Nothing like suspension to remind NFL who’s indispensable

Ezekiel Elliott (AP)
Updated 07 December 2017
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Nothing like suspension to remind NFL who’s indispensable

NASHVILLE, Tennessee: Anyone can see just how much the Dallas Cowboys desperately miss Ezekiel Elliott.
Now the New England Patriots will get a reminder of life without Tom Brady’s favorite target when Rob Gronkowski sits out his own suspension Monday night in Miami.
“He’s a big focal point in our offense,” Brady said of Gronk. “I mean, I think when he gets going, it’s great for everybody, so it’s been great having him in there this year. He’s worked really hard and he’s a great player. I love playing with him. We’ve got a great rapport.”
Yes, even Brady has a teammate who makes him better.
And every NFL team has that one player that makes everything click, someone with so much ability and leadership who makes everyone else better, too. Or, in the case of tail-ending teams, a player who stands above the mess.
Sure, the quarterback is the most important, touching the ball every snap on offense. But take Mr. Indispensable off the field, and nothing works quite the same.
Nobody knows that better than Dallas, 1-3 since Elliott started serving his suspension and putting a serious crimp in the Cowboys’ postseason plans. Dallas finally ended the skid last week, beating Washington. Surviving and staying in the playoff hunt until Dec. 24 when Elliott returns against Seattle may not be possible without what he brings to the field.
Washington linebacker Zach Brown says it’s easy to see on film just how different the Cowboys are without Elliott’s speed and ability to score on any carry.
“Now everybody’s forcing them to pass the ball,” Brown said.
Gronkowski leads the Patriots with 55 catches and seven touchdowns , and he just turned in his best game this season with nine catches for 147 yards. But his late hit on Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White means Gronk will miss his first game this season with the Pats chasing the AFC’s No. 1 seed.
“He’s obviously a guy that’s super consistent when he’s been out there for us, and he’s really playing that same role this year,” Brady said.
A quarterback’s best friend can be a left tackle like Joe Thomas in Cleveland or David Bakhtiari in Green Bay. The Falcons didn’t click on the offensive line until signing center Alex Mack last year, and then they went straight to the Super Bowl.
A talented wide receiver also can carry an entire team. Just look at Pittsburgh’s Antonio Brown , or conversely what it’s been like for the Giants without Odell Beckham Jr.
Defenders can be indispensable, too.
In Carolina, Cam Newton may do the Superman poses, but the Panthers’ real MVP is middle linebacker Luke Kuechly. The Panthers aren’t the same without the 2013 NFL Defensive Player of the Year, and he’s missed time with three concussions over the past three seasons. When healthy, Kuechly rarely misses a tackle. He also usually knows what play is being called .
“When you watch his film against other teams, he’s pointing where the run is going,” Miami coach Adam Gase said. “It’s really amazing to watch him play, because he’s a tough guy to play chess with. For me, I’m on the sideline and he’s on the field, so it makes it really tough.”
Jacksonville had been spending millions on its defense that seemed wasted until end Calais Campbell arrived as easily the league’s best free-agent acquisition of 2017. He’s helped put the Jaguars (8-4) in the mix for their first playoff berth since 2007. Campbell leads the AFC in sacks and is a calming influence in the locker room.
“He’s everything that’s been advertised,” Jaguars coach Doug Marrone said. “Just from the way to prepare, the leadership in the locker room, on the field, leads by example and, obviously, has been playing extremely well for us. A lot of times in free agency, maybe you don’t get, sometimes, the value of what you would like, but that’s not the case with Calais. We’ve gotten that, and I believe more, out of him.”
Oakland may have one of the worst defenses in the NFL, but defensive end Khalil Mack — last year’s Defensive Player of the Year — helped the Raiders contend again in the struggling AFC West despite being the defender each opposing offense focuses on most.
“Some of the stuff he was doing just can’t be done,” Denver linebacker Von Miller said earlier this season. “Just pick up offensive linemen and run straight through them — that stuff, it can be done, but not the way Khalil does it.”
Then there are players that teammates know mean everything to a franchise such as two-time Pro Bowl tight end Delanie Walker in Tennessee . Such players may not get the attention from fans their play deserves, but opposing teams build their game plans around them.
“I know that the teams we’re playing are trying to stop him,” Titans coach Mike Mularkey said.
That’s the ultimate sign of how indispensable a player really is.


Real Madrid will not underestimate anybody, says Santiago Solari ahead of Kashima Antlers game

Updated 27 min 42 sec ago
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Real Madrid will not underestimate anybody, says Santiago Solari ahead of Kashima Antlers game

ABU DHABI: Real Madrid manager Santiago Solari said he will not be underestimating anyone in the FIFA Club World Cup as he gets his team ready to face Kashima Antlers in today’s semifinal.
Speaking in Abu Dhabi on Tuesday, Solari said: “You are not playing poor teams (here).
“We have more confederations playing (now), and it’s a more beautiful tournament, this is a tournament I like it a lot.
“You are playing around the world, you have to get used to the change in climate and time, but so does everyone else. I have followed this tournament for a long time, there is no way I will underestimate any team.”

And the Argentine was full of praise for Real’s Japanese opponents and the threats they pose his team, having run Los Blancos close in 2016’s final.
“If you are here, you deserve to be here. Kashima are a lot more experienced than two years ago, they are continental champions.
“They play direct football, they have fast strikers. It is going to be a beautiful match.”
Real defender Marcelo was also in a confident mood ahead of the game.
“We are here because we have won many titles, and we are hungry to win even more, that is what motivates us as a group, wearing the Real Madrid shirt is motivation in itself,” he said.
“It is not about individuals, we don’t think like that at Real Madrid.
“We are friends in and out of the team and we want to win together, we are happy to play in this tournament, which is important enough,” the Brazilian added.
Meanwhile, Kashima boss Go Oiwa said his team will be up against it against a strong Madrid side, even without Cristiano Ronaldo in their ranks — the Portuguese superstar scored a hat-trick in the 2016 final.
“With or without Ronaldo, Real are very strong, they will be as strong as they were two years ago. They have many players in attack that we have to pay attention to.
“I cannot really measure how much of a loss Ronaldo is to (them), we just have to work hard not to concede any goals,” he said.
“I don’t know if we are any closer to winning that we were two years ago, but we will do our best and play until the end.
“We are representing Japan, we are representing Asia, it is about fighting as a group and doing everything together as a group,” he added.