A handful of news, notes and rumors less than 18 hours removed from the sixth Sunday of the 2018 NFL season.
1. Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter told his assistants at an 8 a.m. staff meeting on Monday that defensive coordinator Mike Smith was being replaced with linebackers coach Mark Duffner—and the truth is, plenty of guys in there were surprised it didn’t happen two weeks ago after the debacle in Chicago. After that game, it became to clear to everyone there was dissatisfaction with the defense up to the highest levels of the organization. And the problems for the well-respected Smith were multi-faceted, ranging from communication breakdowns on the field to relationships with players off it.
With Smith out, it’s obvious that Koetter’s job is on the line over the next 11 weeks. His deal has two years left on it, but I’m told many of his assistants are up after this year, creating a natural separation point for the team, if they choose to go in that direction.
2. As well as Jared Goff has played, Todd Gurley served as an implicit reminder on Sunday that he’s still the engine for the Rams offense, tearing through Denver with 208 rushing yards on 29 carries. So much of Sean McVay’s offense is based on marrying the run game to the pass game—in fact, creating run action on a high percentage of plays was one way the staff helped Goff turn a corner last year. And all of that is so much more effective with a threat like Gurley in the backfield. He’s not bad in the cold either, as it turns out.
3. Vikings receiver Adam Thielen leads the NFL in catches (58) and yards (712), and is eighth in touchdown receptions (4). So what gives? New coordinator John DeFilippo and his staff put a lot on Thielen mentally to prepare him to move around from position to position this year. And as a result of busting his ass to get there, his newfound versatility has made him an incredibly tough cover.
4. Ravens defensive coordinator Wink Martindale deserves a ton of credit for the step that an already-good Baltimore unit has taken over the first six weeks of this season. How’s he done it? As I’ve heard it, the players have been wowed at how detailed Martindale has been in preparing them for just about every situation that comes up and arming them with counters for whatever the offense might throw at them. He’s also empowered safety Eric Weddle and linebacker C.J. Mosley with latitude to make checks if they’re in a bad coverage or need to send a blitzer, which has allowed the other guys to play with confidence and freedom. And in return, Martindale’s gotten investment and a boatload of results—the Ravens rank first in the league in total defense, scoring defense, yards per play, yards per pass play, sack percentage, and first downs allowed, and second in third-down defense.
5.The Chargers have the utmost respect for Browns rookie Baker Mayfield. Before their game on Sunday, one club official said, “What you saw in college, you see now. Same game.” In football parlance, that’s a high compliment, explaining that a player’s game is translating seamlessly from one level of the sport to the next.
6. Todd Bowles called the Jets defense again on Sunday, and the big plays kept coming. Last week against Denver, the group piled up four sacks. Against the Colts, they registered four takeaways.
7. There were some twists and turns en route to the Dolphins starting Brock Osweiler on Sunday. Ryan Tannehill initially injured the shoulder in Week 3 against Oakland—on a second-quarter play for which rookie Maurice Hurst was flagged for roughing the passer. He was on the injury report through Thursday of that week, then came off. He then took another shot against Cincinnati, but seemed to be fine at practice last Wednesday and Thursday. On Friday, he told the staff his arm didn’t feel great, and Osweiler took most of the reps at a practice focused on red zone work. Tannehill was told to take it easy on the shoulder Friday night and Saturday, and he came back early Sunday to work out for coach Adam Gase. That’s where the final call was made, well ahead of kickoff, to give Tannehill the week off.
8. S/o to Kirk Cousins—and good to see awkward white guy dancing sweeping the great United States of America.
9. Lots of dirt thrown on the Redskins last week after they took a harrowing uppercut in New Orleans. So give credit where it’s due—Jay Gruden’s group showed a lot of edge in fighting off a rallying Panthers team at the wire on Sunday.
10. Worth mentioning: Josh Gordon was Tom Brady’s most targeted receiver on Sunday night, with nine throws coming his way. And one of those came on a third down and another on a fourth down. Despite some early communication issues, trust is building.
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