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.


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.


Unbeaten Bengals still searching for true identity

The regular season is officially one week old, and the Cincinnati Bengals are leading the AFC North outright.

The Bengals took sole possession of the division after beating the Baltimore Ravens 34-23 at home on Thursday night. But even though the Bengals (2-0, 1-0 AFC North) are undefeated, their identity is a bit more confusing than their stat line.

The Bengals are two games into the season and remain somewhat of a mystery. They’ve shown flashes of brilliance, but they haven’t put it together in any sort of consistent fashion. Quarterback Andy Dalton looked as sharp as ever when throwing for four touchdowns in the first half against the Ravens, and then he led the offense to five straight punts starting at the 1:22 mark of the second quarter.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

At times the Bengals have looked like they possess the qualities to win the AFC North, and at other times they have looked like the team that went 7-9 last season.12

It’s not a complete surprise that the Bengals might take some time to find their identity. They spent the offseason ridding themselves of their longtime veterans and assembled one of the youngest rosters in the league in the process. There are young players on almost every unit on the team, and the Bengals are prepared for the growing pains associated with that movement.

They’ve also been rewarded by positive plays from rookies Jessie Bates, who had his first interception against the Ravens, and Sam Hubbard, who notched his first sack. It certainly didn’t help that the Bengals had lost center Billy Price in the first half, while running back Joe Mixon came in and out of the game due to a knee injury.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

There certainly is potential, even though the Bengals have spent the past two games treading the line between winning and losing. After going up by three touchdowns against the Ravens, they appeared to unravel momentarily, allowing a late touchdown in the first half and then letting the Ravens get within five points in the fourth quarter.

Yet, when it counted, the Bengals put together a field goal drive to extend the lead to eight and keep things just out of reach. Then Shawn Williams forced a fumble and Dre Kirkpatrick scooped it up to stop any potential Ravens comeback.


Saquon Barkley, Ezekiel Elliott continue their rivalry, friendship in the NFL

Barkley was approached after that game near midfield by Ezekiel Elliott, then Ohio State’s star junior running back, who remembers leaping over a defender on one drive and watching Barkley do the same thing on the very next drive. Elliott had some complimentary words for Barkley on the gridiron and later when speaking to the media.

“A real big shoutout to that freshman running back,” Elliott told reporters after the game. “He’s definitely the truth.”

Barkley noticed. It meant something to him that Elliott would heap such praise on a freshman who was playing in his fifth career game.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

This was Ezekiel Elliott, the top running back in college football and eventually the No. 4 overall pick in the next NFL draft. Barkley admitted later he was giddy just to be on the field that day with Elliott and Buckeyes quarterback Braxton Miller. That he opened Elliott’s eyes was a bonus.11

That sparked a friendship that has encouraged the two running backs to remain in touch ever since. Their second career matchup will be Sunday night when Elliott and the Dallas Cowboys host Barkley and the New York Giants at AT&T Stadium.

They’ve texted and spoken. Barkley even told Newsday that Elliott sent him a congratulatory text after he rushed for 106 yards and had a 68-yard touchdown run in his NFL debut.

“Just hitting him here and there, giving him a little bit of motivation, seeing how he’s doing,” Elliott said.

Elliott and Barkley were supposed to meet up and train together in Los Angeles this offseason, but their schedules didn’t align. Barkley had to leave just days before Elliott arrived. It was disappointing.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

Barkley, the No. 2 overall pick by the Giants this year, studies almost all the top running backs. He watches film of Todd Gurley II (whom he did work out with in Los Angeles), Elliott and Le’Veon Bell, among others. Barkley wanted to pick Elliott’s brain, and he still plans to do so sometime in the future.

Barkley and Elliott, on the surface, are unexpected friends. Barkley is reserved and soft-spoken, conscious of his image and careful with his words. Elliott is more boisterous, an emotional roller coaster with a fair share of off-the-field incidents on his résumé.


Cowboys sign veteran OL Xavier Su’a-Filo

After working out for the team last week, veteran offensive lineman Xavier Su’a-Filo signed a two-year deal with the Dallas Cowboys that includes a $50,000 signing bonus.

To make room for Su’a-Filo, the Cowboys released Kadeem Edwards, who served as a backup lineman in the season-opening loss to the Carolina Panthers.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

Su’a-Filo was among the Tennessee Titans’ final cuts. He spent the first four years of his career with the Houston Texans, starting 31 of 32 games in 2016 and ’17 after being selected in the second round of the 2014 draft.8

The Cowboys have been searching for interior line depth since losing Marcus Martin in the preseason to a toe injury. They traded for Parker Ehinger from the Kansas City Chiefs, but he was placed on injured reserve last week with a knee injury that will require surgery. They also claimed center Adam Redmond off waivers from the Buffalo Bills after the final cuts, but he was inactive against Carolina.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Rookie Connor Williams gave up two sacks in the loss to the Panthers, but the Cowboys believe he will get better the more he plays.

“Obviously it’s a challenging task for him Week 1 to go against that defensive front,” coach Jason Garrett said. “There were some good things for him. There’s some areas in pass protection that wasn’t good enough and we’ll continue to work with him on that.”


Lions’ biggest issue: Jets knew what was coming

New coaches are supposed to have an advantage. There isn’t much film on what they’ll do, what they’ll call. Especially when it’s a first-time head coach, such as Matt Patricia was Monday night.

Yet, somehow, the New York Jets seemed to know everything that was coming. They did it on the field in a 48-17 drubbing. And then they explained exactly how they pulled it off.cheap nfl nike jerseys from china

That’s just ugly for the Detroit Lions. Sure, offenses and defenses never want to be predictable. But if it happens in Week 8 or 9 or 10, it’s more understandable. There’s film. Tendencies. If a team scouts you that well, you say OK, make tweaks and move on.

But in Week 1 of Year 1 of a new regime, it’s almost unfathomable.7

“We were calling out their plays as he was getting up to the line,” Jets linebacker Darron Lee said after the game. “… We knew his signals. We knew everything. That’s just preparation as a defense.”

Lee, who had two interceptions, wasn’t the only Jets player to echo that sentiment -– on either side of the ball. Jets cornerback Morris Claiborne called New York’s preparation “one of the best I’ve been around” and that they figured out a lot of things the Lions ran on offense.cheap nike nfl jerseys free shipping

It was evident on Lee’s first interception, where he basically sat and waited for Lions running back Theo Riddick to run one of his most-used routes -– the angle route. Lee waited, waited and stepped in front of Riddick to pick off Matthew Stafford and return it for a touchdown.

“One of the big things, us as a defense, we want to talk, and when we were out on the field, certain guys were seeing certain things that showed up in reports and stuff like that,” Claiborne said. “They are calling it out and got everybody on the same page, so we at least have an idea of what’s about to happen or where they are trying to beat us or how they are trying to hurt us.”

The Lions couldn’t hurt the Jets’ defense -– except when they went to a tempo-based offense, something Stafford has usually thrived in. But when they avoided tempo, the Lions couldn’t really fool New York at all.