Redskins

Indy hoping to make most of 2nd chance at playoffs

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Indy hoping to make most of 2nd chance at playoffs

INDIANAPOLIS (AP) Indianapolis allowed one postseason-clinching chance to slip away at Houston.

It doesn't intend to let the same thing happen again at Kansas City.

``It's the playoffs. This is the playoffs,'' interim coach Bruce Arians said before Wednesday's practice began.

For the Colts (9-5), this is a rare second chance in a league where players and teams risk being left behind any time they miss an opportunity.

Just ask the Chicago Bears, 7-1 at midseason and now fighting just to make the playoffs. Or the Baltimore Ravens, who were in contention to earn the AFC's top seed three weeks ago. Or quarterback Alex Smith, who led San Francisco to last year's NFC championship game and a 6-2-1 record this season before losing his starting job to Colin Kaepernick.

The Colts are not looking back after making a historic turnaround.

They didn't complain when team owner Jim Irsay and new general manager Ryan Grigson started over in March by cutting team captains Peyton Manning and Gary Brackett, letting Jeff Saturday and Pierre Garcon walk away in free agency and opting to rebuild through the draft and with a handful of players who needed another chance to prove they belonged in the NFL.

They ignored the critics who pegged them as the league's worst team in training camp and projected three wins at best. They didn't despair after returning from a bye week and were told coach Chuck Pagano was taking an indefinite leave after being diagnosed with leukemia.

So they're sure not going to let the 29-17 loss at Houston linger.

Instead, they're focused on their next task - beating the reeling Chiefs (2-12), who have barely averaged 10 points per game and were shut out in Oakland last weekend.

``There's a playoff spot at stake, so it's win or go home,'' outside linebacker Robert Mathis said. ``We can't go out and lay an egg like we did last week.''

It's a simple scenario for the Colts.

Indy makes it in with a win over the Chiefs or in the season-finale against Houston (12-2) or if the Steelers (7-7) lose one of their two remaining games - Sunday at Cincinnati (8-6) or the final week against Cleveland (5-9).

But the Colts are chasing more than just a playoff spot.

A win would help them regain some momentum heading into January, allow Arians to tie the NFL record for victories after a midseason coaching change, make the Colts one of only four teams in league history to go from two or fewer wins one season to 10 or more the next, and, of course, take the pressure off Pagano if he returns to the locker room Monday as players, coaches and team officials are hoping.

Almost from the moment Pagano began chemotherapy treatments in late September, Arians and Indy's upper management targeted the Dec. 30 game as Pagano's return. With that game fast approaching, Arians has said twice this week that nothing is certain yet.

Arians said he is eager to go back to working just one job, offensive coordinator.

``Hopefully we can get this victory and secure our playoff spot and turn it back over to Chuck,'' he said.

Players can't wait, either.

``It would be great, I'm sure it would be emotional for a lot of people if it comes (next week),'' rookie quarterback Andrew Luck said. ``Hopefully, it will be soon. It will be great to have him back.''

Pagano may not be the only one making a return in the next few days.

Starting safety Tom Zbikowski has missed the last three games with a knee injury. On Monday, Arians ruled him out for the Chiefs game. On Wednesday, Arians acknowledged the prognosis had improved and said Zbikowski was questionable. He did dress for practice Wednesday.

``He's moving around really well, so he is not out as I reported earlier this week,'' Arians said.

Yet there are plenty of other concerns, especially along the offensive line where starting center Samson Satele is out with an ankle injury and right tackle Winston Justice (biceps) and backup center A.Q. Shipley (right knee) are both questionable.

If Satele and Shipley don't play, Arians will move right guard Mike McGlynn to center and the rest of the Colts will adapt again - just as they have all season.

``I think guys understand what's at stake,'' Luck said. ``There's a little more of a sense of urgency in terms of what to expect, but it is kind of like the playoffs.''

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Dwayne Haskins has room to grow in a few areas, but this one might be the most crucial

Dwayne Haskins has room to grow in a few areas, but this one might be the most crucial

Dwayne Haskins is completing just 55-percent of his attempts as a pro quarterback so far, has thrown three touchdowns against seven interceptions and is averaging only 166 yards per start.

All of those numbers hint at how Haskins must grow as a passer in the NFL. However, those aspects are secondary to the area he needs to improve the most as he continues to see action for the Redskins.

The facet of his game that requires the most work is avoiding sacks. Yes, his accuracy and decision-making and choices in the red zone are all important, but none of those things will get better or reveal themselves if No. 7 is lying on his back and looking at the sky as much as he's doing so far.

The rookie has been dropped 22 times in his five appearances as starter, and 26 times overall. According to The Athletic, if you take the rate which Haskins is being sacked at as the team's primary signal caller and extrapolate it over a full schedule, it'd add up to the third-worst total in league history.  

So, yeah, that's extremely troublesome. 

On Wednesday, Haskins explained how his desire to be aggressive is partly causing this issue to be such an issue.

"Sometimes when I'm back there, I'm trying to find things deep or down the field instead of just finding the checkdown in the flat," he said.

As for how to remedy that, the 22-year-old told the media it's about being more aware of his immediate options.

"Just knowing where all my quick elements are when things happen fast and when things get on me," Haskins said.

Of course, each sack is its own entity, and not all of them fall on the guy with the ball. There have been instances this year where Haskins will go down and a replay will show an offensive lineman immediately getting beaten, the kind of sequence that will make any QB vulnerable. Not all of the negative plays are happening because of where Haskins is in his development.

However, to compare, Case Keenum was sacked just 12 times in his eight starts behind the same O-line. That's a significantly lower number.

Just like every other part of Haskins' skill set, this is something that should get sharper with experience. Every Sunday, assuming he gets a lot more, will lead to him becoming more adept at reading defenses, more proficient at adjusting protection calls and more prepared to find his outlet options.  

Keenum has seen all that there is to see in the NFL, while Haskins is just beginning that arduous process.

And, while Bill Callahan admitted he hates seeing the offense plagued by the sacks, the interim coach also detailed something beyond experience that could help Haskins limit them in the future.

"He's not a repetitive guy, a repetitive-mistake player, where you see continually the small mistakes over and over again," Callahan said. "He makes a mistake, he recognizes it, he moves on and you don't see a repetitive error come back into his game. There's been a lot of growth in that respect."

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Ravens special teams lacking across the board, lone sore spot in dominating win

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Ravens special teams lacking across the board, lone sore spot in dominating win

BALTIMORE — If there was a lone dark spot on the Ravens’ 42-21 win over the Jets, it was the special teams. 

From kickoff coverage to even Justin Tucker, each particular unit had its fair share of struggles. The Jets blocked a punt — and scored, had long returns on both kickoff and punt returns and Tucker missed an extra-point. 

“We played really well on special teams last week,” coach John Harbaugh said. “We played not well at all this week. So, that’s an area of concern right now. I give them credit. They played really well, but we didn’t.”

The trouble started from the get-go when the Jets had a good return on the opening kick. They carried that throughout the game, as Ty Montgomery and Vyncint Smith averaged kickoff returns of 23.3 and 28.7 yards, respectively. Smith had a long of 37 yards and Montgomery had a long of 34 yards.

Then on the Ravens second touchdown of the night, Tucker missed an extra point — a rarity for the league’s most consistent kicker. Before Thursday’s game, he’d missed just one extra point all season and one field goal. 

While it’s nothing to be concerned about, any miss for Tucker is certainly surprising. 

And finally, in the fourth quarter, the Jets bull-rushed up the middle through the Ravens’ punt team and blocked the kick for a score.

Baltimore’s special teams units have been stellar all season, so Thursday’s game isn’t something to fret over long-term. But it’s certainly something to monitor as the games tighten, leaving little room for error on the margins.  

“We just have to get better,” Harbaugh said of the returns. “They were basically blocking us. They blocked our guys on the kickoff return. They did a great job with it. They ran a little pick-stunt on the blocked punt that we should have picked up with no problem, and we didn’t. That’s an issue for us.”

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