Bucs young DBs set to be tested by Peyton Manning


Bucs young DBs set to be tested by Peyton Manning

TAMPA, Fla. (AP) Greg Schiano didn't have to follow the NFL closely over the past decade-plus to keep up with the exploits of Peyton Manning.

Tampa Bay's first-year head coach was an assistant with the Chicago Bears when Manning began his NFL career in 1998. But while Manning was collecting MVP awards, Schiano was toiling in the college ranks; he spent two years as an assistant at the University of Miami and the next 11 transforming Rutgers into a Big East contender.

Still, even for Schiano - who never paid much attention to the pro game until he returned to the NFL - Manning's accomplishments with the Indianapolis Colts were virtually impossible not to notice.

Now Manning has his full attention.

The four-time league MVP and the Denver Broncos face the Buccaneers' porous pass defense this week. Schiano is doing everything he can to make sure his young, inexperienced secondary is prepared for the challenge.

The Bucs are first in the NFL in run defense, but are 32nd against the pass.

``You have to be careful because you can't try to in four days create a whole new defense so you can confuse him. That won't work. And probably the fact of the matter is, what you think could be this great idea to confuse him, he saw it about six years ago and then again three years ago,'' Schiano said Wednesday.

``We've just got to go out and play our defense and play the best we can, and know they're going to make some plays,'' the coach added. ``There's not anybody in this league who's kept them from making plays in the passing game. We have to make sure we don't let them go off in the run game. ... If they can run the ball, it's going to be a struggle.''

Manning has completed nearly 68 percent of his passes for 3,260 yards, 26 touchdowns and eight interceptions while getting acclimated to a new system and teammates. The Broncos (8-3) have won six straight following a 2-3 start, and last week's 17-9 victory at Kansas City moved him ahead of Hall of Famer John Elway for the second-most wins by a starting quarterback in league history.

The Bucs, meanwhile, are trying to remain in playoff contention, despite having a secondary that's without the starting cornerback Schiano began the season with.

Aqib Talib was suspended four games last month for violating the league's policy on performance-enhancing substances and subsequently trade to the New England Patriots while serving the ban. The NFL took the same action this week against Eric Wright, also for using Adderall without a prescription.

With Talib no longer with the team and Wright, who signed a five-year, $37.5 million as a free agent last March, sitting out with an Achilles tendon injury, Tampa Bay started former seventh-round draft E.J. Biggers and undrafted rookie free agent Leonard Johnson at cornerback in a 24-23 loss to Atlanta.

Johnson has missed tackles this season and on a pair of 80-yard touchdown plays, including Julio Jones' long catch-and-run for the Falcons.

Biggers has 19 career starts in four seasons, but the departure of Talib and loss of Wright have stripped the team of much of its depth at cornerback. Recent additions LeQuan Lewis and Danny Gorrer also saw action against Atlanta and figure to get plenty playing time again Sunday.

``We have some young guys who don't have much experience, so we're kind of just playing our hand as we feel best,'' Schiano said. ``It's going to be a challenge. But they're 8-3, so three teams figured out a way to do it. That's our goal. We're trying to be the fourth.''

Schiano reiterated that to have any chance of minimizing the damage Manning can inflict through the air, the Bucs have to contain Denver's running games.

Tampa Bay has allowed a league-low 81.5 yards rushing.

``We've got to make sure we stop the run. We know he's going to make some throws. You'd like them not to be big plays,'' Schiano said.

``If you can limit the big plays, they're going to catch the ball underneath and we're going to have to tackle well. When we play man-to-man coverage we're going to have to be on our guy and try to deny him the ball, and when we have deep safety help we're going to have to use that help.''

The Bucs are yielding 315.5 yards through the air, yet have managed win five of seven following a 1-3 start to climb back into playoff contention.

One of the keys to the turnaround has been the defense's knack for forcing timely turnovers, and the Josh Freeman-led offense's ability to convert opponent's mistakes into points.

That's why Manning said he's not licking his chops in anticipation of facing what - at least on paper - appears to be an overmatched defensive backfield that also includes rookie Mark Barron and 16-year veteran Ronde Barber at safety.

``Look at the film. Statistics can be very misleading,'' Manning said. ``I tell you what I see. I see a defense that's dominant against the run, it has created a lot of turnovers. I think they're No. 1 in interceptions caused the last four weeks. And what you also see by watching the game film is how their offense is taking those turnovers and turning them into touchdowns.''

Bucs tight end Dallas Clark, a close friend and one of Manning's favorite targets while they were playing for the Indianapolis Colts, said he's not surprised by the way the 36-year-old quarterback has played since returning from a neck injury that sidelined Manning all of 2011.

``I would never bet against him on his determination. ... Just being around and seeing all the hard work he's put in, you knew he was going to surprise a lot of people,'' Clark said. ``He gave great commitment and dedication to getting back and everything that you have to do to overcome an injury as an athlete.''

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Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

USA Today Sports

Ravens reportedly agree to a deal keeping John Harbaugh in Baltimore long term

The Ravens have reportedly agreed in principle to a new contract extension with head coach John Harbaugh, a move already being praised by national pundits everywhere. 

It was nearly a month ago that the Ravens announced Harbaugh would be returning as the team’s head coach in 2019, which was noteworthy considering his status as a potential lame duck head coach.

In the same release, the team announced they were working towards a contract extension with Harbaugh, whose current deal was set to expire next year.

Despite reports from national NFL insiders, including Jason La Canfora and Peter King, that Harbaugh might prefer to hit free agency as a highly sought-after head coach after the 2019 season, it appears the Ravens will keep him in Baltimore for the foreseeable future. 

This news comes on the heels of a busier-than-usual coaching carousel, with a quarter of the 32 NFL teams changing head coaches in the last month, including two AFC North rivals. Harbaugh almost certainly would have been the cream of the crop among coaching free agents no matter when he became available, so the Ravens were looking to lock him up long term.

After a tough November home loss to the Steelers that put the team at 4-5, Harbaugh was asked about his job security, and he remained steadfast and confident.

"I've never been someone who's worried about keeping a job," Harbaugh said. "It's always been, for me, [about] doing the job. I've got a bunch of great coaches and a bunch of great players that bust their tails every day to do the best job they can. I feel really good about the way this team has been coached for the last 11 years, and for the last number of weeks we've been in the season. So, there are no regrets. Never been any regrets here with me."

After that game, the Ravens rattled off six wins in seven games to make the playoffs, and many players credited Harbaugh with keeping the team together. It was prior to Week 16 when the front office announced Harbaugh would be returning no matter how the season ended, but the strong finish and AFC North title certainly made the decision easier.

A coach with a special teams background, Harbaugh is an anomaly in the current era of young, offensive-minded head coaches. He won Super Bowl XLVII in 2013, and holds a 104-72 career record in Baltimore.

The terms of the new deal have not yet been released, but it will be interesting how many years the team is committing to Harbaugh.


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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

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Bradley Beal's agent says guard's not looking for a trade: 'He wants to win'

Bradley Beal, his agent Mark Bartlestein told Bleacher Report, would like to stay in Washington - even as he's a hot topic among front offices as the trade deadline approaches.

From Bleacher Report:

His agent, Mark Bartelstein, is not looking for a trade. "Brad wants to win, Bartelstein told B/R. "He wants to win at the highest level, and he wants to compete for championships. I think he's seeing progress, and he's going to do everything he can to lead this team. They got themselves into a huge hole, and he's going to do his best to get them out of it.

The Wizards are facing tough decisions when it comes to the future of the franchise as this season's trade deadline approaches. Beal, as NBC Sports Washington's Ben Standig detailed this week, is among the most tradable assets they have, especially when it comes to their three major contracts. But owner Ted Leonsis took a firm stance against tanking while speaking to reporters in London, and Beal is integral to their playoff hopes with John Wall sidelined. 

This isn't the first time this season that Beal has denied wanting to be anywhere but DC. When drama swirled around the team earlier this season, Beal denied a report that he had requested a trade.

"That's nonsense," he said at the time. "I heard it earlier before the game and I was like, 'If it didn't come from the horse's mouth, it wasn't me.' I got this Washington jersey on and I come here and work everyday, you know, until otherwise. This is where I wanna be."

Earlier this season, it was reported that the Raptors were interested in Beal but couldn't afford what the Wizards were asking for him. According to the latest report on Beal from Bleacher Report, there are a number of teams who may still be interested. 

Again, from Bleacher Report:

There are so many teams in the mix trying to make that extra push that want Beal," a Western Conference executive told B/R.

But even if some fans are clamoring for a big trade at the deadline, the price tag for Beal - who had 26 points in the Wizards' comeback win over the Knicks this week - only seems to be rising.