AFC North: 2013 Week 11 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Browns week 11

November, 18, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 41-20 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

Injury report: Inside linebacker Craig Robertson had an MRI on an injured knee today. Robertson hurt the knee in the first half, and though he tried to return he could not stay in the game. He has started aside D'Qwell Jackson all season. Tank Carder replaced Robertson against the Bengals.

Play count: It might mean nothing because the Browns fell behind in the second quarter and had to throw a lot (Jason Campbell threw 56 passes). But Chris Ogbonnaya was on the field for 46 plays and Willis McGahee was on the field for just 13. Ogonnaya also was the Browns' leading rusher in yards and attempts. The Browns won’t give up on McGahee, but they might be moving more toward Ogbonnaya.

Boggles the mind: In the second quarter the Bengals had the ball for 3:42. The Browns had it for 11:18. Cincinnati scored 31 points, the Browns 0. That's what happens when a punt is blocked, another tipped, and the offense commits two turnovers. Those four plays were the difference between a close game and a 21-point loss.

To the points: Every point scored in the game went to the North end zone, away from the Ohio River. Why that was the case remains a mystery. Browns coach Rob Chudzinski gestured palms up when asked, as if to say he didn’t know. The wind was from the South, Chudzinski said, but it wasn’t significant enough to affect the game to the point that all the scoring would have been in one direction. To Chudzinski it was just one of those quirks of the game.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 11

November, 18, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Steelers' 37-27 win over the Lions:

Running on empty: The Steelers won for the first time this season when they weren't able to establish the running game and had to depend on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger slinging passes all over the field. The Steelers ran the ball on just 37.5 percent of their snaps. Le'Veon Bell struggled despite a promising start. The rookie gashed the Lions for 13 yards on the Steelers' first offensive play of the game. He gained only 23 yards on 17 carries the rest of the way, and Jonathan Dwyer hardly played until late in the game. It was puzzling that the player coach Mike Tomlin called a "spark plug" last week didn't get some carries earlier in the game. Dwyer is averaging 4.6 yards per carry this season while Bell is averaging a pedestrian 3.1 yards per tote.

Old reliable: Jerricho Cotchery's 20-yard touchdown catch sealed the Steelers' win and also established a new career high for scoring catches in a season (seven) by the 10-year veteran. Roethlisberger often talks about how much he trusts Cotchery, and free safety Ryan Clark added his own unique spin on what makes the player known as "J Co" to his teammates so valuable. "Sometimes they have Ferraris out there and sometimes you've got some Bentleys," Clark said of wide receivers in general. "Jerricho is a conversion van. He's always going to be there. He's going to tote the family well. He's going to be safe. He makes every catch he's supposed to and makes all the plays he should make. He's an awesome player. He's underrated in this league but he's eating people up in the slot."

Bouncing back: Ike Taylor looked completely overmatched in the second quarter when he gave up a pair of touchdown passes to Calvin Johnson and dropped an easy interception. The veteran cornerback looked like he needed extra help with Johnson. It turned out he just needed to get to the locker room to regroup along with the rest of the Steelers defense. Both were considerably better in the second half as Johnson did not catch any of the three passes that Matthew Stafford threw to him in the half. "We weren't drawing up anything different," strong safety Troy Polamalu said when asked about the adjustments the defense made at halftime. "We just needed to do our job better. It wasn't just Ike who gave up those plays. There were some broken coverages." Said Taylor: "We stuck with [the game plan]. It's not how you start. It's how you finish."

Injury update: The Steelers came out of the game in pretty good shape on the injury front. Wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders left the game in the second quarter with a foot injury and didn't return. But Sanders indicated that the injury wasn't serious and said he did not need to get an MRI on his foot. He said the Steelers held him out of the game in part because they didn't want him making the foot worse on the wet field. "I could have went back in," Sanders said. Linebacker Stevenson Sylvester sustained a hamstring injury in the game.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 11

November, 18, 2013
CINCINNATI -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 41-20 win over the Browns:

Rey shines again: While linebackers James Harrison and Vontaze Burfict dominated the postgame headlines because of their key turnovers, the third starting member of their unit shouldn't be forgotten. Vincent Rey, appearing in his third game in relief of Rey Maualuga, quietly had 12 total tackles. Only Burfict (15) had more. It marked the second straight game that Rey had double-digit stops, following his 13-tackle performance at Baltimore last week. He now has 30 tackles, three sacks and an interception in the three games he has started since Maualuga was shelved due to a knee injury. Sunday's game likely was Rey's last start for a while, as Maualuga makes his return to the lineup. Before the game, Maualuga was going through agility and ladder drills.

Tone setting: Another unsung defensive hero was safety Reggie Nelson. He finished with nine total tackles and had a timely second-half interception that helped signal the end for the Browns' offense. All throughout the third quarter, the Bengals' defense set a tone that it wasn't going to allow a late-game comeback to take place. Against the Bills earlier this season, they did allow a comeback that ended with the game in overtime. Mike Nugent's 43-yard field goal in the overtime period won that game, though. One of the better tone setters of the second half was cornerback Terence Newman. Although he was beaten on the very first play from scrimmage after halftime -- a 24-yard pass to Josh Gordon -- Newman had two key deflections on that drive, even one on fourth down when Gordon had raced by him.

Sanu sighting -- finally: It took 11 games, but at long last, Mohamed Sanu has scored for the Bengals. After scoring four touchdowns last season, each coming in a three-game stretch, Sanu picked up his first score this year when he caught a 6-yard touchdown pass from quarterback Andy Dalton in the Bengals' record-setting 31-point second quarter. Three plays before, he got involved in the offense in a slightly different manner when he fielded a lateral from Dalton before chucking the ball downfield for a 25-yard completion to running back Giovani Bernard. The trick play was called at the perfect time. It came on the Bengals' first drive after their first score. Following Sanu's touchdown reception, Cincinnati took a lead it wouldn't relinquish.

Beat the blockers: There was no magic trick, no secret formula to the one blocked punt, one tipped punt and one near-block the Bengals had on their return unit, special teams coach Darrin Simmons said. According to him, and the key players involved, they just "beat the blocker." It was all about speed, quickness and sprinting through the right hole at the right time, they said. Whether you believe that to be the case or not, it is clear the Bengals got into a great rhythm of sprinting past Cleveland's line virtually unabated in an effort to get their hands on Spencer Lanning's punts. After the game, Lanning said he wasn't operating too slowly. He felt the snap and approaches on his kicks were executed well.

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 11

November, 18, 2013
CHICAGO -- A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 23-20 overtime loss at the Chicago Bears:

Short-armed: The Ravens should have had the advantage at windy Soldier Field because they had the quarterback with the stronger arm. It didn't play out that way, though. Joe Flacco threw three fewer completions than Josh McCown on passes more than 10 yards downfield, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Flacco was 3-of-6 on those throws, tossing one interception and averaging 6.7 yards per attempt (McCown averaged 11.8 yards per attempt). Accuracy was also a problem for Flacco, who was off target on 33 percent of his passes over 10 yards. For the game, Flacco threw two interceptions to raise his season total to 13, which is a career worst. And it's only November.

Return of Rice: Running back Ray Rice capitalized on playing the NFL's second-worst run defense with a season-high 131 yards rushing. That's 95 yards more than his per-game average this year. Rice’s first carry of the game went for 47 yards, which was more than he had in seven of his eight games this season. Even without his 47-yard run, Rice still would have posted a season high in rushing yards. He also scored a touchdown, his first in five games. This shouldn't come as a surprise. This is the fifth straight game in which the Bears' defense has given up at least 95 yards to a running back.

Rough road: The Ravens dropped to 1-5 on the road this season, assuring them of their second losing road record in six years under coach John Harbaugh. The biggest problem away from home has been Flacco's turnovers. He has thrown 11 interceptions on the road this season, which is the same number of picks in his previous two seasons on the road combined. Flacco's two interceptions in Chicago were critical ones. His first interception was returned 22 yards for a touchdown. His second gave the ball to the Bears at midfield and was converted into a field goal. The loss also kept the Ravens winless at NFC North stadiums. The Ravens are 0-8 in franchise history at Chicago, Detroit, Green Bay and Minnesota.

Lacking an edge: One of the Ravens' strengths this season has been their ability to collapse the pocket from the edge. But Terrell Suggs and Elvis Dumervil were virtually nonexistent against the Bears. This is the first time this season that neither one had a sack in the game. Suggs and Dumervil combined for one sack and one quarterback hit. The only impact Dumervil made was a negative one. He was called for roughing the passer in the fourth quarter when he shoved McCown to the ground after the quarterback had thrown the ball. Getting to Bears quarterbacks has been difficult this season. McCown and Jay Cutler had been sacked a total of 14 times in the first nine games of the season.