Nationals

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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Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

Why Trea Turner’s ‘jealous’ of Loudoun South, LLWS competitors

When Trea Turner sees the Little League World Series – or even thinks about it – there’s one feeling that comes to mind: Jealousy.

“I always wanted to go to this tournament,” he told NBC Sports Washington’s Todd Dybas. “Tried every year. We had some good teams and made some good runs, but never got a chance. I’m a little jealous.”

The team is in Pittsburgh this week – a nearly 200 mile drive from where Virginia’s Loudoun South Little League team is looking to advance after two impressive no-hitters. And while it might be a longshot for them to make it to the big leagues one day Turner wasn’t the only current Nationals player whose dream started back in Little League.

Turner played in Little League from the age of five to 13. “My dad coached,” he said. “Most of my best friends to this day are still from of that age group and their fathers as well were coaches.” They were a close-knit group, he said.

Erick Fedde remembers his time in Little League – as a catcher. “I didn’t really pitch much until my sophomore year of high school,” he said. “Everybody pitches when they’re little. I think I was playing left field or something. I was always like I want to pitch [in high school], but I don’t want to tell the coach.”

Luckily, his mom intervened. 

“My mom pushed me,” he said. “[She told me] ‘you should tell them you want to pitch.’”

Hunter Strickland’s dad also coached him in Little League – and seeing the Little League kids, he said, brings back memories with his dad and brothers. “He definitely pushed us,” he said of his dad as a coach. “But, I respect it. It’s made us into the people we are today. It makes you a better player, a better person just from the discipline.”

Andrew Stevenson played in the Little League World Series in 2005 with his team from Lafayette, La. His heroics in a game against a team from Kentucky lead the Associated Press roundup of the tournament at the time. He scored the winning run after making it to first on a bunt single and then getting to home from third on a throwing error.

“He may be the fastest player up here,” his team manager, Mike Conrad, told the AP at the time.

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Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

Hunter Strickland explains the weight-room mishap that broke his nose

PITTSBURGH -- Hunter Strickland’s face has been fixed. A small piece of tape still resides in the middle of his broken nose, but the good news is the break was clean. When he went to a local hospital for X-Rays, his nose was reset and clearance to pitch was provided. His ego remains a work in progress.

Strickland broke his nose Tuesday when a weight-lifting bar was inadvertently pulled onto his face. The Nationals large reliever -- 6-foot-3, 225 pounds -- went to use a red cord tethered to a squat rack above the empty bar for hip mobility exercises. And, well, we’ll let him tell it:

“So I pulled the cord in front of the bar so this wouldn’t happen, and obviously it didn’t work out too well,” Strickland said. “When I sat down to get on the ground to do the hip stuff, I went to reach up and grab the cord, and I guess one of the loops still got hung up behind it. And when I grabbed it, I guess my weight pulled the bar off it, and it crushed me.”

Tuesday, Strickland went to throw afterward and felt fine. The doctors also told him he couldn’t further damage his reset nose -- harken back to the wise words of Max Scherzer, “You don’t pitch with your nose” -- so he felt ready to pitch. Davey Martinez opted not to use him a few hours after the incident. 

Strickland had never broken his nose prior. He comes from a large family which jousted in athletics, where he is the middle child with two older brothers, a younger brother and two younger sisters, but never broke his nose. So, the shot to the face was a surprise, to say the least.

“I had no idea,” Strickland said. “I didn't know what happened. Obviously, it hit me pretty good so it kind of dazed me for a second there. After that, I looked up in the mirror. My nose was crooked and bleeding everywhere. Just kind of put two and two together -- got knocked out by a bar.”

Members of the Nationals medical staff immediately came to him in the cramped visitor’s clubhouse workout space. The area is so tight, players were throwing a medicine ball off the concrete wall just outside entrance Wednesday. Blood and confusion made Strickland briefly worry something more significant had happened. Wednesday, he was relieved and available.

“That’s why I’m thrilled it’s not as bad as it could be,” Strickland said. “That’s one of the things they look at with the X-rays, to make sure the passages are still straight and clear. I’m able to breathe and get the blood out of there, so we’ll be good to go. It’s good. Everything checked out.”

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