AFC East: 2013 Week 7 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 30-27 overtime win against the New England Patriots.

The "push" heard 'round the world: There's no doubt that Chris Jones pushed teammate Will Svitek into blocker Damon Harrison on Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal miss, violating a new rule on the NFL books. On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick came clean, admitting his postgame interpretation of the rule -- that it's illegal only if the push comes from a second-level defender -- was wr ... wr ... wr ... wrong. Yes, he actually said the word. Asked why he had the notion that second-level pushing was illegal but pushing at the line was within the rules, Belichick replied, "Because obviously we are wrong. What else is there to say? We’re wrong." Jets fans might want to tape that quote to the refrigerator.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Peter MorganDespite having to employ a trio of new coordinators, Rex Ryan has the Jets contending in the AFC East.
Now there's a new wrinkle: I checked the tape of the Patriots-New Orleans Saints game from the previous week, and the Patriots ran the exact same technique on the Saints' 39-yard field goal late in the game. Same technique, same two players, Jones pushing Svitek. There was no penalty flag.

But wait, there's more to this story: The Jets might have been guilty, too. On Stephen Gostkowski's 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation, the Jets' Quinton Coples appears to shove a teammate into the Patriots' formation. It's hard to get a clear view from the TV tape. The coaches' tape, which should be released later Monday, will have a better angle.

Yep, another chapter in the Jets-Patriots rivalry.

Ground & Pound & Pound: Did Rex Ryan call the plays in this game? I say that jokingly, but there's no denying the game plan had Ryan's fingerprints on it. The Jets ran 52 times, their most rushing attempts since a 57-attempt day against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2009 season finale. This was a radical departure for coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who averaged 26 rushes per game last season with the Philadelphia Eagles. The game-winning drive was way out of character for Mornhinweg, who ran on 11 of 12 plays. He got conservative at the end, calling an inside handoff on a third-and-5 from the Patriots' 36. The message was clear: Mornhinweg/Ryan had more faith in Folk from around 50 yards than they did in Geno Smith dropping back to pass. They almost got burned. The "push" play saved them from heavy criticism.

Crazy Legs Geno: Smith has rushed for 146 yards, already surpassing Mark Sanchez's career season high by 40 yards. Smith was at his best against the Patriots, with six runs for 32 yards. His 8-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty, as he cut and slashed his way through three defenders. He made former Jets cornerback Marquice Cole look silly with an open-field move. Smith should run more often. If the Jets continue to see a lot of man-to-man coverage, meaning the defenders' backs are turned to the quarterback, it makes sense for Smith to take off if no one is open.

Defense rocks: Ryan called off the blitz, sending five or more rushers on only six of 49 dropbacks by Tom Brady, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a highly unusual approach by the aggressive coach, but it worked. Confident in the front four's ability to generate pressure, Ryan emphasized coverage. Part of the reason was because the secondary was healthier than it had been in several weeks, with the return of rookie cornerback Dee Milliner. It turned out to be one of the most impressive defensive days of the Ryan era. It's hard to believe, but the Jets held the Patriots to only two field goals on their final 10 possessions.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 23-21 win against the Miami Dolphins:

[+] EnlargeThad Lewis
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThad Lewis and the Bills improved on their third-and-long efficiency on Sunday against Miami.
Third, long, and no problem: One of the deciding factors in the game was the Bills' ability to convert on third-and-long. They struggled early in the season to move the sticks on third down, but on Sunday, a combination of poise from quarterback Thad Lewis and shiftiness from his receivers after the catch helped keep the punt unit off the field. In fact, the Bills had third down and at least 7 yards to gain 11 times in the game, tied for fourth-most among all NFL games this season. They converted five of those chances; only the New England Patriots in Week 1 (6-of-11 on third-and-long) had more first downs in that situation this season.

What next for Jackson, Spiller? The flip side to the Bills' success on third-and-long is that they were often forced there by ineffective plays on first and second downs. Both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who would normally carry the load on early downs, are banged up. While the toughness of both players is evident, we're only coming up on the halfway mark of the season. It will be worth monitoring if the Bills decide to sit Jackson or Spiller for a game, likely one at a time, to stem what has been a dangerous rate of wear and tear.

Second-quarter woes: After a strong start Sunday, the Bills began to slide in the second quarter before being able to recover later in the game. It's a similar script to that from Week 5, when the Bills were off to a hot start in Cleveland but let it slip away. Fortunately for Buffalo, they were able to make the plays in the end to pull out the win, but surrendering a 14-0 lead can't make coach Doug Marrone too happy. Overall, opponents are outscoring the Bills by 23 points in the second quarter, the fourth-worst margin in the NFL.

Impressive company: Through Week 7, just two NFL teams have scored at least 20 points in each game: the Bills and the Denver Broncos. Even with the Broncos losing, that's good company for Buffalo to keep. Doing it with two different quarterbacks, one a rookie, is noteworthy. It's the fourth time in franchise history the Bills have started a season with at least 20 points in each of their first seven games, and the first since 2011.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 7

October, 21, 2013
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 30-27 overtime loss to the Jets:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Kathy WillensTom Brady's struggles came at a bad time for the limping Patriots.
Tom Brady and offensive struggles: We led off the "Upon Further Review" feature last week with the subtitle "Tom Brady magic" after he led the team's game-winning touchdown drive against the Saints. But the magic act did a disappearing act against the Jets. Credit, first and foremost, to a tough Jets defense that held the Patriots to 1-of-12 on third down. It was a day when the undermanned defense needed Brady and Co. to step up and carry the day, and the quarterback didn't deliver. It isn't all on him, but one of the defining characteristics of his play -- accuracy -- isn't showing up consistently.

Special teams coaching: Bill Belichick often says that his opinion on NFL rules isn't important; what's truly important is that everyone understands them and they are coached accordingly. This is a topic to revisit after the Patriots were penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct on Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal in overtime when rookie defensive tackle Chris Jones was flagged for pushing teammate Will Svitek into the formation. After the game, Belichick shared his viewpoint that he didn't think it was a penalty because Jones wasn't on the second level, meaning he initially aligned on the line of scrimmage. The league's vice president of officiating, Dean Blandino, said otherwise. This was the first time the penalty has been called since the rule was implemented this season. On Monday, Belichick took accountability, saying: "Obviously we are wrong."

Injuries on defense show up: The Patriots have lost defensive tackle Vince Wilfork and linebacker Jerod Mayo to season-ending injuries, and with cornerback Aqib Talib (hip) missing Sunday's game, that left them without three of their best players. It showed at times, as the Jets were 6-of-6 on third down to open the game. In the end, the defense made enough plays to give the team a chance to win, but the personnel losses make one wonder if they can sustain it.

Inconsistent offensive line: Returning all five starters along the offensive line, it seems fair to say that the unit should be the strength of the offense. But when the game swung in the third quarter, a big part of it was because of protection breakdowns up front. Better play is needed on a more consistent basis from the big guys up front: left tackle Nate Solder, left guard Logan Mankins, center Ryan Wendell, right guard Dan Connolly and right tackle Sebastian Vollmer.

Upon Further Review: Dolphins Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Miami Dolphins' 23-21 loss to the Buffalo Bills:

Contenders to pretenders: The Dolphins appeared to be contenders after their 3-0 start. Now, Miami looks much more like a pretender following its third straight loss. The Dolphins cannot be taken seriously in the playoff conversation if they cannot beat Buffalo at home with a third-string quarterback in Thad Lewis. Miami also had two weeks to rest and prepare and played perhaps its sloppiest game of the season. The Dolphins will play two first-place teams -- the New England Patriots and Cincinnati Bengals -- with a combined 10-4 record in the next two weeks. Miami could be staring at a five-game losing streak if the team cannot play much better than it did on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeMiami's Daniel Thomas
AP Photo/Lynne SladkyIt wasn't all bad for the Dolphins against Buffalo: Daniel Thomas and the running game got going.
Clabo watch: Replacing Miami right tackle Tyson Clabo has been a hot topic for at least two weeks. Clabo added more fuel to that debate after allowing two sacks in Sunday’s loss to Buffalo. He’s now allowed a team-high seven quarterback sacks in six games. Bills defensive end Mario Williams manhandled Clabo with two inside moves in the fourth quarter to get to Dolphins quarterback Ryan Tannehill. The second sack forced Tannehill to fumble and set up Buffalo’s game-winning field goal. The Dolphins’ coaching staff put Clabo on notice during the bye. A lineup change could be looming if he continues to allow multiple sacks.

Tannehill’s turnovers: The fourth-quarter fumble was costly. But that wasn’t the only bad play for Tannehill. Miami’s second-year quarterback also had two bad interceptions. One was a pick-six on his first throw. The second was a bad pick in the end zone that took points off the board for the Dolphins. Overall, Tannehill is having a solid second season. But he can’t have many three-turnover games and expect to win. Tannehill has been able to overcome an inconsistent running game and pass protection in the first three weeks. But it appears those shortcomings are starting to catch up with the quarterback, who is failing lately to take over games.

Ground game: It wasn’t all bad for Miami. The Dolphins’ running game showed plenty of signs of life against the Bills. Miami rushed for 120 yards on 25 carries. Dolphins tailbacks Lamar Miller and Daniel Thomas combined for 103 yards. Miami adjusted its rushing attack by plowing forward instead of running sideline to sideline. This is something the Dolphins can build on.