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Los Angeles Rams Roster Overview: Post-Week 8

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PFF grades & roster trends through 8 weeks after a visit to Houston

After beating the Houston Texans in Week 8, the Los Angeles Rams are nearly at the mid-point of a 17-game season. That puts the Rams in essentially a tie with the 7-1 Arizona Cardinals, an essential re-match that won’t happen until December, and the Titans are on deck this coming Sunday night.

But against the Texans, the score didn’t quite reflect the matchup of these two teams. The Rams jumped out to a 38-0 lead before pulling their starters; allowing Houston to score 22 unanswered points of their own to close out the 4th quarter.

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But before we get to the Titans, let’s see how each positional group and individual performed based on PFF’s grades plus the eye test of the game itself.

In the content below, you’ll find coverage and observations on:

  • WR-room depth chart changes
  • A DL not named Aaron Donald who was very impressive
  • Ernest Jones starting debut
  • What to make of Donte’ Deayon through 3 games
  • Latest roster moves since the game on Sunday (*hint: it involves Von Miller)

In addition, the grade next to the individual is his current PFF grade.

The differential +/- in parenthesis reflects whether or not he improved or declined from the previous week. Lastly, based on my own study of the game, I hand out a grade to the position group based on their ability and impact on the game (as well as injuries, signings, or releases). This grade factors into the overall grade of the positional group for the season, and ultimately the trend of the unit moving forward.

Let’s do this thing…

OFFENSE (PFF Grades Post-Week 8)

QB

Matthew Stafford: 83.2 (+2.8), John Wolford: 39.2 (-1.1)

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I’m actually a little surprised by the improved grade for Stafford. I still think that he played very well. But a couple of negative observations before getting to the good stuff…

  • Stafford missed Woods (high) on crosser on first drive
  • Stafford missed Kupp (high) in end-zone on 3rd & 6 (Kupp had to jump through roof to get a finger tip on the ball)
  • Stafford had at least 3 passes tipped by the DL
  • Stafford was late on his throw to Henderson on 4th & 1 in the redzone. Henderson dropped it, but I thought that Stafford made the play more difficult on Hendo with the ball being slightly late. If Hendo is the first read on the play, Staff needs to deliver that quicker and it would be a TD

As for the positives, Stafford was 21/32 for 305 yards, 3 TD, 0 INT. There were not many throws in harms way. He got the offense off to a hot start by leading an 11 play, 75 yard drive. It took 5:28 off the clock to start the game. Once again, he spread the ball around to his starters (24 targets total to Kupp/Woods/Jefferson & 3 targets to Higbee).

Week 8 Grade: A-, Overall: A, Trend: Neutral

RBs

Darrell Henderson: 70.4 (+3.1), Sony Michel: 61.8 (+0.2), Jake Funk: 63.6 (IR), Buddy Howell: 66.6 (N/A)

It appears McVay holds to the statement “stats are for losers” just like Raheem Morris says for the defense. This was a game where Henderson could have easily rushed for 150 yards and given Matthew Stafford his first 100 yard rusher in quite some time. But I applaud McVay for resisting the need to feed his starting RB, and allowed Michel to carry the rock nine times as well as giving Howell some snaps.

Henderson carried 14 times for 90 yards, 1 TD. While also adding 1 rec, 3 yards, 1 TD. Hendo has now matched his 2020 rushing TD total; with 5 on the season. He had at least 3 carries that went for 15+ yards. Hendo ran well following a lead WR coming around, as well as taking stretch runs to the outside to turn upfield.

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Michel rushed 9 times for 42 yards, while adding 2 rec for 14 yards in the passing game.

Buddy Howell got a few touches in the 4Q; gaining 11 yards on 5 carries.

Week 8 Grade: A, Overall: A-, Trend: Very Slight Upward

WRs

Robert Woods: 73.8 (-1.6), Cooper Kupp: 90.2* (+0.3), Van Jefferson: 66.0 (+0.9), DeSean Jackson: 72.5 (DNP), TuTu Atwell: 60.7 (+0.0), Bennett Skowronek: 73.8 (+0.1)

It appears that with the number of targets going to Kupp/Woods/Jefferson, DeSean Jackson does not have as big of a script in the game plan. DeSean Jackson has now (as of Tuesday) been released by the LA Rams, under mutual agreement. It doesn’t come as a surprise in my eyes as the snap count over the first 7 weeks was inconsistent and I imagined DJax was probably unhappy with his role. I can appreciate both sides coming together to make this a mutual parting. However, the situation becomes muddier when TuTu Atwell injured his shoulder @HOU and will now have season ending shoulder surgery. The Rams lose their top two speedsters; creating some concern in case 1 of the big 3 goes down.

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Cooper Kupp comes in at #3 position for WRs in PFF. His individual grades include: a 90.5 receiving grade, 56.2 for rushing grade, 70.0 for pass blocking, and 60.0 for run blocking. It was another 7 rec, 115 yards, 1 TD for the star WR who leads the league in the following:

  • Target (90)
  • Yards (924)
  • TDs (10)
  • 20+ Yard Receiving Plays (15)

And if he isn’t first in a major category, he’s either 2nd or 3rd.

I want to highlight the play between Stafford/Kupp on the first drive. The broadcasters also highlighted the play as it showed Stafford throwing the pass to the sideline (near the goalline) with Kupp having yet to finish his route. But when Kupp got his head around, the ball was right there, and the DB had no chance to defend the play. It was just great timing and great connection between Stafford & Kupp. Something they have struggled with at times to start games out on.

I also want to highlight this about Cooper Kupp. He was quoted saying “our WR room has established a standard and that is: ‘to catch everything that we are expected to, and to catch half of the passes that we are not expected to’”.

Woods had a good day but it also contained a few miscues. His 3 rec (9 targets), 35 yards, 1 TD shows that Stafford and him still need to build their connection. Woods miscues included a dropped pass across the middle and failing to recover an onside kick as the hands team.

Van Jefferson provided 3 rec (6 targets), 88 yards. 68 of them came on a deep bomb from Stafford off play action. This play/route was similar to the TD against CHI on opening night. Van Jefferson did also have a drop of his own.

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Ben Skowronek saw 20 snaps (some on first team) and was able to begin packaging his own tape. He collected 3 rec (3 targets) for 30 yards; including a long of 20 yards.

As for TuTu Atwell, I’m not a part of the TST crowd that is questioning his ability. I was not anticipating TuTu to contribute significantly to this year’s WR core with 4 more polished guys ahead of him. I would encourage TSTers to wait until next year when he is more NFL ready.

Week 8 Grade: B+, Overall: A-, Trend: Very Slight Downward

TEs

Tyler Higbee: 66.2 (-1.1), Johnny Mundt: 64.7 (IR), Brycen Hopkins: DNP, Jacob Harris: 58.7 (DNP), Kendall Blanton: DNQ (N/A)

Higbee caught his 3 passes for 25 yards. He was used in the short screen game which is a nice wrinkle to the offense that has so many layers. We once again saw another game in which Blanton played over Harris and Hopkins. Blanton played 31% of the snaps, while Harris played 13% and Hopkins was inactive.

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Again, the TE position is not the bright spot of this offense, but for now its good enough to float.

Week 8 Grade: C+, Overall: C+, Trend: Neutral

OL

Andrew Whitworth: 78.6 (DNP), Joe Noteboom: 68.2 (+10.6), David Edwards: 65.9 (-4.2), Brian Allen: 75.6 (+6.4), Coleman Shelton: 47.8 (N/A), Austin Corbett: 70.1 (-2.1), Bobby Evans: 58.8 (N/A), Rob Havenstein: 76.5 (+0.3), Alaric Jackson: 37.9 (N/A)

Andrew Whitworth (knee) OUT – no problem! The entire starting OL stepped up and performed very well. Joe Noteboom got the start and it resulted in the swing tackle being able to handle his 1 on 1’s without putting Stafford in harms way. This is probably a blessing in disguise as McVay/Snead were able to get an idea if Noteboom can be the guy if Whitworth does in fact retire (fingers crossed he doesn’t lol), at the end of the 2021 season. I’m curious to know what the price tag of Noteboom will be with such limited starting experience…$6-8 mil?

Brian Allen rebounded very well after a skid in which his PFF grade was > -2.0/per week for 3 straight weeks. I thought he looked very explosive off the snap. His contract status going into this offseason will continue to be interesting as he improves his value with each performance.

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The Rams huge lead allowed them to see what they have beyond Joe Noteboom as Coleman Shelton, Bobby Evans, and Alaric Jackson received 4th quarter playing time. While none of them had huge PFF performances, the experience is beneficial in case of future injury.

With another 0 sacks allowed, the Rams OL continues to shine, but they are beginning to paint a target on their backs going into tougher NFC games and beyond…

Week 8 Grade: A, Overall: A, Trend: Neutral

DEFENSE

DL

Aaron Donald: 92.2* (+0.5), Sebastian Joseph-Day: 62.4 (DNP), A’Shawn Robinson: 69.2 (+3.8), Greg Gaines: 76.6 (+6.7), Jonah Williams: 66.3 (-0.9), Mike Hoecht: 47.6 (+3.8)

Aaron Donald. Writing about his disruption on a game becomes old news. The best player in the NFL added 1.5 sacks, 1 TFL, and 2 QB hits against Houston. But the more exciting news may be that Von Miller has been traded for and now provides even more pass rush to a strong group of pass rushers. Does this free up Aaron Donald more? Or does it allow Floyd and V. Miller to manhandle their 1 on 1’s? Regardless there will be an Aaron Donald effect… Last point about Donald. He looked (yes, I noticed a difference) faster in the way he was getting set and coming off the snap. That’s scary to think about.

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Probably the most impressive defensive player on the field Sunday other than A. Donald was Greg Gaines. Gaines only had 4 (comb) tackles. But he had numerous pressures; collapsing the middle of the pocket which lead to Mills having to roll out. One which resulted in the INT by Ernest Jones. Another which lead to a Leonard Floyd sack. Gaines played 69% of the snaps with SJD out. And this raises a good question if when SJD does return, should LAR utilize Gaines more if teams are passing more than running? Perhaps, SJD be the rotational DL?

AShawn’s grade improved and I do want to mention a solid run play he had to end the 1st Quarter near HOU’s endzone.

With HOU behind so much, the running game was not a focal point as LAR limited HOU to just 14 carries, 44 yards (3.1 Yards per carry), 1 TD (garbage time).

Week 8 Grade: A-, Overall: A-, Trend: Neutral

ILBs

Troy Reeder: 48.4 (+1.5), Ernest Jones: 60.2 (+7.0), Travin Howard: 61.6 (DNP)

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Well, we got our answer about the new starting ILB. Ernest Jones was the man for the job as he played 89% of the defensive snaps. His starting debut included 9 tackles (7 solo), 0.5 sack, 1 TFL, 1 PD, and 2 QB hits. He filled up the stat sheet and from the eye test he showed that he wanted to get his hands on the HOU player who had the ball. Jones INT was a fantastic play as he showed great lateral movement to keep his eyes on the QB but feel the WR crossing behind toward the sideline. He floated to the spot that the WR was running to and made an athletic INT along with an athletic return to pick up INT return yards. You could almost assume that E. Jones had experience as a RB before because he weaved between blockers fluidly to get into the redzone.

Troy Reeder played 64% of the snaps; adding 7 tackles (3 solo). Reeder did have an eye-roll moment where he almost allowed HOU to recover a 2nd onside kick which would have forced the defensive starters back onto the field.

It was just a game against HOU, but has McVay/Snead/Morris finally found an answer at ILB?

Week 8 Grade: A-, Overall: B-, Trend: Moderate Upward

EDGE

Leonard Floyd: 77.5 (+3.3), Justin Hollins: 71.4 (IR), Terrell Lewis: 53.2 (+1.8), Ogbonnia Okoronkwo: 76.9 (-0.9), Chris Garrett: 53.8 (DNP), Justin Lawlar: 63.8 (DNP), Jamir Jones: 55.2 (+5.8)

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Well, the BIG NEWS is obvious now – Von Miller is headed to Los Angeles to be a Ram. Can’t wait to write more about this positional unit next week. For now…

Leonard Floyd continues to make Les Snead look like the GM of the Year. With 6.5 sacks (2 more sacks on Sunday) through 8 games, Floyd shined as the lead edge rusher on the team. Now with Von Miller, the Rams boast 3 elite rushers to get after opposing QBs.

Ogbonnia Okoronkwo got the start over Terrell Lewis, a somewhat puzzling decision since TLewis had shown the ability to string games together. Despite the change, TLewis still outsnapped Okoronkwo 62% to 59%. Okoronkwo added 0.5 sack. Terrell Lewis added a PD. Both of these guys will now take a backseat row to V. Miller moving forward.

Week 8 Grade: B+, Current Grade: B, Trend: Significant Upward

CBs

Jalen Ramsey: 81.4* (-0.1), Darious Williams: 61.3 (IR), David Long Jr.: 62.1 (+1.0), Robert Rochell: 69.0 (+0.1), Donte Deayon: 71.1 (-2.4)

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Ramsey had some incredible plays again this week. Surprise, surprise. He shed a block on a screen play to get to Amendola to force a fumble. He put his foot in the ground in coverage and then came downhill to stonewall HOU for a yard or less. Ramsey also had a diving PD, that he almost turned into a diving INT to start off the 2nd half.

Rochell only was able to play 2 snaps before exiting with injury. His status for Sunday Night is TBD.

Donte Deayon continue to be the 3rd starting CB. Deayon’s play contained highs and lows.

Deayon’s negatives:

  • Beat on a deep crosser
  • Deayon also was beat on a quicker slant before halftime. HOU missed the FG but they were able to get into FG range
  • Deayon beat by Cooks (w/ Hughes as the deep safety) for TD
  • Deayon missed sack on blitz off the edge

Deayon positives:

  • Deayon had a would-be INT on the sideline, but it was called back on an Ernest Jones illegal use of hands. His ability to leap up and keep his feet in-bounds was very impressive
  • Overall, Deayon is solid vs. WR3, but can struggle against WR1. It’ll be worth watching to see how he can handle the elite NFC team WR groups like ARI, DAL, TB. David Long Jr lost his job, can Deayon hold it down?

With Week 8 concluding, Darious Williams is scheduled to come off the IR for Week 9.

Week 8 Grade: B, Overall: B, Trend: Neutral

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S

Jordan Fuller: 71.3 (+0.9), Taylor Rapp: 64.0 (+0.1), Terrell Burgess: 79.4 (-2.1), Nick Scott: 41.6 (+2.2), JuJu Hughes: 35.5 (-33.1)

Anytime these guys aren’t mentioned a lot, it’s kind of a good thing. HOU’s WRs weren’t able to get behind them (until the 4th Quarter when backups were in).

Fuller had 4 tackles (2 solo). Rapp had 3 tackles (2 solo). Scott 2 tackles (1 solo). Burgess had 1 tackle (1 solo).

Next week, I’ll cover how each DB has faired in coverage (targets/completions against).

Week 8 Grade: B+, Overall: B, Trend: Neutral

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Special Teams

Johnny Hekker: 70.2 (+1.6), Matt Gay: 68.2 (+3.0)

Still some hiccups in the special teams phase.

Johnny Hekker punted 4 times (all 4 in the 2nd half) with 1 being downed at the HOU 2 yard line. Ben Skowronek made a great play to down the ball and he continues to show great ST ability for a team lacking it.

Matt Gay kicked his lone FG attempt from 27 yards out. 5/5 on XPs.

The main dilemma for the ST was in kick returns. They allowed a 44 yard return with Matt Gay having to record the tackle. Robert Woods also failed to recover an onside kick. It took a nasty hop on him, but he has to go get the football instead of the big bounce fooling him. This is the 2nd week in a row that the ST has allowed an onside kick. I guess better now against DET & HOU than later…

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TuTu Atwell had 3 punt returns for 2 yards. An average of 0.7 yards. His season is also over with a season-ending shoulder injury. The Rams will likely rely on Cooper Kupp for punt returns and maybe Ben Skowronek?

Week 8 Grade: D+, Overall: D+, Trend: Slight Downward

MCVAY AND CO.

McVay reached his 50th regular season win. Another road win; advancing the team to 4-0 on the road. Another record to keep an eye on is the NFC conference record where the Rams are 5-1; which is tied with GB in the NFC.

With what was considered the weaker part of their schedule (NYG, DET, and HOU). The Rams now move onto Tennessee where they will play at home for SNF. They have two weeks before their Week 11 bye.

He hasn’t been mentioned on here officially before, but Les Snead continues to put this football team in a position to win. Adding Von Miller to a 7-1 team is A MOVE that puts the league on notice. Snead/McVay are committed to bringing a championship to LA and they are pulling out all the stops to help a guy like Aaron Donald on defense.

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Week 8 Grade: McVay: A/Morris: A/DiCamillis: D+, Overall: B+, Trend: Neutral



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On Gonçalo Ramos' big night, focus remained on Ronaldo

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Cristiano Ronaldo wasn’t the star of Portugal’s 6-1 win over Switzerland, but he was still the center of attention.



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Dodgers' Clayton Kershaw 'at peace' prioritizing team over contract

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Vladar’s reliability a luxury for Flames as Markstrom works on game

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CALGARY — Dan Vladar doesn’t suck at hockey.

Good thing, as it opened the door for the Calgary Flames’ coach to alter his approach to his goalie rotation.

Well known for his penchant for leaning on his No. 1 netminder come hell or high water, Darryl Sutter most certainly heard Jacob Markstrom’s crisis in confidence last week.

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The rough outing that led Markstrom to declare he “sucks at hockey right now,” was enough to make the coach pivot.

He confirmed the decision to give Vladar rare, back-to-back starts was made with an eye on giving Markstrom more time to recalibrate, find his game and build confidence.

“I talked to them guys about it,” said Sutter of Markstrom’s over-the-top self-assessment following his gaffe against Montreal just 13 seconds in.

“It’s the best position we have on our team, that’s for sure.

“That’s just because Marky came out and said that, right?

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“If you look at it the last two weeks, our goals against has gone from 30th to 13th. Keep making progress.”

Is he worried about Markstrom’s comments?

“Not a chance,” said the coach.

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Nor should anyone else be, said Markstrom in a decidedly more upbeat chat with the media Tuesday.

“Short memory — as a goalie in this league you need to have that,” said Markstrom, who said he feels good after spending plenty of time with goalie coach Jason Labarbera the last few days.

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“I think you need to have it or else you’re in the wrong occupation.

“I didn’t do really well in school, but I was really good on the ice.”

Laughs all around — the best medicine at a time when Markstrom’s strong words were concerning to those worried about his mindset.

He says over the years he’s always had the same approach to tough nights.

“The only thing different is how you address it with the media,” said Marksrom, who can always be counted on to satisfy media requests.

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“Over the years sometimes you’re still upset and still angry and frustrated, and that carries over in an interview 15 minutes after the game.

“If you wait an hour and ask me the same question you would get a completely different answer.

“That’s my competitiveness, and that’s what made me who I am today. That’s always going to be there.”

Sounds like a guy who feels ready to get back into some game action.

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How much time Sutter will give Markstrom to settle is anyone’s guess, as no one would be surprised if the veteran returned to the net Wednesday against Minnesota.

However, Vladar’s solid play of late gives Sutter the luxury of waiting until Friday to start Markstrom in Columbus, which would make plenty of sense, given his familiarity with Johnny Gaudreau and the fact the Blue Jackets are one of the league’s worst teams.

That way Vladar can get the tougher assignment against Toronto Saturday.

Vladar won his third start in a row Monday, with an 18-save performance against Arizona that featured a kick-save with 74 seconds left to preserve a one-goal lead.

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His emergence as a reliable backup last season and early this year buys plenty of time for Markstrom to iron out his deficiencies without the pressure of costing his team two points with mistakes he’s working hard to remedy.

Quite a luxury, as these Flames can go only as far as their $6 Million Man can take them.

“His save percentage has gone up almost 10 per cent (and his GAA has gone down almost 10 per cent) over the last two-and-a-half weeks,” said Sutter, of Markstrom’s stop-rate, which sits at .889 – far off his .922 standard last season.

“We need both of them to do that. We’ve got to keep moving.

“If we don’t get on the first page in goals against and save percentage, we won’t make the playoffs.

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“We’re moving that way. That’s the big picture.”

Vladar sits at .914, with a 2.54 GAA, which is almost half a goal better than Markstrom’s 2.97 GAA.

What’s so perfect about the tandem is that the two are good chums, doing well to help one another through this stretch.

The 25-year-old Vladar is doing Markstrom and the team a solid by stepping up at a crucial juncture in the season, as the 12-10-3 Flames struggle to distance themselves from the .500 mark.

In turn, Markstrom has been shown repeatedly on broadcasts helping Vladar from the bench during timeouts with various tips and reminders to breathe while doing his best to share laughs to keep the youngster calm.

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“We push each other every day and he’s been playing unreal,” said Markstrom.

“It’s the same in practice as it is in games, as he is with me when I’m playing. We’re a team and I love Vladdy and the progress he made the last two years is unbelievable. I think he’s going to be a really good goalie in this league for a really long time.

“It’s great for our team, he’s standing on his head right now and I couldn’t be happier every time he makes a save or every time we score a goal.”

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That relationship and attitude have made it easy for Sutter and the coaching staff to take pressure and starts off of Markstrom’s plate, as fans and observers have been clamouring for since last season when Markstrom ultimately faltered against Edmonton following a 63-start campaign, followed by 12 post-season appearances.

“You try to set a schedule, sort of, at the start of the year to make sure Vladdy was getting more minutes this year, based on performance,” said Sutter when asked if he’s changed his tack of late.

“But it’s still very hard to do because of the schedule.

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“It changes every week.

“It changes for me depending on performance, schedule, talking with the coaches, and trying to map something out.

“It’s hard to do.”

Much easier when you have the options he does.

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