News, notes and rumors less than 18 hours removed from the 10th Sunday of the 2018 NFL season …
1. Bengals coach Marvin Lewis did what was necessary on Monday in firing defensive coordinator Teryl Austin, a move that those on staff saw as the obvious next step to stop the bleeding on that side of the ball. Cincinnati has allowed 500-plus yards the last three weeks in a row, something that has never happened before. Beyond that, those in the building saw Austin as a guy who put too much volume in too quickly and was too reactionary on a week-to-week basis, which kept the unit from developing an identity.
By the end, Austin wasn’t getting through to the players and finger-pointing had commenced. Asked to describe the situation, one staffer called it a “disaster.” And it’s not that Austin wasn’t a good guy—he was actually well-liked—but this was just a bad match from a football standpoint from the start. So now after a decade of entrusting his defenses to Mike Zimmer and then Paul Guenther, Lewis steps back into coordinator role.
2. Ronald Darby’s torn ACL is a tough one for the Eagles, considering how the team’s depth at corner hasn’t manifested like it figured it would back in training camp. This post-trade deadline injury turns 2017 second-round pick Sidney Jones in more than the luxury item he’s been his first two years in the league, giving him time to come back from an Achilles’ rupture he suffered at his Pro Day 20 months ago. Philly needs him now, more than they do help from anyone who might be available to come in from the outside.
3. We’ve mentioned a few times how the Rams like the potential of their fourth-round pick from two drafts ago. Now, the rangy 6' 3" Josh Reynolds will get a shot to deliver, as he’s in line to take the snaps that belonged to Cooper Kupp, who’s headed to IR with a torn ACL. Reynolds is a smooth route-runner with solid hands, and should be able to create some matchup issue inside for defenses, as the Rams see it. He’s produced when given the opportunity.
4. We’ll have our final answer on Le’Veon Bell in 24 hours, but until then, there’s not much left to say about the Pittsburgh running back. We mentioned over the weekend that the Steelers haven’t been in communication with him and don’t know what kind of shape he’s in. If they were going to get him back, the team would have to negotiate his pay if Bell needed a week or two on the exempt list to get himself ready to go (the rules of that list say the team doesn’t have to pay him anything while he’s on it). That said, the Steelers would love to have him back. We’ll see what happens.
5. And while we’re there, it’s worth tossing a shoutout to the Pittsburgh offensive line, which has played just as big of a part as James Conner in keeping that run game churning. If you look at the group, it’s amazing that the Steelers have been able to keep them together this long—Ramon Foster is in his 10th year with the team, Maurkice Pouncey his ninth, Marcus Gilbert his eighth and David DeCastro his seventh. Alejandro Villanueva is the outlier, only in Year 4 as a Steeler.
That kind of continuity counts for a lot along the offensive line, and reflects an organizational commitment to building the team a certain way, which is also apparent in the three former first-round picks (Cam Heyward, TJ Watt, Bud Dupree) who play along the defensive line of scrimmage. It’s a formula the Eagles rode to a championship last year, and it’s not hard now to see the Steelers making a run at doing the same.
6. The Jaguars’ loss of center Brandon Linder underscores an under-the-radar reason for this year’s swoon that probably shouldn’t have escaped as many people as it has. The team lost left tackle Cam Robinson early, then his backup Josh Wells, and big-ticket free-agent guard Andrew Norwell hasn’t lived up to expectations. All those problems, plus the absence of Leonard Fournette for most of the season, have contributed to the Jags being stripped of an identity that Tom Coughlin and Doug Marrone built through the lines of scrimmage last year. Losing Linder is another brick in that wall.
7. In today’s MMQB, we wrote that the Jets brass took note of the difference in fight from one rebuilding team (Sean McDermott’s Bills) to the next (Todd Bowles’s Jets) on Sunday. As a companion to that overarching thought, ex-Jet kicker/CBS sideline reporter Jay Feely offered a biting observation with 10 minutes left in the second quarter. “Distinct differences between these two sidelines, the Bills jumping around, all fired up,” Feely said. “Over on the Jets [sideline], nothing. It’s like a Saturday morning walkthrough.”
Remember, this was early on in the second quarter, and it wasn’t the last time Feely would call out the Jets on it. We mentioned last night that the Johnsons are unlikely to make a change in-season—unless there’s another one of these coming, at which point the environment the younger players are in would have to be considered.
8. Another follow-up on an MMQB item—someone asked me for an example on how Baker Mayfield is using his eyes now (it’s been a real emphasis since the coaching change). A good example is a 13-yard touchdown throw in the second quarter of yesterday’s game. On the play, Mayfield takes the snap, and looks left, buying Nick Chubb time to squirt through a scrum of linemen. By the time he turned his head towards his back, Chubb was free with a convoy of blockers in front him. The rest was academic.
9. If you want a look at how the Saints might use Brandon Marshall, you’d be sharp to take a look how big-bodied Brandon Coleman played in New Orleans the last three years—from 2015-17, the ex-Rutgers star had 79 catches for 1099 yards and eight touchdowns in Sean Payton’s offense. Payton’s never been afraid to use guys like this in different spots (Coleman played both outside and in the slot) to gain matchup advantages. And since defenses have to contend with Mike Thomas and Alvin Kamara, it’s fair to say there should be opportunity for Payton to have some fun with Marshall. The key will be Marshall’s ability to pick up the offense to a level where Payton can move him around.
10. I know Giants fans are all on Kyle Lauletta watch, but I don’t think that’s coming this week. I’m told Eli Manning took his normal starter reps this week—nothing extra for Lauletta. And so barring tonight’s game getting out of hand, it seems like it’ll be Manning for the duration.