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Packers-Titans family affair for Matthews' brood

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Packers-Titans family affair for Matthews' brood

NASHVILLE, Tenn. (AP) Bruce Matthews watches Green Bay film first as an uncle. Then he hits replay and studies the defense in his role as Tennessee's offensive line coach.

Each time, he's watching the same Packers linebacker.

``He's a great player,'' Bruce said of his nephew, Clay Matthews. ``It isn't like he's just some guy out there. He definitely is the guy who makes things happen on their defense, and he's a guy we really have to make a pointed effort to account for him, which we're doing.''

The Packers linebacker is just the best-known member of the third generation carrying on the Matthews' NFL tradition, and this is the latest family football showdown. Bruce, a Hall of Fame lineman, spent 19 years with the Houston-Tennessee franchise and played against brother Clay, a 19-year linebacker with Cleveland and Atlanta, 23 times.

Clay Matthews Sr. got it all started with his four seasons with the San Francisco 49ers in the 1950s.

For Clay III, he said Thursday that his family's NFL success added to his motivation. He went from a walk-on at Southern California to being drafted in the first round - just like his father and uncle - by Green Bay 2009.

``Obviously, growing up in a football family where - you're right, not only my father played but my uncle and grandfather, played, that's what I wanted to do,'' the Packers linebacker said. ``Fortunately I was healthy enough and blessed to fall into the situation I'm in right now, but they were absolutely instrumental role models in getting me where I'm at today.''

Titans coach Mike Munchak had a close view of the Matthews' brothers' rivalry in the old AFC Central as a teammate of Bruce's for years. Munchak said it's exciting for his offensive line coach to watch film knowing his job is to stop his nephew from having a good day.

So no pressure there.

``Hopefully, he'll reach out to him during the week and tell him we have all types of plans for him to kind of discourage him a little bit, maybe slow him down,'' Munchak said. ``It's a great challenge.''

Clay Matthews has 11 sacks so far this season for the Packers, so watching him play is a bit different from what Bruce Matthews saw when he studied his brother during the 1980s and 1990s. Even so, he says his nephew reminds him very much of his brother, a four-time Pro Bowler.

``He can cover. He can play against the run, and obviously he can rush the passer,'' the Titans' assistant said. ``It's just a matter of what they're asking him to do as to some point in the game he does all three, and obviously, he isn't a one-dimensional guy. He plays with passion, so it's fun to watch guys like that, especially when you count him as a family member.''

This game was set to be even more of a family affair until Bruce's son, Kevin, sprained his right ankle Monday night against the Jets. He had started two straight games at center, but now may wind up on injured reserve if the Titans need an extra healthy player.

Kevin said he had been waiting for this game for both the chance to play at Lambeau Field and against his cousin. They text often, and Kevin said Clay had asked him to give up some plays to help him against the Titans.

``I told him he doesn't need any help from us,'' Kevin said. ``He's doing a good job this year.''

This could be a preview of coming attractions. Clay's brother, Casey, is a linebacker with the Eagles, while Bruce's son, Jake, is a junior offensive lineman at Texas A&M and considered a top draft candidate.

For now, the focus is on Sunday and family bragging rights with the Titans (5-9) already are eliminated from playoff contention and the Packers (10-4) honing their game for the postseason. With the Titans in the AFC and the Packers in the NFC, these teams hadn't played in the regular season since 2008.

``It's one of those things you think about, but you never think it's going to come to fruition ...'' Clay said. ``It'll be something to look back on and talk about. But it'll be more interesting when Sunday rolls around to see what he's going to do.''

He will line up opposite Titans left tackle Michael Roos, the lone starter left on a patched-up offensive line. How much help Roos gets from his position coach against Clay remains to be seen. Uncle Bruce is giving nothing away before kickoff.

``I don't know that we all anticipated the kind of success and kind of rock star quality he has right now, but it's really fun to watch and I'm very proud of him. But like I've always said, I love to see him do well, just not this week.''

NOTES: The Titans practiced indoors Thursday due to a soggy field. Winds gusting to 40 mph kept the bubble over the field swaying, and Munchak said his key was just not looking up. ... Rookie WR Kendall Wright (ribs) did not practice, though WR Damian Williams (hamstring) practiced fully. LB Colin McCarthy (concussion) also practiced fully.

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AP National Writer Nancy Armour contributed to this report from Green Bay, Wis.

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Follow Teresa M. Walker on Twitter at www.teresamwalker

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Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

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USA TODAY SPORTS

Ways to jump-start the Wizards sooner than later

We’ve reached Tuesday, a game day. The Los Angeles Clippers and Marcin Gortat are in town. What timing. Their arrival and the contest itself aren’t the main focus, not after Monday's drama. What changes if any the Wizards make is.

In the short-term, think lineup and rotation. For the big picture, don’t start crossing names off the roster just yet.

Monday’s headlines included an ESPN report  that the Wizards “started to deliver teams an impression that every player on their roster -- including All-Star guards John Wall and Bradley Beal -- is available for discussion in trade scenarios.” It would be the surprise of all surprises for a trade to go down before Tuesday’s tipoff.

Despite the 5-11 start and contrary to the report, Wall and Beal have not been made openly available on the trade market, multiple league sources tell NBC Sports Washington. Despite the frustrating and taxing start, 66 games remain in the regular season. For a needed turnaround, Wall and Beal are the types of talented players required.

Yet something must change immediately. The Wizards have lost two in a row, both by at least 10 points. They trailed by 20 points in the first quarter and by as many as 29 in the second half during Sunday’s 119-109 setback against Portland. Head coach Scott Brooks called the effort and enthusiasm “embarrassing.” 

“There is no team in this league that can win games if you don't compete for your teammates,” Brooks said Sunday. "And I got to find five guys that are willing to do that.”

That comment alone doesn’t signal an impending change. Brooks has used such language often over the last two seasons yet the starting lineup remained the same outside of injuries. It’s possible Tuesday is different. Lineup changes are being explored ahead of the Clippers game, according to multiple sources familiar with the Wizards thinking.

There’s a possible cheat here. Center Dwight Howard exited Sunday’s loss in the first quarter with a reoccurrence of aggravated gluteal soreness. He did not practice with the team Monday. 

The simple solution means starting Ian Mahinmi if Howard sits, which is actually something he literally cannot do during games because of the soreness. Using Jeff Green for a smaller look is a tick more outside the box.

Let’s ponder a Wizards roster with all intact.

For all the talk surrounding Wall, Beal, Otto Porter and, based on injury, Howard, Markieff Morris is the starter struggling the most. Never a strong rebounder, the 6-foot-10, 245-pound power forward is averaging 3.6 boards in nine games this month.

Whether he’s slowed by an undisclosed injury or another factor, Morris isn’t providing needed energy and big man production. Those aspects are required when Brooks wants to deploy small-ball lineups, and use Morris as the 5-man. Morris, one of the eight players on the roster entering some form of free agency this summer, played only 19 and 20 minutes respectively in the last two games.

Green, Morris' primary backup, had 13 rebounds in 25 minutes against Portland. That level of board work is abnormal, but the 32-year-old’s athleticism has stood out all season. While the streaky shooter’s numbers are starting to trend the wrong way after a hot start earlier this month, Green is shooting 51.5 percent from the floor.

With Green starting, Morris could serve as the anchor for the second unit, or Brooks could manipulate his rotation so that the pair play together. Neither is a needed rim protector, but both provide more offense than Mahinmi.

Sliding Kelly Oubre Jr. into the starting lineup – for Morris, not Otto Porter – is another consideration. The Oubre-Porter pairing along with Wall, Beal, and Gortat was among the top net-rating lineups in the entire NBA over the last two seasons. Brooks hasn’t used a similar look as much this season.

Where Oubre offers clear help is energy. The 6-foot-7 forward flies around the court continuously even during games where teammates don’t. Defending opponent’s straight-on, even small guards, is another strength. Starting Oubre opens the door for using him against guards when Wall and Beal struggle to keep foes from penetrating.

This shouldn’t be considered a promotion if it occurs. Oubre remains prone to gaffes in team defense concepts. He is shooting 28 percent on 3-pointers. We’re talking about changing the Wizards’ trajectory. All options should be explored.

In either case, another way for more urgency in the lineup could come from using first-round pick Troy Brown Jr. or center Thomas Bryant. Both were on the court as the Wizards rallied against the Blazers. Brown is an obvious Oubre replacement on the second unit if Oubre joins the starters with Mahinmi the likely odd-man out in the spot.

Here’s the hope for the Wizards: Whatever anger was unleashed recently leads to the needed fix now that the expressions of frustration reached the public. Teams squabble. Feelings are hurt. There is no denying Washington isn’t right. Surely, other teams are checking in per usual, but with a bit extra interest since doors may be open. For now, that’s not the case.

It’s easy to say Washington would be wise to get its collective head straight, put forth a good effort against the Clippers and move forward from Monday’s show. We’ll see what happens. Based on the opening 16 games and Monday’s tabloid-esque headlines, we’ll see. Something must change. If it's not the roster, that leaves the lineup.

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Ravens' John Harbaugh wants it known Lamar Jackson can and will throw ball more

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USA TODAY Sports

Ravens' John Harbaugh wants it known Lamar Jackson can and will throw ball more

BALTIMORE -- In a league that relies heavily on the forward pass, the Baltimore Ravens have gone old-school in their bid to reach the NFL playoffs.

With quarterback Lamar Jackson leading the way , the Ravens rushed for 265 yards Sunday in a 24-21 victory over the Cincinnati Bengals. Jackson ran 27 times for 117 yards, Gus Edwards garnered 115 yards on the ground and both rookies rushed for seven first downs.

There's a good chance Jackson will start for the injured Joe Flacco again Sunday when the Ravens (5-5) host the Oakland Raiders (2-8). If Jackson is the starter, it's unlikely he will again slither, slide and scramble with the ball 27 times.

"Yeah, you don't want your quarterback getting hit that much," coach John Harbaugh said Monday. "It's not going to last that way. So, that's pretty self-evident."

That said, Harbaugh mocked those people concerned about Jackson's workload.

"Oh, he had 27 carries," Harbaugh said. "You know what he did? He won the game. He played his tail off. Celebrate that, and move on."

Whatever it takes to win.

"It's not what we're going to be shooting for by any stretch, but if it takes that many, Lamar will do it," Harbaugh said. "But, no, he took some hits. I think they knew the quarterback was going to run the ball. They were going after him a little bit, as you would expect. That's something that we have to look at going forward."

Selected 32nd overall in the 2018 draft, Jackson was thrust into the starting lineup because Flacco has a right hip injury that has been slow to heal and could keep him sidelined against the Raiders.

"He has a chance," Harbaugh said, without much conviction.

Jackson ran 655 times at Louisville and won the 2016 Heisman Trophy for his ability to carry the ball, not throw it. On Sunday, his carries accounted for more than a third of Baltimore's 73 offensive plays, and the Ravens finished with 54 rushing attempts compared to 19 passes.

Harbaugh bristled when someone asked him about Jackson's ability to throw the football, and where that fits into the game plan moving forward.

"Yeah, we're going to throw the ball more down the road," Harbaugh insisted. "All this veiled stuff, `Is he really a thrower?' I got news for you: He's a thrower. He's a quarterback. I don't appreciate the insinuation of the question. Lamar Jackson is a quarterback."

He's a quarterback with 256 yards rushing -- second on the team behind Alex Collins -- and 237 yards passing. Collins scored a touchdown against the Bengals, but his playing time was sheared by Edwards, an undrafted rookie free agent who got 17 carries and played most of the second half.

Edwards, who scored his first NFL touchdown , got the call because of the way he's excelled in the days leading up to game day.

"He's been practicing great," Harbaugh said. "It has been a goal to get him more carries before this."

Baltimore's 265 yards rushing against Cincinnati was tied for the fifth most in franchise history, and it marked the first time in NFL history that a team had a rookie quarterback and rookie running back each top 100 yards rushing.

After he was done, Jackson made one final run -- after the referee to snag the game ball.

"However you move the ball is good. You do it based on your personnel," Harbaugh said. "You want it to be a mix, but in the end, the players deserve the credit for running the ball so well."

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