• Plus, the Eagles will put no limitations on Carson Wentz, Sean Lee expected to play in Seattle, Earl Thomas market heats up, business as usual for the Steelers, and keep an eye on Josh Gordon’s conditioning
By Albert Breer
September 23, 2018

1. Those at Packers practice on Saturday said that Aaron Rodgers looked a little better this week than he did for his single practice last week, which is good news. The process of coming back from the bone bruise was always going to be incremental, and it’s more than pain management (i.e. it can get worse). Steps forward are really all the Packers can ask for.

2. Worth keeping an eye on: New Patriots WR Josh Gordon’s conditioning, should he be a go for Sunday Night Football against the Lions. The Browns had grown frustrated that Gordon wasn’t in great football shape (different than just good shape, which Gordon is clearly in), as the season began.

3. The Bengals have been efficient in the run game—averaging 4.4 yards per carry—and so I wouldn’t expect a major shakeup in Charlotte today with Joe Mixon (knee) out. Gio Bernard’s workload may go up a tick, but my understanding is the coaches are comfortable counting on rookie Mark Walton to fill much of the role Mixon played.

4. Sam Darnold’s Thursday night—which made it three starts, including two on the road, in 11 days for the Jets’ rookie QB—was a rough one. What happened? With some tape, Browns DC Gregg Williams was able to take away the easy completions that Jets OC Jeremy Bates and Co. had been creating for Darnold, and forced him to look downfield with a rush. Long-term, Darnold should be fine. It’s not unlike what Carson Wentz went through. Short term, there may be a few more of those.

5. Other teams are closely monitoring the Earl Thomas situation in Seattle. With the Seahawks 0-2, and Thomas away from the building this week for what Pete Carroll called personal reasons, there’s at least a perception out there that six-time All-Pro could be moved before the Oct. 30 trade deadline. That makes tomorrow’s game against Dallas all the more interesting. If the Seahawks fall to 0-3, maybe they’d be more willing to deal. And if it’s to the Cowboys (who could use an upgrade over Xavier Woods), then Seattle wouldn’t have to worry about facing Thomas after tomorrow.

6. The trip to Seattle gives the Cowboys a good chance to pick some steam as the makeup of the team changes. The team’s fourth-ranked defense looks like it’s coming of age, which is helping an offense still finding its footing around Ezekiel Elliott and Dak Prescott. One thing that will help against the Seahawks? I’m told middle linebacker Sean Lee, listed as questionable, expects to play.

7. There’s a benefit to being patient in bringing an injured player back: I’m told the Eagles aren’t planning to manage Carson Wentz at all today against the Colts. He’s full go. And this is part of why it was important, beyond just getting medical clearance, for Doug Pederson to see that Wentz’s rhythm and timing was back where it needed to be.

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8. The Rams’ offseason was a chemistry experiment, with ultra-talented guys with baggage (Ndamukong Suh, Aqib Talib, Marcus Peters) added to a team already carrying expectations for the first time. So far, so good, on the bet that management made on the leadership of Sean McVay and the program he’s built. And I know it’s shown up, too, in the Chargers’ study of the Rams this week. One assistant raved to me on how well those defensive guys are playing to Wade Phillips’s scheme. We’ll see what happens when they hit a speed bump or two, but the Rams are thrilled with how locked in the group has been.

9. Plenty of vestiges of the 2017 Giants were thrown overboard after that lost season. But just as they did with Odell Beckham Jr., Pat Shurmur and his staff found a way to get through Eli Apple, another talented guy at a crucial position who’s had maturity issues. And so it’s a shame they don’t have him out there in what would be a key spot, facing the Texans’ talented receiver group. Bill O’Brien’s gameplan-centric offense plays find-the-goat plenty, and so it’s fair to expect a target on the back of Apple’s fill-in, B.W. Webb.

10. Good early gut check for the Steelers on Monday night in Tampa. People who’ve been through there maintain that the last few weeks really haven’t been that out of the ordinary—the Steelers are always colorful, with big personalities, which is why they’ve always had battleship commander-type head coaches. Let’s see how that holds up against a good Bucs team.

11. All eyes have been on Patrick Mahomes, and for good reason. The Chiefs’ young quarterback has been electric. But he’s had help. What are other teams seeing? A passer who hasn’t yet been pushed to make a lot of tight-window throws, thanks to a skill group that’s a handful (Tyreek Hill, Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, Chris Conley), and a coach (Andy Reid) who is masterful at scheming them open. Another thing that has helped has been Reid’s aggression on first and second down, which has kept defenses from throwing the kitchen sink at Mahomes. Want an amazing stat? The Chiefs only faced five third downs last week against Pittsburgh, and only three through three quarters. Which, of course, will help any young quarterback.

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