The Canadian Press
After getting gashed by Cleveland for nearly 500 yards and six touchdowns and still coming out on top in a high-scoring, back-and-forth thriller, Baltimore star linebacker Matthew Judon summed it up well.“That’s how football is, man,” he said after the Ravens won 47-42 on Dec. 14. “You leave enough time (against) a good offence, and they go right back and score.”That’s NFL football in 2020, where no lead is safe, no point total high enough and offensive records are getting shattered weekly in what’s on pace to be the most prolific scoring season in a century of pro football.The reasons for the scoring spree are numerous. The virtual off-season made building defensive cohesion more difficult. The lack of fans in the stands made life easier on road quarterbacks. Rule changes that seemed to de-emphasize offensive holding, while cracking down on defensive pass interference only made scoring easier. Analytics friendly coaches were more aggressive than ever on fourth downs, creating short fields for defences that managed to make a stop or gave offences an extra chance at success.It has all added up to teams averaging 24.7 points per game heading into Week 17, more than a point higher than the previous NFL record of 23.4 set in 2013 and even slightly ahead of the highest-scoring season in the wide-open AFL (24.5 ppg in 1961).While all those factors conspired against defences, Raiders quarterback Derek Carr prefers to look at it a different way.“I think we can all agree there’s been a lot of good quarterback play this season,” he said. “You go around, you look at a lot of teams, you look at a lot of guys and you’re like, wow, a lot of these teams that are scoring, well they have a quarterback that has been in the system a while or someone that’s there guy or a young guy that’s playing well, whatever it is. I think we’re seeing more of that.”While a quarterback crediting his fellow passers for the runaway scores may seem predictable, there is more than a bit of truth to the theory.A league that struggled to find competent quarterbacks not too long ago is having a much easier time filling spots of late. With NFL teams adopting more of the spread concepts that have proliferated through the college game, rookies are more able to step right in and thrive, as evidenced by the Chargers’ Justin Herbert throwing a rookie record 28 TD passes this season.Herbert is not alone, joined by others in the 25-and-under crowd like Patrick Mahomes, Josh Allen, Deshaun Watson, Lamar Jackson and Kyler Murray having nearly immediate success.The increase in younger quarterbacks also means more mobile ones as the NFL has already shattered the record for QB running with 8,754 yards and 118 TDs. That’s more than 3,000 yards ahead the quarterback rushing total from 2010, the year before Cam Newton entered the NFL, and 38 TDs more than the next highest season, which was last year.“They’ve been given opportunities to do it early in their career,” Raiders coach Jon Gruden said. “The old school method was to let them sit for a year and watch. I think that’s part of the reason. Secondly, a lot of these guys are very talented. They’re way further along throwing the football, understanding how to attack defences. They do it year-round. A lot of these guys have their own private, quarterback coach. So, they’re further along, I think, in terms of training and in terms of the overall passing game nowadays as opposed to 20, 25 years ago.”Quarterbacks are coming into the league more prepared, making it easier than ever to play young guys. Improved training and nutrition, coupled with fewer hits on quarterbacks, has helped older ones like Tom Brady, Drew Brees, Philip Rivers and Aaron Rodgers stick around at a high level, giving more teams quality options.Of the 18 teams heading into Week 17 still in the playoff race, 13 are led by QBs who entered the season either 25 or younger or 37 or older. Quarterbacks across the league have posted a 93.7 passer rating, which is on pace to top the previous record of 92.9 set in 2018 and nearly 10 points higher than the mark of 84.1 a decade ago.Here’s a look at a few other notable facts and factors that explain the scoring spree:— Visiting quarterbacks are posting a higher passer rating this season than home ones with scoring almost identical (24.8 ppg at home, 24.6 for road teams). Those marks are similar to last season when fans were in the stands, but from 2014-18, home teams outscored road teams by 2.3 ppg and had a passer rating 3.9 points higher.— Teams have gone for it a record 617 times on fourth down, converting on 336 of them. That aggressiveness has led to only 1,781 punts, 378 fewer than last season with one week to go. There have been 173 TDs scored this season on drives that included a fourth-down conversion, up from 139 last year and 105 in 2017, when coach Doug Pederson’s aggressiveness helped the Eagles win the Super Bowl.— There have been an NFL record 30 times that a team lost a game despite scoring at least 30 points, up from 16 all of last season. Many of those have happened in epic rallies. The 42 double-digit comebacks are the most through Week 16, and the nine times a team has won after trailing by at least 17 points is two shy of a record.— There have been 5.89 penalties per game against the offence, a drop of more than one per game from the previous low mark since 2000 of 6.95 in 2001. There have been nearly 300 fewer offensive holding penalties this season, while pass interference flags are up slightly.___More AP NFL: https://apnews.com/NFL and https://twitter.com/AP_NFLJosh Dubow, The Associated Press
Berrettini ends Murray’s comeback at Queen’s
The 34-year-old two-time Wimbledon champion, playing in his first singles tournament on grass for three years, could not handle the ferocious pace of Berrettini as he slid to defeat.
Murray eased past Benoit Paire in his opening match on Tuesday but world number nine Berrettini was too big a step up.
Berrettini’s huge first serve and forehand did most of the damage but the Italian also showed plenty of silky touch on the slick lawns to register his first career win over Murray.
Berrettini, 25, finished the match off with a powerful hold of serve, banging down four massive first serves before sealing victory with a clubbing forehand winner.
He faces British number one Dan Evans in the quarter-final after Evans beat Frenchman Adrian Mannarino.
Murray, a five-time winner of the traditional warm-up event but now ranked 124 after long battles with hip injuries including resurfacing surgery in 2019, has been handed a wildcard for the Wimbledon championships.
Apart from a slight groin niggle, Murray said he was reasonably happy with his condition, considering this was only his third Tour-level tournament of the year.
“I think obviously I need to improve,” Murray told reporters. “I actually felt my movement was actually quite good for both of the matches. My tennis today was not very good today. That’s the thing that I’ll need to improve the most.
“I felt like today that that sort of showed my lack of matches.”
Spanish veteran Feliciano Lopez, who won the singles title in 2019 and the doubles alongside Murray, was beaten 6-2 6-3 by Canada‘s Denis Shapovalov.
(Reporting by Martyn HermanEditing by Toby Davis and Pritha Sarkar)
Be Like the King of the North Division and Develop Skills
It’s been a year unlike no other for Canadian hockey teams, with COVID-19 travel restrictions forcing the creation of a new NHL division made up entirely of Canadian teams. The previous generation of NHL hockey was known as the “Dead Puck Era” because referees tolerated slowing down the game with clutching and grabbing.
The leading scorers today score in jaw-dropping fashion and routinely pull off stickhandling dangles that were unimaginable until only recently. The Canadian team that will win the North Division will be the one with the most skill.
Here are the training aids that will help you develop your skills all year long.
Innovators like HockeyShot Canada make “passers” so that players can develop pinpoint accuracy and the soft hands necessary to cradle and control a pass when it lands on your stick. The high-quality rubber bands return the puck with the same force which passed it, so you can give yourself one-timers or work on accuracy.
Whether you’re on a two-on-one, sending a breakout pass from the defensive zone, or holding down the blue line on the power play, every positional player needs to pass accurately.
A player is lucky to get a few shots on net each game, and they can’t let them go to waste. Until recently, players needed to rent ice in the off-season to practice their shots in realistic game-like conditions.
Now, players can use shooting pads at their home that let pucks glide as they do on real ice. Shooting is perhaps the one skill that requires the most repetition because one inch can be the difference between going bar-down and clanking one wide off the post.
Practice your quick release and accuracy and develop an arsenal of shots, including wrist shots, slapshots, one-timers, and more. The more tools in your tool kit, the deadlier a sniper you’ll be.
Having the puck on your stick is a responsibility, and you don’t want to cough it up to the other team and waste a scoring chance or lose possession. The ability to stickhandle helps you bide time until a teammate is open, so you can pass them the puck and continue attacking.
If you’re on a breakaway, you may want to deke the goalie rather than shoot if your hands are silky enough. Develop stickhandling skills, and you’ll keep goalies and opponents guessing – being unpredictable helps make a sniper’s job easier.
Of course, you also need to handle the puck in your own zone without causing a turnover. Stickhandling is a crucial skill in all areas of the ice.
When the coach sends you over the board, you need to be prepared for whatever comes your way. Maybe you’ll get the puck in the slot or somewhere else, but when it’s playoffs, you always need to be ready. The Kings of the North Division have all of the above skills and more, and you can too if you practice all year.
Australia swim trials calendar shift to reap Tokyo rewards
Australia broke with tradition to hold its swimming trials just six weeks before the start of the 2020 Olympics and former world champion Giaan Rooney said the move could reap rich rewards in Tokyo after disappointments at London and Rio.
Australia has typically held its trials up to six months before an Olympics but that gap has been drastically cut this year with swimmers vying for Tokyo spots this week in Adelaide.
Rooney, who won individual world titles at Fukuoka and Montreal and a relay gold at the 2004 Athens Olympics, said Australia is gearing up for a much improved Games after its swimmers flopped at Rio and London.
“I think we needed to make it work,” she told Reuters. “The shift started about a year ago to bring the trials into line with the rest of the world and qualify five or six weeks before.
“In sport and swimming, six months is a long time,” Rooney added. “From a coaching perspective, it’s much better to know you have chosen the team in form.”
After winning five gold medals at Sydney 2000 and seven in Athens, the Australian team was rocked by accusations of disruptive behaviour by some of its top sprinters at the 2012 Olympics.
Australia won just one gold medal in the London pool and three in Rio five years ago.
Australia knew something had to be done if it was to close the gap on the powerful Americans and moving the trials is part of the strategy.
“I think it’s to make your swimmers more resilient to change,” Rooney said.
“In the USA they get to race every week regardless of illness or breakups and under all circumstances. Nothing rattles them.
“Australia doesn’t have that racing continuity. This is about making sure you are prepared for anything. I think our swimmers are more resilient than they have been in the past decade, COVID is part of this.”
Rooney said there might even be an “upside” for Australia with the Olympics postponed by a year due to the global health crisis, with the emergence of swimmers like teenager Kaylee McKeown, who broke the women’s 100m backstroke world record on Sunday.
“We are now talking about athletes who are not only going to make the Olympics but are medal chances,” Rooney said.
“We wouldn’t have been talking about her this time last year. She might not have been ready for a position on the team. She is now a legitimate gold medal chance in Tokyo once she gets there.”
For all her confidence about Australia’s performance in Tokyo, Rooney was wary of making predictions about a gold rush for her compatriots.
“I think this will be a more successful Olympics for us than Rio in the pool but individual goal medals will still be difficult to come by,” said the 38-year-old.
“The biggest challenge is to make the jump from minor medals to gold.”
(Editing by Peter Rutherford)