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Tigers not finger-pointing with Alabama up next

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Tigers not finger-pointing with Alabama up next

COLUMBIA, Mo. (AP) Missouri's defense pretty much held up its end of the bargain last week. If there's been any griping about the lack of production on the other side of the ball heading into the perceived mismatch against top-ranked Alabama, the Tigers have kept it to themselves.

Outspoken defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson said no one's getting frustrated, and no one's pointing fingers.

``Nothing too dramatic. Ain't no wedges getting built,'' Richardson said. ``It ain't, `Are we fighting, we just enemies for the rest of our lives?' No, it's nothing like that at all.''

After Missouri limited Vanderbilt to 295 yards, end Brad Madison said the defense hasn't done its job if the opponent ends up with more points.

``We've got to stop the run,'' Madison said. ``Alabama's going to pound the ball on us.''

In the face of adversity, cornerback Kip Edwards remained very optimistic.

``We can still go 9-3. I don't see what the fuss is about,'' Edwards said. ``We can still win the East. You never know.''

Missouri (3-3, 0-3 SEC) dropped to .500 and its long-anticipated debut season in the SEC has produced mostly groans, especially after a 19-15 upset at home by lightly regarded Vanderbilt last week. The Crimson Tide (5-0, 2-0) are three-touchdown favorites to send another Faurot Field sellout crowd home disappointed on Saturday.

The Tigers' no-huddle, spread offense is averaging just 25 points, the school's lowest since 2004. They're averaging less than 16 points the last three games, getting held to just 10 in the first SEC road game at South Carolina.

Even the opener, a 62-10 romp over Southeastern Louisiana, is a bit deceptive because there were two punt returns for touchdown by Marcus Murphy, plus an interception return and fumble return for scores.

Missouri is just 88th in the nation in time of possession at 28 minutes and 21 seconds, putting the burden on a defense that's sagged at the end of the half and end of the game.

It's rare during the Gary Pinkel years for the defense to carry such responsibility. But that's just the way it is right now, and all segments are far from perfect.

``It's just us playing for each other,'' Edwards said. ``That's really what it all boils down to. You can't just blame the offense, you can't just blame the defense, you can't just blame the special teams. You have to blame us as a whole. We haven't played four quarters of football yet.''

Production has slid due injuries at quarterback and on the line for an offense that's not so high-powered, ranked just 95th in the nation. Quarterback James Franklin will be sidelined several weeks with a sprained left knee, and the banged-up line includes the first freshman to start under Pinkel, a redshirt freshman, a former walk-on and a sixth-year senior tackle, Elvis Fisher, playing hurt.

``They've had some problems and issues this year with some very good players being injured,'' Alabama coach Nick Saban said. ``Regardless of those circumstances and situations, I think they have some very good players who are filling in and are very capable.''

Backup quarterback Corbin Berkstresser was just 9 for 30 for 189 yards and a touchdown last week in relief of Franklin.

``He's not the first quarterback who's ever had a tough day,'' Pinkel said. ``One thing we're not going to do, we don't make any drastic changes. That would be kind of the worst thing to do.''

Opponents are averaging 22.8 points and 326.7 yards against Missouri, which ranks near the middle of the SEC in both categories. The defense has been vulnerable when overworked, allowing 110 points in the second and fourth quarters and just 27 in the first and third quarters.

This week the competition figures to be a lot stiffer. Offensive expectations can't be high considering Alabama is allowing just seven points per game and the defense will be facing a unit that's perfect 22 for 22 inside the 20, 16 of them touchdowns.

``We've got to have better continuity,'' Pinkel said. ``I think maybe kids might press a little bit. I think that might happen. I think that's natural because they want to do well.''

The bottom line: Right now, low-scoring games are probably Missouri's only chance at success.

``We've just got to work through it,'' Pinkel said. ``I don't have anything magical here.''

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4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

4 keys for the Caps to win Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final

It all starts Monday!

The Vegas Golden Knights will host the Washington Capitals in Game 1 of the Stanley Cup Final as both teams look to take early control of the series.

Can the Caps steal one on the road to start? Here are four keys to winning Game 1.

Win the first period

The Golden Knights have not played a game since May 20. While rest can benefit a team at this time of the year, there is such a thing as too much rest and over a week would certainly qualify. If there is absolutely any rust in Vegas’ game to start, the Caps need to take advantage.

T-Mobile Arena and the Vegas crowd have already built a reputation in year one. The atmosphere is going to be electric, but the Caps can combat that with a good start to the game and by scoring first.

Vegas is 10-1 when scoring first this postseason. If they are able to come in and get on the board right off the bat in the first period after seven full days between games, that does not bode well for the Caps’ chances.

Don’t allow Marc-Andre Fleury to pick up where he left off

Fleury is having a postseason for the ages, but it’s hard to believe momentum is simply going to carry over to a new series after such a lengthy break. Players are not simply going to pick up where they left off and play as if there’s no rust to shake off. The need to get to Fleury as early as possible.

What that means is getting traffic in front of the net, making him move, contesting rebounds, making him feel uncomfortable as much as possible and generating quality offensive chances.

The Caps can do is starting flinging pucks at the net and giving him easy saves. Getting 12 shots in the first period would be great, but not if they are all perimeter shots for easy saves that help bring Fleury's confidence back to where it was in the Western Conference Final.

Limit the turnovers

Turnovers are blood in the water for Vegas. The high-effort, high-speed style of play of the Golden Knights has caught several players off guard at points this postseason. No one can afford to be casual with the puck at any point in this game because Vegas has a knack for turning those turnovers into goals.

Winning Game 1 on the road will be hard enough without giving the Golden Knights at any help.

Shut down the top line

Only three players have reached double digits in points for the Golden Knights in the playoffs: Jonathan Marchessault (18), Reilly Smith (16) and William Karlsson (13). What do these three have in common? They all play on Vegas’ top line. To compare, the Caps have seven players in double digits.

Much has been made of Vegas’ offensive depth and their ability to roll four lines, but the play of Fleury in net has really masked how much this team relies on its top line for offense. The Caps need to get Dmitry Orlov and Matt Niskanen on the ice against them and focus on shutting them down. Force the Golden Knights to win with their other three lines and see if they can.

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

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Need to Know: Redskins will have a lot of starter stability in 2018

Here is what you need to know on this Monday, May 28, 15 days before the Washington Redskins start minicamp.  

Note: I am vacationing in the Outer Banks this week. In this space I’ll be presenting some of the most popular posts of the last few months. I hope you enjoy these “best of” presentations and I’ll see you folks when I get back. 

Stability at the top of the depth chart

This post was originally published on March 23 Note that this was prior to the draft.

A Redskins defense that ranked 27thin total defense and was dead last against the run is likely to return nine or 10 of the players who were the primary starters in 2017. The Washington defense, which was 16thoverall and 27thrunning the ball, will certainly return seven starters and could have eight the same as last year. 

I’m sure that this will alarm many Redskins fans, but it shouldn’t. Before getting into that, let’s look at the changes. 

On defense, the nine starters who are assured of returning are DE Stacy McGee, DL Jonathan Allen, OLB Preston Smith, OLB Ryan Kerrigan, ILB Zach Brown, ILB Mason Foster, CB Josh Norman, S Montae Nicholson, and S D.J. Swearinger. 

As of right now, a tenth returning starter has to be penciled in at nose tackle. Yes, if the season started today it would be Ziggy Hood at nose tackle again. More on that in a minute.

The only starting spot that is certain to turn over is the cornerback opposite Norman. Even though Bashaud Breeland’s contract agreement with the Panthers fell through due to a failed physical he is much more likely to lad on another NFL team than he is to return to the Redskins. 

It is impossible to think that the Redskins will not do something to address the nose tackle position, whether it’s in the draft or in free agency. Then again, it’s impossible to believe they have run the 3-4 defense since 2010 without coming up with a long-term solution at the nose. (Udate: Of course, they did this in the draft when they took Daron Payne and Tim Settle).

On offense, the seven starters certain to return are WR Josh Doctson, WR Jamison Crowder, OT Trent Williams, C Chase Roullier, RG Brandon Scherff, RT Morgan Moses, and TE Jordan Reed. RB Samaje Perine could be an eighth returning starter depending on if the Redskins take a running back early in the draft. 

The new starters will be QB Alex Smith, WR Paul Richardson, and someone at left guard. 

Having between 16 and 18 returning starters from a team that went 7-9 in 2017 may not be enough turnover for some fans. That’s not a completely unreasonable point of view. However, there is a such thing has having too much churn in your starting lineup and some stability for the Redskins may be a good thing this year. 

They had five new starters on defense last year and a new defensive coordinator. They also had a new coordinator on offense along with two new wide receivers and, by midseason, changes in the starters at running back and center. This is not counting all of the on-the-fly changes that had to be made due to injuries. 

Continuing to make changes in the starting lineup is not always a recipe for success. Sometimes you just need to pick a group of players and, to the extent that you can in the free agency-salary cap world of the NFL, stick with them. Sure, you have to address weakness like nose tackle and possibly running back and fill holes created by free agency departures. However, it is often better to give a player time to acclimate to a system and, especially with a rookie, time to learn the fine points of the game.

Tearing things down and starting over again after a mediocre season is a recipe for, well, more mediocre seasons. 

Stay up to date on the Redskins. Rich Tandler covers the team 365 days a year. Like his Facebook page, Facebook.com/TandlerNBCSand follow him on Twitter  @TandlerNBCSand on Instagram @RichTandler