Roughing the Passer calls rotten?


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FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2018, file photo, Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews tackles Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the second half of an NFL football game, in Green Bay, Wis. Matthews was penalized for roughing the passer on the play. The NFL is getting roughed up over its amplified enforcement of roughing the passer penalties that has produced head-scratching, game-changing calls and a season-ending injury to a defender trying to comply with the league’s mandate not to land on the quarterback. What constitutes a clean hit anymore is anyone's guess. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer, File)

FILE - In this Sept. 16, 2018, file photo, Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews tackles Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the second half of an NFL football game, in Green Bay, Wis. Matthews was penalized for roughing the passer on the play. The NFL is getting roughed up over its amplified enforcement of roughing the passer penalties that has produced head-scratching, game-changing calls and a season-ending injury to a defender trying to comply with the league’s mandate not to land on the quarterback. What constitutes a clean hit anymore is anyone's guess. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer, File)


NFL sticking with officiating emphasis on quarterback hits

By BARRY WILNER

AP Pro Football Writer

Thursday, September 27

NEW YORK (AP) — The NFL is sticking with its officiating emphasis on quarterback hits, including those in which the tackler uses all or most of his body weight when falling on the quarterback.

NFL football operations chief Troy Vincent said Thursday that the powerful competition committee has clarified to game officials the techniques used in such hits, which have been a source of debate through the first three weeks of the schedule. Green Bay linebacker Clay Matthews has been called for three of them, two of which appeared to be normal tackles.

A lack of consistency on such calls also has been a source of contention throughout the league. In its regularly scheduled conference call, the committee reviewed video of such plays from 2017 and this year.

“In reiterating its position on quarterback protection,” Vincent says, “the committee determined there would be no changes to the point of emphasis approved this spring, or to the rule of which the body weight provision has been in place since 1995.”

The inconsistency led Matthews to suggest the league has gone soft. He argued that what constitutes a clean hit is anybody’s guess nowadays.

“I don’t know if that statement really expresses how they’re going to call it moving forward,” he said Thursday, adding if it will be status quo, “If that’s the case, that’s truly unfortunate because I think I speak on behalf of everybody that doesn’t like the rule and the way it’s being called and the way it’s being officiated.

” Furthermore after seeing the video, too, all hits on the quarterback that came from straight on — which is what they teach you since peewee football with running backs, receivers or whatever, is to approach them head on if you can — those were all illegal hits, much like the two hits I had on Cousins and (Alex) Smith last week, which were conveniently left out of the video.”

Compounding the complaints: Dolphins DE William Hayes tore his right ACL trying to avoid landing on Raiders QB Derek Carr.

“He was trying to not put body weight on the quarterback,” coach Adam Gase said of Hayes. “His foot got caught in the ground.

“He’s one of our leaders and best run defender. That’s going to be a tough one for us to swallow.”

Many of the calls have been difficult for defensive players and their coaches to swallow, and they’ve even gotten some support from quarterbacks.

“It helps me out because I’m a quarterback,” said Deshaun Watson of the Texans. “But some of the calls are just kind of crazy.”

The competition committee’s decision to remain with the status quo doesn’t mean there will continue to be a flurry of such penalties. By clarifying the technique, the league is attempting to find some uniformity in the calls.

“I think we all have felt like it’s all gone a little bit too far,” said Fox analyst Mike Pereira, the former head of NFL officials. “But I think it’ll seek a level that will get it back in sync with what the players think and what we all think.

“You know any time you put a new point of emphasis in, there’s a point of adjustment to the players and the officials … so again, an adjustment by both groups, the players and the officials.”

There have been 34 roughing-the-passer calls so far. While that works out to just one flag for every 100 pass attempts, it represents a massive increase over previous years. There were 16 such penalties through three weeks last season and 20 the year before that.

Browns defensive end Myles Garrett, the top overall pick in the 2017 draft who had a roughing penalty in Week 1 rescinded by the league, sympathizes with Matthews and fellow defenders.

“It’s ridiculous,” he said Thursday. “I feel bad for Clay Matthews. He just can’t win at this point right now. I mean I’m going to take them down how I have to. I saw what happened with Willie Hayes and that was, I wouldn’t say depressing, but it was sad to see him doing his best to abide by the rules and get hurt.”

Garrett added he wouldn’t risk injury to ” lay him on the ground like he’s a child.”

You just have to do what’s best for you,” he said. “He’s going to be all right. Football is about getting hit and taking hits and giving hits. So if I get a penalty for saving my skin and trying to make big plays, then, oh well.”

There’s only been a handful of flags, meanwhile, for players lowering their helmet, another point of emphasis, showing that players, coaches and officials have all adjusted accordingly to that rule change.

AP Pro Football Writer Arnie Stapleton and Sports Writers Tom Withers and Genaro C. Armas contributed.

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Sorry Not Sorry; Steelers and Ravens ready to renew rivalry

By WILL GRAVES

AP Sports Writer

Thursday, September 27

PITTSBURGH (AP) — Ben Roethlisberger and Terrell Suggs have spent well over a decade staring across the line of scrimmage, the longtime Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback and the relentless Baltimore Ravens linebacker both knowing they will meet multiple times, often in violent fashion.

Their collisions — much like the rivalry between their two teams — have been memorable. So has the back and forth between the two.

And while the NFL appears to be in the midst of an identity crisis of sorts as it tries to legislate some of the brutality out of the game — particularly when it comes to how defenders can (and can’t) hit quarterbacks — Roethlisberger doesn’t expect much to change on Sunday night when the Steelers (1-1-1) host the Ravens (2-1).

It will be physical. It will be tight. And at no time will Suggs or any of his teammates yell “I’m sorry” at Roethlisberger before hitting him as the microphones caught Tampa Bay’s Gerald McCoy doing during Pittsburgh’s victory last Monday night.

“I don’t think you ever (get) an apology from a Raven,” Roethlisberger said with a laugh.

No apologies are necessary while playing what Steelers coach Mike Tomlin calls “AFC North football,” code he uses to describe a series built on respectful fierceness.

“We’ve been going at it with these guys it seems like forever now,” Tomlin said before adding, “you learn not to go into this game with any preconceived notion.”

Good idea. The reality is both sides have evolved. Baltimore’s previous two visits to Heinz Field have ended dramatically. Antonio Brown’s “Immaculate Extension” in the final seconds secured a division title for the Steelers on Christmas night in 2016. Chris Boswell’s late field goal capped a wild 39-38 Pittsburgh victory last December.

“They’ve turned into little mini-shootouts, and they’ve been a lot of fun to be a part of,” Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco said.

The Steelers and the 36-year-old Roethlisberger remain one of the NFL’s most dynamic offenses even with All-Pro running back Le’Veon Bell’s extended absence while waiting to sign his franchise tender.

It’s a group the Ravens appear to be ready to join thanks in part to a revitalized Flacco. Pittsburgh is the NFL’s seventh-highest scoring team through three weeks. Baltimore is fifth.

The nature of the rivalry may have changed through the years. The edge that emerges when they face each other has not.

“That’s why we enjoy playing a physical game against these guys,” Flacco said. “We have to make sure they feel like that, because it’s more than just winning and losing a game. It’s beating a division opponent up a little bit, so they still have to feel the effects the next week.”

PRIME-TIME PLAYERS

It’s hardly surprising the Steelers shook off a winless start by thriving under the Monday night lights in Tampa.

Pittsburgh seems to save its best for national showcases. Roethlisberger is 21-3 in regular season night games at Heinz Field. The Steelers have won nine straight appearances on Sunday night, seven of them at home.

“You know the whole world is watching and you want to give it everything you have,” Roethlisberger said.

NO SMITH

This will be Baltimore’s final game without cornerback Jimmy Smith, who’s serving a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancers.

Smith has long been an integral part of the Ravens defense, but they’ve done just fine without him. Over three games, Baltimore has allowed a total of just nine points after halftime.

“You’re always chasing perfection,” Ravens coach Harbaugh said. “But (the cornerbacks) are playing very well.”

Maybe, but the Steelers offer a significant step up in class. While Brown remains as effective as ever, he’s hardly the only option at Roethlisberger’s disposal. While Brown is averaging a pedestrian 8.8 yards per grab, four of his teammates — including second-year wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster — are averaging 13 yards per catch or more.

RED (ZONE) HOT

The Ravens are the first team in NFL history to start a season with touchdowns on each of their 12 trips into the red zone.

“It’s a huge amount of pride for us,” lineman James Hurst said. “There’s a lot of times when wins and losses in the NFL come down to scoring seven as opposed to three.”

Diversity is the key: Baltimore has six rushing scores and six passing TDs after entering the red zone. The Ravens went 3 for 3 last week against Denver. Dating back to last year’s finale against Cincinnati, Baltimore has 15 touchdowns in 16 trips inside the opponents’ 20.

BRING THE NOISE

Pittsburgh’s secondary has looked like a bit of a hot mess early, allowing Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes to throw for six touchdowns in Week 2 and Tampa Bay’s Ryan Fitzpatrick to go over 400 yards last Monday.

The cure until the defensive backfield figures it out is providing pressure up front. The Steelers forced four straight turnovers against the Buccaneers, three of them coming with Fitzpatrick under significant duress, though the more mobile Flacco presents a slightly different challenge.

“We know if we can get in his face, disrupt his timing it’s going to help the DBs out,” Steelers defensive end Stephon Tuitt. “We brought it from all over against Tampa Bay and that’s what you need to do against a veteran guy like Flacco.”

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AP Sports Writer David Ginsburg in Baltimore contributed to this report.

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Mayfield brings brash ‘walk it, talk it’ edge to Browns

By TOM WITHERS

AP Sports Writer

Wednesday, September 26

BEREA, Ohio (AP) — Baker Mayfield dragged more than a Heisman Trophy with him into the NFL. There was other baggage, including a well-earned reputation as being cocky, fiery, brash and over-the-top.

He hasn’t changed much.

And that’s what the Browns love about their rookie starting quarterback, who didn’t need long to firmly plant his own flag in Cleveland.

“He walk it,” receiver Jarvis Landry said, “like he talk it.”

As Mayfield prepares to make his first pro start in a few days at Oakland, his confidence isn’t the only thing impressing teammates eager to see if the No. 1 overall pick can build upon his sensational debut last week against the New York Jets — a stunning performance that prompted coach Hue Jackson to switch QBs.

While he is on the verge of his first visit to play in front of the Raiders’ notoriously rowdy “Black Hole”, Mayfield is showing no fear or signs of complacency.

The 23-year-old did not speak to reporters on Wednesday and the only time he was seen in Cleveland’s locker room was to grab the playbook out of his locker.

“He’s been real focused,” said left guard Joel Bitonio, one of the team’s captains. “He’s taken the lead in a few meetings just because that’s what the starting quarterback does.”

Sooner than the Browns or anyone expected, Mayfield has risen on the depth chart and vaulted from high-profile backup and future QB to the present one.

And while it may have happened quickly, Mayfield has shown since the moment the Browns (1-1-1) selected him he’d be prepared for this moment.

He’s worked hard, shown humility and remained supportive of Tyrod Taylor, who remains in protocol with a concussion that hastened his benching.

Before he was drafted, Mayfield drew comparisons to Johnny Manziel, another Heisman winner who busted for the Browns. The Mayfield-Manziel similarities though, seem to start and stop at their height.

“You hear people say, ‘Oh, he’s Johnny or he’s this or he’s that,’ but since I’ve known him he’s been a great guy,” Bitonio said. “He’s been in the building. He’s a confident guy. I think people see that as a little bit of cockiness, but he’s just confident in what he does and he understands you put in the work and he’s ready to compete and he’s ready to play.

“And that’s all you want in a quarterback.”

But with Mayfield, there’s a little more.

It wasn’t long after replacing Taylor during Thursday’s nationally televised game when Mayfield started talking trash to the Jets defensive linemen. That may have surprised a few of his new teammates, but it’s nothing new for Mayfield, whose on-the-field antics in college didn’t stop at choice words.

Mayfield loved to antagonize opponents, whether it was telling Kansas’ fans to “stick to basketball” or celebrating a victory at Ohio State by spiking an Oklahoma flag into the turf.

“I followed all that stuff, and again, it’s that ‘Walk it, Talk it,’” Landry said. “He definitely has that attitude and charisma, and that is contagious.”

It remains to be seen how much of Mayfield’s personality rubs off on his teammates. But Raiders coach Jon Gruden believes a quarterback’s nature can mean as much as arm strength or mobility.

“Those are the intangibles that you look for that are hard to find,” Gruden said on a conference call. “Do they like the pressure? Do they like the big moment? Some guys come alive, some guys don’t. Some guys can bring out the best in their teammates. Some guys struggle to do that.

“But Mayfield has the magic about him. He has the charisma about him that really allows everybody on that team, defensively included to play at a higher level. They know if we can get the ball back to this kid, something good’s going to happen.”

Gruden grew up in Ohio rooting for the Browns, and he’s well aware of the team’s two-decades-old search to find a quarterback.

With Mayfield, the hunt may be over.

“What they have not had is a front-line starter that really can make all of the plays,” Gruden said.

“I think Mayfield, if you draw a line under that name, he is the man. He is the story that I think right now is going to become bigger and bigger in Cleveland this year.”

NOTES: DE Emmanuel Ogbah (ankle) returned to practice and is expected to play after missing the past two games. … Sunday’s game will be a homecoming of sorts for Jackson, who spent one season as Oakland’s coach. He’ll also be reunited with Gruden as they spent a season coaching together at Pacific. “He taught me football,” Jackson said. “We used to argue every day. I was a wishbone quarterback at the time. I’ve always given Jon credit for where I am today. He helped mold me and shape me into the coach I am a little bit.”

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Enormous raises, big expectations await some this NBA season

By TIM REYNOLDS

AP Basketball Writer

Wednesday, September 26

BOCA RATON, Fla. (AP) — Miami guard Tyler Johnson has already seen what his new-and-much-improved paychecks from the Heat will look like this season.

Frankly, he’s still stunned.

“It’s surreal,” Johnson said.

Virtually every player in the NBA is a millionaire. But a handful like Johnson, Denver’s Nikola Jokic and Orlando’s Aaron Gordon are seeing their salaries rise to a different stratosphere this season, enormous raises that may come with an enormous rise in expectations.

When getting paid like stars, it stands to reason that fans — and their teams — will expect star efforts.

“I feel like some people would feel the added pressure, but I don’t,” said Gordon, who signed a $76 million extension with Orlando over the summer. “I’m just going to go out there and play the game that I love to play with teammates that I love to play with. I know they’ll be there to help take the pressure off me and I’m going to help take the pressure off them.”

According to figures reviewed by The Associated Press, there are 11 NBA players who in line for raises of $11 million or more this season. Many of them are former high draft picks cashing in on non-rookie deals for the first time, and a couple others are established stars whose deals went from “big” to “really big” this summer.

No one saw more of a salary leap than Jokic, who made $1.5 million last season and will collect $25.5 million this season. Jokic is an enormous talent and making his first All-Star team is among his goals this season, but the Nuggets aren’t burdening him with significantly higher expectations because of the big pay raise.

The way they see it, he’s already earned the payday.

“The contract is the contract,” Nuggets coach Michael Malone said. “But the great thing is about Nikola Jokic — yes, he’s making a lot more money, but it’s not going to change who he is. He’s a humble kid from Sombor, Serbia, who just wants to play basketball and wants to make his teammates better.”

Jokic is the biggest part of some big increased-salary commitments by the Nuggets. Gary Harris got a $14 million raise, going to $16.5 million this season.

And Jokic said he’s not going to change.

“I’m going to be the same way I was three years ago,” said Jokic, who hails from a nation where the average worker takes home the equivalent of about $8,000 a year. “It worked really good for me so I’m going to keep it that way.”

Many of the biggest-raise getters are former high draft picks cashing in on non-rookie deals for the first time, like Joel Embiid with Philadelphia, Andrew Wiggins with Minnesota and Zach LaVine with Chicago.

Embiid’s salary rose $19.4 million to $25.5 million. Wiggins got a $17.9 million raise to $25.5 million, LaVine is getting a $16.3 million jump to $19.5 million, and Gordon will make $21.6 million — an increase of $16.1 million from last year.

They were all lottery picks, now paid like lottery winners.

Chris Paul and Paul George — long-established stars — also got $11 million raises, both now making over $30 million. Chicago’s Jabari Parker ($20 million, a raise of $13.2 million) and Houston’s Clint Capela ($13.8 million, a raise of $11.5 million) also are in the big-raise club.

Heat guard Dwyane Wade knows what that first big payday is like. He has free advice to players like Johnson and Gordon.

“What you’ve got to understand is that just because you’re getting $15 million more now, you don’t need to live $15 million richer,” said Wade, who has collected about $200 million in NBA salaries.

Undrafted out of Fresno State, Johnson was the beneficiary of a bidding war of sorts between Miami and Brooklyn two summers ago. The Nets signed Johnson to a $50 million offer sheet that the Heat matched, even though it called for Johnson to make a total of about $11 million in the first two years of the deal and about $39 million in the last two.

The big money kicks in now, from $5.9 million last year to $19.3 million this season. But Johnson’s role might not change as much as his paycheck, and Heat coach Erik Spoelstra has urged him to not think he needs to do anything differently because of the salary.

“The world that pro athletes live in now, it’s much different than it used to be,” Spoelstra said. “Guys should embrace it, learn how to compartmentalize, learn how to manage all of that noise in a healthy manner where it’s not affecting the thing that matters most.”

Johnson has had two years to prepare for this payday.

“What’s beautiful about basketball is that basketball doesn’t change,” Johnson said. “Basketball stays the same. It’s you who changes around it. Am I going to change for the better or am I going to change for the worse? I’ve come to terms with that I’m going to make a big check this year. What other people say, that’s just outside noise.”

He and Gordon agree — the money shouldn’t change much.

“I love this game,” Gordon said. “With or without money.”

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FILE – In this Sept. 16, 2018, file photo, Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews tackles Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the second half of an NFL football game, in Green Bay, Wis. Matthews was penalized for roughing the passer on the play. The NFL is getting roughed up over its amplified enforcement of roughing the passer penalties that has produced head-scratching, game-changing calls and a season-ending injury to a defender trying to comply with the league’s mandate not to land on the quarterback. What constitutes a clean hit anymore is anyone’s guess. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer, File)
https://www.sunburynews.com/wp-content/uploads/sites/48/2018/09/web1_121453604-e877529f109e43beb1878c1033a2bd44.jpgFILE – In this Sept. 16, 2018, file photo, Green Bay Packers’ Clay Matthews tackles Minnesota Vikings quarterback Kirk Cousins during the second half of an NFL football game, in Green Bay, Wis. Matthews was penalized for roughing the passer on the play. The NFL is getting roughed up over its amplified enforcement of roughing the passer penalties that has produced head-scratching, game-changing calls and a season-ending injury to a defender trying to comply with the league’s mandate not to land on the quarterback. What constitutes a clean hit anymore is anyone’s guess. (AP Photo/Mike Roemer, File)
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