump in production. His completion percentage is higher (72 percent) when not throwing under duress, and he has thrown seven touchdowns from a clean pocket, but his yards per attempt is lower (7.4) and his two interceptions came when he had more time to throw.

Part of the reason he’s having success is the experience he has gained from these situations. During three years as a starter in Washington, Cousins was pressured on 25.0 percent of his dropbacks. Everything from understanding how to manipulate protections, trusting his receivers to know their route depths, angle and how to create separation to get open quickly helps him beat pressure.

Oftentimes, Cousins says, if more of his offensive personnel are in pass protection, he actually has more vacant space to work with on the back end.

“Sometimes you love seeing pressure, because you say, ‘Now I only have to go against three deep/three under as opposed to three deep/four under, which opens up a zone,” Cousins said. “And if our back, our tight end or our line can pick it up, now I’m free to sit back there and have more space to throw.”

One of the ways Vikings offensive coordinator John DeFilippo helps Cousins mitigate pressure is by utilizing play-action. Moving where the quarterback is in the pocket is the same concept that frustrated the Vikings’ defensive line in establishing a pass-rush against opposing QBs early on. Cousins’ 81.6 completion percentage with play-action passes ranks first in the NFL, and he has been pressured on 38.5 percent of his play-action plays.

“If you do a good job in the running game, you can get some of the underneath guys sucked up a little bit and possibly safeties, depending on coverage and things like that,” coach Mike Zimmer said. “It just opens up a lot more areas to manipulate the field.”

Much has been made of the Vikings’ offensive imbalance and Cousins’ pace to throw for 5,402 yards this season. With the run game struggling, the Vikings have leaned on using quick screens to force plays to the perimeter.

“The screen game is huge,” Zimmer said. “You see more and more of it and all around the league now, especially off of play-action, because linebackers start to hopefully get depth and get out of there and then the line has a chance to sift over toward to where they’re in front of the running back.”

It’s also a concept that has helped Cousins when he’s facing more than a four-man rush. The Vikings QB has a 110.9 passer rating when blitzed, which is the seventh-best among all QBs. Knowing how to diagnose these blitzes relies first and foremost on getting the ball out quickly.

“We always talk about, ‘What are you going to do if it’s not there?’ and what’s your answer to get the ball out of your hand if you got fooled?’” Cousins said. “And so that’s very important to know where that element is, and that quick pass, that outlet, to get the ball out of your hands, and some plays have better ones than others, but just always asking yourself that question is very important to stay ahead of what a defense does throw at you.”

A clean pocket is always desired but not always attainable. Moreover, keeping a quarterback upright and limiting the hits he takes each game is part of the process in scheming around pressure. Through five games, Cousins has shown how well he can perform under these circumstances.

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Playcalling and constant pressure on Russell Wilson put Seattle in 0-2 hole – Seattle Seahawks Blog

CHICAGO — When the Seattle Seahawks retooled their star-studded defense this offseason, saying goodbye to a handful of franchise greats, the strength of their team shifted to the other side of the ball.

For the first time in years, the offense — led by a Super Bowl-winning, MVP-candidate quarterback in Russell Wilson and a rebuilt running game — was the unit that could keep the team in games the way the Legion of Boom did so well for so many years.

Or so everyone thought.

Hope is far from lost for Wilson and Co. Not after two games. Not in a league where so much can change so quickly. But it isn’t as easy to picture this as a group that can carry the Seahawks after its clunker of a performance in a 24-17 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night.

Wilson was playing without his top target in receiver Doug Baldwin, out due to an MCL injury. But Baldwin’s absence alone hardly explains the ugly totals: 276 yards of total offense, 5 of 13 on third down and another six sacks allowed.

“Gotta watch the film. I don’t know everything that happened,” left tackle Duane Brown said, “but we’re capable of a lot more.”

The loss would have been far more lopsided if not for the Seahawks’ defense, especially Shaquill Griffin. The second-year cornerback picked off Mitchell Trubisky on consecutive possessions in the first half. That group resembled one you’d see in August thanks to so many unfamiliar names in starting roles due to injuries. It did about as well as anyone could have expected it to without linebackers Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright — two of Seattle’s best remaining defensive players — as well as a third starter in cornerback Tre Flowers.

Carroll called it “remarkable” how the replacements played, noting linebackers Austin Calitro and the newly-signed Mychal Kendricks as well as cornerback Akeem King.

“Those guys did a nice job,” he said. “We [had] a good night on defense and we really gave ourselves a chance with a couple of turnovers.”

But Seattle’s offense went three-and-out after both of Griffin’s interceptions and finished with all of 79 yards and three points at halftime. It was that kind of night, and it was pretty much over when Wilson threw a pick-six and then lost a fumble on a strip-sack on back-to-back possessions in the fourth quarter.

Seattle’s six sacks allowed brings the two-week total to 12. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Wilson became the first quarterback to be sacked at least 11 times in his first two games since Chad Henne (13) in 2014.

Yes, Seattle’s offensive line predictably had its hands full with Khalil Mack and a very good Bears defensive front, but Wilson again held onto the ball too long at times, something he admitted to doing last week when he took the blame for three of Seattle’s five sacks.

“We’re not … right yet as well as we need to be,” Carroll said of the pass-protection. “We’ve seen some fantastic rushers and we have not been able to keep them from being effective. The last two guys we saw [Mack and Von Miller] might be the two best guys we see all year long. I don’t know, but we’re going to grow from that and get better.”

You don’t need to be a football expert to credibly question Seattle’s playcalling, specifically the way the Seahawks haven’t made much of an attempt to run the ball through two games even though their stated intention was to revive that part of their offense. Brian Schottenheimer talked this week about needing to do a better job of sticking with the run after he called only 14 plays last week that had Wilson handing off to a tailback. That never materialized. Running backs Chris Carson, Rashaad Penny and Mike Davis combined for 19 carries in all and only eight through three quarters.

The Seahawks are left with serious questions about protecting Wilson, finding playmakers beyond Baldwin and playcalling to go along with their 0-2 start.

Carroll said there’s a good chance Seattle will get Wagner, Wright and cornerback Tre Flowers back for Sunday’s home opener against the Dallas Cowboys, though he sounded less certain about Baldwin.

September is too early for talk of must-win games, but that almost feels like one.

“Very difficult night to take after last week and this week because we ain’t used to this,” Carroll said.

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OBJ’s new deal brings added pressure, responsibilities – New York Giants Blog

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — With great wealth comes great responsibility.

That is the new reality for Odell Beckham Jr. He is set to become the highest-paid offensive non-quarterback in NFL history with the five-year, $95 million extension he’s receiving from the New York Giants.

It hasn’t come easily. Beckham is one of the last wide receivers from his 2014 draft class to be rewarded with a new deal. Some of the wait was self-inflicted; some of it was simply the Giants’ way of doing business and wanting to make sure that the ankle he broke last year wasn’t going to be a problem.

Beckham made it easy for the Giants of late. He did just about everything they asked of him since the start of the spring, even risking getting on the field this summer in live drills and joint practices with many millions at stake. It didn’t have to go so smoothly, but it did, leading us to this point.

After months — even years — of waiting (and at one point, the Giants listening to trade offers), Beckham was finally rewarded. And now, it’s time for him to hold up his end of the bargain as the second-highest-paid player on the team and the ninth-highest-paid player in the league in terms of guaranteed money.

With the new deal comes the inevitable reality that this is Beckham’s team, if not today then soon enough. Quarterback Eli Manning will not be around forever, and Beckham is now signed through 2023. Manning will be 42 by that time, likely out of the league for several years.

Beckham, who unofficially became the face of the franchise once he agreed to the new deal, may still be in his prime. He will be the player who needs to hold others accountable — in the locker room, on the field and off — and set the right example.

Beckham, 25, needs to be an extension of coach Pat Shurmur. It should help that they’ve forged a strong relationship. They began texting not long after Shurmur was hired. The new coach even went out to Los Angeles this offseason to get face time with his top playmaker.

It set the stage for them to successfully navigate through a delicate summer that always had the contract situation hanging over them.

“Coach Shurmur is great. When we first met in L.A., we just sat down and talked football, and just to see his mentality and how he’s going to run the ship — it’s just been phenomenal to come in here every day,” Beckham said recently. “It’s like you’re back at the workplace and you love it, and he makes it fun for us. He’s just doing a great job. He’s got everybody doing what we’re supposed to be doing.”

Part of Beckham’s newfound compensation package will be to serve as an extension of his coach. Maybe even serve as a captain. It comes with the burden of cashing those monstrous paychecks.

That means all the other stuff needs to be a thing of the past. The potential “distractions,” as former head coach Ben McAdoo once called them. The kicking net proposals, the Josh Norman on-field scuffle, the pretending to pee on the field as a celebration, the boat trip. They can’t happen.

The Giants made an investment, a massive one, in Beckham as a player and as a person. They’re betting that he has matured over the years and is ready to become a true leader of the team. A player with that cachet can’t defer on that responsibility.

It took time for them to get to that point. They needed to see Beckham buy into the new regime — and prove that his ankle was healthy — before beginning negotiations on a new deal late last month. They apparently liked what they saw.

“I think Odell personally is moving in the right direction,” co-owner John Mara said at the start of training camp. “I think he has come in here with a good attitude, showed up [at the start of camp] with a smile on his face and worked hard, and I think he’s ready to go.

“I think he’s ready to have a great season and we’re ready for him to have a great season.”

They’re banking on him doing more than just that. Forget this season — it’s bigger than that. They’re now heavily invested in him having a great career with the Giants.

Beckham already has immense respect in that locker room. If you talk to current and former Giants, they’ll rave about him as a person and a teammate. It’s hard to find a negative word on his approach and work ethic.

Beckham has developed into a leader in recent years. His influence has been evident ever since his breakout rookie year after being a first-round pick in the 2014 NFL draft. When Odell moves, everybody follows. When he wilts or gets injured, the team implodes.

It’s on Beckham now to make sure none of that happens to his team.

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Howard Bryant — NFL players have succumbed to protest pressure

This story appears in ESPN The Magazine’s April 23 NEXT issue. Subscribe today!

From Robinson to Ali, the power of player activism has always been rooted in its moral imperative. The recent wave has been no different, motivated by moments like in August 2014, when Ferguson police shot Michael Brown dead and left his body on the street, baking in the summer heat for hours. Or when police choked Eric Garner to death that same summer, or killed Philando Castile and Terence Crutcher in 2016. People filled the streets to protest the violence. Players like Colin Kaepernick and Eric Reid joined them in on-field protests.

The sports world did its best to kill the protests, aided by a media that largely refused to understand the revolt and by the willful ignorance of owners and fans who never believed this part of America was a problem. The efforts appear to have succeeded. Kaepernick is still without a job. Reid, a free agent safety, said on March 22 that if signed by a team he would discontinue his two-year practice of kneeling during the anthem in protest of police brutality. The next day, Malcolm Jenkins, Anquan Boldin and Devin McCourty — three members of the Players Coalition, a group of activist players that in November negotiated with owners an $89 million partnership to contribute to social causes — gave the keynote address at a Harvard seminar on criminal justice reform. Speaking about on-field protest, McCourty told USA Today, “That was a vehicle that we used to draw attention, but doing some type of protest on the field every week is not going to stop an unarmed black kid from getting killed.”

The players have clearly succumbed to the prolonged hostility to their cause and suffer a terribly absent sense of self. Their union is ambivalent toward protest, even as jobs are being threatened. Kaepernick, the hero to the people who never quite wanted to lead the people, is still an unquestioned inspiration to millions, but he hasn’t spoken nationally in more than a year. In the void, his moral urgency has been co-opted. Unwilling to couple labor solidarity to protest, the players let Kaepernick die professionally, sacrificing their one strength management feared: the power of their numbers. The coalition said their partnership wasn’t a quid pro quo to end protests, yet that is what it has become. Players took ownership’s money without asking for fairness. Kaepernick and now possibly Reid, who remained unsigned heading into April, have been the human cost — and everyone seems all right with that.

Yet while the players were cutting deals with owners — the same owners who have been historically dishonest with them about the dangers of their sport, men who have called them “inmates” and treat them as disposable — children from Parkland to Chicago, tired of gun violence, many first inspired by Kaepernick, went precisely to the place the players negotiated to avoid: the streets. The kids went out and marched, a million strong. They incorporated the kids from Columbine who are now adults, and the parents from Sandy Hook. When black kids wrecked by gun violence felt omitted, they forced their way into the fight, made themselves be seen. The movement incorporated military veterans who shared their gun-control views, a strategic alliance that obscured the violence of constant war but muted accusations that the kids were unpatriotic. It was alliance-building the players ignored-hundreds of police officers lead anti-police brutality organizations — and the result was being branded as anti-cop.

The kids faced attacks of their own, just not at the level of hostility facing protesting players. They are slowly connecting the dots from gun violence to domestic violence to police violence, dots the players were too willing to disconnect. They moved America without begging the powerful for money — or by having their movement co-opted by sneaker companies. Their success illuminates the players’ failure, because at the same time the coalition talked down demonstration at Harvard, the moral imperative to do so has only increased. In Baltimore, where Freddie Gray died in police custody, two officers were found guilty of corruption and six others pleaded guilty to it. Houston police killed Danny Ray Thomas, another unarmed black man. Four days earlier, Sacramento police killed Stephon Clark in his grandmother’s backyard, shooting him multiple times in the back. Louisiana prosecutors announced that Baton Rouge police who fatally shot Alton Sterling in 2016 — the killing that ignited the activism of Reid and Jenkins — would not be charged.

For their compromise, NFL players now look like followers who settled for a check instead of having the stamina to stay in the streets, where movements are always at their most dangerous. Maybe it’s fitting. The kids don’t seem to need them anyway.

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Pressure is on Colts GM Chris Ballard with Josh McDaniels – Indianapolis Colts Blog

INDIANAPOLIS — Colts general manager Chris Ballard has landed his next head coach in New England offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter.

The pressure on Ballard is about to intensify.

There will be pressure on McDaniels because he’s going to be in charge of coaching the players. But there’s going to be even more pressure on Ballard, who spent his first season cleaning house with the roster and analyzing the coaching staff. The Colts, who haven’t been to the playoffs since 2014, must take a step forward after finishing with a 4-12 record this season.

Ballard will have nearly $85 million in salary-cap space — third most in the NFL — to work with in free agency and the No. 3 overall pick in April’s draft. The Colts are working under the assumption that they’ll have a healthy Andrew Luck (shoulder), who missed the entire 2017 season. There’s no excuse for the team not to be a better next season.

Back to McDaniels.

Ballard is hitching his wagon to a coach who clashed with players and coaches during his unsuccessful go-round as head coach in Denver. He was 11-17 as coach of the Broncos before being fired halfway through the 2010 season. One difference this time is McDaniels won’t be in charge of personnel decisions. That’s Ballard’s department.

Is McDaniels a good coach or just a product of Bill Belichick’s system in New England?

It’s understandable to be wary of hiring one of Belichick’s assistants to be head coach. History has shown they haven’t done well after leaving New England for NFL head-coaching jobs.

Former Patriots defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel went 26-54 as head coach in Cleveland and Kansas City. Eric Mangini, another former New England defensive coordinator, was a combined 33-47 with the Browns and New York Jets. Houston coach Bill O’Brien, who was Belichick’s offensive coordinator, has done the best of the group. He is 31-33 with two playoff appearances despite having quarterback issues with the Texans.

His experience in Denver — and further work with Belichick — should help McDaniels this time around. The Patriots have reached at least the AFC Championship Game each season since McDaniels returned in 2012. They’ll try to win their third Super Bowl in that span when they take on the Philadelphia Eagles on Feb. 4.

McDaniels wants to join O’Brien in having success as a head coach. With a healthy Luck and plenty of capital available to upgrade the roster, this could end up being the best head-coaching job that was available.

Ballard hopes so, because he can’t afford for the franchise to go backward anymore.

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