Redskins

Crabtree making strides on and off field for 49ers

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Crabtree making strides on and off field for 49ers

SANTA CLARA, Calif. (AP) Michael Crabtree realizes the moment he starts thinking about just how much zip is coming on each pass from Colin Kaepernick, that's when he might wind up missing the ball.

And he hasn't been doing much missing lately.

This playmaking, go-to tandem is on quite a roll for the San Francisco 49ers, and they are determined to keep it that way right into February.

These two sure have been making things look easy ever since Kaepernick took over as starting quarterback for San Francisco midseason in place of Alex Smith. Coach Jim Harbaugh and the rest of the offense are counting on more of the same for the No. 2 seed Niners (11-4-1) in Saturday night's divisional playoff game against the Green Bay Packers at Candlestick Park.

``We've been here before,'' Crabtree said. ``Last year we came up a little short. I feel like I've got a little chip on my shoulder right now and I can't wait to go back out there for the playoffs. Big stage, big game for us as an offense and defense and special teams.''

Crabtree has left his forgettable playoffs of last season in the past, producing a career year that showed everybody why the 49ers selected him 10th overall in the 2009 draft with the belief he would quickly emerge as an elite NFL wide receiver.

Not that Crabtree cares to discuss any of that. He is counting down the minutes until kickoff Saturday.

He finished with career highs of nine touchdowns, 85 catches and 1,105 yards this season. Crabtree also had five TDs and 30 catches on third-down plays - both stats among the top five in the NFL.

``That's Texas Tech Crabtree,'' running back Frank Gore said. ``It's not surprising. Just a healthy Crabtree.''

He has grown up a bit since his college days, when he couldn't shed the ``diva'' tag wherever he went. He has learned by watching Randy Moss, on the field and off. From running routes to working out.

It seems so long ago that Crabtree was angrily confronted by tight end Vernon Davis during an early September practice two years ago, and then-coach Mike Singletary had to step between them. There have been no such known issues since, and Davis has supported him.

``If we can continue to get Crabtree involved and he can help us the way he did last week, then I'm all for it,'' said Davis, whose role has diminished.

Crabtree led the team in catches (72) and yards receiving last season (874). While he had four catches for 25 yards and a 4-yard touchdown reception in a 36-32 victory against Drew Brees and the favored Saints in last season's NFC divisional playoffs, it was the NFC championship game Crabtree remembers as a most disappointing day.

San Francisco's receivers had just one catch for 3 yards - yes, it was by him - and Crabtree was targeted four times in a 20-17 overtime loss to the eventual Super Bowl champion New York Giants.

He's not one to reflect on why San Francisco fell short.

``Just feel like that was last year. I don't really know what happened,'' Crabtree said. ``We were just talking about opportunity and I said something about that after the game last year and I meant it, you know? Because I'm a football player, this is what I do for a living, and I love it.''

He has been targeted no fewer than nine times in each of the last five games, including 10 each against St. Louis and Miami, 12 at New England, nine in a loss at Seattle and 11 in the regular-season finale against Arizona.

``This isn't a new or recent thing in my mind. He's got a lot of skill. He's very productive and he loves to compete,'' Harbaugh said. ``It's not the first time balls have gone to him, or he's caught balls or made big plays. This is something he's done for the better part of his career.''

When at full strength, that is.

After a 71-day contract stalemate as a rookie, Crabtree was sidelined during the 2010 preseason with a neck injury and again a year later because of a broken foot that he sustained while working out in Smith-organized practices during the NFL lockout.

Having him back on the field has meant so much to the franchise turning things around. The 49ers ended an eight-year playoff absence last season and have another chance at returning to the Super Bowl for the first time since 1994.

Ask anybody around the Niners, and Crabtree has emerged as a leader. One example of his talent: He finally signed his contract in early October 2009, then cracked the starting lineup by the end of the month.

When Crabtree celebrated his 25th birthday back in September, Harbaugh asked him to say a few words on the field after practice. Crabtree challenged the offense to keep up with the defense before a 27-19 win against the Lions - a game in which Crabtree delivered three third-down conversion catches.

If he can do more of the same Saturday, all the better for the 49ers' chances. Last season's finish has weighed on the players' minds ever since.

``It has driven us a lot,'' said the media-shy Crabtree, who owns more than 1,000 pairs of shoes and displays his fancy sneakers on game day. ``I feel like we need to win. I want to go to the Super Bowl, you know? I want to do all those things.''

Crabtree scored his first career touchdown at Green Bay on Nov. 22, 2009, on a 38-yard pass from Smith.

``He's playing well,'' Smith said Thursday. ``I feel like he's the player he's been for a while. It's just a matter of everybody's seeing it.''

Notes: Harbaugh is sticking with David Akers as kicker over newcomer Billy Cundiff, who will remain on the roster. ... When asked Thursday if he's ever sported a mullet hairdo, Harbaugh said: ``I've had the same haircut since I was 10 years old. Business in the front, party in the back, I've never had that.'' ... Toll takers at the Golden Gate Bridge will be sporting 49ers hats and T-shirts on Friday and Saturday, courtesy of the team. In addition, the downtown San Francisco buildings expected to be lit in 49ers red and gold over the weekend are the Ferry Building clock tower, Coit Tower and City Hall.

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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