As we turn toward Week 3 of the 2019 NFL season, NFL.com's network of reporters provides the hottest news and notes from across the league, including:
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NFL: Offensive holding calls tick up after coaches' offseason push. Lost in the attention paid to the rule that allows pass interference to be challenged this season is a significant point of emphasis: Officials have been instructed to call offensive holding more closely.
Last offseason, the coaches' subcommittee of the Competition Committee pushed for the point of emphasis, and coaches are getting what they want. Through the first two weeks of the season, 179 offensive holding penalties have been called, 70 more than were called through the first two weeks last season. That's a 64 percent increase. Unsightly? Maybe. But it is what coaches, who believed the violation was there and was simply not being called often enough, asked for. It's also worth noting that this is the rare rules adjustment that benefits the defense at the expense of offense.
And, as predicted, the number of pass interference challenges has plummeted from the preseason. There have been just 16 challenges in the first 32 games, and there have been just five overturns, 31 percent.
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ARIZONA CARDINALS: Team has zero interest in trading Peterson.The trade demand made by Jacksonville Jaguars cornerback Jalen Ramsey is one of the biggest stories in the NFL right now, but there's another Pro Bowl cornerback whose future remains very much in question: Arizona's Patrick Peterson. So far, the Cardinals remain resolute in their stance that he's not going anywhere.
The Kansas City Chiefs inquired about Peterson earlier this year, and a Chiefs source said they were denied emphatically. Now a Cardinals team source said there is no reason for the Chiefs or any other team to pursue a deal for Peterson. The thinking is that Arizona would be willing to trade Peterson, who has appeared in eight Pro Bowls, for various reasons: 1) He's 29 and will be past his prime by the time Arizona, which is rebuilding with new coach Kliff Kingsbury and rookie QB Kyler Murray, is able to win consistently again. 2) His contract expires after the 2020 season. 3) He requested a trade (which he later rescinded) and reportedly was upset with the team for not restructuring his contract in a way that would allow him to receive some extra money before his current six-game suspension for performance-enhancing drugs kicked in.
However, Peterson has told local media that his relationship with the team is good, and the Cardinals source agreed. When asked what it would take to ship Peterson to another team, the source said it's not even up for discussion. "We want him to finish his career here," the source said.
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"It's still with me right now," Jackson said Wednesday. "It don't go away until I get that opportunity again and perform very well."
Even when asked what he might have learned as a young quarterback going into that hostile environment, in the cold (the temperature at kickoff that December day was 27 degrees Fahrenheit), Jackson once again only thought of the game in one way.
"Win the game. I take that from the game. Just like I said before, finish. That's what we have to do in that type of environment, is finish."
How about the hype surrounding this rematch between the Ravens, who are leading the NFL with 41 points per game, and Patrick Mahomes' Chiefs, who are averaging 34 points per game (fourth in the NFL)? When asked if this game, in terms of the attention it's getting, reminds him of the time he and Louisville played Deshaun Watson and No. 5 Clemson in 2016, the year Jackson became the youngest player to ever with the Heisman, Jackson again thought of one thing.
"I lost that game," Jackson said. "I don't want it to remind me of that."
If you don't understand already, the 22-year-old Jackson is more than competitive. Winning is really the only thing he cares about.
Saints quarterback Drew Brees is the same way. If you ask anyone, even players who train with Brees in the offseason, they'll tell you he's one of the most competitive players around. Running back Mark Ingram, who spent eight years with Brees in New Orleans and now lines up behind Jackson after signing in Baltimore this offseason, sees some similarities.
"He's super competitive," Ingram told me of Jackson. "He wants to be the best. He wants to learn. He wants to improve. I think that competitive nature and the chip that's on his shoulder are the big driving force in his rise to the top."
Remember, Brees -- a 12-time Pro Bowler who holds the record in career passing yards (74,845) -- has also carried a pretty good-sized chip on his shoulder since the early days of his career.
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BUFFALO BILLS: Allen's accuracy on the uptick. Two games into his second NFL season, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen has completed 64.2 percent of his passes, which ranks 19th among all quarterbacks. It also ranks as a considerable improvement from last year, when his completion percentage was 52.8 percent and ranked 33rd -- last -- in the league.
"He'd probably be the first to tell you that he learned the hard way," coach Sean McDermott said. "There are some scars that are built up. ... (There are lessons that) you carry with you as you continue to grow and evolve and hopefully have more success."
Allen has been utilizing the slot (with Cole Beasley, signed as a free agent this offseason) more than he did a year ago. He is also no longer averaging the most air yards per attempt in the league, as he did as a rookie. Both factors contribute greatly to his higher completion percentage.
Allen calls the difference "night and day," citing "the trust we have with each other."
"The energy of the stadium is going to be really high on Sunday," Allen said. "We have to be able to kind of weather that and understand and play within ourselves. Coach told us today it's not where we play, it's how we play. We're going to take that to heart."
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GREEN BAY PACKERS: Enough about the offense... The Pack is back on D. The last time the Packers won a Super Bowl was the 2010 season. Featuring a young Aaron Rodgers in the sixth year of his pro career and just his third season as Green Bay's full-time starter, the team went 10-6, finishing second in the NFC North. Rodgers passed for 3,922 yards with 28 touchdowns to 11 interceptions, the second-most picks he's thrown in his career to date.
Nothing really came easy that year. The Packers were the perfect fairy tale story: the proverbial sixth seed that nobody wanted to face. But with solid surrounding talent, a magical run of greatness through the playoffs and a glory-filled three-touchdown Super Bowl MVP performance, Rodgers was crowned champion at just 27 years old. Much of his surrounding talent? A stingy group of men on the other side of the ball who simply refused to give up points.
That season, the Packers' defense (including first- and second-team All-Pros Clay Matthews, Charles Woodson and Nick Collins) ranked second only to the Super Bowl runner-up Pittsburgh Steelers, allowing just 15 points per contest. They also hauled in 24 interceptions, ranking second to the Patriots. Green Bay has not had a top-10 scoring defense since then.
Which brings us to now...
The 2019 Packers have given up just 19 points and tallied five takeaways (three picks, two fumble recoveries) through two games. Yes, it's early, and being ranked second in scoring defense and tied for first in defensive turnovers could change. But there has been a tangible shift under second-year defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, and the players see it and feel it.
"When we've been at our best over the years on defense, we've been a very opportunistic, turnover-machine type of defense," he said. "That's shaping up that way for sure with these guys."
Outside linebacker Preston Smith, who had a deflection pick against the Vikings, told me, "Everybody's bringing energy, everybody's coming to play, we feed off of each other, and man, it's so contagious. Man, the energy that guys bring to practice week in and week out, during the game ... everybody just feeds off of it, and we all play up to the level and the energy that we bring."
As for specific areas of improvement? A big part of that is simply more continuity in Pettine's scheme, even with several new faces -- especially up front.
Defensive end Dean Lowry told me, "I think up front we're very versatile. We have guys like 'Z' (Za'Darius Smith) and Preston (Smith) who can rush inside, me and Kenny (Clark) can rush outside. So, having different guys like that, really fits coach Pettine's personnel or scheme, because he can use different guys in blitzes and always present different looks for the offense. So that just fits what we're trying to do, and then also winning one-on-ones (matchups). So, if you can rush straight and win with four guys, but also blitz, that's a really tough combination."
Lowry further described to me the level of comfort the team has under Pettine: "Being in the second year in Coach Pet's system, last year we were just trying to line up and know what we were doing. This year, it's all second nature. We're all playing fast. We're not even thinking about it. We're just playing fast."
"I think speed probably is the biggest difference. And I mean as a whole defense more than anything. Speed as a whole defense," Williams described to me. "We had speed previous years, but at different levels, it wasn't always there. But speed that we have up front, we wanted to get faster, and I feel like that's what we've done."
There's no question that the Packers' defense is trending up. They are a close, bonded group on and off the field. Case in point, Za'Darius Smith generously took the entire group to Green Bay favorite Republic Chophouse for dinner and a dose of "Thursday Night Football" this week. Williams told me, "Z paid for it yesterday and we ate well -- everybody showed up, everybody was there." The damage according to Smith? $5,000.
"It's been a great start, just being 2-0, especially against division opponents (Bears, Vikings)," Lowry said. "Right now we're really confident and we're really hungry, so we just gotta keep it going."
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Mahomes is the man vs. the blitz.Patrick Mahomes is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL against the blitz. Since 2018, no one in the NFL has averaged more yards per attempt against the blitz than Mahomes (9.1) or recorded a higher passer rating against the blitz (120.9) heading into Week 3. Mahomes' success against the blitz is made possible in part because of the talent the Chiefs have at the skill positions. They create instant mismatches if a defensive end needs to drop in coverage or if a defense has to be in man-to-man without help.
"His preparation during the week is uncanny," Bieniemy told me three days after Mahomes spent Tuesday, his 24th birthday, watching film. "He spend a lot of time watching film."
But it's more than that. It's often brought up that Mahomes has a photographic memory, and this is a perfect example.
"The way he processes it," right tackle Mitchell Schwartz said. "In those instances, things are usually happening pretty fast. You kind of have to see a picture, and it hits your brain right. The other four guys are doing this, and it shows his mental processing ability."
There is also a sort of sixth sense that the great quarterbacks have, and Mahomes has that, as well.
"Usually, quarterbacks go through progressions and what you're supposed to look at," Schwartz told me. "He has a natural ability to find the open guy. He just sees it. Once a guy falls off of someone, he senses it, and gets it to the open guy. Pat has a really great ability to do that, especially on the move. And in blitzing situations, you have to do that a lot while moving."
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Gilmore the best cornerback in the NFL? The Jaguars' Jalen Ramseydeclared himself the best cornerback in the league on Tuesday. New York Jets coach Adam Gase disagrees. On a conference call with New England media ahead of Sunday's Jets-Patriots clash, Gase gave that title to Patriots cornerback Stephon Gilmore.
"Well, I mean, he's probably the best corner in the league," said Gase. "... As a play-caller, you're aware of that and just have to understand that he's playing chess while everybody else is playing checkers. He's really, especially the past couple years, he's playing at an extremely high level."
"You just found that out?" he joked. "Yeah, I agree with that assessment. The guy has been playing lights-out."
Armed with that knowledge, I asked Gilmore if he's the best.
"I don't know. I will let everyone else have their opinion," he said. "I am confident in myself each and every play. I try and work hard each and every day to be successful on the field."
According to Pro Football Focus, Gilmore was not only the best corner in the league in Week 2, but the best player in the league, earning PFF's highest grade of the week. The 28-year-old had his first career pick-six and allowed just two catches on six attempts, per PFF. A season ago, Gilmore earned his first ever first-team All-Pro nod.
"You want to be the best, but you have to put the work in to be the best," Gilmore said. "I try and do that each and every week and I'll let y'all make that comment."
Gase had no problem offering his opinion.
"Just the fact of, if he's one-on-one, he's very difficult to get open on. He has a very good knowledge of the game. He understands splits, he understands break points, he understands stems and things like that, that really make it challenging for any receiver."
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NEW YORK GIANTS: Manning's advice to Jones.After his benching Tuesday, long-time Giants quarterback Eli Manning was standing at his locker Wednesday, waiting for reporters. He answered about three dozen questions from reporters. He said he is "the second-string quarterback of the New York Giants." He said he was "disappointed" and "not happy." He said he will help rookie Daniel Jones, who is taking his place, however he can, offering the knowledge he has learned over 15 years.
Manning may have saved his best guidance for last. Just before his media session ended, Manning was asked his advice for the rookie quarterback.
"Throw it to the guy wearing the same jersey as you are," he said. "Simple."
"I'm confident," Jones said. "Like I said, I feel good about my progress to this point. I certainly understand there will be a lot to learn, and I look forward to that. To Giants fans, just know that I'll compete as hard as I possibly can, prepare as hard as I possibly can, and when I'm out there, I'll play as hard as I can and do what I can to help this team win games."
His opponent on Sunday, the Bucs, blitzed Panthers quarterback Cam Newton on 63 percent of dropbacks (the most in a game for Tampa Bay since 2016) in Week 2. Bucs coordinator Todd Bowles' defense -- always aggressive -- has blitzed on 56.1 percent of dropbacks this season, the highest rate in the NFL entering Week 3. Surely, Jones will see a different style of defense -- and level of ferocity -- than he did in preseason. But he did have an outstanding August, completing nine of 10 passes for 118 yards against the blitz in preseason games.
Defense struggling to slow opponents. By the way, it would help any Giants quarterback if the defense held up its end of the bargain. The Giants rank 30th in passing yards allowed per game (321) through two weeks. They've yielded 63 points; only the Dolphins have allowed more. And they are one of two teams without a takeaway.
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NEW YORK JETS: Early portion of season filled with unpleasant surprises.Sam Darnold is the rare NFL player to be sidelined by mononucleosis. Darnold missed Monday's loss to the Browns and will miss Sunday's game at the Patriots. The Jets have a bye in Week 4, after which Darnold hopes to be cleared to return, in time for a Week 5 game against the Eagles.
Darnold said Wednesday he does not expect to do any strength and conditioning work this week. Nor does he plan to travel with the team to New England.
"I'm going to do what I can to get ready," he said.
The Jets have faced bad luck: MLB C.J. Mosley (groin) is still out, while backup quarterback Trevor Siemian (ankle) was injured against Cleveland and is out for the season. They're also starting a quarterback in Luke Falk who was signed from the practice squad before the Monday night game, though the second-year pro did not play poorly against the Browns (he completed 20 of 25 passes for 189 yards and a passer rating of 99.7).
Meanwhile, Darnold knows he is at the mercy of "where this mono thing is going," and the evaluation by doctors of his spleen. He said he was told that he couldn't play "because it is (potentially) a life and death situation if I do."
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PITTSBURGH STEELERS: Rudolph asked to literally turn down the volume.Mason Rudolph's regular-season NFL debut at quarterback on Sunday impressed his Steelers teammates, including veteran guard Ramon Foster, who told me you can see in the second-year pro's face that "he wants to be the show" and praised his preparation.
Hard to blame Rudolph if he was a little excited. Now, with Roethlisberger out for the season with an elbow injury, Rudolph has a 14-game audition, either to be Pittsburgh's QB of the future (though Roethlisberger has stated his intention to return in 2020) or someone else's, starting Sunday against a 49ers defense that quietly is off to an excellent start.
Opposing defensive coach: Rudolph a real threat. Outside of the preseason, there isn't a lot of game film on Rudolph; his debut effort last week against the Seahawks (12 of 19 for 112 yards, two touchdowns and one interception) is pretty much it. However, in speaking with an opposing defensive coach for a team that will face the Steelers this season, Rudolph's confidence and familiarity with the offense comes through on tape, and there is enough to see that the Steelers' offense shouldn't drop off seismically without Roethlisberger, especially the more Rudolph plays. The talent is a non-issue, the coach said. Rudolph can play. The unbeaten 49ers, who have registered seven sacks and five takeaways already, will provide a stiff early test.
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The biggest difference between the 38-year-old Manning and 22-year-old Jones is Jones' mobility, as Arians noted on a conference call with Giants media. Arians also said: "For us, it's trying to stop (running back) Saquon (Barkley) and force [Jones] to throw the ball. ... Expect a little bit more movement passes. But he's still a rookie."
Asked if he believes he can take advantage of Jones being a rookie, Arians said, "I know he is a very bright guy, and he's been well-coached in college. It's a very hard position to play, and I won't say yes or no."
Stopping Barkley will be a vexing challenge.In Week 2, the Buccaneers held Panthers running back Christian McCaffrey to 37 rushing yards on 16 carries and 16 receiving yards on two catches. It was the first time in the third-year pro's career that he recorded less than 40 rushing yards and 20 receiving yards while also logging at least 15 touches. Asked if McCaffrey and Giants running back Saquon Barkley present similar challenges, Arians said no, because with Cam Newton and McCaffrey, the Panthers have "a little bit different style of running game."
Arians added a sentiment that is becoming common across the league: "I think that Saquon is one of those guys that, he's on another planet with his size, speed and also his pass-catching ability. McCaffrey is a different style runner, but they are both very dangerous. I think Saquon is probably the best in the league right now."
Barkley, the 2018 Offensive Rookie of the Year, is one of two players with at least 100 rushing yards in each game played this season. The other is Minnesota's Dalvin Cook. Since 2018, Barkley has nine games with 100 or more rushing yards, the most in the NFL in that span.
Ex-ref provides rules insight for team. Arians is an interesting guy. He also has an interesting addition to his staff: former referee Larry Rose, who serves as a rules analyst. Arians said he got the idea last year while working as a broadcaster on CBS with Gene Steratore, the former referee who serves as that network's rules analyst.
Arians said Rose is valuable because the "mechanics" of replay and rules interpretations "change weekly." So, while making a replay decision during games, Arians talks to Rose -- not an assistant in the coaching booth -- over the headset.