AFC North: 2013 Week 15 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 15

December, 17, 2013
DETROIT -- A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 18-16 win at the Detroit Lions.

[+] EnlargeJustin Tucker
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesJustin Tucker celebrates his 61-yard field goal Monday night.
Team MVP: Justin Tucker's 61-yard field goal with 38 seconds remaining was the game winner, another reason why he has been the MVP for the Ravens this season. When you include PATs in addition to field goals, he has accounted for 57 percent of Baltimore's scoring (50 of 88 points) during the Ravens' four-game win streak. Tucker's six field goals on "Monday Night Football" was a franchise record. He has now connected on 33 straight field goals, which is four shy of setting another franchise mark. How valuable has Tucker been? According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Ravens became only the second team to win this season without scoring a touchdown. (The New York Giants were the first, beating the Philadelphia Eagles 15-7 in Week 8.

Flacco finishes again: Quarterback Joe Flacco engineered his fourth game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime this season. Only New England's Tom Brady has more. After the Lions took a 16-15 lead with 2:21 left in the game, Flacco converted a third-and-15 with a 27-yard pass to Jacoby Jones -- his longest completion of the game -- which moved the Ravens within Tucker's range. Flacco has delivered a game-winning drive in four of the Ravens' past six victories, including both of their road wins this season.

Defense slips again: The Ravens' defense has looked dominating over the past month, except when it gets to crunch time. Over the past six weeks, a stretch in which the Ravens have won five times, the Ravens' defense has allowed two touchdowns in the first three quarters and six in the fourth quarter. The Ravens gave up the go-ahead touchdown in Detroit with 2:21 remaining, when Matthew Stafford threw a 14-yard pass to Joseph Fauria in the end zone. In the past three games, the Ravens have allowed four touchdowns in the final three minutes.

Road less traveled: The Ravens won at an NFC North stadium for the first time in franchise history. Before Monday night, they had been 0-8 in games at Detroit, Chicago, Green Bay and Minnesota. The Ravens also improved to 2-5 on the road this season, ending a three-game losing streak away from home. What was the biggest difference on Monday night? The Ravens forced a total of two turnovers during that three-game losing streak on the road. In Detroit, Baltimore intercepted Stafford three times. Two of those picks led to field goals (six points) and the other one by safety Matt Elam ended the game.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 15

December, 16, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 30-20 win against the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeAntonio Brown
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarThrough 14 games this season, Antonio Brown is averaging 13.8 yards per reception for the Steelers.
Roethlisberger, Brown shine again: And then there were two. The Steelers' MVP award, which the players will vote on shortly, is down to quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and receiver Antonio Brown. Roethlisberger continues to have the finest statistical season of his career, already establishing a new Steelers record for completions in a season (340). Roethlisberger, who completed 80 percent of his passes against the Bengals, needs 414 passing yards in the final two games to break the Steelers' single-season record, which he holds. Brown, meanwhile, became the first player in the NFL since 2001 with at least five catches and 50 receiving yards in each of his team's first 14 games, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The fourth-year veteran also joined Hines Ward as the only players in Steelers history to catch at least 95 passes in a season. Flip a coin between Roethlisberger and Brown, who won the Steelers' MVP award in 2011. It is that close between the two players.

Was it legal? Brown gave the Steelers a commanding three-touchdown lead with his 67-yard punt return near the end of the first quarter, and a devastating block by rookie linebacker Terence Garvin helped spring him. Garvin demolished Kevin Huber with a block that left the Bengals punter with a fractured jaw, and the NFL will determine whether the blindside hit violated the rule on crack-back blocks that it instituted in 2009, a season after Ward broke Bengals linebacker Keith Rivers' jaw with a block that happened behind the play. Garvin did not get flagged on the play, and he said the block was a legal one. "I thought I hit him pretty square, right in his chest. Nobody said anything to me about it," Garvin said. "I saw AB about to break and I really just wanted to finish up and help him get all the way out."

A different look: Garvin, who made the Steelers as an undrafted free agent, has worked his way into the Steelers' nickel defense. Garvin, who played safety at West Virginia, replaced Vince Williams when the Steelers went to their nickel package against the Bengals. The Steelers used the nickel extensively against Cincinnati, allowing Troy Polamalu to play safety more than he has in recent games. "My shoulders are pretty fresh," Polamalu said after he recorded five tackles and forced a fumble. The Steelers sustained a couple of injuries on defense, most notable a calf injury that sidelined outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley early in the game. Woodley missed three games earlier this season with a calf injury. The seventh-year veteran hurt his other calf against the Bengals. Cornerback Ike Taylor sustained a rib injury, but he said after the game that he is fine.

Big Ben blitzes Bengals: The offensive line allowed just one sack, and gave Roethlisberger enough time to pick apart the Bengals when they didn't blitz him. Roethlisberger completed 17 of 20 passes when the Bengals rushed four or fewer players, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Andy Dalton, by comparison, completed just 14 of 28 passes when the Steelers didn't blitz the Bengals quarterback. The one thing that didn't sit well with Roethlisberger after he improved to 14-6 lifetime against the Bengals: The Steelers had to settle for three Shaun Suisham field goals, including twice after they had driven inside Cincinnati's 10-yard line. "I'm disappointed because I thought we could have been better in the red zone," Roethlisberger said. "We could have put seven points on the board a couple of times."

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 15

December, 16, 2013
Reviewing four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 25-3 loss to the Indianapolis Colts:

Brown vs. officials: Texans left tackle Duane Brown didn't agree with two calls that went against him. On one, the official agreed. After calling him for a taunting penalty following Robert Mathis' strip/sack/safety, the official who did so apologized to Brown. "Another guy that came and jumped on me after the play, and then he came and slapped the ball out of my hand," Brown said. "He slapped the ball into my face. So I tossed it at him. I didn’t cock back and beam it at him, I just tossed it at him. Flag." Brown disagreed with a holding call he was tabbed with, too. "Me and Wade (Smith) had a double-team. Wade got a pretty good shot on the guy. ... I tripped over a foot and fell. Actually disengaged a guy to catch myself. ... The guy fell to the ground on top of me. They said I pulled him to the ground. It happens. I wish it didn’t happen. It’s part of the game."

Case Keenum will start the rest of the season: It's not about right now anymore. The Texans want to see what Keenum has, even after his worst outing so far. They want to give him every opportunity to succeed or fail so they go into the offseason knowing exactly what's before them. Without examining the film, Texans interim head coach Wade Phillips couldn't offer a clear explanation of why Keenum struggled so mightily on Sunday. Asked if he believes in Keenum still, Phillips replied: "Well, certainly, we have so far. It's eight starts in a row." Phillips also said plainly that Keenum will continue to start.

Posey injured: DeVier Posey suffered a high ankle sprain on Sunday. Phillips termed that the most serious injury to come out of the game. Posey was never targeted in the game.

Johnson one shy: It's been a season in which Texans receiver Andre Johnson has climbed through lists of receiving records. Johnson's long and illustrious career with the Texans hasn't included very many wins, but it has included a great many outstanding performances. Sunday wasn't one of Johnson's best, especially against the Colts. He caught four passes on 10 targets, two of them drops. He caught passes for a total of 18 yards and no touchdowns. Johnson entered the game with 95 catches. He left it one shy of reaching 100 catches in a season for the fifth time in his career.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 15

December, 16, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 30-20 loss to the Steelers:

Huber's hit: On Cincinnati's final punt of the opening period, Bengals punter Kevin Huber was blindsided by Pittsburgh's Terence Garvin on a hit that left the kicker motionless on the ground a few moments, and that ultimately led him to have his jaw wired shut before he left Pittsburgh. On the play the NFL is expected to review this week, Huber broke his jaw, and likely ended his season. After the game, Bengals kicker Mike Nugent, who relieved Huber and punted for the first time since high school, said he was saddened by the sight of the hit.

Slow start hurts run: That tackle wasn't the only thing that went wrong for Huber on Sunday night. During his first punt attempt of the game, he fumbled a wide snap near his own end zone and had nowhere to run as the Steelers gave chase. He didn't even have time to recover and get off an emergency rugby kick or sprint to the back of the end zone for a safety. Instead, he was tackled into the end zone and downed at the 1-yard line. A play later, the Steelers scored their first touchdown of the game. It was the first of three hiccups on special teams that had a hand in a 21-0 deficit the Bengals had a tough time climbing out from. The hole was so deep that Cincinnati really couldn't run the ball like it had hoped, and was forced to go to the air to try to quickly make up yards and scores. After going beyond the 150-yard rushing mark the previous two games, the Bengals were held to just 57 yards on the ground against Pittsburgh. Had they been able to run a little more regularly, they may have had a more balanced offensive attack, similar to the one they showed against San Diego and Indianapolis.

Dink, dunk, win: Eventually, the Bengals were able to get their passing game going, and they did so by throwing a lot of short underneath routes to receivers. Slants and screens were key components in their comeback bid that brought the wide early deficit to within a two-point conversion of being a one-score game with nearly six minutes remaining in the game. The dink-and-dunk style of passing was ripped from the Steelers' playbook. That's precisely the way they moved the ball on a Bengals defense that simply wasn't getting pressure on quarterback Ben Roethlisberger and was back on its heels often in the play-action and short-route game. Roethlisberger was 20-for-25 for 191 yards overall. Half of his passes came on balls that traveled 10 yards or fewer in the air. He was 10-for-14 on such passes.

Miscues abound for defense: The Bengals believe one of the reasons Roethlisberger had that type of success was because they dealt with occasional bouts of miscommunication. Defensive end Michael Johnson said that was the case on a few plays, including the 12-yard touchdown pass Roethlisberger completed to Antonio Brown in the first quarter. On that play, only two Bengals rushed the passer and nine dropped in coverage. Johnson intimated that there should have been more rushers. Along with those communication issues, the Bengals also missed several tackles. They weren't happy with those, particularly after spending the week trying to correct more tackling issues that cropped up against the Colts last week.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 15

December, 16, 2013
CLEVELAND -- An examination of five hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 38-31 loss to the Chicago Bears:

A step back: Browns defensive coordinator Ray Horton had said in the past two weeks that the third-down defense had been fixed. In five previous games against New England, Jacksonville, Pittsburgh, Cincinnati and Baltimore, the Browns held opponents to 25-for-75 on third down (33 percent). The Bears were 9-for-14 (64.3 percent) on Sunday.

It’s been six years: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, the Browns became the first team since the Buffalo Bills in 2007 to score two defensive touchdowns and lose.

Haden update: Cornerback Joe Haden left the game in the third quarter after taking a knee to his left hip. Haden did not return, and the team said he had a hip pointer. But safety T.J. Ward said he talked to Haden after the game and thought Haden would be OK. Coach Rob Chudzinski said Haden’s condition would be updated at Monday's news conference.

The touchdown maker: Edwin Baker’s first NFL carry came on the Browns' first rushing play. He finished with eight carries for 38 yards (a 4.8-yard average) and a touchdown. But on a day when the wind was howling from east to west and Jason Campbell struggled to get the ball through the wind to Josh Gordon, the Browns called 39 runs and 17 passes and did not gain 100 yards against the league’s worst rush defense. The Bears had 31 runs and 31 passes.

What a fan experience: Relentless snow that covered the Cleveland area the day before the game apparently went unnoticed by the Browns. Fans who arrived to the game found most of the seats covered with several inches of snow, with drifts blown up under seats. The Browns have some bigger issues on the field, but when a team touts its outstanding “fan game-day experience,” and when it’s spending $90 million for new scoreboards and taking $30 million from the city of Cleveland for other improvements, it seems the least it could do is have the seats ready and cleaned for the loyal fans. The fact that snow covered the seats should be an embarrassment to the front office.