Redskins

Shaky pass rush hasn't slowed Texans

Shaky pass rush hasn't slowed Texans

HOUSTON (AP) The Houston defense was a major hit, literally, in its first year under Wade Phillips, finishing the 2011 season with a franchise-record 44 sacks.

Statistically, this year's defense stacks up well with last year's unit, and defensive end J.J. Watt has emerged as one of the NFL's top pass rushers, now second in the league with 14 1/2. But the pass rush has tapered off as a whole in recent weeks, and the defense has yielded big passing numbers as an indirect result.

Watt had a career-high three sacks in Houston's 34-31 overtime win over Detroit on Thanksgiving. Take him away, and the rest of the Texans have only 15 1/2 sacks all season and now outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who has 2 1/2, is out indefinitely with a groin injury.

The Texans (10-1) have still kept right on winning and can clinch a playoff berth with win at Tennessee (4-7) on Sunday. But the defense can't ignore the fact that it's given up an average of 395.5 yards passing and six touchdown catches in the last two games.

``I'm proud of my boys, because each week, got to find a way to win, and we keep winning,'' defensive end Antonio Smith said. ``But you can't just sit and act like the yardage didn't happen, the touchdowns didn't happen. A lot of the things we have not let happen this year, we let happen in the last two weeks.

``The defense that we are, we take pride in being one of the best,'' Smith said. ``We definitely want to get that fixed, get a stop.''

Smith has four sacks and Reed's injury creates an opportunity for first-round pick Whitney Mercilus, who has three sacks in the last four games. Mercilus led the nation in sacks last season at Illinois (16), and Phillips is hoping he blossoms like Reed did last season after Mario Williams was hurt.

``This is his time and he's got to come through for us,'' Phillips said of Mercilus.

Connor Barwin, who led the Texans with 11 1/2 sacks last season, will move to the strong side with Reed out. Linebacker Bradie James, who worked with Phillips in Dallas and coordinates the defense on the field, is also questionable for Sunday with a hamstring injury. Darryl Sharpton has been filling James' play-calling role in just his third game back after a torn right quadriceps that sidelined him for a year.

After some maneuvering, the Texans know what positions they'll play on Sunday. Now they just have to figure out how to get back to pressuring the quarterback again.

``We've been close,'' Sharpton said. ``It's just a matter of time and I think this could probably be the week that we convert some of that pressure into sacks.''

With quarterbacks Chad Henne and Matthew Stafford getting an important extra second or two in the last two games, Houston has also allowed some big games by receivers, too. Jacksonville's Justin Blackmon had 263 yards receiving on seven catches in a 43-37 loss to the Texans on Nov. 18. Detroit's Calvin Johnson and Ryan Broyles both topped 100 yards receiving in the Thanksgiving game.

Phillips downplayed concerns about the last two performances.

``It's a team game, we've won 10,'' Phillips said. ``It's about winning, it's not about the stats overall, it's about being able to win. Our team has learned how to win. We'd like to win by 21 points every time, but that's not always going to happen. We've learned to fight and win in tremendously tough situations, that's the key.''

Not only is Reed out, but lead cornerback Johnathan Joseph is questionable after injuring a hamstring in the Jacksonville game and sitting out in Detroit. Joseph, who has two interceptions and eight pass break-ups this season, worked individually with trainers on Wednesday and sat out on Thursday to rest.

Like the pass rushers, Houston's secondary feels like the last two games were anomalies and there are only minor glitches to fix.

``You don't want to look too much into that,'' safety Danieal Manning said. ``Now, we've got to a chance to look back at all that, get off our feet, relax and play ball like we have been.''

Notes: Coach Gary Kubiak said RB Ben Tate practiced on Thursday and will be ready to play on Sunday. Tate has missed the last four games with a hamstring injury. ... RT Derek Newton (right knee) and RG Antoine Caldwell (hamstring) sat out Thursday's practice and Kubiak says he'll re-evaluate their status on Friday.

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Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Vernon Davis urges Redskins fans to have patience with Bruce Allen

Tight end Vernon Davis has seen the Washington Redskins go through many ups and downs since becoming a part of the organization in 2016, but the 2018 season brought a new set of challenges.

Two injured quarterbacks headlined the Redskins' 7-9 season and fans were once again calling for team president Bruce Allen's job.

In a rare media availability during Tuesday's Senior Bowl practice, Allen noted how "close" he felt the Redskins were to reaching the postseason but his continued lack of transparency is something that does not sit well with Redskins fans.

Davis, speaking Wednesday on 106.7 The Fan's Sports Junkies, is standing by the team's president.

"I strongly believe, like I said before, we have the pieces to win games."

"Bruce and Dan [Snyder], those guys are constantly sitting in their office trying to find ways to win. It's not like they're not doing a great job with it. I believe in them. I believe that they're going to make the right decision to do the best they can do to help us win football games around here because that's what they're there for. Bruce is there to make sure that we're a championship team. Make sure that we're winning. Making sure that we have all the pieces when it comes to different positions on the football field. So, they're doing just that.

Allen has continued to praise the Redskins fans for their passion throughout the offseason. But if you know the Redskins, don't expect many changes to take place. 

And if it's hard for you to hang on to the little insight Allen provides Redskins fans with in regards to the future of the organization, Davis urges fans to keep holding on. 

"I wouldn't quite count him out. I just say have patience and continue to support the Washington Redskins." 

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Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

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Grizzlies putting Gasol, Conley on trade block creates opportunity if surging Wizards turn aggressive

News that the “grit ‘n grind” era is apparently ending in Memphis effectively tips off the NBA trade deadline rumors.

No shock if the John Wall and Dwight Howard-less Washington Wizards receive a mention or two for deals involving Marc Gasol and Mike Conley Jr. Mention and final destination are different worlds, of course.

ESPN reported Tuesday that the Grizzlies are finally open to hearing trade offers for their two franchise stalwarts. They never reached the level of other famed big man/guard tandems, but Gasol and Conley were at the center of a seven-year run of playoff appearances peaking with the 2013 Western Conference finals.

With age and injuries striking the duo, Memphis slipped in recent years. The postseason streak ended last season. After a hot start to the 2018-19 campaign including an early-season win over the Wizards, the Grizzlies have lost 12 of 13, falling to 19-28 overall. While that record would not automatically end playoff hopes in the Eastern Conference, it slots Memphis 14th out of 15 teams in the West.

As NBC Sports’ Dan Feldman noted, finding a trade partner will not come easy for the Grizzlies.

Gasol, 33, has a player option next season for $25.6 million. That’s a huge number for a center in this perimeter-oriented era on top of the $24.1 million the three-time All-Star is earning this campaign. Gasol’s highly skilled game is showing signs of decline, though his basic statistical numbers (15.3 points, 8.5 rebounds, 4.7 assists, 1.3 blocks) remain helpful.

Conley, one of the NBA’s most underrated talents of his generation, offers lead guard, leadership skills – and a financial challenge. From Feldman:

Mike Conley will have a lot of interested parties, he is an All-Star level player (he’d make it in the East easy, but in the West probably falls short again), but his contract is bigger than Gasol’s. Conley makes $30.5 million this season and has $67 million the two seasons after that (the second is an early termination option, but Conley isn’t opting out of that money, so consider that $67 million fully guaranteed).

As Memphis’ season turned south, Washington surged, winning seven of its last 10 games to move into a ninth-place tie with Detroit. Still two games back of the eighth and final playoff berth, the Wizards could use general depth if not actual star power with Wall sidelined for the season. Howard (back surgery) and forward Markieff Morris (neck) face uncertain recovery timelines.

No disrespect to the Wall and Howard replacements, Tomas Satoransky and Thomas Bryant, but Gasol and Conley would upgrade Washington at those positions. The cost, however, keeps such grandiose thoughts on the shelf. 

During the team’s recent London trip, Wizards owner Ted Leonsis emphatically stated the team would not consider throwing in the towel despite injuries and a losing record. That is not the same as stating the luxury-tax paying team would take on significant salary or trade coveted assets for help.

Washington’s 2019 first-round selection takes on additional importance because the team already exceeds next season’s salary cap with only five players under contract.

Now, if some creative mind conjures a trade that removes the final year of Ian Mahinmi’s four-year, $64 million contract from the books without sending Washington dramatically further into the tax or deals with Wall's trade kicker, hmmm.

If the Wizards decide the overall roster needs a dramatic shake-up, perhaps a deal centered on Wall and Conley gets interesting (Thanks, NBA trade machine, though maybe include draft picks already).

Wall’s run of recent surgeries combined with his four-year, $170 supermax contract kicking in next season and that substantial kicker may end all discussion. However, he is three years younger than Conley. Memphis, set to build around 19-year-old Jaren Jackson Jr., could find that age factor appealing or use Wall/Conley to fascilitate a larger trade.

Other teams will offer more future-friendly deals for Gasol and Conley. The Wizards appear set in their belief the current roster, even with the injuries, can reach the playoffs. Therefore, it's wise setting aside the notion of a major move from Washington involving the Grizzlies’ stars or any other high profile/big salary players. Bookmark the trade machine page regardless. 

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