Eagles

NFL Notes: Texans LB Brian Cushing suspended 10 games for PEDs

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NFL Notes: Texans LB Brian Cushing suspended 10 games for PEDs

Houston Texans linebacker Brian Cushing has been suspended for 10 games by the NFL for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances.

It's the second time Cushing has been suspended; he missed four games in 2010 under the same policy, testing positive for a fertility drug. Cushing had won 2009 Defensive Rookie of the Year, an honor which was jeopardized by the suspension. He kept the award after a revote by The Associated Press' awards panel.

Currently in the NFL's concussion protocol after being injured in Houston's opening loss to Jacksonville, Cushing will be eligible to return on Nov. 28.

Cushing has had a checkered career since his sensational rookie season. Injuries curtailed the 2012 and `13 seasons, when he got into a total of 12 games. He's never come close to matching his first-year production of 86 tackles, 47 assists, four sacks, four interceptions, two forced fumbles and 10 passes defensed.

The 2009 defensive rookie revote came after Cushing tested positive for HCG, a fertility drug that is on the NFL's banned substance list. He had one positive test from a urine sample taken in September 2009, then subsequently tested negative several times (see full story).

Cowboys: NFL trying to speed appeal over blocked Elliott ban
FRISCO, Texas -- The NFL is trying to accelerate the timeline in its appeal of a federal judge's injunction that blocked Dallas running back Ezekiel Elliott's six-game suspension over a domestic violence case.

The NFL quickly answered a filing from Elliott's attorneys Wednesday, telling U.S. District Judge Amos Mazzant that the league would immediately go to the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in New Orleans if he didn't rule on its request for a stay of his injunction by Thursday.

The legal maneuverings are unlikely to keep last year's NFL rushing leader from playing Sunday at Denver. He had already been cleared to play in a season-opening win over the New York Giants before Mazzant granted his request for an injunction.

The NFL had until Friday to respond to arguments from Elliott's camp against Mazzant rescinding his own order blocking the suspension. In that scenario, Mazzant wouldn't have ruled until next week (see full story).

Dolphins: Stills calls for athletes to support Kaepernick
OXNARD, Calif. -- Kenny Stills wants to know why more athletes aren't standing with Colin Kaepernick.

The Miami Dolphins receiver has restated his questions from a series of tweets Tuesday questioning the support across sports for Kaepernick, the former 49ers quarterback currently out of football after his protests during the national anthem last season.

"I just feel like the league, it's majority African-American, and you would think more people would come to have one of our guys' back," Stills said Wednesday.

"We talk about the NFL being a brotherhood," Stills added. "They give us this presentation every year about the NFL being a brotherhood, and (if) something wrong is going on to one of your brothers, I feel like we should be there to have his back and speak up for him."

Stills spoke after practice in Oxnard, where the Dolphins are spending the week ahead of Sunday's game against the Los Angeles Chargers. They traveled to the West Coast early due to Hurricane Irma's devastation of South Florida.

Kaepernick spoke up against police abuses and racial injustices last season, sparking many players to join him in activism. Those players included Stills, who knelt during the national anthem along with three teammates.

Stills had previously said he won't take a knee this year, but said Wednesday that he might re-evaluate his plans.

Giants: Manning not worried about offense
EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. -- Fourteen seasons in the NFL have taught Eli Manning not to make too much of one game.

Sure, the New York Giants' offense was pathetic in a season-opening 19-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday.

The statistics screamed bad game: three points, 233 total yards, 35 on the ground, 53 total plays, just under 26 minutes of possession, three sacks. It was awful, and even missing leading receiver Odell Beckham Jr. with a sprained ankle was no excuse for such a performance.

There was blame to go around a couple of times, from the offensive line to the wideouts who could not get open.

Manning was quick to answer when asked if he was worried about the offense, which also struggled last season despite an 11-5 record.

"First game," the two-time Super Bowl MVP said. "Guys were playing fast, got some good guys out there, some new bodies. So, we'll bounce back. We'll be fine. We just have to slow down, everybody take a breath and just run the plays the way we've been running them all spring and all summer."

Chiefs: Smith shrugs off win, turns focus to Eagles
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A year ago, all four of Kansas City's regular-season losses came after big wins. Big wins like the Chiefs' rout of New England last week to open their season.

Two of those losses came at Arrowhead Stadium, which will be the site of Sunday's game against Philadelphia. The Eagles opened their season with a 30-17 win over Washington.

For quarterback Alex Smith, word that he was the AFC's offensive player of the week after the upset of the Patriots brought only a brief smile.

"I just think that if you play long enough you realize how quick things can change," Smith said Wednesday. "One week everybody's raving about you and how quickly it can flip if you drink the Kool-Aid."

Smith finished the opener 28-of-35 passing for 368 yards and four touchdowns, but that's old news to him and the rest of the Chiefs.

"Certainly it's nice but at this point I feel like preparations are already begun on the Eagles," he said. "I've certainly seen teams where they play really good and they're feel so good about themselves and walk into the next week and get smacked in the mouth."

Vikings: Captain Bradford now comfortable as leader 
EDEN PRAIRIE, Minn. -- Sam Bradford has been named one of the Minnesota Vikings' captains, an obviously natural selection as the quarterback.

This is the first time for Bradford serving in that role on the field since 2013 with St. Louis, though, thanks to an injury and two trades. Finally settled after that whirlwind season in 2016 for the Vikings, Bradford has the comfort in his surroundings to help foster the high level of leadership that his position demands.

"It means a lot, and I take a lot of pride in it," Bradford said. "I think there's a lot of responsibility that comes with that and I'm going to do everything I can to make sure to live up to that."

The 29-year-old's performance in the opener Monday against New Orleans sure looked like that of the franchise player.

"I said this offseason that this would be a big year for Sam," said tight end Kyle Rudolph, who caught one of the three touchdown passes. "I wasn't surprised."

The first pick in the 2010 draft by St. Louis, Bradford never truly found his footing there with some weak supporting casts and major injuries that squelched his progress. He didn't play in his final season with the Rams because of a torn ACL in his right knee for a second straight year. Then he was dealt to Philadelphia in 2015 and to Minnesota in 2016. Setting the NFL record for completion percentage last season was quite the accomplishment considering he arrived eight days before the opener.

Redskins: Cousins aims to rebound vs. mentor
ASHBURN, Va. -- When Sean McVay left the Washington Redskins to coach the Los Angeles Rams, Kirk Cousins signed a jersey for him with a poignant message.

"I owe you my career."

During McVay's three seasons as offensive coordinator and two as play-caller, Cousins became a full-time NFL starting quarterback and set and broke the franchise record for passing yards. Now Cousins is trying to rebound from a rough season opener against one of the coaches who knows him the best.

"There is a familiarity there and that does present a challenge, as you'd imagine, with knowing what makes the offense go, not only the scheme but the personnel, and so we've got to be aware of that and plan accordingly," Cousins said Wednesday. "If we can run our plays very detailed and be disciplined in the way we execute, usually that can overcome familiarity. But certainly if we don't execute well, it certainly gives them the opportunity to capitalize."

Last week in an opening home loss to the Eagles, Cousins was 20 of 43 for 240 yards with a touchdown, an interception and two fumbles. The interception at the goal line was a turning point in the game, and his sack-fumble that was returned for a touchdown essentially ended it.

Cousins said if McVay were still around he'd have the same advice as coach Jay Gruden, offensive coordinator Matt Cavanaugh and quarterbacks coach Kevin O'Connell. But McVay also was always the coach who told Cousins in good times and bad: "I believe in you."

Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

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Derrick Gunn's NFL Week 7 Picks: Will Falcons avenge Super Bowl loss to Patriots?

Derrick Gunn makes his picks for Week 7 of the NFL season.

Redskins at Eagles (8:30 p.m. on ESPN)
Because they have the best record in the NFC, the Eagles have a huge target on their backs and everybody is gunning for them. On Monday night, the Washington Redskins are hoping to take them down a notch. The ‘Skins come limping to the Linc. Their star rookie defensive lineman Jonathan Allen is done for the year with a Lisfranc injury. Their starting cornerbacks Josh Norman (rib) and Bashaud Breeland (knee) both might miss this key divisional showdown.

Carson Wentz has the Eagles offense rolling, and the defense has been rock solid against the run. Kirk Cousins will go after a Birds secondary ranked 29th against the pass (273.5 yards per game). One of the key matchups to watch closely is how the Eagles will try to defend against ‘Skins running back Chris Thompson, who is Washington’s leading rusher. More importantly, he’s their leading receiver, averaging 18.9 yards per catch.

In Week One the Eagles sacked Kirk Cousins 4 times, but since then he’s only been sacked 4 times. The Birds broke the ‘Skins jinx in the season opener. I look for the home team to make it a season sweep.

Pick: Eagles 28, Redskins 24

Buccaneers at Bills (1 p.m. on FOX)
The good news for the Bucs is Jameis Winston is expected to play despite dealing with an AC joint sprain in his shoulder. The bad news for the Bucs is they’re playing against a Bills team coming off a bye and a Bills' defense that is No. 1 in the league in points allowed at 14.8 points per game. Tampa Bay is also winless on the road. That won’t change this week.

Pick: Buffalo

Panthers at Bears (1 p.m. on CBS)
The Panthers have had a long time to lick their wounds after their encounter with the Eagles. The Bears are riding high after a stunning road win at Baltimore. Until the Panthers learn how to run the ball effectively, better teams will make them one-dimensional. Chicago has a potent run game, averaging 136 yards, but has difficulty scoring, putting up just 17.5 points per game. The Panthers go into the Bears' den and claw out a win.

Pick: Carolina

Titans at Browns (1 p.m. on CBS)
Desperate men take desperate measures and Hue Jackson is desperate to change the misfortunes of his 0-6 Browns. Jackson is going back to rookie quarterback DeShone Kizer who has 3 touchdowns and 9 interceptions this year. Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota is still dealing with a nagging hamstring injury, but he fought through it last week and threw for 306 yards against the Colts. The combination of running backs Derrick Henry and DeMarco Murray takes a lot of pressure off Mariota. Look for the Titans to ground and pound the Browns.

Pick: Tennessee

Saints at Packers (1 p.m. on FOX)
These are dark days for Packers fans with Aaron Rodgers on the shelf with a broken collarbone. Meanwhile, the Saints have been marching, winning three straight. New Orleans has averaged 35 points in its last three and Drew Brees hasn’t thrown an interception since Week 1. The Saints will be doing more Lambeau Leaps than the Packers will this Sunday.

Pick: New Orleans

Jaguars at Colts (1 p.m. on CBS)
At 3-3, the Jaguars are tied for first place in the AFC South with Houston and Tennessee. Indy is just one game off the lead at 2-4. Jags rookie running back Leonard Fournette, who is second in the league in rushing, is questionable with an ankle injury. These Jaguars are an odd bunch to figure out and their wins have come in Weeks 1, 3, and 5. Since this is an odd week, I guess you know who I’m picking here.

Pick: Jacksonville

Cardinals at Rams (1 p.m. on FOX)
Looks like all the Cards needed was to find a running back to cure their offensive problems. In his Arizona debut last Sunday, Adrian Peterson had 26 carries for 134 yards and two touchdowns, along with a Cards win. The Rams have the league’s fourth-leading rusher in Todd Gurley. Both teams' offenses have the capability to light it up through the air, but if it comes down to the run game the Rams could be in trouble, as they allow 139.5 yards per game. With that said, I like the Rams at home in a close game.

Pick: Los Angeles

Jets at Dolphins (1 p.m. on FOX)
After falling behind 17-0 in Atlanta last week, the Dolphins mounted an impressive rally to pull off an upset win. The Jets have surprised many with limited offensive talent and have found a way to win three games. Division matches are usually difficult to pinpoint. The Jets are not the Falcons and since the Dolphins beat Atlanta on the road, they should handle New York at home.

Pick: Miami

Ravens at Vikings (1 p.m. on CBS)
Who are these Ravens? They look like contenders one week, then unravel against a team like Chicago the next week and look like pretenders. Minnesota’s defense is fast and rugged. Vikings quarterback Case Keenum has a firm grip on the offense. The Vikings will win their third in a row.

Pick: Minnesota

Cowboys at 49ers (4:05 p.m. on FOX)
These Niners are an interesting bunch. They haven’t won a game, but they’re in most of them. The Niners have set an NFL record by losing five consecutive games by three points or less. The 'Boys are coming off a bye and look to regroup. Their defense has been hot or cold. In this case, their D can be lukewarm because the 'Boys have just enough offensive firepower to hold off the Niners.

Pick: Dallas

Seahawks at Giants (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
This should be one of those good old rock’em sock’em type matchups. The Seahawks' and Giants' defenses can both bring it. Big Blue shocked the world last week by manhandling the Broncos in Denver. Russell Wilson is one of the best in the game at extending plays with his feet. Eli Manning is a stationary target with very few weapons to work with. Yes, I remember they found a run game against the Broncos but the legion of boom and company will be ready for it.

Pick: Seattle

Bengals at Steelers (4:25 p.m. on CBS)
The Steelers put it all together last week to hand the Chiefs their first loss. Do you want defense? This game is about defense. The Bengals are ranked second and the Steelers are third best in the NFL. The Bengals are well-rested coming off a bye and will be waiting for Le’Veon Bell. The wide receivers in this AFC North showdown are exciting … Antonio Brown, A.J. Green, John Ross. The Bengals two-game win streak stops in Da Burgh.

Pick: Pittsburgh

Broncos at Chargers (4:25 p.m on CBS)
Remember how we were all snickering at the Chargers for inventing new ways to lose close games? Well, laugh no more. The Chargers have won their last two by a grand total of six points. Meanwhile, the Broncos have lost two of their last three. This game features premier pass rushers on both sides —Von Miller, Joey Bosa and Melvin Ingram. The Chargers are 0-3 at home. This is a pick’em game. After closing my eyes and throwing at a dart board, I’m picking the Chargers. Don’t ask me why.

Pick: Los Angeles

Falcons at Patriots (8:30 p.m. Sunday on NBC)
A rematch of last season’s Super Bowl. It would be a small measure of revenge for the Falcons, but Atlanta is having problems finding the end zone. In each of their last two games, the Falcons have been held to just 17 points and lost both. Brady and company know how to score, but the Pats' defense has been inconsistent stopping the opposition from scoring. However, maybe that’s changing. In its last two games, New England held Tampa Bay to 14 points and the Jets to 17 points. Atlanta presents a much bigger test, but never bet against Bill Belichick at home.

Pick: Patriots

Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

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Zach Ertz making significant strides after offseason work with Carson Wentz

The same Zach Ertz who's never had more than four touchdowns in a season now leads all NFL tight ends in touchdown catches. With four.

It's all part of the natural evolution between Ertz and Carson Wentz.

Ertz shares the NFL TD catch lead among tight ends with the Buccaneers' Cameron Brate and the Patriots' Rob Gronkowski.

And going back to last year, Ertz has six touchdown catches in his last seven games and eight in his last 13 games.

In his previous 40 games? He had five touchdown catches.

“I think it's just all the offseason work with Carson," Ertz said. "I think the coaches have a lot of confidence in me down there, and I think that stems from all the red-zone emphasis that we had all spring and summer.

"And then I’ve just made plays, the offensive line has held up, I think Carson is putting the ball in amazing spots, and I just go up and get the ball. I have the easy part."

Ertz had TD catches to give the Eagles' 14-0 leads against the Giants and Cards and then caught two last Thursday that turned a 10-3 deficit into an 18-10 lead as the Eagles beat the Panthers in Charlotte, North Carolina.

He's the first Eagles tight end with four TD catches through six games since Pete Pihos in 1955.

“The biggest thing is A) He puts in the work and B) He’s a really intelligent football player," Wentz said. "He knows coverages, recognizes things, knows when he’s hot (on a blitz).

"He’s really kind of in my head. He knows when I’m about to change his route, those types of things. With a guy like that, that knows how to create separation and play on time and be on the same page as me, that makes it tough to stop."

The touchdowns are most notable, but Ertz is off to the best start of his career in every category. His 34 catches and 405 yards are both second-most among all NFL tight ends to Travis Kelce's 37 and 423 (in seven games).

The Eagles, 5-1, face the 3-2 Redskins Monday night at the Linc. Ertz already has 54 career receptions against the Redskins — third-most ever by a tight end.

“It’s just Year 2 in this system," he said. "I’m a lot more comfortable in my role this year as opposed to last year. I was hurt, missed two games, and I was slowly integrated back into the game plan.

"I think this year I’m extremely confident in my role, I think they have the confidence in me to go out there and make plays when my number’s called, and it’s not going to be 10 targets every game. Last week it was two targets, 20 yards. It’s going to vary each and every week but I’m very happy with how they’re using me right now."

Ertz and Nelson Agholor are the first Eagles tandem with four touchdowns each through six games since Fred Barnett and Calvin Williams each had four back in 1992.

The red zone was a point of emphasis this offseason, and Wentz's numbers in the red zone are off the charts — 62 percent completion percentage, nine touchdowns, no interceptions and a 112.8 passer rating, fourth-highest in the NFL.

Ertz is third in the NFL with five red-zone first-down catches and fourth in the NFL with both six red-zone receptions and 49 yards.

“It’s timing," Wentz said. "It’s a timing thing and being on the same page.

"Red zone’s all about making plays. Playmakers making plays and playing on time down there is so crucial and that’s something we’ve really focused on. I think we’ve gotten better at all our spots on playing on time but he’s a guy that we feel creates mismatches and we take advantage of them."