UFC close to booking Derrick Lewis – Chris Daukaus

The Black Beast is ready to make his return to the UFC. ESPN’s Brett Okamoto was the first to report this evening that the UFC is close to finalizing a matchup between Derrick Lewis (25-8, 1 NC) and Chris Daukaus (12-3).

The fight would take place and likely headline a UFC Fight Night on December 18th. Dana White broke the news to Okamoto that the promotion was planning this matchup between these two knockout artists.

This is a massive step up in competition for Chris Daukaus who has been on a roll in the UFC. Daukaus got his first shot on the big show last August when he took on Parker Porter.

He made a splash by getting a first round knockout, however, he wasn’t done there. After that matchup, Daukaus would fight three more times including last Saturday at UFC 266.

All three of those fights ended the same way the first one did and that’s with Daukaus securing a knockout. Daukaus has been splitting his time between the UFC and his job as a police officer. However, he’s decided to take a leave from the force to focus on his fighting career.

Black Beast’s UFC Return

One of the more charismatic and loveable heavyweights on the roster will be back in December. Derrick Lewis has been itching to get back in the cage after he fell completely flat in his last performance.

At UFC 265, Lewis got a dream opportunity. He got to fight for the interim heavyweight title in his hometown of Houston, Texas. Lewis was never able to get anything going in that interim title fight with Ciryl Gane and ultimately got stopped.

That loss snapped a four-fight win streak for Lewis which included a devastating knockout over Curtis Blaydes earlier this year. Lewis holds the record for the most knockouts in the UFC and it’s easy to see why.

When he lands on you, you’re likely going to sleep. The problem was that Ciryl Gane was just a little too quick for him. Perhaps Chris Daukaus will be as well or perhaps we will be in for another Black Beast celebration on December 18th.

UFC books title eliminator between Derek Brunson and Jared Cannonier

Derek Brunson

The UFC has finalized a big time middleweight matchup with title implications for January. MMA Junkie’s John Morgan was the first to report this evening that the UFC has finalized a matchup between top middleweight contenders Derek Brunson (23-7) and Jared Cannonier (14-5).

The fight will take place on January 22nd. Currently, the plan is for the UFC to host a PPV that day. Tentatively, the plan is for Israel Adesanya – Robert Whittaker 2 to headline the card which would make this middleweight clash even more compelling.

The last time that Brunson tasted defeat was against the current UFC champion, Israel Adesanya. The two fought back in 2018 and Adesanya walked through Brunson on his way to a first round finish.

However, since that fight, Brunson has been sensational. He’s gone a perfect 5-0 and turned away UFC hype machines Darren Till, Kevin Holland, Edmen Shahbazyan, and Ian Heinisch. Now, he’s finally getting a top guy in the division.

UFC title shot on the line?

Standing across from Brunson in January will be the Killa Gorilla. Jared Cannonier was one win away last October from earning a UFC title shot. Cannonier had a shot against Robert Whittaker and had he won, he was going to be next for Israel Adesanya.

However, Whittaker was able to pick up the win. Cannonier spent most of 2021 on the shelf recovering from injuries but returned last month. In a headliner, Cannonier took on Kelvin Gastelum.

Cannonier was able to hurt Gastelum multiple times and picked up a unanimous decision victory. That win has him right back in the title picture. Given the winning streak that Brunson’s on and where Cannonier sits, it’s easy to see why the UFC booked this fight.

It’s clear that the winner is going to get a crack at the winner of the main event. The UFC is putting together quite the compelling card featuring top middleweights and it’ll be interesting to see how the rest of the card shakes out.

UFC booking potential title eliminator between Jose Aldo and Rob Font

The UFC has verbal agreements in place for a potential title eliminator in the bantamweight division. First reported by Ariel Helwani on the MMA Hour, the promotion is booking former featherweight champion Jose Aldo (30-7) against Rob Font (19-4).

The fight is expected to headline a UFC Fight Night from the APEX on December 4th. This fight is massive for Rob Font who will be going for his fifth straight victory to solidify his title contender status.

The last time we saw Font was back in May when he headlined a UFC Fight Night opposite former bantamweight champion Cody Garbrandt. Font used his superior boxing to beat the former champion over five rounds.

Prior to that, Font absolutely destroyed Marlon Moraes and finished him in the first round back in December. Now, the New England Cartel product will be getting a shot at one of the best to ever to it in Jose Aldo. If Font can win in December, there’s no denying his UFC title shot.

Another UFC title run for Aldo?

After spending a career in the featherweight division, in late 2019, Jose Aldo decided to move down to the UFC’s bantamweight division. In his first fight, he fought Marlon Moraes and looked really good.

However, the judges robbed him a victory. Despite technically losing, he got a title shot after the fight. He was stopped by Petr Yan last year on Fight Island in his attempt to become a two-division champion.

Since that loss, Aldo has bounced back. He defeated Chito Vera last December then he outclassed Pedro Munhoz at UFC 265 last month. Now, Aldo is taking on one of the most dangerous challengers in the division in Rob Font.

This fight is really going to tell us a lot about where Jose Aldo is. If he can come out and defeat Rob Font in December, it will show that he’s still at that championship level. However, if he falls flat, it might be time to think that his days at the very top of the UFC are over.

Yankees: Just how great has Michael King been in the bullpen?

New York Yankees, Michael King

When you think of the Yankees, you think of the bullpen. For years the Yankees have boasted an elite bullpen, and this year is no different. In spite of injuries, they’ve put together another solid unit, and there are a lot of people to give credit to. The first that comes to mind is the brilliant Jonathan Loaisiga, with his supporting cast of Chad Green, Lucas Luetge, Aroldis Chapman, Wandy Peralta, Clay Holmes, and Joely Rodriguez.

Oftentimes disregarded in bullpen discussions and breakouts is the sudden emergence of RHP Michael King. This isn’t a case like Albert Abreu, where he’s shown flashes but hasn’t put it together. This isn’t a case like Wandy Peralta, where he’s just had a nice run.

Michael King has been elite out of the bullpen for the Yankees, and I think it’s time we acknowledge that.

On a Whole New Level

Michael King in 2020 was putrid, posting some of the worst numbers for any pitcher in the shortened season. A 7.76 ERA, 5.14 FIP, 5.09 xFIP, and 4.59 SIERA are all below average for a pitcher. His biggest problem was his command, walking over 9% of all batters faced despite being a control artist in the minors. He shined in a six-inning 0 run performance against the Blue Jays early in the season and then took off from there.

While as a starter for the Yankees, Michael King has been mediocre, as a reliever, he’s been elite.

Michael King: 1.64 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 3.44 xFIP, 3.21 SIERA, 20.3% K-BB%
Garrett Whitlock: 1.99 ERA, 2.89 FIP, 3.28 xFIP, 3.10 SIERA, 21.0% K-BB%

While Whitlock obviously has more volume out of the bullpen this year and is the more valuable pitcher, Michael King, on a per-rate basis, matches up well with him. He’s been really good as a reliever, but what changed from 2020 to 2021?

Michael King Sharpened His Sinker

In 2020, Michael King’s sinker posted a 6 Run Value, making it the 10th worst Sinker in the sport in that metric. In 2021? His sinker has posted a -5 Run Value, which ranks 38th among 348 qualified pitchers. His primary pitch was that sinker, and so for it to go from putrid to great obviously has factored heavily in his progression, but how did the pitch develop so rapidly?

Well, in 2020, his sinker induced a .411 wOBA against, for context, Fernando Tatis Jr. has a .408 wOBA on the season. This meant that hitters would put up Fernando Tatis-like numbers against his sinker. In 2021? He’s got a .303 wOBA against on the pitch, which is the same wOBA as Gleyber Torres this year.

The difference between the wOBA output is the location of the pitch.

That’s because Michael King uses his sinker lower in the zone, and it has generated a 1-degree launch angle against in 2021 compared to an 8-degree launch angle in 2020. He’s getting more groundballs on his sinker, and it’s allowed him to avoid giving up bad contact and will enable him to elevate with the fastball for a whiff or go down and away with a breaking ball. The sinker has opened up the door for Michael King’s success, so what should be his role going forward?

High Leverage Michael King?

Michael King’s role this season could very well come into shape in the postseason more than the regular season. The utter dominance of his most recent bullpen stretch and the length he provides as a 2-4 inning arm allows the Yankees to deploy him in multiple ways. 6th and 7th inning outings can be wrapped into one and save an arm in a tight series. He could come into a one-run game, and I’d be fine with it.

He may not be the most recognizable guy, but King has earned a high leverage role. Every time he pitches in relief, he dazzles, so maybe he’s a new late-inning guy. Maybe the Yankees keep his role fluid, and that’s the best way to operate. The sky is the limit for Michael King, and the Yankees know this.

Whatever path the Yankees lead him on, he will shine. He might not have the recognition of Chapman, the talent of Loaisiga, or the dominance of Holmes, but he can be a long-relief option with high upside.

He’s the king.

RJ Barrett ready to become Knicks’ top perimeter defender

knicks, rj barrett

RJ Barrett made a leap as a catch-and-shoot player last season. In Year 3, Barrett wanted to be known as a solid two-way player.

Someone has to step up after the New York Knicks lost their top perimeter defender in Reggie Bullock to the Dallas Mavericks in the offseason. Barrett is more than willing to pick up the slack.

“Being a two-way player is something that I’ve always strive for. Something that I want to do. It’s how I want to be known,” Barrett said Monday during the NBA Media Day. “So if coach [Tom Thibodeau] puts me in that position to be that guy guarding the [opposing team’s main] guy every night, I’m all for it. I’m up for the challenge. And I won’t back down.”

It’s also a pathway to reaching one of his other goals — becoming an All-Star in the league.

Last season, Barrett had shown he’s got what it takes to be a defensive force under Thibodeau’s defensive schemes. While everyone has been raving about Barrett’s remarkable shooting improvement (from 32 percent to a 40 percent three-point shooter), his tremendous improvement on defense got buried in the background.

Finally, Barrett’s stocky 6-foot-6 frame was put into good use that resulted in a 3.00 defensive real plus-minus (DRPM), according to ESPN stats. It was the third-highest DRPM among shooting guards behind Los Angeles Clippers’ Paul George (3.89) and Miami Heat’s Duncan Robinson (3.45).

DRPM is the player’s estimated on-court impact on team defensive performance, measured in points allowed per 100 defensive possessions.

Barrett had a -2.68 DRPM during his rookie year, which ranked near the bottom (132nd) in his position.

For comparison, Bullock averaged 3.74 DRPM, the second-best among all small forwards behind Brooklyn Nets’ Joe Harris (4.00) last season.

The Knicks’ projected starting lineup will have Barrett at the wings, joining their new backcourt of Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier and a frontline of Julius Randle and Nerlens Noel (while Mitchell Robinson will be eased back into the rotation).

Barrett has the defensive edge over Fournier, who only registered 0.16 DRPM last season, which ranked 32nd. In 2019, Fournier had a slightly better DRPM (0.27). Based on this statistic alone, it’s pretty apparent Barrett will take the most challenging defensive job on most nights.

Offensively, Barrett blossomed into Randle’s Robin to his Batman last season, averaging 17.6 points on 14.7 shot attempts per game. That could take a hit with the arrival of Walker and Fournier. But Barrett also sees this as an opportunity for him to get more open looks which could result in better efficiency. 

Barrett referenced something he saw on Twitter that read like ‘RJ Barrett going to the lane this year,’ and he would be left wide open as an immediate effect of Walker and Fournier’s addition to the team.

“It’s basically how I think it’s gonna be — more attention on other people. All of us can really play. So everyone’s gonna get an opportunity,” he said.

With more space to work on, Barrett projects to take to another leap offensively.

He has worked on his off the bounce game this summer under his trainer Drew Hanlen who has helped develop some of the league’s top wings like Bradley Beal and Jayson Tatum.

“Really, I was just working on my shooting, working on threes and certain shots that I need to be able to hit. So yeah, just being able to kind of recreate what I did last year and add on to that,” Barrett said.

Walker and Fournier made the Knicks a deeper team this year. But Barrett also noted that other teams had gotten better.

Chicago Bulls reloaded with Lonzo Ball and DeMar DeRozan. Miami Heat added Kyle Lowry. Boston Celtics re-acquired Al Horford. Three teams that the Knicks leapfrogged last season.

The Knicks were able to address their holes — especially their point guard woes which plagued them when Elfrid Payton was unplayable down the stretch, and the heavy minutes took their toll on Derrick Rose’s body late in the playoffs.

Walker and Fournier could be the Knicks’ answer to their most pressing need, which is more shot creation to an offense that stalled in the playoffs.

“I think it’s great. We really have a team. We have a lot of weapons. That’s what you need,” Barrett said of Fournier and Walker’s signings. “Every night is gonna be different, there’s somebody contributing in a different way. I’m very excited.”

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Giants: The expectations have been raised for Joe Judge after 0-3 start

new york giants, joe judge

Many were willing to give New York Giants head coach Joe Judge a break after his first season. The Giants were a bad team last year, but it was amid the circumstances of introducing an entirely new coaching staff and dealing with an offseason stricken by a pandemic. Daniel Jones was still a second year quarterback, and Saquon Barkley missed almost the entire season. In 2020, there were a lot of excuses.

But after an 0-3 start, which could very easily turn into an 0-5 start thanks to games in New Orleans and Dallas coming up, the performance of the Giants through three weeks can’t be as easily ignored.

This season wasn’t necessarily playoffs or bust, but there was a definite expectation of improvement. In the games we’ve seen so far, that hasn’t been delivered. Furthermore, there’s been little to suggest that the Giants will improve this season. Instead of finding a way to win, the Giants have found a way to lose in consecutive games. Against a defense that allowed 80 points in its first two games, the Giants only managed to score 14 despite this offseason’s focus on adding offensive weapons.

At some point, some of the blame has to fall on the shoulders of Joe Judge.

Failure to read the room

When the Giants were coached by Pat Shurmur, there were often press conferences that didn’t really say much. Many fans felt distant from both the staff and from Dave Gettleman’s front office, as if their public comments were just following a formula rather than addressing the real problems with the team.

Unfortunately, Judge’s press conferences are starting to feel the same way.

“A lot of things that we saw positive that we worked on throughout the week coming out of the Washington week showed up in the game in a positive way, but big picture-wise we’ve got to do a better job finishing the game – that’s coaching, that’s playing, that’s executing, that’s making sure we do what we have to do for 60 minutes,” Judge said after the Falcons loss.

Despite Judge seeing positives in every loss, the fans aren’t seeing things the same way. It’s clear that patience is running out and that insisting on positives even as the results get worse is starting to alienate many.

To put it plainly, when every outcome is described in the same way and the team consistently fails to improve at the execution that is frequently talked about, statements from the head coach begin to lose any meaning they may have had.

But that’s far from the largest problem.

What is Judge’s specialty?

The press conferences could be forgiven if the Giants were playing more like Judge advertised, but that’s been far from the case. This offseason, Judge put a big focus on discipline. It’s been one of the hallmarks of his coaching style, and the Giants fanbase was willing to defend him even as the national media criticized it.

However, it remains to be seen if that style will pay dividends or if it’s a case of smoke and mirrors.

The appeal of Judge as a head coach was that the Giants would take some of the best elements from the Patriots organization. They would play disciplined, and buy into a system that would let the players improve and win more games despite the roster lacking exceptional talent.

After three games, though, that isn’t coming true. There’s just been too many mistakes and errors this season to argue that the Giants are a disciplined team. And too many strange coaching decisions to believe Judge has a system worth buying into right now.

To put it simply, Judge hasn’t proven so far that he can excel in any major areas as a head coach. Instead, the fans have been sold an idea of a competent head coach and the actual on-the-field results haven’t manifested.

Some of it is directly on Judge. Things like the Giants’ fear of going for it on 4th down can be blamed directly on the head coach. Other matters fall on the coordinators. Jason Garrett takes much of the blame for the Giants having offensive struggles this season, but at some point, the responsibility of dealing with coordinators falls on the head coach.

Part of the reason for the Atlanta loss is the Giants discarding things that worked for them on offense against Washington. But even if Jason Garrett came up with that offensive gameplan, it still passed by the head coach and was approved by him.

Even if we look at Judge as more of an upper level manager rather than the kind of head coach who gets more directly involved in the tactical side of game planning, it’s hard to argue he’s done a good job in the role based on what we’ve seen through the first three weeks.

The Garrett problem has been a thorn in the Giants’ side for over a year at this point. More than enough time has passed for Judge to intervene, but it looks increasingly unlikely that anything like that will happen.

The verdict on Judge

Dave Gettleman is almost certainly out after this season as GM. The decision on whether to keep Judge or not will likely fall to the new GM, if the Giants do not clean house entirely and fire the entire staff.

In other words, this season is more or less an audition. While Judge showed in his first season that he has potential, a step forward is needed this year and it needs to come fast. While the Giants relied on a late season surge to finish with six wins last year, the baseline expectation has been that 2021 would be an improvement rather than just a repeat of the same thing.

If October passes by and the season still looks over, it seems unlikely that Judge will be retained by a future GM. If the Giants actually make progress as advertised during the offseason, Judge may just have a shot at sticking around for longer and winning with a better constructed roster.

Kemba Walker reveals his first impression on Knicks All-Star Julius Randle

New York Knicks, Julius Randle

Last season, Kemba Walker was from the outside looking in as he watched Julius Randle grew into an NBA All-Star and an All-NBA player for the New York Knicks.

The last three weeks confirmed what he already thought all along.

“My first impressions were that he loves being in the gym,” Walker said Monday during the NBA Media Day. “You can tell. You can always tell when somebody’s living in the gym and working on their games because he improved so much, overall, like his game was just on the money last season. It’s pretty exciting to watch, actually.”

“You love to see guys who just get better. He’s one of those guys who just really turned it on. I’m looking forward to being out there with him.”

After a disappointing first year with the Knicks, Randle took a historic leap last season, averaging career-highs in points (24.1), rebounds (10.2), assists (6.0), 3-point percentage (41.1%), and free throw percentage (81.1%). He became the first Knick to win the Most Improved Player award since its inception in 1985.

Randle also joined Larry Bird (1984-85) as the only players in NBA history to average 20 points, 10 rebounds, and five assists per game while also shooting 40% from deep in a single season.

Randle was rewarded with a $117 million, four-year extension that could become a bargain if he continues to improve over the life of that contract.

Along with Evan Fournier, Walker was brought in to ease the heavy load Randle carried last season. Tom Thibodeau banked heavily on Randle, who led the league in minutes playing a league-high 2,667 minutes (37.6 per game) in 71 games, sitting out only one game during the pandemic-shortened regular season.

While Walker was building on his lower body’s strength at the Knicks’ practice facility these past three weeks, he saw firsthand why Randle had accomplished those feats and became the face of the Knicks’ resurgence last season.

“I love the way he carries himself,” Walker said. “He goes super hard. He works super hard. He’s a leader, which I love. And I’m kinda trying to help him in that aspect as well. He’s just a dog. You love being around guys like that. I’m looking forward to adding to his intensity and his passion and love for the game.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

New York Jets: The true culprit of the Sam Darnold era was…

New York Jets, Sam Darnold

Adam Gase is far from innocent, but he’s not the primary reason why the New York Jets’ Sam Darnold era didn’t work out.

There’s no use in crying about the past, especially when the prior affairs are only three weeks old. But social media’s stranglehold on society and the NFL stretching its news cycle from eight hours on Sunday to 365 days a year have seemingly done away with rationality.

If invitations to Canton were granted through 280 characters or less, for example, the construction of Sam Darnold’s bust would not only be underway but his 2021 season might have its own wing. It’s easy to see why Darnold’s modern endeavors have earned their share of headlines: he’s the quarterback of one of five undefeated NFL teams and his redemption story is compounded by the fact his former employers, the New York Jets, serve as a running gag amongst professional and amateur football comedians alike.

The Jets’ reunion with Darnold was crossed off of their bucket list on kickoff weekend. It’s way too early to fully grade the trade that sent Darnold to Charlotte, especially considering two of the metropolitan spoils garnered (second and fifth-round picks next spring) don’t even have names yet. Realistically, the Jets shouldn’t worry about Darnold again until 2025, the next scheduled meeting between Gang Green and Carolina.

Yet, the omnipotent nature of modern NFL football doesn’t allow the Jets a moment’s peace (Carolina’s nationally televised win over Houston on Thursday hasn’t helped stop the spread). The fact that Darnold is playing an active role in the Panthers’ success…he’s responsible for six of Carolina’s eight touchdowns while the Jets have scored two over their first three games under Zach Wilson’s offensive watch…is placing only a bigger spotlight on both Gang Green’s past, present, and future blueprints.

As their team continues to sputter sans Sam, Jets fans have sought a main villain, a living, breathing entity whom they can blame for their predicaments. Former head coach Adam Gase has been the primary target as Darnold joins a list of breakthrough stars that have flourished upon his departure (joining names like Ryan Tannehill, Jarvis Landry, and Laremy Tunsil).

Such fingering is misdirected.

The Jets’ modern struggles obviously do not fully exonerate Gase. Surely the post-Gase success list (which has also welcomed the fortunes of Gase’s collegiate and professional teams) isn’t a matter of coincidence and, traumatizing as this season has been so far, his weekly denials that he was fighting with the faces of the franchise haven’t been missed. Besides, the obvious suspect, as so many other murder mysteries have proven before, is more often than not the one who did the deed.

Gase will require some extra supervision when he inevitably gets yet another NFL job (because the modern NFL loves, if anything, coaching retreads), but he’s shielding the real culprit: it was ex-general manager Mike Maccagnan, in the front office, with a misguided sense of roster management.

 Mandatory Credit: Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

The jury is still out on Maccagnan’s successor Joe Douglas, especially with the poor early returns of the Wilson/Robert Saleh era. But one thing Saleh knew what Maccagnan was doing wasn’t working: as of Sunday’s Week 3 contest (a garish 26-0 loss in Denver), only three players from Maccagnan’s last contest as the metropolitan decision-maker (Foley Fatukasi, Marcus Maye, Nathan Shepherd) remain on the modern roster. Half of Maccagnan’s ill-fated final class (in the ensuing 2019 draft) is already gone.

Douglas’ pruge of the Maccagnan is a microcosm of what Darnold had to deal with. The Maccagnan era was one of negligence and ill-advised splashes, one that tried to cover inefficiencies at the supposedly “boring” positions with high-profile signings.

From the get-go, Darold was mostly left to fend for himself. Maccagnan’s strategy seemed to be an incomplete cause-and-effect chart whose profits and yields relied on Darnold becoming an MVP candidate. The offensive cabinets assembled by Maccagnan consisted of the aforementioned big-ticket free agents equally saddled with big baggage (Le’Veon Bell) and that was just the beginning of the team’s issues.

In his all-too-brief time as the Jets’ thrower, Darnold was also stuck with first-round washouts (Breshad Perriman), former stars past their prime (Demaryius Thomas, Frank Gore), flash-in-the-pan breakthrough candidates that wilted under a brighter spotlight (Chris Herndon, Quincy Enunwa), and undeveloped projects that either didn’t work out (Terrelle Pryor, Jermaine Kearse) or remain a work in progress (Braxton Berrios, Denzel Mims).

All the while, Maccagnan almost completely ignored construction of the wall in front of Darnold. Save for some desperate moves late in his tenure…the ill-fated trade for Kelechi Osemele and drafting Chuma Edoga in the third round of his final draft…Maccagnan opted to go with blockers made of inconsistent one-year failed fixes. Darnold, for example, worked with three different primary centers (Spencer Long, Jonotthan Harrison, and Connor McGovern), an inconsistency set forth by Maccagnan’s failure to find a long-term solution.

It was a stark departure from predecessor Mike Tannenbaum’s finest hours: during his first draft in 2006, Tannenbaum chose Virginia tackle D’Brickashaw Ferguson, passing (pun intended) on touted quarterback prospects like Vince Young and Jay Cutler. When they had a chance to take touted collegiate, skill player heroes like Joseph Addai, Sinorice Moss, and LenDale White, they instead opted to bring in Nick Mangold. Not only did those two blockers headline the closest things the Jets have had to recent glory days, but they also became two of the most beloved figures in franchise history. Tannenbaum surrounded his homegrown talents with accomplished veteran strengths like Alan Faneca and Damien Woody. Carolina had already restocked its blocking cupboard with Taylor Moton and Matt Paradis.

Compare that to what Darnold has to work with in Carolina: the Panthers found a way to unite him with Robby Anderson, one of the few things that were working with him in New York. Anderson was one of two four-digit yardage receivers Darnold now has to throw to, the other being DJ Moore. Of course, no one in Jets circles needs to be reminded about the impact Christian McCaffrey can have, as the returning running back served as the 187-yard difference in Carolina’s 19-14 triumph on opening weekend. Carolina’s defense has also come up huge; through a majority of Week 3 action, the Panthers are the only team in the league that has let up less than 200 yards a game (191).

Rather than the hapless Gase, Darnold is also working with accomplished offensive minds Matt Rhule and Joe Brady. The former is all too familiar with raising lost causes from the football abyss, taking downtrodden college programs at Temple and Baylor to unprecedented new heights.

Carolina is in the midst of working with a new general manager, having brought in former Seattle scouting expert Scott Fitterer last winter. Adding Darnold is by far his most impactful move to date, a trade that open a new chapter in the book of the Panthers, one that officially allowed them to move on from the Cam Newton/Ron Rivera glory days.

Mandatory Credit: Vincent Carchietta-USA TODAY Sports

Just a few months into the job, Fitterer has done more Darnold than Maccagnan ever did.

Darnold is no longer being relied upon to be the sole source of offensive sparks. Many of those pieces arrived before Fitterer, but also spent valuable offseason funds on the aforementioned defense: former Temple linebacker was reunited with Rhule and now leads the team in sacks (4.5). They used their first pick on South Carolina shutdown corner Jaycee Horn (though he’s set to miss some time due to a non-contact foot injury). The Panthers are only poised to upgrade further after Week 3’s events: according to NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport, they’re close to picking up former Jacksonville cornerback C.J. Henderson for tight end Dan Arnold and a third-round choice…a move the Jets, frankly, should’ve investigated further into.

Simply put, Fitterer appears to know the impact of surrounding a franchise quarterback with reliable help on all sides of the ball…a lesson the Jets are learning the hard way. Douglas at least appears to understand that on paper, having added accomplished veterans and using expanded draft capital on assistance in protection. There’s plenty of time to develop past the Darnold era and get things back on track. It doesn’t diminish, however, the progress Carolina has made with the former green thrower.

There’s no use in looking back on the Darnold era, at least not at this point on the NFL timeline, but that’s not the nature of modern football. If a (premature) culprit must be found, the Jets must start at the top. Blaming Gase is popular…but putting on Maccagnan is may be right for now.

Geoff Magliocchetti is on Twitter @GeoffJMags 

Knicks’ Derrick Rose details who will be the starting point guard to open the season

New York Knicks, NYK

The New York Knicks have decided who their starting point guard will be, according to Derrick Rose, who signed a three-year, $43.5 million extension this off-season. Rose indicated that newly acquired point guard Kemba Walker would be the starter to open the year, but the veteran will do whatever it takes to contribute and help the team win games.

“He’s starting,” Rose said to reporters on Monday. “He’s starting and I’m doing whatever it takes to change the game. I’m not worried about minutes, playing time or anything like that. I know Thibs is going to handle that.”

Walker signed a two-year, $17.9 million deal with the Knicks this off-season after a buyout with the Boston Celtics and Oklahoma City Thunder. Last season, Walker played in just 43 games with a knee injury that has continuously bothered him over the past few seasons.
Walker, who is making his return to MSG after spending the last 10 seasons in Charlotte and Boston, averaged 19.3 points, 4.9 assists, and shot 42% from the field last year. Curating a balancing act between Walker and Rose is likely for head coach Tom Thibodeau, who will try to mitigate fatigue for both players.

The Knicks have a great plan in place at one of their most important positions:

Ultimately, if the team can maintain their health, they will have a fantastic duo at the PG position, just one year after featuring Elfred Payton as the primary starter to open the season. Rose can be a solid contributor off the bench at nearly 33-years-old, as he contributed 14.9 points, 4.2 assists, and shot 48.7% from the field last season over 35 games. Running the second-team offense will give Rose more youth to work around, but don’t be surprised to see him featuring with Julius Randle and RJ Barrett on the floor frequently.
After Rose coined Kemba as the starter, the new acquisition was taken aback by his comments. Walker explained how big a fan he is of Derrick and how winning is the primary goal this upcoming season, whether he’s starting or not.
“I mean, I wouldn’t know about that. I don’t know yet, but that’s pretty cool,” Walker said. “For me, I’ve always been a huge D Rose fan. Regardless, starting, not starting, whatever, it doesn’t even matter. I just want to win. To have a guy like him, a former MVP, a guy who’s been through it all. To be on the same team as him is really special for me.
Kemba also explains how Rose is one of the biggest reasons he elected to come to New York, making the veteran point guards extension that much more important.
“D Rose is one of the biggest reasons I came here. I wanted to be around him, wanted to get a chance to see how he prepares himself every day. Just really get a chance to pick his brain as best as I can while I’m here.”

Is Dan Hooker – Beneil Dariush the fight to make after UFC 266?

This past Saturday during the prelims of UFC 266, Dan Hooker (21-10) made his return as he took on Nasrat Haqparast (13-4). The fight was considered a risky one by Hooker considering his placement in the division.

Hooker is a top ten lightweight in the UFC and Haqparast is not ranked, yet, he’s viewed as very dangerous. However, Hooker just wanted to get back in the cage after suffering back-to-back losses.

Both men had visa issues getting into the US for this fight, but both showed up on weight for UFC 266 and put on a performance. From the moment the fight started, Hooker was the one pressing forward.

When Hooker lost to Michael Chandler, he was constantly backing up. He made the adjustment in this fight and he was the one putting the pressure on Haqparast. Hooker did eat some shots, but he just kept coming forward.

I was incredibly impressed with how well-rounded of a performance Hooker had at UFC 266. He had good pressure, good striking, and mixed in some beautiful takedowns. All of this added up to a lopsided decision win for The Hangman.

Is Dariush next after UFC 266?

After his big win to get back on track at UFC 266, there was one name on the mind of Dan Hooker and that was Beneil Dariush (21-4-1). Dariush is currently ranked third in the UFC’s lightweight division, but he’s without an opponent.

After picking up six straight wins, Dariush finally got his first big fight against tony Ferguson back in May. Dariush put on an incredible performance as he dominated and controlled Tony Ferguson for fifteen minutes.

Considering where everyone’s at in the division, Hooker makes the most sense for Dariush next. Islam Makhachev is the only guy near Dariush, but he’s tentatively scheduled to face Raphael Dos Anjos at UFC 267. That fight is in trouble due to a knee injury to RDA.

If that fight falls through, perhaps Dariush takes on Makhachev. However, I think a fight with Hooker would make more sense for him. Hooker has a decent following and it’s a better fight for Dariush stylistically. It’s what Hooker wants and it’s the right fight for Dariush. Sign me up!