With the end of the 2018 NFL regular season at hand, NFL.com's network of reporters collects the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
DENVER BRONCOS: Young wideouts facing a universal challenge. All rookie wide receivers, even the most talented ones, get a rude awakening when they come to the NFL and have to deal with press coverage at the pro level. The Broncos are a perfect example. After trading away Demaryius Thomas and losing Emmanuel Sanders to a torn Achilles tendon, Denver's receiving core has been comprised of three inexperienced pass catchers over the last several weeks. Rookies Courtland Sutton and DaeSean Hamilton, as well as Tim Patrick, who spent some time on the Broncos' practice squad in 2017, are learning to get open and going through a huge adjustment.
"We've seen single-high, press coverage for about a month now," Vance Joseph said. "That's the formula. That's what everyone's doing in this league on first and second down, so they have to get better at winning one-on-ones and create some space for Case [Keenum]."
Sutton has the talent to develop into a No. 1 receiver and the brass in Denver had seen enough of it on film from camp and games to feel comfortable trading Thomas in late October. But he still needs to work on his craft before he becomes what they envision. One of those skills to focus on this offseason: getting defensive backs' hands off him at the line of scrimmage.
"Yeah, that's part of beating press coverage," Joseph said. "That takes time. That's a learned skill, obviously, but when you can do that, you force teams to play more shell and the running game's better. If not, they just load the box and play press-man and you can't run it. You can't throw if you can't win one-on-ones."
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HOUSTON TEXANS: Hopkins' strongest assets. Anyone who says DeAndre Hopkins is the best receiver in football has a compelling argument. It's not just that he has 1,425 yards and 11 touchdowns, but the way he has reached those numbers. Hopkins might have the strongest hands in the league. And I'm not talking about just among wide receivers. The entire league.
Hopkins has 103 catches this season, and still hasn't dropped a pass. His hands play a huge part in that. He wears XXXXL size gloves.
Hopkins prides himself on making contested catches and believes that's what separates him from the rest of the receivers in the NFL. His entire career, Nuk's made catch after catch with a defender draped all over him. That's where that strength shows itself, play after play.
As Hopkins squares off with Jalen Ramsey for the second time this season, those hands will again be on display. In Week 7, he made one of the best catches of the season. He told me after the game it was one of the top five catches of his career. Sunday, Hopkins and those XXXXL size hands be on display again.
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LOS ANGELES RAMS: Anderson's revival act. Free agent running back C.J. Anderson got off of the couch -- well, actually, he was in the process of moving his couch -- when he got the call from the Rams that they needed his help last week. Anderson signed with the team and delivered a 167-yard, one-touchdown performance in L.A.'s Week 16 victory over Arizona, which temporarily spared him the headache -- and maybe back-ache -- of moving his furniture from Charlotte to Texas.
"Now I'm living that hotel life," Anderson said Tuesday. "I know I've got two more games guaranteed. Hopefully more after that."
Anderson, who was a 1,000-yard rusher for the Broncos last season, spent time with the Panthers and Raiders this season but was released by Oakland earlier this month. He posted just 104 rushing yards and a touchdown catch in nine games with the Panthers and did not appear in a game with the Raiders. But then the Rams summoned following a knee injury to star tailback Todd Gurley. Anderson wasn't certain his career would resume, or that it would resume in such a resounding fashion. Even so, he seems to be a perfect fit for the Rams and will be the main backup, at the very least, for the NFC West champs.
Coach Sean McVay said that Anderson will have a role moving forward for the Rams, and that could mean starting again this week, with Gurley not practicing Wednesday or Thursday ahead of the regular-season finale against the 49ers. The Rams will know Gurley's status well ahead of kickoff, McVay said.
So far, Anderson has been getting the preparation reps for the contest, with the Rams poised to secure a first-round bye in the playoffs by beating San Francisco. It's clear players and coaches feel comfortable rolling with Anderson if Gurley doesn't play.
Anderson said his time with the Rams is going well because he is familiar with the one-cut, zone-read scheme the team uses in the running game, as well as most of the blocking schemes. He's having to translate the Rams' terminology to verbiage he is familiar with, but McVay said that's not an issue.
"You can tell he went to Cal-Berkeley," McVay joked, regarding Anderson's acumen.
The only real learning difficulty has been with the varying degrees of tempo the Rams utilize. Sometimes they'll go hurry-up. Sometimes they'll operate out of a tight huddle, spring to the line of scrimmage and snap the ball. Sometimes they will go no-huddle, but milk almost all of the play clock.
All on the same drive.
"I am used to a lot of the tempo stuff, because that's primarily what we did with Peyton Manning (in Denver)," Anderson said. "This is a little different, but that's where I have to communicate with (quarterback) Jared (Goff). There was a time in the Arizona game where you can actually see me come out of the huddle and say, 'What?' because of a tempo call I didn't know, but Jared made sure I was straight."
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Offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels is in agreement. "I am. I am," he added.
When I spoke to McDaniels on Christmas Eve, he put the onus on himself, saying the team's inability to find a consistent aerial attack over the last 10-plus quarters rests on his shoulders. But Brady has been surprisingly inaccurate during that spell, hitting just 58 percent of his passes (48-of-83) since finding Rob Gronkowski for a touchdown late in the first half at Miami.
"I have to do a better job of getting us in the right positions no matter what the defense is doing," McDaniels noted, continuing, "and then get our guys to execute it properly when we have our opportunities."
Hogan is one of those players who's on the field a lot but is seeing the ball very little. The free agent-to-be played 62 snaps in the win over Buffalo but was not targeted once. Hogan has never been the team's first or second option, but in prior seasons, he had carved out a nice complementary role. Now? He can't get a touch, though he claims his chemistry with Brady is still what it's always been.
"Absolutely," he said.
With the suspendedJosh Gordon no longer part of the equation and Rob Gronkowski posting his lowest production since his rookie season, the Pats could use a veteran like Hogan to elevate his performance and boost a flagging passing attack. But the fact that it hasn't happened already is no doubt cause for concern.
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"I think anytime that you back off, you stand the risk of not being able to get back on. We just keep pushing," Carroll said. "That's the only way that we do it. We leave no room for error in that approach, ever. That's the idea."
Even though the Seahawks have clinched a playoff spot, they're focused on closing out the regular season with back-to-back victories at home and plan to use that momentum well into the postseason.
The was a lot of excitement around Carroll's contract extension. Players like Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright expressed how happy they were for Carroll and said his record as the winningest coach in Seahawks franchise history speaks for itself. They also expanded on his humanity and impact as a leader and a coach.
"It was great to see him get extended; I think it's well-deserved," Wagner said. "He's an amazing coach; he's an even better person. He's a coach that I honestly feel cares about football but cares about the person, too. He wants to see you do good whenever you decide to hang your cleats up."
Carroll will make his seventh playoff appearance in nine seasons at the helm as the Seahawks' head coach.