Capitals

Bills DE Chris Kelsay questions teammates' effort

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Bills DE Chris Kelsay questions teammates' effort

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) Chris Kelsay is in no mood to enjoy Buffalo's bye week after the latest meltdown from the Bills' high-priced defense.

And the veteran defensive end delivered a tough-worded critique Monday that should make the upcoming break uncomfortable for his teammates, too.

Declining to single anyone out, Kelsay accused players of lacking effort in a 35-34 loss to Tennessee a day earlier. He then added it's time for team leaders to start holding teammates accountable.

``You watch film and not everybody was playing hard every snap. And that's unacceptable,'' Kelsay said. ``It's a blessing to be in this league. And then to go out there and lay an egg, there's no excuses for it.''

As for what it might take to get players' attention, Kelsay said: ``We might have to grab guys by the shirt collar and tell them to get moving.''

In his 10th season with Buffalo, Kelsay is the defense's longest-tenured player, and one of the team's most respected leaders. His comments come as Buffalo (3-4) enters its bye week having lost three of four, and facing numerous questions before returning from its break to play at Houston on Nov. 4.

The most pressing concern involves fixing an under-performing Mario Williams-led defense that's allowed an NFL-worst 1,238 yards rushing, including a whopping 937 in its past four games.

The Titans were but the latest team to expose the Bills' deficiencies.

After managing just 301 yards in his first six games, Titans running back Chris Johnson looked rejuvenated in racking up 195 yards rushing and two scores Sunday. And Buffalo crumbled in the clutch, allowing the Titans to score the decisive touchdown - Matt Hasselbeck's 15-yard pass to Nate Washington - on a fourth-and-9 with 1:03 remaining.

This was not the type of performance anyone imagined from a defense that was supposed to be much-improved after the Bills committed more than $127 million to sign Williams and fellow defensive end Mark Anderson in free agency. Though the pass-rush has improved, Buffalo's defense has regressed in most every other statistical category.

``I wouldn't have believed that in a million years,'' Kelsay said. ``That's why it's so frustrating.''

He became the latest member of the Bills organization - and first player - to openly question the team's performance.

Coach Chan Gailey questioned his team's mental toughness three weeks ago after a 52-28 loss to New England in which the Bills were outscored 45-14 in the second half.

A week later, general manager Buddy Nix blamed the defensive collapses on an overall lack of urgency after the Bills were accused of quitting in a 45-3 loss at San Francisco.

The Bills rebounded a week later with a 19-16 overtime win at Arizona, but they failed to carry over that momentum against Tennessee.

``I'm not pointing the finger. I'm looking in the mirror myself,'' Kelsay said. ``But if you aren't going to give us everything you've got, you shouldn't be on the field.''

Gailey was caught off guard when told of Kelsay's comments.

``Kelsay's entitled to his opinion,'' Gailey said, before adding everyone can play better. ``It's not that I don't think we're playing hard. I do. I think we play hard. Can we play better? That's the key. Being consistent. That's the term I used with the players this morning.''

Williams has taken the brunt of criticism for his inconsistent play. He's managed just 3 1/2 sacks and been invisible in all four losses.

Gailey said it was also unfair to single out Williams.

``I wish everybody was doing a little bit more right now, not just him,'' he said.

Running back Fred Jackson said there's plenty of blame to go around, and not just limited to the defense.

``Everybody has to be held accountable for what they are doing,'' Jackson said. ``It's a sick feeling right now. But at the same time we can't go in the tank.''

NOTES: Gailey said RG Chad Rinehart sustained a ``long-term'' injury after hurting his left ankle on Sunday. Gailey said more tests will be required before determining whether the injury is season-ending. ... Rinehart was starting in place of Kraig Urbik (right ankle), who is expected to return next week. ... The Bills will practice Wednesday before getting a four-day break.

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5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

5 keys for the Caps to win Game 6 and force a decisive Game 7 against the Lightning

The more you look at Monday's Game 6 between the Washington Capitals and the Tampa Bay Lightning, the more you realize this game is the most important game of Alex Ovechkin's career.

This is the first time Ovechkin and Co. have made it to the conference finals and it is the first time this postseason in which the Caps face elimination.

Here are the keys for the Caps to staving off elimination and forcing a Game 7:

Get off to a better start

It took Tampa Bay just 19 seconds to score in Game 5 and the score was 3-0 nothing before the Capitals really began to show any signs of life. They cannot allow the Lightning to jump all over them in the same way and take the crowd out of the game early.

With the game being in Washington, the Caps will have the crowd on their side. Use it.

The Caps have been at their best this series playing the trap, holding their own blue line and countering against Tampa Bay's aggressive defensemen leading to odd-man breaks. That's a hard gameplan to run if you're playing from behind. Scoring first would go a long way for Washington.

Stay out of the penalty box

Washington has given up six power play goals to Tampa Bay on just 15 opportunities in this series. That means the Lightning's power play is producing at a blistering rate of 40-percent. That's an insanely good power play rate and that may be putting it mildly.

So far, the penalty kill has had no answer for how to shut down a Tampa Bay unit that features Steven Stamkos and Nikita Kucherov setting up for one-timers and being quarterbacked by Victor Hedman. That's a formidable cast.

If you can't beat it, then there's only one solution: Stay out of the box.

Despite everything that went wrong in Game 5, the one thing the Caps did right was not give up many penalties. They took only one on the night and even that one was avoidable as Brett Connolly got caught holding Brayden Point trying to get around him to get the puck.

Win the top line matchup

The Lightning have found success matching their fourth line against Ovechkin. Of his six points this series, only two of them (one goal, one assist) have come at 5-on-5. That's not good enough.

It's gut check time. The Caps need their best players to be at their best and that means Ovechkin has to win the matchup against Chris Kunitz, Cedric Paquette and Ryan Callahan. In Game 5, Tampa Bay's fourth line actually outscored Ovechkin's line in 5-on-5 play 2-0.

Washington will not win this game if the fourth line outscores Ovechkin's line. It's just that simple.

Take advantage of the power play opportunities

The Caps scored at least one power play goal in Game 1 and Game 2, both wins. They have not scored any since and have lost all three games since. They scored on three of seven opportunities in the first two games and zero of seven opportunities in the last three.

Not a coincidence.

Granted, they did not draw any penalties in Game 5, but it seems unlikely the Lightning will stay out of the box for another sixty minutes. At some point, they will take a penalty and when they do, Washington must take advantage.

Win the goalie matchup

Not much attention has been paid to Braden Holtby in this series. The Caps are not facing elimination because they have been getting bad goaltending, but when the Lightning needed Andrei Vasilevskiy to steal them a win and up his game to get them back into the series, he responded.

Vasilevskiy has been brilliant the last three games as he has turned aside 100 of the 106 shots he has faced for a .943 save percentage. For the series, Holtby has a save percentage of only .883.

Again, Washington is not down 3-2 in the series because of goaltending. Holtby has faced far fewer shots than Vasilevskiy and has been just about the only thing that has worked against Tampa Bay's lethal power play.

But as one of the team's top players, the Caps need Holtby to step up the way Vasilevskiy has. Game 6 will be about winning by any means necessary. If that means they need a hat trick from Ovechkin so be it. If that means they need Holtby to steal it for them, so be it.

Holtby has to be just as good as Vasilevskiy in Game 6, if not better, for Washington to come out on top.

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Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins dead cap situation

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USA TODAY Sports

Trades, misses and mistakes explain Redskins dead cap situation

Cut bait. Sunk cost. Under water. 

Whatever the term might be, all industries deploy a certain phrase for wasted money. In the NFL, that term is dead cap, or the salary cap space a team must allocate for a particular player that has been cut or traded. 

In the specific case of the Redskins, the team carries more than $5.2 millon in dead cap space. Where did it come from? Who's to blame? Let's take a look.

Terrell McClain ($3.75M) - The Redskins signed McClain away from the Cowboys early in the 2017 free agency period. The move wasn't quite a disaster, but it wasn't very good. Washington gave McClain a four-year deal worth $21 million, and paid out nearly $7.5 million for the 2017 season. McClain never played well for the Redskins, started just two games and this offseason he agreed to give up a significant chunk of guaranteed money. Without that move from McClain, this cap hit would have been much worse. 

Su'a Cravens ($711k) - The money isn't as big of a loss as the talent. The Redskins selected Cravens in the second round of the 2016 Draft and he showed promise as a rookie while also dealing with injuries. In 2017, however, things fell apart as Cravens dealt with a training camp injury, discussed retiring from football and eventually found himself on the reserved/left squad list for the season. Prior to the 2018 Draft, the Redskins worked a deal to send Cravens to Denver for an additional fifth round pick as well as swapping picks. 

Kendall Fuller ($360k) - A promising young cornerback, the Redskins traded Fuller to Kansas City this offseason as part of a package to acquire QB Alex Smith. Losing Fullers stings — even head coach Jay Gruden admitted that — but Washington had to find a quarterback after the long-discussed Kirk Cousins saga veered toward, and eventually ended in, separation. 

Matt Jones ($150k) - One of the worst Redskins draft picks in the last five years, Washington reached for Jones in the third-round in 2015. As a rookie, Jones looked like a solid contributor, but in the 2016 season he developed a bad fumbling habit and found his way to the bench. From there, things got worse, as Jones ended the season on the inactive list after a squabble about playing special teams. In 2017, Jones was cut. He signed with the Colts, where he played in just five games and was cut earlier this year. This offseason, Jones signed with the Eagles.

Arie Kouandjio ($130K) - This is a weird one. Kouandjio was selected by the Redskins in 2015, and cut by the team in 2017. The dead money comes from that rookie deal. When Washington brought Kouandjio back late in the 2017 season off the Ravens' practice squad, the dead money from the rookie deal remained. Now, Kouandjio is injured and a candidate to start the 2018 season on the PUP list or maybe even the IR. 

Robert Davis ($103k) - Drafted as a sixth-rounder in 2017, Davis did not make the team leaving training camp. Even though he got signed to the practice squad, the dead money tolls from the rookie deal. 

Nate Sudfeld ($69k) - A late-round developmental prospect from the 2016 draft, Sudfeld made the team as a rookie but couldn't survive cuts in 2017. Quickly signed by the Eagles, Sudfeld ended up as the backup quarterback in Philadelphia's improbable Super Bowl run earlier this year. Dead money on the Redskins cap, but a Super Bowl ring in Philly. Strange. 

Tyler Catalina and Kevin Bowen account for about $12,000 in dead cap space as well. 

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