New York Giants: Kadarius Toney names surprise way where Giants can improve

kadarius toney, giants

The New York Giants are headed into their bye week, and as such, some of the media questions haven’t been about the team’s next opponent. In the case of Kadarius Toney, the rookie receiver was asked about a number of things on Wednesday ranging from his comments about Henry Ruggs III to his plans for his time off.

One of those questions was about the Giants running trick plays, and what they have to do to make them work more often. As a quarterback headed into college, Toney is a player that is often involved in those kinds of plays as a threat to either pass or run with the ball.

But against the Raiders, that play didn’t work out for the Giants and Toney found no options downfield before getting tackled for a loss.

The reason the trick plays haven’t always worked?

According to Toney, the Giants could use more players that can sell the play.

Kadarius Toney speaks on trick plays

“We can always use more salesmen at the end of the day,” Toney told reporters.

He elaborated further, explaining what he meant by ‘salesmen.’

“Yeah, that’s what you call it in the play when you’re trying to fool the defense, I guess you could say, like what you were just saying. You can always use more salesmen. Every play is designed to go for a touchdown, but every play doesn’t end up in that result.”

The Giants have made some trick plays work this season, of course. Perhaps most notably, Daniel Jones ended up with his first career reception this year as the Giants threw the defense off by sending him on a route.

But Toney has had mixed results on this kind of play, and with the team going on break, we can probably expect the coaches to tweak this area of the playcalling – as well as the rest of the offensive plays, too.

Knicks 100, Bucks 112: Good, bad, and ugly

knicks, tom thibodeau

If not for resilient performance from the second team, the New York Knicks would’ve been booed out of their home arena on Wednesday evening. The Milwaukee Bucks rained down 3’s the entire game, hitting on 52%, courtesy of Grayson Allen and Pat Connaughton.

The Knicks undoubtedly have vulnerabilities and weaknesses they must iron out in the coming weeks, and the majority of them start on defense. Considering Milwaukee was the 18th ranked three-point shooting team coming into this game, it is clear a lack of perimeter defense is plaguing New York.

Let’s take a look at the good, the bad, and the ugly from the loss:

The good:

The best part of the contest for the Knicks was the impressive performance of their bench. Obi Toppin contributed 14 points, Derrick Rose 22, Alec Burks 14, and Immanuel Quickley 18. They combined four 12 three-point hits, with Rose earning six of them.

If not for a fantastic second team, this game would’ve gotten away early for New York, who faced a 24-point deficit in the second half. Despite fighting their way back, they ran out of gas in the fourth quarter as the starter simply couldn’t get anything going.

The bad:

The starting team was abysmal in the defeat, as Kemba Walker and Evan Fournier contributed four points in total. Walker, Fournier, and RJ Barrett attempted nine 3-PT shots, with Barrett hitting the only one. Walker’s play continues to be a liability — he’s useless on the defensive side, so if he’s not scoring, his value hovers around zero.

The Knicks find themselves digging out of early deficits, which is unacceptable for a team with this much talent. Tom Thibodeau must be livid about his squad’s defensive play, and if this continues, you better believe they will be active at the trade deadline looking to inject more talent on that side of the ball.

The ugly:

The Knicks’ perimeter defense remains a serious issue. Allowing 54% from deep is simply unacceptable. New York has made poor three-point shooting team looks like elite ones this season, as the Cleveland Cavaliers also hit on 54.3% just two games ago, despite being the 15th ranked squad in the category.

The Knicks’ players simply don’t close out fast enough or exert enough energy to contest shots, leaving wide-open sharpshooters. They collapse too quickly in the interior and are susceptible to the kick-out, which opposing teams have seen on film and capitalized on. It is one of their more ugly vulnerabilities the season and one they must solve if they’re going to be a playoff-caliber team this year.

Chicago Bears: Week 9 takeaways, quick tidbits, and bye week preview

justin field, bears

With the Chicago Bears losing a fourth consecutive game, it’s time to wrap up week nine and look ahead to week 10.

1) The Bears lost Justin Fields a very winnable game. 12 penalties isn’t going to help a team win a football game. The Bears are lucky to have scored 21 unanswered points in the fourth quarter and Fields heroics kept Chicago in the game. The 11th overall pick found a rhythm towards the end of the first half and never looked back.

2) Speaking of Fields, the Bears rookie had his best game as a starter in week nine. Going 17-for-29, averaging 10.0 yards per pass attempt, along with one touchdown doesn’t tell the full story of FIelds performance. Fields was sharp all evening, completing seven passes beyond 15 yards, including one touchdown.

3) Talk about needing a big game from pass catchers and the Bears delivered. Cole Kmet, Allen Robinson, and Darnell Mooney combined for 13 receptions for 196 total yards as the Bears averaged 17.1 yards per reception. Such a significant increase shows Fields is getting more comfortable with his playmakers as time progresses.

4) The Bears need to get Eddie Jackson back and healthy quickly. Ben Roethlisberger picked apart the secondary all evening. Two straight games without Jackson roaming the defensive backfield shows Jackson’s importance in coverage for an already weak secondary.

5) Something you can’t deny when looking back at Monday night’s Bears loss: Justin Fields, Khalil Herbert, and Larry Borom have become instant impact players. Another phenomenal job scouting talent by Ryan Pace and the front office. Pace’s knack for scouting and finding talent on day three of the NFL Draft is yet another reason the much-criticized general manager continues to be employed.

6) Louis Riddick summed up the Bears perfectly on Monday night as players met at midfield for postgame handshakes: “Matt Nagy and Justin Fields can walk out of here with their heads held high.” Riddick isn’t wrong. Fields progress was apparent and the McCaskey family is seeing the difference a good QB can make in games.

7) Let’s talk about Robert Quinn. Chicago is seeing some returns on Quinn, who’s a $70M investment but Quinn’s crucial offsides penalty on the Steelers’ final drive cost the Bears big time. Chicago can’t afford to lose any momentum in critical situations and Quinn shot the Bears in the foot twice in the fourth quarter. A second penalty was on a third-and-seven from the Steelers 41-yard line.

8) In his postgame presser, linebacker Roquan Smith said the defense let the offense down. Smith, who talks to the media after nearly game is conveying one message: The Bears defense didn’t get the job done on Monday but the offense did. Here’s the significance of such a comment: It’s the defense that lost the game, not the offense. The Bears offense is also on the rise and the defense sees that.

9) Let’s talk about the Bears newest running back duo: David Montgomery and Khalil Herbert. With 17 total carries and 76 rushing yards, Nagy failed to figure out how to utilize both players effectively. The Steelers defense keyed in on both running backs all evening but with the identity of the Bears offense being the run, Chicago needs to feature more two-back sets with Montgomery and Herbert being mismatch weapons.

10) Let’s give some love to Cairo Santos. The Bears kicker has been automatic this season and has stabilized the position that was once the only weakness on the Bears roster back in 2019. Touchdowns should be the goal but field goals with a consistent kicker figure to get the job done at times too.

Bears Bye Week: What have we learned?

Through the first nine games of the Bears season, we’ve learned a lot about what to expect during the second half of the season. The Bears offense has developed an identity through the run game but the most significant change that defined the first half of the season was Nagy relinquishing playcalling duties to offensive coordinator Bill Lazor.

Between weeks nine and 10, Chicago has started to develop more into a pass-first offense. Fields’ development as a passer has been noticeable, with the 11th overall pick processing quicker and completing short and intermediate throws. This comes as a result of improved decision-making and Fields’ willingness to take what the defense gives him.

What we’ve also learned is the Bears’ defense is significantly worse without star pass rusher Khalil Mack, who’s been nursing a foot injury over the last few weeks. While the Bears totaled four sacks in week nine, Mack’s presence would’ve slowed down the Steelers’ offense and forced Roethlisberger to get rid of the ball quicker.

Two objectives need to be accomplished during the bye week for Chicago: Getting healthy and then shuffling the offensive line while figuring out how to cater gameplans to further develop Fields. With eight games left, the Bears can still turn around a tumultuous season.

New York Giants: Leonard Williams continuing to play at a high level

New York Giants, Leonard Williams

The New York Giants spent a bunch of money this past offseason improving their roster and retaining their star players. One of the biggest contracts the Giants gave out was the one to defensive lineman Leonard Williams. Williams and the Giants inked a three-year, $63M contract that made him the highest-paid player on the team and one of the highest-paid defensive linemen in the NFL.

Leonard Williams earned this contract after a career year in 2020. Big Cat recorded a career-high 11.5 sacks last season as he established himself as a premier defender. The Giants paid him as such.

At the beginning of this turbulent 2021 season for the Giants, some fans were displeased with the way Williams was playing. But, upon further review, Leonard Williams is continuing to play at a high level through nine weeks.

Leonard Williams 2021 stats and highlights

Leonard Williams is still one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL. With a 78.3 Pro Football Focus grade, Williams is ranked tenth best in the NFL at his position. Leo has a respectable 5.5 sacks on the season through nine games. He might not be on pace to match his sack total from last season, but Williams is still getting after the quarterback better than the majority of defensive linemen this season.

According to PFF, Leonard Williams has totaled 32 pressures this season. This is the fourth-highest total among interior defensive linemen in the NFL this season. Williams’s 5.5 sacks are also tied-second most for interior defensive linemen so far this year (behind only Aaron Donald, Jonathan Allen, and Javon Hargrave).

The New York Giants have struggled to get after the quarterback at times this season. But the team seems to be figuring it out as Azeez Ojulari and Leonard Williams have both recorded 5.5 sacks apiece. Though he may have gotten off to a slow start this season, Leonard Williams has turned this season into what could be one of his best. The Giants’ defense is lucky to have one of the best interior defensive linemen in the NFL lining up for them on Sundays.

BREAKING: Jorge Masvidal out of UFC 269 bout against Leon Edwards

UFC 269 suffered a big blow this afternoon. Hunter Campbell informed ESPN’s Brett Okamoto that Jorge Masvidal (35-15) has suffered an injury and as a result, he’s out of his highly anticipated matchup against Leon Edwards (19-3, 1 NC).

This fight had so much hype behind it after the history that these two men shared. Of course, everyone recalls the “Three Piece and a Soda” that Masvidal gave Edwards after a UFC event in London. These two men do not like each other and the fight is a couple of years in the making.

However, we now know that Masvidal is injured and the fight is off. Campbell didn’t give a timeline on Masvidal’s return and he also didn’t say whether the UFC will keep that fight together. There is a chance that Edwards stays on the card in the end.

Masvidal was called out by Colby Covington last weekend after Covington lost to Kamaru Usman at UFC 268. Covington and Masvidal used to be best friends who have now turned rivals. Covington said Masvidal should pull out of his fight with Edwards to fight him.

Yesterday, Masvidal tweeted out a cryptic message saying, ‘Silver Lining‘. Maybe that had to deal with the injury which could lead to his matchup with Covington. Either way, the fight at UFC 269 is off.

What’s next for the UFC?

I think this is the end of the fight for now. I personally don’t see the UFC rebooking this fight in the short-term and they will likely refocus their attention on booking Masvidal against Covington when both men are healthy.

So where does that leave Leon Edwards? My guess is that Edwards will still try to fight at UFC 269 unless the promotion just gives him a title shot. With that in mind, there are a few opponents that jump out as possibilities.

Edwards could fight Gilbert Burns (20-4) next. These two have gone back and forth quite a bit and Burns has said that he would fight Edwards on short notice. Another possiblity for the UFC could be Vicente Luque (21-7-1) who is looked at as the next guy in line behind Edwards currently.

A wild card in all this could be Khamzat Chimaev (10-0). The UFC tried to book Edwards against Chimaev a few times this year and it always fell through due to Covid. Now, Chimaev is healthy and he’s said that he wants to fight next month. Perhaps the UFC tries one more time.

This will definitely be a story to watch over the coming days.

What’s next for Chito Vera after his knockout win at UFC 268?

This past weekend at UFC 268, we saw a battle in the bantamweight division which featured the past and the future. Former lightweight champion and top contender Frankie Edgar (24-10-1) was taking on Marlon “Chito” Vera (20-7-1).

Edgar was looking to bounce back after his loss in a title eliminator to Cory Sandhagen while Chito Vera was looking for a signature win. Throughout Vera’s UFC career, he’s been known to be a very slow starter and that didn’t change at UFC 268.

In the first round, Edgar was able to take Vera down and controlled him for the majority of the round. However, in the second round, Vera really turned things around. Chito became increasingly aggressive on the feet and landed some big shots.

In the third round, both men had their moments early. However, momentum was really with Chito as he continuously stalked Edgar throughout. Then, Vera landed a massive front kick to the face that knocked out the former UFC lightweight champion and gave Chito his signature win.

What’s next after UFC 268?

The updated UFC rankings came out today and Chito Vera is just outside the top ten coming in at number eleven. Going back to UFC 227 in 2018, Vera is now 7-2 in his last nine fights. However, many believe that he won one of those two losses.

That was a loss against Song Yadong (17-5-1). With this win, Chito is in a really tough spot in regards to the rest of the division. Guys in front of him include Marlon Moraes, Dominick Cruz, Pedro Munhoz, and Cody Garbrandt.

Garbrandt is moving to 125, Moraes is on a big losing streak, and Cruz and Munhoz fight at UFC 269. In theory, whoever wins that fight would make sense right? Well, Munhoz is also contemplating a move to flyweight while Dominick Cruz will want someone ranked higher.

That leaves Chito in a bit of no mans land. So, who should the UFC pair him with? To me, there’s a couple of options. On one hand, I really like the idea of him rematching with Sean O’Malley (14-1). There’s serious beef there and a sense of uncertainty given the way the first fight ended.

Chito got the TKO win, but an O’Malley ankle injury played a big role. That would be a really good fight that fans would be very hyped for. O’Malley takes on Raulian Paiva at UFC 269. Another possibility is Song Yadong if he wins this weekend at UFC Vegas 42.

If Song wins, the rematch with Chito makes a ton of sense with the winner ready to take on someone in the top ten. Chito deserves a top ten opponent, but he’s a little stuck right now. Either way, expect a good and entertaining opponent for him next time out.

Doc Rivers on Knicks star Julius Randle: ‘He changed the narrative on him’

Julius Randle earned a fan in Philadelphia 76ers coach Doc Rivers after the New York Knicks star single-handedly put them away down the stretch on Monday night.

Randle scored 10 of his game-high 31 points in the final 4:46 as the Knicks beat the Sixers for the second straight time this season, 103-96, after enduring a 15-game losing streak against them.

“He made that one runner, whatever that thing was, that was just a brutally tough shot,” said Rivers referring to Randle’s drive against Furkan Korkmaz that started the Knicks’ 14-8 closing run from a slim 89-88 lead. “He’s making the catch-and-shoot 3s. Give him credit. He’s a great kid. He’s worked his butt off, changed the narrative on him. So, give him all the credit. I’m very happy for him, except for tonight.”

The former lottery pick started to change his narrative last year when he led the Knicks to a surprising playoff run. As the Knicks leading man, Randle became a first-time All-Star, won the Most Improved Player of the Year, and made it to the All-NBA Second Team.

On Monday night, Randle flexed his muscle as he took advantage of the decimated Sixers’ frontline. Without Joel Embiid and Tobias Harris, who joined Matisse Thybulle in the health and safety protocols, Randle wreaked havoc. He shot 12 of 25 from the floor and went 5 for 10 from the three-point line.

“He made some tough shots,” Rivers added. “We were undersized. I thought a couple of them, we were gonna switch and didn’t, that would’ve put a smaller guy on him, which wouldn’t have helped. He knows how to use his body. He’s tough.”

Randle toyed around every Sixers defender thrown at him from the 6-foot-7 Korkmaz to 6-foot-6 Danny Green.

“We had Danny [Green] guarding him for the majority of the game,” said Seth Curry. “I hope he had a good matchup for him. He grinded it out. [He] forced some tough shots and still, that’s a guy you just shake his hand. Danny worked hard.”

Andre Drummond, who grabbed 25 rebounds and scored 14 points as a fill-in starter for Embiid, couldn’t think of a better defensive coverage against Randle. The Sixers just didn’t have any abled body to slow down Randle on Monday night.

“He’s a great player,” said Drummond of Randle. “He had somebody who was three or four inches shorter than him. He’s shooting over the top of him. There’s not much you can do. We played him to the best of our ability, and he made shots. He’s an NBA player.”

While Randle had an easier time against the shorthanded Sixers, it certainly won’t be the case on Wednesday when the Knicks host the defending champion Milwaukee Bucks led by two-time MVP and last Finals MVP Giannis Antetokounmpo.

The Bucks will be playing the second night of a back-to-back schedule after beating the same shorthanded Sixers team on Tuesday night, 118-109.

Follow this writer on Twitter: @alderalmo

After UFC 268, Justin Gaethje is next in line for the lightweight championship

This past Saturday at UFC 268, we saw one of the best fights if not the best fight of 2021 kicking off the PPV. A lightweight showdown between Justin Gaethje (23-3) and Michael Chandler (22-7) kicked off the UFC 268 main card in style.

Usually when you see a fight that has a ton of hype, the fight normally disappoints. You think to yourself, “There’s no way that this fight can possibly live up to the hype,” and most of the time, it doesn’t. Well, this is one of those times where the fight completely delivered.

From the opening bell at UFC 268, both Gaethje and Chandler through everything that they had at the other. The first round saw Chandler rock Gaethje a couple of times. However, Gaethje landed big shots of his own. In the second round, Gaethje dropped Chandler and nearly finished him.

The final round saw Gaethje throw everything including the kitchen sink at a smiling Michael Chandler. The fight was absolutely incredible and in the end, Justin Gaethje walked away victorious and cemented his status at the top of the division.

Is Gaethje next for the UFC title?

Originally, this fight between Chandler and Gaethje was being looked at as a title eliminator. However, after Islam Makhachev’s performance at UFC 267, there was talk about whether or not Makhachev would jump the line. However, the fight on Saturday put that to rest.

Prior to Saturday night, Gaethje last fought at UFC 254 when he took on Khabib Nurmagomedov for the undisputed lightweight title. Gaethje lost that fight but he entered the contest as the interim UFC lightweight champion.

Gaethje is now 5-2 in his last seven fights with four stoppages. The only two losses he’s had have come against Khabib and Dustin Poirier. There is no doubt in my mind that Justin Gaethje will be next for the UFC lightweight title.

Next month at UFC 269, Dustin Poirier and Charles Oliveira will battle for the lightweight title. Whoever wins that fight will have Gaethje waiting for them. Whether it’s a rematch with Poirier or a showdown with Oliveira, Gaethje will be ready for his second crack at undisputed UFC gold.

Yankees’ GM admits mistake with Garrett Whitlock

The New York Yankees’ bullpen had a very good year, even though some of the expected contributors, such as Darren O’Day and Zack Britton, had injury issues or underperformed, like Aroldis Chapman for large stretches. However, it could have been even better.

“Could have been” is the key phrase here. Because it wasn’t. Garrett Whitlock, a Yankees’ farmhand, was left unprotected in last year’s Rule 5 Draft, and the Boston Red Sox, a team that wasn’t expected to go as far as they did, took a chance on him.

Whitlock was a breath of fresh air for the Yankees’ rivals. He made 46 regular-season appearances in 2021, finishing with a fantastic 1.96 ERA. The postseason, the biggest of stages, was more of the same for the talented righty: he had a 2.16 ERA in five appearances there, and helped Boston reach the American League Championship Series.

The Yankees made a blunder with the talented righty

While speaking on Tuesday , Yankees’ general manager Brian Cashman admitted that he whiffed on Whitlock and congratulated the Red Sox for securing his services.

Per the Boston Globe (link to NJ Advance Media article here): “Obviously, it turned out that it came back to bite us. He was rehabbing from Tommy John and the player that arrived Day One in spring training wasn’t the player that left us. It was just a completely different animal with a lot more juice on his velo … Boston obviously took advantage of it. And they wound up with a gem. So kudos to them and disappointment for us.”

Red Sox’s chief baseball officer Chaim Bloom said over at the Winter Meetings that Whitlock could be seen as an option to start next season. That was his role for most of his Yankees’ career in the minor leagues.

However, the Tommy John surgery changed the Yankees’ plans and the rest is history.

New York Yankees interested in a big deal with the Oakland Athletics

yankees, matt olson

The GM meetings are going on currently and the New York Yankees are preparing to act quickly this offseason. While some teams are taking the slow approach with the potential lockout coming, other teams are looking to strike early and often.

I’ve talked with a couple of people that are at the meetings who say the Yankees are giving off the vibe as one of those early and often teams. There are several big needs for the Bronx Bombers this offseason. Brian Cashman told the media yesterday that he’s already engaged in conversations with two top shortstops.

This has been confirmed by Jim Bowden to be Carlos Correa and Corey Seager. Buster Onley of ESPN said this morning that the Yankees appear to be zeroing in on the very top of the shortstop market. This shouldn’t surprise anyone given the talent at the top of the market.

One other area the Yankees need to address is first base. While they still have Luke Voit, all indications are that they are moving on from Voit this offseason. At the trade deadline, they acquired Anthony Rizzo who provided much better defense and balance to the lineup from the left side of the plate.

Cashman has said that the Yankees have already discussed a reunion with Rizzo’s agent. However, there’s another big name the Yanks are interested in at first base. That name is Matt Olson and by all indications, New York is interested in doing big business with Oakland.

Will the Yankees and A’s make a big deal?

If you know Brian Cashman, you know that he likes to make deals with the same GMs. Cashman and Billy Beane have a great relationship. If there’s a deal to be made, Cashman would rather do it with a guy like Beane who he trusts.

Jon Morosi of MLB Network has already confirmed that the Yankees have had discussions to acquire Matt Olson. Of course, nothing is imminent or even remotely close. However, the Yanks are interested in acquiring the superstar first baseman and for good reason.

I absolutely love Anthony Rizzo, but Matt Olson is better all the way around. He’s younger, under team control, and he just happened to hit 39 bombs last year from the left side of the plate. He’s also a two-time gold glove winner.

If a deal make sense, the Yanks preference would likely be to acquire Olson. However, if the prospect ask is too high, they do appear to be very in on resigning Anthony Rizzo to play first. If the Yankees were to acquire Olson from Oakland, the deal might not stop there.

Olson Plus Pitching?

Jon Heyman reported that Oakland is ready to sell this offseason and that they will listen to offers on starters Chris Bassitt, Frankie Montas, and Sean Manaea. The Yankees are in the market for starting pitching right now and are already in on Justin Verlander.

There is the possibility that the Yankees and A’s could do a huge deal that would involve Olson and one of the starters above. Of course, the deal would have to hurt from a prospect standpoint for New York. I would imagine that Luke Voit would also go back to Oakland in this kind of a deal.

At this point there’s no momentum towards a deal happening, but this is definitely something to monitor. Again, Cashman and Beane have a great working relationship. If there’s a deal to be had there, the Yankees could make a big splash early like they did when they got James Paxton in 2018.