- Associated Press - Friday, October 9, 2015

Broncos defensive coordinator Wade Phillips knows what Miami’s Dan Campbell is going through. He’s been an interim head coach three times in his career.

“I hold the record in that, I think,” Phillips cracked. “If it’s early, like this, I think you can do a lot of things. If it’s the last three games of the season, that’s a lot tougher. If you have a bye week like this, it can help some, but it’s basically still not your team. You didn’t go through training camp and implement things.”

Phillips was interim head coach in New Orleans in 1985, Atlanta in 2003, and Houston in 2013, always at season’s end, and he never got retained for the following season.

Naturally, Phillips isn’t a big advocate of switching coaches during the season and he wishes NFL owners weren’t as impatient as fantasy football owners dumping early-season underperformers.

“It’s not baseball. There aren’t 162 games. Let a guy coach through the season and if you don’t like it, get rid of him,” Phillips said. “We started 0-3 one year in Buffalo and if they would have fired me then - we went to the playoffs. I think they pull the trigger too early sometimes. You never know if they’re going to win the rest of them.”

Phillips said job No. 1 as an interim head coach is getting the team to stay focused on trying to win and not coasting.

“If they think that you might be there (next season), then they’re going to play harder,” Phillips said. “If they think that you’re not going to be there, it’s a lot tougher.”


PRAISE FOR FALCONS’ O-LINE: Perhaps the biggest surprise in the Falcons’ 4-0 start has been the play of a rebuilt offensive line.

Andy Levitre, the starting left guard, was acquired in a trade from Tennessee on Sept. 4. Other new starters are center Mike Person, a backup for the Rams last season, and right guard Chris Chester, who followed new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan from the Washington Redskins. The holdover starters are left tackle Jake Matthews and right tackle Ryan Schraeder.

The line was rated by Pro Football Focus this week as the NFL’s top unit. Pro Football Focus said the Falcons have the league’s No. 2 run-blocking and No. 4 pass-blocking line. Atlanta plays Washington this week.

Coach Dan Quinn said veteran tackle Jake Long, signed on Sept. 15, is close to playing.

Matt Ryan has been sacked only six times in four games, a pace for the lowest team total since 23 in 2010.

“I think they’re getting more comfortable together and continuing to improve,” Ryan said this week. “You really see that from week to week. Those guys are getting better, and I’m really happy for them because it’s a really hard working group of guys, and they’ve played great ball so far.”


BECKHAM JR. IMPRESSES: San Francisco safety Eric Reid watched New York’s Odell Beckham Jr. make plenty of acrobatic catches during their playing days together at LSU.

The excitable Beckham Jr. has been fined for throwing punches and called a prima donna already in his second season.

On Sunday, Reid and the struggling 49ers secondary will try again to shut down a strong-armed quarterback in Eli Manning, and all of his talented targets. San Francisco (1-3) has surrendered 107 points over its last three games, losses against Ben Roethlisberger and Pittsburgh, Carson Palmer and the Cardinals, and unbeaten Green Bay led by Aaron Rodgers.

For Reid, Beckham Jr. will be a familiar face. He has 24 catches for 307 yards and two touchdowns.

“I thought he’d be one of the best receivers in the league, but I didn’t think it would happen so fast,” Reid said. “If the ball is thrown his way, he’ll do everything he can to come down with it. He’s an explosive player and he practices hard. In practice he would never catch the ball with two hands unless he had to. He’s been practicing those kind of catches all along.”


SPEND OR HOARD? Trades in the NFL remain much rarer than in the other major sports leagues, partly because of the unpredictability and frequency of injuries in the game that can quickly deplete a team at a position that was deep just the day before.

The Minnesota Vikings decided this week to risk some of their depth, trading starting middle linebacker Gerald Hodges to San Francisco for an undrafted rookie center (Nick Easton) and a third-day draft pick (sixth round). The 49ers had their own depth within a once-feared group of linebackers ravaged by injuries and early retirements.

The reason the Vikings felt confident dealing an improving 24-year-old like Hodges was, naturally, the presence of an even younger player at the same position. Hodges was coming off the field in the nickel package for rookie Eric Kendricks, who has impressed the coaches enough to the point where he’ll be an every-down player, not just in a specific role.

“These are difficult decisions, but when you have depth and youth at a position and you can make a move from a business perspective on getting your team better when you have extra pieces to move,” general manager Rick Spielman said, “I think you always have to look at those.”


SACK FOR SACK: Julius Peppers and Clay Matthews are having a friendly rivalry on the Green Bay defense.

Peppers leads the team with 3 1/2 sacks. Matthews is just behind him with three.

“I’m riding high right now, I’ve got a half-sack lead on Clay,” Peppers said. “I’m trying to keep it that way.”

This is exactly the kind of production coach Mike McCarthy envisioned when the Packers signed Peppers as a free agent before the 2014 season, giving the defense another elite pass rusher to go with Matthews.

As it turns out, Peppers and Matthews have lots of company this season when it comes to getting after the quarterback.

Linebacker Nick Perry is tied with Matthews for second on the team with three sacks. Lineman Mike Daniels has 2 1/2. In all, the Packers have 17 sacks, tied with the Rams for second in the league. Eight players have brought down quarterbacks. That has created healthy competition in Green Bay.

“That’s what’s great about this defense, especially this year,” Matthews said. “Everybody has something to prove and wants to prove their worth and compete against one another.”


AP NFL website: www.pro32.ap.org and www.twitter.com/AP_NFL

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