Thu Dec 5 2:11pm ET
By DAVID BRANDT
AP Sports Writer
Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Devlin Hodges (6) stands on the field with a game ball after a 20-13 Steelers win over the Cleveland Browns in an NFL football game in Pittsburgh, Sunday, Dec. 1, 2019. (AP Photo/Gene J. Puskar)
GLENDALE, Ariz. (AP) The Arizona Cardinals have a No. 1 overall draft pick under center while the Pittsburgh Steelers have a guy named “Duck” throwing the ball around the field.
Yet it's the Steelers who are making a playoff push.
Pittsburgh (7-5) has won six of its past seven games heading into Sunday's road matchup against the Cardinals. It'll be the third start for Steelers quarterback Devlin “Duck” Hodges, a rookie free agent who has been steady for a team that relies heavily on its defense.
Hodges threw for 212 yards, one touchdown and one interception in last week's win against Cleveland. Steelers coach Mike Tomlin expects more of the same against the Cardinals.
“Football is the ultimate team game,” Tomlin said. “We try to live that out every day. When guys step up and deliver, it is just verification of it.”
The Cardinals (3-8-1) are stuck in a five-game losing streak and trying to bounce back from last weekend's 34-7 loss to the Rams, which was easily their worst effort of the season.
Arizona is rebuilding this season, so the team has been mostly upbeat even after losses. But players and coaches have made it known that getting embarrassed at home by the Rams wasn't acceptable. The Cardinals were down 20-0 by halftime and were never particularly competitive.
“Losing is losing, but that last game was a different type of losing," rookie quarterback Kyler Murray said.
Murray, the top overall pick in April, has been good for most of the season. He's already set a franchise rookie record with 2,866 yards passing despite a tough game against the Rams.
Most of the Cardinals problems are on defense, where they rank last in the NFL in total defense and passing defense. Los Angeles quarterback Jared Goff - who had been struggling for a few weeks - dominated the Cardinals for 424 yards passing and two touchdowns.
Arizona coach Kliff Kingsbury expects another tough challenge, even if Pittsburgh's offense hasn't put up huge numbers.
Kingsbury had a short, nomadic career as an NFL quarterback, bouncing between teams over a couple of seasons before becoming a coach. He said Hodges is making the most of his opportunity.
“I’ve been very impressed," Kingsbury said. “Having been in a similar situation, kind of that third-team practice-squad-type range, for him to step in and the poise he shows and protecting the football, you can tell those guys really play hard for him, and they believe in him. He moves around, makes some plays, and he’s been really sharp."
THREE'S A CROWD
Kingsbury was excited to have all three of the team's main running backs - Kenyan Drake, David Johnson and Chase Edmonds - healthy for the first time against the Rams on Sunday.
But the Cardinals offense never got on track. Drake ran for 31 yards, Johnson ran for 15 and Edmonds didn't get a carry.
Kingsbury said he still envisions a roll for all three against the Steelers.
“The (Rams) game got away from us, got a little funky, and we got out of some things we wanted to do and went back to dropping back, which is not what we want to do in those situations,” Kingsbury said. "That’s why you have to stay on schedule and can’t get down 27-0 or whatever it was.”
If the Cardinals are going to get better defending the pass, they'll have to do it with a bunch of young players.
Arizona released veteran cornerback Tramaine Brock Sr. on Monday, which likely gives more playing time to Kevin Peterson and Chris Jones. Peterson is 25 and Jones is 24.
The Cardinals also have three rookies in the secondary who get substantial playing time, including cornerback Byron Murphy Jr. and safeties Jalen Thompson and Deionte Thompson.
MO POUNCEY, NO PROBLEMS
Steelers center Maurkice Pouncey returns to the lineup following a two-game suspension for his role in the brawl against Cleveland on Nov. 14. B.J. Finney filled in capably during Pouncey’s absence and Pittsburgh’s running game finally found some traction, topping 100 yards in consecutive contests for the first time this season. Pouncey said the unexpected break has the 10-year veteran feeling fresh heading into the home stretch.
“I feel like this is the beginning of the year,” Pouncey said. “I’ve got a lot of energy.”
HEISMAN VS WALTER
Sunday's game will pit Murray, last year's Heisman Trophy winner at Oklahoma, against Hodges, who won the Walter Payton Award at Samford.
The Walter Payton Award is given to the best offensive college player at the Football Championship Subdivision level.
“Now that you mention it, it is pretty unique playing against the Heisman winner and being the Walter Payton winner, the Heisman of the FCS. It is going to be a fun game,” Hodges said.
Pittsburgh outside linebackers T.J. Watt and Bud Dupree have combined for 20½ sacks through 12 games, the highest total by a Steelers’ linebacker tandem since LaMarr Woodley and James Harrison did it in 2008. Watt was the AFC Defensive Player of the Month for November after getting 5½ sacks last month. Watt has at least a half-sack in nine straight games, the longest active streak in the NFL. Dupree has been no slouch. His 8½ sacks are a career high and his four forced fumbles are tied for fourth most in the NFL. Though Dupree typically plays on the left side and Watt on the right, Tomlin will occasionally have them flip to give offenses different looks.
“They’re interchangeable in an effort to keep people off-balance and to give them something to think about,” Tomlin said.
San Francisco 49ers tight end George Kittle and wide receiver Deebo Samuel combined for just three catches for 65 yards in the NFC Championship victory against the Green Bay Packers. Samuel added two rushes for 43 yards. The Niners opened up the game with a dominant running attack and a 27-0 lead, resulting in quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempting just eight passes. While the stat sheet was underwhelming, both aerial playmakers made the most of their opportunities, picking up chunk gains on each touch. With the vaunted Kansas City Chiefs offense on deck, the Niners will conceivably need to throw the ball more in the Super Bowl.
San Francisco 49ers wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders failed to record a catch in the NFC Championship blowout win against the Green Bay Packers. With quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo attempting just eight passes, Sanders saw only a single target. The clear third option in a low-volume passing game behind standout rookie wideout Deebo Samuel and tight end George Kittle, Sanders has just two catches in the playoffs. Hell likely be tasked with more work in the Super Bowl against the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers running back Raheem Mostert exploded for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries against the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship. He also caught two passes for six yards. Mostert was unstoppable on Sunday, converting three rushing scores of 36, nine and 18 in the first half. He capped his evening with a 22-yard touchdown in the third quarter. The fifth-year breakout player was the star in the Niners easy 37-20 victory and will again lead the backfield into the Super Bowl in two weeks against the Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo completed just six of eight passes for 77 yards and no scores in the NFC Championship against the Green Bay Packers. Garoppolo had little to do but watch running back Raheem Mostert annihilate the Packers rush defense for 220 yards and four scores. With two consecutive easy victories in the playoffs, Jimmy G has attempted just 27 passes this postseason. Sledding will surely get tougher in the Super Bowl against the red-hot Kansas City Chiefs.
San Francisco 49ers head coach Kyle Shanahan said that running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers on Sunday. Coleman had his shoulder popped back into place and Shanahan thinks that Coleman has a chance to play in the Super Bowl in two weeks. Only time will tell if the 26-year-old will be able to play against Kansas City. He ran the ball six times for 21 yards before his injury and had a season-high 22 totes for 105 yards and two touchdowns in the Divisional win over the Vikings. Even if Coleman plays, he'll be second fiddle to Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four scores against Green Bay. Matt Breida would spell Mostert in the backfield if Coleman doesn't gain clearance.
There has been buzz that the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are a possible landing spot for Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers, who will become a free agent in March. After his worst season since 2007, the aging gunslinger is unlikely to re-sign with the Bolts, and he recently moved his family from San Diego to Florida to be closer to his extended family in Alabama. The 38-year-old might have a year or two left of football in him if he continues to play, but the 2019 season showed that he's near the end of the line. Rivers would only be an option for Tampa if they choose not to bring Jameis Winston back for at least another season after he led all of football in passing yards last season.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has been fired, and defensive line coach Anthony Weaver has been promoted in his place, according to league sources. Houston's defense was a liability for most of the year, especially their leaky secondary. The Texans allowed 51 points and seven straight touchdown drives to the Chiefs in the Divisional Round loss. During the 2019 season, Houston's defense allowed 388.3 yards per game (fifth worst), 267.3 passing yards per game (fourth worst), 121.1 rushing yards a game and 24.1 points per game. Getting J.J. Watt back healthy for a full season will be a start to the Texans rebounding on defense under Weaver.
The Carolina Panthers hired former Baylor defensive coordinator Phil Snow as their new defensive coordinator on Monday. Snow oversaw the defenses for Matt Rhule at both Baylor and Temple. He has 37 years of college coaching experience and has also served as a defensive coordinator at UCLA, Washington, Arizona State and Boise State. Snow coached four seasons in the NFL with the Lions from 2005 to 2008 when he worked with the team's linebackers. Snow will lead a Carolina defense in 2020 that will be without All-Pro linebacker Luke Kuechly, who recently announced his retirement from football.
Houston Texans defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel is not expected back in 2020. Defensive line coach Anthony Weaver is the top candidate to replace him.
Updating a previous report, San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) has a 'good chance' to be available for the Super Bowl, according to head coach Kyle Shanahan.
Updating a previous report, Green Bay Packers CB Jaire Alexander (thumb) suffered a broken thumb during the team's NFC Championship Game loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Alexander is hopeful he won't need to undergo surgery.
The Green Bay Packers Defense recorded one sack and allowed 37 points in a loss to the San Francisco 49ers. The 49ers steamrolled past Green Bay's unit for 285 rushing yards and four rushing scores. To make matters worse, they couldn't generate much pressure or any turnovers. Despite the disappointing end, the Packers defense was much improved from last year, ranking 15th in sacks with 41 as well as third in interceptions with 17. They may not be among the top defenses drafted in 2020, though they should be on every fantasy managers' radar.
Green Bay Packers tight end Jimmy Graham caught four of five targets for 59 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Graham was a big disappointment this season in a year filled with disappointing tight ends. The 33-year-old put up the lowest numbers since his rookie season and never really put together a good stretch of play until very recently. Graham has one year left on his contract worth about 7.5 million dollars. Given how much of a bust he was, perhaps Green Bay cuts ties with him and goes younger at the position in 2020.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Geronimo Allison caught two of three targets for eight yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. There were big expectations for Allison heading into 2019 in both the real and fantasy football worlds. Unfortunately for him, he lived up to neither, failing to eclipse 50 receiving yards in all but one game all year. Green Bay, who is in desperate need of another receiver behind Davante Adams, will have a decision to make about the 25-year-old, who is an unrestricted free agent. It's hard to see Allison being back in Green Bay in 2020.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Allen Lazard caught three of four targets for 36 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Lazard may not have made much noise in the two playoff games but flashed some potential in the regular season, including his first career 100-yard game. Rodgers started to develop a little chemistry with the 6-foot-4 wideout late in the season, as he looked his way 17 times in the last two contests. It would be surprising if Lazard were the number-two receiver for the Packers next year, though it still makes sense for them to bring him back in some capacity. Lazard has some sleeper potential if he's catching passes from Rodgers in 2020.
Kansas City Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes' 87 passing touchdowns in his first 35 games, including playoffs, are the most in NFL history. His 11 passing touchdowns and 142 pass attempts without an interception to begin his playoff career are both the most on record, and he is one of just two players to have at least 250 passing yards, three or more passing touchdowns and at least 50 rushing yards in multiple career playoff games.
San Francisco 49ers RB Raheem Mostert rushed for 220 yards and four touchdowns on 29 carries in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19, becoming the first player in NFL history to rush for at least 200 yards and four touchdowns in a playoff game.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams caught nine of 10 targets for 138 yards in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Adams operated as Rodgers' safety blanket yet again, capturing 79 more receiving yards than the Packers' next leading receiver. When healthy, this is what the 26-year-old did all year, as he compiled double-digit targets in all but four games, including the playoffs. Despite missing five games, Adams still almost put up a 1000-year season. It would behoove Green Bay to put together a stronger receiver group behind the star receiver. Even if they don't, a healthy Adams should be back in the discussion as an elite fantasy wideout in 2020.
Green Bay Packers running back Jamaal Williams picked up just six rushing yards on three carries and caught two passes for one receiving yard in a 37-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. Williams had a disappointing end to his season, as he failed to register at least 40 rushing yards in his last three games after eclipsing the mark in his previous three. The 24-year-old did show flashes at times of being the perfect complement to Aaron Jones. Still, it will be interesting to see if Green Bay hands the reins to Jones next year or continues to spell him with Williams. For now, consider Williams more of a handcuff option than a complement heading into 2020.
San Francisco 49ers QB Jimmy Garoppolo completed six of his eight passes for 77 yards in a 37-20 win over the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship Game Sunday, Jan. 19. RB Raheem Mostert rushed 29 times for 220 yards and four touchdowns and caught two passes for six yards, and RB Tevin Coleman rushed six times for 21 yards. WR Deebo Samuel caught two passes for 46 yards and rushed twice for 43 yards, TE George Kittle caught his only target for 19 yards, and WR Emmanuel Sanders was held without a catch on one target. DE Joey Bosa and DL Arik Armstead both recorded a sack.