Monthly Archives: October 2017

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FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Close.

And getting closer.

This was how Morris Claiborne responded when asked to compare himself to the elite cornerbacks in the NFL.

“I can’t rank myself nowhere right now. I’m not a Pro Bowler yet,” he said Wednesday in the New York Jets’ locker room. “Those guys are three-time and four-time Pro Bowlers. I’m working to get there, but I don’t feel like I’m far behind.”

Claiborne can boost his stature on Sunday against the Atlanta Falcons if Jets coach Todd Bowles and defensive coordinator Kacy Rodgers decide to assign their No. 1 corner to all-world wide receiver Julio Jones. It could be a reputation-changer for Claiborne, who’s still trying to distance himself from the “talented, but oft-injured” label that marked his time with the Dallas Cowboys.

“When you have a top receiver in the league that comes in, you want those challenges,” said Claiborne, the sixth overall draft pick in 2012. “If you don’t want those challenges, you shouldn’t be playing cornerback in this league. Those are the moments you live for.”

Clairborne has been one of the bright spots for the Jets, but this is the week when they need him to be a young Darrelle Revis. He’s their only healthy, proven starter at cornerback.
Morris Claiborne has had some success in his past against Falcons star Julio Jones. Josh D. Weiss/USA TODAY Sports
Buster Skrine (concussion) is a question mark, meaning their top three corners for this game probably will be Clairborne, Darryl Roberts and Juston Burris, a former fourth-round pick who could be summoned from the witness protection program. None of them play the slot, so Bowles will have to perform lineup “gymnastics” (his word) to fill the void. Their fourth and fifth corners are Robert Nelson (just up from the practice squad) and rookie Derrick Jones.

The Jets are thin even with a healthy Skrine, so it will be interesting to see if they do anything before next week’s trading deadline. Jeremy Lane, the Seattle Seahawks’ slot corner, was benched this week and could be on the block. Justin Bethel is in a similar situation with the Arizona Cardinals. Bowles coached Bethel in Arizona, so there’s a connection. Byron Maxwell is a free agent, having been cut this week by the Miami Dolphins.

Frankly, it would be a surprise if the Jets, in rebuilding mode, part with a draft pick.

For now, they have to figure out a way to extend the Falcons’ offensive funk. Jones is putting up decent numbers (34 catches, 466 yards), but he didn’t score his first touchdown until last week. But don’t believe the numbers; he’s still a freakishly talented player with tremendous size at 6-foot-3.

“He’s a bear,” Bowles said.
Jones moves around the formation and runs 26 percent of his routes from the slot — a problem for the Jets. They can have Claiborne shadow him everywhere or they can cook up a two-pronged game plan, depending on the formation and down and distance. Me? I’d mix up the coverages. On certain downs, I’d double Jones with a corner and safety and put Claiborne on another receiver. That’s no knock on Claiborne, it’s just a reality: You can’t leave Jones in single coverage on every play.

Clearly, Claiborne believes he’s up for the challenge. In 2015 he did a solid job on Jones, holding him to four catches for 41 yards on eight targets.

“I’ll shadow the best receivers if it was up to me,” Claiborne said. “I love those type of matchups. I look forward to those type of matchups. It’s either you’re going to stand up or you’re going to stand down. You’re going to put yourself on — or not.”

 

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RENTON, Wash. — Sheldon Richardson popped over to the corner of the Seattle Seahawks locker room where the specialists reside. He had to ask punter Jon Ryan, kicker Blair Walsh and long-snapper Tyler Ott the burning hypothetical question that had been making the rounds Wednesday.

If you could only afford your electricity bill, your phone bill or your car payment, which one would you pay?

Electricity bill was an easy call for Richardson, who has a young daughter at home, but he was amused by receiver Doug Baldwin’s answer.

“He said, ‘I can Uber to work and I can stay at one of ya’ll cribs,’” Richardson said. “He’d pay his phone bill.”

Richardson, by all accounts, has had no trouble assimilating into the Seahawks locker room since he was acquired in a trade with the New York Jets at the end of the preseason. But as Richardson reflected on his first month and a half with his new team, he told ESPN.com that his adjustment to Seattle’s defense remains a work in progress.

“Still transitioning, actually,” Richardson said. “Different things every week. Just getting accustomed to playing with guys still in different situations and trying to find my groove where I can make plays. I’m just doing my job as of right now. I’m not really as productive as I’m used to being.”

That’s not to say he’s been unproductive. Richardson had a hand in two of the most impactful defensive plays of Seattle’s last game, a 16-10 victory over the Los Angeles Rams before the bye week. He intercepted a tipped pass after deftly sniffing out a screen, and he recovered a fumble to help the Seahawks (3-2) pitch a shutout in the second half.

But Richardson, who had 18 sacks in four seasons with the Jets, has yet to record one in five games with Seattle. Of his 12 tackles, none have been for a loss. He’s been credited with two quarterback hits while playing about 67 percent of Seattle’s defensive snaps, second to Michael Bennett among Seahawks defensive linemen, according to Pro Football Reference.

Those are underwhelming numbers relative to what Richardson produced in New York and to the expectations that accompanied his arrival in Seattle.

Part of the issue, it seems, is that it’s taking Richardson time to adjust to a Seattle defense that’s fundamentally different from the one in New York. Richardson played in a 3-4 front with the Jets, first under Rex Ryan and then Todd Bowles. He was often asked to do what’s called two-gap, a technique that calls for defensive linemen to control two gaps in the line, as opposed to one.
Sheldon Richardson played in a 3-4 with the Jets and is still adjusting to being a 4-3 defensive lineman in Seattle. Joe Robbins/Getty Images
Generally speaking, a two-gapping defensive lineman will line up directly across from an offensive lineman, not shaded to one side. While reading the play, he’ll stay square and hold his ground as to not lose leverage on one gap or the other.

It’s a different job for a defensive tackle in Seattle’s 4-3 front.

“With 4-3, we want penetration, single-gap dominance and things like that,” defensive coordinator Kris Richard said. “The more we penetrate, the more we knock people back and create a new line of scrimmage, the faster the guys behind them can play.”

Asked about the impact that Richardson has had so far, Richard called him “awesome” and reiterated a point he’s made several times, which is that Richardson is a different caliber of athlete from what Seattle has had at that position in the last few seasons. Then he volunteered that “we’ve got to get the two-gap ideology out of him” and said Richardson has been progressing in that regard.

Richardson said it’s “annoying” that he hasn’t produced as much as he’d like.

“But I mean, we’re winning,” he said, “so I don’t really care.”

When the Seahawks acquired Richardson for a package that included a second-round pick and receiver Jermaine Kearse, it followed a pattern of bold trades by general manager John Schneider. He had previously swung blockbuster deals for Percy Harvin and Jimmy Graham, both of which cost Seattle first-round picks and more.

The difference: The Seahawks gave Harvin a long-term deal upon trading for him, and when they acquired Graham, they inherited a contract that still had three seasons left. Those players were under club control for a while; Richardson is not. He’s playing out the fifth and final year of his rookie deal, which means he’ll be an unrestricted free agent after this season.

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“Let the Lord take the wheel on that one, man,” he said about his future beyond 2017. “That’s it. That’s how I am. That’s it. Keep working.”
Richardson, who’s making a little over $8 million this season, might price himself out of Seattle, given all the money the Seahawks are spending on defense. But it’s not impossible to envision a scenario in which he’s re-signed. Schneider wouldn’t have given up a second-round pick if he didn’t think there would at least be a chance to keep Richardson beyond 2017.

There will be a number of factors in play, as always. A big one will be the status of defensive lineman Malik McDowell, who was seriously injured in a summer ATV accident. The Seahawks traded for Richardson after learning that McDowell, their first draft pick in 2017, would be sidelined possibly for his entire rookie season, if not longer.

The Seahawks believed Richardson would have the impact they hoped McDowell would give them. Richardson’s transition to Seattle’s defense is taking time, but coach Pete Carroll sees progress.

“You can see he’s much freer, much more in control of what’s going on, and he understands the calls and what we’re trying to get out of him,” Carroll said. “He had a great game the last time out and hopefully we can just keep building on that.”

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SEATTLE — Injury after injury in the Seattle Seahawks’ backfield contributed to nine tailbacks carrying the ball for the team last season.

That group is so much deeper this year that Chris Carson, a rookie seventh-round pick, is making a strong case for carries behind Eddie Lacy, Thomas Rawls and C.J. Prosise.

Carson continued his exceptional summer with 90 yards on 10 touches Friday night, including eight carries for 46 yards. The Seahawks rode his hard running and another strong performance from Russell Wilson to beat the Kansas City Chiefs 26-13 at CenturyLink Field in the third preseason game for both teams.
Russell Wilson connected on 13 of 19 passes in Seattle’s win Friday, including a number to players who figure to be key targets during the regular season. Otto Greule Jr/Getty Images
QB depth chart: Wilson played through the opening series of the third quarter and completed 13 of 19 attempts for 200 yards and a touchdown. He made a pair of exceptional plays while rolling to his left and throwing back across his body for long gains, first to Carson and then to Jermaine Kearse. His rapport with top targets Doug Baldwin (two receptions, 45 yards) and Jimmy Graham (two receptions, 34 yards) appeared close to midseason form. Wilson’s only real mistake didn’t hurt when the Chiefs dropped an interception chance on an underthrown fade. It was a study in contrast once Wilson left the game. Trevone Boykin failed to complete any of his six passes and was intercepted. Austin Davis completed all five attempts for 64 yards and a score.

When it was starters vs. starters, the Seahawks looked …: pretty good on offense, but not great. Seattle kicked two field goals and a drove for touchdown on its first three possessions, but leaky pass protection at times forced Wilson to scramble and kept the passing game out of rhythm until a sharp two-minute drive before the half. Lacy and Carson shared time as Seattle’s starting offense played early into the third quarter. While Carson had the more productive night, Lacy showed the physical style he’s known for when he bounced off two tackles to gain 11 yards on his first carry. The ex-Packer rushed four times for 21 yards. Seattle’s starting defense also played into the third quarter and held Kansas City to 102 yards in the first half. The only points that group surrendered came after officials flagged Bobby Wagner for roughing the passer on fourth down, extending a drive that resulted in a Chiefs field goal. Kansas City’s only touchdown of the first half came on a 95-yard kickoff return by De’Anthony Thomas.

One reason to be concerned: Seattle’s offensive line remains a work in progress, especially with left tackle unsettled following George Fant’s season-ending knee injury. Second-year pro Rees Odhiambo is getting the first crack there. He started Friday night and showed progress at times, but he also whiffed on a few blocks, including one that resulted in Wilson taking a hard hit. Whether the starter is Odhiambo or Matt Tobin, who was recently acquired in a trade, the Seahawks are going to have to live with inconsistent play at that spot. Fortunately for them, Wilson is better equipped to mitigate that issue this season than he was last while playing through two leg injuries that limited his mobility.

That guy could start: Veteran Jeremy Lane and rookie Shaquill Griffin are competing to start at right cornerback. Lane looked as though he had that job locked up at the start of training camp, but an injury that sidelined him for a week opened the door for Griffin. Lane started Friday night and had a nice tackle on special teams. Griffin was again Seattle’s third cornerback. He broke up a deep ball and made a pair of tackles on special teams.

Rookie watch: Carson has locked up a spot on Seattle’s roster. The question now is whether he can carve out any immediate role behind Seattle’s primary backfield options. That might be tough as long as Lacy, Rawls and Prosise stay healthy, but Carson looks to have the potential to become a starter down the road.

 

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Wright stuff: Starting weakside linebacker K.J. Wright returned this week after missing Seattle’s second preseason game to receive treatment on a bothersome knee, and said ahead of Friday’s game that he feels fine. It looked like it on the game’s opening drive when he shot through the line and made a tackle for a 4-yard loss, forcing a Chiefs field goal attempt. Wright finished with four tackles. He was also flagged for holding.

Clark makes impression: Third-year defensive end Frank Clark looks as if he’ll again be a major factor in Seattle’s pass rush. On consecutive plays in the first half, he made an explosive move to sack Alex Smith in the open field then applied pressure up the middle for a QB hit. Medical personnel checked him out on the sideline after Clark appeared to be shaken up.

Walsh perfect: Blair Walsh connected on all four of his field goal attempts, hitting from 41, 36, 21 and 47 yards out. He has been better following an inconsistent offseason and a shaky start to training camp.

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LOS ANGELES — It took a strong finish, five takeaways and a bit of good fortune for the Seattle Seahawks to get an elusive road win over the Los Angeles Rams.

Seattle’s defense had all sorts of trouble with the Rams’ offense early, allowing 124 yards in the first quarter en route to a 10-0 deficit. But it all turned with the help of five takeaways, including four on defense that helped the Seahawks win 16-10 for their first road victory over the Rams since 2013.

Earl Thomas forced a fumble and picked off an errant Jared Goff pass. Sheldon Richardson came down with an interception on a tipped screen pass and also recovered a fumble that Frank Clark forced in the fourth quarter.

And still it wasn’t over until the Seahawks survived a last-minute drive by the Rams. Goff threw incomplete on three passes from Seattle’s 20-yard line, including one that went off the fingertips of wide receiver Cooper Kupp, who was open in the end zone.

Talk about an escape from L.A.

What it means: The Seahawks head into their bye on a high note. They’re sitting atop the NFC West standings at 3-2 and have a road victory over the Rams under their belts, which is significant given how Los Angeles looks like the Seahawks’ stiffest competition in the division. The Seahawks have a lot of work to do, particularly on offense. Seattle gained only 46 yards and turned the ball over twice on its first five possessions, so the offense’s inability to get off to a strong start remains an issue. But the Seahawks are in good shape, especially now that three of their toughest road games are behind them.

What I liked: The Seahawks finally got tight end Jimmy Graham involved in the red zone, where he has yet to be the difference-maker everyone expected him to be when Seattle acquired him in a trade in 2015. Graham came down with a jump ball from Russell Wilson for a 4-yard touchdown before halftime. That’s a play that, curiously, the Seahawks have not even attempted much, let alone had success with. Graham finished with six catches for 37 yards.

What you need to know in the NFL

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• 2017 schedule, results
• Standings
What I didn’t like: Seattle’s offensive line struggled in pass protection while allowing three sacks and a whole lot of pressure. That was not the least bit surprising given how recent matchups between these teams have gone, but it was problematic. The Seahawks had to move the pocket quite a bit on designed roll-outs to give Wilson a chance. And their struggles in pass protection may have led to the decision to not take one last shot into the end zone at the end of the first half.

Fantasy fallout: Eddie Lacy and Thomas Rawls had similar workloads, somewhat of a surprise given how several comments from coach Pete Carroll last week gave the impression that Rawls would be Seattle’s primary ball carrier following Chris Carson’s season-ending leg/ankle injuries. Neither player found much room to run. Rawls gained 20 yards on eight carries, while Lacy started the game and rushed nine times for 19 yards. The situation in Seattle’s backfield looks like it’ll be fluid from here on out.
McKissic steps in for Prosise: J.D. McKissic is emerging as a weapon for the Seahawks. A week after scoring two long touchdowns, McKissic was again a factor in this game. He caught three passes for 36 yards, including a 21-yarder on a third-quarter drive that ended with a field goal. McKissic was inactive the first three games but has helped handle third-down duties while C.J. Prosise has been out the past two weeks with an ankle injury. Prosise has now missed 12 of a possible 21 regular-season games. McKissic has been the receiving threat out of the backfield that Seattle hoped Prosise would be.

What’s next: The Seahawks have a bye before playing the New York Giants on the road in Week 7. A bye in mid-October is typically earlier than most teams would prefer, but this isn’t the worst time for the Seahawks to get a week off, with a few key players injured, several others playing nicked up and a long road trip upcoming. In addition to Prosise, cornerback Jeremy Lane (groin) was out against the Rams and defensive end Michael Bennett briefly left Sunday’s game. Carroll said Bennett has a sore foot and that the team doesn’t know the extent of the issue. Defensive end Cliff Avril was out Sunday as well, and Carroll has said Avril’s neck injury could be a long-term issue.

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The Seattle Seahawks have to trim their roster to 53 players by Sept. 2. Here’s a projection for what their squad will look like before Week 1:

QUARTERBACKS (2): Russell Wilson, Trevone Boykin

Wilson has had a tremendous summer and looks primed for a big bounce-back season. It’s a tough call as to who will back him up after Austin Davis outperformed Boykin in the preseason. My sense is that Boykin still has the edge despite Davis being the much steadier player, but Seattle’s backup could end up being someone who’s currently on another team’s roster. Colin Kaepernick, who visited the Seahawks in May, is still available as well.

RUNNING BACKS (5): Thomas Rawls, Eddie Lacy, C.J. Prosise, Chris Carson, J.D. McKissic

It’s unclear as to whether Rawls or Lacy will get the bulk of the work, and that may very well change week by week. Prosise figures to handle third-down duties again while Carson, a rookie standout, will fight for whatever touches are left. McKissic’s ability to play receiver and return kicks is valuable with Tyler Lockett coming off an injury.

FULLBACK (1): Tre Madden

The Seahawks could do some roster maneuvering here. Marcel Reece played well as a late-season pickup in 2016 and has experience in Tom Cable’s running scheme. But as a vested veteran, his salary could become guaranteed if he’s on the roster Week 1. That would not be the case if Seattle brings him back after the first week. That’s what the team did last season with fullback Will Tukuafu.

WIDE RECEIVERS (5): Doug Baldwin, Tyler Lockett, Paul Richardson, Amara Darboh, Kasen Williams

The Seahawks are looking to trade receiver Jermaine Kearse, according to ESPN’s Dianna Russini. That suggests that the team is planning on releasing him but is trying to see what it could get for him, if anything, in a trade. Lockett is the favorite to assume the starting spot opposite Baldwin, but if Lockett’s health is an issue, Richardson could see some time in that role. Kearse’s departure would make Darboh and Williams even safer bets to make the roster, and it would mean an increase in whatever minor roles they would have had with Kearse ahead of them on the depth chart.

TIGHT ENDS (3): Jimmy Graham, Luke Willson, Nick Vannett

Graham is feeling better now that he’s another year removed from his serious knee injury. That’s a good sign for a Seahawks offense that could use more production in the red zone, and for Graham as he enters a contract year. Willson is the No. 2, but Seattle will try to get Vannett more involved than he was as a rookie last season.

OFFENSIVE LINEMEN (9): Rees Odhiambo, Luke Joeckel, Justin Britt, Mark Glowinski, Germain Ifedi, Ethan Pocic, Oday Aboushi, Jordan Roos, Matt Tobin

Odhiambo is the likely replacement at left tackle following George Fant’s season-ending knee injury, though Seattle’s trade for Tobin gives the team another option. Either way, the drop-off shouldn’t be significant considering Fant was still relatively new to the position. Glowinski and Aboushi are competing to start at right guard while the other three spots are pretty much set.

DEFENSIVE LINEMEN (9): Cliff Avril, Jarran Reed, Ahtyba Rubin, Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Nazair Jones, Cassius Marsh, David Bass, Marcus Smith

Avril (11.5 sacks) and Clark (10 sacks) are coming off career seasons while Bennett remains one of the NFL’s most disruptive defensive linemen. Jones looks like he’ll contribute as a rookie, but the Seahawks may be on the lookout for help at defensive tackle with top pick Malik McDowell potentially unavailable all season.

LINEBACKERS (5): Bobby Wagner, K.J. Wright, Terence Garvin, Michael Wilhoite, D.J. Alexander

Wagner and Wright are true three-down linebackers and form one of the league’s best LB tandems. Garvin has had a terrific summer and is battling Wilhoite to start on the strong side. Dewey McDonald isn’t listed here, but he could make the team because of his versatility.

CORNERBACKS (6): Richard Sherman, Jeremy Lane, Shaquill Griffin, Tramaine Brock, Neiko Thorpe, Pierre Desir

Sherman seems like he has hit the reset button after a tumultuous year. Lane and Griffin have been competing to start at right cornerback opposite him, but they should both have significant roles regardless of who wins that job. Last year’s starter at that spot, DeShawn Shead, probably will begin the season on the physically unable to perform list. The ankle injury that DeAndre Elliott suffered Thursday night opens the door for Desir, who was on the bubble.
SAFETIES (5): Earl Thomas, Kam Chancellor, Bradley McDougald, Delano Hill, Tedric Thompson

Thomas again looks like his All-Pro self after suffereing a broken leg late last season. McDougald projects as the backup behind Thomas and Chancellor, but Seattle may find a way to get him on the field even in non-injury situations. Thompson is probably on the roster bubble — as the Seahawks have been open to moving on from fourth-round picks — but the guess here is he claims one of the final spots.

SPECIALISTS (3): Blair Walsh, Jon Ryan, Tyler Ott

Walsh has been nearly automatic after some accuracy issues in the offseason. And he has been the only kicker on the roster for a while, which indicates a level of trust from the team.