Thu Jan 21 3:54pm ET
By GREG BEACHAM
AP Sports Writer
In this Dec. 27, 2020, file photo, Atlanta Falcons head coach Raheem Morris walks on the sideline during the first half of an NFL football game against the Kansas City Chiefs in Kansas City. The Los Angeles Rams have hired Raheem Morris to be their new defensive coordinator, the team announced Thursday, Jan. 21, 2021. (AP Photo/Charlie Riedel, File)
LOS ANGELES (AP) The Los Angeles Rams have hired Raheem Morris to be their new defensive coordinator.
Rams coach Sean McVay announced the hiring Thursday of Morris, the team's third defensive coordinator in three seasons. Morris replaces Brandon Staley, who became the Los Angeles Chargers' head coach last weekend.
Morris finished last season as the Atlanta Falcons' interim head coach, going 4-7 as Dan Quinn's temporary replacement. He spent six seasons on Quinn's staff in a variety of positions, coaching both the offense and the defense before serving as defensive coordinator last season.
The 44-year-old Morris spent three seasons as Tampa Bay's head coach from 2009-11, going 17-31 as one of the youngest head coaches in modern NFL history. He then spent three seasons as Washington's defensive backs coach while McVay was the team's tight ends coach and offensive coordinator.
''Not only is Raheem a great communicator, he is also an excellent teacher,'' McVay said. ''Raheem's background coaching both offense and defense gives him a unique perspective which allows him to see the field from a 22-man perspective.''
Anchored by All-Pros Aaron Donald and Jalen Ramsey, the Rams' defense ranked first in the NFL in total yards allowed, yards passing allowed, touchdown passes allowed, first downs allowed and total points allowed during a spectacular debut by Staley, who had never been an NFL coordinator before this season.
After the announcement, Ramsey enthusiastically tweeted that he is ''excited about the future'' under Morris, who has been a defensive backs coach at several stages in his career.
The Rams' defense could undergo significant personnel changes for the second straight year. John Johnson, the starting safety and defensive signal-caller, is a rising star who could command a hefty salary as a free agent. Edge rusher Leonard Floyd also is a free agent after racking up 10 1/2 sacks in the regular season and two more in the playoffs during his first year in Los Angeles.
Staley replaced Wade Phillips last winter after the Rams' defense had three solid seasons under the veteran NFL coach. After turning an already good defense into the league's best, Staley got a head coaching job with the crosstown Chargers after just four seasons of NFL experience.
The Rams (11-7) finished second in NFC West and beat Seattle in the playoffs before losing 32-18 at Green Bay last Saturday.
The Rams also confirmed they are negotiating with veteran special teams coordinator Joe DeCamillis to replace John Bonamego, although he hasn't yet been hired officially.
DiCamillis spent the past four seasons in charge of the Jacksonville Jaguars' special teams under head coach Doug Marrone. He has coached special teams in the NFL since 1988 and has been a coordinator since 2009, highlighted by a stint with the Super Bowl champion Denver Broncos during the 2015-16 season.
The Rams' special teams units regressed in almost every area this season, part of a steady decline since McVay's debut season in 2017.
DiCamillis would be the Rams' third special teams coordinator in three seasons. Bonamego replaced John Fassel, who left the Rams for the Dallas Cowboys along with longtime kicker Greg Zuerlein last winter.
The Rams struggled in all aspects of the kicking game this season until the arrival of Matt Gay, Los Angeles' third kicker of the season. Gay finished the season with 13 consecutive made field goals, and he dramatically upped the Rams' touchback percentage on kickoffs.
Interview with a Champ
The Los Angeles Rams officially hired Raheem Morris to be their next defensive coordinator on Thursday. Morris will be replacing Brandon Staley, who was hired as the Chargers head coach last Sunday. The 44-year-old will bring 18 years of NFL coaching experience on both the offensive and defensive side of the ball. He served as the interim head coach of the Falcons for their final 11 games in 2020. Morris was with Atlanta the last six seasons. He was the youngest head coach in the league in 2009 when he was hired by the Buccaneers. Morris started his NFL coaching career as a defensive quality control coach for Tampa in 2002 and was promoted to assistant defensive backs coach in 2004. He worked with head coach Sean McVay a combined four seasons with the Bucs and Washington. Morris will take over a nasty defense led by All-Pro defensive tackle Aaron Donald. The Rams D will likely be the first fantasy unit off the board in 2021 drafts.
The New York Jets are hiring Jeff Ulbrich as their defensive coordinator, and he will call plays on defense for the Jets in 2021. Ulbrich started last year as the Atlanta Falcons assistant head coach and linebackers coach, and he was promoted to defensive coordinator when Raheem Morris took over as the interim head coach in October. In six seasons as the team's linebackers coach, Ulbrich mentored players like Deion Jones, De'Vondre Campbell and Foye Oluokun. He was a third-round pick of the 49ers in 2000, recording 488 career tackles, six forced fumbles, 5.5 sacks and two interceptions with San Francisco from 2000-09. Head coach Robert Saleh and Ulbrich coached together in 2011 with the Seahawks under Pete Carroll.
The Philadelphia Eagles are hiring Indianapolis Colts offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni as their next head coach on Thursday, according to sources. Sirianni spent three seasons as an assistant coach with the Kansas City Chiefs, five seasons with the Los Angeles Chargers and the past three years with the Colts. The Colts went 4-12 and ranked 30th in the league in points and 31st in yards in 2017, the year before Sirianni joined Indy. In the last three years, the Colts ranked fifth, 16th and ninth in scoring under the 39-year-old and made the playoffs twice. Sirianni becomes the Eagles second-youngest head coach and the fourth straight offensive-minded head coach under owner Jeffrey Lurie. He's also the team's seventh straight head coach with no previous head-coaching experience, and one of his primary jobs will be to see if the team can salvage their relationship with quarterback Carson Wentz and turn him around after the worst season of his career.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers wide receiver Antonio Brown (knee) hasn't practiced yet this week and will be a game-time decision for the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, according to head coach Bruce Arians. Brown is still being listed as day-to-day, but fantasy managers should consider him very questionable to suit up this weekend. Even if the 32-year-old veteran does play, he'll be a risky touchdown-dependent option and will be at risk of seeing fewer snaps in an offense with plenty of pass-catching weapons. He'll need to get in at least a limited practice on Friday to have a chance at playing. Rookie Tyler Johnson and Scotty Miller should see more opportunities behind Mike Evans and Chris Godwin if Brown is inactive against the Packers.
Former Baltimore Ravens defensive line coach Joe Cullen is joining the Jacksonville Jaguars and new head coach Urban Meyer as the team's defensive coordinator, according to sources. Cullen becomes the third defensive assistant to leave the Ravens Defense since the 2020 season ended, joining Mike Macdonald and Jesse Minter. He had spent the last five seasons with the Ravens and will return to the Jaguars after serving as a defensive line coach from 2010-12 with them. It will be Cullen's first job as a defensive coordinator in the NFL after being a D coordinator at Richmond and Indiana. Jacksonville's defense ranked 31st in sacks (18) and 29th in fumble recoveries (five) while allowing the second-most points (492), ninth-most passing yards per game (270.1) and third-most rushing yards per game (153.3) in 2020.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are planning to sign former first-round quarterback Dwayne Haskins on Thursday, according to sources. Haskins is meeting with Steelers coaches right now and a deal should be hammered out if all goes well. He was cut by the Washington Football Team in late December after just 13 starts in less than two years. Haskins also visited the Carolina Panthers. Ben Roethlisberger's future is in doubt after a rough second half of the season, and the Steelers didn't upgrade their quarterback room of Mason Rudolph and Joshua Dobbs last year. Despite struggling in his first two years, Haskins has a strong arm, but poor mechanics and struggles to read defenses have led to inconsistent play so far. A change of scenery and proper coaching could turn things around for Haskins, but he'll still be off the fantasy radar in redraft leagues in 2021.
Kansas City Chiefs running back Le'Veon Bell (knee) was added to the injury report and did not practice on Thursday. Linebacker Willie Gay (ankle) also missed his second straight practice this week. Mid-week additions are usually not a good sign, but the Chiefs might just be giving the veteran Bell a little extra rest ahead of the AFC Championship tilt against the Bills on Sunday. Bell's practice status on Friday will be telling. The 28-year-old just hasn't looked like his old self in KC while mainly splitting touches with rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire, but Bell hasn't really taken advantage of CEH's injury late in the season. He carried the ball just two times for six yards in the Divisional Round against the Browns and has just nine carries for 36 yards in two games with Edwards-Helaire sidelined. It's looking like the rookie will return against Buffalo, too, which makes Bell one to avoid in fantasy lineups.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (concussion) is practicing again on Thursday with a helmet. Rookie running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire (ankle, hip), wide receiver Sammy Watkins (calf) and cornerbacks Bashaud Breeland (concussion, shoulder) and Rashad Fenton (foot) are also practicing. Mahomes might be limited again on Thursday, but he appears to be making good progress in the league's concussion protocol after clearing some steps initially on Monday. While he's not officially out of the protocol, the 25-year-old is expected to suit up in the AFC Championship against the Bills on Sunday after leaving the Divisional Round with a concussion. Mahomes will be a bit more risky at a high DFS price this weekend, but he did throw for 225 yards and two touchdowns against Buffalo earlier this year and could easily go off if he's past his concussion issues from a week ago.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) was not seen Thursday, Jan. 21, in the portion of practice open to the media. Afterward, head coach Bruce Arians said he expects Brown's status for the NFC Championship Game on Sunday to come down to a game-time decision, adding that Brown doesn't necessarily need to practice this week in order to play.
Fantasy Spin: Brown was limited to 40 percent of the offensive snaps and one 10-yard reception on three targets in the divisional-round win over the Saints, but his status is obviously very much in question this week. Even if he does play, it's tough to imagine Brown seeing a ton of snaps or having a big impact.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins (calf) is participating in practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Watkins, who was limited in practice Wednesday, hasn't played since Week 16, and upping his participation level Thursday or Friday will go a long way toward doing so.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes (concussion, toe) is participating in practice with a helmet Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: Another necessary step as Mahomes navigates the concussion protocol this week. There will be a forthcoming update regarding his level of participation Thursday.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers WR Antonio Brown (knee) was out of practice Thursday, Jan. 21.
Fantasy Spin: He's still expected to play in the NFC Championship game, and he'll be a WR2 option in playoff leagues.
The Pittsburgh Steelers are retaining defensive coordinator Keith Butler for at least one more season, according to a source. The 64-year-old has been with the team since 2003 and in his role as the defensive coordinator since 2015. Pittsburgh's defense was a top-five unit in 2020, finishing first in total QBR (55.9) and sacks (56). However, they began to fall apart in the final month of the season. They allowed 111.4 rushing yards per game and 4.31 yards per carry after being the best run defense in the first half of the year. They ranked third in the NFL in passing yards per game (194.4) and yards per attempt (5.91). Losing linebackers Devin Bush and Bud Dupree to injuries during the season was a big reason why Pittsburgh's defense wasn't as strong to close out the year. Despite the disappointing finish, this unit should be a top target for fantasy managers late in drafts in 2021.
Baltimore Ravens head coach John Harbaugh said on Wednesday that he's "not apologizing" for quarterback Lamar Jackson's style of play or the team's run-first approach on offense. Baltimore scored just three points in the Divisional Round loss to the Bills, and offensive coordinator Greg Roman received criticism for what looked like a simplistic passing attack. The Ravens finished last in the NFL in passing for the first time since 2003. Harbaugh points out that they finished seventh in scoring in 2020, averaging 29.3 points per game. While Baltimore doesn't air the football out like other teams, they've also led the league in rushing each of the last two years, and Jackson has been a big part of that. Despite his limitations as a passer, Jackson remains a high-end QB1 for fantasy managers entering the 2021 season. Running back J.K. Dobbins will only see his stock rise as well in one of the NFL's most run-heavy offenses heading into his second season.
Former Cincinnati Bengals head coach Hue Jackson interviewed for the Pittsburgh Steelers' offensive coordinator opening this week.
The Buffalo Bills Defense has improved dramatically since their Week 11 bye, allowing only 17.1 points per game, fewer than 340 total yards per game and just a 35.1 third-down conversion rate since Week 12. Buffalo's D held the Baltimore Ravens to just three points and 340 total yards in the their win in the Divisional Round last weekend. The Bills defense made a point to limit big plays in their Week 6 loss to the Chiefs. They held wide receiver Tyreek Hill to three catches for 20 yards and tight end Travis Kelce to five catches for 65 yards and two touchdowns. KC carried the ball 46 times for 245 yards and a touchdown on the ground. Buffalo will have their hands full again and will probably be avoided in most DFS formats this weekend, making them mostly a contrarian play if Patrick Mahomes (concussion) is active.
Former Washington Football Team quarterback Dwayne Haskins has a visit with the Pittsburgh Steelers on Thursday, according to sources. Haskins could represent potential quarterback depth and upside. The free agent and former first-round pick also had a recent visit with the Carolina Panthers after being cut by Washington after their Week 16 loss. Although Ben Roethlisberger is expected to return for another season in 2021 following a disappointing end to their season, the Steelers could use more depth behind Big Ben and Mason Rudolph, with Joshua Dobbs being the other signal-caller currently on the roster. The 23-year-old Haskins has struggled mightily in his two seasons in the NFL, and he hasn't helped himself with some off-field issues. He's hoping to rehabilitate his image and eventually get another shot with a new organization.
Miami Dolphins WRs Albert Wilson, Jakeem Grant and Allen Hurns are all potential cap casualties, in the opinion of The Miami Herald's Barry Jackson.
New Orleans Saints QB Drew Brees dealt with more injuries than were previously known as, according to a post from his wife on Instagram, the veteran played with a torn rotator cuff and a torn fascia in his foot. Those are in addition to the 11 broken ribs and collapsed lung that were previously reported. Brees is expected to retire during the offseason, though he has not made that official, yet.