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No. 10 Sooners getting stingy with simpler defense

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No. 10 Sooners getting stingy with simpler defense

NORMAN, Okla. (AP) Forget the frills.

Mike Stoops is back in charge of a bone-jarring defense at No. 10 Oklahoma that is creating turnovers and raising hope that the Sooners are back to the dominant unit it was during his first stint in Norman.

Stoops isn't deploying crazy blitzes or stunts or any type of trickery to get the job done. It's a simplistic, basic defense that his players can know by heart and execute without hesitation.

``You don't want to do so many things you can't be good at anything,'' Stoops said. ``You've got to hang your hat on something and it's got to be something that's built for unique offenses. It's got to be built very adaptable, and that's what we're trying to do.''

Stoops was brought in during the offseason to fix a defense that had slipped from its perch among the nation's best in recent years. With him in charge, the Sooners were among the top 10 defenses for four straight years from 2000 to 2003. For three of the past four seasons, they didn't even crack the top 50.

But rarely has the defense looked better than in the first half against then-No. 15 Texas on Saturday. On eight drives, Oklahoma (4-1, 2-1) forced the Longhorns' offense to go three-and-out five times, picked off two passes and added a safety.

There were two more three-and-outs and a forced fumble in the second half before Texas quarterback David Ash left with an injured wrist and the Sooners called off the dogs.

``A lot of people want to talk about our defense and what we've been through, what we've done. But we want to keep going, we want to keep getting better,'' safety Javon Harris said. ``It's something that it's unexplainable sometimes, just to be like, man, it's a lot different.''

Stoops said there's no huge philosophical change from previous coordinator Brent Venables, who worked alongside him in Norman. But in an age of hurry-up offenses, particularly in the hyperactive Big 12, complexity can lead to unwanted confusion.

``Kids can't think of down, distance, formation, boundary, field, what's this called, 3-by-1, 2-by-1,'' Stoops said. ``There's a lot that comes at you very quickly and being able to adjust and play the way you want to, it makes it very difficult.''

Instead, he's doing his best to mold a defense that doesn't require frequent personnel changes or pre-snap adjustments to what the offense is doing.

``In the last two weeks, we're changing leverages, we're changing angles, so now the quarterback has to think,'' he said. ``That's making the quarterback do all the thinking. That's hard for young quarterbacks or quarterbacks that are under pressure, and you're changing things at the line of scrimmage at the last minute, so all those elements have helped us.''

Defensive end R.J. Washington said that, just like Venables, Stoops likes to wait until the last possible moment to call his defense without tipping off the offense. But now, there aren't two armbands worth of options to sort through in their minds.

``We're not running as many calls as we used to. It's a quality over quantity thing,'' Washington said. ``We're just focusing on getting everything ironed out and being good. It's not like we have a small, small package of things we're doing. We've got a pretty good package overall. It's just not as vast as it used to be.''

The slimmed-down playbook means more time to perfect the fewer sets that are in there and to focus on better technique. There's also an increased importance placed on more film study, seeking out any tip-offs of what the opponent is about to run.

At this point, the Sooners are 14th in the nation in total defense and 11th against the pass. Enthusiasm about that success is tempered, though.

``We were 6-0 and rolling along I thought last year at this point, and we didn't finish very well. So, the story is not finished or it's very incomplete at this point,'' Mike Stoops said. ``We have a long way to go and a lot of football to play. We're going to find a lot more difficult battles as we move throughout the season.''

Three of the nation's top six offenses - Oklahoma State, Baylor and West Virginia - are left on the schedule. While the Mountaineers are new to the Big 12, the Cowboys and Bears both had their way with the Sooners last season and helped lead to the changes.

So, after the 63-21 win against Texas, Stoops was talking about route coverages that need to be cleaned up so other teams don't capitalize. Washington was disappointed the defensive ends alone missed chances at four more sacks.

``We're still not playing the best defense,'' Washington said. ``We played pretty great that last game, but that can't be the end-all for us.''

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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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