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Pats offensive balance a challenge for Texans

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Pats offensive balance a challenge for Texans

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. (AP) Stevan Ridley has emerged as a top running back in his second pro season. He's not the only Patriots rusher Texans coach Gary Kubiak has to worry about.

The revived New England ground game, with Shane Vereen and Brandon Bolden as backups, has brought balance to an offense that relied more heavily on quarterback Tom Brady in recent years.

Ridley, in his second pro season, is third in the AFC with 1,010 yards rushing going into Monday night's game between the Texans (11-1), who have the best record in the AFC and have clinched a playoff berth, and the Patriots (9-3), who have locked up the AFC East title.

``He's a heck of a player,'' Kubiak said. ``They've had a few different backs back there. It's what they do. It's almost like anybody they put back there is successful. They play young guys. Tom has got them in the right play all the time. They're not only running the ball well, but those backs out of the backfield catch the ball extremely well.''

Vereen has rushed for just 173 yards and three touchdowns but has scored on an 83-yard pass play. Bolden, a rookie who returns Monday night after sitting out a four-game suspension for violating the NFL policy on performance-enhancing substances, is second on the team with 234 yards rushing and two touchdowns.

``They're very capable of running the ball very well,'' Kubiak said.

And, of course, outstanding throwing it.

Brady is having his usual strong season with 25 touchdown passes and just four interceptions, and wide receiver Wes Welker leads the NFL with 92 receptions.

That pairing could be a real problem for Houston without cornerback Brice McCain, who had surgery on his left foot on Monday. Brandon Harris, a second-year pro, will replace him despite having played in just four games this season.

``Welker has 92 catches and I don't think Brandon has 29 plays,'' Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said. ``It's a challenge, certainly. We expect him to step up and play. We're going to try to help him in certain areas, but it's going to be one-on-one some. It's going to be one-on-one pass rush with our guys to put pressure on the guy and it's going to be one-on-one for our guys to cover them sometimes. That's just how it is.''

Balance also is a strong point for the Texans with Arian Foster, the AFC's leading rusher with 1,102 yards, and Andre Johnson, seventh in the NFL with 74 catches.

``He's a great player,'' Patriots coach Bill Belichick said of Johnson, a 10-year veteran. ``He's done it for a long time. He puts up big numbers every year and people are keying on him. They're looking for him and he keeps producing. He's a hard guy to cover.''

And then there's Foster, the NFL leader with 15 touchdowns.

The Texans disguise their plays well and make effective use of play action, which requires defenders to be well disciplined.

``Gary does a good job, scheme-wise, of balancing everything out - the running game, the passing game, play-actions, dropbacks, complementary routes, complementary runs - everything kind of ties together,'' Belichick said.

The Patriots and the Texans are the only two offenses ranked in the top 10 in yards rushing and passing.

``If you're stopping one thing, then you're probably light on something else and it won't take them too long to find that and exploit it,'' Belichick said. Johnson ``is definitely open on a few plays where it wouldn't matter who the receiver is, the guy is wide open and is going to make a big play. But there are also a lot of plays that he makes on his own.''

Fortunately for the Patriots, their weak pass defense has improved in recent weeks.

The acquisition of cornerback Aqib Talib, who has played the past three games for the Patriots, from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers has allowed Belichick to start Devin McCourty at safety rather than his usual cornerback spot, and he's solidified the secondary.

McCourty's interception in the end zone in the final minute secured the Patriots 37-31 win over the Buffalo Bills on Nov. 11. In their next game, cornerbacks Talib and Alfonzo Dennard returned interceptions for touchdowns in a 59-24 rout of the Indianapolis Colts.

``They're a very physical, stout group,'' Texans quarterback Matt Schaub said. ``They understand their scheme well, a lot of veteran guys that have played a lot of football in that group. They can rush the passer. They can stop the run. They can do a little bit of everything. It's a group that we really have to be on top of our game plan, on top of our stuff and play good road football.''

The Texans have done that better than any team this season. At 6-0, they're the only team with a perfect road record.

But the Patriots haven't lost a regular-season game in December since Dec. 22, 2002.

``The better you play, the better your homefield advantage is because the more the crowd is into it,'' Brady said. ``I think the mark of our teams over the years has been we've improved as the season has gone along. December is the last month to really improve.

``Coach puts pressure on us in practice every day to improve, to get better and not to make the same mistakes (and) to learn from our mistakes. I think we as a team have responded to that and played well. That's what's important this time of the year: to not make the same mistakes we were making in September and to play our best football. This will be a great week to see if we can accomplish that.''

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How to watch Capitals vs. Sabres NHL 20 simulation

How to watch Capitals vs. Sabres NHL 20 simulation

Monday night was supposed to be another night of Capitals action with a game against the Buffalo Sabres. Unfortunately due to the NHL’s hold on the season in response to the coronavirus outbreak, the show can not go on as originally planned. 

However, with some minor adjustments to the presentation, there is still a way to keep things going. 

Monday night at 7 p.m. ET the Capitals will be taking the ice to play the Sabres as planned, only this time it will be virtual ice on an NHL 20 simulation. 

In partnership with Monumental Sports Network, NBC Sports Washington will be airing all Wizards and Capitals games in simulated NBA 2K20 and NHL 2K20 games. The format of these games includes watching the simulated versions of Caps games based on the existing schedule with the bonus of commentary from NBCSW’s experts. 

To make things even more fun, in between the simulation and the re-air of the simulation, there is a chance to relive a classic Caps game. So don’t forget to stick around and re-watch Dowd and the Capitals dominate the Penguins from earlier this season. 

Here's everything you need to know to watch. 

When: Monday, March 30 at 7 p.m. ET

Where:

  • NBC Sports Washington (channel finder
  • Any of our 24/7 authenticated streaming platforms
  • Monumental Sports Network via its website www.monumentalsportsnetwork.com or via any of its available apps on iOS, Android, Roku, Apple TV, Fire TV, and Xbox.

Broadcast schedule: 

7:00 PM: NHL 20 Simulation: Capitals @ Buffalo Sabres (P)
8:00 PM: NHL Classics: Capitals @ Pittsburgh Penguins (R) 
10:30 PM: NHL 20 Simulation: Capitals @ Buffalo Sabres (R)

Starting lineups: 

Capitals: TBD
Sabres: TBD

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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LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

LeBron James scores 36, Wizards still top Lakers in NBA 2K simulation

These 2K simulations certainly do agree with the Wizards. Coming off a stunning victory over the Bucks Friday, Washington turned around on the second night of a back-to-back and beat the Lakers 73-66 at virtual Capital One Arena. 

LeBron James was a one-man wrecking crew for LA, Bradley Beal led the scoring attack for the Wizards and Thomas Bryant got revenge on the team that waived him. 

Here's how the Wizards picked up their fourth-straight 2K win. 

Offensive rebounds

The Lakers are one of the biggest teams in the NBA with James, Anthony Davis, JaVale McGee and Dwight Howard playing heavy minutes, but it was the Wizards who dominated the boards in this one. 

Bryant led the way for Washington on the glass with seven of his 13 rebounds coming on the offensive end. The Lakers shot the ball significantly better than the Wizards (47% to 39%) but Washington was simply overwhelming them on the glass to create more opportunities. 

Washington grabbed 18 offensive rebounds compared to the Lakers' eight, and it ended being the major difference in the result. 

LeBron's one-man show

The real-life Lakers' biggest weakness is their lack of playmaking outside of James. In a game where James had everything working for him, the Lakers struggled to get anything going whenever he didn't have the ball. 

Rajon Rondo struggled mightily despite tallying eight assists (2-11 FG) and Davis had a bad game relative to his standards (10 points, one rebound, three blocks).

I'd be curious to see what virtual LeBron would have to say about his teammates after this particular game. 

Thomas Bryant's revenge

As we stated before, Bryant was waived by the Lakers after his rookie season and his virtual self took it all out on his former team Saturday night. 

He dominated the boards and once again protected the paint in a way that would make Elvin Hayes proud. He finished with eight points, 13 rebounds and five blocks. 

With Bryant playing the way he has been the last few simulations, the Wizards' defense has been exceptional. Outside of defensive versatility, having a strong defensive center anchoring the defense is paramount to an effective unit. 

Other parting thoughts

Jerome Robinson continues to play well as a starter, scoring 13 points in 19 minutes. The Wizards didn't get that long of a look at Robinson before the NBA suspended its season.

After acquiring him at the trade deadline in exchange for Isaiah Thomas, it'd be another steal by Tommy Sheppard if Robinson can play like this consistently in real life. 

Instead of erupting in the fourth quarter to help the Wizards secure a win, Beal went off for 14 points in the third this time. He finished with 24 points and went 12-for-30 from the field.

Markieff Morris made a return to DC in this one. The Lakers uniform looks weird on him. 

It's hard to capture just how quick Ish Smith is in a video game, but this spin move came pretty close. 

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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