Houston’s repeating storyline: After slow start, rally falls short

Perhaps the most frustrating thing about the Houston Texans’ 0-3 start, safety Tyrann Mathieu said, is how close the team has been to turning its record around.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

“[We could be] 3-0,” Mathieu said. “Every game this year we’ve started slow and … we’ve lost three games by 15 points. It’s not like guys are just blowing us out. We’re really beating ourselves.”

In their first three games, the Texans have scored 19 points and had 482 total net yards in the first half. That has jumped to 40 points and 707 total net yards in the second half.

In the locker room after the Texans’ 27-22 loss to the New York Giants, players had a difficult time explaining why this team has started off so slowly before a strong second half.

“If I was a psychic … I could tell you,” receiver DeAndre Hopkins said. “I just do my job.”10

Added Mathieu: “I can’t pinpoint it for you.”

On Sunday, even the defense struggled in the first half, allowing the Giants to come away with points on each of their four first-half drives. On the other side of the ball, the offense managed just two field goals and was 1-of-5 on third down.cheap nike nfl jerseys from china

Because the Texans couldn’t get the running game going in the first half — an area that had been a highlight in the team’s first two games — Houston had to “basically [abandon]” it and rely on the passing game. Deshaun Watson threw 25 passes in the second half compared to 15 in the first half, and finished 24-of-40 for 385 yards with two touchdowns and an interception.

Regardless of the reason why the Texans have not been able to get off to a quick start, Mathieu said, “we just have have to play better.”

“We play in phases where we dominate in one period, and the next period we look like we don’t know what we’re doing,” he said. “The leadership, we have to be better. We’ve got to show up with intensity, with passion and just hold everybody accountable.”

That starts next Sunday, when the Texans travel to Indianapolis to face the 1-2 Colts. At 0-3, Houston knows it doesn’t have a choice but to come out swinging to start that game.

“We need to start fast, and we need to finish stronger,” defensive lineman J.J. Watt said. “We figure it out for a little while in the middle, and we need to come up with a solution as to why and how we can get it going early and finish stronger at the end.”


Driven by Khalil Mack, Bears’ defense starting to look special

The driving force behind the Bears’ 2-1 start is the defense, which forced four more turnovers (on four consecutive series in the second half) in Chicago’s 16-14 come-from-behind win over the Arizona Cardinals.

“For our defense, three weeks in a row now they’ve done special things,” coach Matt Nagy said on Sunday.

Chicago is used to watching the Bears play a “special” brand of defense. From Dick Butkus to the ’85 Bears to Lovie Smith’s Cover 2 that featured Hall of Famer Brian Urlacher, Lance Briggs and Charles Tillman (to name a few), the Bears have often been synonymous with defense.cheap official nike nfl jerseys

But the defense tanked the year after Smith left, and the Bears had few difference-makers on that side of the ball — until now.

This Bears defense already has five interceptions, 14 sacks, two touchdowns and seven forced fumbles on the young season.9

“When I say special, our guys and our coaches, they feel that right now,” Nagy said. “They feel that they can be in a different league of their own but it takes hard work.”

Chicago has done an admirable job collecting talent on defense.

The Bears used free agency to add linebacker Danny Trevathan, defensive lineman Akiem Hicks and cornerback Prince Amukamara.

General manager Ryan Pace then turned to the draft for linebacker Roquan Smith, safeties Eddie Jackson and Adrian Amos, and outside linebacker Leonard Floyd.

But the game-changer for the Bears was trading for Khalil Mack prior to Week 1.

Mack’s impact is felt on virtually every snap he plays. A former NFL Defensive Player of the Year, Mack had a game-high two sacks against the Cardinals and currently leads the Bears with four sacks.

But even when Mack fails to reach the quarterback, he manages to help the cause.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Arizona chose to triple-team Mack at times, but all that did was free up Hicks, who delivered a solid hit and sacked Cardinals quarterback Sam Bradford.

So far, Mack has recorded a sack and forced fumble in all three games.

The last player to have a sack and forced fumble in three straight games? Mack, who did it from Week 12 to 14 in 2016, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

“I’m thrilled. … I’m blessed to be in the position I’m in,” Mack said. “The will to win, you see it, especially in the back end, the linebackers up front, just everybody is jelling together. It’s a brotherhood. Something special is going on.”


Adrian Peterson needs more patience as he adapts to Redskins

In his first game with the Washington Redskins, Adrian Peterson flashed shades of his glory days, such as making a jump cut in the hole and finding lanes with his vision against the Arizona Cardinals.

In his second game, Peterson didn’t do much of anything. Against the Indianapolis Colts, jump cuts to avoid danger only led to more danger. And the holes were hard to see. Other times he was too impatient, running into clogged alleys.

Some of it is a function of Peterson still adjusting to the Redskins, not to mention running more out of a shotgun formation, which has been an area of criticism with his running style in the past.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

In Week 1, Peterson rushed for 96 yards on 26 carries. But in Week 2 against the Colts, Peterson finished with 20 yards on 11 rushes. Peterson managed only 0.64 yards before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information research — a sign of how much penetration his blockers allowed, but also a little nod toward his impatience.12

Sunday’s opponent, the Green Bay Packers, rank 24th in the league in rushing yards per carry, allowing an average of 4.6 yards. They are 18th in rushing yards allowed. Green Bay struggled against the run in the opener against Chicago (139 yards) but was better in Week 2 vs. Minnesota (68 yards).

“It’s just getting a rhythm,” Peterson said. “The defense we played last week had some big guys, but they were extremely athletic. The guys we face this week, they’re athletic as well, but not as athletic as the Colts.”

Green Bay also uses a front similar to what Peterson sees in practice with the Redskins. The Colts beat the Redskins by confusing them along the front, but the Packers likely won’t. That could help.

But Peterson is still adapting to the Redskins after being here for only one month. However, it’s not as if every failed run stems from his newness to the team. Too often against the Colts there were plays on which he had little chance for success because the defense had too much penetration into the backfield.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Peterson admits he must be more patient, especially out of the shotgun. On his first carry out of the shotgun Sunday, he sprinted immediately on his path, following pulling guard Shawn Lauvao. But he was tight on Lauvao’s heels, and because he went so fast, nothing had yet opened up and the linebackers didn’t have to commit one way or another. No room meant no yards.


Vikings’ Dalvin Cook (hamstring) to sit out vs. Bills

Minnesota Vikings running back Dalvin Cook and defensive end Everson Griffen have officially been ruled out for Sunday’s home game against the Buffalo Bills, coach Mike Zimmer announced Friday.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Cook, who sustained a hamstring injury during overtime of Minnesota’s 29-29 tie in Green Bay, did not practice this week. Latavius Murray, who rushed for 42 yards on 11 carries against the Packers last week, is expected to start in place of Cook.

Behind Murray, the Vikings will turn to either Mike Boone or Roc Thomas — two undrafted free agents who were inactive during the first two games. Boone, who was a full participant in practice Friday, was added to the injury report with a groin injury and is listed as questionable.11

While Cook rehabbed throughout the spring offseason, Boone split reps with Murray. Offensive coordinator John DeFilippo tapped into Boone’s background as a receiver by utilizing him in the slot and lined up outside throughout the preseason where he caught 10 passes for 88 yards.

Minnesota is averaging 92 yards per game from its running backs and has yet to score a rushing touchdown. A promising sign this week? Buffalo’s defense has given up 138 yards and two rushing touchdowns to backup running backs in its first two losses.

The Vikings also ruled Pro Bowl defensive end Everson Griffen (knee), tight end David Morgan (knee) and cornerback Marcus Sherels (ribs) out for Week 3. Griffen was not present at practice throughout the week, although Zimmer said “I don’t think so” when asked if there was any concern.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

Third-year pass-rusher Stephen Weatherly is eyeing his first career start Sunday, which may come on the left side with the expected move of Danielle Hunter over to right defensive end to fill in for Griffen. Weatherly noted the two DEs are able to make the decision to switch sides while on the field depending upon what they’re expecting the offense to do.

“Whenever I’m out there with D, whatever side he feels like he needs to be on to best execute, or if he feels like he’s in a groove at one particular tackle during the game, he’ll just say he’s going to that side, and I’ll just play the opposite side,” Weatherly said.


Juventus overcome Ronaldo red card to win Champions League debut

Cristiano Ronaldo’s Champions League debut for Juventus lasted only 29 minutes as he was red-carded but the Italians began their Group H campaign impressively with a 2-0 victory at Valencia on Wednesday.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

Penalties either side of half-time by Miralem Pjanic sealed the points for the visitors as Valencia’s return to European competition after a two-year absence fell flat.10

The night was meant to be all about Ronaldo’s first Champions League appearance for the club he has tormented down the years for Real Madrid. His first real impression, however, was not what anyone in the Mestalla could have imagined.

After a lively opening half-hour, the Portuguese forward was involved in a tangle in the penalty area with a Valencia defender. It did not appear too sinister but German referee Felix Brych, after consulting with his assistant, pulled out his red card to the dismay of Ronaldo.

Juventus had been the better side before that with Joao Cancelo having an effort turned on to the woodwork by Valencia keeper Neto and Sami Khedira also wasted a good chance for the Italian champions.

On the stroke of half-time Daniel Parejo’s reckless challenge on Cancelo earned him a booking and gave Pjanic the chance to send 10-man Juventus into the interval ahead.

Five minutes after the break the home crowd fell silent when Jeison Murillo pushed Juventus defender Leonardo Bonucci in the back and Brych pointed to the spot again.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Once again, Neto guessed right but Pjanic’s penalty was placed into the corner.

Valencia dominated possession after that but Juventus’s well-drilled defence held firm until stoppage-time when Brych awarded the third penalty of the game.

Parejo stepped up but Wojciech Szczesny saved his spot-kick to sum up the Spanish side’s frustrating evening.


After Javier Hernandez and Raul Jimenez, who is Mexico’s option at striker?

When thinking of Mexico’s most gifted and capable strikers, two players immediately stand out amongst the rest: Javier Hernandez and Raul Jimenez.

On paper, Hernandez remains the more talented and popular option of the two. As the leading all-time goalscorer for El Tri, the 30-year-old is undoubtedly a key figure with his knack of finding the back of the net.nike nfl jerseys for cheap

But Hernandez has yet to find his footing this season for West Ham with one start in four Premier League appearances with no goals. He is also expected to miss his second straight match against Chelsea on Saturday due to a prolonged illness.2

Jimenez, on the other hand, is quickly making a name for himself abroad. The former Club America player has two goals in his first five English Premier League games for Wolverhampton. Keeping in mind that he is three years younger than Hernandez, it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Jimenez as the new leader in Mexico’s attack when the 2019 Gold Cup comes around.

The field of leading candidates who can make a case for themselves as the third-best striker currently looks bleak. Oribe Peralta recently retired from international duty, Chivas man Alan Pulido has yet to showcase that he is dependable, and his club teammate Angel Zaldivar was dismal in the two recent friendly appearances for Mexico.

The good news is that there are no lack of young Mexican strikers. Budding players such as Rafael Duran, Joao Maleck, Eduardo Aguirre, Roberto de la Rosa, Jairo Torres, Ronaldo Cisneros, Jose Godinez, Alexis Vega and Jose Juan Macias are some of the more intriguing options available.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

The bad news? Many of these players don’t have many first division minutes to begin with. For those who are striving to make an impact in Liga MX, regular playing time is highly challenging in the competitive league — especially for strikers. Even with the youth minutes rule now in effect, most Mexican clubs are able to fulfill their requirements through minutes for homegrown talent in other positions.


Sam Darnold’s next challenge: Short week and ‘Star Wars-type blitzes’

The clock started ticking at 4:06 p.m. Sunday. As he walked off the field after losing to the Miami Dolphins, Sam Darnold digested the game and quickly turned his focus to the Cleveland Browns, knowing he’d have to cram on a short week.

A 100-hour week, to be exact — from final gun in New Jersey to opening kickoff Thursday night in Cleveland. That’s not a lot of time to prepare for the most un-vanilla defense in the NFL — a blur of blitzing, stunting and deceiving madness, hatched from the diabolical mind of defensive coordinator Gregg Williams.

As the Education of Sam Darnold continues, this chapter is known as, “The Rush Job for The Rush Job.” On Sunday evening, after some family time, Darnold joined backup quarterback Josh McCown at the Jets’ facility to start breaking down Cleveland video. They worked well into the night.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

“Yeah, it’s a different challenge, something that I haven’t necessarily dealt with,” Darnold said of the quick turnaround. “But it’s awesome.”12

In the first two weeks, Williams wasn’t shy about unleashing his band of blitzers at a pair of future Hall of Fame quarterbacks, Ben Roethlisberger and Drew Brees, so you can bet he will delight in dialing up the pressure against a rookie. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Browns blitzed 40 times out of 84 dropbacks, a league-high 47.6 percentage — and that number figures to climb against Darnold.

“I’d blitz him, too. I’d blitz our young guy,” wide receiver Terrelle Pryor said. “But our young guy plays like a veteran.”

Darnold displayed his high-ceiling potential in his first two starts, but this week is different because of the opponent’s complex scheme and the time constraint. A quarterback typically gets 160 hours between starts, Sunday to Sunday. Darnold is getting only 63 percent of that allotment, easily the biggest challenge of his young career.nfl cheap jerseys nike

“They got to the quarterback last week against a guy like Drew Brees, a Hall of Famer — on a long week,” McCown said of the Browns. “They’ve proven they can get to the guy, regardless of the circumstances.”

Brees’s brain is like a computer and yet there were times where he seemed confused by Cleveland’s pressure schemes. On a third-and-8, he called a protection that slid to his right, leaving his blind side exposed. In came linebacker Jamie Collins and safety Jabrill Peppers, both of whom were unblocked. They flushed the Saints’ quarterback out of the pocket for an incomplete pass.


Carson Wentz setting bar high for debut versus Colts

But Wentz is setting the bar high. While his coaches and teammates will try to provide necessary support as he makes his return from a multi-ligament knee injury against the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, Wentz believes he and the offense can operate like it did late last season before he went down with a torn ACL and LCL in Week 13.nfl nike jerseys for cheap

“We expect to go out and start fast, play fast, be clicking, and so I truly believe that’s a realistic expectation,” Wentz said before Wednesday’s practice. “Now, [it’s] football, it’s not always like that, so those things come and you have to learn how to balance the ebbs and flows of the game and everything, but I think we all hold ourselves to high expectations around here.”

Wentz will heed the doctors’ advice and continue to wear a brace on his surgically repaired left knee as he has this offseason, and he says he is now at a point where he’s gotten used to it. A large black sleeve covered that brace during practice Wednesday. Otherwise, there were no other signs that pointed to his injury. Now nine-plus months removed from surgery, he is moving fluidly and planting with confidence.11

While it may be a little while until he pulls off escapes at the level he did when at the top of his game last season, Wentz intends to play the position as he always has and use his legs to his advantage.

“I feel extremely confident moving around, on the run,” he said. “Even last year I never said I’m a running quarterback — I never want to be — but I’ll find ways to extend time in the pocket and make plays down the field, and I don’t think that’s going anywhere.”

Similarly, coach Doug Pederson said that he is not going to “coach scared.” He’ll max protect when there are opportunities, but he does not plan to be timid in his playcalling.

That’s not to say that Wentz’s health is not being prioritized. There have been conversations about Wentz better protecting himself dating back well before the injury, something the quarterback has had plenty of time to think about and continued to work on.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

Wentz says that he is looking forward to taking that first hit — “always a good wake-up call to remind yourself you’re playing a man’s game out there” — and believes he’ll feel at home despite the long layoff.


Boston’s Mookie Betts leaves game after getting hurt, says he’ll play Tuesday

Red Sox right fielder Mookie Betts left Sunday’s 4-3 win over the New York Mets in the sixth inning after appearing to hurt his side while making a throw to home plate.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Red Sox manager Alex Cora said postgame that Betts will get treatment Monday and is expected to play Tuesday afternoon when the Red Sox open a three-game series with the New York Yankees in the Bronx.12

“I’ll be ready to go Tuesday,” Betts said, adding that the side doesn’t hurt when he bats, but that when he throws it’s a little sore.

Betts caught a fly ball from Jeff McNeil in the sixth inning and threw home as Austin Jackson held at third. Wilmer Flores followed with another drive to right, and Betts unsuccessfully threw home as Jackson scored on the sacrifice fly.

Betts went down to one knee, and was stretching his left side and back as a team athletic trainer and Cora jogged to the outfield. Betts walked off slowly and was replaced by Tzu-Wei Lin, who went into center. Jackie Bradley Jr. moved to right.

The win over the Mets cut Boston’s magic number to two for a third straight AL East title.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

Cora also said that infielder Eduardo Nunez (right knee soreness) likely will be back in the starting lineup Tuesday.


Dodgers’ recent success has been built on sacrifice

Joc Pederson, who accumulated 10 total bases in the Los Angeles Dodgers’ 8-2 surge over the Colorado Rockies on Monday night, has started only 51 percent of the time since the beginning of August. Max Muncy, who essentially put the game away with a 400-foot three-run homer, has been on the bench to start 20 of 55 games since nearly making the All-Star team.

The Dodgers, who hold a half-game lead in the National League West with only 11 remaining, have been built largely on sacrifice.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

Five of their eight positions — all except catcher, third base and shortstop — feature some semblance of a timeshare, and two of their most accomplished starting pitchers are currently occupying nondescript bullpen roles.

Dodgers manager Dave Roberts has been tasked with the grueling sales job.11

“A lot of conversations,” Roberts said of what it entails, “and selling them on giving us the best chance to win a championship. And understanding that, and appreciating that, although you’re not starting, you have a chance to impact our game that particular night. Which if you look at the way we’ve managed things, it’s really played out that way. There’s a lot of guys, in games that we’ve won, that haven’t started and have made an impact, whether it be defensively or taking an at-bat. When you kind of see it play out like that, it validates it.”

The Dodgers’ enviable position-player depth has pushed a franchise icon (Matt Kemp), a World Series hero (David Freese) and a future Hall of Famer (Chase Utley) into part-time roles. The same can be said for one of the game’s best first-half hitters (Muncy) and, in some ways, the reigning National League Rookie of the Year (Cody Bellinger). Brian Dozier, a stalwart at second base for the past half decade, and Pederson, a budding young player with all the tools, have not been exempt either.

On the pitching side, the mix-and-match has been even more noticeable. Alex Wood, who fashioned a 3.65 ERA and hadn’t missed a start, recently was sent to a bullpen that already included Kenta Maeda, a solid starting pitcher with incentives in his contract that hinge on innings pitched. Replacing Wood in the rotation was Ross Stripling, who was sent to the bullpen shortly after making the All-Star team as a starter.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Roberts met with the entire team earlier this season and told his players that he basically had two options: He could utilize basically the same lineup each day, or he could try to capitalize on matchup advantages, maximize his depth and keep more players involved.