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I know what Cleveland’s Odell Beckham said Wednesday: that he plans to stay with the Browns, and that he “wouldn’t rather be anywhere else.”
But where there’s smoke, there’s fire, and there has been plenty of heat regarding Beckham’s general unhappiness in Cleveland for a while. What’s more, there was at least one report of other players saying to “come get them” from the Browns, including receiver Jarvis Landry, who also pushed back on that assertion strongly on Wednesday.
Look, we don’t know what the truth is here. But the first of the “Things I Noticed” in the recent NFL week was the Browns’ body language, which stunk during their 38-24 road loss to the Arizona Cardinals on Sunday. So I wouldn’t be surprised if the reports of general unhappiness in Cleveland are mostly true.
At one point Sunday, Landry was openly bickering with head coach Freddie Kitchens on the sideline.
So... Jarvis Landry gave Freddie Kitchens a piece of his mind after that drive 😐 pic.twitter.com/y4VeWX8Z02
— 92.3 The Fan (@923TheFan) December 15, 2019
We also saw Landry and Beckham, heads down on the bench, seemingly wondering how the hell they got there, playing for a 6-8 team and losing to the Cardinals. Even Kareem Hunt noticed, publicly noting that some players weren’t giving 100 percent.
Whenever players aren’t giving their all in this league, it’s a coaching deal. And if the Browns were to get rid of Kitchens, they need to make sure they bring an adult into the room, someone with a résumé who commands respect and a reputation for winning over both players and the media.
Don’t sleep on the importance of the latter, either. Cleveland’s history of losing has made it a place where negative headlines pop up quickly. Having a liked and respected head coach would help quell that, and my vote would be for former Carolina boss Ron Rivera, who checks all those boxes and even prefers a run-oriented, play-action heavy offense that would take advantage of the strengths of quarterback Baker Mayfield and stud running backs Nick Chubb and Hunt.
He wouldn’t even have to switch defensive coordinators — the Browns’ current defensive boss, Steve Wilks, was Rivera’s defensive coordinator in Carolina a few years ago.
If the Browns are gonna make a head coaching move, that would be a great one.
Chiefs’ defense is trending upward, and it could propel K.C. to the Super Bowl
The Chiefs (10-4) will likely end up hosting a first-round playoff game, barring an upset loss by New England the next two weeks. While the three-seed is a far cry from the No. 1 they had a year ago, this team is better positioned to make a deep playoff run than 2018.
Why? The defense is much, much better.
After ranking 31st in the NFL in total defense a year ago, the Chiefs sit 18th under new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, and they’re trending upward. A stronger, more well-rounded edge rush — which includes new defensive end Terrell Suggs — is a part of that, as I detailed in the video above (which is finely stitched together by my main man Ron Schiltz).
Drew Lock has been a breath of fresh air in Denver
Lock also threw an interception, one that seemed forced. On first-and-10 in the Chiefs’ red zone and down 20 points in the third quarter, he lobbed a jump-ball into double coverage for tight end Noah Fant, a pass that was intercepted by safety Juan Thornhill.
Tough sledding against our defense 🦅 pic.twitter.com/nyW8XTfHIL
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) December 15, 2019
“The pick that Drew had in the red zone, I mean, obviously we don’t want a pick, but I respect taking chances like that,” Fant told Yahoo Sports. “I respect him trying to make a play. He’s out there competing, you know. So I definitely respect that.”
Fant’s take revealed how much this team, which had the league’s most boring passing offense, needed the shot in the arm Lock brings. Fant said when they walked to the sideline, he told Lock “it’s good.”
Despite offering biting comments on the overall state of the Broncos, Von Miller stood up for Lock, saying after the defeat, “We found our quarterback. We've got a great quarterback. Everybody else has to come up.”
The outing was a learning experience for these young Broncos, and if they’ve hit on Lock, who was good in two starts before Sunday, they’ll be competitive in the AFC West much sooner than anyone realizes with the promising and impressive young core of Fant, running back Phillip Lindsay and receiver Courtland Sutton.
If Philip Rivers wants to stick, he has to change
One unexpected highlight of Week 15 was hearing CBS color commentator Rich Gannon call the Vikings’ 39-10 win over the Chargers and basically call out when quarterback Philip Rivers was going to screw up.
Case in point: with the Chargers facing a third-and-17 in the second quarter, Gannon said, with a touch of condescension, “Well if you’re Philip, you can’t try and force it down the field just because you need to get that first-down yardage.”
If you don’t know what happened next, you haven’t been watching enough football this season:
— Minnesota Vikings (@Vikings) December 15, 2019
Rivers finished with three interceptions. The other two were of the ghastly variety, as well. On the season, he has completed 65.6 percent of his passes for 21 touchdowns and 18 interceptions. Rivers has always been a gambler, but he might be at the point of his career where he needs to rein it in.
Dallas needs to run through its, ahem, run game
The Cowboys beat the Rams up good Sunday, 44-21, and the fact they did so using their running game was no coincidence.
Zeke Elliott rushed for 117 yards and two touchdowns on 24 carries, his first time cracking the 100-yard barrier since Nov. 4. The fact this coaching staff allowed that to happen is a borderline fireable offense of its own, especially considering that Dak Prescott, a solid quarterback, is 11-0 in his NFL career when he throws fewer than 25 passes.
I want to see the Cowboys at least attempt to lean on their running game this weekend against Philadelphia’s third-ranked run defense. Yes, the Eagles are stout there, but that just means it’s time to get creative.
Enter rookie Tony Pollard, folks, who rushed for 131 yards and a touchdown on only 12 carries against the Rams on Sunday:
Bottom line — I want to see these two playmakers on the field at the same time, with some creative play-calling. Pollard is so quick that teams have to account for him, and if he’s added to the mix with Zeke, Amari Cooper and Michael Gallup, somebody’s going to always be open.
This game is for the NFC East crown, Dallas. It’s time to pull out all the good plays. If the Cowboys can’t do it, heads should roll (here’s looking at you, Jason Garrett).
The 49ers were inexplicably letting Julio Jones roam free
Last time I checked, Julio Jones is still a star. That means it’s going to catch my eye when a defense allows him to be targeted 20 damned times, as the San Francisco 49ers allowed in their 29-22 upset home loss to Atlanta.
Jones finished the game catching 13 of those targets for 134 yards, including several clutch receptions (and the game-winner) in the fourth quarter:
The thing that stands out is how many of these came on free releases, which had to be frustrating for 49ers fans to watch on television. There was Jones, a potential All-Decade receiver, just being allowed to roam free late in the game.
Niners defensive coordinator Robert Saleh later explained that they were trying to bracket Jones.
“Based on down and distance, could have coached it a lot better, especially with a young group … You know, they were catching it for 4 yards, it’s like catch-tackle. They needed to be more catch-tackle-short of the sticks instead of at the sticks.”
They better figure this stuff out soon. In their previous game, the 49ers surrendered 46 points and 349 passing yards to the New Orleans Saints, and the 49ers’ top-ranked pass defense looks shaky on the backend at the wrong time of the season.
Trubisky is trending upward
Chicago’s Mitchell Trubisky has been getting killed in the local media this season, and for good reason; his sudden inability (or unwillingness) to use his best trait, his athleticism, in the middle of the season was maddening to watch.
And although Trubisky threw two interceptions in a loss to the Packers on Sunday, it’s hard not to come away at least a little bit encouraged by his renewed willingness to create with his feet and make the second-reaction plays that made him a competent starter last season:
There was even a designed run in here, for good measure!
Over the past three weeks, Trubisky has completed 66 percent of his passes for seven touchdowns and four interceptions. More important, he has rushed 18 times for 96 yards and a touchdown, which is more in line with the six rushing attempts per game he attempted last season.
And with the Bears’ next game coming in prime time against the Kansas City Chiefs and fellow 2017 draft-mate Patrick Mahomes — the reigning MVP that Bears general manager Ryan Pace passed over in favor of Trubisky — I wouldn’t be surprised to see him play well.
With the heat that many have taken for the Trubisky selection, I would expect the Bears and coach Matt Nagy — a former Andy Reid pupil — to do everything he can to make him look good ... including calling some of the best plays he has been saving for the right moment.
The Bears are out of the NFC playoff hunt and it will be a long offseason in Chicago if Trubisky doesn’t go out trending upward. Beating the Chiefs would be a nice start to that goal. My hunch is that Kansas City will have to play well to win.
Keith Jackson Call of the Week
Give it up for the great Kevin Harlan, who can make anything sound dope.
Case in point: the following 9-yard run by DeAndre Washington, after which Harlan made me roar with laughter when he dropped “The Rooooooooocket” nickname on Washington out of nowhere:
The lesson in this, as always: God bless Kevin Harlan.
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