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  • Breeland Speaks suspended four games for violating NFL’s substance-abuse policy, per reports
    by Pete Sweeney on December 6, 2019 at 10:24 pm

    Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images The Chiefs defensive lineman is currently on injured reserve. Kansas City Chiefs defensive lineman Breeland Speaks has been suspended four games by the NFL, according to ESPN’s Field Yates. Although he is on IR, Chiefs DE Breeland Speaks has been suspended for the next four weeks of the 2019 season. Speaks is rehabbing a torn ACL.— Field Yates (@FieldYates) December 6, 2019 Nate Taylor of The Athletic added that the suspension is as a result of violating the league’s substance abuse policy. For more clarity, Breeland Speaks has been suspended 4 games for violating the NFL's substance-abuse policy. Speaks, who is out this year after having major knee surgery in the preseason, will be eligible at the start of next season.— Nate Taylor (@ByNateTaylor) December 6, 2019 Since Speaks started the season on injured reserve after surgery to repair an MCL sprain and meniscus damage in his knee, he was ineligible to return at any time this year, anyway. As Yates notes, Speaks will serve his suspension the next four weeks while on IR. The Chiefs issued the following statement on Speaks’ suspension: “The NFL notified the Kansas City Chiefs of Breeland Speaks’ four-game suspension. We will have no comment at this time.”

  • How the Chiefs offense can beat the Patriots defense
    by Matt.Lane on December 6, 2019 at 8:33 pm

    Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images The Patriots have stifled the league with Cover 0 this season. How can the Chiefs attack it? On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs travel to Foxborough to play the New England Patriots — a game that both teams are likely to have circled on their schedules back in April. After two hard-fought losses to the Patriots last season, the Chiefs are looking to prove to themselves (and the world) that they aren’t just another team the Patriots’ buzz saw can slice through. The biggest challenge will be handling the Patriots top-ranked defense — one that presented unique challenges to the Chiefs offense last season. That defense has only improved this year. Let’s take a dive into the Patriots defensive personnel — and a schematic concept the Chiefs will have to overcome if they want to defeat the Patriots on Sunday. Photo by Billie Weiss/Getty Images Personnel Stephon Gilmore leads the Patriots secondary, which might be the best unit in football. He is the league’s best cornerback — and often shadows the opposing team’s top receiver. The Patriots aren’t likely to try that against Tyreek Hill’s elite speed, instead assigning Gilmore to either erase Sammy Watkins or use his size to slow down Travis Kelce. Joining Gilmore will be Jonathan Jones and J.C. Jackson, both of whom are having strong years; one of them will likely participate in double-teams against Hill. Devin McCourty is the dominant free safety. He will likely see most of his snaps as the deep defender doubling Hill. Safeties Duron Harmon and Patrick Chung will play more man coverage. The Patriots linebacker group is an interesting blend of players who offer a lot of varied skill sets. Jamie Collins, Dont’a Hightower, and Kyle Van Noy all offer good pass-rushing skills on top of traditional linebacker responsibilities. But outside of Collins, they have a lack of speed; they are a relatively unathletic group. Even Collins has had coverage issues in recent years. The Patriots defensive line isn’t where most of their talent lies, but they maximize their production through creative usage and alignments; the Patriots’ leaders in pressures, sacks, and tackles for loss are all linebackers — along with defensive linemen Adam Butler and Chase Winovich, who are both rotational players. John Simon, Danny Shelton and Lawrence Guy get the most reps on the defensive line. They are all stout against the run but offer little as pass rushers. Attacking Cover 0 Cover 0 is a type of man coverage that has no extra defenders dedicated to help coverage — either high or low. Cover 0 is usually run behind a blitz in which six or more defenders are rushing the passer; every other player is in man coverage. In Cover 0, cornerbacks often press to slow down wide receivers’ releases, using the blitz pressure to force the quarterback into a quick decision. The Chiefs face the Patriots top ranked defense this weekend and will need to have an answer for their Cover 0 they've dominated with this year- Muddy up LoS reads- Man on all 5 receiving options w/ no help- Interior rushers spy- QB has to climb but stay within the pocket pic.twitter.com/dMZjpZB3yJ— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 6, 2019 Here is a traditional Cover 0 rep from the Patriots with six defenders rushing the quarterback while five defenders are in man coverage. The Patriots use two interior rushers to occupy a blocker in that space — and also spy or contain-rush the quarterback. Facing a mobile quarterback like Deshaun Watson (or Patrick Mahomes), it’s imperative to keep them from breaking contain, which can extend plays against Cover 0. The Patriots are relying on the outside pressure either hit home or force the quarterback into the spy players. Fortunately for the Houston Texans, the trips formation isn’t allowing the Patriots to get all three defenders on the line of scrimmage. When bunched up, it’s hard for the defenders to really disrupt every receiver unless the lead player is dominated right off the line. The Texans run a couple of man-beating concepts against this coverage with a deep over — it’s nearly impossible to stick directly to a receiver on a good speed cut that goes across the field — and an underneath drag. Also available are a short option, an intermediate option and even a timing route — the out route at the bottom of the screen. It’s up to the quarterback to find the proper route before the free rusher gets home. Against the Chiefs in the AFCG the Pats used a similar look only they dedicated a DS to double Tyreek Hill. Still no help defenders over the top or underneath on any other receiver while the pirate stunt comes free up the middle pic.twitter.com/7NLXL5l5eJ— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 6, 2019 On this play against the Chiefs in January, the Patriots run a Cover 0 with a slightly different look. Here, just five defenders rush the passer while a safety double-teams Hill. There is still no deep (or shallow) help coverage. Whether the Pats will be doubling Hill or playing a traditional Cover 0, there will be pressure on the Chiefs WRs to win on time and for Mahomes to find them quicklyMan across the board w/ no help can be taken advantage of with man beating routes. Slants, overs, drags, etc pic.twitter.com/7IfD2VWs9Y— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 6, 2019 We saw the Texans use the deep over against traditional Cover 0 — and the Chiefs found success with the same route against the Patriots in the AFC championship game. If the protection holds up to the extra rusher (and the Patritots’ stunts up front) the Chiefs should be able to stress the Patriots defense with their speed, along with man-beating concepts like these deep over and seam routes. A big key for success on these intermediate and deep passes is the protection holding up long enough for the route to develop. Not only will the Patriots run a lot of delayed blitzes and stunts, they will often try to force a running back to stay in and pass protect by using a rusher to engage with him, thereby holding him in the backfield. On both of these plays, you see a way to counter that: having the running back cross the formation to either block or block/release. This makes the extra defender honor the potential receiving threat — while also providing late help to the side most likely to see a stunt. Beyond the basic man beating routes, Andy Reid should be calling up route combinations that result in natural pick plays. Mesh, scissor, and other quick developing concepts that call for DBs to avoid traffic should be a stapleAlso look to take advantage of the Pats' LBs' range pic.twitter.com/cDLAvTWsAu— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) December 6, 2019 The Chiefs should use concepts that take advantage of the traffic in the middle of the field during man coverage. The Chiefs should frequently use mesh and scissor concepts, switch releases and natural pick plays to help struggling wide receivers beat man coverage. This won’t be a game where Kansas City should rely on their physical talent gain advantage. Instead, they should rely on scheme to get players open — and then sprinkle in deep shots where their receivers’ athleticism can shine. In that same vein, any time the Chiefs can force Patriots linebackers into man coverage and make them run vertically (or across the wide side of the field) should result in a big play. Collins has had coverage success in the past, but as he’s gotten older he isn’t the same coverage player he once was. Hightower and Van Noy have never been the best players in space. The Chiefs will challenge any of them in man coverage against any of their running backs or tight ends. The bottom line With the Patriots defense putting so much Cover 0 the tape this season, the Chiefs should be able to formulate a game plan to attack it. In the AFC championship game’s second half, the Chiefs began to pick it apart as the offense settled in. The Texans took advantage of it more than once in Week 13. The biggest problem facing the Chiefs isn’t going to be trying to read all the pass rushers, getting production from their wide receivers against a very talented secondary or even picking up all the Patriots’ stunts and blitzes. These are all things the Chiefs have seen on film; they will have planned to counter all of it. No... the biggest issue the Chiefs will face is dealing with whatever curve ball Bill Belichick and the Patriots have cooked up — something they haven’t yet shown on film. The Patriots will mostly stick to their identity, giving the Chiefs plenty of chances to attack their Cover 0 scheme. But the Chiefs will also have to survive whatever new concepts the Patriots bring to the table.

  • Evaluating where the Chiefs stand at running back ahead of Patriots matchup
    by Pete Sweeney on December 6, 2019 at 6:44 pm

    Photo by Peter G. Aiken/Getty Images This has to be the game the Chiefs have been saving Shady for, right? The Kansas City Chiefs signed running back Spencer Ware earlier this week, sending Darrel Williams to injured reserve with a hamstring issue. “What you miss with Darrel is that Swiss Army Knife,” said running backs coach Deland McCullough on Thursday. “That guy you can kind of do everything from protections to running the ball, blocking, pass protecting. Just being that guy you can count on and feel like he can perform at everything you’ll need in a game.” Preseason starter Damien Williams missed last game against the Raiders and has been all but ruled out for Sunday’s game against the New England Patriots. That means the Chiefs will have three running backs on the roster to face the Patriots — LeSean McCoy, rookie Darwin Thompson and the returning Ware. Thompson set a career-high for snaps with more than 20 against the Raiders last week. Have you heard the one about how RBs coach Deland McCullough told Andy Reid Darwin Thompson is playing? pic.twitter.com/n2E3fdgxGx— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) December 5, 2019 “It’s one of those things where you’ve got to just play him,” added McCullough. “I sat with the staff, and I made that comment— ‘We got to just put this guy out there.’ It’s hard to pick and choose. You didn’t know the game was going to become the way it did, so I just put him in early. Coach [said] ‘Hey, what are we doing?’ I said, ‘We getting this guy out there, man. Let’s get him going.’ And he performed at the level that we expected and we know it’s only going to move up from here.” Thompson went on to lead the Chiefs in carries and yards, accumulating all while the game well in hand. So, despite that success, it is worth wondering whether the Chiefs would give him more meaningful snaps against New England. “I like to think that I am one of the official presidents of the short running back club,” said 5-foot-7 offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy of the 5-foot-8 Thompson. “With Darwin being in that short running back club, obviously I have high expectations of him. But the kid — he has a dynamic personality, and he has a great work ethic... he will be given an opportunity at some point, but right now, he’s learning behind a number of great players, he’s spending time in that room with coach McCullough — they’re doing a hell of a job. And the only thing he wants to know is how can he improve on the next particular play.” McCoy was once again on the field for less than 40% of the snaps against the Raiders. He had five carries for 10 yards. “He did a nice job and had productive runs today,” said Andy Reid after the game. “Look, we’re not fooling anybody here and he’s not getting any younger. It’s my responsibility to manage him the best I can and I think I know him as well as anybody. I’m going to do what I think is right on that and if it’s wrong then it’s my fault and I’ll take that on my shoulders. I know he wants to play every play. He loves to play, but I also have to trust what I do on that part.” The Chiefs play the Patriots, followed by the Denver Broncos, Chicago Bears and Los Angeles Chargers. With the AFC West all but settled, it’s hardly arguable that this is the most important game left on the schedule. All signs thus point to the Chiefs turning McCoy loose on Sunday, with Thompson as a backup. Ware, who knows the playbook but is still getting back in football shape, will be an emergency back, and fullback Anthony Sherman should be ready if the Chiefs need him.

  • The keys to the Chiefs defense handling the Patriots offense
    by Craig Stout on December 6, 2019 at 6:03 pm

    Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images The Nerd Squad breaks down the Patriots offense — and a concept we might see on Sunday. The Kansas City Chiefs defense is coming off back-to-back quality performances, but on Sunday, it faces another test against perennial Super Bowl-contenders: the New England Patriots. While the Patriots haven’t moved the ball particularly well on offense this year, they are still a threat through several bad matchups for the Chiefs defense. As we do every week, we’ll take a look at the Patriots personnel and a concept they might use. We’ll then break down what the Chiefs defense can do to slow down the New England offense. The personnel Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images Tom Brady is in his 20th year in the league — and he’s had some up-and-down performances this season. He is lacking some of his vertical ability but still has enough zip on the ball to fit it into tight windows. He’s had to hold on to the ball longer because his receivers have struggled to gain separation. As a result, Brady has already taken as many sacks this year than he did in all of 2018. The two-headed monster of Sony Michel and James White will line up at running back for the Patriots. Michel is definitely a “run-first” option out of the backfield, carrying the ball 184 times at 3.5 yards per carry — compared to just 9 receptions for 74 yards. White is their pass-catching back, totaling 57 receptions for 512 yards. He’s only run the ball 53 times, with a season-high 14 attempts in Week 13 against the Houston Texans. Rex Burkhead will do both for the Patriots — although in a limited capacity. This running back group especially misses all-world fullback James Develin, who is out for the year with a neck injury. The Patriots’ wide receiver group is led by Julian Edelman. Now in his 11th year, he already has 915 yards on 82 catches. He’s the only member of this group that seems to get consistent separation. Mohamed Sanu was acquired from the Atlanta Falcons in October and has totaled 17 catches for 122 yards over four games. Phillip Dorsett is the closest thing the Patriots have to a deep threat, but he hasn’t been trusted to produce; he’s averaging less than 35 yards per game. First-round rookie N’Keal Harry recently returned from injured reserve. He shares time with undrafted rookie free agent Jakobi Meyers. Neither player is especially strong at creating space, but have shown glimpses of attacking the ball at the catch point. The Patriots don’t have a strong tight end who can contribute to the passing game. 16-year veteran Ben Watson leads with 147 yards on 12 receptions. Matt LaCosse only has seven receptions for 87 yards but plays a bigger role as a blocker; he often lines up in the backfield in place of Develin. The Patriots offensive line has looked significantly better after the return of left tackle Isaiah Wynn two weeks ago. He’s helped steady Brady’s blind side and has blocked well in the run game. Marcus Cannon lines up at right tackle and continues to produce at a very high level in his ninth year. Joe Thuney and Shaq Mason man the guard spots. Both are athletic players who can get out in space for screen passes and power runs. The major news is that starting center Ted Karras — who injured his knee against the Texans — is likely to miss game. Starting in his place will be James Ferentz — a player with whom Chris Jones might be familiar from Ferentz’s time in Denver. The offensive concept: tight end Wham with fold concepts NE still loves to use wham blocks, even without Gronkowski.13p, LT and OC fire up to the second level. Both guards complete the fold block, and the 3-technique is unblocked. TE seals with a wham block, and Michel wrong-foots the MIKE in the hole. Big yardage. pic.twitter.com/Noi4gDS36P— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) December 5, 2019 With Rob Gronkowski at their disposal, the Patriots used wham blocks at a very high rate. Even after Gronkowski’s retirement, this has continued. Despite a down year running the ball, New England’s athletic offensive line can open holes through movement. They gamble through wham blocks and fold blocking concepts — which fire an uncovered blocker up to the second level while looping another blocker over him to cover quick penetration. In the play shown here, the fold blocks result in two covered blockers looping to the back side, leaving a defender free to get upfield. New England covers this with a front side fold block — pulling to the 1-technique — and a wham block from the tight end. It’s a risky concept, but one that can catch the opposition off-guard — particularly if they are 2-gapping. This play puts Michel into the gap untouched. Then a small hesitation forces the MIKE linebacker to freeze. Michel is then free into the third level, having to make only a minimal adjustment. New England does give up plenty of negative plays with these blocking assignments. Athletic defensive lines can get into the backfield quickly and force the fold/wham blocks to initiate earlier, clogging the backfield with bodies. Linebackers can also wreak havoc on these assignments by getting downhill — slipping the block or clogging a gap. So against the Patriots’ blocking schemes, it will be all about getting downhill early — something the Chiefs haven’t done well throughout this season. The bottom line The New England Patriots aren’t an offensive juggernaut. They average 3.5 yards per carry on the ground. Their passing game largely consists of White in the flat and Edelman in the middle of the field. Lacking a vertical threat, Brady has struggled to get the ball down the field consistently. Yet the Patriots typically execute well enough for those limitations not to matter. White is a horrible matchup for the Chiefs’ linebackers — and some safeties — and should see plenty of targets out of the backfield and split wide in empty formations. The Patriots also do an excellent job scheming Edelman into free releases, where he can run pivot and drag routes to beat coverages. Up front, the Chiefs will absolutely have their work cut out for them. Karras’ injury plays into Kansas City’s strengths, but they’ll need to perform significantly better with their four-man rush than they did against Oakland last Sunday. Flooding the shallow routes and defending horizontally will force Brady to hold on to the ball longer, giving the Chiefs more time to rattle him early. Most of all, this Chiefs defense cannot allow the same frequency of explosive plays we’ve seen in recent weeks. New England’s offense may be on the shallower end, but it’s still very capable of creating extra yards after the catch, turning short gains into game-breaking plays. It’s true every week, but this matchup in particular will require the Chiefs to be assignment-sound — and make tackles when they have the opportunity.

  • Five things to watch as the Chiefs face the Patriots
    by Ron Kopp Jr. on December 6, 2019 at 3:33 pm

    Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images The highly anticipated rematch of last year’s AFC Championship has big playoff implications for both teams For the third-straight year, the Kansas City Chiefs (8-4) will make a regular-season trip to Foxborough, Massachusetts, to take on the New England Patriots (10-2). In recent weeks, these two AFC contenders have been trending in opposite directions. The Chiefs have won two in a row on the back of an improving defense that has forced seven turnovers in those contests. The Patriots have lost two of their last four games after starting 8-0 — and haven’t looked impressive in over a month. But you can throw everything you know about each team out the window. A win will be crucial for both teams’ playoff seeding — and both coaches are likely to pull out all the stops. I’ve detailed five things to watch in this big-time matchup: 1. Getting pressure on Tom Brady John Sleezer/Kansas City Star/Tribune News Service via Getty Images As invincible as 42-year old Patriots quarterback Tom Brady seems to be, he has been benefiting from a scheme designed to keep him clean — one featuring a strong running game and quick throws. The teams that have defeated the Patriots have usually been able to overcome that and get to Brady; it’s not a coincidence that the Chiefs totaled only two sacks in their two losses to New England last season. The Patriots offense has allowed just 22 sacks — the seventh-fewest sacks in the league. But when teams have been able to get pressure on Brady, his performance has significantly declined. Under pressure, his passer rating is only 49.3, which is second-lowest among all quarterbacks with at least 300 dropbacks. Three of his six interceptions have come when he’s been under pressure — and in those situations, he’s thrown the ball away more than anyone in the league. Brought back for defensive holding, but this is all Brady. There have been multiple times this year where Brady feels pressure, panics, and makes a questionable throw. Pass rush is so important this week. pic.twitter.com/aQZjHuaPqr— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 4, 2019 In Week 13 against the Houston Texans, Brady officially threw only one interception — but this one in the second half was called back on a defensive penalty. After feeling the pressure, he makes an awful decision — throwing off-balance for an easy pick. Another example from Week 5 pic.twitter.com/zVik7kRQIo— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 4, 2019 This one from Week 5 against the Washington Redskins may be even worse. The banged-up Chiefs pass rush will have their work cut out for them. Frank Clark left the Week 13 game with a shoulder injury — and has not been a full participant in this week’s practices. Alex Okafor has been a full participant — but is still on the injury report for a reason. On the other side, Brady popped up on the injury report with a toe and right elbow injury. 2. The secondary options in the Chiefs offense Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images It’s no secret: Patriots head coach Bill Belichick strategizes to eliminate an opposing offense’s top weapons. In last year’s AFC Championship game, the Chiefs’ top receiver, Tyreek Hill was limited to just one reception for 42 yards — and tight end Travis Kelce only managed three catches for 23 yards and a touchdown. But despite this, the offense was able to score 31 points on the backs of their secondary receiving options. Wide receiver Sammy Watkins had four catches for 114 yards — which included a few crucial plays. Running back Damien Williams was second to Watkins in receiving yards and scored twice. Watch to see who will step up. With his play in recent weeks, Watkins hasn’t given us much reason for optimism, so wide receivers Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman will also be players to watch. 3. An important opportunity for the Chiefs cornerbacks Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images In this game, there is a great opportunity for the cornerback group to be a key part of the Chiefs’ defensive success. At times, the New England receiving corps has been noticeably slow and ineffective. With the exception of wide receiver Julian Edelman, the unit — including Phillip Dorsett and Mohamed Sanu along with rookies N’Keal Harry and Jakobi Meyers — hasn’t been able to help Brady by getting themselves open. In fact, during Week 13, Brady was caught on camera on the sideline, telling his receivers to play “faster, quicker, more explosive.” As bad as Brady looked last week, his receivers (besides Edelman) didn't help him out. Weeeak slant by Harry. No explosion out of the cut and you have to be able to wall-off the CB pic.twitter.com/HDYQqAHo4Q— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 4, 2019 This throw to Harry should at least be contested at the catch point. Instead, he is slow out of his cut, allowing the cornerback to easily beat him to the spot. Pass rush has to win this week.Texans double Edelman. No one else wins their matchup, forcing Brady into an unwanted decision even though he had plenty of time. The success of 4-man pressures will be crucial. pic.twitter.com/RgC6Q8hKrr— Ron Kopp Jr. (@Ron_Kopp) December 4, 2019 Here, the Texans double-team Edelman and use a defensive back on running back James White. Against the Texans, the lack of success from their other receiving options led to a very unimpressive performance for the Patriots offense. If Chiefs cornerbacks are able to handle their assignments against the Patriots’ receiving corps — giving the pass rush time to collapse the pocket — it will be a gigantic factor in the game. And Chiefs cornerback Charvarius Ward may be looking for revenge. The pick that was called back after Dee Ford’s offsides penalty in the AFC title game would arguably have been the biggest play in franchise history. 4. Chiefs running backs as receivers Photo by Patrick Smith/Getty Images During his tenure, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid’s offensive game plans against New England have been phenomenal. In the last three meetings, the Chiefs are 1-2 against the Patriots — but have scored an average of 37.7 points per game. In all three contests, Reid has featured running backs in the passing game. In last season’s AFC Championship, Chiefs running backs Damien Williams and Spencer Ware combined for nine targets, six catches, 87 yards and two touchdowns. In Week 6 of 2018, Ware and running back Kareem Hunt combined for nine targets, seven catches, 114 yards and a score. In the 2017 season opener, Hunt and running back Charcandrick West totaled six targets, six catches, 102 yards and a touchdown. With the Chiefs’ injury-riddled backfield, it will be a prime opportunity for rookie running back Darwin Thompson to show what he’s got in the passing game. It won’t be easy. The Patriots have allowed just 7.6 yards per reception to running backs — and have allowed only one receiving score. 5. Steve Spagnuolo and the defensive staff’s strategy Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images The Patriots were able to do whatever they wanted against the Chiefs defense last season; it was the main reason the Chiefs defense was overhauled. Sunday’s game will be the first chance for defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo to show what he can do against them. As you’ll recall, he was instrumental in the New York Giants’ upset win over the previously undefeated Patriots in Super Bowl XLII. In that game, he was very creative in getting pressure on Brady — and he will be tasked to do the same in this matchup. Ideally, he and defensive line coach Brenden Daly will be able to do it with only four pass rushers. Brady may not be as physically sharp as he used to be, but he’s still just as smart; his ability to recognize blitzes could prevent Spagnuolo from having success with them. If the Chiefs can get pressure with four pass rushers, it will give the secondary a huge personnel advantage. It is also important that Spagnuolo understands the threat Patriots running back James White represents in the passing game. White is their second-leading receiver, averaging nine yards per catch. Among running backs with at least 30 targets, he has the third-highest yards per route. In last season’s two games against the Chiefs, White totaled 13 targets and averaged 11.3 yards per reception. Spagnuolo will need to consider using a secondary player on White as much as possible. Brady will take advantage of any linebacker’s attempt to cover him.

 

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