Nationals

Texans prepare for talented rookie Luck

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Texans prepare for talented rookie Luck

HOUSTON (AP) The last time the Houston Texans faced an inexperienced quarterback they forced second-year pro Jake Locker into five turnovers and sacked him six times in a win over the Titans.

Two weeks later, they get a shot at Andrew Luck, the No. 1 overall pick in the NFL draft last April, and they can clinch the AFC South title with a win.

Luck has thrown for 3,792 yards for the Colts, but leads the AFC in interceptions with 18, and has lost five fumbles. He's also been sacked 32 times, and will now have to deal with AFC sacks leader J.J. Watt.

``We need more sacks,'' said Watt, who has a single-season franchise record with 16 1/2. ``I need to rush the passer better. As a defensive line, we need more pressure and we need to bat some more balls. We'll put it on us up front.''

Coach Gary Kubiak noted that Luck is challenging because even if the defense gets to him for a sack, his size (6-foot 4, 234 pounds) makes him difficult to bring down.

``It's got to be a big conscious effort for us to keep him contained, and then when we do have our opportunities you got to really work to bring him down,'' Kubiak said. ``You can make just an incredible highlight reel of people just hanging on to him and him still making plays.''

Kubiak likened Luck to Ben Roethlisberger because of his size, and said that when he was studying the draft last year he thought he was the best quarterback to come out since his predecessor Peyton Manning.

``He's sure as heck hasn't disappointed,'' Kubiak said. ``He's been excellent this year. I told the team he's playing like an eight-, nine-year football player. He's handling a ton of offense.''

Despite his development, Luck hasn't found a way to limit his turnovers. He's had three games this season with three interceptions, and two of them have come in the last four games. He has nine interceptions in the last four games.

The Texans, who are experts at batting down passes, definitely noticed those numbers.

``It's our goal always to create turnovers,'' Watt said. ``We know what that does for momentum. We know how good our offense is, so we want to get them the ball as many times as possible, so we're always looking to create turnovers.''

Watt has batted down 15 passes this season. He's the only player since the league began tracking passes defensed in 1991 to have at least 15 sacks and 15 passes defensed in a single season.

Some teams have used brooms or other sticks in practice to try and replicate what it's like to throw against Watt when preparing for the Texans. But Indianapolis interim coach Bruce Arians said he just used his tallest players and had them put their hands up in front of Luck this week in practice.

``I've seen ladders, brooms, everything, and balls still get batted in games,'' Arians said. ``They're so good at disengaging when they're not going to get to the quarterback and getting in that throwing lane that it's really hard to replicate.''

The Texans plan to use a variety of tactics to try and make Luck uncomfortable on Sunday. But from what they've seen from him so far, they know that will be difficult.

``You always want to try to rattle the quarterback,'' nose tackle Shaun Cody said. ``(But) his progression has been so fast where he started the year and where he is now. He's obviously better. We want to rattle him and get to him, but I think he's learned from the mistakes he's made in the past so It'll definitely be a challenge for us.''

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All eyes turn to Anthony Rendon at the Winter Meetings after Gerrit Cole signs

All eyes turn to Anthony Rendon at the Winter Meetings after Gerrit Cole signs

SAN DIEGO -- News of Gerrit Cole’s gargantuan contract swept through the Winter Meetings late Tuesday night. A bustling lobby temporarily stalled as everyone looked at their phones then each other. It was true. Cole signed for $325 million to play in New York. 

Which means the third -- and for all intents and purposes final -- day of the meetings will focus on Anthony Rendon. He is now the premier player available in the free agent market. Cole and Stephen Strasburg signed. Rendon should be next.

Much of Tuesday before the Cole news revolved around Rendon. Agent Scott Boras stood atop a Pelican case -- a hard box used to protect television cameras -- in front of a Boras Corp. standing backdrop. There was symmetry between Boras on the box and what it usually holds. He’s naturally drawn to camera equipment.

There, ringed by reporters who largely couldn’t hear or just watched the spectacle, Boras spoke in generalizations about Rendon’s status. Yes, several teams have inquired about Rendon. Yes, seven years is the marker for a contract. Yes, negotiations are ongoing.

Where are the Nationals in this? That is more difficult to pin down. Rendon remains a curious challenge to read in the offseason. He made jokes at the World Series about not wanting to play until he was 35. He turns 30 years old next season. Does nostalgia have pull for him, either in Washington or back in Texas? Is it simply about money?

Asked about Nationals’ managing principal owner Mark Lerner saying the team could only afford Strasburg or Rendon, Boras moved to what has become the Deferred Money Defense. Around $80 million of Strasburg’s $245 million will be put off until after his contract ends. Boras contends wiggle room now exists for the Nationals. Reminder: it’s also his job to drive the market.

“I think Mark’s comments were before the Strasburg negotiations were complete,” Boras said. “And that contract structure that Stephen did allowed certainly an opening and a consideration that probably the Nationals were available to them in their decision making. So I think it’s something that clearly opens doors for them. And when you look at their payroll structure, and the amount of money they have in the $60-$70 million range with their payroll, I think they can sign not only an Anthony Rendon but many players.”

Mike Rizzo was slightly dismissive of Boras’ take when talking to reporters inside his hotel room suite. He’s often taken the position they know Rendon better than anyone, so the amount of times both sides converse is a bit overrated.

“We’ve had conversations about Anthony throughout the process,” Rizzo said. “I don’t get my daily update from Scott, but we’re in communication, and I don’t sense anything is imminent at this point. But that was a while ago, so you never know.”

Read that back. Rizzo talked about Rendon throughout, dropped a dig at Boras, stated nothing is imminent, then countered that claim by saying “you never know.” The last time he said no movement was imminent came almost a year ago. He traded Tanner Roark a couple hours later.

Rizzo is checking on trades, Josh Donaldson and piecemeal as possible Rendon alternatives. There is no equivalent player remaining on the market. So, a transaction involving him is now imminent, to borrow a word. It’s just a question of where.

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Now is the time to be patient with the 3rd line

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Capitals Mailbag Part 1: Now is the time to be patient with the 3rd line

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.

Lisa McKay writes: Would you like to see the 4th line of Brendan Leipsic, Nic Dowd, and Garnet Hathway get a bit more ice time at even strength and the 3rd line of Carl Hagelin, Lars Eller, and Richard Panik get a bit less? I know the 3rd line has not had a lot of time to gel, and both lines have had players in and out. But the 4th line's been playing great while the 3rd line hasn't yet shone.

There's no doubt that the fourth line has been playing great, but I would rather have a great fourth line than promote it just so they could become a mediocre third line especially if it comes at the expense of playing time for Hagelin, Eller and Panik.

I don't think people realize just how little time the third line has had to play together this season. Monday's game was the first time we saw that trio together in a very long time.  Heading into that game, the Caps had played in 31 games this season. You know how much time those three players had played together at 5-on-5 through those 31 games? Just 23:13. That's crazy.

Washington has the most points of any team in the league. What's the harm in giving that third line time to gel at this point? Meanwhile, you can keep letting the fourth line be great.

Alex G. writes: Do you think Evander Kane should have been suspended for the hit on Radko Gudas in Tuesday night's game? I don't think the $5000 fine is really sufficient, considering what the league has suspended other players for.

I would have given him a game. I wouldn't have thrown the book at him, but I don't buy his explanation.

To be fair, it wasn't an elbow to the head or the butt-end, just a glove to the head.

Kane's explanation was that Gudas had taken a run at him earlier and he thought he was doing it again, so he put his hand up to protect himself and caught Gudas in the head because Gudas was coming in low. My problem with that explanation is that, if you watch the replay from behind both players, Kane has his head up and is watching the entire play. He sees Gudas coming and gives him what is, in my opinion, a deliberate shot to the head. It was not as if he saw him at the last second and threw his hand up and it just so happened to catch him in the head like he seems to claim. He knew Gudas was coming in low and I think he knew where he was aiming.

Michael Fleetwood writes: John Carlson has put himself squarely in the Norris Trophy conversation this season playing well overall and I was thinking about how he compares to Mike Green. Why did Green finish high in Norris voting in the years he was runner-up with a stronger offensive game to his defense, but Carlson hasn't come as close the last few seasons and is arguably better defensively?

Because of the complicated way we judge defensemen.

First, in the interest of full disclosure, the Norris Trophy Award is voted on by members of the Pro Hockey Writers' Association, of which I am a member. I had a vote last year and voted Carlson second.

Racking up the points seems to be more and more important for Norris Trophy consideration, but being an offensive defenseman who is a liability is a problem. How can you consider someone as the top defenseman if they aren't very good at defense?  You can't unless they do something so special it can't be ignored. Scoring 30 goals definitely qualifies.

Green scored 31 goals in the 2008-09 season. He was the first defenseman to crack the 30-goal mark since Kevin Hatcher did it in the 1992-93 season. No one has done it since. That was the first of two straight seasons Green was named the Norris runner-up. Scoring 30 goals was/is such an amazing accomplishment for a defenseman that Green received a lot of Norris votes as a result.

In my opinion, people cling to this belief that Carlson is nothing more than an offensive defenseman who is a liability in his own zone, which is just not the case. He was very good last year, but did not lead defensemen in either goals or points. There was no way he was going to gain much traction in the Norris race with voters who have a perception of him as an offensive defenseman when he wasn't even the top offensive defenseman last season.

This year I think he will finally get the recognition he deserves and ironically it is because of the incredible offensive run he is on. Hopefully, those numbers will make more analysts evaluate Carlson on both ends of the ice and realize that he is a great two-way defenseman and so much more than just Alex Ovechkin's power play set-up man.

David Dusseau writes: How much of John Carlson's recent success is due to changes that the Caps have made in how they are using their defensemen for offense?

I think that certainly is a big part of it. Todd Reirden implemented a new system this season in which the defense is expected to jump into the play when it is open in the offensive zone. This new system benefits Carlson more than anyone as he has the top offensive ceiling of all of the team's blue liners.

This is not the only reason for Carlson's success this season. His passes look more accurate and he has added a touch of deception to his game as he is able to look off defenders to help open passing and shooting lanes which he takes advantage of. He seems to be more confident with his shots as well. But I do think the new system has certainly had an effect.

Joseph Signorelli writes: Will the Caps have enough money to keep John Carlson if he keeps up this level of play all year?

I’ve got good news for you. The Caps absolutely will have enough money to keep Carlson because he is already signed through the 2025-26 season. That $8 million cap hit isn't going to change.

David Pittman writes: Is there a chance the Caps trade Holtby because of his age and the high cost he costs?

There is no chance the Caps trade Holtby this season. None. Zero. Washington's goal is to win the Stanley Cup and they right now hold the most points in the league. They are not going to turn around and trade away their top goalie just to avoid losing him for nothing.

Holtby is tied for the league-lead in wins and since Nov. 1 has a .925 save percentage and 2.34 GAA. I don't know how you trade a goalie like that and convince the team you're all in for a Cup run this year.

And, by the way, even if Ilya Samsonov is lights out and supplants Holtby as the starter at some point this season, Brian MacLellan still isn't going to trade Holtby because he saw the exact same thing happen in 2018. What happened when Philipp Grubauer entered the playoffs as the team's starter? Holtby retook the starting job after two games and led the team to the Cup. This roster is better with Holtby on it.

Will the Caps be able to re-sign Holtby in the offseason? I doubt it. Does it stink to lose a starting goalie for nothing? Yep, sure does. But the team is trying to make another run at the Cup and is not going to jeopardize that by trading away its starting goalie.

Michael Fleetwood: Does the Capitals' hot start put Todd Reirden into a still too-early Jack Adams discussion?

Reirden has done a fine job with this team through the first 32 games, but I seriously doubt that anyone has given much thought to him for the Jack Adams. 

Barry Trotz is turning what looks like a weak roster on paper into contenders on Long Island, Ralph Krueger has the Buffalo Sabres in playoff contention as does Joel Quenneville with the Panthers in Florida despite getting no goaltending, Mike Sullivan may get Pittsburgh into the playoffs despite its entire team being injured, Paul Maurice is doing the best coaching job of his career by keeping Winnipeg in playoff contention considering all the issues plaguing that team, Dave Tippett has an Edmonton Oilers team left for dead as one of the top teams in the conference and Arizona may actually make the playoffs this year with Rick Tocchet.

I have a hard time believing enough voters will vote for Reirden over those guys.

Mark Miller writes: How long does it take to change Capital One Arena from basketball setup to hockey?

A few hours. Fast enough that Georgetown can play a basketball game at 12 p.m. and the Caps can play at 7 p.m. on the same day. The next time this will happen is on Dec. 21. Media for the Georgetown game will still be in the media room writing when the Caps media start to arrive.

Yet somehow, the arena is ready for a hockey game that night and that includes the pregame warmups. It's incredible.

Lisa McKay writes: Could you find out if indeed the Capitals play more OT games than any other team in the NHL, or if it just feels that way? Say, in the regular season in the past 3 years?

Washington has played 12 games this season that have required overtime. That is indeed the most in the NHL. Going back to the 2017-18 season, the Caps have gone to overtime 47 times. That is not the most, but rather is tied for the eighth-most. Philadelphia actually has the most with 52.

Micah Reed writes: With all the OT the Caps have played and the current state of player tracking technology in both practice and games, do you think the coaching and training staff has any sort of "pitch count" type of thing tracking players overall ice time? Not that they will scratch guys or anything. But maybe practices change or guys miss some shifts in a blowout game.

Interesting thought, but I doubt it. I think coaches are always cognizant of how much playing time their star players are getting and are always looking to cut back when they can. They don't need added technology for that. Could this one day be how it is used? Perhaps. If the added technology does show there is reason to be concerned about overworking players, I think we will see morning skates go away long before we see coaches do anything approaching the "load management" we see in the NBA.

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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