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Defensive lapses concern No. 16 Cardinals

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Defensive lapses concern No. 16 Cardinals

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) Louisville's defense feels good about making plays that have either changed or saved games this season.

The No. 16 Cardinals would feel better making more of the routine plays and avoid the need for late-game heroics.

Defensive lulls in Saturday's 27-25 win over South Florida cost the Cardinals another a big lead and force them to make another late stand to escape with a victory. It also was another unexpected battle with an underdog, reminding the Cardinals (7-0, 2-0 Big East Conference) they can't take any opponent for granted.

Louisville will need the complete defensive game that coach Charlie Strong has been stressing on Friday night in the Big East showdown against Cincinnati (5-1, 1-0), which leads the conference in several offensive categories - including scoring (34.7 points per game).

``When we get a lead, (that's) the time to really go hard instead of backing off,'' Strong said. ``It's not OK to let a team go down the field and score, even though we're up by 10 or 11 points. Now it's (time) to go lock down and really play aggressive and get off the field on third down.''

That's been a problem for Louisville, which ranks last in the conference (45.5 percent). South Florida converted 8 of 15 chances, rallying from a 14-3 halftime deficit to take a 25-21 lead into the final minutes before quarterback Teddy Bridgewater kept Louisville unbeaten with a game-winning touchdown drive.

Last month, North Carolina went 5 of 6 on third down in the second half to mount a 27-3 run that wiped out a 36-7 halftime deficit. The Tar Heels got within four yards of winning the game before the Cardinals' Andrew Johnson broke up a late pass in the end zone to preserve a 39-34 win.

``It's not the things they (opponents) do, it's the things we don't do that gets us in trouble,'' junior linebacker George Durant said. ``Our coaches have the game plan down to a `T,' and we have to dot the `I's'. If we execute that and stay in our gaps and do our assignments, we'll shut teams out.''

Most of the Cardinals' issues concern a run defense that was expected to be their strength this season. It still is for the most part, ranking 34th at 125.9 yards per game.

But that's 25 more than last year's average, and it's just fifth best in the Big East. In addition, the Cardinals have allowed 197 yards to South Florida and a season-high 224 to Southern Mississippi.

In comes Cincinnati, averaging a conference-best 225.7 rushing yards per game. Though the Bearcats gained 251 in Saturday's 29-23 loss at Toledo, their third-highest total this season, they expect more resistance from the Cardinals.

``They have a number of strengths,'' Cincinnati coach Butch Jones said. ``First of all, their overall depth. They play a number of guys, they're big and physical up front. Their linebackers are run-and-hit guys that move extremely well laterally, and they have some very, very good corners and active safeties.

``They're a pressure-oriented defense and I think sometimes when you bring a lot of pressure, that kind of lends itself to the big play.''

Strong blames the problem on general inconsistency and specifically on players failing to sustain their gaps against the run. He believes both issues can be corrected with enhanced focus and remembering that stopping the run can lead to other good things.

``It might be one or two people out of a gap for various reasons, that's the main thing,'' Durant added. ``If everyone takes their gap, nobody gets a yard.''

But for all of those concerns, Saturday's game revealed examples of Louisville's resilience.

Sophomore defensive end Lorenzo Mauldin stopped South Florida late in the first half by sacking quarterback B.J. Daniels and stripping him of the ball, preserving Louisville's 14-3 lead. That highlighted a six-tackle day including three for loss and two sacks, earning Big East Defensive Player of the Week honors.

After Daniels rallied the Bulls with three second-half touchdown passes, he was denied on the final drive when Adrian Bushell intercepted his Hail Mary pass as time ran out.

The Cardinals hope that crunch-time focus can be applied earlier in games.

``People are down on our defense, and now we're just starting to let the country know that we are going to make a stand,'' said Mauldin, who has 2.5 sacks the past two games. ``We are making a stand for ourselves, and we're going to be the toughest defense in the Big East.''

Added linebacker Preston Brown, ``we're 7-0, so we're finding ways to win, but we need to put a complete game together so we don't have to worry about trying to get a Hail Mary pass down there in the fourth quarter.''

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Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

Capitals place Taylor Chorney on waivers, which could signal something, or nothing

When the Capitals acquired defenseman Michal Kempny on Monday, that put the team at the maximum of 23 players on the roster including eight defenseman.

Another move seemed likely and the Caps made it on Tuesday by placing veteran blueliner Taylor Chorney on waivers.

Teams now will have 24 hours to potentially claim Chorney. Should he clear at 12 p.m. on Wednesday, it is expected that he will be sent to the Hershey Bears of the AHL. Whether he is claimed or sent to Hershey, his entire $800,000 cap hit will no longer count against the Capitals' salary.

One important thing to note, however, is that placing Chorney on waivers was not required in order for Washington to remain under the salary cap.

Having eight defensemen would mean scratching two every game — assuming the team does not dress seven and after that failed experiment in last year's playoffs, why would they — which means it would be a struggle to make sure everyone gets consistent playing time in the final weeks of the season.

Perhaps placing Chorney on waivers is the team trying to get him more playing time to keep him sharp in case the team suffers injuries on the blue line and he is called upon in the playoffs.

Or perhaps it could mean something else.

RELATED: RANKING THE CAPITALS' TOP PROSPECTS

Chorney played on Feb. 15, but that was during the mentor's trip. Barry Trotz's policy for those trips is to get everyone in at least one of those two games. Before that, Chorney had not played since Jan. 2. It certainly seems like the team was comfortable with him being the designated No. 7 and was not all that concerned about getting him regular playing time before now.

When asked if the Kempny trade would mean any roster moves, Trotz said Monday that he was not sure and hinted that perhaps more moves could be coming from general manager Brian MacLellan. Moving Chorney's salary off the books does not clear much cap room, but it does clear some.

Perhaps MacLellan has another move up his sleeve before Monday's trade deadline.

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New free agent Doug Martin unlikely fix to Redskins' woeful run game

New free agent Doug Martin unlikely fix to Redskins' woeful run game

News broke Tuesday that the Tampa Bay Bucaneers released former Pro Bowl running back Doug Martin, and while the name certainly triggers value, his play of the last two seasons should calm the excitement. 

Since a 2015 season where Martin rushed for 1,400 yards and averaged nearly 5 yards-per-carry in 16 games, Martin has been suspended, undergone substance abuse rehab and missed games due to injury.

In the last two seasons, Martin has played in 16 of 32 games, rushed for 827 yards and averaged less than 3 yards-per-carry.

Over his six year NFL career with the Bucs, Martin has only played two full seasons. Those two seasons were great, in 2012 and 2015, but the other four have been largely disappointing. 

RELATED: WHAT SHOULD THE REDSKINS DO AT RUNNING BACK?

The Redskins averaged just 3.6 yards-per-carry last season, and could definitely use a boost in the run game. It's entirely possible Washington might look to upgrade their offensive backfield this offseason, either in free agency or in the 2018 NFL Draft, but Martin does not look like the player to help. 

Early in the 2017 season, it appeared the Redskins run game might be a strength for the offense. After a disappointing effort on the ground to open the year in a loss to the Eagles, the Redskins rushed for at least 111 yards in their next three contests, including nearly 230 yards on the ground in a Week 2 win over the Rams. 

Injuries undid the run game, however, as Rob Kelley got hurt and the offensive line lost players, too. Over the course of the season, rookie Samaje Perine sustained minor injuries and Chris Thompson was lost for the year with a broken leg. 

Going into 2018, Kelley, Perine, Thompson and Kapri Bibbs are all on the roster and expected for now to stay with the team. That's yet another reason why the Redskins are likely to stay away from Doug Martin.

RELATED: 2018 NFL MOCK DRAFT 5.0

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