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Panthers, Browns exemplify importance of quarterback stability – Carolina Panthers Blog



CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Norv Turner has been fortunate to have a stable quarterback situation at most of his stops as a head coach or offensive coordinator, from his current job at Carolina with Cam Newton to his first in Dallas with Troy Aikman in 1991.

Then there was that 2013 stop in Cleveland.

Turner had three quarterbacks — Jason Campbell, Brandon Weeden and Brian Hoyer — during his one year as the Browns’ coordinator. Each completed fewer than 60 percent of his passes in a scheme based on high-percentage throws. They combined for almost as many interceptions (20) as they did touchdown passes (26).

The Browns went 4-12.

“It’s hard to get in a rhythm for your guy,” Turner said as the Panthers prepare for Sunday’s game in Cleveland (1 p.m. ET, Fox). “Obviously, when you have one guy playing you keep building on the things he’s doing good. You keep growing with the players around him.

“Sometimes, you feel like you’re always starting over [when you have an unstable situation]. When you … have a guy that’s played a lot, then it’s easier to do.”

So yes, Turner was thankful when he joined the Panthers this year to have a franchise quarterback like Newton. Even though Carolina has lost four straight games, falling to 6-6, Turner knows the situation would be much worse if he didn’t have the 2015 NFL MVP heading into Sunday’s game in Cleveland.

For perspective, the Browns have had a league-high 16 starting quarterbacks since Newton entered the NFL in 2011 as the first pick of the draft.

The Panthers have had — not counting the three games Newton missed because of injury — one since 2011.

“There aren’t a lot of teams that go have great success that don’t have an established, high-level quarterback,” Turner said.

It goes much deeper than performance. The Browns have used five draft picks on quarterbacks since 2011, including three in the first round. They believe they’ve found the answer in Baker Mayfield, the top pick in this year’s draft, but they’ve thought that before with Johnny Manziel and Weeden.

The Panthers have used no draft picks on quarterbacks since selecting Newton. That has afforded them the opportunity to strengthen the rest of their roster.

“You can be a really good team in this league, but if you’re going to have a chance to compete, be in the playoffs, to win championships, it’s only going to happen when you have that kind of a quarterback,” Browns coach Gregg Williams said.

Continuity is key

As badly as Newton played in Sunday’s 24-17 loss at Tampa Bay, throwing four interceptions for the first time since his rookie season, his presence gives the Panthers a chance to make the playoffs with four games remaining.

“If you have your franchise quarterback it takes a lot of pressure off everybody,” Carolina coach Ron Rivera said. “You can tell how important it is to the league, period, by the way the rules are changing in terms of trying to protect the quarterbacks. That’s about as important as it gets.”

The NFL playoff picture speaks volumes to the importance of the quarterback.

Of the 12 teams currently in, eight have quarterbacks ranked among the top 11 in ESPN’s Total QBR, topped by Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes with a rating of 84.3.

The top five — Mahomes, Drew Brees (Saints), Philip Rivers (Chargers), Mitchell Trubisky (Bears) and Jared Goff (Rams) — are on teams that have won eight or more games.

Four in the top 11 — Brees, Ben Roethlisberger (Steelers), Tom Brady (Patriots) and Russell Wilson (Seattle) — have won Super Bowls.

That Trubisky could miss his third straight game this week with a shoulder injury is concerning because he, along with a strong defense, has been key for the Bears, who had not made the playoffs since 2010 or had a winning record since 2012.

And it took the Bears nine other quarterbacks since Newton came into the league to settle on Trubisky.

That Washington (6-6) is down to its third quarterback this season because of injuries puts the team in danger of missing the playoffs after a solid start.

“Continuity is about as big as it gets. We’re seeing a little bit of it right now on the coaching staff. We’ve had a huge transition,” said Rivera, reminding he is on his third defensive coordinator in three years, which on Sunday led him to take over the playcalling from Eric Washington. “If you can stay where you don’t always have to look for a certain position, it’s [easier].”

Getting it right

Stabilizing the quarterback spot goes beyond what happens on the field. Having the right person in place filters into the meeting rooms and locker room.

“There’s no question,” Turner said. “Getting everyone on the same page, it changes [everything].”

Statistics bear that out. The Panthers have won 56.4 percent of their games and made the playoffs in four of seven seasons since drafting Newton. They reached Super Bowl 50 after the 2015 season. They have a chance to make the playoffs again this season.

The Browns, 4-7-1 this season, have won 22.5 percent of their games since 2011 and haven’t made the playoffs.

The eight teams that have used one quarterback since 2011 — again, with the exception of the starter periodically missing a start or two because of injury — have won 58 percent of their games.

The 14 teams that have used five or more starting quarterbacks during this span have won 47.2 percent of the time. That drops to 41.8 percent for the six teams that have had eight or more starters.

Need more on the impact of the quarterback since Newton was drafted?

  • Five of the seven Super Bowls have been won by teams with one or two quarterbacks since Newton was drafted. The other two were won by Denver (7 QBs) with future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, and the Eagles with Nick Foles, who won the Super Bowl MVP after replacing injured Carson Wentz.

  • Only three of 32 teams that have had more than two starting quarterbacks reached the Super Bowl, and again those teams had a stable quarterback at the time. Denver beat Carolina with Manning, San Francisco made it when Colin Kaepernick was playing at a high level, and the Eagles won it last year.

  • No team with eight or more quarterbacks during that span has reached the Super Bowl, and the combined playoff record of those six teams is 1-6.

  • The 12 teams that used one or two quarterbacks have 45 playoff wins. The 20 teams with three or more quarterbacks have combined for 28 playoff wins.

  • The eight teams that have used only one quarterback during that span have 26 playoff wins and two Super Bowl titles, both won by the Patriots. That’s an average of 3.25 playoff wins; The other 24 teams have 47 playoff wins, an average of 1.9.

Williams believes the Browns finally got it right with Mayfield. He sees many of the characteristics in the 2017 Heisman Trophy winner from Oklahoma University that he sees in Newton, the 2010 Heisman winner at Auburn.

“When that guy gets to your organization you’re able to build and build and build,” Williams said. “But you have to have that type [of player]. You see the success Carolina has had once they got Cam in there.”

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



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



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



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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