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ECU looks to slow Navy's ground game

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ECU looks to slow Navy's ground game

GREENVILLE, N.C. (AP) Navy couldn't stop scoring in its last trip to East Carolina because the Pirates couldn't stop the Midshipmen from running.

So naturally, the priority is clear for coach Ruffin McNeill's team: slow their productive ground game.

The Pirates will become bowl eligible for the sixth time since 2006 on Saturday if they defeat a Navy team that administered quite a beating the last time it came to Greenville. The Midshipmen's 76-35 win in 2010 marked the most points allowed by the Pirates at Dowdy-Ficklen Stadium.

The key for East Carolina (5-3) - as it always is for each of Navy's opponents - is containing a triple-option offense that routinely produces some of the top rushing totals in the nation.

The Midshipmen, whose 521 yards rushing in that blowout were the most allowed at home by an East Carolina defense, rank 13th in the Bowl Subdivision this season with an average of 236 yards. The Pirates have been stout against the run, allowing an average of 123 yards on the ground.

``Navy runs the ball for a living, and not for a hobby,'' McNeill said. ``We know that they are going to get some yardage, so what we need to do is try to eliminate and minimize long plays. It will be the war of wills this week. We take a lot of pride in stopping the run and that is what Navy does well with its offense.''

The Midshipmen (4-3) have won three straight to vault back into the bowl conversation following a 1-3 start, rolling up 257 yards rushing in a 31-30 victory at Indiana last week.

They trailed 30-21 with 5 1/2 minutes left before rallying for the win that put them above .500 for the first time since starting 2-1 last year.

``I've been encouraged with the way our guys have worked, whether after losses or after wins. They just keep grinding, which is what the coaching staff has told them to do,'' coach Ken Niumatalolo said. ``Don't listen to critics, don't listen to people patting you on the back, just keep grinding. Learn from wins, learn from losses, but always find a way to press through to the next practice, the next game.''

East Carolina's quarterback-friendly spread offense appears to be hitting its stride under first-year starter Shane Carden.

The Pirates have scored 40 points in each of their last two games, Conference USA wins over Memphis and UAB. Carden, who supplanted Rio Johnson after the Week 2 loss to South Carolina, threw for 694 yards and eight touchdowns during the two-game winning streak. And running back Vintavious Cooper has kept the pressure off Carden, averaging 134 yards rushing with two TDs during that stretch.

``Vintavious Cooper has allowed our offense to keep a balance,'' McNeill said. ``It is vital to help Shane with our offense and in our play action passing.''

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Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

Redskins' schedule "rest disparity" is very fair in 2018

The NFL started taking into account a new factor when putting together its schedule this year. The concept is called rest disparity. It stems from a complaint made by the Giants last year. And, of course, when the Giants have a cold, the NFL sneezes and immediately does whatever it takes to cure the cold. 

Here is how Peter King laid it out this morning on the MMQB:

Last year, I heard the Giants were not pleased with their schedule because they felt they were too often playing teams more rested than they were. In consecutive October weeks, they played teams coming off byes, for instance. The NFL calculated a figure for every team based on the number of combined days of rest for their foes or for the team, calculating, for instance, in those two weeks, the Giants were a minus-14 (minus-seven for each of the foes, Seattle and Denver, coming off byes). In all, by my math, the Giants were a league-worst minus-22 in “rest disparity.”

So the schedule makers worked to minimize the rest disparity this year. According to King, the worst rest disparity in the league this year is minus-11. The Giants are minus-eight. 

The question that Redskins fans will have immediately here is if the Giants’ rest disparity was reduced at the expense of the team in burgundy and gold. The answer that will surprise many is no. 

The Redskins rest disparity in 2018 will be either minus-one or zero. The variance is due to the possibility that their Week 16 game in Tennessee will be flexed to a Saturday game (see details here). If the game stays on Sunday, they will be at minus-one in rest disparity. If it gets moved, they will have had exactly as much rest over the course of the season as did their opponents, in aggregate. 

If you're interested in the nitty-gritty, here is how it breaks down. In eight or nine of their games, they will have had the same amount of rest as their opponents. They play one game coming off of their bye, a Monday night game in New Orleans. The Saints play the previous Sunday, giving Washington a plus-seven in days of rest. That is canceled out when they play the Falcons in Week 9 after Atlanta’s bye. 

Due to their Thanksgiving game, they get three extra days off going into their Week 13 Monday night game in Philadelphia. Two weeks later the Jaguars will have those three extra days of rest when they host the Redskins, having played on Thursday in Week 14.

They lose a day relative to their opponents coming off of those Monday night games against the Saints and Eagles. The Redskins get an extra day prior to visiting the Giants in Week 8 as New York has a Monday night game in Week 7. 

So far, that comes to minus-one in rest disparity. That will remain in place if they play the Titans on Sunday, December 23. If the game is flexed to Saturday, they will gain a day of rest on the Eagles in Week 17, zeroing out the rest disparity for the season. 

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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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Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

Will the Caps be able to take advantage of home ice in Game 5?

There's a saying in sports that goes, "A series doesn't start until a team loses at home." For the Washington Capitals and Columbus Blue Jackets, their series won't start until someone wins at home.

Four games into the series, the road team has won every game. Columbus took Game 1 and Game 2 from Capital One Arena and the Caps answered back by winning Game 3 and Game 4 in Ohio.

"We came [to Columbus] to try to get the first one," Barry Trotz said after Thursday's win. "Did that. We came here to get the second one. Did that. All we've done is just got on even terms."

Now the series is a best of three with two of those final three games in Washington, but how much of an advantage does that really give the Caps?

"We've got to make sure that we're ready to go," Trotz said. "I think we have been since we got here. We've just got to do it at home."

The various playoff struggles the Caps have suffered in the Alex Ovechkin era have been well-documented to this point. One particularly maddening issue is the team's struggles to win at home. Since 2008, the first year the Ovechkin-led Caps made the playoffs, the team is just 28-25 in home playoff games. Since 2015, Trotz's first season as head coach, the Caps are 12-10 in Washington.

Part of that is just the nature of hockey. Upsets are prevalent in the playoffs in the NHL and home-ice advantage does not mean as much as it does in other sports. But it should mean more than 28-25.

Besides having the crowd on your side, home ice also provides matchup advantages. The home team gets the second line change at home, meaning during a stoppage in play the home coach gets the opportunity to see who the opponent puts on the ice before making his own change. For the Caps, this means getting Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against Artemi Panarin.

Trotz has matched his top shutdown pair against Columbus' top line all series long. According to Natural Stat Trick, when Niskanen was on the ice in Game 4 he held Panarin's Corsi For percentage to 36.36. When Niskanen was not on the ice, Panarin's percentage shot up to 71.43. 

Theoretically, it should be much easier for Trotz to get those favorable matchups at home. Now all the Caps have to do is take advantage.

"Our home record hasn't been really great in the last little stretch at the end of the season here and obviously the first two games of the playoffs," Trotz said. "We owe it to our fans, we owe it to ourselves to take advantage of that."

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