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Saquon Barkley’s rookie season compares with the all-time greats – New York Giants Blog

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EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. — The records are going to keep on coming. It’s inevitable with the way Saquon Barkley is performing during his rookie season.

He set the New York Giants rookie rushing record in Sunday’s 30-27 overtime win over the Chicago Bears when he passed Tuffy Leemans’ previous mark of 830 yards. That was a record that stood for 82 years.

The Giants’ rookie touchdown and reception records are next. Barkley needs one more score to top Odell Beckham Jr. and Billy Paschal at 12 touchdowns and 17 catches to move even with Beckham, more than reasonable with four games left this season. It would be a surprise if he didn’t get both of those before all is said and done.

Not that it’s anything he is really thinking about.

“Not really. You’re just so stuck in the moment, stuck in the season, trying to get better every single day,” Barkley said after finishing with 125 yards rushing against the Bears’ second-ranked rush defense.

The No. 2 overall pick maintains an unassuming approach in the face of incredible statistical success. It doesn’t matter that he has three 50-yard touchdown runs this season and the Giants had three in the previous 10 years. Or that he’s the first rookie with three touchdown runs of 50 or more since Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson in 2007. Barkley can best one of his idols when the Giants play Peterson and the Washington Redskins at FedEx Field on Sunday.

Barkley could become the first player in NFL history with 100 total yards from scrimmage in 11 of his first 12 career games. Eric Dickerson did it in 10 of his first 11 during a rookie campaign in 1983 that is among the greatest of all time.

This is the elite company Barkley is keeping. He’s in rookie conversations with Dickerson, Peterson and Ezekiel Elliott. His rookie numbers are better overall than the likes of Barry Sanders and LaDainian Tomlinson. Heck, all-time greats such as Jim Brown and Walter Payton didn’t even hit their full stride until Year 2.

Barkley did it from his first run of the preseason (39 yards against the Cleveland Browns) and is still going. He’s third in the NFL in rushing with 954 yards, second among running backs with 74 catches and 602 receiving yards, third in yards from scrimmage with 1,556, behind only Todd Gurley II and Elliott.

All this as a rookie.

“I don’t care if he’s the No. 2 pick,” veteran wide receiver Russell Shepard said. “There have been backs picked in the top 5 in the last 20 years and there aren’t too many, if any, who are doing what he is doing. He has Barry-like ability to make people miss and to get north and south. This isn’t normal. You don’t like using the term ‘generational talent’ but we have two guys on the same team [including Beckham]. It doesn’t happen. It’s pretty unique.”

The debate will rage for years about whether the Giants should have taken Barkley or a quarterback second overall. It will have nothing to do with his ability and effectiveness as a player. That already is not in doubt.

“I think he’s had a positive impact on our team,” coach Pat Shurmur said. “I said it early and I really believe it, he’s got a generational spirit in terms of how he competes, and I have not been — we have not been — disappointed in [any] way.

“He’s extremely talented running the ball, catching the ball, he blocks well, we’re doing what we can to give him the football so he has an impact on the game, and I think he has. Last week someone was talking about how he has great production and the answer he gave was, I’m just trying to continue to work on the little things, just keep being you. If that’s your mindset, then we’ll try to encourage that along the way because great players that have that mindset and are worried about getting a little bit better, then I think that’s good for us.”

It’s also working for Barkley. He’s having one of the best and most productive rookie seasons of all time.

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From streak to slump: What has happened to Adam Thielen? – Minnesota Vikings Blog

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EAGAN, Minn. — The Monday Night Football audience didn’t just sense Adam Thielen‘s frustrations, they heard them. Loud and clear.

After a 35-yard catch-and-run ahead of the two-minute warning in the second half of the Minnesota Vikings’ 21-7 loss at the Seattle Seahawks, ESPN’s field mics picked up a colorful outburst when the Pro Bowl wide receiver voiced his concern with what was transpiring on offense.

Thielen leads the NFL in receptions, with 103, but his production has decreased considerably since he posted 100 yards receiving for eight straight weeks to open the season. In Seattle, Thielen wasn’t targeted and didn’t catch his first pass until 6:12 left in the third quarter. For the first time in the past two seasons, he didn’t catch a pass in a half.

“A little bit frustration of not moving the ball,” Thielen said of his outburst. “When you’re an athlete and a competitor, you feel like you can win. So, you want the ball in your hand, you want opportunities. So that’s probably where that came from.”

It’s not like he wasn’t getting open. On Minnesota’s second drive of the game, Thielen was free of defenders 20 yards downfield. Sensing pressure, quarterback Kirk Cousins dumped off a pass behind him to running back Latavius Murray that went for 2 yards. Instead of finding Thielen on fourth down from Seattle’s 1-yard line with more than nine minutes to play in the game, Cousins targeted tight end Kyle Rudolph in double coverage in the back of the end zone. The pass was broken up, and the Vikings failed to score.

Thielen’s production dip has been noticeable since Week 9, when his 100-yard streak was snapped by the Detroit Lions. With Stefon Diggs sidelined due to an injury to his ribs, the Lions zeroed in on Thielen, limiting him to four catches for 22 yards.

After averaging 115.6 yards receiving in the first eight games of the season while catching 76 percent of his targets, Thielen has caught 64 percent of his targets over the past five weeks while averaging 62.2 yards per game. Amid a rough stretch for Minnesota’s offense, Thielen was back to his ways against the Green Bay Packers in Week 12 (eight catches for 125 yards and a touchdown), but he has been quiet outside of that.

Thielen isn’t the only one whose numbers have decreased after a hot start. Diggs has gone three straight games without eclipsing 100 yards receiving, and he was visibly frustrated during a defeat at the New England Patriots as cameras caught him ripping off his helmet and screaming after being left wide open.

So what’s happening?

“I think a lot of discussion, even talking to my own family after the game, that they noticed watching on TV of Adam and Stefon are being doubled and taken away,” Cousins said following the tilt in Seattle. “That was true probably the first two third downs of the game, and then really the rest of the game I didn’t notice it showing up. So, while that is happening — that happened against the Lions, that happened against the Patriots and it’s going to happen. But it’s not play in and play out all game long. So I don’t want to overstate that. Certainly, from time to time they’ll be doubled.”

Teams typically utilize bracket coverage when putting two defenders on one player, but the way the Patriots and Seahawks chose to routinely double Thielen and Diggs with defenders playing man coverage is less common. But it’s far from surprising that teams have begun to deploy this strategy to contain the prolific receiving duo.

“I didn’t ever think I’d get triple-teamed,” Diggs said. “That’s something that I’ve never experienced in my life. For me, I can beat double-teams. I feel like I can still win. And if it’s three guys, I’ve got to beat three guys. It don’t really matter how it comes up. But more importantly, we’ve got guys on the outside that can win, and if I’m occupying three people, I know we’ve got some guys out there that can get involved.”

Interim offensive coordinator Kevin Stefanski hopes to reignite Thielen and Diggs on Sunday at home against the Miami Dolphins in a game that could establish the tone offensively for what the Vikings aim to do the rest of the season.

“I think it’s our job and we’re charged with getting those guys the football in space,” Stefanski said. “It changes, and it varies by game, because certain teams have a certain plan to take those two guys away. The nice part is we have a very unselfish group, so if it’s going to be a big Stefon Diggs game, Adam’s great about it. If there is going to be a big Kyle Rudolph game, those guys are great about it.

“So, I think the ball goes where the ball goes; but we as coaches, need to try to design plays to get the ball, obviously, to our playmakers.”

Another way Stefanski could do that is by getting running back Dalvin Cook more involved in the passing game.

Cook has 50 yards receiving on just 13 catches over the past two games, and opportunities to get him involved in the passing game could help him evolve into the Vikings’ No. 3 receiver. The two touchdowns he has scored this season have come as a pass-catcher.

The influences Stefanski pulls from the previous offensive coordinators he has worked under will start to become evident on Sunday. But judging by the success former Vikings offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur had utilizing running backs in the passing game, particularly with screens, Cook could get more involved.

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Kobe Bryant gives Cleveland Browns pep talk before playing Denver Broncos

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The Cleveland Browns, getting ready for a prime-time game in Denver, had a special guest at their team meeting Friday — one who knows a little bit about Showtime.

Former Lakers superstar Kobe Bryant spoke to the team for about an hour at its hotel, then took questions from the players.

Bryant, whose relentlessness and competitive drive were hallmarks of his career, talked about the “Mamba Mentality,” and what motivates him.

The Browns (5-7-1), have won three of their past four games and are coming off a 26-20 victory over the Carolina Panthers. They play the Broncos at 8:20 p.m. ET Saturday.



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‘Nutcracker’ and helping homeless give Josh Norman a mental break – Washington Redskins Blog

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ASHBURN, Va. — He won’t be dancing with any stars, but he will continue to dance. Washington Redskins cornerback Josh Norman will make a cameo appearance in a local production of “The Nutcracker” on Friday night.

It’s a way for Norman to raise a little money for his foundation; it’s also a way for him to stay mentally fresh during a turbulent time for the Redskins, losers of four games in a row.

That’s also why he spent Wednesday night handing out clothing items at several homeless shelters in Washington. He called that an early birthday gift. Norman said he decided to do this the previous night while sitting at home on his couch. Norman, who turns 31 Saturday, said he wanted to do this in lieu of doing something else for his birthday.

“What else is there for me to get?” he said.

The past several weeks have been filled with stories about devastating injuries and the waiver claim of linebacker Reuben Foster and players upset with one thing or another — their role, the coaches, teammates, fans. Wednesday provided perspective and respite.

“You always have to think positive,” Norman said. “I deal with it by helping other people out. It’s pretty cool when you can do that, give back to other people. Helps out a lot.”

Norman said the people he was handing out items to did not recognize him.

“They finally found out,” he said. “They were like, ‘Oh, shoot, you come down to see us?’ I was like, ‘Yeah, man, I came down to chop it up with you guys.’ Took a couple pictures, signed some autographs. It was just really cool and refreshing and rejuvenating. You ask why I come in and keep high spirits. It’s because I can do things such as that. It’s much bigger than football. It’s just cool.”

And “The Nutcracker” helps him out, too. The Loudoun Ballet Performing Arts Co. approached him earlier this year about performing as a special guest. His one and only appearance as the Arabian Prince is Friday night. Half the proceeds will go to his Starz24 Foundation. Norman was on “Dancing with the Stars” earlier this year. While training for the show, he met some of the dancers at the LBPA.

When he was on the ABC show, Norman flew across the country and would return in time for Redskins spring practices. For the ballet, he has practiced once a week (on his off day) for a little more than a month at a local high school, he said.

“It’s cool; it’s something to do,” he said. “I’ve got to be doing something.”

He also knows some fans will be upset that he has spent part of his off time in a non-football activity at a time when the Redskins are losing.

“How are we held to a higher standard than a doctor or a physician?” he said. “I do what I do anyway.”

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