Tyrod Taylor benched, rookie QB Peterman to get start vs. Chargers
ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Rookie Nathan Peterman has replaced Tyrod Taylor as the Buffalo Bills’ starting quarterback in an abrupt move coach Sean McDermott said he made in a bid to improve the team.
McDermott made the stunning announcement on Wednesday, when the Bills (5-4) returned to practice to prepare to play at the Los Angeles Chargers (3-6) on Sunday. The move comes after Peterman made his NFL debut in replacing Taylor for the final two drives of a 47-10 loss to New Orleans last weekend.
McDermott said he reached the decision on his own Tuesday in what became a change of heart, after he backed Taylor as the starter immediately following the game and again on Monday.
“This is about becoming a better team,” McDermott said. He would only say “we’ll see,” when asked if Peterman will remain the starter beyond this weekend.
It made no difference to McDermott in making a switch at the team’s most important position at a time when Buffalo has a winning record while holding down the AFC’s sixth and final playoff spot. The franchise is in the midst of a 17-year playoff drought — the longest active streak in North America’s four major professional sports.
“We are 5-4, I understand that,” McDermott said. “It is always and will be for the time that I’m here about becoming the best team we can possibly become. We are made for more than 5-4, and I’ve come here to be more than 5-4.”
Buffalo has lost two straight and Taylor has overseen an offense that ranks 28th in the NFL in yards offense and 30th in yards passing.
Taylor said he was shocked when informed of the decision, and acknowledged feeling somewhat betrayed, saying “that’s one of the feelings.”
“Obviously disappointed,” Taylor said. “I don’t agree with the decision, but ultimately coach McDermott has a vision for this team, what he feels is best for the team as well as the owner and GM. I have to move forward and continue to be a teammate and a leader that I am in a different role.”
Taylor has a 20-18 record since taking over as the Bills’ starter in 2015. Though a dynamic runner, he’s been inconsistent as a passer and is coming off the worst performance of his career.
He went 9 of 18 for 56 yards and an interception against the Saints. After Stephen Hauschka capped a nine-play, 57-yard opening drive with a 37-yard field goal, the Bills never crossed midfield over their next eight possessions.
The offense particularly sputtered during eight drives under Taylor in managing 99 net yards and four first downs. Peterman mopped up, going 7 of 10 for 79 yards and a 7-yard touchdown pass to Nick O’Leary over the final two possessions.
Taylor is 163 of 254 for 1,684 yards with 10 touchdowns passing, two rushing and just three interceptions.
Peterman was selected in the fifth round of the draft after a college career in which he left Tennessee after two seasons and finished as two-year starter at Pittsburgh.
Last year, Peterman oversaw a Pitt offense that set a school record in scoring 532 points. He finished fourth in the nation in averaging 15.43 yards per completion.
At 6-foot-2 and 225 pounds, Peterman has a slight height advantage over Taylor.
Peterman is also more of a prototypical pocket passer than Taylor, which is considered a better fit in the offensive system installed by first-year coordinator Rick Dennison.
Taylor is more of a dual threat and has been at his best when given the go-ahead to scramble out of the pocket. He set Bills records in yards rushing in each of the last two seasons, with 568 in 2015 and 580 last year.
Taylor has been limited to 254 yards rushing this season.
The quarterback switch continues a yearlong trend in which the Bills have been unafraid of making bold moves to reshape their team under a first-year coach in McDermott and first-year general manager Brandon Beane.
Buffalo traded starting receiver Sammy Watkins and starting cornerback Ronald Darby in separate deals on the same day in August. Last month, the Bills traded their highest-paid player, defensive tackle Marcell Dareus, to Jacksonville in further transforming a roster that now features just 23 holdovers from last year.
Jon Gruden on coaching again: ‘I haven’t talked to anybody’ but ‘never say never’
When teams with preseason playoff hopes have to face the cold, hard reality of underachievement, Jon Gruden’s name invariably pops up. So it’s hardly surprising that, two months into a disappointing Buccaneers‘ campaign, the former Bucs coach-turned-ESPN color commentator has surfaced as a possible candidate to replace the embattled Dirk Koetter.
As one of Gruden’s former assistants put it to CBS Sports NFL Insider Jason La Canfora, a return to Tampa “would not be a bridge too far” for the coach who led the Bucs to a Lombardi Trophy after the 2002 season.
But Gruden, who annually shoots down coaching rumors, didn’t quite go that far this time.
“I haven’t talked to anybody,” Gruden told ESPN’s “Mike and Mike”, via PFT. “All I really have in my life is my family and football. That’s about it. I’m real sensitive to the coaches that are out there coaching, so I don’t speculate. I just love football. I’m trying to hang onto the job I have. I’m very fortunate to be with the people I’m with. I don’t know what’s gonna happen in the future. I just know this: I’m gonna continue to give my best effort to the game, stay prepared, and I love ‘Monday Night Football’ and don’t plan on leaving but, as you know in life, you never say never to nothing.”
So there you go: Never say never.
In addition to the obvious connection Gruden has with Tampa, La Canfora notes anther possible team Gruden could be interested in.
Some close to Gruden noted the Titans job as another that would uniquely appeal to Gruden should it open up — he has strong family ties to Tennessee and has been a champion of quarterback Marcus Mariota — noting they suspect the former coach would be selective about which jobs he would entertain but acknowledging the field this offseason could skew uniquely to his liking.
Meanwhile, according to Las Vegas, Gruden is the front-runner for the University of Tennessee job in the wake of Butch Jones’ firing.
“We continue to have a huge exposure on Gruden being the Vols next head coach,” Dave Mason of BetOnline.ag told CBS Sports’ Barrett Sallee. “If he is named head coach, it would be the biggest loss on a prop this year — by far. There are more bets on Gruden than all of the other names combined. The only other exposure we have are Lane Kiffin and Peyton Manning, believe it or not.”
Gruden, who began his NFL head-coaching career with the Raiders in 1998 last coached in the league in 2008. In that span he amassed a 95-81 record that included a 5-4 record in the postseason.
The 7-2 Steelers are touchdown favorites, up a half-point from an open of 6.5, while the over-under, or total number of points Vegas thinks will be scored, stands at 44, also up a half-point.
Before you make any bets on Steelers-Titans, you’ll want to hear what Mike “Top Dog” Tierney has to say.
Two weeks ago on “Thursday Night Football,” Tierney told SportsLine readers to go over 43 on Bills-Jets in a game many people thought wouldn’t approach the total. The result: 55 points scored, another easy cash.
Amazingly, it helped improve Tierney’s Over-Under record to 16-8 this season after he went a blistering 22-9 last year. He has a gift for picking NFL totals. Anyone who has followed his picks is way, way up.
Tierney knows the Steelers are 19th in points scored this season. Every Steelers game that’s ended in regulation except one finished with a point total between 32 and 39.
Meanwhile, the 6-3 Titans also have struggled to score. After a 37-point outburst in their road opener, Tennessee has only scored 14, 10, and 12 points in away games. And it needed overtime to get out of single digits in the most recent one.
But just because both teams have had offensive issues doesn’t mean Titans-Steelers goes under, especially with a low 44-point total on a short week.
Thursday nights have featured plenty of high-scoring games this season, including Bills-Jets (55 points), Chiefs-Raiders (61), Panthers-Eagles (51), Packers-Bears (49), and Rams-49ers (80). Six of those teams are in the bottom half of the NFL in points scored. Teams that haven’t been lighting up the scoreboard are finding the end zone on Thursdays.
CB Joe Haden (fibula) will be sidelined for the Steelers, which could open up the Titans’ passing game. And three of the last four meetings between these two teams have produced at least 49 points.
Tierney is leaning on the Titans to cover, but what about the over-under, which he has made his name picking?
He knows there’s a huge x-factor that ultimately determines whether Steelers vs. Titans on “Thursday Night Football” goes over or under. And he’s sharing it over at SportsLine.
The development comes on the heels of a two-game losing streak that dropped the Bills out of a tie atop the division with the Patriots and currently has them sitting at 5-4 with a tenuous hold on the final playoff spot. And that reality — qualifying for the postseason for the first time since 1999 — played a role in first-year coach Sean McDermott’s decision to turn to Peterman.
McDermott: “We are in the playoff hunt and we are always focused on becoming the best team possible. We were made for better than 5-4.” pic.twitter.com/02rHfbInoZ
Peterman saw his first action of the regular season against the Saints, and he finished 7 of 10 for 79 yards with a touchdown and no turnovers. Taylor, meanwhile, was 9 of 18 for 58 yards and an interception before he was pulled.
“Horrible game. Our offense didn’t get anything going and that starts with me,” Taylor told reporters after the loss on Sunday. “Just an overall bad game. Something as a team we have to learn from. I definitely have to learn from this one. Just a bad game overall.”
Do you know what else reporters were told on Sunday? That Taylor would remain the starter even though fans may want to see Peterman. Do you know who said that?
“Competition is there,” McDermott said at the time. “You earn the right to start on this football team. … Nothing is promised to anyone. We’re going to compete every day. [Even] I’ve got to earn my spot. You guys have heard me say that before.”
And after nine games, Taylor’s time in Buffalo appears to be up — if not in the coming weeks then almost certainly after the season.
Tyrod Taylor is due a $6 million roster bonus on the third day of league year, and a $10 million base salary – can’t imagine Buffalo pays it. So it looks like 2018 QB free agent class now will have one more intriguing player.
The Patriots have a game-plan offense that morphs its attack each week to focus on an opponent’s weakness. The most recent example: McDaniels had full back James Develin on the field for a season-high 45 snaps last week because it helped create a matchup against the Broncos’ base defense, which the Patriots wanted to attack. To highlight the contrast, consider that Develin played only 13 snaps in the team’s Oct. 5 win over Tampa Bay. McDaniels is a master at his craft, and of course, it doesn’t hurt to have Tom Brady as the quarterback. But it goes well beyond Brady, as McDaniels has had two stints as the offensive coordinator in New England (from 2006 to 2008 and 2012 until now). His experience shows on a weekly basis. — Mike Reiss
Head coach Sean Payton
Payton has handed over playcalling duties to his longtime offensive coordinator, Pete Carmichael Jr., in the past, but he keeps being drawn back to the gig. “I think sometimes if I’m not calling plays, I just feel like I don’t have a microphone in my hand,” Payton said. The Saints have had one of the NFL’s all-time great passing attacks under Payton, who is known for his aggressiveness and for how many formations and personnel groupings he throws at teams until he finds mismatches to exploit. But he’s also showing off his versatility like never before this season, calling 50 percent run plays during the team’s seven-game win streak. — Mike Triplett
Offensive coordinator Scott Linehan
Linehan has been the playcaller in Dallas since 2014, adopting the offense coach Jason Garrett has had in place since 2007. Linehan had immediate success with Tony Romo in 2014, who had his best season while Dez Bryant led the NFL in touchdown catches and DeMarco Murray led the league in rushing. But the offense fell apart in 2015, with Romo out for 12 games, before rebounding last year with Linehan leading rookie quarterback Dak Prescott and running back Ezekiel Elliott. The Cowboys scored at least 28 points in five straight games before last week’s loss to Atlanta, their first game without Elliott. How they adapt in Elliott’s absence over the next five games will tell the story of their season. — Todd Archer
Head coach Doug Pederson
A disciple of Andy Reid, Pederson’s playbook — like Kansas City’s — blends West Coast principles with spread concepts from the college level. He gained some playcalling experience as offensive coordinator of the Chiefs from 2013 to 2015 but did not assume full duties until he became the Eagles’ head coach last season. Tight end Brent Celek described Pederson as “a freakin’ phenomenal playcaller” for his ability to keep opposing defenses off-balance. — Tim McManus
Head coach Andy Reid
Reid has called the plays for many of his 19 head-coaching seasons after learning the craft from Mike Holmgren when they were with the Packers. Reid generally does a solid job calling plays. When he joined the Chiefs in 2013, he wanted to shed the personnel duties he had taken on in his later seasons with the Eagles so he could spend more time on things such as playcalling. — Adam Teicher
Offensive coordinator Steve Sarkisian
The former Washington and USC coach is a first-time NFL playcaller with the Falcons, though he called plays plenty at the collegiate level. Sarkisian played and coached under Norm Chow, the former BYU and USC playcaller who was the Titans’ offensive coordinator from 2005 to 2007. Sarkisian, who succeeded current 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan in Atlanta, inherited last season’s top scoring offense, at 33.8 points per game. The Falcons have dipped to 15th in scoring, at 21.9 points per contest, but Sarkisian still has some of the league’s best offensive personnel — when healthy — with All-Pro wide receiver Julio Jones, reigning MVP Matt Ryan and two-time Pro Bowl running Devonta Freeman, among others. — Vaughn McClure
Offensive coordinator Todd Downing
The first-year offensive coordinator was promoted from quarterbacks coach and has had an uneven go of it thus far. The Raiders essentially let Bill Musgrave walk for fear of losing Downing, who said he would not fix what was not broken from the NFL’s sixth-ranked total offense of 2016. But Oakland is currently 22nd in the league, and Downing has been criticized for conservative playcalling. Still, Derek Carr has seemed content to throw quick out passes rather than take deep shots with aplomb. Silver chicken or black egg? Like I said, it has been … uneven. — Paul Gutierrez
Head coach Sean McVay
The first-year head coach began calling offensive plays for the Redskins in 2015, at 29 years old, and his track record is sterling. Over the past two years, McVay elevated Kirk Cousins into one of the game’s better quarterbacks while presiding over one of the NFL’s most efficient passing offenses. This year he has been a miracle-worker, taking the Rams from last to first in scoring through the first 10 weeks. McVay was heavily influenced by Jon and Jay Gruden as well as Mike and Kyle Shanahan. It’s evident in the way his offense functions. — Alden Gonzalez
Head coach Mike McCarthy
Except for 12 games during the 2015 season, the Packers head coach has called the offensive plays since he was hired in 2006. He gave the job up after the 2014 NFC title game in order to spend more time with the defense and special teams but decided to take it back, saying he would always call plays as long as he’s a head coach. McCarthy first called plays in 2000, when he was hired as the Saints’ offensive coordinator. — Rob Demovsky
Offensive coordinator Todd Haley
Haley is in his sixth season with the Steelers, who have been among the NFL’s most explosive offenses during his tenure. He comes from the Bill Parcells’ coaching tree and has head-coaching experience with the Chiefs from 2009 to 2011. Haley has helped Ben Roethlisberger become a quick-strike passer from the pocket, though the Steelers have struggled to execute in the red zone this season, ranking 19th in scoring offense at 20.8 points per game. — Jeremy Fowler
Head coach Jay Gruden
Gruden was hired because of his offensive prowess and planned to call plays his first season in Washington (2014). But he scrapped those plans and let then-offensive coordinator Sean McVay call the plays after having him do so that first preseason. But Gruden was always on the headset and shaped the game plan. He also called plays for three years in Cincinnati as the offensive coordinator, where he helped Andy Dalton have success his first three years in the NFL. Gruden returned to calling plays this season, with McVay now in L.A. with the Rams. Gruden has shown a stronger commitment to the run than McVay did the previous two years and would like more downfield shots. That’s why the Redskins made a late push to re-sign DeSean Jackson. Gruden’s playcalling, of course, was shaped by his brother Jon. — John Keim
Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell
Bevell has been calling plays for the Seahawks since he was hired as the offensive coordinator in 2011, bringing to Seattle the experience from doing so in the same role for Minnesota from 2006 to 2010. Bevell is an indirect disciple of Mike Holmgren, having worked under Mike Sherman in Green Bay and Brad Childress in Minnesota. Bevell couldn’t win with Seahawks fans even before Seattle’s epic goal-line flub at the end of Super Bowl XLIX, but he has been much better than his harshest critics would suggest. Those continually calling for his job don’t seem to realize that three of the five highest-scoring seasons in franchise history — 2012, 2013 and 2015 — came under his watch. — Brady Henderson
Offensive coordinator Pat Shurmur
The Vikings went from the bottom of the league to a top 10 offense since Shurmur took over coordinator duties following Norv Turner’s resignation last November. A product of the Bill Walsh-Mike Holmgren coaching tree, Shurmur inherited an offense built around a vertical attack and implemented principles of a West Coast scheme. He’s a tremendous playcaller and gets creative with the use of his extensive playbook to draw upon the strengths of his personnel. The Vikings rank ninth in yards and 10th in points per game. Shurmur has played a big role in rebuilding the O-line and its zone-blocking scheme and has been able to capitalize on Case Keenum‘s strengths to get the most out of the backup QB. Shurmur’s success this season raises the question of whether he’ll be offered another head-coaching opportunity soon. He was the Browns’ head coach from 2011 to 2012 and the Eagles’ interim coach in the 2015 season. — Courtney Cronin
Offensive coordinator Mike Shula
The son of legendary Dolphins coach Don Shula has been calling the plays since the start of the 2013 season, when he was promoted to offensive coordinator. He gets a lot of blame when things go badly because of his sometimes conservative approach, but how he has done in adjusting to the read-option of Cam Newton, a scheme he never experienced prior to coming to Carolina, shows what some at times call his “genius.” Under Shula’s guidance, the Panthers ranked No. 1 in the NFL in scoring in 2015 when they went to the Super Bowl. Shula helped Newton become the league MVP that season and Greg Olsen the first tight end in NFL history to have three straight 1,000-yard receiving seasons. Now Shula is adjusting again to utilize the multi-faceted Christian McCaffrey. He’s highly underrated but excellent at getting the most out of what he’s given, something his dad was brilliant at doing. — David Newton
Head coach Dirk Koetter
Koetter arrived in Tampa Bay in 2015, when he came in as Lovie Smith’s offensive coordinator. Koetter’s offenses in Tampa have moved the ball well — they’re currently third in the league, with 262.4 passing yards per game — but they struggle to score, averaging 17.67 offensive points per game, 22nd in the league. That has been an issue for three seasons now. Koetter has been contemplating giving up playcalling duties to focus more on his role as a head coach. He’s part of the Jack Del Rio and Mike Smith coaching trees and has been influenced by Sean Payton, Brian Billick, longtime friend Andy Reid and his father, Jim Koetter. Koetter’s systems have evolved over the years, but in Tampa, it’s a run-first offense that uses multi-level routes and is predicated on play-action and explosive plays downfield. — Jenna Laine
Offensive coordinator Ken Whisenhunt
Whisenhunt returned to the Chargers in 2016 after being let go as the Titans’ head coach, and he resumed the offensive coordinator duties he had in 2013 when Mike McCoy took over as the head coach. Whisenhunt chose to stay when the Bolts hired Anthony Lynn as the team’s head coach in January after letting McCoy go. Whisenhunt has a good relationship with quarterback Philip Rivers, but the Chargers have struggled to merge the previous regime’s passing game concepts with Lynn’s run-first approach. — Eric D. Williams
Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett
Hackett is in his first full season calling plays for the Jaguars, but he has experience calling plays for two seasons under coach Doug Marrone in Buffalo from 2013 to 2014. He has brought more of a balance to the Jaguars’ offense — they rank first in rushing and sixth in total offense — and has been very good for QB Blake Bortles, who has been much better in terms of not forcing throws or throwing the ball away. Hackett also worked under Marrone at Syracuse for three seasons and called plays for two. He took over as the Jaguars’ offensive coordinator midway through last season after coach Gus Bradley fired Greg Olson. — Michael DiRocco
Offensive coordinator Jim Bob Cooter
The Tom Moore-Jim Caldwell disciple has been calling plays since the middle of the 2015 season, when he was elevated from quarterbacks coach to coordinator after the firing of Joe Lombardi following a 1-6 start. Cooter has had mixed reviews throughout his tenure. His playcalling has helped turn Matthew Stafford into a top-10 quarterback, and he has shown bursts of innovation, creative play design and personnel usage. But the issues have come in a continually stagnant running game and predictability of run or pass — and where the ball is going — based on personnel that is in the game. At age 33, though, he’s one of the youngest coordinators in the game and is still learning. — Michael Rothstein
Offensive coordinator Terry Robiskie
The Titans’ offense largely draws from elements that offensive-minded coach Mike Mularkey picked up in Pittsburgh, Buffalo and Atlanta. Robiskie has received mixed reviews, with most of his critics citing the old-school, run-heavy nature of Tennessee’s offense. His offense has shown spurts of creativity with different formations, plays and use of diverse playmakers, such as cornerback Adoree’ Jackson, to exploit defenses. He received a shoutout from Bengals cornerback Dre Kirkpatrick on Sunday: “They were doing different s— the whole game. I’m going to tip my hat to their offensive coordinator. I thought Pittsburgh was bad, but those guys had a lot of plays, a lot of formations.” Robiskie has called the Titans plays the past two seasons. He also had a playcalling stint in 2004 with Cleveland. Robiskie coached under Mike Shanahan, Art Shell and Norv Turner. He played under John Madden, Tom Flores and Don Shula. — Cameron Wolfe
Head coach Bill O’Brien
After the offense struggled in 2016, the Texans’ coach took over offensive playcalling. With quarterback Deshaun Watson under center, O’Brien was able to unlock a new part of his playbook thanks to the rookie’s mobility. Several players noted how creative O’Brien’s playcalling became with Watson. Since the rookie tore his ACL in practice on Nov. 2, the Texans’ offense has gone back to its previous state and has scored only 14 points in two games with Tom Savage at quarterback. — Sarah Barshop
Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan
Sullivan took over playcalling duties from coach Ben McAdoo in Week 6. It was a big move, as McAdoo was reluctant to hand over the job until the Giants reached 0-5. The offense has been more diverse than it was in the past, but that’s in part because the Giants are short-handed at wide receiver, limiting what Sullivan can do with this group. Sullivan had past experience as the coordinator in Tampa Bay from 2012 to 2013. — Jordan Raanan
Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison
This is Dennison’s first season with the Bills but his fourth stint as an offensive coordinator, having held that title for the Broncos (2006-08), Texans (2010-13) and Broncos (2015-16). This is the first time Dennison is primarily responsible for calling plays, having previously shared those duties with Jeremy Bates under Mike Shanahan during his first stint in Denver and then with Gary Kubiak with the Texans and again in Denver. Dennison has been the subject of some fans’ ire this season for using a zone-based blocking scheme that has been seen as part of the problem behind the Bills’ dropping from a league-leading 5.35 yards per carry last season to 3.79 this season, 24th in the NFL. Dennison and quarterback Tyrod Taylor have also yet to find much success in the passing game, where Buffalo ranks 30th in yards per game (180.4). In Dennison’s defense, he has been tasked with integrating two receivers — Jordan Matthews and Kelvin Benjamin — who were acquired via trades since August into the offense on the fly. — Mike Rodak
Offensive coordinator Bill Lazor
The former quarterbacks coach replaced Ken Zampese as offensive coordinator after the Bengals’ 0-2 start. The Bengals haven’t been the same offensively since former coordinator Hue Jackson left to be the Browns’ head coach last season. Lazor’s top priority was to get the ball to A.J. Green, who uncharacteristically expressed his unhappiness after a Week 2 loss. Initial success in that regard has been followed by inconsistencies and disappointment for an offense that has regressed. — ESPN.com staff
Offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg
Since replacing Marc Trestman in the middle of last season, Mornhinweg hasn’t been able to get Joe Flacco or the Ravens’ offense on track. In 20 games with Mornhinweg, Baltimore has scored one or no offensive touchdowns eight times. Coach John Harbaugh has refused to put all the blame on Mornhinweg. “I think anytime you try to pin the blame on any one person in a team sport like this, that’s always going to be a mistake. That’s nonsensical,” Harbaugh said last month. “It just doesn’t work that way. But I understand that’s how it works. We all understand that.” Mornhinweg has past experience as a coordinator, including stints with the 49ers (1997-2000), Eagles (2006-2012) and Jets (2013-2014). — Jamison Hensley
Head coach Adam Gase
Gase has called plays for three teams, beginning in 2013 as offensive coordinator for the Broncos. His best strength is his knack for adjusting his offense around varying quarterbacks. He has had success with Tim Tebow, future Hall of Famer Peyton Manning, Jay Cutler and Ryan Tannehill. Only Cutler hasn’t made the playoffs to date under Gase. Miami’s offense has been up-and-down this season, but much of that has to do with issues on the offensive line. — James Walker
Offensive coordinator Mike McCoy
McCoy is in his second stint as the Broncos’ offensive coordinator — he had the job from 2009 to 2012 — and since a 42-17 victory over the Cowboys in Week 2, Denver has averaged just 14.3 points per game in its past seven outings and is tied for the second-fewest touchdowns scored (17) in the league, with two of those coming from the Broncos’ defense. They had particular trouble working out of the three-wide-receiver set — their preferred look when they’ve been forced into pass-first mode — as defenses have turned their coverages toward Demaryius Thomas and Emmanuel Sanders because the Broncos haven’t protected the QB well. — Jeff Legwold
Offensive coordinator John Morton
A disciple of Jon Gruden and Jim Harbaugh, Morton is a first-time coordinator at the NFL level. In fact, the Jets were the first team to show any interest in Morton, 48, who is doing a nice job under less-than-ideal circumstances. His short-passing scheme has been a huge plus for Josh McCown, who is having a career year. Despite not having any game-breakers at the skill positions, the Jets are 21st in points per game, better than many anticipated. Morton can get pass-happy at times, but his overall approach is sound. — Rich Cimini
Head coach Bruce Arians
Arians has been calling plays for most, if not all, of his adult life, including the five years he has been in Arizona, and he has had mixed results since 2013 with his vertical passing game that thrives on the deep ball. In 2015, the Cardinals set six franchise records while tallying the most yards in the NFL and second-most points. But over the past two seasons, Arians’ scheme has begun to falter and is on pace for the fewest points and second-fewest yards under Arians, in large part because of injuries to quarterback Carson Palmer and running back David Johnson, among others, but also because defenses began figuring out last season how to contain Arians’ down-field scheme. — Josh Weinfuss
Head coach Hue Jackson
The head coach called plays successfully in Oakland as a head coach in 2011 and in Cincinnati as an offensive coordinator from 2014 to 2015. Jackson’s issues haven’t been as much with the playcalling as with the players running the plays. The roster lacks not only playmakers but also the basic needs of a competitive team. — Pat McManamon
Offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski
Chudzinski replaced Pep Hamilton as the offensive coordinator in Week 8 of the 2015 season. A former coordinator in Cleveland and Carolina — as well as a one-year head coach for the Browns in 2013 — Chudzinski likes to use two-tight-end or three-receiver sets. It isn’t surprising that he puts a heavy emphasis on tight ends because he played the position at the University of Miami and he has coached that position a number of different times in his career. The Colts aren’t the same offensive team without quarterback Andrew Luck, who will miss the entire season due to a right shoulder injury. They’re currently ranked 19th in the NFL in total offense with Jacoby Brissett at QB. The Colts were ranked 10th in that category last season when Luck started 15 of 16 games. — Mike Wells
Head coach Kyle Shanahan
Shanahan has been calling plays for NFL offenses since he became Houston’s offensive coordinator in 2008, though he’s now in his first year doing so as a head coach. He is known as one of the best offensive architects in the league, but sometimes it has taken a year or so for those units to get the hang of his scheme. The Niners are no exception, and in addition to their need for more understanding of Shanahan’s system, they’re in serious need of a talent infusion. Adding quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo could be a big step in getting the offense going, though it will probably take at least another offseason of adding help on the interior of the line and at the skill positions before Shanahan’s group can take a big step forward. — Nick Wagoner
Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains
Loggains is in his second year as Bears offensive coordinator after spending parts of the 2012 and 2013 seasons calling plays in Tennessee. He isn’t nearly as accomplished as predecessor Adam Gase — now the head coach of the Dolphins — but Chicago doesn’t have many weapons on offense, particularly at wide receiver. Plus, Loggains is attempting to coach up rookie quarterback Mitchell Trubisky, who started just 13 games in college before the Bears selected him second overall in the 2017 draft. But the NFL is a performance-based business. The Bears rank 29th in points per game (16.7) and total offense (291.6). Loggains, along with coach John Fox, is definitely on the hot seat as Chicago approaches its final seven games of 2017. — Jeff Dickerson
Robert Griffin III says he wants to play for the Texans, help Deshaun Watson
Robert Griffin III last played in an NFL regular season game in Week 17 of the 2016 season. The Browns released him in the offseason and there has been little interest in his services in the months since. Now, more than two months into the 2017 season, Griffin is again looking to get back into the league.
“Deshaun’s an incredible player with a really bright future,” Griffin told the Houston Chronicle‘s John McClain. “I feel like I could help him after my experiences with Washington and Cleveland. I feel like I could help the team. I know a lot of their guys. I think I can do a lot of things they’ve been doing offensively. Texas is home, and I’ve always got a soft spot in my heart for Texas.”
Griffin starred at Baylor before the Redskins drafted him second overall in 2012. He started 15 games as a rookie and led the team to seven straight wins, a division title and a playoff berth. But Griffin suffered a knee injury in the wild-card matchup against the Seahawks that derailed his career. He was a shell of himself in 2013, and played in just nine games in 2014 and by 2015 as Kirk Cousins grabbed ahold of the starting job in Washington. Griffin signed with the Browns before the 2016 season but injuries and inconsistency plagued him in Cleveland too.
So Griffin waits. And while he does, he continues to work out.
“I’m training and making sure I stay sharp,” he said. “I’m not only staying in shape, but I’m working to get better in the film room, too. When my number’s called, I’ll be ready.”
In May, Griffin’s former offensive coordinator in Washington, Kyle Shanahan — who is now the 49ers’ head coach — explained why the quarterback is having trouble finding work.
“You’ve got to make sure you tailor an offense that fits his skill set,” Shanahan said of Griffin, during an appearance on the Rich Eisen Show. “I look into all of that and I think one thing that’s tough when a guy’s not your for-sure starter, you need to put in a certain offense to give this guy a chance to be successful.
“That’s tough to do when a guy’s not your for-sure starter because it’s not just about him. It’s about the O-line, it’s about the running backs, it’s about the receivers and it’s certainly tough to design an offense around a quarterback when he’s competing to be your backup — if it’s different than the rest of the (personnel).”
Griffin, who is now 27, expects to get another chance. And when it comes, he’ll be ready.
“I definitely believe it,” he said. “That’s what you work for. You work to get that opportunity so you can put your best foot forward, and when that time comes, I’ll be ready to roll.”
Titans soaring entering matchup with Steelers (Nov 16, 2017)
PITTSBURGH — Two AFC playoff contenders will put their four-game winning streaks on the line when the Tennessee Titans visit the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday night at Heinz Field.
Pittsburgh (7-2) has built a three-game lead over the Baltimore Ravens in the AFC North as it aims for a fourth consecutive playoff appearance. The Steelers are 2-1 at home this season.
Meanwhile, Tennessee (6-3) is even with the Jacksonville Jaguars atop the AFC South. A victory away from home would significantly boost the Titans’ chances of snapping an eight-season playoff drought. Tennessee is 2-2 on the road this season as it prepares for a game on three days’ rest.
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“It’s a short week for both teams,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey told reporters this week. “Both teams will be well prepared in the short time. We’ve done this before.”
A spate of injuries, combined with a condensed practice schedule, will add to Tennessee’s challenge. Quarterback Marcus Mariota (1,783 passing yards, seven touchdowns, six interceptions) is battling ankle and shoulder injuries but expects to play through the pain. The third-year signal-caller never has faced the Steelers.
If Mariota is limited, the Titans could lean on a two-pronged rushing attack featuring DeMarco Murray (433 yards, four TDs) and Derrick Henry (409 yards, three TDs). Wideout Rishard Matthews (36 receptions, 513 yards, two TDs) offers the most reliable option downfield in the passing game.
For Pittsburgh, quarterback Ben Roethlisberger (2,298 yards, 12 TDs, 10 INTs) could climb even higher up the all-time record books with a strong performance. The 35-year-old ranks No. 9 in NFL history with 49,112 passing yards, and he needs 214 yards to pass Warren Moon (49,325 yards) for No. 8 on the list.
Roethlisberger has no shortage of playmakers on the field. Running back Le’Veon Bell has 1,091 yards from scrimmage (840 rushing, 251 receiving) to lead the NFL entering Week 11. Pro Bowl wide receiver Antonio Brown (60 receptions, 882 yards, three TDs) and rookie sensation JuJu Smith-Schuster (29 receptions, 521 yards, five TDs) have the ability to find the end zone on any given play. Smith-Schuster has caught a touchdown pass in each of his last three games and will try to stretch it to four on Thursday.
Bell has exceeded 1,000 yards from scrimmage four times in his career, including each of the past two seasons. He has notched at least 100 yards from scrimmage in 36 career games for Pittsburgh.
On defense, veteran linebackers Derrick Morgan (five sacks) and Brian Orakpo (three forced fumbles) set the tone for the Titans. Free safety Kevin Byard leads the NFL with six interceptions.
Pittsburgh is led by defensive end Cameron Heyward and linebacker Vince Williams, who have five sacks apiece. Linebacker Ryan Shazier has shined with three interceptions and two forced fumbles.
The Steelers rank No. 10 in total offense and No. 18 in scoring with an average of 20.8 points per game. They meet a Titans group that ranks 17th in total defense and No. 23 with 23.7 points allowed per game.
On the opposite side of the ball, Tennessee’s offense is No. 19 with 328.7 yards a game. They will face a Steelers unit that boasts the No. 2 total defense and scoring defense (16.4 points allowed per game).
“Their pass defense is their rush — you have to block these guys,” Mularkey told reporters this week. “They have a complicated scheme like we do. We have our hands full.”
The Steelers will be without veteran cornerback Joe Haden, who broke his fibula last week in a win over Indianapolis. Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh will make his first start of the season in place of Haden.
“We’ll do a great job of rallying around Coty Sensabaugh and helping him prepare, and we look forward to him doing the job,” Steelers coach Mike Tomlin told the team’s official website. “I know (Haden’s) injury will get a lot of attention and rightfully so, because Joe is a significant component for us and a new guy, plus he’s been playing well, but injuries are very much a part of the game.
“We’ve dealt with them all year, and we’ll deal with this one the same.”
This marks the first meeting between the teams since Nov. 17, 2014. The Steelers won that game 27-24.