Star receiver upset with lack of targets

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Star receiver upset with lack of targets

From Comcast SportsNet

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. (AP) -- Pro Bowl receiver Brandon Lloyd isn't catching any deep passes in John Fox's conservative, run-oriented offense, and he's letting his quarterback and his coaches know just how he feels about it. Kyle Orton and Denver offensive coordinator Mike McCoy said Lloyd has asked to be more involved in the offense even as opponents roll a safety over the top to bracket him in double-coverage. A year after leading the league with 1,448 yards receiving, Lloyd said he thinks he's being underused by the Broncos. He had 17 catches of 25 or more yards last year and none of his 10 catches so far this season have gone for more than 20 yards. "It's not like we're not trying to get him the ball," McCoy said. Fox pointed to a strained groin as one reason for the dearth of downfield chances for Lloyd. Orton noted that Lloyd's getting a lot of attention from defensive coordinators and the flow of the games has dictated a different approach. Lloyd said Denver's offensive doctrine is the primary culprit. "I think it's just us, the coaching staff, staying true to the philosophy of running the ball," Lloyd said Thursday. "I think we've kind of gotten in game management mode, as opposed to an aggressive, take-control mode. I think that's what has limited us." So far, the Broncos have called plays that have led to long, time-consuming drives that rely on a heavy diet of runs and underneath passes and not the quick-strike deep ball that was featured so often in 2010. Orton said Lloyd is commanding so much attention after his breakout season but the Broncos will certainly capitalize on his speed and athleticism at some point. "He'll have to stay patient," Orton said. And healthy, Fox suggested. "He was hobbled in the fourth quarter of the opener, missed the whole second game. It's hard to be any kind of a threat when you don't have a uniform," Fox said. "I don't think he was 100 percent" last week, when he caught four passes for 38 yards at Tennessee. "I'd say that was a little bit of a reason." "I'm healthy," Lloyd countered. "I mean, I'm not frustrated, but I want to go down the field more," he added. "I think that just helps us. I feel like we play better when we have a lead. I think that explosive pass plays hurt a defense more, when you can get big chunks passing the ball and running the ball." Lloyd said if McCoy wants to get him the ball, he would design the plays to beat the double coverages. "I think there's still a niche that I have and a talent, a skill-set, that should be used," Lloyd said. And he's let his quarterback know it, too. "Oh, yeah. I've been with Brandon a long time now and he always wants the ball," Orton said. "And you always want your receivers to want the football. So, I just keep telling him to run his routes hard and we'll hit them when they're open." Despite his unhappiness, there's no simmering controversy at Broncos headquarters. Fox said he doesn't mind players letting him know they're displeased with their production. "I think most competitors do (speak up). They all want to win," Fox said. McCoy said he, too, welcomes Lloyd's input. "Yeah, that's the way we want it to be. We have an open door policy here and he's a very talented player," McCoy said. "Of course you want to get him the ball more. Have we played a certain style of offense the first three weeks of the season? Yes, but we'll find ways to get him the ball." Wide receivers protesting their light workload is nothing new in the NFL. "They're all selfish. I mean, there's only one football," McCoy said. "The quarterback's the only one who's going to touch it every play. We have some very talented skilled players and you'd love to get them all the ball 10, 15 times a game, which you can't." The Broncos might target Lloyd more at Green Bay on Sunday. For one thing, the Packers have allowed a ton of yards through the air and not so many on the ground. For another, Denver must try to neutralize star cornerback Charles Woodson, who can wreak havoc when he's in a zone patrolling the short and intermediate passing lanes. "The tough thing with him is you never know where he's going to line up," Orton said. "It might be corner, at nickel or at safety. He's all over the field. He's good wherever he's at. He's a playmaker and a ball hawk, so wherever he is you've got to be careful and make sure your guy's open and Charles can't make the play." The Broncos could stick with their time-consuming approach to keep Green Bay's explosive offense on the sideline, but Orton noted that maintaining those sustained drives is difficult. "We have to find a way (at some point) to steal a touchdown on a two- or three-play drive on a big play." Packers coach Mike McCarthy worked with Lloyd during their time together with the San Francisco 49ers and he said he knows him too well to think he won't use his speed and athleticism to get behind the defense Sunday, even if he hasn't done it so far. "I know Brandon Lloyd can go deep and catch the football," McCarthy said. "We're well aware of that and he's still a threat to do that this week."

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

Kris Bryant ignites World Series nostalgia with Cubs' epic eighth-inning comeback

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series.”

Kris Bryant wasn’t the only one with World Series nostalgia Saturday afternoon at the Friendly Confines. The tens of thousands of Cubs fans losing their minds over the North Siders’ eighth-inning comeback made that very clear.

Bryant, though, was the one who provided it, first driving in the game-tying run mere moments after the visiting St. Louis Cardinals smashed open a pitchers duel with back-to-back homers off Jon Lester in the top of the eighth. Bryant then got a head starts and came around all the way from first, scoring the game-winning run on a ball Anthony Rizzo dumped into the left-center field gap so perfectly he couldn’t have thrown it there any better.

Bryant slid in — feet first — beating the throw home from ex-teammate Dexter Fowler. Cue the hysteria at Clark and Addison.

“Me, honestly, I was just trying to go up the middle. I think that’s kind of where I’ve been struggling this year is with guys on base I want to do too much. Just seeing through the middle. Bat broke and flew, I don’t know where it went, but it flew somewhere. That was huge,” Bryant explained after the game.

“And then obviously with Rizz having a good at-bat off a tough lefty. I don't know if Dexter or Tommy Pham got a good read or if they were way back at the track, but right when he hit it I didn’t see them anywhere close to it so I thought there was a pretty good chance that I could score.”

Bryant’s very presence in the Cubs’ starting lineup was the headline before the game, the “freak of nature” returning from a jammed finger after missing only one game. So of course it was the reigning National League MVP who played the biggest role, flipping the script from his sick day by being right in the middle of the Cubs’ eighth-inning explosion. It was the eighth inning where the Cardinals staged their game-defining rally Friday.

[CUBS TICKETS: Get your seats right here]

Manager Joe Maddon went as far as saying that perhaps only Bryant could have made the play he did, scoring from first base on what went down as a Rizzo double.

“KB being able to play was the difference in today’s game,” Maddon said. “A combination of the hit and his speed. I don’t think anybody else scores on that. Maybe Jason (Heyward), possibly. (Ian) Happ, possibly. But KB is such a good base runner. He had it in his head the moment the ball was hit, and all (third base coach Gary) Jones had to do was wave his arm. You can’t underestimate the importance of one person in the lineup.

“He’s a very bright base runner. He’s shown that from the beginning. … He demonstrated that early on, and for me when a young player demonstrates awareness on the bases, man, that’s a good baseball player.”

All that talent made Bryant last season’s Most Valuable Player and one of the most important figures in the curse-breaking World Series championship.

Bryant mentioned he thought Saturday’s game-winning trip from first to home conjured memories of a similar play in Game 7 of last fall’s World Series, when Bryant went first to home on Rizzo’s base hit off Andrew Miller in the fifth inning.

“Reminded me a lot of a play in the World Series off of Andrew Miller. It was a full count there, started early,” Bryant said. “Rizz hit it, you’ve got to give him a ton of credit, worked a great at-bat. But the head start really does help. It's something that I take pride in is my base running, surprising people. Hopefully I did that today.”

With Bryant back in the lineup Saturday, Kyle Hendricks’ return to the rotation coming Monday, a now 7-1 record since the All-Star break and a bunched-up NL Central that had four teams within three and a half games of each other entering Saturday’s action, it’s no wonder the World Series feeling is making its way back to the North Side.

All season long, fans and observers have been waiting for that switch to flip, and maybe it finally has.

The bats were thunderous on that six-game road trip out of the All-Star break, with 16 home runs helping the Cubs to back-to-back sweeps of the Baltimore Orioles and Atlanta Braves. Friday’s loss to the Cardinals provided plenty of evidence that the rest of the season might feature a knock-down, drag-out slugfest between the four NL Central contenders. All that was missing was a game that got Wrigleyville rocking.

“Probably one of our better wins of the year,” Bryant said.

That’s all without even mentioning the efforts of Lester, who was perfect until Adam Wainwright’s single in the top of the sixth. It was another stellar effort from a Cubs starting pitcher, and what was the team’s biggest problem during that sub-.500 first half — inconsistent starting pitching — certainly seems to be ironed out.

While the standings say it’s still going to be a brawl to the end with the Cardinals, Milwaukee Brewers and Pittsburgh Pirates, the Cubs could be in a first-place tie by the end of Saturday night.

In other words, the race is on. And Bryant and the Cubs are clicking at the right time.

“It’s already Jaugust,” Maddon joked, inventing a new month out of thin air. “There’s no waiting around right now. Everybody feels the same way. We took advantage of the break, I believe. We came back with renewed energy. You don’t want to give up anything right now.”

After losing uncle, emotional Jon Lester pays tribute with Notre Dame rallying cry

After losing uncle, emotional Jon Lester pays tribute with Notre Dame rallying cry

Jon Lester wore PLACT on his hat Saturday and he made good on the Notre Dame rallying cry — Play Like a Champion Today — against the Cardinals.

Lester didn't attend college and doesn't cheer for Notre Dame, but in his postgame session, he fought through tears to tell reporters why he decided to put the Notre Dame nod on his hat:

"My family — I lost my uncle yesterday," Lester said. "For the Notre Dame fans, he went to Notre Dame, so it's Play Like a Champion Today. Just to let him know that I was thinking of him."

Lester worked through the grief and carried a perfect game into the sixth inning, retiring the first 17 Cardinals hitters in the game.

Lester wound up surrendering two homers in the eighth inning, but the Cubs offense rallied behind him with three runs in the bottom of the inning, giving their ace his seventh win of the season.

But Lester's teammates didn't even know the struggle he was going through.

"I didn't even know that, man," said Kris Bryant, who scored the winning run. "That's tough. Jonny, he won't ever show you any emotion. Something like that, to hear that, obviously it's terrible, but he's probably one of the best teammates I've ever been able to play with in my short time.

"You know what you're going to get with him every day. You know he's gonna be the same guy, the same competitor and I love that about him."