AFC West: 2013 Week 13 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 13

December, 2, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. – An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos35-28 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.

[+] EnlargeMontee Ball
John Rieger/USA TODAY SportsMontee Ball's Denver teammates say that they were impressed with the running back's development in 2013.
Double dip: The Broncos had hoped the light would go on for rookie running back Montee Ball sooner rather than later, and he would hang on to the ball and show the instincts in traffic that pushed him up their draft board in April. Sunday may have well been that game, as Ball rushed for 117 yards on 13 carries against the Chiefs' aggressive front seven for his first career 100-yard game. The Broncos want to use more of a rotational system, with Knowshon Moreno as the No. 1 option, but they needed a second running back to step forward. Ball may have just done that.

Man up: Quarterback Peyton Manning sent a message, again, to those who might hope to lock up the Broncos' offense with a heavy dose of man coverage to go with pressure packages up front. With the Chiefs largely double-teaming Wes Welker -- because injured tight end Julius Thomas was not in the lineup -- Manning feasted on one-on-one matchups elsewhere in the formation. Eric Decker finished with 174 receiving yards and four touchdowns and Demaryius Thomas, who suffered a shoulder injury on his first catch of the game and at times was playing almost one-handed, had 106 yards on three receptions. Manning had four completions of at least 40 yards.

Level-headed: In a noisy environment that has rattled more than one visiting team this season, the Broncos' offensive line kept its composure, even as Manning went through his usual presnap work at the line of scrimmage. The Broncos’ front did not have a false-start penalty. The team's one false start came courtesy of Moreno, with four minutes left in the game. Left tackle Chris Clark did have an illegal-shift penalty on that same drive, but overall it was a disciplined performance from the offensive line, which did not surrender a sack to the Chiefs. It was the fifth game this season in which Manning had not been sacked.

More special-ness: Returner Trindon Holliday left Sunday’s game with a right shoulder injury, and some of the team's potential in the return game left with him. But it's clear the Broncos have some other special teams issues to clean up. Knile Davis’ 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter was the longest in Chiefs history and was the longest kickoff return surrendered by the Broncos in their history. The Broncos opened the season strong on special teams, with two blocked punts and two return scores in the first four games. But injuries have eroded the rotation on those units somewhat, and the returners, including Holliday, haven’t had nearly the impact over the last eight games. Couple that with the gaffe in overtime against New England that led to the Patriots' game-winning field goal and Davis’ return Sunday, and it’s clear the Broncos need a little more from their special teamers all around.
SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers' 17-10 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

Home-field disadvantage: Since 2011, the Chargers are 10-11 at home, and they have a 2-3 record this season. That’s not exactly a home-field advantage. At 5-7, the Chargers are a game behind Baltimore (6-6) and Miami (6-6) for the last AFC wild-card spot. San Diego has three of its last four games at home, but the Chargers have to play with more swagger at Qualcomm Stadium, particularly early in games. San Diego had the first NFL blackout of the season on Sunday, and a large group of Cincinnati fans packed the Bengals’ side of the field. The Chargers never led against Cincinnati, and have not had a lead at home since a Week 6 win against Indianapolis.

Secondary play improves: A point of emphasis leading up to the Cincinnati game, the Chargers played better on the back end defensively. San Diego allowed just 190 passing yards, giving up three plays of 20 yards or more. Safety Eric Weddle had perhaps his best game of the season, finishing with six tackles, his first interception of the season, a fumble recovery and a tackle for loss. Richard Marshall was solid in his first start of the season replacing Derek Cox. The Chargers did have some breakdowns in coverage that led to a few big plays, but overall the defensive backfield play was improved against a talented Cincinnati receiving group.

No pass rush: The Chargers finished without a sack for just the second time this season. In 23 pass attempts, San Diego’s front seven couldn’t even muster a quarterback pressure against Andy Dalton, who had not been playing well leading up to this game. The Chargers finished with four tackles for loss in the run game, but part of the issue on the back end has been the team’s inability to create consistent pressure with the pass rush.

Woodhead’s disappearing act: Running back Danny Woodhead finished with two receptions for 13 yards, and was targeted just three times against Cincinnati. The only other games this season in which Woodhead was targeted three times or fewer was against Houston (three) and Miami (two) -- both losses for the Chargers. Give credit to the Bengals for taking away Woodhead defensively, but the cat-quick runner is an important part of San Diego’s pass game as a playmaker out of the backfield.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 13

December, 2, 2013
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 35-28 loss to the Denver Broncos:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Cooper and Eric Decker
AP Photo/Charlie RiedelMarcus Cooper struggled to contain Denver's wide receivers.
Trouble at cornerback: After playing well in the early part of the season, rookie cornerback Marcus Cooper had his third straight poor game. Cooper missed a jam at the line against wide receiver Demaryius Thomas on one play during the third quarter, leaving Thomas alone to catch a short pass and turn it into a 77-yard gain. Cooper recovered to tackle Thomas down the field, but the play set up the touchdown that put the Broncos ahead for good. The Chiefs were determined to take away the crossing routes than San Diego repeatedly burned them on last week, but that left Cooper and the other cornerbacks vulnerable to the deep pass.

Big play from Davis: Rookie running back Knile Davis had the biggest game of his NFL career. He returned a kickoff a team-record 108 yards for a touchdown, and he also carried once for 20 yards and caught two passes for 18 yards. Davis, a third-round draft pick from Arkansas, is a logical player for the Chiefs to try in their effort to improve their offense. Playing him on offense requires the Chiefs to take Jamaal Charles out of the game, but giving Davis the ball eight to 10 times a game could be worth the effort. At 227 pounds, Davis is big enough to make his own hole and also fast enough to be a big-play threat.

Injury update: The Chiefs appear to have lost starting left tackle Branden Albert for an extended period with a left knee injury. Albert was taken from the field in the back of a motorized cart, and the Chiefs were expecting to learn from his MRI on Monday that Albert has ligament damage. He was replaced at left tackle by Donald Stephenson, who filled in for Albert last season when he missed time with back spasms. Rookie Eric Fisher, the first player taken in this year's draft, will stay for the time being at right tackle. The Chiefs may also be without tight end Anthony Fasano on Sunday against the Redskins in Washington; he has a concussion. Fasano had become a threat in the red zone. Against the Broncos he caught a touchdown for the third straight game. The only other tight end on the active roster is Sean McGrath.

Playoff primer: At 9-3, the Chiefs are only a game behind the Denver Broncos in the AFC West standings. But the Broncos in effect lead the Chiefs by a game and a half. They swept the season series from Kansas City, and would win any tiebreaker between the teams. The Chiefs will have to finish with a better record than Denver in order to win the division title.

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 13

November, 29, 2013
An review of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders' 31-24 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

A silver lining: The injury to receiver Denarius Moore more than opened the door for former Cowboys wideout Andre Holmes, who put on a show against his one-time team in catching seven passes for a game-high 136 yards. Especially when you consider he entered the game with five career catches for 76 yards. Bittersweet? “It felt good,” he said. “If I had a calendar, I checked this game because I wanted to come here and play well in front of a team I had played for. It just sucks we didn't get the win.” Said Raiders QB Matt McGloin: “He's a guy I definitely trust. … He's a guy that will go and get the ball for you.”

[+] EnlargeOakland's Andre Holmes
Tim Heitman/USA TODAY SportsAndre Holmes had seven catches 136 yards against his former team.
McGloin takes a step back? After being a profile in efficiency in the first half -- he was 11-for-15 passing for 146 yards -- McGloin was 7-15 for 109 yards after halftime and had a costly end-zone interception when the Raiders were attempting to tie the game at 28-28 with 8:39 to play. He attempted a fade or jump-ball pass to the 5-foot-9 Jacoby Ford, who was covered by the 6-foot Brandon Carr. “If it was a touchdown,” McGloin said, “nobody would have thought a thing about it.” Actually, had Ford caught it, there would have been a lot of talk as it would have been his first TD catch since Nov. 6, 2011.

Injuries: Right guard Mike Brisiel was lost for the game after the first play with a knee injury. He was replaced by Andre Gurode, who was replaced after four false start penalties by Lucas Nix. Also injured: running back Rashad Jennings (concussion), safety Usama Young (stinger), linebacker Kaluka Maiava (calf) and cornerback Mike Jenkins (stinger).

Of explosive plays XII: And now for our weekly tracking of “explosive” plays. As deemed by coach Dennis Allen, such a play is one that gains at least 16 yards through the air, 12 yards on the ground. The Raiders had seven such plays against the Cowboys, all passes. Dallas had five explosive plays, one run and four passes. In 12 games, the Raiders have 86 explosive plays (24 runs, 62 passes), with three TD runs and seven passing scores. Oakland's opponents, meanwhile, now have 84 explosive plays combined, 18 runs (one TD) and 66 passes (seven TDs).