Redskins

2-week lull is Alabama defense's worst in 5 years

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2-week lull is Alabama defense's worst in 5 years

Alabama's defense has had a two-week aberration.

The Tide has given up more than 400 yards in back-to-back games for the first time in five years.

Johnny Manziel and a Texas A&M offense that's fifth-best in the country piled up 418 yards Saturday in the 29-24 upset that ended the defending champions' 13-game win streak and knocked the Tide out of the No. 1 spot in the polls.

A week earlier, Alabama survived to beat LSU, but not before the Tigers' 71st-ranked offense amassed 435 yards.

Not since Houston generated 404 yards and Mississippi 420 on consecutive weeks in October 2007 had Alabama given up so many yards in consecutive games. That was Nick Saban's first year in Tuscaloosa, and he had a defense that ranked 31st in the country. The Tide hasn't ended a season lower than fifth since.

The Tide's defensive average has gone from 203 yards before the LSU game to 247 this week. That still ranks second nationally behind Florida State.

Alabama is tied with Notre Dame in allowing 11.1 points per game.

Last season Alabama's defense led the nation at 183.6 yards a game, and it allowed 12 touchdowns in 13 games. This season, the opposition has scored 14 TDs through 10 games.

No doubt, the Tide will be better this week. The opponent is Western Carolina, a Football Championship Subdivision team that has lost nine in a row since winning its opener over Division II Mars Hill College.

FABULOUS FRESHMEN: They're known as ``Gurshall'' to the folks at Georgia.

The Bulldogs' Todd Gurley and Keith Marshall showed again Saturday why they're the nation's best 1-2 freshman running back tandem.

Each ran for more than 100 yards in the same game for the third time in a 38-0 win over Auburn.

Gurley ran 11 times for 116 yards and Marshall eight times for 105.

The two have combined for 1,598 yards, the most production by a freshman duo in program history.

MR. DEPENDABLE: Though the depth chart says Imani Cross is a third- or fourth-string running back, he's established himself as Nebraska's go-to guy in short-yardage situations.

The 6-foot-1, 225-pound freshman has carried nine times on third downs when the Cornhuskers have needed 1 to 3 yards. He's made first downs on seven of them.

Inside the opponent's 20-yard line, on any down, Cross has scored on four of eight attempts. Two of those TDs came in a span of 2 1/2 minutes in the third quarter as the Huskers came back from a 14-point deficit to beat Penn State 32-23.

NICE, LONG KICK: Baylor's Aaron Jones made a 58-yard field goal in the first quarter against Oklahoma, the longest for the Bears since Jeff Ireland kicked one the same distance in 1991.

Jones' field goal was the third-longest in the country this season, behind a 61-yarder by Clemson's Spencer Benton and 60-yarder by Washington' Andrew Furney.

REMEMBER THIS NAME: Matt Soltes of Division II East Stroudsburg has finished one of the great seasons for a freshman quarterback.

The 6-foot-3, 215-pounder threw for five touchdowns and 394 yards in a 52-45 loss to Mercyhurst on Saturday, two weeks after setting an all-division freshman record with 666 yards of total offense in a 45-37 win over LIU Post.

Soltes averaged 315.8 yards in total offense to lead D-II freshmen. He didn't become the starter until the fourth game, and he played on a team where 67 of the 85 players were either freshmen or sophomores.

CLOCK WATCHING: If you want to spend a long afternoon at the stadium, go see Baylor. The Bears' average game stretches 3 hours, 43 minutes. That figure is skewed, but only a little, because of a 45-minute weather delay against Kansas.

This is a team that took 3:51 to beat Sam Houston State, and only one of its games has taken less than 3 1/2 hours.

Why? Maybe because Baylor and its opponents combine to average 81 points.

Middle Tennessee is in and out of games in 3:03, quickest in the Bowl Subdivision. The Blue Raiders played North Texas in 2:44 and Florida Atlantic in 2:45.

The national average is 3:17, three minutes longer than in 2011.

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

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Need to Know: Tandler's Take—Drafting a running back early not a cure-all for Redskins' ground game

Here is what you need to know on this Sunday, February 18, 24 days before NFL free agency starts.

Tandler’s Take

The topic for today’s post comes from Twitter:

When I asked for topics for this post, the subject of the running game came up with several of them. And since John brought up the draft, let’s look at that as a potential solution.

Let’s first establish that the Redskins’ running game was not good enough last year. I don’t need to spend a bunch of time on this but here are some numbers. They were 28th in rushing yards and 29th in yards per carry. If you like to weigh more complete metrics, they were 28th in rushing DVOA. If you want to look at a key situation, they were last in the league in yards per first-down rushing attempt. Last year a team gained 100 yards rushing or more 274 times. The Redskins got there five times.

I’m going to leave it at that here since, again, if you’re reading this you probably watched a lot of their games and you don’t need to be persuaded that the running game was largely unproductive. Yes, there were injuries that had the offensive linemen playing snaps just days after being signed and the broken leg suffered by Chris Thompson and Rob Kelley’s various ailments. But the Redskins haven’t ranked higher than 19th in rushing yards since Jay Gruden became the head coach. Rushing game struggles are an ongoing issue.

I am going to work on the premise that those who advocate having the Redskins improve their running game via the draft are talking about drafting a running back in the first or second round. That may be overgeneralizing but that gives me a good-sized chunk of data to work with and still be able to analyze it in the 1000 words or so I am allotted here.

I’m also going to call a 1,000-yard season the minimum that would be expected out of a back drafted in the first two rounds. There are other ways a back can contribute, of course, and we can deal with them separately.

From 2010-2017, there were 45 thousand-yard rushing seasons by players who entered the league during those years (all data via the indispensable Pro Football Reference unless noted). Twelve of them were accomplished by players drafted in the first round. Six came from second-round picks, six from third-rounders, four from the fourth, three from the fifth, four from the sixth and none from the seventh. Oh, and there were 10 thousand-yard seasons that came from undrafted players.

It should be noted that four of those seasons from undrafted players came from the Texans’ Arian Foster. And two each came from LeGarrette Blount and BenJarvus Green-Ellis. So those 10 thousand-yard seasons should not be seen as an indication that there is a treasure trove of running back talent going undrafted every year.

Back to the first and second rounders, the combined 16 thousand-yard seasons doesn’t mean much in isolation. How many backs were drafted in the first two rounds in that time? How many opportunities have they had to post big seasons?

In the past eight drafts, 34 running backs were drafted in the first and second round. That group has had 170 opportunities to post a 1,000-yard season. What I mean by opportunities is the number of seasons that have elapsed since the player was drafted. The six backs drafted in the first two rounds in 2010 have each had eight chances to gain 1,000 yards in a season so they have combined for 48 opportunities (6*8). There were five backs drafted in the first and second seven seasons ago, so there have combined for 35 opportunities, and so on. Through the eight years that adds up to 170 seasons.

The combined 16 thousand-yard seasons in 170 opportunities comes to a success rate of 9.4 percent when it comes to reaching the bar that most fans would set as the minimum.

A couple of things need to be pointed out here. There are some backs like Giovani Bernard, Shane Vereen, and Christian McCaffrey who do not have any big rushing seasons on their resumes but have been valuable catching passes out of the backfield. And some like Dalvin Cook, who was injured after a promising start last year, and McCaffrey seemed destined to have 1,000-yard seasons in their futures. So all of the backs who have not gained 1,000 yards in a season are not necessarily draft busts or failures.

But here are first-round running back busts, just like there are busts at every position. There were 12 running back picked in the first round of the past eight drafts. Javid Best, David Wilson, and Trent Richardson clearly were disappointments (the former two struggled with injuries). Doug Martin, Ryan Mathews, and C.J. Spiller have had some success but perhaps not enough to justify being first-round picks. It took Mark Ingram a while, but he got rolling in his sixth NFL season. I want to see more out of McCaffrey before judging him and Melvin Gordon needs to continue his upward trajectory. It’s safe to say that even with small sample sizes of data in the books on Ezekiel Elliott and Leonard Fournette they were home runs. So was Todd Gurley.

So out of 12 first-round backs in the last eight years, you have three clear busts, three moderate disappointments, four top-level performers (including Ingram) and two TBD.

In any case, it’s clear that just drafting a back early is not a panacea for a struggling running game. Blocking (from both the line and the receivers and other backs), play calling, scheme, and some intangible factors like attitude (as Brian Mitchell will tell you) all play into the success and failure of moving the ball on the ground.

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page Facebook.com/TandlerNBCS and follow him on Twitter @TandlerNBCS.

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2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

2018 NBA All-Star Game: TV and live stream info, rosters, things to watch for dunk contest, three-point contest

The 2018 NBA All-Star Game is here with the annual showcase set for Los Angeles.

Here is all you need to know: TV and live stream info, tip-off time, plus three things to watch:

2018 NBA ALL-STAR GAME

Where: Staples Center
Tip-off: 8 p.m.
TV: TNT
Online with no cable TV: fuboTV (try for free)

ROSTERS

TEAM LEBRON:

Coach: Dwane Casey, Raptors
LeBron James, Cavaliers
Kevin Durant, Warriors
Kyrie Irving, Celtics
Anthony Davis, Pelicans
LaMarcus Aldridge, Spurs
Bradley Beal, Wizards
Goran Dragic, Heat
Andre Drummond, Pistons
Paul George, Thunder
Victor Oladipo, Pacers
Russell Westbrook, Thunder
Kemba Walker, Hornets

TEAM STEPHEN:

Coach: Mike D'Antoni, Rockets
Stephen Curry, Warriors
James Harden, Rockets
Joel Embiid, 76ers
DeMar DeRozan, Raptors
Giannis Antetokounmpo, Bucks
Jimmy Butler, Timberwolves
Draymond Green, Warriors
Klay Thompson, Warriors
Al Horford, Celtics
Damian Lillard, Blazers
Kyle Lowry, Raptors
Karl-Anthony Towns, Timberwolves

PODCAST: ALL-STAR WEEKEND PREVIEW, WIZARDS AT THE BREAK 

Three things to watch...

New format

The NBA switched it up this season by doing away with the traditional matchup between the East and West. The teams were instead chosen by captains LeBron James and Stephen Curry, the two top vote-getters in All-Star fan voting. The idea was to breath new life into the All-Star Game and hopefully make it more competitive. The league also installed a system where the winners each get $100,000, $75,000 more than the losing team. 

All pro sports leagues struggle drawing interest with their All-Star showcases. They are always trying to get ratings up and this is the latest ploy by the NBA. The new format is definitely intriguing, but whether it will have a major impact on the competition itself is hard to tell. We'll see how the fans respond.

RELATED: JOHN WALL GIVES UPDATE ON HIS REHAB

Reunion time

The teams picked by James and Curry will give fans some throwback combinations with former teammates back together again. Team LeBron is full of them. James will reunite with Kyrie Irving, who essentially forced his way out of Cleveland over the summer after the two combined to reach three straight NBA Finals and win one title.

We will also see Kevin Durant and Russell Westbrook play together again. They of course teamed up to win a lot of games with the Oklahoma City Thunder before Durant signed with the Warriors. Westbrook will also be reunited with Victor Oladipo, who was traded from OKC to the Pacers over the summer.

RELATED: WIZARDS/BULLETS HISTORY ON ALL-STAR SATURDAY NIGHT

Beal's All-Star debut

Wizards fans will of course be focused on Bradley Beal, who is making his first All-Star appearance. He is Washington's lone representative, as John Wall is still recovering from left knee surgery.

Beal may not get many minutes on a stacked roster of guys who have been in the game before. If that happens, it's probably for the best. Beal is currently fifth in the NBA in total minutes played. He needs the rest if he can get it.

RELATED: LATEST NBA POWER RANKINGS