As we turn toward Week 14 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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BALTIMORE RAVENS: Jackson on the doorstep of rushing record.Lamar Jackson, who is authoring a ridiculously impressive second NFL season, is on the cusp of history. With just 63 more rushing yards, he would set the NFL single-season record for rushing yards by a quarterback, currently held by Michael Vick (who ran for 1,039 yards in 2006).
Jackson has 977 rushing yards already, which ranks ninth among all players this season. He is the only quarterback to rank among the league's top 33 rushers. He's averaging 81.4 rushing yards per game heading into Sunday's game against the Bills.
"It would be an honor," Jackson said. "Like I said, Michael Vick is my favorite player. For me to do such a thing, it's incredible. He had that record for a long time, and it will be pretty cool. But I'm focused on the win, regardless."
If you are of a certain age and want to feel old, consider this: Jackson, only 22, said he doesn't remember watching Vick play. He has seen plenty of highlights.
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BUFFALO BILLS: Getting ready for massive ground challenge. The Ravens have the top-ranked rushing attack in the NFL, and the Bills' defense, an imposing group, has noticed. The Ravensvisit Orchard Park on Sunday in what should be a terrific matchup.
Buffalo linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said the Bills have to set a physical tone, noting that "(Baltimore) comes from the black-and-blue division, and they pride themselves on being physical and really beating you up over time."
Alexander said dominating "the line of scrimmage (is) really the only way you win that game."
Buffalo is off to its best start (9-3) since 1996, their total defense ranked third in the league heading into Week 14 (behind the 49ers and Patriots), and they're allowing just 15.7 points per game -- though they're also giving up 104.2 rushing yards per game, 14th in the NFL. The Ravens' offense ranked second, behind only the Cowboys, heading into Week 14 and has been the highest-scoring unit in the NFL, averaging 33.8 points per game. 33.8!
Allen can run the ball, too. Yes, everyone is talking about Lamar Jackson these days. That includes his counterpart on Sunday, Bills quarterback Josh Allen. Allen, who was drafted 25 spots ahead of Jackson in 2018, said this week he remembers watching Jackson highlights dating to his high school days and marveled at Jackson's play at the University of Louisville.
Allen shares with Jackson the identity of a dual-threat quarterback. Allen's eight rushing touchdowns lead all quarterbacks and had him tied for sixth overall in the league heading into Week 14.
"For (quarterbacks) to be out there and make some moves and extend the pocket and extend the play and try to find someone downfield, I think it just adds an element that defenses have to worry about," Allen said.
Asked specifically about Jackson, Allen said: "Obviously he's an explosive player and an amazing talent. But not even that, off the field, he's a great human being. I got to spend some time with him pre-draft (in 2018) and after the season a little bit. He's just one of those guys you want to root for, and he's doing some amazing things right now."
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DENVER BRONCOS: Kareem Jackson spilling the beans on former team. Most consider it a revenge game when you're playing the team that didn't want to hang on to you and allowed you to leave town. Sunday's matchup between the Texans and Broncos in Houston will feature two such players. Cornerback Bradley Roby was drafted in the first round in 2014 by the Broncos, who chose not to retain him when his rookie contract expired; he went on to sign with the Texans in March. CB Kareem Jackson, also a former first-round pick, spent nine years in Houston before signing with the Broncos in free agency this past offseason.
Broncos head coach Vic Fangio said publicly Jackson is not playing a game-planning role this week as Denver prepares to face a team Jackson was a part of for almost a decade. But privately, Jackson is considered an advantage, actually getting up in front of the team and giving his two cents about how the Texans operate.
"Just trying to help. Obviously, our offense, with me being in that particular scheme for so long, I just try to help them as much as I can," Jackson said.
After going against Deshaun Watson, DeAndre Hopkins and Co. in practice for the last several seasons, Jackson is also helping the Denver defense prepare for the tendencies of the Texans' offense.
"Our advantage is Kareem Jackson being there," Broncos safety Justin Simmons told me this week. "Just knowing inside and out what they like to do and knowing matchups and knowing who we should put on who. Also where our help needs to come from on certain downs as opposed to others."
Considering Jackson's former coach, Houston head man Bill O'Brien, has always publicly complimented Jackson's intelligence, there is no question Denver hasn't asked Jackson his opinion on a handful of topics.
"Why wouldn't I give up any information that I have or I can help them with? That was my old team, and this is my team now. For me, it's all about playing for the guys in this locker room and playing for this organization. Anything I can give them to help, it's all in the name of winning, in my opinion."
Lock looking to keep good vibes going. Rookie quarterback Drew Lock won his first NFL start last Sunday against the Chargers. Could it be the first of many for the Broncos over the next decade? We know general manager John Elway, who selected Lock in the second round of the 2019 NFL Draft, hopes so.
"You can't win them all if you don't win your first," said a text message that Lock received from Saints great Archie Manning. Lock also received congratulations from Archie's son -- I believe his name is Peyton? -- after the win.
After the Colts took him first overall in 1998, Peyton Manning lost his first NFL start to the Dolphins, 24-15. He threw three interceptions in the game and finished with 28 on the season. He went on to win four MVP awards with the Colts and one with the Broncos. Archie won his first NFL start, in 1971, despite being sacked seven times for 64 yards.
Preparing a quarterback for his first NFL start is like trying to figure out how to put together a puzzle without knowing if you actually have all the pieces. Vic Fangio told me the Broncos found out in-game that it's clearly not too big for Lock. His pre-snap command was above where they expected, and his ability to communicate what he's seeing from the opposing defense after each series to the coaching staff was very impressive.
What did Denver have planned for Lock last Sunday? How will the Broncos continue to plan throughout the rest of the season as the team looks to find out if he's the future of a franchise with a rich history of quarterback play? The idea for Lock, and for so many before him, is to lean on concepts that are comfortable. Offensive coordinator Rich Scangarello relied on spread concepts that would be familiar to Lock from his college days at Missouri, where he was a four-year starter. The plan won't be overly complicated, but it will develop as each week passes, with the goal being to make schemes and checks as clear as possible, Lock told me.
Interestingly enough, Bill O'Brien, whose Texans will face Lock on Sunday, went through these kinds of early games with his current quarterback (Deshaun Watson, now one of the bright stars in the NFL) three years ago.
"You have to do a great job of slowing the process down, talking about the process of preparation," O'Brien told me of those early weeks with Watson. "You don't want to show him that first time he played for us 100 different clips of a 100 different looks the opponent could do. So here are the three or four things we think they're going to do, and here are the three or four things we are going to do, and let him play free and not think too much."
Lock really isn't voicing his input, though he'll be more vocal in game-planning as the weeks pass. But Denver is not going to limit the way he creates plays outside the pocket after things breakdown. That is a trust that Lock respects -- and it's a skill set that is desperately needed within this struggling offense.
Lastly, Denver will try to simulate its success from Lock's first start, perhaps keeping things exactly same.
"Let's prep the exact same way that we did last week," Lock told me of his conversations with the Broncos offensive staff. "You put in just enough time, let's maybe put in even a little bit more this week. Not change your schedule, not change when you go to bed, not change when you eat -- just keep it the same, and we'll try to ride this thing out."
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KANSAS CITY CHIEFS: Rookie safety coming into his own -- with a little help from the Honey Badger. The Kansas City Chiefs had high hopes for rookie safety Juan Thornhill when they selected him in the second round of this year's draft. He's starting to make good on that promise at the perfect time of year. Thornhill had a 46-yard interception return for a touchdown in last Sunday's 40-9 win over the Oakland Raiders while also producing the key tackle on a fourth-down play that led to another early score in that contest. It's that kind of playmaking -- along with his instincts and athleticism -- that attracted the Chiefs to Thornhill in the first place. He admitted to putting too much pressure on himself earlier this season, but now he's settled into his role, partly because he has learned plenty from playing alongside veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu.
"He helps me out a lot," Thornhill said. "Just watching him in practice every day, you see that he's a heck of a player. When he makes a big play, I try to make one of my own. When he had his interception (against the Raiders), I wanted to make sure I got one, too. I'm basically competing with him because he's like my big brother."
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MIAMI DOLPHINS: Flores drawing rave reviews for work in difficult season. Before Miami rallied to upset Philadelphia last week, several people associated with the Dolphins -- including some players -- spoke about how first-year coach Brian Flores has managed to keep a talent-decimated roster focused and competitive. He hasn't done it with a bunch of "us against the world," or "nobody believes in us," rhetoric, but by simply being consistent, developing the talent he has in practice and sticking to the upcoming week's game plan. After the victory, several more people associated with the club, including Hall of Fame quarterback Dan Marino, vouched for Flores, claiming that what he has done under the circumstances he's been put in is special.
I was also told that the purge of talent that ownership and management decided upon this season wasn't just driven by a desire to dump contracts and/or acquire draft picks for the future, but in some cases, the goal was to part ways with players who could have been negative influences on a young roster. No names were given, but more than one person affiliated with the club mentioned this to me.
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NEW ENGLAND PATRIOTS: Dorsett on Brady's approach to motivating receivers. You've seen the video by now: Patriots quarterback Tom Brady yelling from the bench during his team's Sunday night loss in Houston. Brady was pleading with his receivers to play faster, among other things. Brady's wishes were ultimately not met, costing the Pats the top overall seed in the AFC standings.
During that tense moment, veteran wideout Phillip Dorsett was just a man removed from Brady, eyes fixed straight ahead. I caught up with Dorsett on Wednesday to see what his reaction was in that moment.
"I always listen to it," he told me. "It pumps me up. Just makes me want to go play a little harder for him. At the end of the day, all the receivers are playing for him. I don't think it's anything with our physical ability. We just gotta dig deeper and play a little harder for him."
Having played with Brady since joining the Pats in 2017, Dorsett understands how his quarterback operates. I asked him what advice he shares with the younger players (rookies N'Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers) who have -- at times -- drawn Brady's ire and aren't as familiar with the 42-year-old's intensity.
"Obviously, we all know it's Tom Brady. There's mystique about him. But at the end of the day, he's just our QB. Obviously one of the most decorated football players to ever live, but he'll sit there and tell us himself, 'I'm your QB, I'm your friend, I'm your teammate.' That's how you have to think of him."
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NEW YORK GIANTS: Manning getting ready for return to the field. With rookie quarterback Daniel Jones nursing a high ankle sprain, Giants coach Pat Shurmur said Wednesday it is "very likely" Eli Manning will start Monday night at Philadelphia.
Which means Manning's Giants playing career did not end when he was benched by Shurmur for Jones after Week 2.
Depending on Jones' health, this could be as much as a four-game run for Manning. And regardless of Jones' health, there will be at least some sentiment that Manning should start another home game. The Giants host the Dolphinsin Week 15.
Manning was benched Sept. 17, talked to the media the next day and had not spoken to reporters since, until Wednesday.
Manning said he has been helping Jones to prepare, in part by looking through his "old notes and tips on trying to diagnose defenses." He also said he has been keeping himself ready to play and has missed "being part of the action."
Manning, of course, will be remembered as an iron man. He made 210 consecutive regular-season starts and has never missed a game because of injury. In that regard, Jones (and others) may never measure up. Ten games into his career, he seems certain to miss the Eagles game.
Barkley has healthy respect for one Eagles defender. It's the rare NFL defensive tackle who can run with a running back. Saquon Barkley knows at least one, and this week called Fletcher Cox of the Eagles "easily one of my favorite players in the league to watch."
Barkley cited a play last season, on a 10-yard run that was negated by penalty but still left an impression.
"It felt like a DB was chasing me and I looked up and it was 91," Barkley recalled. "So he's a heck of a player."
One way or another, Barkley is likely to see Cox on Monday night.
"Obviously, he's well-known," Barkley said, "but I don't think he gets enough respect as he should from what I've (seen)."
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OAKLAND RAIDERS: Carr determined to right the ship. As the Raiders prepare for the first of their final two games at the Oakland Coliseum, a matchup against the Titans with playoff implications, the mentality at the facility is all about getting back into the win column after losing two straight and falling to 6-6.
I asked quarterback Derek Carr what he sees as the key factor to getting back to playing balanced, consistent football, and he said it's all about sticking to what they know. Carr was direct in his response, saying, "We've had a rough two weeks. I've had a rough two weeks. It's time to get back on track, it's time to get back in our stadium, it's time to be efficient on offense, it's time to win."
Crimson Tide ball-carriers in the spotlight. A key part of earning a victory for either Oakland or Tennessee will be the run game. Beyond the nice alliteration of what could be referred to as The Battle of 'Bama Backs, when you consider how hard Titans running back Derrick Henry and Raiders running back Josh Jacobs hit the field, you can expect a physical performance for these two former Alabama players.
Jacobs was a non-participant in practice (as well as the open locker room) for much of the week. The Raiders' lead rusher is still dealing with a shoulder injury, one he's being playing through for several weeks. You wouldn't know he's been hampered by his on-field performance. The rookie has five games with over 100 rushing yards this season and passed the 1,000-yard milestone in Week 13. Head coach Jon Gruden called Jacobs the perfect centerpiece to his offense.
As far as Henry's dominance, Gruden says the key to the Titans lead rusher's success is his stamina: "I think the secret sauce in Henry is he's got all the talent, and size, and running instincts, but he never tires. He does not get tired. He's a machine, man. This guy wears you down -- physical -- he can wear you down."