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Jones on Surviving Saquon’s Injury, Shaq’s Sack Fest, the Burden on Rudolph, More

Also, the Cheifs D is rounding into form, the Texans O-line stabilizes, Kyle Allen looks sharp, and the rest of the NFL news.

Great weekend of football, both college and pro, so let’s jump into it …

1. The Giants coaches loved the toughness and poise that Daniel Jones showed in his first start, bringing the team back from 18 down in Tampa, and they’ll need all of it with Saquon Barkley out for four to eight weeks with a high ankle sprain. The benefit in having Barkley with Jones mirrored what Dallas had in putting Zeke Elliott next to Dak Prescott early in his career, and what the Rams had in pairing Todd Gurley with Jared Goff. And to his credit, Jones told me last night he understands losing Barkley changes the dynamic a little. “He’s certainly a huge part of it, a huge weapon for us, there’s no doubt about it,” Jones said. “He’s an incredible player. But I think we have a lot of playmakers, a lot of people over the field who can make plays and step up when we need them to. That’s what we did. I’m not sure I necessarily felt any added pressure in that. I was confident in who we had.” The challenge, of course, will grow too in that for the next month or so, Giants’ opponents won’t have to worry about Barkley in game-planning to cross up the rookie quarterback.

2. Stat of the century: Through three games, Bucs edge rusher Shaq Barrett has eight sacks, and his old team, the Broncos—the team of Von Miller and Bradley Chubb—have zero. Since sacks became an official stat in 1982, only Mark Gastineau (’84) has had as many through three games. (Gastineau finished with 22 that season, a single-season record that stood for 17 years). It’s safe to say that coach Bruce Arians, GM Jason Licht and the Bucs didn’t see that coming. But the team did see a savvy, polished, slippery, instinctive pass-rusher, with a real natural ability to bend and dip around tackles. In giving him a one-year, $4 million deal (with another $1 million in incentives), they were betting that he just needed opportunity that wasn’t going to come playing with Miller and Chubb. And that bet’s paying off big-time.

3. The Chiefs defense isn’t there yet—there were a few too many broken-play situations that Lamar Jackson made the most of on Sunday. But flashes of the potential showed up in the first half, with Jackson confined to the pocket, the Baltimore run game contained to a reasonable degree, and the Ravens held to 158 yards and 10 points. Things got spottier in the second half, but it’s not like they were too far off—the Chiefs dropped three potential game-sealing interceptions, before Frank Clark was able to put it away with a sack. And this all comes back to the need to be more disciplined and sound than they were a year ago. Behind new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, while they still need work, that part of it is coming along.

4. Over the weekend, teams inquiring on Jalen Ramsey were met with the Jaguars drawing a hard line on the price they’d set—two first-round picks—after the Pro Bowler made his trade request. Now, it’s fair to wonder if EVP Tom Coughlin gets ornery over Ramsey calling in sick to work on Monday, and just stops listening to offers. Remember, the Jags have the fifth-year option on Ramsey for next year, so it’s not like they risk losing him for nothing by just riding this out.

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5. It looks like the Texans’ offensive line shuffle is coming to an end. We mentioned it a couple weeks ago—the long-term plan, post-Laremy Tunsil trade, was to have first-round pick Tytus Howard as the right tackle and second-round pick Max Scharping at guard. And for the first time, on Sunday in L.A., the Houston coaches rolled it out like that, with Tunsil and Howard at the tackle spots, and Scharping at left guard, alongside center Nick Martin and right guard Zach Fulton. Four of those five came into the league as top-60 draft picks, and the other (Fulton) was a big-ticket free agent. And the group did a pretty reasonable job Sunday against a big-time Chargers front. It cost a lot for Houston to get here, but it’s not crazy to think it might not be long until the offensive line becomes a legit team strength for the Texans.

6. The Steelers really protected Mason Rudolph with their game plan, giving their new starting quarterback a steady dose of screens and short throws to set things up down the field, while leaning on the run game, probably more than they would’ve otherwise. But Niners coaches I spoke to were impressed with Rudolph’s raw ability, and how he spread the ball around. Getting an extra day this week to digest all he learned—the Steelers play next Monday night—should be a nice benefit for Rudolph.

7. I’m told the Panthers didn’t have to change much of what they do to accommodate Kyle Allen on Sunday, because Allen can scoot too. And there’s no question that it worked for everyone. Allen shone with 261 yards and four touchdowns, and Christian McCaffrey exploded for 153 yards on 24 carries, and another 35 yards on three catches. We also got to see a little bit of where all the hype on Curtis Samuel was coming from.

8. The Rams defense is probably getting worthy of our attention. They held a Patriots offense that torched the Chiefs and Chargers in the AFC bracket to just 13 points in the Super Bowl. And through three games, Wade Phillips’ crew is holding opponents to just 285.7 yards per game, good for third in the league. Having an edge presence with Clay Matthews added to Dante Fowler and Samson Ebukam has made a difference, as has safety Eric Weddle. (Coach Sean McVay considers Weddle, in his first year as a Ram, the quarterback of the defense.) Whether the Rams are better than last year’s NFC champions remains to be seen. But they sure could be more complete than they were.

9. I would not be surprised if by the end of year we’re holding second-year Packers receiver Marques Valdes-Scantling in the same regard we do Davante Adams. The 6’4” burner finished Sunday’s win with six catches for 99 yards as a touchdown, and is growing up fast in Matt LaFleur’s offense.

10. Rookie running back Damien Harris was active for the Patriots for the first time yesterday. And while he didn’t get a carry, with Sony Michel struggling a little, I’d keep an eye on the third-round pick. Harris might’ve been a first-rounder if he’d declared after 2017, but he stayed in school, and fell behind Josh Jacobs on the depth chart at Alabama. Rumors among scouts circulated that he might not have the passion for football some want at a position as tough as running back. So it certainly got my attention when Bill Belichick was the one who drafted him. It stands to reason that if that buzz was bunk, Belichick would know. For obvious reasons, he can get good information out of that school. So maybe the first-rounder a lot of people thought they saw in 2017 eventually emerges in Foxboro.

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