Monthly Archives: September 2014

Chiefs vs. Patriots: Game at a Glance

All is good in Chiefs Kingdom right now.

The Kansas City Chiefs made a statement on Monday night with their 41-14 victory over the New England Patriots.

With almost 200 yards rushing between Jamaal Charles (92) and Knile Davis (107), quarterback Alex Smith’s 144.4 passer rating after going 20 of 26 for 248 yards and three touchdowns and finally the defense forcing three turnovers, including a pick-six interception return from safety Husain Abdullah, the Chiefs turned some heads on Monday night.

Oh, and Chiefs fans got their Guinness World Record back for loudest crowd roar at an outdoor stadium at 142.2 decibels.

“The fans were phenomenal,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “I never thought I’d be fired up about decibel levels but I’m fired up for them. My ears are still ringing. I mean it was loud-loud down there—like incredibly loud.”

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith agreed with coach Reid.

“These fans are special fans and they proved it tonight again,” Smith said. “Best in the country. This doesn’t happen anywhere else like this. The whole town is feeding off it.”

The Chiefs were missing seven projected starters in this game, including three-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and the lightning-quick rookie running back De’Anthony Thomas (hamstring), who has yet to make his NFL debut after impressing in the preseason.

The Chiefs leaned on Charles and Davis, who helped the Chiefs offense outgain the Patriots 443 to 290 in total yards.

“Both of them together, I think they’re both explosive players,” Reid said of Charles and Davis. “They’re completely different players but they’re both explosive players and that makes my job easy, just giving them the ball.”

Charles carried the ball 18 times for 92 yards and a touchdown, also adding three catches for 15 yards and two touchdowns.

Davis carried the ball 16 times for 107 yards and caught one pass for 12 yards.

Smith had an efficient night in the passing game and led a Chiefs offense that won the turnover battle for the first time this season.

“That’s been his trademark there is taking care of the football and being smart with it,” Reid said. “He did that tonight against a very disciplined defense. His leadership is the thing that stands out most to me, just how he handles the whole team and the situation. He can turn chaotic situations into calm situations.”

On the outside, the Chiefs were led by tight end Travis Kelce, who caught eight passes for 93 yards and a touchdown. Dwayne Bowe caught five passes for 81 yards and Donnie Avery caught a couple of big passes as well, finishing with two catches for 46 yards.

Smith spoke after the game about how they were able to spread the ball around.

“Always part of the game plan,” Smith said of hitting nine different receivers. “That’s just the nature of coach Reid and the West Coast Offense is the ball is going to get spread around. Everybody’s got a piece of the game plan.

“If you’ve got a strength or you’ve got something to help us with, coach (Reid) is going to find a way to exploit that. But certainly when I’m out there, I’m just going through the reads where the ball is supposed to go.”

The Chiefs defense, which had yet to force any takeaways in the Chiefs first three games of the season, picked up three on Monday night.

“We were able to get some takeaways today which I thought were huge,” Reid said. “[Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton] had a phenomenal game plan. The players executed it like clockwork.

Reid said that while the three takeaways were good, they should never stop searching for more opportunities to make plays.

“I’m proud of them for getting the three tonight but we have to keep that coming,” Reid said after the game. “That’s a big part of the game—that whole giveaway-takeaway ratio. It’s important that the offense doesn’t turn the ball over; it’s important that the defense creates takeaways so there’s no complacency amongst the guys with just the three. We want to keep it coming.”

Tamba Hali had a strip-sack fumble recovery and both Sean Smith and Husain Abdullah picked off Patriots quarterback Tom Brady.

The Chiefs won all three phases of the game against the Patriots on Monday night, and coach Reid said the crowd’s energy should transfer over to the other stadium just next door tomorrow night.
“I know that’s going to carry right over to the Royals tomorrow when they dominate.”

Vikings offense opens up with Teddy Bridgewater

MINNEAPOLIS — We already knew about the mobility. Teddy Bridgewater proved in relief of Matt Cassel last week that he could make things happen with his feet, evading pressure, keeping plays alive and making himself into another weapon for a Vikings offense badly in need of an identity without Adrian Peterson.

Bridgewater was under siege during much of his appearance against the New Orleans Saints last week, and his performance against the Saints — 12-of-20 for 150 yards, as well as six carries for 27 yards — showed he could still find ways to be productive if his offensive line was struggling to protect him. But it also reinforced a faulty narrative about Bridgewater, who didn’t run much in college. If the Vikings were going to be interested in building around Bridgewater, if offensive coordinator Norv Turner was going to be as impressed by him as he was after a private workout in Florida last spring, the quarterback was going to have to show he could run a scheme predicated on downfield shots and middle-of-the-field throws off play action.

What the Minnesota Vikings got on Sunday in a 41-28 win over the Atlanta Falcons was both a confirmation that Bridgewater could handle the base curriculum of Turner’s offense and a teaser of the ways he can bring something new to one of the league’s time-honored schemes. The quarterback ran five times for 27 yards, bursting up the middle when his receivers were covered in the second quarter and diving into the end zone for a 13-yard touchdown and even running a handful of read-option plays with running backs Jerick McKinnon and Matt Asiata in his debut as a starter.

But he also opened up the Vikings’ passing game in a way Cassel hadn’t done so far this season, completing 19 of his 30 passes for 317 yards on a day when the Vikings finally realized the downfield attack they expected to have under Turner. With plenty of time to throw on Sunday, Bridgewater stayed in the pocket for 19 of his 29 throws, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and went 8 of 12 for 163 yards on throws that traveled 10 yards or longer.

Those numbers could have been even better had Bridgewater put a little more air under a throw to a wide-open Jarius Wright late in the third quarter, but considering Cassel was 1-for-11 on throws longer than 10 yards this season, Bridgewater’s performance looked like a revelation.

“Man, that guy is a great player — not only throwing the ball, but he made plays on his feet,” Wright said. “Got first downs with his feet also, made big plays with his feet. We just got to keep building on the performance we had today on offense.”

That will be predicated on whether Bridgewater is able to make a quick turnaround for Thursday’s game in Green Bay after spraining his left ankle on Sunday. The X-rays were negative, and coach Mike Zimmer said he expected Bridgewater would play, but it seems the Vikings offense will be molded to fit the rookie. He’s been back in the shotgun for 48 of his 58 dropbacks, where he’s able to make quick reads, step up to avoid pressure and even hold defenders with the threat of his running ability. No quarterback has ever run for more than 192 yards in a season under Turner, and while a healthy Bridgewater seems on his way to breaking that mark, the prospect of his mobility alone can affect defenses.

That prospect, paired with the idea that Bridgewater can make all the throws required in Turner’s offense, could present a frightening mixture for defensive coordinators if the rookie is able to master it all. What the Vikings did against Atlanta on Sunday, without Peterson and Kyle Rudolph, showed just how much Bridgewater can open up for them.

“I think it sets the bar pretty high,” Bridgewater said. “I just have to continue to try to build off of the momentum that I have and not try to get besides myself or out of my character.

MoDot Dedicates Bridge to Len Dawson

East Stadium Drive over Interstate 435 in Jackson County has been designated the “Len Dawson Bridge” by the Missouri General Assembly. House Bill 1866, passed by Senator Paul LeVota, designated the “Len Dawson Bridge” as part of the Missouri Department of Transportation’s highway designation program to honor certain individuals, events, places or organizations on Missouri’s state highway system.

Signs will be placed on both ends of East Stadium Drive over I-435. The Jackson County Sports Complex Authority provided funding for the sign fabrication and installation at the bridge. The designation was recognized in a special ceremony today at Arrowhead Stadium.

“Len’s contributions to the Chiefs, the Kansas City community and the game of professional football are innumerable,” Chiefs Chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said. “Between his record-setting career on the field and his success as a broadcaster off the field, Len Dawson has left an indelible mark on my family, this franchise and the entire Kansas City community. We are so proud that the Missouri Department of Transportation has recognized him with this honor.”

In 1962 Dawson joined the Dallas Texans/Kansas City Chiefs and led the franchise to its first AFL Championship in a double overtime victory over the Houston Oilers. Under his guidance, the Chiefs were perennial contenders and won the AFL Championships in 1962, 1966 and 1969. Dawson was the MVP of Super Bowl IV when he directed Kansas City to a 23-7 victory over heavily favored Minnesota Vikings.

Dawson was selected to play in six AFL All-Star games and the 1972 AFC-NFC Pro Bowl. An All-AFL selection in both 1962 and 1966, he was named the AFL Player of the Year in 1962. During his career, he completed 2,136 of 3,741 passes for 28,711 yards and 239 touchdowns. He also rushed for 1,293 yards before retiring after the 1975 season.

Dawson’s on-field legacy was preserved in Kansas City in 1979 when he was inducted into the Chiefs Hall of Fame. In 1987, he received the sport’s greatest individual honor as he was enshrined into the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Dawson began his renowned broadcasting career in 1966 as a sports anchor with KMBC Radio and sports director for KMBC-TV while still playing quarterback for the Chiefs. Following his retirement from professional football in 1975, Dawson joined NBC-TV as a color analyst on NFL games until 1982. In 1984, he joined the Chiefs Radio Network as a color commentator, a position he continues to hold to this day. He is the longest tenured sportscaster in Kansas City radio and television history.

While working NFL games for NBC, Dawson also embarked on what would become a 24-year run that spanned four decades (1977-2001) as the host of HBO’s popular ‘Inside the NFL’ show. ‘Inside the NFL’ was cable television’s longest running series and the first NFL-related program to air on cable.

For his contributions to broadcasting, Dawson was elected to the Pro Football Hall of Fame as the recipient of the Hall’s Pete Rozelle Radio-Television Award. Dawson is only the third individual in history to be inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame as both a player and as a broadcaster, joining Dan Dierdorf and Frank Gifford.

In 2014, Dawson was honored with the Lamar Hunt Award for Professional Football at the 44th Annual NFL 101 Awards. Created in 2007 to honor the life and legacy of Chiefs founder Lamar Hunt, the award is given annually to an individual or group that has helped shape the National Football League into the preeminent professional sports league in America.

Dawson is active in the Kansas City community, where he continues to live, and focuses a large amount of time on charity work.

Dawson, LeVota, Chiefs President Mark Donovan and Missouri Highways and Transportation Commission Chairman Stephen Miller all spoke at the event in the Penthouse Suite at Arrowhead. Others attending the ceremony included members of the Dawson family, friends, Chiefs staff, honored legislators and officials.

New England Patriots: A Closer Look

The New England Patriots have long been known to be a prolific offensive team, at least over the past decade or so during quarterback Tom Brady’s reign under center.

The 37-year old quarterback is in his 15th NFL season and while he’s a first ballot hall of famer once he decides to hang it up, the 2014 season hasn’t seen that same kind of success we’ve come to know from the Patriots.

The Patriots come into the Monday Night matchup with the Chiefs with a 2-1 record. They opened up their season by falling to the Miami Dolphins 33-20, and then had back-to-back wins against the Oakland Minnesota Vikings and Oakland Raiders.

Coming into this season, Brady had averaged 254 yards per game, completing 63.4 percent of his passes at 7.46 yards per attempt over the regular season in his career.

Right now, Brady is averaging just 210 yards per game, completing just 58.8 percent of his passes at 5.54 yards per attempt, which ranks 30th in the NFL.

The Patriots offense averages 4.3 yards per play, which ranks last in the NFL.

Through three games, there are only two players on the Patriots roster that have more than 55 yards receiving. Receiver Julian Edelman leads the team with 22 catches for 260 yards and one touchdown, and tight end Rob Gronkowski has 11 catches for 116 yards and two touchdowns.

In comparison, the Chiefs have five players with at least 55 yards receiving in Travis Kelce (166), Donnie Avery (110), Anthony Fasano (91), Dwayne Bowe (72) and Joe McKnight (64).

Brady has completed just one pass in 13 attempts at 20 yards or beyond.

The big play hasn’t been a part of their offense so far this season. They have five touchdowns this season and none of them have come on a play 10 yards or longer.

The Patriots have just 31 offensive plays of 10-plus yards, which ranks 28th in the NFL. In comparison, the Chiefs have 41 plays of at least 10 yards, which ranks them 10th in the NFL and have three touchdowns that went for more than 10 yards.

A lot of the issues for the Patriots offense have seemed to come from the inability to protect Brady. They’ve given up 30 quarterback pressures and seven sacks in three games, including four sacks against the Oakland Raiders last Sunday.

The Patriots traded Pro Bowl guard Logan Mankins to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the season in return for tight end Tim Wright and a fourth round draft pick.

Brady hasn’t had time to deliver the ball down the field for those big plays, and the Chiefs defense will try and make sure that doesn’t happen on Monday night either.

Stevan Ridley leads the Patriots running game. He’s carried the ball 52 times for 176 yards (3.4 ypc) and one touchdown.

On the defensive side, the Patriots have seven sacks through three games. They’re also leading the NFL in turnover differential at plus-6.

Although most of these defensive numbers came in their Week 2 matchup with the Minnesota Vikings, where they sacked former Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel six times and had four interceptions.

They have plenty of talent on the defensive side of the ball, starting with the big man in the middle: nose tackle Vince Wilfork. He sets the tone for their defense, which is ranked No. 1 in the NFL in opponent passing yards (168.7) and 11th in rushing yards (104).

Led by a talented pair of defensive backs in Devin McCourty and Darrelle Revis, the Patriots rank third in the NFL in long-yardage pass plays given up, only allowing six passes of at least 20 yards through three games. In this area, they trail only the Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, who have only allowed five long-yardage pass plays this season.

The combined record of the two teams the Patriots have beaten this season is 1-5. The only Patriots loss of the season came against the Miami Dolphins in Week 1 by a score of 33-20.

Too soon to consider Geno Smith’s ouster

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Michael Vick, surrounded by a crowd of reporters in front of his locker, was in mid-sentence when a public-relations official announced that Geno Smith was available for interviews. About 10 media types bolted for Smith, showing a better burst than Chris Johnson on Monday night.

“I guess we know who the most important guy is around here now,” Vick said, laughing as he watched the exodus. “It’s certainly not me.”

Yes, Smith is the most important guy, but the reason he attracted so much attention is because there’s blood in the water.

The New York Jets’ starting quarterback is wounded, coming off a poor performance, prompting the knee-jerk crowd to start screaming for a change to Vick. Others have offered conditional opinions, saying Smith should be benched if he has another stinker Sunday against the Detroit Lions.

It would be an upset if the Jets bail on Smith at the quarter pole of the season. They’ve invested 19 games in him, and they still believe he has a bright future. And let’s not forget who’s running the organization: It’s John the Deliberate. John Idzik, the general manager, moves slower than pond water. Rex Ryan, too, isn’t known for a quick hook. He stuck with Mark Sanchez for nearly four years, didn’t he?

At this point, any thought of yanking Smith is misguided. Yes, he cost the Jets at least 10 points with two interceptions in the 27-19 loss to the Chicago Bears, but he also had the team in position for a potential, game-tying touchdown late in the game. He found Jeremy Kerley in the end zone, but it was a stride beyond the end line. It was a similar deal in Green Bay, where Smith’s final pass — moments after the infamous, tag-team timeout by Marty Mornhinweg and Sheldon Richardson — went off Kerley’s pleading fingertips in the end zone.

The smart move is to stay the course.

On Wednesday, Smith handled the inquisition quite nicely, insisting he’s not worried about his job security. Asked if he believes he’s on the hot seat, he replied curtly, “No, not at all.” Earlier in the day, he told the Detroit media he’s immune to the criticism and the calls for Vick because none of them are coming from the locker room.

“They don’t exist within our locker room,” he said. “They don’t exist around here.”

If Smith’s one-game stinker turns into a prolonged slump, it’ll make for an interesting decision. Before making Vick the starter, though, they’d be wise to go the mini-benching route. In other words, make an in-game change to Vick, then go back to Smith the following week. Ryan did that last season, benching Smith at halftime in Week 13. That snapped him out of his funk, as he finished the season on an upbeat note.

Ryan refused to address the possibility of an in-game change, claiming he doesn’t like to deal with negative hypotheticals. He said the Smith-Vick dynamic is the “perfect situation,” adding that he “absolutely” believes Vick could come in and win games.

“But I also believe Geno can win games,” he said.

Ryan said he hopes Smith will start the remainder of the season, but he stopped short of making the season-long commitment, adding, “Things happen and we’ll see.”

So, yes, Ryan opened the door a crack, but he knows the best thing for his own job security is to succeed with Smith. A 9-7, non-playoff season with Vick would be worse than 8-8 or 7-9 with Smith, because they’d be starting over at quarterback in 2015. Vick’s best days are behind him. The notion that he’d be an automatic upgrade is off base. He might be, but he might not be. He hasn’t been a winning starter since 2011. Vick, 34, isn’t the future. Even he knows that.

“I’ve heard this all before,” he said, referring to quarterback debate. “You have to bear with the young guy and give him a chance and work with him, and believe in him.”

Well said.

Panthers were out of sync in all phases

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Carolina Panthers defensive tackle Colin Cole breathed a deep sigh.

“I can’t wait to see the film to see what happened,” he said after Sunday night’s 37-19 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in a prime-time telecast.

The easy answer to what happened? Nothing good.

A defense that had given up only 172 yards rushing in the first two games combined gave up 264, and for the first time since 2001 against the St. Louis Rams allowed two backs to rush for more than 100 yards in the same game.

According to ESPN Stats & Information data, the Panthers also gave up two runs of more than 50 yards in the same game for the first time since 2001.

An offense that prides itself on being able to run managed a mere 42 yards against a defense that had allowed an average of 170 yards rushing in two games.

A quarterback that prides himself on being able to avoid pressure and give the running game a boost was held to a career-low two rush attempts for 7 yards. Cam Newton also was sacked three times and hit at least six more.

It was a complete meltdown for the Panthers (2-1), who played nearly flawlessly in all phases in the first two games.

From head coach Ron Rivera to Newton, they insisted it wasn’t from a lack of focus during a week that was interrupted on Wednesday with defensive end Greg Hardy going on the commissioner’s exempt list until his domestic violence case is resolved.

“We don’t want anyone to feel pity for us being that we went through something that any other team didn’t,” Newton said.

That’s good, since Hardy plays one position and the Panthers had breakdowns at almost every one.

Newton said the Panthers looked “out of sync.”

No kidding. The defense that had allowed more than 20 points only once in the past 14 games — at New Orleans last season, a 31-13 loss also on a Sunday night — was practically unrecognizable.

Le’Veon Bell and LeGarrette Blount conjured up memories of Franco Harris and Rocky Bleier. Bell rushed 21 times for 147 yards, including an 81-yarder when the Panthers had Pittsburgh in a second-and-22 situation from their own 8 and trailed only 16-6.

Blount had 118 yards on 10 carries, including a 50-yarder.

Nobody had the answers for how that happened any more than they had answers for why the offensive line couldn’t move what, until Sunday, was one of the worst defensive fronts in the league.

Players used phrases such as inconsistent. Lack of communication. Poor timing.

Whatever it was, this film is being passed around the league as the best way to beat a team that CBS analyst Boomer Esiason said earlier in the day was the best team in the NFL at that moment.

Not at this moment.

The Steelers exposed the offensive line, the biggest weakness for Carolina heading into the season, like no other team thus far. But the defensive front seven has been solid, even without Hardy.

Perhaps the best thing the Panthers can do is not watch this film. They didn’t do enough good things to look at a second time, and watching the bad things again might cause nightmares.

Even Luke Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Player of the Year, looked average at times against Pittsburgh’s quick screens and runs up the middle.

To make matters worse, the Panthers next face a Baltimore (2-1) team that beat the Steelers 26-6 last week and have a certain wide receiver that remains angry the Panthers released him in March.

Yes, somewhere Steve Smith is drooling for this opportunity.

The only positive is Carolina is 2-1 instead of 1-2 as it was a year ago en route to starting 1-3.

“It’s a long year,” tight end Greg Olsen said. “We know better than anybody. We have to get back and fix our mistakes first before we worry about who we’re going to play, and go from there.”

Rob Ryan: ‘On me’ to fix Saints’ defense

METAIRIE, La. — Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan reiterated Friday that the New Orleans Saints’ early struggles are “on us” as a defense — and “on me” in particular.

“Hey, those are the facts,” Ryan said during his weekly visit with the media. “You don’t like to admit ‘em standing up here, but it’s the damn truth. …

“We want to be great on defense, we want to be a little tiny part of our success. And we’ve been a big part of our failure right now. It’s not how we’re going to roll.”

Ryan said that improvement will come through hard work and long hours of “looking for any kind of edge you can get.”

It’s unlikely that drastic changes will be called for, since the Saints thrived on defense last season with the same coordinator and most of the same players. But there will almost certainly be tweaks.

The most likely switch is at the No. 2 cornerback spot, where the Saints replaced starter Patrick Robinson with Corey White during last week’s 26-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns. The Saints have not announced whether that will be a permanent change, but it’s obviously a possibility. Safety Rafael Bush could also see more snaps as the fifth defensive back in nickel packages — the role he played for most of last season.

Some scheme tweaks could also be in store.

Even though the secondary is loaded with experienced veterans, it’s hard to ignore the fact that they have struggled with communication and assignment errors after releasing three longtime starters in the offseason (safeties Malcolm Jenkins and Roman Harper, and cornerback Jabari Greer).

When asked if that takes time to develop with new guys working together (like new safety Jairus Byrd and Robinson returning from a year-long injury), Ryan said, “Obviously it does.”

“Those guys played with each other for a long time,” Ryan said of Jenkins, Harper and Greer. “They know the system inside and out. So the communication was obviously excellent. But obviously these guys will take a little bit of getting used to each other and getting on the right page and the same page.

“That can also be helped with our plan. Doing things one way instead of three ways, and things like that. But we have to improve, we know that, we’re working on it and we have to get there.”

When I asked Greer to scout the Saints’ secondary heading into this season, he agreed with the outside consensus that the Saints might be “as talented as they’ve been in a very long time.” But he quickly brought up the importance of things like communication and chemistry with new players.

“Talent doesn’t necessarily equal success,” Greer said at the time. “Communication and leadership and understanding each other’s roles, working together with each other’s strengths and safeties covering up the corners’ weaknesses, that equals success. And that is yet to be determined. …

“Because given the departure of the veteran leaders in the secondary, that was the big question coming into the season. So I’m interested in seeing who’s taking that leadership position, how they’re going to rally the troops, and really how they’re gonna communicate effectively.”

Greer said typically the safeties take over that leadership role because they are known as the “quarterbacks” of the defense, responsible for making calls and checks.

Kenny Vaccaro has talked often about embracing that type of leadership role, even though he is in just his second year. But he said this week that leadership should be a collaborative effort rather than a forced one.

“I think the worst thing that can happen is when you anoint a guy and not just let him prove himself,” Vaccaro said. “You don’t want to just give a guy that position. It’ll happen on its own, honestly. And I think we’ve got a lot of leaders in the secondary. So I don’t know if a guy will get kinged as a leader of the secondary.

“I think everybody has their own qualities, and we all just bring that together. … We gather each other together.”

Vaccaro said Jenkins (a former defensive captain) used to be known for his “powerful speeches” before games. He said that neither he nor Byrd is a “speech guy” and that they are both guys who prefer to lead by example.

“We talked about that (Wednesday),” Vaccaro said of him and Byrd. “We talked about we’re gonna have to just ride with each other and we’re gonna have to get out of our comfort zone. … Definitely, though, I think we work all together.”

Ravens Not Worried About Who Gets The Ball

Kyle Juszczyk joked with tight ends Dennis Pitta and Owen Daniels the other day.

“I wish we would just call a fullback screen on the first play and just get it out of my system,” Juszczyk said. “Even if I get no yards, let’s get it done.”

After leading the Ravens in receptions (10) this preseason, the second-year fullback hasn’t even been targeted with a pass through Baltimore’s first two regular-season games. He has yet to catch a regular-season pass in the NFL.

A year after going over 1,000 yards, and despite quarterback Joe Flacco saying he sees him as a 100-catch guy, wide receiver Torrey Smith has as many catches as wide receiver Kamar Aiken so far (4). Smith caught just one pass for 10 yards against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

So what gives?

The answer came Thursday, as Smith, Juszczyk, Flacco and Offensive Coordinator Gary Kubiak all urged patience. The numbers will come, and they’ll be evenly spread.

“We’re going to attack the defense and where the ball goes, it goes,” Kubiak said. “We don’t call a play and say, ‘Throw it to him.’ We’re going to throw where we’re supposed to throw it. So, I think those things all work themselves out.”

Last season, it was fairly easy to know who was going to get the ball. With Pitta injured for the majority of the season and Jacoby Jones missing essentially the first five games, the Ravens were limited in their targets.

Smith and Marlon Brown dominated the number of targets. This year, Brown hasn’t been targeted once.

Steve Smith Sr. has 25 targets thus far. Pitta is second with 18 and Daniels is third with 11. Torrey Smith and running back Justin Forsett have 10 targets each.

With a horde of talented players to throw the ball too, the Ravens are much tougher to predict. Anybody could have a big day, which is a good thing because it means Baltimore is harder to defend.

The flip side is that with so many hands on the football, individual players may not get much action in a particular game, or string of games.

“We have so many guys that can make plays that you’re going to see different guys week to week,” Daniels said. “I had two touchdowns last week but I might not score for another 10 weeks.”

Daniels knows Kubiak’s offense better than anyone and said it’s very common for the wealth to be spread. Especially with Kubiak leaning so much on the run game to keep balance, there are only so many passes to catch.

“It makes everyone kind of hungry,” Daniels said. “I think that makes everything work really well, honestly.”

Slower starts are actually nothing new for Smith. In his rookie season, he didn’t notch a single catch in the first two games before breaking out with five receptions for 152 yards and three touchdowns in the third game. The next year, he had four catches for 108 yards in the first two weeks, followed by six snags for 127 yards and two scores in the third.

The way the defense is playing also largely dictates who gets the ball. With the Ravens playing a quick-release, West Coast scheme, they will often go to the player who is not facing press coverage to get the easy reception. Smith has been getting pressed with extra help so he doesn’t beat the cornerback deep with his well-known speed.

Smith also ends up running a lot of clear-out routes meant to open up the middle for others. Opponents have to respect him when he goes deep because of that speed.

“It’s not like Kubiak goes into it like, ‘We’re going to throw to this guy 1,000 times and this guy not at all.’ It’s all about the way the coverage dictates it,” Smith said. “I’m just playing my part. I know the ball is going to come more than it’s been coming. I’m not frustrated at all.”

Juszczyk also said opposing defensive formations from the Bengals and Steelers in Weeks 1 and 2 have kept him off the field more than expected. Plus, he knows that his first job is to block, and second priority is as a weapon in the passing game.

“Give Juice the rock!” he joked. “Honestly, I’m just staying patient with it. I know we have so many weapons on this team and any day could be a different guy. You embrace the role you’re given and be confident that they know what I can do and eventually it will come.”

Kubiak said he specifically complimented Smith on a very good week of practice as they finished up on Thursday, and said Juszczyk has been working hard too.

“I’d like to think that we can be balanced, and the ball can get spread all over the place,” Kubiak said. “I think those things will even out. You just have to find a way to move the ball.”

O, captain, my ex-captain: Jets wary of Santonio’s Holmes-coming

Santonio HolmesRon Antonelli/Getty Images

The Jets don’t want to see Santonio Holmes celebrating in his return to MetLife Stadium.

FLORHAM PARK, N.J. — Let’s start off by making this perfectly clear: The New York Jets made the right move by releasing Santonio Holmes last offseason. Too much money, too much baggage and not enough production.

Unfortunately for them, this isn’t a case of out of sight, out of mind, because Holmes is very much on their mind as they prepare for the Chicago Bears. Even though he’s a diminished player, he poses a threat to the Jets because he’s a wide receiver, and any wide receiver with two healthy hands and sub-5.0 speed in the 40 has to be classified as dangerous against their porous secondary.

It’s the Jets’ worst nighmare, Holmes turning “Monday Night Football” into his personal stage, scoring a big touchdown and doing that silly jet-plane celebration. It’s not a far-fetched scenario. For all his shortcomings, he’s always been a big-moment player. He has a Super Bowl MVP trophy to prove it.

Imagine the fallout if the Jets go from The Timeout to Tone Time in one week. Actually, you don’t want to imagine that.

Rex Ryan, not wanting to give Holmes any motivational fuel for his homecoming, gave his former player a glowing endorsement Wednesday during a conference call with the Chicago media. He portrayed Holmes as a cross between a Boy Scout, an altar boy and Jerry Rice, insisiting it’s “totally untrue” that the petulant receiver was a divisive influence in the locker room during his five seasons with the Jets.

I believe Ryan when he says he genuinely likes Holmes, but Ryan also knows that Holmes, whose mouth sometimes was like the bull in the china shop, was the root of the locker-room turmoil that made the Jets a national punchline in 2011.

Who could forget the end of the 2011 season, when Holmes clashed with teammates and was thrown out of the huddle with two minutes remaining in the final game of the season? At the time, one member of the organization described him as “a pain in the ass.” They probably would’ve cut him if they didn’t owe him so much guaranteed money, the result of a five-year, $45 million contract extension before the ’11 season. He still counts on their salary cap, $2.5 million.

Holmes is the reason why the Jets no longer have captains. Ryan appointed Holmes a captain in 2011, certainly not one of the coach’s most inspired decisions. The power went to his head, and his mouth, as he publicly criticized the offensive line after a particularly tough loss. When the season ended, Ryan announced, “No more captains.”

Reminded of that sorry chapter, Ryan claimed the decision wasn’t based on the misbehaving Holmes. Pressed, Ryan finally acknowledged, “It might not have been a great selection.” He also admitted that Holmes threw teammates “under the bus” for his critique of the offensive line, but Ryan doesn’t think Holmes meant it to come out that way. He called him a good teammate, a “dude who won a lot of games for us.”

They don’t want him to win Monday night in MetLife. Obviously, the Jets are focused on Brandon Marshall and Alshon Jeffery, Jay Cutler’s favorite targets, but they can’t forget about Holmes. His surgically repaired foot is healthy and, despite only four catches for 41 yards, he looks like the Holmes of old, according to the Jets’ defensive players. He played 73 percent of the offensive snaps in last week’s win over the San Francisco 49ers, so you know he’ll be out there a lot.

Not surprisingly, Holmes declined a request this week to speak with the New York media via conference call. As much as he disliked the New York media, he occasionally created headlines with foot-in-mouth remarks. There was the time last December when he said the Carolina Panthers’ secondary was “the weakest link” on their defense, infuriating the defensive backs, who played career games in a win over the Jets.

Hey, maybe Holmes will incite the Jets by insulting their secondary. Said one player: “I don’t think anyone would mind that.”

Pederson Believes Confidence is High

There are a lot of storylines to come from the Chiefs 24-17 loss to the Denver Broncos last Sunday, and while a loss is a loss, the manner in which the game played out couldn’t have been more unlike the opener against the Tennessee Titans.

This was the case especially up front along the offensive line, where offensive coordinator Doug Pederson explained that continuity continues to build for a group that hasn’t been together long.

“They played well enough for us to win,” Pederson said of the offensive line. “There are some new faces in there with left guard Mike McGlynn only in his third week here in this system, Ryan Harris has now stepped out at right tackle, Eric Fisher is growing at left tackle and right guard Zach Fulton is a rookie. Rodney Hudson is kind of the guy there in the middle at center who is kind of keeping it all together.”

Pederson knows consistent performances and continued development from the offensive line is what will ultimately help this offense get to where it wants to go.

“They know they have some work to do moving forward,” Pederson said. “They played a great front with the Denver Broncos and they’re going to see another good one this week in Miami.

“We have to build off what we did on Sunday. What I mean by that is (Alex) Smith continuing to make good decisions with the football—he took care of it on Sunday and didn’t turn it over—that was a key in that game.”

Even though the final score didn’t reflect the outcome the Chiefs hoped for, Pederson knows there are plenty of good things that can be taken from a performance like that.

“It’s a great learning experience going into Miami this weekend, the guys should have confidence,” Pederson said. “They played a good football team on Sunday, a team that was in the Super Bowl last year, and had a chance to win it at the end. They should have confidence going forward.”

Jeff Allen was initially set to be the team’s left guard until right tackle Donald Stephenson was suspended for four games, which moved Allen to right tackle. Mike McGlynn was signed to play left guard before the fourth preseason game and when Allen was injured for the season during the regular season opener, Ryan Harris then stepped in at right tackle.

Then during Sunday’s game, All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles left early in the first quarter with a high ankle sprain after just two carries for four yards.

Pederson spoke about in-game adjustments when dealing with injuries on the offensive side of the ball.

“You have to keep things familiar for the guys,” Pederson explained. “You can’t come up with a lot of new ideas, new schemes or concepts. You just need to do things they did at training camp and things they’re familiar with.”

Second-year running back Knile Davis stepped in as the lead back in place of Charles and finished with 22 carries for 79 yards and two touchdowns.

Pederson said it’s about keeping guys comfortable and allowing them to play fast when new guys have to step in. He mentioned that veterans like Dwayne Bowe, Anthony Fasano and Donnie Avery have to step up under those circumstances.

But he also said it’s his job to make sure young, talented players are put in good situations.

“It’s putting your guys in positions to be successful—putting a guy like Travis Kelce, who is a young tight end, in a position to just go out and execute and play where he doesn’t have to do a lot of thinking.”
The Chiefs resume practice Wednesday as they prepare for the Miami Dolphins on Sunday.