A handful of news, notes and rumors less than 18 hours removed from the fourth Sunday of the 2018 NFL season.
1. Matt Nagy’s four-game assessment of where Khalil Mack is a month after the Bears traded for him is, to no one’s surprise, glowing: “Going against him for four years in the division, game-planning for him, prepping for him, you know that he’s really good. Really good,” Nagy said, referencing his time in Kansas City, and Mack’s in Oakland. “You have to put extra guys on him, because if you go one-on-one with him, unless you have an elite tackle, it’s an advantage for him every time. We understood and knew that he was special. But really, what he’s been doing the last four weeks and the way he’s doing it right now—the way he practices, how he elevates everyone’s game in practice, just the little things that the players do, the little competitions, first one out to the ball, to touch the ball, just little things that teach you about playing defense … You just learn, you learn on the run. And then on top of all that, he’s a better person. He’s without a doubt exceeded all expectations, and that was going to be pretty hard to do, considering what we knew he could do.”
I asked Nagy about having heard that Mack is even better away from the field than he is on the field, and the head coach quickly replied “without a doubt” and compared Mack to one of the NFL’s all-time great. “You always hear about Jerry Rice, he always caught the ball and ran it to the goal line,” he said. “This guy does the opposite on defense. If there’s a pass thrown downfield and he’s rushing the quarterback, he’ll turn around, he’ll watch the ball be caught, and he’ll run 30, 40 yards downfield to the ballcarrier. And it’s every play. You just don’t normally see that. You see guys that’ll go hard for their position, on their rush, and then they’re done, that’s it. This guy’s different, he’s wired differently, he thinks differently, he plays differently, and he’s rubbing off on the other guys now and they’re getting to reap some of the rewards because of him getting double- and triple-teamed.”
2. I’m told Saints RB Mark Ingram, coming off a four-game PED suspension, met the team in the airport last night and was in the building today, working ahead of Monday night’s game against the Redskins. Having Ingram back on the field should help make Alvin Kamara even more effective. The coaches leaned on Kamara more than they wanted to in the last two weeks (31 touches v. Atlanta, 24 v. the Giants). The expectation is that Ingram will give the coaches the chance to fix that.
3. Eric Reid was introduced as a Panther on Monday, so let’s look back now at how he was deployed as a Niner to get some clues on where he could fit in with this defense. He played mostly in the Kam Chancellor spot in coordinator Robert Saleh’s defense last year, while moonlighting deep and at nickel linebacker. San Francisco’s new staff saw him as a player who wasn’t outstanding in any one area, but was pretty good at a lot of things. And for his part, Carolina coach Ron Rivera told me he plans to start Reid at strong safety and go from there. From a health standpoint, one thing to bear in mind: He has had some concussion issues in the past.
4. The Panthers are getting another boost—I’m told Curtis Samuel is expected back this Sunday as Carolina comes off its bye, giving Cam Newton another weapon in the midst of his most efficient year. Newton’s completion percentage, if you haven’t looked, is now almost six points above his previous career high, and more than eight points better than last year.
5. The other piece of the Reid signing was the ridiculously slow-to-develop safety market—accomplished (but older) vets Tyvon Branch and Mike Mitchell are still without jobs. Without going back over the reasoning, we’ve established that teams have started to think they could get by without making big investments at the position. Is that true? Well … the NFL’s top two defenses through four games—Jacksonville and Baltimore—have four of the 15 highest-paid safeties in football on their rosters. On the flip side, the next three in the total defense ratings (Redskins, Bears, Cowboys) combine for only one safety (Washington’s DJ Swearinger, at $4.5 million per) making over $2 million per year.
6. My sense is that Patriots TE Rob Gronkowski’s status for Thursday night’s game against the Colts is likely to be in question right up until gameday. Given the short week, it may make sense for New England to give Gronkowski a break here with 10 days of rest on the back end of it.
7. Browns QB Baker Mayfield graded out well after the coaches looked at his tape on Monday. As they saw it, there were nine drops in the game, and if those had been catches, he’d have gone over 400 yards. And the pick six to Oakland’s Gareon Conley and a fumbled center exchange weren’t on him, as they saw it. He wasn’t perfect, but the staff there is pretty confident in what they can do with the kid.
8. The Seahawks raved all summer about the development of second-year safety Tedric Thompson, then Earl Thomas reported and Thompson was relegated to spot duty—only playing 35 defensive snaps over the first month of the season. Now, with Thomas down, Thompson gets another shot to deliver on all that potential.
9. The comment that Bucs coach Dirk Koetter made about Jameis Winston upon naming him starter Monday was telling: “Jameis Winston is a guy who will be here way longer than I will and he needs to be playing.” It suggests part of what we know to be true—that if you pick a quarterback first overall, and he doesn’t live up to expectations, everyone’s getting fired. And perhaps it’s also acknowledgment that the team needs to get answers on Winston, regardless of who the coach is, before making its $20 million decision on his 2019 option in March.
10. Matchup to watch tonight: Chiefs RT Mitchell Schwartz vs. Broncos OLB Von Miller. For one reason or another, Schwartz has had his way, as much as anyone can, with Miller. And if Kansas City can protect Patrick Mahomes, it’s fair to assume Denver will have trouble keeping up with the Chiefs’ fleet of burners on the back end.