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From No. 27 to No. 1: Panthers on pace to challenge sacks record – Carolina Panthers Blog

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CHARLOTTE, N.C. — Linebacker Bruce Irvin was about to disappear for the bye weekend when told the Carolina Panthers with 27 sacks, an average of 4.5 sacks a game, are on pace to tie the NFL-single-season record of 72 set by the 1984 Chicago Bears.

“Seventy-two?” Irvin said with a smile. “We can get to 72.”

That would be a remarkable turnaround for a unit that finished 27th in the league with 35 sacks in 2018.

And it didn’t happen by accident.

It began with head coach Ron Rivera, who is more than familiar with what pressuring the quarterback means to a defense. He was a rookie with the 1984 Bears, who recorded an incredible 136 sacks in a two-year span under defensive coordinator Buddy Ryan and his famous 46 scheme.

That group, which won the Super Bowl in 1985, brought back the “Monsters of the Midway” nickname originally given to the 1940-41 Chicago defense.

Rivera is creating his own version of that with a mixture of schemes and pressures he learned from Ryan, former Philadelphia defensive coordinator Jim Johnson and former Chicago Bears head coach Lovie Smith.

“A lot of it has been influenced by those three,” Rivera said.

The blend of 3-4, 4-3, Tampa 2 and even a tad of Ryan’s 46 has created 27 sacks, including seven in Carolina’s last outing against Tampa Bay and 24 during a four-game winning streak after an 0-2 start.

The process began late last season, when Rivera took over the playcalling. It continued during the offseason when he began a transition from a base 4-3 to a 3-4 scheme, believing the defense had become somewhat predictable and stagnant after eight seasons.

The Panthers already have used 10 personnel groupings compared to six all of last season, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. They have gone with three defensive linemen, three linebackers and five defensive backs 30.9 percent of the time, compared to 7.25 percent in 2018, when they used four defensive linemen, two linebackers and five defensive backs 54.5 percent of the time.

To do this, Carolina had to add more speed, with players such as free agent Irvin and first-round pick Brian Burns to play outside linebacker and end, and Pro Bowler Gerald McCoy to play tackle and end.

It took a few games to mesh, but now that it has, the defense has become fun to watch. Almost as fun as watching Christian McCaffrey gain all those yards on offense.

“I can guaranteed you it’s lot more fun for us on the field,” Irvin said.

‘A great concept’

Hall of Fame middle linebacker Mike Singletary was considered the “heart and soul” of the Bears defense in much the way Luke Kuechly is for Carolina. Both are leaders and are solid against the run and in coverage.

Singletary doesn’t get into comparing past schemes with current ones, but does see one common trait between the ’84 Bears and 2019 Panthers beyond stopping the run and getting sacks.

“They’re having fun,” said Singletary, who is head coach of Trinity Christian Academy in Addison, Texas.

Hall of Fame coach Tony Dungy, who made the Tampa 2 scheme popular while coaching the Buccaneers and is now an analyst for NBC’s “Sunday Night Football,” sees the same thing.

“I love watching good defenses, and I’ve loved watching them this year,” he said. “What they’ve done is impressive.”

Former NFL defensive guru Rex Ryan, now an analyst for ESPN and Buddy Ryan’s son, isn’t ready to compare Carolina to his dad’s units that arguably were the best ever.

“That defense whipped you before you played them,” Ryan said of those Bears teams. “I mean, you were scared to death of that defense. … But anytime you start to get compared to those great defenses, that’s a helluva sign for you.”

Like the ’84 Bears, the Panthers are unpredictable.

Case in point: On Kuechly’s third-quarter interception against the Bucs, the formation was close to Ryan’s 46 with three down linemen, two outside linebackers and safety up front.

When defensive tackle/end Vernon Butler had consecutive strip sacks in the second quarter, Carolina had three down linemen and two outside linebackers up front on the first and four down linemen with one outside linebacker on the second.

“They’re more multiple than they’ve been,” Ryan said. “That makes it a lot harder to defend, but you better have a helluva lot better players than the opponent you’re facing if that’s going to be your mindset.”

That is Rivera’s mindset. That most of his players up front play multiple positions helps in that he’s able to keep quarterbacks and offensive linemen guessing.

“That gives teams a lot more to prepare for,” Singletary said. “It spreads them thin, because it’s not that much time in the week to work on everything.

“It’s a great concept. It has a chance to be special.”

Starts up front

Singletary has one thought every time he sees McCoy line up for the Panthers.

“What in the world was Tampa Bay thinking?” he said of the Bucs, who released the 31-year-old with 57 career sacks.

For Rivera, what the Bears did when he was a player and what the Panthers are doing now starts in the middle. He might not have Richard Dent, Steve McMichael and Dan Hampton, but he’s getting the most out of McCoy, Dontari Poe, Butler, Kyle Love, Mario Addison and others.

Addison, a player Ryan calls one of the most underrated in the league, is on pace for a career year with 6.5 sacks. Butler, who was inactive the first two games, has three sacks after having only two in his first three seasons. Burns, the 16th pick of the draft, has 4.5 sacks. Twelve players have half a sack or more.

“It’s not just one guy who has 10 sacks,” Ryan said. “They’re feeding off each other.”

It all starts with the inside push that is allowing the speed off the edge to have an impact.

“Their front four is playing well, and that allows that back seven to flow and do things,” Dungy said.

The Panthers had five interceptions against Tampa Bay largely because of pressure. They have nine on the season after having only 13 last season. They also have six fumble recoveries after having only nine in 2018.

“When you turn the dogs loose, you might as well call the police because the thieves are coming right with them,” said free safety Tre Boston, using the nickname he has for the secondary. “Right now, we’re thieving at an all-time high.”

Chasing history

The ’84 Bears had only 16 sacks after six games, and then had 56 in the final 10, including 12 in the finale.



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Seahawks DE Jadeveon Clowney questionable with sore hip

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RENTON, Wash. — Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll said defensive end Jadeveon Clowney was away from the team Friday getting “treatment” on a sore hip that has him questionable for Sunday’s game at Philadelphia.

Clowney will meet the team in Philadelphia and will be a game-time decision, according to Carroll. He didn’t specify the nature or extent of Clowney’s hip injury nor where he was receiving treatment, only saying it was off-site. The injury stems from the Seahawks’ win over the 49ers two weeks ago, which preceded Seattle’s bye.

“Something he felt in the game, came out of the game with a little something,” Carroll said. “Just checking him out, making sure he’s OK.”

Clowney missed practice Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. The Seahawks weren’t required to detail player participation in their “bonus Monday” practice.

Clowney has been the Seahawks’ best pass-rusher this season — he’s fifth in the NFL in ESPN’s Pass Rush Win Rate at 26.6% — and arguably their most impactful defender. His dominant performance against the 49ers included a sack, five quarterback hits and his second defensive touchdown of the season.

Tyler Lockett, the Seahawks’ No. 1 receiver, is expected to play Sunday after being limited in practice the last three days. He spent two nights at Stanford Hospital as a precautionary measure last week after suffering a lower leg contusion against the 49ers, which sidelined him for overtime.

“At this point it’s not a dangerous injury now,” Carroll said. “He had a real contusion in his lower leg that just needed some time. There was enough time fortunately. We had the week off. I don’t know if he would have made it now if we had played last week. That would have been hard to see that happening. But he’s ready to go now. He’s fine.”

The Seahawks on Friday placed veteran tight end Ed Dickson back on injured reserve, officially ending his season two days after he was activated off IR. The Seahawks had to activate Dickson this week in order to make him eligible to play this season. They promoted Tyrone Swoops from their practice squad while putting Dickson back on IR.

Tight end Luke Willson (hamstring) is listed as doubtful for Sunday, though Carroll came up with his own designation, calling him “probable-doubtful” in reference to Willson’s history of being a quick healer. Jacob Hollister and Swoops are the only healthy tight ends on Seattle’s roster, though backup tackle George Fant also plays a de facto tight end role.

The 32-year-old Dickson will have missed 22 of 32 regular-season games over his first two years with the Seahawks. He’s set to count almost $4.3 million against the cap next season in the final year of his deal.

“Eddy, he’s just not ready and it’s unfortunate and I feel bad for him and all,” Carroll said. “It’s just the right thing to do. He’s not ready to play yet. He was ready to get back to practice. He did that. When we pushed it up, we could tell. So we had to move him back to IR. We had to activate him on Wednesday to make him available. He had a good day’s work and you could tell. I sat with him .. talked through it and he understood. He could tell he doesn’t quite feel as ready as he needs to be.”

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49ers set to embark on historically difficult three-game stretch – San Francisco 49ers Blog

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SANTA CLARA, Calif. — To say the San Francisco 49ers’ schedule is about to get tougher over the next three weeks would drastically understate what’s coming.

The journey the Niners are about to begin — with games against the Green Bay Packers, Baltimore Ravens and New Orleans Saints — could be the most difficult stretch any team has faced this late in the season in the Super Bowl era.

Through Week 11, those teams have combined for a 24-6 record (all three are 8-2), good for a winning percentage of .800. According to ESPN Stats & Information research, no team has played three straight games against teams with an .800 or better winning percentage this late in the season in the Super Bowl era. If the Ravens and Saints can win their games before facing San Francisco, the Niners would be the first team to face such a stretch.

What’s more, only four teams in the Super Bowl era — the 2007 Detroit Lions, 1999 Cleveland Browns, 1990 Washington Redskins and 1990 Minnesota Vikings — have played three such games (not consecutively) in their 11th game or later.

None of those teams entered such a gantlet with as much on the line as these 49ers, who are 9-1 and in control of the NFC playoff picture.

“This is why you play football, for this kind of a stretch,” Niners right tackle Mike McGlinchey said. “We have put ourselves in a pretty solid position here, but it means nothing if we don’t get our jobs done over these next few weeks. … We’ve got our work cut out for us but we’ve got the right coaching staff to get us in the game plan, and I believe in this locker room to execute and get the job done.”

For much of this season, the 49ers’ turnaround has been met with raised eyebrows. Even after manhandling teams like the Rams, Panthers and Browns, the Niners’ lack of top-tier victories has left skeptics questioning how good they really are. Suffice it to say, definitive answers are coming soon.

ESPN’s Football Power Index rates the 49ers’ remaining strength of schedule the most difficult in the NFL, with the next three games providing the stiffest of tests. FPI gives the 49ers a 61% chance to beat the Packers on Sunday but those numbers drop to 34% against the Ravens and 40% against the Saints. The latter two are the lowest-percentage chances for wins remaining on San Francisco’s schedule, and a Week 17 trip to Seattle offers the only one lower than the Green Bay game.

It all starts with the Packers traveling to Levi’s Stadium as the Niners look to win the one home game of the three. At a combined 17-3, the combined .850 winning percentage is the best in a game between these historic rivals in the Super Bowl era.

At stake? A spot in the driver’s seat for the NFC’s No. 1 seed. FPI gives the 49ers a 45% chance at the NFC’s top spot with a win and just a 10% shot with a loss. Green Bay would have a 44% chance at the 1 seed with a victory and 4% with a defeat.

None of that includes juicy subplots such as the first meeting between quarterbacks Aaron Rodgers and Jimmy Garoppolo and the offensive battle of Mike Shanahan coaching-tree luminaries Kyle Shanahan and Matt LaFleur.

“It will be another unique battle,” 49ers cornerback Richard Sherman said. “It’ll be a play style similar to what we see week in and week out with Kyle and their offense. So we’ll prepare for that. A-Rod is one of the best to ever do it. So it will be a tremendous challenge for us, and we’re excited about it.”

A win against the Packers would go a long way before heading on another weeklong stay on the other side of the country. Like they did earlier this year — when they went to Tampa Bay and Cincinnati with a week in Youngstown, Ohio, in between — the Niners will travel to Baltimore, play the Ravens, travel to Florida for the practice week and then head to New Orleans before returning to the Bay Area.

If the 49ers can pocket a victory against Green Bay, it would mean a split of the two road games would keep them in a prime position for a bye and the top seed, especially if that win came in New Orleans. It would also likely mean losing both games wouldn’t be a death knell to their hopes of advancing directly to the divisional round.

“Week in and week out, you always find out stuff about your team,” Niners coach Kyle Shanahan said. “You find out about people. There’s lots of football here to play. Each game’s going to be huge, so just trying to take it one week at a time and make sure we don’t look too far down the road because everyone’s in this it seems like right now.”

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Los Angeles Chargers’ Michael Davis suspended 2 games for violating NFL’s substance abuse policy

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COSTA MESA, Calif. — Los Angeles Chargers cornerback Michael Davis has been suspended two games for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy.

The Chargers (4-7) are on their bye this week. The suspension will cover road games against Denver (Dec. 1) and Jacksonville (Dec. 8).

Davis, who is in his third season, has started nine games this year and has an interception along with 27 tackles.

General manager Tom Telesco said in a statement that Davis is a good person who made a “significant mistake this past offseason.”

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