08 November 2015

Anthony Chickillo Earning His Keep On Special Teams

The Pittsburgh Steelers earlier in the season elected to promote rookie draft pick Anthony Chickillo from the practice squad to the 53-man roster, first, possibly, because of an injured thumb for James Harrison, but also because his special teams capability made him more valuable than Caushaud Lyons, the seventh defensive lineman.

The two essentially switched places, with Lyons never seeing a helmet during any of the games on which he was on the 53-man roster. Since the call-up six weeks ago, Chickillo has spent the last four games with a helmet during games, contributing on special teams.

Since that time, the sixth-round outside linebacker has accounted for two special teams tackles, but more importantly, he made the Roosevelt Nix tackle on the Raiders returner count by being the one to recover the fumble after the first-year fullback was able to jar the ball loose.

Chickillo was not the first player to the ball, nor the first Steelers player to have the opportunity to recover it, but he was the one who displayed the best awareness and the instinct to secure the ball first and foremost.

The Steelers have constructed their roster in 2015 in such a way that they have wound up for most of the season with an anomalous 10 linebackers amongst the 53 eligible to dress for games, something that they had only briefly 20 years ago, and not at any point since.

Of course, Chickillo is decidedly 10th on that list, though not without a purpose for the future. After all, Harrison, at 37 years of age, is very near the end of his career, which may have as few as seven games remaining. And 2012 first-round draft pick Jarvis Jones could be playing his final season in Pittsburgh in 2016. Hypothetically at the moment, of course.

But part of the reason that the Steelers chose to call up Chickillo from the practice squad is unquestionably because they believe that he can be an asset to the team in the future in an aspect that includes contributions on the defensive side of the ball.

In fact, by the way that he answered certain questions, or rather declined to answer, after he was originally called up suggested that there were teams showing interest in the former college defensive end. The Steelers may have ended up promoting him anyway.

But he has gotten the opportunity to see the field due to injuries sustained by Ryan Shazier and Terence Garvin, both key special teams contributors. At least one of them has missed each of the last four games, during which Chickillo has been active.

Shazier has been back for a couple of games now, but Garvin has remained out. He may be held out another game, especially considering the Steelers have a week off after Sunday’s contest.

Regardless of whether or not the rookie goes back to the inactive list, he has shown in his brief stint that he is deserving of the roster spot, a view that many of us held during the preseason. He has contributed positively to the team’s success on special teams after they force-fed him virtually every snap they could in the preseason, and it has paid off.

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Allen Hurns plans to play through injury, hopes to extend TD streak

JACKSONVILLE, Florida — Jaguars receiver Allen Hurns has one streak on his mind this week:

Consecutive games played.

Hurns has played in all 24 games during his two years in Jacksonville (2-6), and he doesn't expect a sprained left foot to keep him off the field Sunday at Baltimore (2-6).

"I don't want to let anyone down," said Hurns, who missed practice Wednesday as a precaution. "I'll fight through anything to make sure I'm out there."

With Hurns planning to play, the Jaguars surely would like to see him extend his other streak.

Hurns has a touchdown catch is six consecutive games. It's a franchise record, the longest active streak in the NFL and tied for the longest such scoring streak in the league over the last three seasons. Chicago's Alshon Jeffery (2014), Green Bay's Randall Cobb (2014) and New England's Wes Welker (2013) also accomplished the feat.

The last player to catch a TD pass in seven consecutive games was Dallas' Dez Bryant in 2012.

"It feels good after the game when people are talking about it," Hurns said. "But during the game and preparing for the week, I'm not really thinking about it at all. The main thing for me is staying consistent and continuing to do what I do each day. As long as I stay consistent and be available every game, I think those kinds of opportunities will present themselves."

Hurns has 36 receptions for 635 yards and six touchdowns this season, including a go-ahead, diving, twisting, staying-in-bounds, 31-yarder with 2:16 to play against Buffalo in London last month.

He followed that with a five-catch, 122-yard performance at the New York Jets last week.

And he's done it despite missing practices with ankle, thigh and now foot injuries.

"He's as tough as they come, for sure," quarterback Blake Bortles said. "No doubt about that. Mentally and physically, he's one of the tougher guys I've ever been around. ... If he can go, there's no doubt that he'll go play."

Hurns has come a long way since going undrafted last season. The former Miami standout went to training camp last season without the nearly as much fanfare as second-round picks Marqise Lee and Allen Robinson. But when Lee and Robinson missed games, Hurns stepped up. And when Lee missed all of the 2015 offseason as well as most of camp and the entire preseason, Hurns stepped into a starting role.

It's his spot now, one he won't relinquish even if Lee returns this week from a nagging hamstring injury or when rookie Rashad Greene (thumb) returns next week from short-term injured reserve.

"There was a lot of doubt (about me) coming in," Hurns said. "Being able to do things consistently, people started recognizing. It feels good. But at the end of the day, people need to know that me and Allen Robinson are just getting started. We've still got a lot of time to improve. That's what's exciting about it. We're just in Year 2 and look at the things we're doing. The main thing is to just stay consistent."

And stay on the field.

"It comes down to mental toughness," Hurns said. "Once I'm out there on the field I'm not really thinking about me. I'm thinking about the people around people as far as just being out there for my teammates. I know they're counting on me."

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Vikings Activate CB Josh Robinson from PUP, Waive TE Chase Ford

On Wednesday the Vikings announced that the club has activated CB Josh Robinson from the Reserve/Physically Unable to Perform list. Robinson will take the place of TE Chase Ford, who was waived, on the 53-man roster.

Robinson started practicing with the team three weeks ago after suffering a pectoral injury during the club's offseason program.

The fourth-year cornerback had 40 tackles and three interceptions a season ago.

He has played 42 regular season games, including 21 starts, since he was selected in the third round of the 2012 NFL Draft. Robinson has 160 tackles, five interceptions, 28 passes defensed, 5.0 tackles for loss and 12 tackles on special teams.

Ford has 34 career receptions for 391 yards (20 catches for 258 yards) and a touchdown in 20 career games played.

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Vilma: Ex-Saints coach Gregg Williams deserves ‘dirty’ reputation

Former New Orleans Saints linebacker Jonathan Vilma told SI’s Pro Football Now that St. Louis Rams defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, a former Saints assistant coach, deserves his “dirty” reputation.

Rams cornerback Lamarcus Joyner knocked Minnesota Vikings quarterback Teddy Bridgewater out of Sunday’s game with a hit in the fourth quarter, leaving him on the ground face down. Bridgewater sustained a concussion on the play, but is expected to play in Week 10.

After the game, Vikings coach Mike Zimmer did not say the hit was intentional, but brought up Williams' reputation as an aggressive defensive coach.

“I do know that there’s a history there with their defensive coordinator,” Zimmer said. “I’ll leave it at that.”

Williams served as the defensive coordinator for the Saints from 2009 to 2011, and played a role in the bounty scandal that allegedly paid Saints players bonuses for targeting opponents and knocking them out of games. Vilma played under Williams for those three seasons.

“I do think he deserves the reputation and I’m speaking objectively because I played for him for three years,” Vilma said. “And frankly, he’s been in the league for over 20 years. The things that he practices, he coaches and preaches is an old-school mentality.”

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Sam Shields making progress, hopes to play against Detroit

Green Bay—Packers cornerback Sam Shields said he was able to move around well in practice Wednesday and felt that his injured shoulder was improving enough that he could play Sunday against Detroit.

Shields suffered a shoulder sprain in the first quarter of the Denver game two weeks ago and did not play against Carolina.

Practice Wednesday was not conducted in pads, but Shields said progress is being made.

"I feel pretty good today," Shields said. "I did a lot of moving. Things I thought I wasn't able to do, I was able to do it, going up and getting the ball and things like that. Everything felt good. But I'm still taking it one day at a time."

The next step for Shields will be to practice in pads Thursday and see how the shoulder responds to being banged around a little. A bigger concern than that, however, appears to be his ability to reach out or extend upward with his arm.

He said that if he were able to play against Detroit, he would wear a brace on his shoulder to help keep it from opening too far and causing a recurrence of the injury. His former teammate, Tramon Williams, was able to play through almost an entire season with a harness.

"It's just something to protect it," Shields said. "Just like an ankle brace or a knee brace."

Shields said it's been difficult to watch the last two games knowing he could have helped cover some of the opposition's receivers and contributed to a better performance. From the sideline he said he was able to get a feel for some of the things that have been going wrong, and he doesn't think the solution is that difficult.
"It's just everybody has to get on the same page," Shields said. "That's just any sport. Communication, being on the same page, doing what you're supposed to do, being in the right spot. It wasn't nothing big. A lot of minor things we can correct and that's what we're doing this week.

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Duke Johnson is evidence the Cleveland Browns do get it right sometimes

BEREA, Ohio – As Johnny Manziel stood in the center of the locker room Wednesday defending his right to enjoy himself away the training facility, Andrew Hawkins spoke about the importance of professionalism.

The subject was the team's youngest player. The assessment was glowing.

"I think Duke (Johnson) is a great player and he's just scratching the surface," the veteran receiver said. "He works hard and he's a good pro, which is something I look for with rookies coming in. Do they understand the business of football? Do they come in and do their jobs to the best of their abilities? That's what I see Duke doing."

Browns fans have grown conditioned in recent seasons to expect the worst from their draft picks. They either Play Like a (Charlie) Brown on the field or act like a knucklehead away from it. The special ones, no names please, hit with power to both fields.

In a season where so much appears lost, it's worth remembering the organization sometimes gets it right. That's certainly the case with Johnson, who doesn't turn 23 until next September.

The University of Miami product is a rarity around these parts – a bona fide playmaker who arrived as advertised.

The third-round pick is not yet making a significant impact in the rushing attack (who is?) but the versatile back is a weapon in the pass game. It's that facet the Browns hyped on draft night and all through OTAs.

Imagine that, a youngster playing to expectation. Maybe it's not big news in some NFL precincts, but it's a welcome change in Berea, where rookies often depreciate in value the moment they leave their introductory news conference.

Among all league backs, Johnson ranks fourth in receiving yards (369) and receiving touchdowns (two) and sixth in catches (35).

"He has certainly shown in his rookie year that it is not too big for him and he can be very productive," coach Mike Pettine said. "There are a lot of graduate level details that he needs to get cleaned up, but ... we are very pleased with where Duke is."

Some contend using the 77th pick on a running back who's essentially a wide receiver is a bit high. Fair point. The counter argument is: Have you seen the Browns' receiving corps?

Johnson lines up all over the formation and is arguably the toughest matchup for opposing defensive coordinators. Since Week 4, he's caught passes for 34, 27, 21, 52 and 26 yards. Only tight end Gary Barnidge can better those big-play sums since the season's opening month.

"I was down there at his pro day and saw him run routes and catch the ball and do some of those things so I'm not surprised by some of the things he's been able to do," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said on a Wednesday conference call. "I think it was quite evident for those of us who were on hand at his pro day."

A concussion and hamstring injury forced him to miss virtually the entire training camp. Johnson didn't resemble the dynamic player the Browns described in the season's first two games. Then, he caught a short pass late in the 27-20 loss to the Raiders, made a couple defenders miss and gained 19 yards.

Johnson has been an elusive presence ever since – sometimes even to his quarterbacks and offensive coordinator. Both Josh McCown and Manziel have missed the wide-open running back on multiple occasions. His 26-yard catch against the Bengals could have netted a huge gain had Manziel spotted him earlier in the route.

But the 5-foot-9, 210 pounder seldom complains. Not even when the Browns have failed to get him the ball in the second half of losses to the Cardinals and Bengals.

"I was out there (against Cincinnati)," Johnson said. "I just wasn't making plays."

John DeFilippo vowed to make more use of running backs in the pass game and Johnson has enabled the first-year coordinator to deliver on the promise.

Despite a strong start, the rookie hardly acts as though he has the game figured out.

"(I need to) improve every aspect of my game," he said. "I'm catching the ball well, but I could do it better. I'm running routes OK, but I could do it better. I'm running the ball average and I know I could do it better. ... (Same) with passing blocking."

Johnson also didn't duck answering a pointed question as to why the Browns have managed a combined three points after intermission in the past three games.
"We're leaving the offense in the locker room," he said. "I don't think we come out to play in the second half. First half we come out the way we want and the second half we come out and tell ourselves we're going to come out even better, but yet we don't do it."

No rookie-speak there. No "that's a better question for the coaches." Here is a player who expects more of himself and his team.

Johnson and the Browns need to get more out of him in the running game. He's carried the ball just 59 times for 179 yards. Johnson refuses to lobby for more carries, though.

"To me, touches are touches," he said. "However I get the ball in my hands is fine."

We spend lots of time analyzing what the Browns have gotten wrong in recent drafts. General Manager Ray Farmer and his staff got this one right.

Duke Johnson is a good pro and he's getting better.

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Ed Reed revisits Destrehan High, gives heavily to community

Sometimes its good to get back to your roots.

And the roots-- in this case, Destrehan High School, appreciate it.

St. Rose native and former NFL great Ed Reed returned to his alma mater recently as part of the NFL's Super Bowl High School Honor Roll initiative.

The initiative encourages all players who appeared in a Super Bowl game return to their alma mater.

Reed didn't come empty handed. He presented the school with a Wilson gold commemorative football. The future Hall of Famer helped lead the Baltimore Ravens to a 34-31 victory over the San Francisco 49ers in Super Bowl  XLVII.

Reed made his ninth post season interception in that bowl.

But memories of being back at Destrehan High also evoke emotion.

"Being back at Wildcat Stadium is an awesome thing," he said as he checked out the upgraded field house and the weight room.

Reed was enthused as he watched the current team play, adding that he saw future NFL players on the field.

Reed has always given to his community and his alma mater. He has done so much that many programs are attached to his name.

Even the River Parishes football Jamboree is called the Ed Reed Jamboree.

Then there's an Ed Reed Football Camp, an Ed Reed Golf Tournament along with the Ed Reed Foundation-- a community service outlet for youths.

While he was in Baltimore he held incentives for high school students in what proved to be a successful program according to the locals.

Yes, this ex-footballer player shows that he truly cares for people of all sorts.  Truly his name will continue to become a household one as his foundation will erect a park near the area that he was raised.

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TD Streak Extended - 7 TDs Scored

SEVEN #‎proCane TDs were scored in Week 10 of the NFL!

#Browns RB Duke Johnson, #‎Dolphins RB Lamar Miller (2), #Panthers TE Greg Olsen, #Raiders TE Clive Walford, #Jags WR Allen Hurns, #Colts RB Frank Gore.

Duke Johnson’s TD extended the streak to 15 straight weeks a #proCane has scored a TD in the #‎NFL. Greg Olsen’s TD was also the 500th reception of his career!

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Ray-Ray Armstrong investigated for K-9 taunt

PITTSBURGH -- The Allegheny County Sheriff's Office is investigating a Raiders player, which a source with direct knowledge of the situation identified as linebacker Ray-Ray Armstrong, for allegedly taunting a K-9 service dog before Oakland's game Sunday against the Steelers.

The alleged crime would be considered a third-degree felony in Pennsylvania. Armstrong could face charges by the end of the week, according to the source.

The Raiders player barked at the dog, lifted his shirt and pounded his chest between exiting the locker room and entering the field area for warm-ups, according to Chief Deputy Kevin Kraus. Kraus said the player also told the deputy holding the K-9 to "send the dog."

"The dog was going crazy," Kraus said. "The deputy was trying to control the dog the best she could."

The sheriff's office notified the Steelers, the NFL and the Raiders of the investigation. It interviewed witnesses and obtained video surveillance, which captured a portion of the incident, but did not interview Armstrong before he left town.

Armstrong had no comment when approached by reporters Tuesday.

The Steelers consider this a police matter and did not comment. ESPN left messages with the Raiders and Armstrong's agent, Tony Paige, seeking comment. Armstrong could be subject to league discipline if arrested.

The Raiders signed Armstrong in October 2014 after the Rams cut him for committing an excessive number of penalties. He was a starter for Oakland and is now mostly a special teamer.

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Ereck Flowers quiet man really a vocal leader in disguise

Ereck Flowers is a man of very few words with the media, but the Giants can’t get their impressive rookie left tackle to shut up when the tape recorders and camera lights are off.

“He talks all the time,” guard Justin Pugh said with a laugh Friday afternoon. “The other day I ended up having to tell him that he needed to just shut up because he was talking too much.”

When it comes to reporters, though, Flowers prefers to let his play speak for him. And that play lately has been speaking as loudly as his Big Blue teammates insist Flowers is in the locker room.

Pressed into starting duty right away at left tackle — the notorious “blind side” that is the NFL’s most difficult line position to play — by Will Beatty’s offseason pectoral injury, Flowers is looking like a potential cornerstone for the 4-4 Giants heading into Sunday’s matchup with the Buccaneers in Tampa.

The big first-round pick from Miami has started every game despite some nagging injuries and is considered a big reason the Giants are fifth in the NFL in scoring offense and 10th in passing offense while allowing Eli Manning to be sacked just 12 times.

Manning is on pace to be sacked 24 times, which would be his fewest since 2012 and the third lowest total over a full season in the quarterback’s 13-year pro career.

“He’s a big, strong kid who plays with good strength,” Pugh said of Flowers. “He just needs to keep working on his technique and getting better in that area. That’s the biggest transition for an offensive lineman on the pro level is handling [the level of technique required], and he’s getting it. He’s getting better every week.”

The Giants still can’t run the ball consistently or effectively in short-yardage situations (they rank in the bottom 10 in rushing yards, rushing touchdowns and average yards per carry), but that can’t be pinned on their 6-foot-5, 324-pound rookie tackle.

Don’t expect Flowers to break down his game or his feelings in great detail, either. Or in any detail, for that matter.

“The game has really slowed down for me, which is cool,” Flowers said Friday. “I feel like I belong and that I’ve made some really good strides with my game.”
Flowers then claimed he “forgot” what areas of his game he feels he has improved on and asked to end the interview after 90 seconds because, “I just want to go home, man.”

Flowers’ coaches and teammates are much more effusive with what they see from him on the field, which appears to be enough to force Beatty to move to right tackle when he is expected to come off injured reserve next week.

“He’s a great player who brings a lot to the table,” Pugh said about Flowers. “He’s going to continue to grow and continue to get better, so it’s definitely an exciting future for him, for sure.”

Flowers flashed that fiery side in the Giants’ ugly road loss to the Eagles last month, gathering teammates around him on the sideline after their second turnover and delivering an impassioned speech unusual for a rookie.

That’s a sign Flowers has matured and adapted to the NFL faster than anyone expected, as Manning noted recently.

“[The game] doesn’t seem too big for him,” Manning said. “He knows what’s going on, he’s handled everything, blocked guys and shown some toughness.

“He’s been banged up a little but shown toughness,” Manning added. “He wants to be out there. I’ve been impressed with how quickly he just knows everything that’s going on and knowing his assignments.”

Unless Flowers is alone with teammates, though, look for it to continue to be a case of show, not tell.

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Falcons Release LaRon Byrd, Redskins Sign Byrd

LaronByrd 2
LaRon Byrd

NFL debut: 10/14/12 (at BUF)... First reception: 12/23/12 (vs. CHI, 8 yards from Ryan Lindley)

Originally entered the NFL with the Arizona Cardinals as a college free agent on April 30, 2012... Waived by the Cardinals on April 4, 2014... Signed with the Dallas Cowboys on May 1, 2014... Waived by the Cowboys on August 30, 2014... Claimed off waivers by the Cleveland Browns on August 31, 2014... Waived by the Browns on October 3, 2014... Signed to the Cowboys’ practice squad on October 7, 2014... Released from the Cowboys’ practice squad on October 9, 2014... Signed to the Miami Dolphins’ practice squad on October 21, 2014... Released from the Dolphins’ practice squad on December 2, 2014... Re-signed with the Dolphins on April 15, 2015... Waived by the Dolphins on August 30, 2015... Signed to the Atlanta Falcons’ practice squad on September 16, 2015... Released from the Falcons’ practice squad on November 3, 2015... Signed to the Washington Redskins’ practice squad on November 9, 2015.

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Jon Beason placed on IR

EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. – To create room on the roster after activating DE Jason Pierre-Paul, the Giants placed linebacker Jon Beason on injured reserve. Beason has injuries to his knee and ankle. He played in five games, making this the second consecutive year the defensive captain’s season has been cut short by injury.

Beason missed the season’s first two games with a knee injury. He made his 2015 debut vs. Washington on Sept. 24, and had five tackles the following week in Buffalo.

On Oct. 11, Beason suffered a concussion in the first quarter of the Giants’ victory over San Francisco. Two weeks later, he had a season-high 11 tackles (seven solo) against Dallas. But he hurt his ankle in that game, and continues to have issues with his knee.

Last year, Beason hurt his toe during a workout in June. He played in four games before going on injured reserve on Oct. 29. Beason subsequently underwent surgery to repair his foot/toe injury.

This is the fifth time in six seasons dating back to when he was with Carolina in 2011 that Beason will play no more than five games. The exception was 2013, the year he was acquired by the Giants in a trade, when he played in 12 games.

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WATCH: Greg Olsen’s 500th Career Reception is a Touchdown

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Allen Hurns: Sprains left foot

Allen Hurns , who sprained his left foot against the Jets on Sunday, was sporting a walking boot Monday, the Associated Press reports.

Per the report, Hurns -- who evidently hurt his foot on Jacksonville's final offensive play Sunday -- underwent an X-ray and a MRI, but neither revealed any major issues. With that in mind, Hurns maintains hopes of playing Sunday against the Ravens, while acknowledging "it's kind of tender right now. I'm not sure how it will play out...but it's going to take an awful lot for me not to be out there. I'll fight through anything to make sure I'm out there."

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Greg Olsen hadn't seen anything like Talib's eye poke

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Clive Walford: Catches a touchdown

Walford caught one of his five targets for one yard and a touchdown in Sunday's loss to the Steelers.

Although Walford only secured one-of-five looks, it was an important catch as he hauled in a one yard score on a day where the Raiders' offense picked apart the Steelers. The rookie tight end received more targets than either of the other two tight ends, which is a good sign moving forward. It looks as if Walford will continue to be a part of the passing game through the second half, and he should have a decent matchup at home against the Vikings next week.

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Allen Hurns leads Jags with 122 yards in Week 9

Allen Hurns snagged five of eight targets for 122 yards and a touchdown in the Jaguars' Week 9 loss to the Jets.

Hurns looked like a man possessed on Sunday. He drew Antonio Cromartie in coverage and routinely dusted him. Some of the highlights included a nice toe tap along the sideline and a 30-yard touchdown on a double move that juked Cromartie out of his shoes late in the first half. He was a consistent problem for the Jets’ secondary. Hurns is quietly developing into an every-week WR2. Expect him to have another big game next week in Baltimore.

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Lamar Miller: Two TDs in loss

Lamar Miller rushed 12 times for 44 yards and two touchdowns (both from one-yard out) and caught all seven targets for a team-high 97 receiving yards Sunday against the Bills.

Miller has now failed to reach even 15 carries in all but one game this season, but he has been getting in the end zone of late, scoring six touchdowns in the last four games. Up next is a Week 10 matchup against the Eagles, who have allowed just three rushing touchdowns all season.

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Frank Gore: Tallies 102 total yards against Denver

Gore rushed for 83 yards and a touchdown on 28 carries in Sunday's win over Denver. He added a 19-yard reception on the day.

The stats don't necessarily do Gore's performance justice as he paced Indy's offense in the first half as the Colts piled up a 17-0 lead. His 102 all-purpose yards and 29 touches were both season highs and with a new offensive coordinator, Rob Chudzinski, calling the shots it wil be interesting to see whether the Colts lean more heavily on the run as a means of taking pressure, and hits, off of Andrew Luck.

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Rob Chudzinski simplified offensive scheme

New Colts OC Rob Chudzinski simplified the offense ahead of the Week 9 win over the Broncos.

"I think that was probably the difference. We scaled back a lot," Andre Johnson said. "Guys were just flying around out there, playing as hard as possible, trying to make plays." Chud will likely add more wrinkles over the bye week, but the streamlined approach led to Andrew Luck's best game of the season against possibly the best defense he has faced. With Luck finally looking decisive in the pared-down attacked, the Colts should look to keep the offense as simple as possible moving forward.

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Calais Campbell plans to take game up a notch in second half

As the Arizona Cardinals prepare to start the second half of the season, defensive tackle Calais Campbell is ready to heed his coach's advice.

A lackluster performance by Campbell against the Cleveland Browns prior to last week's bye prompted a critique from Cardinals coach Bruce Arians, who told an Arizona radio station that the massive tackle "needs to be dominating the game."

Campbell, who was limited to three tackles versus the Browns, addressed Arians' comments days later and admitted he couldn't disagree with the assessment.

“I have high standards for myself, and there are a lot of plays out there — especially in the first half of the season — that I feel I’ve missed out on,” Campbell said. “Each week, you just want to play your best game and, you know, (Arians) is right. I could play better. He wants to see me play better."

Slow starts to the season have become somewhat commonplace for the 6-foor-8, 300-pound Campbell. He registered six of his seven sacks over the final eight games last season and notched five sacks over the last seven games in 2013.

“There is definitely another level there, and I’m ready to hit it,” Campbell said. “The second half of the season is really when you want to play your best football. Some guys peak too soon, they’ll start playing too well, too early and they’ll fizzle out at the end of the season.

“I’m expecting to play my best football moving forward and hopefully deep into the playoffs.”

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Andre Johnson opens up on his new reality

He's on pace for, by far, the least productive season of his esteemed 13-year NFL career, but Andre Johnson is still smiling.

Family and friends want to know why he's not putting up bigger numbers, but Johnson isn't fazed.

The reactions to Johnson's underwhelming season range from "told ya so" to utter surprise. Either way, it seems others are more consumed with evaluating the Colts' 7-time Pro Bowl receiver than Johnson himself is.

"People can say whatever they want and feel how they want," said Johnson, on pace for 43 catches and 512 yards. "I sleep good at night. I'm not really caught up in what people have to say. I've had a great career. I've caught a lot of passes and gained a lot of yards. I don't really get caught up in what outside people have to say."

That's not intended as a mean-spirited comment. Hardly. It was Johnson's way of expressing that he's content with his diminishing role in the Colts' offense (he played just 41 percent of the snaps in Sunday's win over the Denver Broncos).

You can ask him forward and backward, over and over, whether he entertains any second thoughts about joining the Colts as a free agent in March, and you'll get the same uninteresting and repetitive answer: I'm here to win.

There's just one conclusion: It's true.

Johnson was targeted three times Sunday and finished without a catch for the third time this season. In his 169 games with the Houston Texans, with whom he spent the previous 12 seasons before he was released in March, Johnson finished without a catch one time.

Now, he's giving way to the likes of Griff Whalen in the fourth quarter of a huge game. At other times, instead of being the featured receiver, he's run blocking for close friend Frank Gore. Imagine the adjustment this must require for a guy who is the best player in Texans history and has five seasons with 100 or more receptions.

And yet, Johnson is happily accepting this new reality.

"Like I've said before, you just have to do your part," Johnson said. "You have to put your pride to the side. Yeah, anybody would like to have six, seven balls a game. But that's not what it is. I've said before, it can be my day today and somebody else's day tomorrow. I'm sure nobody thought Griff was going to get in and catch the balls that he did. That's the biggest thing when you're trying to achieve that ultimate goal: You have to do things that you haven't done before."

There seems to be resignation both with Johnson and his coaches that he's not the player he once was. In fact, he's very clearly not the player the Colts thought he'd currently be considering they handed him a 3-year, $21 million contract before this season.

You can question the wisdom of the investment. But you cannot question Johnson's attitude – as well as its far-reaching impact on those around him.

The Colts' receivers are a young group. T.Y. Hilton and Whalen, both 25, are the senior members of the unit aside from the 34-year old Johnson. There is no better team-first example than what they're seeing from Johnson.

"We're a very young unit," receivers coach Jim Hostler said. "There's only one guy that's had a little bit of success, which is T.Y. But if you compare his success to Andre, it's not even close. So, when you have that kind of guy, even guys who have had success when they're young have to take notice of it. They have to actually understand that they're in the presence of a guy who has done this not just for three or four years, but for 10… This is a once-in-a-lifetime guy that's sitting in that room, taking a back seat and doing whatever he can. Things that he's never been asked to do, he's doing."

Interestingly, Johnson didn't need a talking to when he arrived, Hostler said. He arrived with the understanding that this would be a different situation than any he's experienced. And that has made his coaches' jobs easier. There's no need to massage his ego. And there's no unnecessary pressure to ensure Johnson gets the ball, lest he express his dissatisfaction and affect the delicate balance of the unit.

"He wasn't going to come in here and take over what T.Y. had already established with the quarterback," Hostler said. "You knew his focus was not about the money or the catches or getting to a certain level and trying to get to the Pro Bowl. His mindset was to come in here and help us in any way he could.

"Each week is different and he knows that. Some weeks we will ask a little bit more of him. Some weeks, his matchup might be a little bit better. But he also understands he might also have to do some other things to help us."

And when those times come, Johnson predictably, and quietly, does as he's asked.

"I'm embracing every part of it," he said. "Yeah, it's different for me. But I don't have a problem with it."

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