NFC South: 2013 Week 12 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 12

November, 25, 2013
MIAMI -- A review of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 20-16 victory against the Miami Dolphins:

Rewards of winning: Seven straight wins have earned the Panthers (8-3) their third prime-time game of the seaosn. NBC has picked up the Panthers' Dec. 8 NFC South showdown against the New Orleans Saints (9-2) for its Sunday night telecast as part of the league's flex scheduling. If the Panthers hold serve against Tampa Bay, a team it beat 31-13 on a Thursday night telecast, and the Saints lose at Seattle, which is almost unbeatable at home, this would be for the outright division lead. The teams also play in Charlotte on Dec. 22 in a game that could decide the division title.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
AP Photo/Alan DiazCarolina's Cam Newton made big plays when they were needed in an exciting win against Miami.
Spitting blood: Quarterback Cam Newton might have to consider wearing a mouthpiece in the future. He was hit so hard by Miami's Cameron Wake on Carolina's first play that he called a timeout to make sure he hadn't bitten his tongue off. He doesn't like wearing a mouthpiece, because it gets in the way of calling plays and gives him dry mouth. He chews gum to keep his mouth moist. But the hit gave Newton reason to believe a mouthpiece might not be such a bad idea. "I'm not fond of wearing a mouthpiece, and hopefully my mom is not listening to this, because she always said you get one set of teeth," Newton said. "It's something I need to look at if we continue to have a problem."

Spitting blanks: Newton was 0-for-7 with an interception on throws of at least 15 yards downfield on Sunday. It was his first career game with at least seven attempts of that range and no completions. Newton also struggled against four or fewer rushers, completing only 41.7 percent of his passes. He had a 64.2 completion percentage against those fronts through the first 10 games. But Newton was good when it counted, completing a pass to Steve Smith that turned into a 19-yard gain on fourth-and-10 from his own 20 with just over two minutes remaining to keep alive the game-winning drive. He also ran 8 yards for a first down on a fourth-and-1 play from his own 41.

Three men and a sack: The Panthers were without sack leader Charles Johnson (knee), but his replacements did just fine. Yes, replacements. It took Mario Addison, Wes Horton and Frank Alexander to replace Johnson. Addison had a sack and tackle for loss, Alexander had three tackles, and the trio helped hold Miami to 52 yards rushing on 3.1 yards per carry. I'm not saying Johnson wasn't missed, but the Panthers were allowing 3.9 per carry with him.

Boom, boom, boom: Punter's often get overlooked, but Brad Nortman deserves props for his effort against Miami. He is a big reason the Panthers were able to keep the Dolphins from spending most of the game in Carolina territory. He had punts of 72, 61 and 58 yards, averaging 56.7 yards on seven punts. His net average of 46.6 was well above his 39.2 season average.
DETROIT -- A review of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 24-21 victory against the Detroit Lions on Sunday:

The Schiano Watch: He might not be totally off the hot seat yet, but there is no question that three straight wins are improving coach Greg Schiano’s chances of sticking around. The Bucs played perhaps their best game of the season as they picked up their first road win. During their 0-8 start, Schiano kept saying that once the Bucs started winning, they wouldn’t stop. So far, he’s been right, and it looks like his players continue to buy into his system.

Glennon’s stock rising: When he was coming out in the draft, some gurus said Mike Glennon didn’t have the tools to be an NFL quarterback. He’s proving them wrong. Glennon, who seems to get more efficient each week, had a 138.4 passer rating.

Revis’ injury: Cornerback Darrelle Revis left the game late in the first half with a groin injury. There will be more evaluation on the injury back in Tampa on Monday. The Bucs were able to get by without Revis because rookie Johnthan Banks stepped up and did a nice job against Calvin Johnson. But the Bucs are a much better team with Revis in the lineup.

Rainey mania slows down: Running back Bobby Rainey carried 18 times for just 35 yards. That’s a big drop from last week, when he ran for 163 yards. The Lions devoted much of their defensive attention to Rainey, and that opened up things for Glennon and the passing game.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 12

November, 22, 2013
ATLANTA -- An examination of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 17-13 victory over the Atlanta Falcons in the Georgia Dome.

Jordan's showcase: Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan has started to get a lot of well-deserved national attention this year for his continued development. Thursday's game might have been his signature performance, though -- perhaps the one that punches his ticket to the Pro Bowl.

Jordan had 2.5 sacks, including a huge one after the Falcons reached the Saints' 29-yard line late in the fourth quarter. Atlanta wound up settling for a missed 52-yard field goal attempt on that drive. Jordan's other 1.5 sacks came back to back on a third-quarter drive. He also forced a holding penalty and pressured Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan into an incomplete pass on third down, among other highlights during the Saints' second-half shutout. Jordan now has 9.5 sacks on the season.

[+] EnlargeKeyunta Dawson
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsKeyunta Dawson's forced fumble was a key play in helping preserve the Saints' 17-13 win.
Bend but don't break: The Falcons started out much stronger than the Saints on both sides of the ball, forcing a three-and-out, then churning out a 10-play, 76-yard touchdown drive featuring running back Steven Jackson. Atlanta followed with two long field goal drives on its second and third possessions. Then the Falcons were shut out the rest of the way.

Atlanta won the time of possession battle by more than seven minutes, thanks to a lot of midrange passes -- many picking on new Saints starting cornerback Corey White. But the Saints never let the ball get behind them for big gains. And they eventually came up with big stops. The biggest was end Keyunta Dawson's forced fumble inside the red zone early in the fourth quarter. The Saints also had five sacks -- four in the second half.

"A coach told me very early in my career that it's very hard for a team to drive 80 or 90 yards without any big plays or any penalties," Saints cornerback Chris Carr said. "They might score once or twice -- they scored the opening drive that way. But if you don't give up any big plays or penalties, it's going to be very hard for a team to beat a good defense."

Thomas creates balance: The Saints' pass-run balance keeps getting stronger each week, thanks almost solely to dual threat Pierre Thomas. New Orleans counted on Thomas in a big way, especially with Darren Sproles out with injury, and he delivered with 10 carries for 73 yards and five receptions for 57 yards. He broke big gains on three third-down conversions in the first half.

Graham creates imbalance: The Saints' other big offensive weapon was tight end Jimmy Graham. (What's new?) He caught five passes for 100 yards -- the biggest play coming when he made safety William Moore stumble with a double move on a 44-yard touchdown pass in the second quarter. Graham then yanked down the left side of the goal post with a celebratory dunk that required some immediate maintenance.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 12

November, 22, 2013
ATLANTA -- An examination of four hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons’ 17-13 loss to the New Orleans Saints:

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsMatt Ryan was under pressure much of the game, getting sacked a season-high five times.
Next in line? Matt Ryan said he was pleased with how his offensive line played to start the game. He didn’t say he was happy with how the line finished. Ryan was sacked a season-high five times and hit 10 times. One of those sacks occurred on second-and-10 from the Saints’ 29-yard line with under three minutes to play -- two plays before the Falcons decided to send Matt Bryant on the field for a 52-yard field goal that he missed after the Saints called a timeout to freeze him. Falcons coach Mike Smith seemed resigned to the fact that there’s no fixing this line now. "We’ve got to continue to work with the guys that we have," Smith said. "We’ve got some opportunities to maybe bring some other guys up that haven’t been active .... We’ve got to be better schematically. We’ve got to make sure we’re putting them in their best positions as a coaching staff in terms of the things we’re asking them to do. Entirely too many pressures on the quarterback in the football game tonight." The Falcons once again benched right guard Garrett Reynolds in favor of Peter Konz, who lost his starting job at center, then was benched himself last week at right guard in favor of Reynolds. Left tackle Lamar Holmes had a rough time against Saints right defensive end Cameron Jordan (2.5 sacks).

Hit parade: Smith was obviously upset when Saints left defensive end Akiem Hicks hit Ryan high in the second quarter and even appeared to grab Ryan’s face mask while beating Reynolds for a sack. And although Smith motioned to an official how he felt Ryan got hit in the face, Smith refused to complain about it to the media afterward. "That was not a penalty, because there was not a flag thrown," Smith said. "Again, we will have to wait and see what happens later in the week [regarding a possible fine]. The explanation I got was it wasn’t a penalty. They didn’t see any contact to the head or neck area, and of course what they see is what it is." Ryan also refused to complain about the officiating on the play, but the sack did kill the Falcons’ momentum and forced them to settle for a field goal. "The officials do the best that they can out there and the game moves fast," Ryan said. "You just have to keep playing. It’s a physical game. Hits are going to be physical but, again, it’s not for me to decide." And this came a few days after the whole controversy surrounding Saints quarterback Drew Brees and the hit by 49ers linebacker Ahmad Brooks.

Another explosion: By defensive coordinator Mike Nolan’s count, his defense gave up five more explosive plays against the Saints -- two passes of 20 or more yards and three runs of 10 or more yards. The biggest was a 44-yard touchdown reception by talented tight end Jimmy Graham, who beat safety William Moore with a double move. The Falcons have now surrendered 18 plays of 40-plus yards this season. In talking to Moore, the latest one to Graham could have been avoided. "That was all me," Moore said. "They set that up. Graham was basically jogging a few routes. And he came out there one play ... it was basically a trick play. And I’ve got to have my eyes where they need to be .... I knew it was coming. I just didn’t know when."

Missing man: Receiver Roddy White got banged up Thursday but remained in the game. Even before the injury, he wasn’t a big factor in the offense. He finished with just two catches for 24 yards as he was targeted twice. Ryan targeted Harry Douglas and rookie Darius Johnson a combined 19 times. Douglas had nine catches for 79 yards and Johnson, six for 67. The defense played by Saints cornerback Keenan Lewis can’t be overlooked. White, however, simply hasn’t been himself all season coming off a high ankle sprain and hamstring pull. "Obviously, he’s an explosive player for us, and we do like getting him the ball," Ryan said of White. "Just didn’t shake out that way [Thursday] ... Sometimes defense dictates where you’ve got to go with the ball." White, who missed three games, has just 20 receptions this season. Douglas now leads the team with three times as many (60).