AFC North: 2013 Week 7 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
2:00
PM ET
A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 19-16 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers:

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsThe Steelers' defense kept Ravens RB Ray Rice from gaining any long yardage, especially after contact.
Falling behind: The Ravens have been playing catch-up in nearly every game this season. Sunday's game in Pittsburgh marked the fifth time in the last six weeks that the Ravens' opposition has scored first. This is significant because the Ravens are 41-8 under coach John Harbaugh when scoring first. Baltimore hasn't been ahead at the end of the first quarter since the season opener in Denver. Over the past six weeks, the Ravens have held a first-half lead for 18 minutes, 47 seconds out of 180 minutes (which is about 10 percent of the time). Baltimore has scored 53 points in the first half this season, an average of 7.5 points.

Nothing after contact: The Ravens' ground game remained grounded in Pittsburgh primarily because Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce couldn't generate yards after being hit. They combined to rush for a season-low 11 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This number is even more disappointing when you factor in the Steelers have allowed 305 yards after contact this season, the seventh-most in the NFL. Rice and Pierce combined for 58 yards on 21 carries, a 2.7-yard average. The Ravens' backs have been held under 3.2 yards per carry in every game this season.

Getting run over: Two weeks ago, the Ravens had the NFL's No. 6 run defense, giving up 89.8 yards on the ground. But Baltimore hasn't looked the same since, failing to contain a couple of rookie running backs. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy ran for 120 yards and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell rushed for 93 yards, which are career highs for both second-round picks. The Steelers, who had the second-worst run game in the NFL, gained a season-high 141 yards rushing, ending a franchise-record streak of 11 straight games with fewer than 100 yards rushing. This explains why the Ravens are losing the time of possession battle the past two weeks.

Penalty problem: The Ravens were flagged nine times, which is their second-highest total in a game this season. There were plenty of mental mistakes from a delay of game penalty after a timeout, jumping offsides on a field goal attempt and going offsides on an onside kick. And there were times when the Ravens needed more discipline, which was the case when Elvis Dumervil pushed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after he had thrown a pass. Three of Baltimore's penalties allowed the Steelers to convert third downs. For the season, the Ravens have been penalized 49 times, which is the 10th-most in the league.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
2:00
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 19-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsEmmanuel Sanders' clutch kick return set up the Steelers' winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Making a statement: An offensive line that provided a consistent push up front and protected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is what the Steelers envisioned before the start of the season. That finally translated into the Steelers controlling the line of scrimmage, and they did it against a defense that had been giving up fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. Right guard David DeCastro, who is really starting to come into his own, said the Steelers used some inside zone blocking on the way to a season-high 141 rushing yards. But it didn’t take a Stanford education for DeCastro to break down why the Steelers were so successful on the ground. “Winning one-on-one blocks,” the second-year man said. “I think we’re finally starting to jell. We’re communicating really well. It’s a positive.”

Gamble pays off: Emmanuel Sanders received the green light from special teams coordinator Danny Smith to return the game’s final kickoff no matter how deep he fielded it in the end zone. That confidence and Sanders’ speed almost delivered a dramatic touchdown. Even though Sanders stepped out of bounds -- and it appears that his left foot touched the chalk, albeit barely -- his return set up the offense with good field position at Pittsburgh's 37-yard line. That allowed the Steelers to employ a methodical approach to their game-winning drive instead of forcing Roethlisberger to take chances down the field. “It was one of those ones where [Sanders] started running out [of the end zone] and you said to yourself no, no, no and then yes, yes, yes,” Roethlisberger said. “What a heck of a play by him.”

A trick and a treat: The Steelers used a trick play to score their only touchdown. But the 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller on a left-handed flip from Roethlisberger had been a part of the Steelers’ offensive repertoire for years. The Steelers used the shovel pass with Hines Ward, and Roethlisberger lobbied the coaches early last week to bring the play out of retirement. The Steelers executed it perfectly and Miller crashed into the end zone for his 40th career touchdown. “We knew that their ends like to come up the field,” Roethlisberger said. “As a quarterback you love those short, easy passes and let Heath do all the work.”

Return to form: The Steelers were as effective at stopping the run as they were running the ball. They held the Ravens to 82 yards rushing and limited them to 3.1 yards per carry. On half of Baltimore’s 26 runs, it gained 2 yards or fewer. The Steelers have allowed 165 rushing yards in the two games since Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson gashed them for 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:30
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
AP Photo/Mike RoemerThe Packers sacked Brandon Weeden three times and he completed just 40.5 percent of his passes.
Offensive offense: The Browns had some poor offensive numbers in the loss to Green Bay, a natural byproduct of scoring 13 points and not winning. Brandon Weeden threw for 149 yards on 42 passes. The Browns as a team ran for 83 yards, 20 of them came on two Weeden scrambles. Their only touchdown drive went 20 yards. Josh Gordon was targeted six times and caught just two passes for 21 yards. And the 216 total yards were the fewest by the Browns since the 2012 season opener -- also Weeden's first start. Weeden remains at the center of all concerns, but clearly the offense had many issues at Lambeau Field.

Third-down struggles: The Browns started the game 29th in the league in defensive third down stops, meaning they'd been letting teams sustain a lot of drives. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said the third down defense was a focus of last week's practice. What did Green Bay do? Without two of their better receivers? Convert 7-of-13. "Third downs are crucial in this league," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "And right now we're not very good at it."

Running on empty: The Browns put up decent numbers running the ball, but it's worth asking if the team as it's constructed can actually run the ball, and run it consistently and successfully. Willis McGahee is aging with bad knees. Chris Ogbonnaya is a fullback. And the fans can now say they were there for the start of the Fozzy Whitaker era. The Browns gained 83 yards and averaged 3.6 yards per carry, but called 20 runs compared to 40 passes. Some of that was because they fell behind. But most teams down 14-0, as the Browns were, would not totally abandon the run. The Browns might not believe they can run efficiently.

Eye of the storm: For the second time this season Gipson finds himself at the center of a hit that caused an injury. Gipson sidelined Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel for a month with a hit to the knee, then drew the ire of the Bills for looking like he celebrated the injury. Against Green Bay, Gipson hit tight end Jermichael Finley in the head with his shoulder at fullspeed, and Finley could not move on the field after the hit. "When I'm breaking out of the post and I'm running fullspeed I'm not thinking about settling down," Gipson said. "At the same time I'm thinking about getting the ball on the ground. Not under these circumstances, unfortunately." Gipson said he felt awful about Finley's injury, and would try to get in touch with him.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:30
PM ET
An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 27-24 win over the Detroit Lions:

[+] EnlargeA.J. Green
AP Photo/Paul SancyaA.J. Green caught six passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's win over Detroit.
Green's day: As the Bengals' offense has become more diverse, forcing defenses to respect their bevy of playmaking threats, receiver A.J. Green has begun to benefit, too. For the second straight game, Green went for more than 100 yards receiving, catching six passes for 155 yards and a touchdown in Sunday's victory. His very first catch of the game was his lone touchdown reception, and it came on the Bengals' first drive as he put a double-move in single coverage on cornerback Chris Houston and ran by him. Wide open, he ended up sprinting under a pass and going 82 yards for the score. The catch was the 200th of his career, and later in the game he went over the 3,000-yard career mark.

Suh who? Statistically speaking, Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh wasn't as big a factor as had been anticipated. One week after hounding Cleveland quarterback Brandon Weeden (including one hit that resulted in a fine), he was mostly kept away from Dalton. Suh recorded one fourth-quarter sack on the Bengals quarterback, and arguably, it was the Lions' biggest defensive play. On third down, the pocket collapsed as Suh and the rest of the Lions' defensive line went hard toward Dalton and got better penetration than they had the whole game. It resulted in Suh grabbing Dalton as he went by him, and bringing him down for the game's only sack for either team. The sack resulted in a Kevin Huber punt, which was downed with 1:43 remaining at the Lions' 6. Suh and Dalton entered the game with a bit of a history after Suh had body slammed the then-helmetless quarterback on a post-play hit during a preseason game in Cincinnati's last trip to Ford Field.

Third-down woes: Cincinnati's defense allowed the Lions to convert on 13 of 19 third downs. Ahead of Monday night's game between the Vikings and Giants, that was the league's worst conversion rate of the weekend. The Bengals also had one of the highest third-down play totals among defenses in the league to this point in the weekend. Only New England's defense faced more third-down plays (21). Miami also had 19. Players and coaches alike were adamant after the game about cleaning up the third-down issues, even though, with the game on the line on Detroit's last drive, the Bengals got a big stop when safety Reggie Nelson forced Matthew Stafford to throw an incomplete pass that led to a punt, which set up the game-winning field goal.

'Special' teams: Carlos Dunlap was set on getting his hands on the football during David Akers' late second-quarter field goal attempt. At another point this season, he had come close to a block but didn't get it. This time around, Dunlap got the big block for the Bengals, sparking a special-teams uprising. In addition to his block, the Bengals had key punts from Huber, and Mike Nugent's second straight game-winning field goal.

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