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The NFL’s odd offensive holding blip: What happened

On the other hand, the spikes we have seen this season are unusual and not necessarily the result of judgment errors or poor technique by players.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale They are intentional, purposeful changes in enforcement. The league has acknowledged some and been silent on others.

It began in the preseason with a two-stage slowdown in calling the new use of helmet rule. The league issued a clarification after officials threw 51 such flags in the first 33 preseason games. There were only 20 calls over the final 32 preseason games, and then just eight in the first 12 weeks of the regular season.6

In Week 4, the league announced a clarification to stem a wave of roughing the passer flags. After calling an average of 11.3 per week in the first three weeks, officials slowed its pace by about 45 percent to an average of six per week.

The holding extravaganza was less public, though. Former NFL vice president of officiating Mike Pereira said on Fox Sports during Week 14’s Thursday Night Football game between the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars that the league had issued a “point of emphasis” and was “trying to get more holding calls.” The league would not confirm this when I inquired.

The motivation behind the holding spike is less clear. Why would the league want to make it harder for linemen to protect quarterbacks in a year of unprecedented passing numbers and improved television ratings?cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Entering Week 13, the league was about 10 percent below last season’s pace on offensive holding calls. But after 14 weeks, the numbers are almost identical. There have been 691 holding calls this season, compared with 690 calls at this point in 2017.

Is it possible that NFL players are holding at the exact same rate as they did in 2017? Perhaps. But what’s clear is that the foul is now being officiated at precisely the same rate.

Considering that offensive holding is the most common NFL penalty at this moment, it’s worth pointing out a larger trend. In 2014, NFL officials threw a total of 4,093 flags for all types of penalties.

Resting Cam Newton isn’t an option Panthers should consider

There might be debate about whether the Carolina Panthers should play Cam Newton over the final three games given the ongoing soreness in the quarterback’s right shoulder with the team’s playoff chances fading.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Newton isn’t having any part of that.

Asked after Sunday’s 26-20 loss to Cleveland, Carolina’s fifth straight setback since a 6-2 start, about concerns regarding his shoulder, Newton deadpanned: “Who is it coming from?”

Told from people outside the organization, Newton said, “Exactly.”5

The big picture as far as the playoffs becomes more clear after Minnesota (6-6-1) lost at Seattle on Monday night. Carolina is now a half game back of the sixth and final seed in the NFC.

The Panthers still likely would need to win their final three games — home against New Orleans on Monday night, home against Atlanta and at New Orleans — to have a shot. That seems like a long shot since New Orleans (11-2) is battling the Los Angeles Rams (11-2) for the top seed in the NFC.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

But say the Panthers get past New Orleans and Atlanta, and the Saints are locked into the first or second seed heading into the final week. Saints coach Sean Payton could rest his starters, which would increase Carolina’s chances of winning in New Orleans.

Even if Carolina wins out, it would need Minnesota and Washington (6-7) to lose once more. The Vikings close against Miami, Detroit and Chicago. The Redskins, down to their third quarterback and losers of four straight, close with Jacksonville, Tennessee and Philadelphia.

Chelsea’s win over Man City says a lot about Sarri. PLUS: Sterling stands up, River claim Copa Lib

Manchester City’s first league defeat of the campaign probably says more about their opponents, Chelsea, than it does Guardiola’s crew. Without Kevin De Bruyne, Sergio Aguero and Benjamin Mendy, they marched into Stamford Bridge and dominated the first half, only to be punished by Eden Hazard’s quick thinking, N’Golo Kante’s finish and Leroy Sane’s brief daydream. The goal allowed Chelsea to tighten up further and play on the counter even more; they added a second through a David Luiz header later on.china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Other than Sane’s distraction and the absentees — though with City’s depth, that’s hardly an alibi — Guardiola probably won’t find too much fault with his side’s performance. They controlled the game and created chances. Raheem Sterling up front in place of Aguero (and the currently star-crossed Gabriel Jesus) may not have yielded goals but wasn’t a particular problem on the day.

What messed City up was that, far from being the dogmatic fundamentalist that some accused him of being, Maurizio Sarri showed he can be a pragmatist too. Other than his choice to play the three little guys up front, forsaking Olivier Giroud and Alvaro Morata for Hazard as a “false nine,” it was the usual personnel. The difference is that their lines were much tighter, they didn’t insist on possession, they limited their pressing to the final third and they dropped deep once City broke into midfield.6

It was a humble, blue-collar performance, and it’s exactly what Sarri, with his obsession with patterned movements and pushing men forward, was supposedly unable to do. So much for those who hammered him for not having a Plan B or not playing N’Golo Kante in front of the back four. (Those who insist with this trope are, frankly, without help: that role in a Sarri team is an attacking role and requires a playmaker, and putting Kante there is the equivalent of a long-ball team deploying Sergio Aguero as a center-forward and lumping long balls towards him.)nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Oh, and while I feel like I’m discussing Kante every week, let me also add this. He won a title at Leicester playing alongside a purely defensive midfielder like Danny Drinkwater and then won another title the following year next to Nemanja Matic, also a purely holding guy. What’s more, he had three central defenders behind him. This isn’t to diminish him in any way — he’s one of the best in the world — but rather to point out that context matters. And it’s simply silly to compare Kante’s positions without comparing the personnel and formations around him, as well as what the manager is trying to do.

 

Everton snatch last-gasp equaliser through Lucas Digne to draw with Watford

With Gylfi Sigurdsson spurning the chance to equalise for the hosts when his penalty was saved just minutes later, Watford looked to be heading for a win but Digne then popped up with his first Everton goal to salvage a point.

The night had started well for the Merseysiders, looking for the win that would have lifted them above Manchester United into sixth place, when Brazilian striker Richarlison scored against his old club after a quarter of an hour.

The goal was controversial, however, with Everton’s Theo Walcott appearing to be offside in the build-up.

“I prefer not to say anything about the referees,” said Watford manager Javi Gracia. “If VAR was ready today the result would have been different.”cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

Everton’s Coleman then put through his own goal in the 63rd minute when Roberto Pererya’s effort hit the post and rebounded off the defender into the net, before Doucoure put the visitors in front when he rose above Coleman to head firmly home.

Three minutes later Christian Kabasele clumsily fouled Everton defender Yerry Mina in the penalty area but Sigurdsson’s spot kick down the middle was saved by the legs of Ben Foster.5

It was the Icelander’s second penalty miss from his last three.

As the clock ticked down, mid-table Watford thought they had done enough for the win but France international Digne stepped up to curl his free-kick into the net and deny the visitors.

“It showed personality and character to take that free-kick when people might have expected Gylfi. It’s a very good goal,” said Everton manager Marco Silva after facing his old club.

However, the Portuguese coach was not happy about his side’s defending for Watford’s two goals.

“We lost our focus completely. Those two moments were not too special. We are not happy with the result,” he said.

“When you start like we start and achieve just one point, of course we are unhappy. Our goal for the match is completely different from the result.”china nike nfl jerseys cheap

Everton are seventh on 24 points, two behind Manchester United, while Watford are 12th with 21 points from 16 games.

Keeping playoff hero Eovaldi a risk Red Sox could afford to take

One of my favorite moments of the postseason came when the Red Sox lost Game 3 of the World Series to the Dodgers, the 18-inning game that never ended. Nathan Eovaldi was the losing pitcher after serving up a walk-off home run to Max Muncy. He had already pitched in the first two games but still went six innings in Game 3, throwing 97 pitches and allowing just three hits. If Ian Kinsler doesn’t make a throwing error in the bottom of the 13th, the Red Sox win the game and Eovaldi gets the W.

Sure enough, the Red Sox announced Thursday they had signed Eovaldi to a four-year, $67.5 million contract. That $17 million per season price tag lines up with the predicted contract Eovaldi would receive, so the Red Sox didn’t retain his services on any kind of discount.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

It’s also not without a lot of risk, even for a pitcher, given that Eovaldi has two Tommy John surgeries in his past and a career 4.16 ERA. He had his best season in 2018, however, returning in late May after missing all of 2017 after surgery in August of 2016, then dramatically increased his stock with a huge performance in the postseason.6

He started twice and pitched four times in relief, showcasing his 100-mph fastball and allowing just 15 hits and four earned runs in 22 1/3 innings against the loaded offenses of the Yankees, Astros and Dodgers. In both the ALDS and ALCS, he started Game 3 of a tied series and pitched well, allowing one run in seven innings against the Yankees and two runs in six innings against the Astros.

The injury history aside, there are several reasons to like Eovaldi’s future, and you can make a strong claim that Eovaldi at $67.5 million over four seasons is a better signing than Patrick Corbin at $140 million over six years. Eovaldi, 29, obviously has the big fastball, but also began utilizing a cutter more often, throwing it 32 percent of the time after first unveiling it with the Yankees in 2016. That seemed to help his four-seam fastball, as his swing-and-miss rate with his fastball improved from a career rate of 15 percent to 25 percent.nike nfl jerseys cheap paypal

He also showed improved command with a career-low walk rate of just 4.4 percent. Out of 140 pitchers with at least 100 innings, that was the seventh-lowest walk rate, right up there in Corey Kluber/Justin Verlander territory. So you have a guy who throws 100 and throws strikes, mixes in a cutter, splitter, slider and curveball and you can see why many believe he hasn’t quite tapped his potential yet. After all, out of those 140 pitchers, Eovaldi was just middle of the pack — 67th — in strikeout rate.

Cubs closer Brandon Morrow will likely miss start of 2019 season after elbow surgery

The Chicago Cubs are likely to be without closer Brandon Morrow for the early portion of 2019 after the righty had minor surgery on his elbow last month. Morrow, 34, missed the second half of last season with a bone bruise and won’t begin throwing again until around Feb. 6.

The procedure was similar to the one starter Yu Darvish underwent late in the year after missing most of 2018. Darvish is on time in his recovery.cheap nfl nike jerseys china

“Doing well,” Epstein said. “Progressing without limitations.”5

Morrow appeared in just 35 games for the Cubs in 2018 because of back and arm injuries. Morrow had 22 saves while posting a 1.47 ERA in 30 2/3 innings. He did not pitch after July 15.

Epstein admitted that Morrow’s health will impact their offseason needs, as they were looking for relief help anyway. Pedro Strop was the predominant fill-in after Morrow went down last year, but they’ll need more, especially from the left side.

“It underscores the need for depth and late-game options early in the year,” Epstein said.

The team has been in contact with lefty free agent Zach Britton, according to sources, but nothing is imminent. Epstein confirmed the Cubs aren’t on the verge of making any deals in advance of the winter meetings next week.cheap nike nfl jerseys china

The team also announced coaching moves as 37-year-old Tommy Hottovoy was promoted from run prevention coordinator to pitching coach after Jim Hickey left the team for personal reasons. The team also hired former big league player Terrmel Sledge as assistant hitting coach and Chris Denorfia as quality assurance coach. Catching coordinator and game planner Mike Borzello was promoted to associate pitching coach.

“We felt there was great risk going outside and losing what we had,” Epstein said of promoting from within.

Fantasy NBA Daily Notes: The return of Lauri Markkanen

A somewhat sleepy Tuesday night in the NBA didn’t see any prolific individual performances occur, but we did witness Luka Doncic and the Dallas Mavericks earn their 10th home win of the season to shift into the seventh seed in a contentious Western Conference.

Damian Lillard was his brilliant self against Dallas, nearly turning in a high-scoring triple-double,nfl nike jerseys cheap china but he finished with the second-worst net rating on the team (minus-12) thanks to another stellar showing from Doncic, who joined Joel Embiid as the only other rookie in past five seasons with at least 20 points in half of his first 22 games.6

A hot start to the season saw Portland get to 12-5 as one of the top seeds in the West a few weeks back, including four straight wins on the road, but they’ve now lost six of their past seven. However, the dip in the standings is not hurting Lillard’s statistical stock, as he is third overall on the Player Rater during the past seven days, behind only Anthony Davis and James Harden. Given age and usage patterns, this is likely one of, if not the, best statistical seasons for the veteran, so his managers should enjoy the ride.

Doncic, meanwhile, is found ahead of Donovan Mitchell and Jayson Tatum on the Player Rater this season, thanks to averaging 18.6 PPG, 6.6 RPG, 4.2 APG, and 2.3 3PG. The list of rookies to ever average these numbers is, well, zero, as Doncic would become the first professional freshman in league history to tally such a deft balance of offensive output.cheap nike nfl jerseys paypal

For some greater context league-wide compared to veterans, only LeBron James, Paul George, Blake Griffin and Victor Oladipo also claim Doncic’s current blend of production. Even Doncic’s biggest supporters likely didn’t envision this level of initial success, as the smooth Slovenian wing is downright dominant off the bat.

Fantasy NBA Daily Notes: Kent Bazemore worth a look?

Seven players scored at least 35 points on Wednesday night, tying the NBA record for a single day of scoring. We go back to that infamous night in January of 2007 when Earl Boykins dropped 36 points on the Kings to find the only other slate in league history with as many 35-point scorers as last night.nike nfl jerseys wholesale cheap

While several superstars joined this scoring-fest, including LeBron James, Paul George and Stephen Curry, performances discussed in greater detail below, the key fantasy takeaway was interestingly found in Atlanta, where a lesser-known name shined statistically, meriting more attention from managers in the games ahead.5

Kent Bazemore might be most famous for cashing in on the game show that was free agency in the summer of 2016, because he’s not so popular as a fantasy option these days — rostered in just 5.7 percent of ESPN leagues. Last night, Bazemore dropped 22 points, thanks to an uptick in minutes, and delivered his fifth-highest game score of the season in the process. While his minutes have fluctuated of late, his usage hasn’t wavered much, with Bazemore taking at least 10 shots in five of the past six games, averaging a whopping three combined steals and blocks to go with respectable 3-point and passing production.nfl nike jerseys cheap china

Bazemore isn’t going to win you your league, but he is the type of player worthy of streaming for a few weeks while Taurean Prince recovers from an ankle injury expected to sideline him for at least three weeks. Prince is found just behind Kyrie Irving and just ahead of Kyle Lowry in 3-point attempts with a healthy 6.5 shots from beyond per game. This suggests Bazemore should be tasked with more shooting volume and simply more minutes in the weeks ahead. Atlanta, after all, leads the NBA in pace (possessions per 48 minutes) by a wide margin and claim the fourth-highest 3-point frequency, with 39.6 percent of all shots coming from behind the arc.

Like in fantasy baseball, we can create some valuable utility results via a blend of savvy streaming options in hoops. Bazemore won’t be valuable the entire season for you, but I’d guess these next few weeks will see him enjoy an uptick in usage and production worthy of our attention.

With an eye on meaningful fantasy performances and relevant statistical trends, let’s delve into the night that was in the NBA.

Jaylen Samuels ready for Steelers close-up with James Conner out

Maybe that rise coincides with Samuels’ weekly preparation, which leaves him feeling comfortable running with the first-team offense.

“I’ve always got to prepare the same way, because you never know what will happen,” said Samuels, who has 85 yards and two touchdowns on 19 touches, including seven catches for 54 yards. “I had to be 100 percent prepared like I was going to start. Keep doing the same thing I’ve been doing the last couple of weeks.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Veteran Stevan Ridley is second among Steelers running backs in rushing with 56 yards in 18 carries, but since Week 10, Samuels has 24 offensive snaps to Ridley’s 10. When Conner left Sunday’s loss to the Chargers, Samuels wasted no time producing with two catches for 14 yards in the red zone, taking a pass over the middle for 10 yards.6

Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger said on his weekly radio show on 93.7 the Fan that Samuels was his second option over the middle, signaling he has trust in the young player. The two shared a moment after the game-tying score.

Samuels was a versatile hybrid back in college, and the Steelers were intrigued by his receiving ability. Whether he can become a consistent rushing threat is still uncertain, but he looks natural locating the ball in the open field.nike nfl jerseys cheap china

“Do what I’ve been doing all my life, getting in open space, catching the ball,” Samuels said. “[Roethlisberger’s] one of the best. He’s smart. When you’re out there with him, you can’t do nothing wrong, really. You should feel confident to play fast. He makes you play fast.”

If you think the Steelers weren’t pass-happy before this week, imagine the dynamic with Conner out. Pittsburgh passes 67.21 percent of the time, second in the NFL to the Minnesota Vikings (67.31). Tomlin said he approved of the team’s run-pass ratio, and Roethlisberger said on his show that no one in the building had an issue with it. The Steelers emphasize dictating pace depending on the matchup, and since the Chargers kept a safety in the

Gronk not peaking, but Patriots ‘better when he’s on the field’

This is why what unfolded late in the second quarter of Sunday’s win over the Minnesota Vikings stood out as such an outlier, and sparks a question as to whether Gronkowski can ultimately get the consistent explosion back in his legs in order to return to his status as the game’s premier tight end.cheap nike nfl jerseys wholesale

In the official box score, it reads as a 4-yard completion to Gronkowski, but there was much more to it than that.

The Patriots were carefully managing the clock in their two-minute offense, facing a second-and-5, when Gronkowski — moving laterally from right to left — caught the football 1 yard shy of the sticks. Safety Anthony Harris chased him and didn’t make contact until after Gronkowski had caught the ball and began to turn up the field.

In the tale of the tape, the 6-foot-6, 268-pound Gronkowski had favorable odds to lunge forward and get the necessary yardage against Harris, who is 6-foot-1 and 202 pounds.5

That it was even a question was telling, because at his best, Gronkowski has always been the player initiating contact in those situations, driving his legs with powerful force and playing fearlessly, whether it’s a 202-pound safety or two 202-pound safeties bearing down on him.

But since Gronkowski landed on the injury report with ankle and back injuries two months ago — missing three games over a five-week stretch — he hasn’t been that player. Hence the reason Gronkowski’s production is considerably down in nine games played, as he has totaled 35 receptions for 530 yards and two touchdowns.

“It’s great to have him back out there. Certainly coming back and working back into it, he’s practicing hard,” offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels said. “He has a great attitude and approach, he’s unselfish and does whatever [you need]. Ran-block pretty well the other night and does some things, too, that don’t necessarily get noticed or don’t show up on the stat sheet, but helps us do a lot of different things and also takes a tremendous amount of coverage. Sometimes they put a lot of attention to him and the ball goes somewhere else.”cheap nfl jerseys china nike

Gronkowski, whose upbeat demeanor uplifts his teammates, seemed to have an extra hop in his step the past two weeks. His interactions with reporters were filled with humor and smiles.