Capitals

Packers focused on stopping Bears WR Marshall

Packers focused on stopping Bears WR Marshall

GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) Greg Jennings thinks Chicago Bears wide receiver Brandon Marshall is a genius.

Marshall had made headlines one day earlier when he went off on the rival Green Bay Packers during his weekly media availability. But it was something Marshall said later that Jennings found brilliant: Marshall's attempt to bait the Packers into matching their cornerbacks up with him man-to-man.

Marshall said Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers ``did an amazing job of game-planning me'' in the teams' Sept. 13 meeting, in which Marshall caught only two passes for 24 yards in Green Bay's 23-10 victory.

Then, Marshall dared the Packers to try to cover him 1-on-1 in Sunday's rematch at Soldier Field.

``I didn't beat double or triple coverage or whatever they were throwing at us,'' Marshall said. ``I take it as a slap in my face when guys talk about my lack of ability to do something against them when they have help all over the place. I'm looking forward to 1-on-1 coverage. Hopefully, those guys in games like this may go to their coach and say, `Let me have him. I want Brandon Marshall. I want to stop Brandon Marshall. Let me have him 1-on-1, press coverage.' And we'll see what happens.''

On Thursday, Jennings had answered questions for about three minutes before bringing up - unprompted - what Marshall had said.

``I think he's smart for saying whatever he said. So I'm going to be smart, too,'' Jennings said, a wide smile stretching across his face. ``Man, I wish the Bears would play us 1-on-1 and man-to-man.

``I think he's smart. That reverse psychology, I think it's pretty impressive. So yeah, man, the Bears are always playing cover 2. I think they're scared not to play cover 2.''

Then, Jennings laughed.

``Hey,'' he said, ``I'll give it a shot.''

The cover 2 defense has been like kryptonite to the Packers' previously unstoppable offense this season. Using two deep safeties to take away big plays, the scheme has prevented Green Bay from replicating last year's success, when the Packers scored 560 points (second-most in NFL history) and quarterback Aaron Rodgers won the NFL MVP by throwing for 45 touchdowns with only six interceptions.

Later, Jennings called Marshall's statements a ``tactic.''

```Play me one-on-one.' What receiver doesn't want you to play man-to-man coverage the entire game?'' he said.

Here's the bad news for Marshall: There's no way Capers is going to do that on every down Sunday. Even with cornerback Tramon Williams' ability to cover, he's assured of having help over the top from a safety much of the time, as he frequently did against Detroit's Calvin Johnson in the team's two games against the Lions this year.

For while Capers' scheme is certainly complex, one of the main tenets of the veteran coordinator's approach is simple: Stop the opponent's best players.

Whether it's Johnson, or Minnesota Vikings running back Adrian Peterson, or, yes, Marshall, Capers formulates his defensive game plan each week by asking himself which offensive players could hurt his defense the most. While the results have varied over the last few years, the approach has remained the same.

``When we look at an offense, we look at who their top two or three producers are,'' Capers said recently. ``And (we ask), what do you have to try to do to limit their production? (We're) going to say, `Well, this is where we have to start.'

``What do you have to take away to win the game?''

For the Bears, it's obviously Marshall.

Marshall has caught 101 passes for 1,342 yards and nine touchdowns, while Chicago's next three wide receivers have a combined 65 receptions for 748 yards and five TDs.

Marshall has had seven 100-yard games this season and has caught at least 10 passes in his last three games. The only other team to shut him down was San Francisco, which held Marshall to two receptions for 21 yards Nov. 19, when quarterback Jay Cutler missed the game with a concussion and backup Jason Campbell started in his place.

According to safety Morgan Burnett, Capers' weekly Wednesday presentation to the defense begins with a portion of the slide show listing the opposing team's top players. Even though it's self-evident, the emphasis helps remind the Packers of how important it will be to contain those targets. This Wednesday, the discussion predictably began with Marshall, Burnett said.

``You know what they like to do. You watch the film; you know who the go-to guy is,'' Burnett said Thursday. ``At the same time, that doesn't mean you just ignore everyone else.

``Of course, Brandon Marshall is the go-to guy. But you still have (other) playmakers in Devin Hester. You have the rookie, Alshon Jeffery, who's a big receiver, and then you have (running back) Matt Forte, who's a threat in the running game and the passing game.''

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What's the plan in net beyond 2020-21?

Capitals Mailbag Part 1: What's the plan in net beyond 2020-21?

It’s time for a new Capitals mailbag! Check out Part 1 below.

Have a Caps question you want answered in the next mailbag? You can submit your questions here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

Please note, some questions have been edited for clarity.

Justin Cade writes: It seems like the general consensus between the pipes for 2020-21 is that Braden Holtby walks and a proven backup comes in to help Ilya Samsonov settle in as an NHL #1. How do you see the future of the goaltender position in Washington beyond next season? If Samsonov proves to be a reliable starter, do the Caps call up Vanecek to back him up for years to come?

The Caps’ goalie pipeline currently consists of Pheonix Copley and Vitek Vanecek in Hershey and Mitchell Gibson who is playing college hockey at Harvard. I am not really sure what to make of Gibson yet. He was OK, but not great in the USHL, but was really good in his freshman year at Harvard. I don’t know what the potential is there yet.

As for Copley and Vanecek, I see the ceiling for both as being NHL backups, at least in the traditional sense. As the NHL goes more and more toward tandems, that complicates things. I think Copley is a traditional backup, but I don’t want a situation where he is playing 30+ games per year. I think Vanecek has the higher ceiling, but I don’t see him as an NHL starter so I think there could be potential for a Samsonov-Vanecek tandem in the future with Samsonov being the primary starter. But I don’t know if that’s how the Caps see it.

If the team does indeed go the experienced backup route for next season, just how long that backup is signed for could be an indication for what Brian MacLellan views Vanecek’s future with the franchise will be. A three-year deal for an established No. 2 probably means Vanecek will be playing somewhere else before too long.

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Scott Egbert writes: Would Alex Ovechkin retire soon?

Ovechkin has given no indication that he is going to retire soon or that he is even fading as he currently sits tied with David Pastrnak for the league lead in goals with 48. Could he be a Barry Sanders and walk away while still being one of the best in the game? I really don’t see it. I think his love for the game of hockey and fierce competitiveness will drive him to continue on. He may not want to talk about it, but he has laid the groundwork for a possible run at Wayne Gretzky's goal record. It is going to be really hard for him to walk away from that.

When Nicklas Backstrom discussed his five-year extension, he mentioned that Ovechkin was asking him all the time about it. I don’t think that was because he wanted to make sure Backstrom was around just next season. I think he was looking down the road.

No, I do not see Ovechkin retiring any time soon. Then again, he is 34 so we are definitely on the back-end of his career so it is fair to wonder just how many more years he has left.

Justin Cade writes: Which Caps player do you think is most likely to be lost to Seattle in the expansion draft?

Assuming that Washington elects the option of protecting seven forwards, three defensemen and one goalie, my best guess would be we see the Caps protect Alex Ovechkin, Nicklas Backstrom, Evgeny Kuznetsov, Tom Wilson, Lars Eller and Jakub Vrana. Notice that is only six forwards. I don’t really see any other forwards they would really need to protect. They may have the flexibility to protect T.J. Oshie if they wanted, but he will be 34 years old at that point and still have an additional four years left on his contract with a cap hit of $5.75 million. He is a marketable player that I think Seattle could have some interest in, especially given his ties to the area, but only if his production hasn’t fallen off a cliff by that point.

On defense, the situation is a bit hazier.

First, per my understanding, neither Alex Alexeyev nor Martin Fehervary will be eligible to be selected so Washington won’t need to protect either of them. John Carlson absolutely will be protected, but the two players after him are a question mark. If it were me, I would protect Jonas Siegenthaler and I ultimately believe that is what they will do. Then it is a choice between Dmitry Orlov and Michal Kempny.

I think Orlov is a very good, top-four puck-moving defenseman who is frequently underrated by fans who just point to his turnovers and see nothing else. To me, he is worth protecting. That seems like an easy call now with how much Kempny has struggled this year, but this becomes much more difficult if Kempny returns to form.

So to summarize, I believe the two most likely players to be taken will be either Oshie or Kempny.

Thanks for all your questions! Part 2 of the mailbag will be coming on Thursday. If you have a question you want to be answered in the next mailbag, you can submit it here at the Capitals Mailbag submissions page on NBCSportsWashington.com.

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Why the Redskins did what they did in free agency, as explained by Ron Rivera

Why the Redskins did what they did in free agency, as explained by Ron Rivera

While Ron Rivera surely hopes his tenure with the Redskins lasts a long time, most of the free agents the coach brought in before his first season are joining his team on short-term deals.

Aside from Kendall Fuller and Wes Schweitzer, every single player Washington signed in March agreed to one- or two-year contracts. Even Schweitzer's deal, though technically three seasons in length, is effectively of the one-year variety, too.

On a Tuesday conference call with reporters, Rivera explained why the Burgundy and Gold went with that approach in free agency.

"A lot of these guys want to come in and say, ‘Hey give me an opportunity to compete, let me prove myself,'" Rivera told the media. " I love that guys are betting on themselves, that they’re going to come in and prove that they belong, that they deserve an extensive contract."

Rivera's only been in charge of the Redskins since the start of January, but it's already more than clear he loves competition. In fact, you can call him obsessed.

So while additions like JD McKissic, Cornelius Lucas and Logan Thomas aren't the familiar names many fans were likely hoping for, Rivera and VP of Player Personnel Kyle Smith appear content with throwing all of them onto the field next to the current roster and seeing who ultimately rises to the occasion. The ensuing battle to survive through the preseason may be cage match-y, minus the chairs.

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Now, this haul would be very different if the Redskins were successful in their push to land Amari Cooper. He would've cost the organization a "substantial" amount of cash and secured more money a year than a handful of their eventual signings will combined.

In the end, though, Cooper remained in Dallas and the Cowboys' rival was a lot quieter overall. But if Rivera's instincts come through, he does expect at least a few of his acquisitions to make some noise for their new franchise.

"One of the things that we tried to do when I was in Carolina, we looked at guys and IDed guys that were on the cusp of becoming solid starters," he said Tuesday. "Not a flash in the pan type guy that you’re hoping for, but a guy who’s done it steadily over a couple of years. We IDed a few of those guys and we went out and brought those guys in and had them become a part of our football team."

That kind of description seems to apply to defenders like Sean Davis and Ronald Darby, among others. If healthy, coached up and focused, those are some lesser-known names around the league who could deliver for Rivera and his staff.

In summing up the Redskins' plan for this portion of the NFL calendar, the 58-year-old was sure to point out that he's viewing this rebuild as a real project as opposed to a quick fix. It's like he's wearing binoculars when scoping out his end goals, not glasses.

That's one more reason he's pleased with what was accomplished the past few weeks. Once 2020 wraps up, he'll be ready to figure out which short-term options deserve to stick and which don't. 2020 itself isn't necessarily the primary objective.

"We think it’s a good mix right now," Rivera said. "Again, as we develop and grow, it’s not going to happen overnight. That’s one of the things that we feel we have: more time to be patient and develop these guys.”

Stay connected to the Capitals and Wizards with the MyTeams app. Click here to download for comprehensive coverage of your teams.

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