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Robert Griffin III fit Ravens’ need: inexpensive insurance policy – Baltimore Ravens Blog

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OWINGS MILLS, Md. — The Baltimore Ravens delivered the most surprising NFL news on Wednesday, when they announced a one-year agreement with quarterback Robert Griffin III.

But this move shouldn’t come as that much of a shock. The Ravens have been looking for an inexpensive but experienced insurance policy at quarterback this offseason, and Griffin fits that profile as well as anyone remaining in free agency.

“I’m really feeling like we got a steal,” coach John Harbaugh said.

Harbaugh has a point when looking at the alternatives. Some 22 quarterbacks have signed in the first three weeks of free agency, including the likes of David Fales, Tyler Bray and Matt McGloin.

Who’s left? Matt Cassel, Mark Sanchez, Austin Davis and Derek Anderson are among those unsigned. Colin Kaepernick would’ve been another option because he was out of the league last season, like Griffin. But Kaepernick carries more baggage: He is currently involved in a collusion lawsuit against the NFL, and last summer his girlfriend posted a tweet deemed “racist” by Hall of Fame linebacker Ray Lewis, who was featured with Ravens owner Steve Bisciotti in the post.

All of a sudden, the addition of Griffin, 28, isn’t so off the wall when looking at the current quarterback landscape. Griffin is a strong-armed quarterback who can make plays with his feet. He has some semblance of a track record, particularly early in his career. The knocks on him have been his inability to stay healthy and a reputation for not being able to read defenses.

With limited cap space, Baltimore had limited choices when looking for a veteran passer. Harbaugh made the point last week that the team couldn’t spend $3 million on a backup, and even suggested that practice-squad quarterback Josh Woodrum could serve as the No. 2. It just would’ve been too much of a gamble to give that job to Woodrum, who has never thrown a regular-season pass.

There’s also no guarantee that Griffin is on Baltimore’s regular-season roster. The Ravens have repeatedly talked about wanting to develop a young passer, and they continued to rave about the depth of this year’s quarterback class. Assistant general manager Eric DeCosta believes eight to 10 quarterbacks in this draft could become starters by the time their rookie deals are over.

If the Ravens select a quarterback in the second or third round, Baltimore could decide to go with a rookie as the primary backup and cut Griffin at the end of the preseason. The Ravens made Tyrod Taylor their No. 2 quarterback in 2011 after drafting him in the sixth round.

Given how fast quarterbacks fly off the board, Baltimore understands there’s no guarantee the team will get a young passer in this draft. The Ravens haven’t drafted a quarterback the past three years.

Even if the Ravens draft a quarterback, they would still need a fallback plan if the rookie struggles in training camp and the preseason, proving he’s not ready to be the backup right away. This is why Baltimore needed to sign someone like Griffin.

The Ravens’ backup situation has been far from stellar in recent years. Ryan Mallett, who threw five interceptions during one training-camp practice last year, has yet to draw any interest in free agency.

With Joe Flacco‘s recent injuries and struggles, the Ravens probably would’ve preferred to sign someone more proven like Chase Daniel, Chad Henne or Drew Stanton. But they all signed deals that averaged better than $3 million per season.

Baltimore didn’t have that luxury, needing to use its cap space to revamp the wide receiver group. The signing of Griffin should be considered one that comes with minimal risks and minimal expectations.

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Rams DPOY candidate Aaron Donald to welcome Tua Tagavailoa to NFL – Los Angeles Rams Blog

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THOUSAND OAKS, Calif. — Aaron Donald knocked over Dallas Cowboys linemen as if they were bowling pins. He sprinted past the Buffalo Bills‘ line to take down quarterback Josh Allen twice. Then Donald ruined Alex Smith‘s return to football when he sacked the Washington quarterback three times after taking down Kyle Allen once.

“Aaron Donald is a freak,” Rams coach Sean McVay said.

That might be an understatement about the Los Angeles Rams defensive tackle, who continues to wreak havoc in his seventh season and is making a case to win a third NFL Defensive Player of the Year award.

“It’s kind of outrageous,” outside linebacker Leonard Floyd said of Donald’s on-field exploits, particularly his four-sack performance against Washington. “I don’t think anybody can top that.”

Next up for the 5-2 Rams and Donald? The 3-3 Miami Dolphins and rookie quarterback Tua Tagovailoa, who will make his first career start Sunday.

“You go about it just like every other week,” Donald said of facing the rookie quarterback. “They are starting him for a reason, so we’re going to go into the game with the mindset that we’ve just got to go out there and do our job, just like every other week.”

That should stoke some fear in Tagovailoa, who will be protected by an offensive line that has the third-worst pass block win rate in the league at 47.5%.

But Donald says getting into the backfield is the only way to make the rookie feel intimidated.

“The only way you can do that is putting pressure on them, getting to him, hitting him, not letting him be comfortable back there,” said Donald, who has 5½ sacks in five career games against rookie starting quarterbacks. “So, if we do that up front, not just because he’s a rookie quarterback, that’s with any quarterback, you get to him.”

Donald is tied for the NFL lead, along with Cleveland Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, with 26 pressures. He ranks second behind Garrett with eight sacks (Garrett has nine).

Last Monday in a 24-10 win over the Chicago Bears, Donald had a season-high seven pressures against quarterback Nick Foles, assisting in a 20-pressure effort by the Rams, which is tied for their most in a game over the past two seasons.

But first-year defensive coordinator Brandon Staley points to Donald’s other contributions — those that don’t show up on the individual stat sheet — as some of his most important.

“He does so much to help us win in the run game, in the pass game, the way we can move him around,” Staley said. “He’s not a guy that just lines up in one spot, he can line up all over the formation. The thing about a guy like him that I think is unique is he has all the individual production, but then you have to factor in the production that he creates for other players, too.”

The Rams’ defense ranks among the best in the league through seven games, giving up an average of 313 yards (ranks sixth) and 17.7 points (second) per game. They have 24 sacks (tied for third) and a pass rush win rate of 47.6% (sixth).

Floyd joined the Rams over the offseason on a one-year, $10 million contract after the Bears released him before his fifth year due to a lack of production.

In seven starts, Floyd has four sacks and 19 pressures, putting him on pace for a career-best season, in part because of the attention Donald attracts.

“It’s been great playing with him,” Floyd said. “He’s a force on the inside and he’s been making it easier for us on the outside.”

Donald said he wasn’t worried about winning Defensive Player of the Year: “The only thing I didn’t accomplish, I feel like, is a Super Bowl, so that’s my only thing, is trying to do everything I can to help this team to win and get back to the Super Bowl and this time win it.”

But when asked if he would like to join the elite company of Lawrence Taylor and J.J. Watt as only the third player to earn the honor three times, Donald grinned and then chuckled uncomfortably.

“I’m just going week to week,” Donald said. “And I’m just going to play ball and try to win games.”

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How Dolphins can keep Aaron Donald from wrecking Tua Tagovailoa’s debut – Miami Dolphins Blog

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DAVIE, Fla. — Imagine having two-time Defensive Player of the Year Aaron Donald being the first challenge of your NFL career. Welcome to the league, Tua Tagovailoa.

When the Miami Dolphins host the Los Angeles Rams on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, Fox), the defensive tackle will be out to turn Tagovailoa’s feel-good story into a nightmare.

The Dolphins’ top priority this week is to protect their first-round pick and allow his teammates to carry some of the mounting pressure that is building given the circumstances of his promotion (Ryan Fitzpatrick goes to the bench) and the strong play of fellow 2020 first-round quarterbacks Joe Burrow (Cincinnati Bengals) and Justin Herbert (Los Angeles Chargers).

Tagovailoa is making his first start since suffering a hip injury on Nov. 16, 2019, while at Alabama. The Dolphins have a plan to keep him upright, but if stopping Donald from wrecking a game was so easy, every team would do it.

Through conversations with Dolphins players and coaches, combined with statistics and analysis, ESPN has identified three areas Miami should focus on to protect Tagovailoa.

Identify 99

Dolphins offensive coordinator Chan Gailey said one of the most important elements of facing Donald is identifying him before the snap on every play. Expect Tagovailoa, center Ted Karras or both to point out where Donald is on any given play so they can send double- teams his way or audible plays away from him.

“Is he lining up on the left or the right? Is he lining up on the tackle or on the guard,” Gailey said. “You want to know where he is, and you want to scheme some things to help out whoever’s got him.”

Added Karras: “Obviously, [Donald is] the premier player of the NFL on defense, and the plan is we’ve got to have sound fundamentals and technique and give our best effort, and obviously preparing in the week is a big part of that. … We’re going to have to perform our best when it counts the most.”

The problem is Donald had a season-high nine pass-rush wins on Monday against the Chicago Bears, including five against double teams. It’s the second time this season he has had five pass-rush wins versus double-teams, more than the rest of the NFL combined.

Donald is tied with Cleveland’s Myles Garrett for the most pressures (26) in the NFL this season, recording a season-high seven pressures Monday. He’s doing this despite being doubled on 68% of his pass-rush snaps, the fifth-highest rate in the league.

So the Dolphins will double him often, and it might help in neutralizing him, but that alone has rarely stopped him. Plus, it will create opportunities for the Rams’ other talented defensive linemen such as Leonard Floyd and Michael Brockers.

One Mississippi, two Mississippi

The Dolphins’ offensive line is much improved from 2019 when it was arguably the worst group in football, but that doesn’t mean the problem has been fully solved. Fitzpatrick did well to help cover some deficiencies by getting the ball out quickly — he averaged 2.41 seconds time to throw, good for third-fastest in the NFL.

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Legendary pass rushers, including Jared Allen and Bruce Smith, analyze what makes Rams defensive tackle Aaron Donald such a disruptive force.

Tagovailoa was one of college football’s best decision-makers, and he often excelled when forced into quick decisions, so he should transition better than most rookies. But NFL speed is different than in college, and it’s hard to get a feel for that through practices and watching film. How long it takes Tagovailoa to understand that speed difference will be important, and he’ll want to be as close to Fitzpatrick’s time to throw as possible.

“In practice, Tua’s done a good job of that, but we’ll see how it shows up in the game,” Dolphins coach Brian Flores said.

The Dolphins rank 30th (48%) in pass block win rate, an ESPN metric using NFL Next Gen Stats. Tagovailoa, a left-hander, has two rookie offensive linemen — right guard Solomon Kindley and right tackle Robert Hunt — protecting his blind side. Both have shown promise, but they are learning, and this offensive line is not a finished product. Expect the Rams and other defenses to send extra pressure, blitzes and exotic looks in hopes of confusing the rookie.

“We’ll all have to do our jobs and set at the same level, and kind of keep what we’ve been doing and don’t freak out when [Donald is] over you,” left tackle Jesse Davis said. “I think we’ve done a really good job of passing stuff off and talking, and that’s what will have to be heightened this game. It will be a fun matchup.”

One way Miami can combat extra pressure is to keep a tight end or running back in pass protection. Another is for Tagovailoa to get the ball out quickly to the first or second read on a progression. It’s well-documented Tagovailoa loves throwing the slant route, or a quick pass, so that’s a good start.

The Rams have the NFL’s second-ranked scoring defense (17.7 points per game) and allow the fewest yards per quarterback dropback (5.5), but their pass defense isn’t just about getting pressure. Cornerback Jalen Ramsey leads a strong secondary ready to take advantage of tendencies.

Cause conflict

Some of what makes Tagovailoa’s debut exciting is the unknown of what new possibilities he can bring to the offense, and the most obvious one is how Tagovailoa will use his athleticism as a weapon.

He was one of college football’s best quarterbacks using run-pass options (RPOs), and the expectation is the Dolphins will use more of that when the packages are fully established. When they do, it figures to open up the Dolphins’ playmakers for one-on-one opportunities while keeping defenses off-balance.

“It puts you in conflict. They’re reading basically the run [defender], and if the run [defender] plays run, they throw a pass. So if the run player plays a pass, they run it,” Flores said. “We really haven’t done much of that this season, so I think it’s — a couple days of practice, it’s hard to put something in like that.”

Per ESPN Stats & Information research, Tagovailoa’s 90.8 QBR on RPO plays from 2018 to 2019 at Alabama was third in the nation over that span among quarterbacks with at least 50 such attempts.

If the Dolphins have a few RPOs prepped and ready, this would be the perfect week to unleash them. Screens and play-action throws are other options the Dolphins can use to create conflict for the Rams. As Tagovailoa and Gailey grow more comfortable together, RPOs are likely to be a notable part of the offense in the future.

It’s Tua Time in Miami, and nothing is more important than protecting the franchise QB. It starts Sunday.

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New York Giants RB Saquon Barkley finally has surgery on torn ACL

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New York Giants running back Saquon Barkley underwent surgery Friday in Los Angeles to repair the torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee.

“Surgery was a success,” Barkley’s mother, Tonya Johnson, wrote in an Instagram post that included a picture of her son in a hospital bed.

Barkley is expected to make a full recovery and, with almost 11 months to get back to full strength, be ready for the start of next season. The surgery took place 40 days after the injury occurred in a Week 2 loss to the Chicago Bears.

The procedure Friday was expected to reconstruct the ACL and repair the meniscus in the right knee. Barkley also injured his MCL, but that was not believed to need surgical repair.

Barkley and the Giants were waiting for the swelling to come down before having the surgery. This isn’t uncommon when there is also some sort of MCL damage. It also provided Barkley an opportunity to strengthen the knee before the operation.

Still, Barkley had to work around Dr. Neal ElAttrache’s busy schedule. ElAttrache, the surgeon and team physician for the Los Angeles Dodgers and Los Angeles Rams, was in the World Series bubble up until earlier this week.

The Dodgers clinched the Series on Wednesday night.

Barkley was hurt on Sept. 20 in Chicago. He was running toward the sideline when Bears safety Eddie Jackson made the tackle. Barkley grabbed at the knee as he was headed to the ground.

Barkley was helped off the field and later carted to the locker room. He had four rushes for 28 yards before exiting. His season ended with 19 rushes for 34 yards and no touchdowns.

It was the second straight injury-ravaged season for the No. 2 overall pick in the 2018 NFL Draft. Barkley played 13 games and just barely topped 1,000 yards rushing last year as he dealt with a pesky high ankle sprain after winning Offensive Rookie of the Year in 2018.

Barkley remained around the team the past month despite being placed on injured reserve. He was present in meetings and even travelled with the team to road games in Los Angeles and Philadelphia.

Coach Joe Judge credited his leadership as a reason. Barkley was voted one of the team’s offensive captains earlier this year. A teammate told ESPN that Barkley was still being himself and “inspiring” despite the injury stripping him of the ability to contribute on the field.

Barkley did make news last week when he was among a group of Giants and their friends that were seen on videotape in public without their masks and properly social distancing. Barkley was riding a bicycle in the Instagram videos that were since deleted, at one point dancing while popping a wheelie.

Judge said the situation would be handled internally.

“I’m not going to comment on anything specific on that. Saquon is out in LA readying for surgery,” Judge said earlier this week. “Actually, riding a stationary bike has been part of his rehab prepping for surgery. In terms of Saquon and where he’s at, I know he’s getting ready for the surgery right now. Obviously, our thoughts and prayers are with him.”



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