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Russell Wilson, Seahawks’ offense need big change after NFC playoffs flop vs. Rams

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Russell Wilson, Seahawks' offense need big change after NFC playoffs flop vs. Rams

Remember Russell Wilson’s MVP-worthy first half of the 2020 NFL season? It might be a distant memory after the Seahawks’ star quarterback and the rest of their offense struggled in Saturday’s 2021 NFL playoff-opening flop against the Rams.

Other than one big play and one mostly meaningless late drive, Seattle failed to move the ball well enough against Los Angeles, losing 30-20 as a wild-card host. The Rams’ daunting defense was a significant factor, but the Seahawks also did little to help themselves or Wilson.

NFL 2021 PLAYOFFS: Updated bracket, scores for postseason

Because of Wilson, the Seahawks have had a high floor, posting a winning record with him in every season and missing the playoffs only once. But after falling well short of getting to the Super Bowl again, it’s clear it’s time for more change, for the sake of not continuing to waste a prime Wilson when it counts most.

Coach Pete Carroll wasn’t afraid to move on from Darrell Bevell as offensive coordinator three years ago, after six years of working with Wilson. Now he needs to realize that Bevell’s replacement, Brian Schottenheimer, isn’t the right guy to push them toward the ceiling.

Although it’s in Carroll’s defensive-minded nature to prefer winning battles of attrition against tougher opponents — thus the Seahawks’ propensity to play a lot of close games — he can’t ignore the rut the offense fell into against the Rams, when Schottenheimer got thoroughly outcoached by defensive coordinator Brandon Staley.

Schottenheimer and Staley have both been mentioned as candidates for the league’s current head-coaching openings. For any hiring team watching the game, it might think twice about attaching Schottenheimer to a top QB.

MORE: Adams’ controversial hit sends Rams QB Wolford to hospital

Schottenheimer likes to predicate his offense on power running to set up deep passing for Wilson. Unfortunately, the third matchup of the season with the Rams didn’t call for that to have much success. The Rams had a big advantage in the defensive line-vs.-offensive line matchup. With Jalen Ramsey and rest of their defensive backs, little is available downfield.

Wilson, because of his hot start, threw for a career-high 40 TDs passes in 2020. But he didn’t have a single 300-yard game in the second half of the season and on Saturday was held to below 200 yards passing for the third time in four games.

Wilson (11-of-27 passing, 174 yards, two TDs, one INT, 5.4 yards per attempt, 87.6 passer rating) didn’t perform well enough to win the game. When the outcome was still doubt in the first half, he was fortunate to throw a beautiful off-script 51-yard TD pass to wide receiver D.K. Metcalf. Before that, he was pick-sixed by cornerback Darious Williams — on, of all plays, an attempted wide receiver screen.

The Rams scheme well with Staley and their talent, but they also were helped by the Seahawks’ predictability. Williams jumped that route like it had jumped out to him on film. The Seahawks continued to force establishing the run on first down, even though it led to near-certain whiffs on third down (2 of 14). When they got into some manageable passing third downs, they often called for Wilson to take low-percentage shots. When they weren’t throwing well beyond the sticks, they were calling passes short of them.

The Seahawks didn’t have a intermediate game plan working at all. When it wasn’t a Chris Carson run or a pass attempt to Metcalf, there wasn’t much there. The Rams’ weakest defensive level is linebacker, but there was no consideration to using tight ends or backs better in the passing game. With Metcalf, save for one play, and slot ace Tyler Lockett bottled up in coverage, the Seahawks didn’t try to design much for a third wide receiver until rookie Freddie Swain made a big catch during their last-gasp TD drive.

When looking back at Wilson’s hot first half, he was incredible, as he often is, with his downfield accuracy. But even for great quarterbacks, executing at a high level with a high degree of difficulty isn’t sustainable, especially without any adjustments or creativity to overcome defenses knowing what to expect from them.

The Seahawks’ offensive line battled a lot of injuries during the season. Left tackle Duane Brown remains a rock, but other than at right guard with Damien Lewis, they got shakier elsewhere up front. Brown is 37 going into the final year of his contract. The Seahawks need to truly invest in pass protection for Wilson. They also need to find more dynamic answers for the skill positions beyond Carson, Metcalf and Lockett.

Wilson is 32 and has plenty of elite-level passing (and running) years ahead of him. A little after Drew Brees and Aaron Rodgers got their first Super Bowl wins, their teams were working to refit their offenses with tweaked schemes and upgraded personnel to keep them on track for true championship contention.

The Seahawks have done some of that for Wilson by trading for Brown, finding Carson to be their new power lead and drafting Metcalf to complement Lockett. That has been a good start, and there has been a bit of a spike from Wilson. The next level is improving the play-calling and personnel to lift Wilson, rather than putting pressure on him to lift them through the toughest matchups.

It’s easy to get complacent, knowing Wilson will still save the day more times than not. But if the Seahawks want to save their best shots for the NFC playoffs, then they can’t do it with Schottenheimer.

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How long are CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic out? Injury timeline, return date, latest updates on Trail Blazers stars

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How long are CJ McCollum, Jusuf Nurkic out? Injury timeline, return date, latest updates on Trail Blazers stars

The Trail Blazers will be without two of their most important players for an extended period.

Portland’s depth took another hit after guard CJ McCollum and center Jusuf Nurkic both suffered injuries during January games. The Trail Blazers, already dealing with the loss of Zach Collins after he underwent ankle surgery in late December, must now lean even more on Damian Lillard and figure out a way to avoid a major drop in the Western Conference standings.

What’s next for the Portland stars? Here’s everything we know about McCollum and Nurkic and the latest news on when they may return to the court.

MORE: When is the NBA trade deadline in 2021?

What is CJ McCollum’s injury?

McCollum left a Jan. 16 game against the Hawks with what the Trail Blazers initially called a left foot sprain. During the first quarter of that contest, Atlanta center Clint Capela jumped to block McCollum’s shot attempt at the rim and landed directly on his left foot.

Additional testing revealed McCollum had suffered a small hairline fracture in his left foot and a mid-foot sprain.

“Bad timing, it’s terrible timing,” McCollum said of the injury. “It’s nothing I can really do about it. I work hard to take care of myself. I put a lot of time in. I put a lot of effort into my body. This is one of the situations where there’s not much I could have done. Maybe if I would’ve done a left-handed layup he wouldn’t have fell on top of me, but it is what it is.

“I think I’m at the point in my life where, control what you can control. I’m not gonna feel sorry for myself. I live a good life. I’m still gonna live a good life. This is something that I can overcome with some time and some rest.”

What is Jusuf Nurkic’s injury?

Nurkic left a Jan. 14 game against the Pacers with a right wrist fracture. During the third quarter of that contest, Nurkic swiped at a driving Malcolm Brogdon, then immediately grabbed his wrist. He walked back to the locker room at the next timeout break and did not return.

“We’re always gonna be here for [Nurkic]. We’re always gonna show our support for him,” Lillard said. “But we gotta give him his space and let him take that in. It’s a tough thing. It comes with what we do, and it can happen at any time. I think that’s the best thing to do and how we should handle it.”

How long will CJ McCollum be out?

Portland announced on Jan. 19 that McCollum will be re-evaluated in four weeks. If he stays on that timeline, McCollum will miss at least 16 games, but the 29-year-old remains optimistic about his future.

“I’m battle-tested, man. I’m good,” McCollum said. “I’ve been through a lot in my life. I’m in a good stage of life. Mentally, I’m at peace.”

How long will Jusuf Nurkic be out?

Portland announced on Jan. 19 that Nurkic underwent wrist surgery and will be re-evaluated in six weeks. If he stays on that timeline, Nurkic will miss at least 23 games. Lillard expects backup big man Harry Giles to play a much larger role with Nurkic sidelined.

“There’s gonna be a huge opportunity for [Giles], and I think he’s prepared for it,” Lillard said. “Mentally, I think he’s a super confident young player. Every morning when I come into the facility, he’s on one of the baskets working on his game, sweating. … He’s been in the gym. He’s been preparing himself for whenever that opportunity came.

“I think now it’s here, and I think he’ll be ready for it. We’re gonna need him to be.”

CJ McCollum and Jusuf Nurkic stats for 2020-21 season

McCollum  Per Game  Nurkic
26.7 Points 9.8
3.9 Rebounds 7.7
5.0 Assists 2.8
1.3 Steals 0.9
0.3 Blocks 0.9
1.0 Turnovers 1.9
33.8 Minutes 23.3
47.3 Field goal % 48.5
44.1 3-point % 25.0
84.4 Free throw % 55.6

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FS1’s Colin Cowherd has nuclear take on Chiefs’ Patrick Mahomes, AFC championship game

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FS1's Colin Cowherd has nuclear take on Chiefs' Patrick Mahomes, AFC championship game

Hey, any interest in hearing an NFL take specifically designed to provoke an emotional response? Well, here’s Colin Cowherd!

The FS1 bloviator took to his microphone on Tuesday’s edition of “The Herd” and decided it was time to drop a nuclear sports opinion on his audience. Patrick Mahomes’ status for Sunday’s AFC championship game is up in the air with the Chiefs quarterback still in the NFL’s concussion protocol, so Cowherd suggested the league should simply wait until he is healthy before the contest between Buffalo and Kansas City is played.

MORE: Mahomes’ mom was not pleased with hit that injured QB

“We want Mahomes against [Bills QB] Josh Allen. That’s reasonable,” Cowherd said. “I’m sitting here this morning thinking, if I’m the NFL, Patrick Mahomes is going through protocol. I find the day Patrick Mahomes can play — that’s when we play.”

If that’s how Cowherd truly feels, then he should have taken it a step further and called out the NFL for not stopping the divisional game in which Mahomes was injured and waiting until he was ready to return. Is it really fair to say the Chiefs defeated the Browns when Chad Henne was the guy scrambling on the final drive? To the time machine!

But Cowherd doesn’t actually care about that. He knows how ridiculous his words sound. He isn’t concerned with offering a meaningful idea, just one that causes people to freak out. (And he did his job. Just check out the replies to this tweet.)

As for Mahomes, the 25-year-old cleared “some big steps” in the concussion protocol, according to ESPN’s Adam Schefter, though it’s still unclear whether he will be available against the Bills. Should Mahomes be ruled out, maybe the Chiefs can ask Cowherd to write up a special petition detailing why the NFL should take the unprecedented step of putting a conference championship game on hold as a star player continues to recover. Let’s push it back a month just to be safe.

That’s reasonable, right?

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Changes to March Madness schedule could create greatest day (or days) in NCAA Tournament history

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Changes to March Madness schedule could create greatest day (or days) in NCAA Tournament history

The opening Thursday of March Madness 2021 will not be the same. It always has been a holiday for college basketball fans — some of whom planned vacation days, called in sick or skipped school — to sit at home and binge on a day filled with 16 NCAA Tournament first-round games.

The challenges of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic convinced the NCAA to push back the start of the tournament, what is known as the First Four, to Thursday, March 18.

Wait until you hear, though, what the tradeoff for that change to tradition will be: quite possibly the greatest two days of college basketball action in our lifetimes.

MORE: Why NCAA selection committee better not screw ’21 tournament up

Games in the Sweet 16, which will be contested at Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse in Indianapolis, will be played in sequence on March 27 and March 28. There will be no overlap involving these games. There will be four games each day, played one after the other, so fans will not have to choose which matchup has greater appeal. You can watch each of them, one after the other: four on Saturday, four on Sunday.

You’re no longer going to need a second screen or a seat in a sports bar to see all the action — just a really comfortable chair and a stocked fridge.

There will be, for this year, no more choosing between such simultaneous classics as LSU-Texas and UCLA-Gonzaga, which were played in the same window on a Thursday night in 2006, or Virginia Tech-Duke and Kentucky-Houston, which shared the same late Friday timeslot in the most recent NCAA Tournament we had, in 2019.

A college basketball season like no other will end with an NCAA Tournament like no other.

In the case of March Madness, that could be a good thing.

Revised March Madness schedule for 2021

First Four: Thursday, March 18, Simon Skjodt Assembly Hall (Bloomington, Ind.) and Mackey Arena (West Lafayette, Ind.).

First round: Friday, March 19 and Saturday, March 20, Assembly Hall, Mackey Arena; Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.

Second Round: Sunday, March 20 and Monday, March 21, Bankers Life Fieldhouse, Indiana Farmers Coliseum, Hinkle Fieldhouse and Lucas Oil Stadium.

Regional semifinals: Saturday, March 27 and Sunday, March 28, Bankers Life Fieldhouse and Hinkle Fieldhouse.

Regional finals: Monday, March 29 and Tuesday, March 30, Lucas Oil Stadium.

Final Four: Saturday, April 3, Lucas Oil Stadium.

NCAA championship: Monday, April 5, Lucas Oil Stadium.

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