Cubs

Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady ... again

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Joe Flacco outplayed Tom Brady ... again

From Comcast SportsNetFOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) -- No doubt about it.When you beat the best -- and Joe Flacco did that in consecutive games -- the skeptics should be silenced."I'm so glad we're going to the Super Bowl right now," Baltimore wide receiver Torrey Smith said, "so people can get off Joe's back."Flacco threw three touchdown passes in the second half, helping the Ravens reach the Super Bowl for the first time in 12 years with a 28-13 win over the New England Patriots in the AFC championship game Sunday.He beat two-time NFL MVP Tom Brady one week after outplaying Peyton Manning, who has won the award four times, in a 38-35 double-overtime win over the Denver Broncos. And that followed a 24-9 victory over budding star quarterback Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in the wild-card round."We've always believed in Joe," coach John Harbaugh said, "and for Joe to come out and to have this kind of a game and this kind of a stage three weeks in a row -- Luck's a pretty good quarterback, Manning's a pretty good quarterback and Brady's a great quarterback."All those guys are great players, but Joe's a great quarterback. And Joe has proven that. He's not just proven it this year, he's proven it for five years."No NFL quarterback -- not Brady, not Manning -- has more than Flacco's 62 victories, including the postseason, since the start of the 2008 season. No NFL quarterback has more than his six postseason wins on the road. And no other quarterback has a postseason victory in each of his first five seasons during the Super Bowl era."He's a great quarterback," said wide receiver Anquan Boldin, who caught two touchdown passes. "I don't know why people keep doubting him because the bigger the situation is, the bigger he plays, and he's proven that time and time again. So maybe they'll get off his back now."Finally, he will be the most accomplished quarterback in one of his playoff games when he faces the 49ers, who are favored by 4 points, in New Orleans on Feb. 3.San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick may have made a splash with his running and passing skills, but he's started just nine games in his two pro seasons.Flacco has started every Ravens game -- 80 in the regular season, 12 in the postseason -- since they took him with the 18th pick of the 2008 draft out of Delaware.As a rookie, he played poorly in a 23-14 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers in the AFC championship game. He got back to that game last season, but the Ravens lost 23-20 to the Patriots.But on the same field Sunday, Flacco completed 21 of 36 passes for 240 yards and three touchdowns with no interceptions. Brady went 29 for 54 for 320 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions."These games are tough to win and we've put ourselves in the position to win these games and, eventually, you're going to push through and play the way you need to," he said.A week earlier in a 38-35 double-overtime win over the Broncos, he went 18 for 34 for 331 yards, three touchdowns and no interceptions. That beat Manning's 28 for 43 for 290 yards, three touchdowns and two interceptions.Flacco's passer ratings in this year's postseason games highlight his superiority -- 125.6 to Luck's 59.8, 116.2 to Manning's 88.3 and 106.3 to Brady's 62.3."I've always been a Joe Flacco fan," Ravens linebacker Ray Lewis said.The Patriots led 13-7 at halftime but in a span of 10 minutes and one second Flacco threw touchdown passes of 5 yards to Dennis Pitta, and 3 and 11 yards to Boldin."They do a good job stopping the run and we knew we had to come out here in the second half and make some plays in the passing game," Flacco said.He sure did.After completing just 6 of 12 passes for 81 yards with no touchdowns before the break, he went 15 for 24 for 159 yards in the second half. He was 14 for 18 on the three touchdown drives and even scrambled once for 14 yards and a first down.In three playoff games this season he's thrown eight touchdown passes and not a single interception."He's been great all year, especially in these playoffs," Pitta said. "He deserves this more than anyone."Safety Ed Reed saw great potential in Flacco from the quarterback's rookie season."From the first snap (when) he went against our defense, I knew he was a smart guy," Reed said. "We blitzed him and he threw it straight to the sideline out of bounds because he knew we were coming. He's always been a leader (with) more than potential to lead us to where we're going right now."That should have been clear when Flacco guided the Baltimore offense to three AFC championship games in his five seasons.His opponents see it now that he's helped take the Ravens to the Super Bowl for the first time in his career."He is one of the elite quarterbacks," Patriots safety Steve Gregory said. "I know he gets a lot of flak for possibly not being that type of guy, but he is."And now Flacco can look to pad his resume with his first Super Bowl championship."It's about who can get ready and who can become their best at the right time and hit the ground running," he said. "And that's what we're doing."

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

Why Andy Green is such an important part of the Cubs coaching calculus

SCOTTSDALE, Ariz. — On the day he was introduced as the next Cubs manager, David Ross made it a point to explain how important it is that his bench coach is "one step ahead" of him as he gets his feet under him.

Theo Epstein echoed that sentiment, saying a bench coach with managerial experience was vital as the Cubs help Ross along as not only a first-year manager, but also a first year coach.

Enter Andy Green.

The 42-year-old Green spent the last four seasons as the San Diego Padres manager, but was fired with one week left in the 2019 season and two years left on his current deal. The Padres wanted a different voice moving into the future after Green compiled a 274-366 record and lost at least 85 games each season, finishing no higher than fourth place in the National League West.

But the Cubs don't want Green to be the manager and they love what he brings to the table as a veteran coach and Ross' right-hand man. 

"Talking to the Padre guys that I know well, he has excellent in-game strategy and always thought ahead very well in-game," Cubs GM Jed Hoyer said Tuesday. "Very bright, very well prepared. And that's not to mention he's a really good coach. We felt like that was a really good pairing for David. He hasn't managed, so having a guy next to him that, by all accounts, was really good in-game and controls information well, I think that's a really nice pairing."

At his introductory presser, Ross acknowledged his weaknesses as a first-time manager and admitted he will need some time to get the "feel" back of being in the dugout and engaged in each pitch after serving as either a broadcaster or front office executive for the last three years.

As a player, Ross often tried to think and strategize along with his manager, but that's not the same as actually having to make those calls and worry about pitching changes, pinch-hitting, umpire challenges and any other in-game duties a manger is tasked with. It can all add up quickly and managers often have to make the crucial decisions at the snap of a finger.

Ross and Green have not worked together, but the Cubs are hoping they can form a fast friendship and believe Green's ability to prepare is also an asset along with his experience. 

"He's gonna be great at [the bench coach job]," Padres GM A.J. Preller said. "I think it's gonna be a really good thing for somebody that's in that [manager's] chair for the first time having somebody that's gonna be knowledgeable, prepared, detail-oriented and somebody that understands what it's like to sit in that seat. I think all those things are gonna help serve [Green] really well."

Preller and Green reportedly didn't always see eye-to-eye in the big picture view of where the Padres were going, but there's no denying how the San Diego GM feels about his former manager's intellect and the Cubs won't need him to call the shots — only to assist Ross in doing so.

"Andy is probably one of the most intelligent baseball people I've been around," Preller said. "To me, probably as good a person as I've been around as far as Xs and Os and knowing the game. Andy always seemed to be two or three steps ahead. He's very well thought out, very well prepared. It's gonna be a huge strength for him and I think it will be nice for a first-year manager to have somebody like Andy sitting next to him."

A bench coach's exact duties vary from team to team and manager to manager, but with the Cubs, they will lean on Green initially to help Ross along with the experience aspect, making sure the game is not too quick for the first-year manager. During games, Green will be standing right next to Ross, weighing decisions and options along with pitching coach Tommy Hottovy.

But like other bench coaches, Green will also be tasked with helping to serve as a bridge between Ross and the Cubs players. In a lot of ways, Ross is the face of the franchise, as he will partake in somewhere around 500 media sessions throughout the course of the season, including before and after each game. Between that, addressing the team as a group, individual meetings with players and all the strategy and discussions with the R & D department and the front office, Ross will need to lean on Green to be his right-hand man off the field, as well.

It helps that Green just finished managing in the National League, where he knows the opponents and the game is quite different than the American League, which has the benefit of the designated hitter.

"He's a guy that understands all different aspects [of being a coach]," Preller said. "He understands some of the newer information, some of the newer technology. He's gonna understand things that have worked in the past in terms of preparing for games from an advanced information standpoint and then he'll draw upon his experiences being in the National League, knowing the league really well.

"I think he'll be able to give all those things to David Ross and to the Cubs players — somebody who comes in with the mindset of just trying to help the team out and help the team grow. All those things are going to be positives."

We'll see how quickly Ross and Green can jell together, but it's clear the Cubs believe Green can help expediate the process of preparation and in-game strategy for Ross, both now and in-season. 

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Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

Bears 7-round mock draft: Is Jalen Hurts the answer at QB?

As the calendar inches closer to Thanksgiving and the 2019 college football season slowly comes to a close, attention will soon shift to the 2020 NFL draft and the pool of prospects who will be showcased in the college football playoffs and bowl games around the country. And that means mock draft season is here.

The Bears will be without a first-round pick for the second year in a row. But let's be honest, they still have Khalil Mack. And that's a win.

What the Bears do have is two second-round picks, which if the draft were held today would be two selections in the top 50. It's unlikely they'll remain that valuable as the season marches on and Chicago and the Oakland Raiders (re: Mack trade) continue stacking wins, but the point remains: The Bears have some draft capital that they can use to improve this roster heading into 2020.

With less than two months remaining in the regular season, the biggest question surrounding the Bears is at quarterback, where Mitch Trubisky is struggling to establish himself as 'the guy.' If his struggles continue, Chicago could use the draft, in addition to a veteran free-agent signing, to create a full-blown quarterback battle next training camp.

In this mock draft, that's exactly what GM Ryan Pace does.

Round 2: Jalen Hurts, QB, Oklahoma

Hurts is getting some first-round love right now but it feels like his draft stock will depend on how his December goes. There's no denying his ability as a playmaker and comps to Lamar Jackson are already starting to bubble. Hurts is having a ridiculous season statistically, completing over 73% of his passes and a 6:1 touchdown to interception ratio. He has five games with at least 75 yards rushing, too. 

Hurts doesn't profile as a quarterback who'd be ready to step in and start early in his rookie season, and that's exactly what the Bears should look for in this year's draft. Trubisky will be on the roster next season, and coupled with a free-agent veteran signing, a prospect like Hurts will have the time to learn from the bench in Year 1. And if he's too good to keep off the field, it's a fantastic problem to have.

Round 2 (from Oak): Albert Okwuegbunam, TE, Missouri

The Bears' tight end problems have been well-documented this season. Trey Burton has been an oft-injured bust of a free-agent signing (2018) and Adam Shaheen is an even bigger bust of a second-round pick (2017). Young developmental players like Ben Braunecker don't project as long-term answers at the position, so adding a prospect like Okwuegbunam with their second of two second-round picks would be a good play.

Okwuegbunam's scouting report is likely all over the map right now. Some front offices will love him, others will think he lacks any special quality to be a top-50 pick. The former All-SEC freshman suffered a broken scapula in 2018 that limited his season to just nine games, but he flashed appealing upside as a receiver over that span. His production hasn't been great this year -- 22 catches, 280 yards, 6 TDs -- but his tape is promising. And, let's be honest: even if Okwuegbunam's true grade is somewhere closer to the third-round range, the Bears can't afford to wait on a guy at a position of need who could legitimately win the starting job as a rookie.

Round 5: Trevon Hill, EDGE, Miami

The Leonard Floyd experiment is over. And it's not that he won't be back with this team; it's just he won't be relied on as part of the pass-rush plan. He simply can't do it and it's time to move on. Enter Trevon Hill, who offers some twitchy upside as an edge defender.

Pace will have to do his due diligence on a player like Hill, whose checkered past includes dismissal from Virginia Tech in 2018. Still, he's managed 15.5 sacks and 28.5 tackles for loss over the last three-plus seasons.

The Bears need more pass-rush options, and that's what Hill represents at this point in the draft.

Round 6: Colton McKivitz, OT, West Virginia

It's unlikely the Bears will make any sweeping changes to the offensive line this offseason, especially at tackle where Charles Leno, Jr. and Bobby Massie are both under contract for the next several seasons. But the roster could use some depth on the edges which is where McKivitz fits in nicely.

Considered a riser early in 2019, McKivitz has experience at both left and right tackle and has been a reliable pass-blocker during his tenure as a Mountaineer. Entering the 2019 season, McKivitz had allowed just eight sacks on 1,459 pass-blocking snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

Round 6: Alex Highsmith, EDGE, Charlotte

Ryan Pace loves small-school prospects, so I had to fit at least one (kind of small-schooler) in this mock draft. Fortunately for the Bears, it's one of the top lesser-known players who will be available in 2020 who also happens to fill a team need.

Highsmith has 9.5 sacks so far this season and fits the mold of that twitchy pass-rusher off the edge that Chicago must find to complement Mack. The likely Senior Bowl invite will have a chance to impress scouts in Mobile, Ala., and could ascend into the Day-2 conversation. For now, he's a great value pick in the sixth round.

Round 7: Evan Weaver, LB, Cal

Weaver profiles as a poor man's Nick Kwiatkoski, who the Bears might lose in free agency this offseason if he continues playing at a high level. With Danny Trevathan also on an expiring contract, Chicago needs to add another inside linebacker to the roster regardless of who they re-sign. 

Weaver isn't the best athlete. He's vulnerable in coverage. He isn't going to wow at the Scouting Combine. But he's strong, no-nonsense inside linebacker who isn't afraid of to throw his body around. Sounds like a Bear to me.

What are your thoughts on this mock draft? Share them with me on Twitter!

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