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I’ve seen an improvement in this cornerback group since the team cut veteran Perrish Cox, who played in 24 games for the Titans in two seasons. Cox recorded three interceptions this year, but he had issues in coverage far too often. McCourty, Blake and McCain are the team’s primary cornerbacks, with McCourty facing the majority of the targets. He’s given up a 53 receptions on 96 targets (55 completion percentage) for 668 yards (12.6 yards per catch) and a 78.8 passer rating, while posting a 3:2 TD-to-INT ratio. The eighth-year pro is a technician and plays well on and off the line of scrimmage. He’s having one of the better seasons in his career, but one thing that can help him make the leap to the next level is better tackling.
I got a chance to play with Blake and McCain in Pittsburgh, and I’m not surprised they’ve continued to play under coach Dick LeBeau. Blake (or “Zilla,” as we called him in Pittsburgh) hasn’t made a start this season but has played in 13 games, giving up catches on 48 percent the targets thrown his way (at 11.2 yards a pop). He always seems to be around the ball and positions himself well, but he just needs to finish and make more plays. McCain runs like a deer and has great feet. He reminds me of a younger Terence Newman and is another guy who puts himself in good position to make plays. For Blake, who’s somewhat struggled and given up six touchdowns this season, the key is tackling and finishing plays when he has the opportunity.
Both the Jags and Titans boast former first-round picks with alliterative initials and high, if not overestimated, upsides in Blake Bortles and Marcus Mariota; they both boast defenses on the rise with star young players in Jalen Ramsey and Avery Williamson; and thanks to their weak division, both Jacksonville (2-4) and Tennessee (3-4) still have a chance to conquer the AFC South and live up to their pundits’ expectations.
For these rivals, the future is now, or at least it should be. An impressive showing on Thursday Night Football can introduce to the world the talent and potential of the Jags and Titans’ anonymous rosters and change the trajectory of both teams’ underwhelming 2016 campaigns. A division lead is at most two games away; why not win one this week?
Blake Bortles made his case to the next coaching staff to keep the Jaguars’ quarterback gig. The enigmatic signal-caller played his best game of the season, hitting quick strikes over the middle and finally finding the mark on several downfield tosses. Bortles finished 26-of-38 passing for 325 yards, one TD throw, and zero interceptions. It was his first time throwing for 300-plus yards in a Jags victory (had been 0-10 when throwing for more than 300 yards). Facing a bad Titans secondary that was missing top corner Jason McCourty certainly helped. Bortles’ wonky delivery still causes problems (see the first-half fumble), especially on sideline throws, but he was able to move the chains on third down and allowed his receivers to make plays. The quarterback even caught his first NFL pass, a 20-yard touchdown from Marqise Lee to ice the game.
Getting Allen Robinson involved early was key for Bortles. In his previous five games, Robinson compiled 105 total yards. Saturday, A-Rob went for 147 yards on nine receptions (12 targets). Robinson corralled receptions of 37, 28, 21, 18 and 16 yards. When Robinson is making plays for Bortles, the Jags can be a potent offense. Games like Saturday leave you shaking your head, wondering how the duo could post so many woeful afternoons this season.
I met Master Sgt. Woodward, who is in charge of one of the tanks that we toured. He was telling me about how he prepares the soldiers on his team and I realized how similar it was to football. Older, more experienced guys coaching younger ones. He was a leader and was taking the younger guys under his wing.
After he showed us the tank, he asked us if we wanted to participate in a re-enlistment ceremony. This is when a serviceman or woman decides to volunteer for more years of service. The unit lines up and each person repeats an oath. After this, they shake the Master Sgt.’s hand and then we were able to go down each line and shake their hands as well. We thanked them for their service and presented them with NFL Military Challenge coins.
“He caught a lot of balls today. This is the most reps he’s had since he’s been here, and he was very productive today, in a variety of routes. It was a good day for Corey Davis.”
Davis has the size, speed, and run-after-the-catch ability to become Marcus Mariota’s go-to weapon as a rookie. With the wideout’s injury seemingly in the past, the duo should ramp up their connection in training camp.
The 21st overall pick in this year’s draft was so far ahead of any defenders that he slowed down Usain Bolt-style near the 5-yard line and trotted into the end zone.
It was Houston’s first punt return for a touchdown since 2013 and he became the first player in franchise history to have a TD reception and a punt return for a score in the same game. Fuller’s 5-yard touchdown reception made it 14-0 in the first.
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ones was taken off returns after fumbling two kickoffs in an early-December game. He was inactive on Sunday, a writing-on-the-wall moment.
This could be the end for Jones, who washed out in San Diego this season after signing a two-year, $5.5 million contract in the offseason. Jones will forever be a Ravens Super Bowl hero (he probably should have won Super Bowl XLVII MVP honors), but he might be out of gas at age 31.
All the injuries in Pittsburgh made Brown the epicenter of this offense in 2015. His 136 catches, 1,834 yards and 10 touchdowns look even more amazing when you consider that a sluggish, ineffective Michael Vick and the untested Landry Jones combined to start five games. If Roethlisberger can stay healthy, Brown is set up for another monster campaign. He’s in the prime of his career and a future Hall of Famer: He’s up to the task and ready to fry double teams on a weekly basis.
The Steelers finished last season with the 21st overall defense, but their late-season surge helped the team finish 11th in points allowed. Excellent work by inside linebackers Ryan Shazier and Lawrence Timmons down the stretch gives hope to a unit that played some of its best football in January. The Steelers have been viewed all offseason as a team that will tumble into weekly shootouts — with an offense powerful enough to come out on top — but Pittsburgh’s defense needs to do its part over the first four weeks of the year against the Redskins, Bengals, Eagles and cheap jerseys and Chiefs.
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It doesn’t hurt Williams that Antonio Brown and the big-play Steelers passing game attract so much attention. Coach Mike Tomlin said the team wanted to be “thoughtfully aggressive” and it paid off.
Pittsburgh’s first touchdown came when Ben Roethlisberger (300 yards, 3 TDs and 1 INT) dialed up a gorgeous 26-yard touchdown on fourth-and-one to Antonio Brown. The team’s second touchdown came on a drive where coordinator Todd Haley again threw on fourth down. The Redskins, meanwhile, passed on a fourth-and-one at the Pittsburgh 40-yard line in the first quarter, setting the groundwork for a timid night from Washington.
They need all the extra preparation they can get, because the Steelers’ receivers are a little less explosive and a bit less deep now that Martavis Bryant has been suspended for the entire season under the league’s substance-abuse policy. The suspension was one of the stunners of the offseason. And it, combined with the potential suspension of running back Le’Veon Bell, has already promised that this season will look more like last year than the Steelers — who lost to the Denver Broncos in the playoffs — would have hoped.
Bryant is a freakish talent at 6-foot-4 and 211 pounds with blazing speed, and sorting out how to compensate for his loss is the most pressing issue of a so-far mostly uneventful Steelers camp. The Steelers have averaged 5.6 more points per game when Bryant has been active since he entered the league in 2014, and quarterback Ben Roethlisberger averages 57. 8 more yards per game when Bryant plays.
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The Steelers first signed Garrett Hartley, who proceeded to injure his hamstring weeks later and miss the entire season. Pittsburgh then traded for Jags veteran Josh Scobee prior to the start of the season. The move blew up in their face, with Scobee missing four of 10 field-goal attempts and an extra point – including missing two field goals in a three-point loss to rival Baltimore Ravens. Scobee was cut after just four games.
The Steelers then signed Chris Boswell, who will keep the full-time gig with Suisham gone. Boswell made 29 of 32 field goals and 26 of 27 extra points as a rookie.
“When I try to game plan for an offense, I don’t take into account that he’s a rookie,” Butler said. “I take into account who I’ve got to stop, what they’re doing well and things that might give us problems and look at how we can alleviate them.”
The Steelers flummoxed an off-target Kirk Cousins in Week 1 and stymied Andy Dalton in Week 2. Mike Tomlin seems to have simplified the back end, cutting down many of the blown coverages we’ve seen in previous seasons. The defensive front has been pesky and stout — especially versus the run. With stud linebacker Ryan Shazier flying to the ball, the Steelers D has been fantastic to start the season and better than the sum of its parts would indicate.