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KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs promoted from within for their new offensive coordinator. They hired running backs coach Eric Bieniemy to replace Matt Nagy, who was hired Monday as the head coach of the Chicago Bears.

Bieniemy, 48, has been with the Chiefs as their running backs coach since 2013, when Andy Reid arrived as head coach.

“I’ve known Eric a long time, both as a player and a coach,” Reid said. “He’s done a phenomenal job with our running backs and has been involved in every aspect of our offense over the last five years. He’s a great teacher and has earned this opportunity. I know he will do a good job.”
Bieniemy has experience as a coordinator. He served in that role in 2011 and 2012 at the University of Colorado.

Bieniemy played nine seasons as an NFL running back for three teams. His final NFL season in 1999 was with the Philadelphia Eagles, who at the time were coached by Reid.

Kareem Hunt, Spencer Ware and Charcandrick West have had breakout seasons at running back for the Chiefs the last three seasons. Each led the Chiefs in rushing once over the past three seasons, and Hunt, a third-round draft pick, led the league in rushing this season as a rookie.

The Chiefs’ season ended Saturday with a 22-21 AFC wild-card playoff loss to the Tennessee Titans.

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METAIRIE, La. — There might not be a single NFL statistic this year that makes less sense than the New Orleans Saints’ third-down numbers.

The Saints rank 19th in the NFL in third-down conversion rate (37.6 percent). And they rank a stunning 31st when it comes to converting third downs of 3-5 yards (34.8 percent). The Saints led the NFL in both of those categories throughout the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era from 2006 to 2016.

And it’s not as if the Saints’ offense has suddenly become less efficient. It’s quite the opposite, in fact. The Saints led the NFL in both yards per pass attempt (7.5) and yards per rush (4.7) while ranking second in the league in total yards per game (391.2).

Brees set the NFL record for completion percentage in a single season (72.0 percent). Sure-handed receiver Michael Thomas set a franchise record with 104 catches. And running backs Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara became the first duo in NFL history to both surpass 1,500 yards from scrimmage.

“It’s kind of tough, really. Our offense is known for being one of the top offenses, and you look at our third-down numbers and we’re in the bottom third of the league,” said offensive tackle Terron Armstead, who was explaining that the key is getting into more favorable third-and-short situations by avoiding penalties and negative plays on first and second downs.

But then when it was pointed out how bad the Saints have been on third-and-3 through third-and-5, Armstead was flummoxed.

“Oh. … Really? Yeah that is [crazy]. That doesn’t make any sense,” Armstead said. “We look for those.”

Regardless of whether it makes any sense, Armstead and everyone on the Saints’ offense and coaching staff is well-aware of how important it is to turn things around in that area. It has been a huge point of emphasis for months.

“We’ve focused on it. We’ve put a conscious effort to improve those third-down numbers. And we’ll have to in these playoffs in order to make a legitimate run,” Armstead said.

Brees is confident that the Saints aren’t that far off. He said that, looking at every third-down play, there might be one or two in each game that “we should’ve made” — plus the times in field-goal range or victory formations when the Saints didn’t need to force anything.

“And if we make those, tack on the percentage points and we would be the No. 1 third-down offense in the league, which is what we’re used to being,” Brees said. “But the bottom line is I’ll focus on the ones that I know from game to game — hey, there was one or two that we should’ve had there.

“And obviously when you talk about attention to detail and room for error, when you get into the playoffs, you want to be as efficient as possible in those areas because that can be the difference between winning and losing.”

One obvious difference from years past is that receiver Willie Snead has had a down season and become a very minor part of the offense after leading the team with exactly 25 catches on third down in both 2015 and 2016.

Thomas (a team-high 28 catches on third downs this year), Kamara (21) and new receiver Ted Ginn Jr. (14) have helped pick up some of the slack. But defenses swarm Thomas in those situations, so Brees could use as many go-to options as possible.
That’s not the only issue, though, because Brees’ numbers aren’t actually that bad on third downs. He ranked sixth in the NFL in passer rating on third down, according to ESPN Stats & Info (94.2) with a completion percentage of 67.8, five touchdowns and two interceptions.

“We’ve got to do a better job of emphasizing it at practice and putting the right plan together,” Payton said. “When you look at the cut-up of the whole season, it’ll be a number of reasons. It might be a route error, it might be protection, it might be throw. Whatever it is, though, we’ve got to look closely at it and look to get to the things that we think [will succeed].

“One week you might get more man [coverage], and one week you might get more zone coverage. So there’s a handful of things teams will play in that down and distance. It might be more pressure. So being able to have a plan that handles all the above, and then executing it, is the priority.”

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"The red zone, it's a tough area, it's just like third down, tight windows, you have got to get on the same page with guys and only having been here a short while, it's going to take a little time," Jimmy Garoppolo said.

“The red zone, it’s a tough area, it’s just like third down, tight windows, you have got to get on the same page with guys and only having been here a short while, it’s going to take a little time,” Jimmy Garoppolo said.

SANTA CLARA, Calif. — Despite dominating in major statistical categories such as total yards, first downs and time of possession, the San Francisco 49ers still needed a last-second field goal to overcome the Chicago Bears last week.

Yes, a Niners’ turnover and a special teams miscue helped contribute to that, but the biggest culprit preventing the Niners from winning in far more comfortable fashion was an inability to finish trips to the red zone with touchdowns.
In fact, the 49ers’ went 0-for-5 on trips inside Chicago’s 20 on Sunday, settling for a field goal on four of those trips and purposefully playing for one on their final possession. That the Niners were still able to win is a positive, but the lack of red zone production has been a consistent theme all season and the biggest reason for those struggles has also been a persistent issue.

“The tighter it gets, the more exact you have to be,” coach Kyle Shanahan said. “Everything gets harder, the windows get smaller. Even the run support with safeties, you can play a two-shell defense and still meet the back at the line of scrimmage because they don’t have to drop back as far. They’re not as worried about posts up over the top and things like that. So, everything gets tighter so you’ve got to execute very well. We didn’t as a whole team.”

At the center of that lack of execution was a series of self-inflicted mistakes in the form of penalties. The Niners were called for six infractions on plays run inside Chicago’s 20 with the Bears accepting four of them. Making matters worse, those penalties didn’t just come inside the Bears’ 20 but inside their 10.

On the Niners’ first drive, they had second-and-goal at Chicago’s 9 when right tackle Trent Brown was called for holding. Suddenly, it was second-and-goal from the 19, a difficult proposition for any team. Two plays later, they settled for the first of five field goals.

In another sequence in the second quarter, the Niners had second-and-1 at Chicago’s 7 and didn’t get the first down on a running play. On third-and-1, they promptly got two false start penalties and suddenly it was third-and-11 at the Bears’ 17. Again, the result was a field goal.

Those mistakes are especially concerning given that the Niners have had that problem for most of the year. After 12 games, the Niners’ 13 accepted offensive penalties committed in the red zone are the most in the league as are the 15 they’ve been called for overall.

Of course, while penalties are at the heart of last week’s red zone woes, there are other ways for the 49ers to improve as well.

“I put a lot on those penalties down there,” Shanahan said. “We had way too many penalties. But, it wasn’t just the number of penalties, it was the time we got those penalties. I feel like that cost us two touchdowns down there, so that was disappointing. The other two times we got in the red zone it was two third-and-6s, and we didn’t convert between the 20 and 15. So, we’ve got to do a better job there. Not getting the third down, and being better on our third down. But, the most disappointing thing with the red zone was the penalties when we should have scored, I believe.”

Three quarters of the way through the season, the Niners are tied with the Cleveland Browns for the second-worst red zone touchdown percentage in the league (40.6 percent). And they’re only a little bit better when it comes to scoring in goal-to-go situations, where they have scored touchdowns on 61.1 percent of their opportunities, ranking 25th in the league.

One thing that could help in both areas is the presence of quarterback Jimmy Garoppolo. He’s only played a game and three snaps but his quick release and accuracy should help him fit the ball into the tight windows to get the job done in tight spaces. There were a few times he was a little late on throws against the Bears, and though he could get away with it in some spots, it clearly didn’t happen near the goal line.
But the chance to get more time with his pass-catchers should only serve him and the Niners well as they get more opportunities deep in opponent territory.

“The red zone, it’s a tough area, it’s just like third down, tight windows, you have got to get on the same page with guys and only having been here a short while, it’s going to take a little time, but I think overall we’re going in the right direction,” Garoppolo said.

The other good news for the Niners on the red zone front is that the penalties, especially of the pre-snap variety, are correctable issues.

“It’s just little things like that when you’re in the red zone and things don’t go perfect, you end up getting field goals,” Shanahan said. “It’s a combination of all those things. The biggest thing was the penalties, though.”

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Dallas Cowboys executive Stephen Jones confirmed Monday that Ezekiel Elliott will be training outside the United States during his suspension.

Jones, who made his comments in an interview with 105.3 The Fan in Dallas, didn’t disclose the exact location where the running back is training.

NFL Network first reported the news of Elliott’s plans.
“Actually, I give Zeke credit. This was his idea. He’s wanting to really go to work and not have distractions while he’s not able to play the game. He felt the best way to do that was to get away from this environment … and really work to get himself in the best possible shape,” Jones said.

Jones said Elliott went over his plans with the team’s coaches and strength and conditioning staff, who were comfortable with what they heard.

Cowboys owner and general manager Jerry Jones, Stephen’s father, said Sunday night that he also believed Elliott had a good plan for his time away from the team.

Stephen Jones noted that the Cowboys aren’t permitted to have contact with Elliott during his suspension but was hopeful that the running back will be able to stay in playing shape.

“Certainly it’s not easy when you’re not in a competitive environment, but it sounds like he has a good plan and hopefully one he’ll pull off,” he said.

Elliott, 22, was suspended by commissioner Roger Goodell in August after the league concluded following a yearlong investigation that he had several physical confrontations in the summer of 2016 in Ohio with his girlfriend at the time. The NFL players’ union sued on Elliott’s behalf.

He was able to play in the first eight games through a number of legal decisions, but he lost a temporary administrative stay that kept him on the field in last week’s victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

The Cowboys missed Elliott in Sunday’s 27-7 loss to the Atlanta Falcons, as the team rushed for 107 yards on 21 carries. Alfred Morris led the Cowboys with 53 yards on 11 carries but had just 8 yards on six first-half carries. Elliott had 783 rushing yards in the first eight games of the season, with four straight games of more than 90 yards on the ground.

He will miss at least the next four games, pending a Dec. 1 hearing, and he is likely to miss the next six.

“He’ll be a better person from this and a better player for us when this is all said and done. It will be a life lesson for him and hopefully he’ll come back and take the next chapter,” Stephen Jones said.

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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. — In a span of seven minutes, Marcell Dareus used the words shocking, overwhelming and emotional to describe what he’s felt since he was traded to the Jaguars on Friday evening.

From the phone call from the Buffalo Bills informing him of the trade to his arrival in Jacksonville amid the annual Florida-Georgia game at EverBank Field to meeting the coaching staff to quiet moments in his hotel room, Dareus said he was still trying to adjust even as he participated in his first practice Monday morning.

“I still haven’t gotten over it yet,” Dareus said. “I’m still in shock. I’m shocked for a trade. I’m shocked that this defense, this team … I’m still just taking it all in. It’s three days, man. Three days.”

The Jaguars’ newest defensive tackle said he had an idea that something may have been in the works last week but he continued to prepare for the Bills’ home game against Oakland. When he was told he was headed to Jacksonville in exchange for a sixth-round pick in 2018, things started to happen pretty quickly.

Friends and teammates stopped by his home on Friday night to say goodbye, and on Saturday morning he was headed to the airport with a one-way ticket.
“I still haven’t gotten over it yet. I’m still in shock. I’m shocked for a trade. I’m shocked that this defense, this team … I’m still just taking it all in. It’s three days, man. Three days.”

Marcell Dareus said Monday that it's been a whirlwind three days after being traded from the Bills to the Jaguars.

Marcell Dareus said Monday that it’s been a whirlwind three days after being traded from the Bills to the Jaguars.

Marcell Dareus
“Little overwhelming,” Dareus said. “Kind of saw some things happening but at the same time I was getting prepared for the game and we had a game plan in and I was practicing all week and I’m just zoned in, trying to keep negativity out. And when I got the call and things happened the way it did, I can’t lie it did make me a little emotional because I know [Saturday] it is a one-way ticket [to Jacksonville].

“It was so swift that before I knew it I was already in Charlotte and by the time I got to Charlotte, a blink of the eye and I’m here in Jacksonville saying hey to the coaches, the biggest cocktail party in the world, and with all that going on it was just — the world is spinning. Traded, on the plane, cocktail party, going to the stadium, saying hello, getting out, going to the hotel room laying on the bed looking at the roof: What is going on?”

Dareus isn’t completely unfamiliar with the Jaguars. Doug Marrone was the head coach and Nathaniel Hackett the offensive coordinator in Buffalo in 2013-14. Jason Rebrovich is the Jaguars’ assistant defensive line coach and he was a quality control/assistant defensive line coach under Marrone in Buffalo, too.

That at least helped to somewhat lessen the shock, but he’s now caught up in learning the Jaguars’ defensive system and finding out where he fits in. The Jaguars are last in the NFL against the run (138.6 yards per game) and no team has allowed more than their 5.2 yards per rush. The 6-foot-3, 331-pound Dareus gets headlines because of his prowess as an interior pass-rusher (35 sacks in six-plus seasons) but he’s one of the league’s better run-stuffing tackles.
Dareus had his two best seasons under Marrone, racking up 17.5 sacks in 2013-14 and making the Pro Bowl in both seasons. The move does come with some risk. Dareus has had more than his share of off-field issues — he was benched for being late to a team meeting in 2013, was sent home from a preseason game this year for violating a team rule, was twice suspended for violating the NFL’s substance abuse policy, and he’s had two offseason arrests — but the Jaguars believe the help the Alabama product can bring the run defense is worth the risk.

“We’re all at risk, myself, everybody,” Marrone said. “I think some people get themselves in situations [and] you hope that they learn from it. If they don’t then obviously there’s consequences.”

Dareus said he’s glad to be getting a fresh start.

“I thought that Buffalo was home and extremely happy for everything I’ve done there, everything they’ve done for me, the organization,” he said. “… “At the same time it’s a business and this is where I am and I am thoroughly happy just to be a Jag. It feels good to be wanted.”