Redskins

Raiders safety practices, still questionable

Raiders safety practices, still questionable

ALAMEDA, Calif. (AP) Oakland Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch practiced Friday for the first time this week but remains questionable with a neck injury.

Branch was hurt during last Sunday's 55-20 loss to the Baltimore Ravens. The injury worsened on the flight back to the West Coast and Branch was held out of all workouts before returning in a limited capacity.

While that's progress, Oakland coach Dennis Allen wouldn't classify it as significant and said he won't know Branch's status for certain until Sunday.

``It's a better step forward,'' Allen said.

Branch, who signed a four-year, $26.6 million deal in the offseason after being hit with the franchise tag, has started 57 consecutive games for Oakland. He hasn't missed a game since a shoulder injury sidelined him for the final eight games of his rookie season in 2008.

Without him, the Raiders would be minus their second-leading tackler and the leader of the secondary.

``You don't want to miss any games, you know?'' Branch said. ``This is what we love to do so I don't want to miss any games. It's not about the streak, it's about me missing a game.''

The Raiders are already thin in the middle of their secondary.

Free safety Matt Giordano missed practice earlier this week after suffering a concussion against Baltimore. Michael Huff, the starting free safety at the beginning of the year, has been playing cornerback since Week 3.

Mike Mitchell will start at strong safety for Oakland if Branch is unable to play. Mitchell started four games in 2011 but has played sparingly as a backup this season.

A second-round pick in 2009, Mitchell welcomes the opportunity to start. He also feels it's long overdue and was very outspoken about the situation when approached by reporters.

``I'm just so ready to be done with this, to show what I can do,'' Mitchell said. ``I'm tired. I feel like I've been held back, held back, held back, so if I get the opportunity I just want to go play good football and show the abilities God has blessed me with. I'm definitely excited about it.''

Harnessing that exuberance could be as big a challenge for the excitable Mitchell while trying to slow down the New Orleans Saints' second-ranked passing attack.

``He's a passionate player, he works extremely hard (and) he loves the game,'' Allen said of Mitchell. ``Sometimes you have to slow his heartbeat down a little bit and get him to calm down a little bit. It's important to him and that's what I like about him.''

Oakland will also be without seven-time Pro Bowl defensive tackle Richard Seymour (knee, hamstring) for the second consecutive game.

That doesn't bode well for a team that has given up 97 points in its past two games. The Raiders have allowed 31 points or more in five games overall this season, four of them losses.

The Saints are averaging 27.8 points over their previous five games.

Injuries are also taking a toll on the Raiders offense.

Running backs Darren McFadden and Mike Goodson are both out with foot injuries, while wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey is questionable with a hamstring injury.

Heyward-Bey led the Raiders in receptions and receiving yardage in 2011 but has only 24 catches through nine games this season.

---

Online:http://pro32.ap.org/poll andhttp://twitter.com/AP-NFL

Quick Links

The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

The Redskins aren't big on analytics but the numbers are likely to influence their top draft pick

There are always surprises in the NFL draft, but the 2018 edition may be the most unpredictable in years. There are a few factors at play here and they will affect who is available to the Redskins in the first round and who they end up drafting there. 

One factor is analytics. Not all teams have a big analytics department but all 32 are aware of the trends in the game. One is that teams no longer emphasize establishing the run early in games. Teams pass in the first quarter on about 57 percent of the snaps. That run-pass ratio is about the same as it is during the other three quarters. It’s still a passing league from the opening kickoff until the clock hits 0:00. 

So why, then, is Vita Vea, a pure nose tackle who likely will be of limited help against the pass, a possible top-10 pick who the Redskins reportedly would like to take at 13? 

The way it looks now, Vea is going to be one of the best available players with a significant drop off to any players associated with the passing game except quarterbacks—wide receiver, left tackle, edge rusher, and outside cornerback. 

The Redskins might rate Vea as more valuable than other teams because of how weak their rushing defense is. Teams ran at them on 47 percent of first-quarter plays, taking advantage of the weakness. This kept up through all four quarters; teams ran against the Redskins on 46 percent of the plays compared to 42 percent of all plays league-wide. Washington’s vulnerability against the rush may push Vea and probably Da’Ron Payne up on their draft boards even if they are of limited utility in the nickel defense. 

Here is one more example of the numbers and talent affecting this draft. Alabama’s Minkah Fitzpatrick played a variety of positions in Alabama’s secondary. The consensus opinion is that his best NFL fit is slot corner. Traditionally, that is not a first-round position because it’s has been a role, a part-time position. 

But the view is shifting. Offenses take 62.6 percent of their snaps with three or more wide receivers on the field. That number only counts true wide receivers, so you can add a percentage point or two in for when a running back or tight end lines up out wide. As you would expect, a comparable number of defensive snaps (65.3%) are with five or more defensive backs on the field. The Redskins were in line with this. Slot corner Kendall Fuller played nearly 66 percent of the snaps last year. 

Since you will utilize your slot corner on nearly two-thirds of your plays, if you can get a good one with the 13th pick you shouldn’t hesitate just because of the old view of the position. When you add in the fact that Fitzpatrick can play safety and outside corner as well the Redskins could well pull the trigger if he’s still there. 

More Redskins

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

Quick Links

Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

Penguins will be without Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin for Game 1

As the Capitals and Penguins prepare to open their second-round series, significant injury news came out of Pittsburgh on Wednesday. Head coach Mike Sullivan informed the media that both Evgeni Malkin and Carl Hagelin would not play in Game 1 due to injuries.

The fact that Hagelin would not be traveling with the team suggests that he will miss Game 2 as well, but that has not been confirmed. That also means that Malkin is at least a possibility for Game 2.

Malkin did not play in Game 6 against the Philadelphia Flyers after getting injured in a collision with Jakub Voracek in Game 5. Hagelin was injured in Game 6 on a big hit from Claude Giroux.

So when the series against Washington begins, Pittsburgh will be playing without two-thirds of its second line.

Malkin made a real push for the Hart Trophy this season with 42 goals and 98 points. He was a major factor in last season's Cup run with 28 points in 26 games and was gearing up for another big postseason with five points in his first five games.

But don't celebrate too much, Caps fans. It is not as if either loss will be crippling to Pittsburgh's offense.

Despite not having Malkin for the entire Game 6 and losing Hagelin midway through the second period, the Penguins still managed to put up eight goals on the Flyers in the series-clinching win.

Still, with scoring depth being such a strength for Pittsburgh, the Capitals need to take advantage. The Penguins will be without one of the best players in the NHL and that makes Game 1 crucial. Washington has gone down 0-2 in each of their past two playoff series including last year against Pittsburgh. They lost that series in seven games. They need to have a better start this year and with no Malkin or Hagelin for Game 1, this may be a must-win for the Caps.

Riley Sheahan and Dominik Simon skated with Phil Kessel on the second line at practice on Wednesday and it is a good bet that is how the second line will remain for Game 1. That way, Pittsburgh can keep its third line of Conor Sheary, Derick Brassard and Bryan Rust line together which has been very effective.

RELATED LINKS: