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.


World Cup live: Portugal 1 Morocco 0

Updated 2 min 56 sec ago
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World Cup live: Portugal 1 Morocco 0

  • Cristiano Ronaldo heads in an early goal

4.20pm: Morocco have edged ahead on the possesion stakes, 51 to 49, but they need to start to make that count otherwise they are heading out of the tournament.

4.16pm: SAVE! What a save that was from Patricio to prevent Younes Belhanda from finding the bottom corner with a header. that's as close as Morocco have come.

4.11pm: How long before Herve Renard sends for striker Ayoub El-Kaabi from the bench? He has 11 goals for his country and is the top-scorer in the squad. Morocco need one badly here.

4.07pm: Ronaldo may have scored the only goal but he had the third fewest touches in the first half. Only Mehdi Benatia (21) and Goncalo Guedes (19) had fewer.

4.05pm: We're back underway at the Luzhniki Stadium and Morocco need to score and avoid defeat otherwise they are out of the World Cup.

4.02pm: Random fact but Ronaldo has five hotels in Marrakech. He was certainly made to feel welcome by the Moroccons from that fifth-minute corner.

3.50pm: 37 percent of goals at this World Cup have been scored from set-pieces. 

3.46pm: "I think Morocco have dominated the ball," says BBC Sport's Kevin Kilbane. "Portugal have been dreadful."

3.45pm: It's half-time in Moscow and Portugal lead thanks to Cristiano Ronaldo's fourth-minute header. 

3.42pm: Morocco's Mehdi Benatia is the first player to be booked. He is shown a yellow card for clattering into Cristiano Ronaldo.

3.37pm: Morocco are having a good go here. They've had 49 percent of the possesion and registered six shots to Portugal's four.

3.31pm

3.30pm: "There are worse teams than Morocco at the World Cup," said BBC Sport's Terry Butcher. "They may be 1-0 down and heading out of the World Cup, but there is plenty of confidence out there."

3.27pm

3.25pm: "Morocco should be pleased with how they have responded," said BBC Sport's Martin Keown. "They have not done an awful loy wrong apart from conceding that goal,"

3.21pm: Marking Ronaldo is a two-man job. Here Achraf Hakimi and Manuel Da Costa keep tabs on the Real Madrid superstar.

3.19pm: Goals are a big problem for Morocco. The only player who has more than ten international goals to his name is Ayoub El-Kaabi and he's on the bench.

3.15pm: "Morocco have got good variation from their corners," says BBC Sport's Martin Keown. 

3.12pm: Not content with scoring 44 goals in 44 games for Real Madrid this season, Ronaldo now has four in two World Cup games. He is a machine. 

3.08pm: "That is appalling marking by Morocco," said BBC Sport's Martin Keown. "You just can't give Ronaldo that amount of room."

3.06pm: GOAL. And it's Cristiano Ronaldo, who else? He steals a march from a corner and powers in a header. Worst possible start for Morocco.

3.04pm: A real positive start from Morocco. "What a start that was with 12-13 passes from Morocco," said BBC Sport pundit Terry Butcher. "Wonderful play. It all started with a ball up to Cristiano Ronaldo, who just shrugged his shoulders."

2.59pm: The size of the task facing Morocco this afternoon is demonstrated by the fact that Ronaldo has scored 33 goals in his last 23 games for club and country and has only failed to score in five of those games.

2.52pm: "The Moroccan fans are taking their seats and are already making a significant amount of noise," reports BBC Sport's Gary Flintoff. "They are dotted throughout the stadium, but there are thousands of them grouped together behind one of the goals."

2.45pm. "Ziyech is their playmaker and he's been instrumental at Ajax," said BBC Sport's Jermaine Jenas. "Technically, he's the one they need to be going through. He's got an eye for a pass and can glide past people. There are a lot of clubs looking at him. Morocco desperately need him today if they are to get anything out of the game."

2.42pm: Mexico '86 seems a long time but that is when these two last met at the World Cup. The Atlas Lions won that one 3-1. 

2.41pm: Cristiano Ronaldo needs just one goal to move outright second in the list of all-time international scorers.

2.39pm: Morocco's Mbark Boussoufa in the zone before the match at the Luzniki Stadium.

 

 

2.38pm: "It will be a different gamplan from Morocco," said BBC Sport's Kevin Kilbane. "They are going to have to play on the back foot."

2.35pm: "This Morocco side will feel they need to come out and produce a performance after their opening defeat," said BBC Sport's Jermaine Jenas. 

2.32pm: Morocco are chasing their first World Cup win since they beat Scotland 3-0 in France. Salaheddine Bassir (2) and Abdeljalil Hadda got the goals that day.

2.29pm: Cristiano Ronaldo is again partnered in attack by Goncalo Guedes, despite the Valencia forward's unimpressive form in a 3-3 draw with Spain. Joao Mario starts in midfield replacing Bruno Fernandes. 

2.28pm: Morocco coach Herve Renard has made three changes, with forward Khalid Boutaib replacing Ayoub El Kaabi, Manuel Da Costa coming in for Romain Saiss in central defense, and defender Nabil Dirar replacing winger Amine Harit.

2.14pm: Morocco need to bounce back from their agonising defeat against Iran but Portugal, and Ronaldo in particular, pose Herve Renard's men a monumental challenge at Moscow's Luzhniki Stadium.
"We lost a battle but we haven't lost the war. We're not dead," said midfielder Faycal Fajr, one of 17 foreign-born players in Morocco's squad.

2.10pm: The surprise team news is that Nordin Amrabat has been passed fit for Morocco. He came off following a head injury against Iran and the feeling was he would not pass the concussion protocol.

2.09pm

It has not been the best World Cup so far for the Arab nations. Saudi Arabia were thrashed by Russia, Egypt lost late on to Uruguay, Morocco were floored by a sucker punch from Iran and then Egypt were beaten again, this time by Russia. But now Morocco have the chance to make up for that by pulling off the shock of all shocks against European champions Portugal. A win would go down as one of the biggest in their history and resuscitate their hopes of getting out of Group B. And you can follow our live coverage of the game at the Luzhniki Stadium right here, so stay tuned for our insight and opinion on events in Moscow.