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.
New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees, who will be a free agent in March, plans to return to the Saints if he comes back for a 20th season in the NFL. "I have never been in the situation where I was mulling over the thought of [returning]," Brees said. "To me, each one of these contracts, I don't know how many it's been with the Saints, I've played with them 14 years, it's not a matter of if it gets done, it's when. At this stage of my career, it's not a given that I'm coming back every year, but when that time comes, I'll always be a Saint." Despite diminished arm strength, Brees was one of the best quarterbacks when he returned from his thumb injury last season. He may no longer have sky-high QB1 upside for fantasy owners, but Brees will at least be a midrange QB1 target next season if he returns to New Orleans, which is what is expected.
Cleveland Browns running back Kareem Hunt was pulled over and cited during a traffic stop in Rocky River, Ohio on Tuesday. Police pulled Hunt over for going 77 MPH in a 60 MPH zone and found small amounts of marijuana in three different locations in the car. The car was registered in Hunt's mother's name and he told officers that the drugs belonged to his brother. While the running back did not receive a drug charge during the stop, he could still be subject to discipline from the NFL. Hunt is a restricted free agent this offseason and has a chance to land elsewhere as a team's starting running back. This incident is only likely to be an issue in fantasy if the NFL decides to get involved.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) was back at practice on Friday. The Chiefs played it safe with Kelce and gave him some rest on Thursday, but he should be ready to rock in the Super Bowl against the 49ers on Feb. 2. He had a quiet game in the AFC Championship against the Titans but exploded for three touchdowns in the Divisional Round. Kelce was the top fantasy tight end in 2019 and could put up big numbers in the passing game against San Francisco in the Super Bowl if this game turns into a shootout.
Green Bay Packers general manager Brian Gutekunst said it's his understanding that tight end Jimmy Graham wants to play in 2020. Graham is under contract for one more year for $8 million, which is the final year of his three-year contract. The 33-year-old has clearly lost a step at this point in his career, catching just 38 passes (60 targets) for 447 yards and three touchdowns in 2019 with the Packers. He's no longer the focal point in the passing game, and he's more of a low-end, touchdown-dependent TE2 in fantasy circles.
Free-agent wide receiver Antonio Brown was granted bail by a Broward County judge on Friday morning at $110,000 for a felony burglary with battery charge. Brown will be monitored by GPS and be required to release his passport and guns, go through drug and alcohol testing and get a mental-health evaluation. He's facing charges of felony burglary with battery, burglary of an unoccupied conveyance and criminal mischief stemming from an alleged assault of a moving-truck driver earlier this week. This isn't Brown's first run-in with the law, and all of his off-field issues virtually assure that no NFL team will take a chance on him moving forward.
Buffalo Bills defensive end Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to fix torn ligaments in his wrist. Hughes revealed the injury after the playoff loss to the Texans in the wild-card round, and the league launched an investigation as to whether the Bills had violated the injury reporting policy since Hughes never appeared on the team's injury report with a wrist injury. Despite his wrist injury, Hughes didn't miss a game in 2019 and hasn't missed a single game since 2012. He recorded 23 total tackles (14 solo), 4.5 sacks and one fumble recovery for Buffalo's stout defense last season. Hughes should be recovered in time for training camp this summer.
Buffalo Bills DE Jerry Hughes (wrist) had surgery to repair torn ligaments in his wrist this week.
Miami Dolphins QB Josh Rosen hasn't been written off, according to general manager Chris Grier, and Grier said he saw improvement in Rosen during practice throughout the year.
Kansas City Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce (knee) did not practice on Thursday after being limited on Wednesday. Mid-week downgrades aren't good, but we still have another full week before the Super Bowl on Feb. 2, so Kelce should be just fine to play in the big game against the 49ers. Wide receiver Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice after sitting out on Wednesday. Although Kelce had just three catches for 30 yards in the AFC Championship against Tennessee, he busted out for 10 grabs, 134 yards and three touchdowns in the Divisional Round against Houston. Kelce was the top-scoring fantasy tight end in 2019 and could easily have a big game in the Super Bowl against San Francisco.
Free-agent WR Antonio Brown (Patriots) is expected to turn himself in to police but hadn't done so as of the afternoon of Thursday, Jan. 23, according to a public information officer for the Hollywood Police Department in Florida. 'I believe they've given him ample opportunity to turn himself in,'' Christian Lata told USA TODAY Sports. An arrest warrant was issued against Brown following an incident with a moving truck driver Tuesday, Jan. 21. 'I'm sure it's going to be within today or tomorrow, but I'm not sure exactly when,'' Lata said late Thursday afternoon. 'I would assume it would be sooner than later.''
Fantasy Spin: There's less and less reason to hold out hope of Brown finding his way onto an NFL roster and becoming fantasy relevant in 2020. Dynasty owners should be looking to move on.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Coleman did some solo work as he recovers from a dislocated shoulder. Expect him to play in Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2.
Kansas City Chiefs DT Chris Jones (calf) was a limited participant in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. CB Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and C Austin Reiter (wrist) practiced in full. DE Tanoh Kpassagnon (hand) was removed from the injury report. S Jordan Lucas (illness) didn't practice.
San Francisco 49ers WR Dante Pettis (illness) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23. LB Kwon Alexander (pectoral), DL Dee Ford (quad, hamstring) and S Jaquiski Tartt (ribs) were limited. LB Dre Greenlaw (ankle) practiced in full.
Kansas City Chiefs TE Travis Kelce (knee) didn't participate in practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Kelce and the Chiefs have a long way to go until Super Bowl LIV Sunday, Feb. 2. He should be fully expected to be on the field.
Kansas City Chiefs WR Demarcus Robinson (illness) returned to a full practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: Robinson has scored just one touchdown since Week 3, and he hasn't recorded 100 or more receiving yards since Week 2. He's a risky flier without a guaranteed role in the offense.
San Francisco 49ers RB Tevin Coleman (shoulder) was seen running on a side field ahead of the team's practice Thursday, Jan. 23.
Fantasy Spin: It appears Coleman will be able to suit up for Super Bowl LIV after dislocating his shoulder in the NFC Championship game against the Green Bay Packers. He'll continue splitting work with Raheem Mostert and, to a lesser degree, Matt Breida. Any or all of the three could have a big game, but it's Mostert with the hot hand following the NFC Championship.
Houston Texans CB Gareon Conley (ankle) recently underwent a procedure to have a screw removed from his right ankle but is expected to be recovered in full for the beginning of the team's offseason workout program, according to a league source Thursday, Jan. 23.
Oakland Raiders CB Nevin Lawson signed a one-year contract extension Thursday, Jan. 23. Financial terms of the deal weren't disclosed.
San Francisco 49ers running back Tevin Coleman (shoulder) is doing some running on a side field at the team's practice on Thursday. Despite sitting out of practice, Coleman appears very much in play to suit up for the Super Bowl against the Chiefs on Feb. 2. He suffered a dislocated right shoulder in the NFC Championship win over the Packers, but Coleman has an extra week to heal up and should be good to go for the big game. He will continue to serve as a change-of-pace back for Raheem Mostert, who ran for over 200 yards and four touchdowns against the Packers.
The Atlanta Falcons plan to tender a contract to impending exclusive-rights free-agent kicker Younghoe Koo. The 25-year-old place kicker solidified the team's kicking position in the final eight games of the season, making 23 of his 26 field-goal tries and 15 of his 16 extra points. Koo went 7-for-9 on kicks from 40-49 yards and hit his only attempt of 50-plus yards. While he should enter the 2020 season as the favorite to kick for Atlanta, the Falcons will also bring in some competition to push him. With an offense that can be explosive and put up points, Koo will have some fantasy appeal if he sticks around.