NFC West: 2011 Week 15 Wrap-ups

Wrap-up: Cardinals 20, Browns 17 (OT)

December, 18, 2011

Thoughts on the Arizona Cardinals' 20-17 overtime victory over the Cleveland Browns at University of Phoenix Stadium in Week 15:

What it means: The Cardinals improved to 7-7 with an overtime victory that kept alive their playoff hopes. Arizona would have been eliminated from postseason contention had it lost because Detroit defeated Oakland. Patrick Peterson's 32-yard punt return in overtime proved pivotal as Arizona won for the sixth time in seven games following a 1-6 start to the season. A winning season remains a possibility for Arizona.

What I liked: Quarterback John Skelton led a touchdown drive right before halftime and again when the Cardinals switched to a no-huddle offense after falling behind 17-7 in the second half. Receiver Andre Roberts continued a strong run late in the season, catching the touchdown pass late in the first half. Second-year outside linebacker O'Brien Schofield collected sacks on back-to-back plays, forcing a turnover on the second one. That put the Cardinals in position to kick the tying field goal, erasing that 10-point deficit. A challenge from Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt changed O'Brien's second sack from a sack and incomplete to sack and forced fumble, with Arizona recovering at the Cleveland 5. This was a huge reversal for the Cardinals. Skelton set up the winning field goal by finding a wide-open Larry Fitzgerald for a 32-yard gain on third-and-6. Skelton finished with 313 yards passing.

What I didn't like: The Arizona defense, though improved in recent weeks, gave up a seven-play, 76-yard touchdown drive to open the game. Peyton Hillis ran effectively against the Cardinals on this drive. The Cardinals also had trouble containing Browns quarterback Seneca Wallace, who scrambled and found Greg Little open for a 76-yard touchdown. Penalties against Jeff King and Nick Eason in the return game forced Arizona to start two drives deep in its own territory. Poor red zone execution, specifically a botched shovel pass that led to a sack on first-and-goal from the 5, contributed to the Cardinals settling for the tying fourth-quarter field goal when a touchdown would have given them the lead.

Milestones: Beanie Wells scored his 10th rushing touchdown of the season. He joined Tim Hightower (2008) and Donny Anderson (1973) as the most recent Cardinals players to reach that mark. Tight end Todd Heap also passed a milestone, passing Hall of Famer and ex-St. Louis Cardinals tight end Jackie Harris for 11th on the NFL's all-time list for receptions by tight ends.

What's next: The Cardinals visit the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 16.

Wrap-up: Seahawks 38, Bears 14

December, 18, 2011
Thoughts on the Seattle Seahawks during their 38-14 victory over the Chicago Bears at Soldier Field in Week 15:

What it means: The Seahawks (7-7) kept themselves alive in the NFC playoff picture through a mix of big-play defense and special teams, backed by continued efficient play from quarterback Tarvaris Jackson. The team has matched its victory total from last season and can finish with a winning record by beating San Francisco (home) and Arizona (road) in the final two weeks.

What I liked: Strong safety Kam Chancellor forced an early turnover. Also in the first half, free safety Earl Thomas picked off a pass deep in Seahawks territory. Defensive tackle Red Bryant scored on an interception return set up by K.J. Wright's quarterback pressure. Cornerback Brandon Browner scored on an interception return. Marshawn Lynch scored a touchdown for the 10th consecutive game in which he has played. Lynch ran more effectively than the raw stats indicated. His average suffered from a 2-yard scoring run and some unfortunate early play calling in the red zone. Jon Ryan and the punt coverage team pinned the Bears deep in their own territory to give Seattle an early edge in field position. Jackson got hot early in the second half, finding Golden Tate and Ben Obomanu for long gains, setting up another Lynch TD, this one to tie the game. Jackson completed 19 of 31 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown and a 94.4 NFL passer rating.

What I didn't like: The Seahawks, by pitching the ball outside to Leon Washington instead of hammering straight ahead with Lynch, conceded the conventional running game on their first possession in the red zone. Seattle also left its backup left tackle, Paul McQuistan, alone against Bears defensive end Julius Peppers on a third-and-13 play from deep in Seattle territory. That unsurprisingly led to a sack, forced fumble and Bears touchdown to erase a 7-0 Seahawks lead. Center Max Unger, though enjoying a strong season overall, remained inconsistent with his shotgun snap placement. He was too high against St. Louis last week and too low this week, resulting in fumbled snaps both times.

What's next: The Seahawks are home against the 49ers in Week 16.

Wrap-up: Bengals 20, Rams 13

December, 18, 2011
Thoughts on the St. Louis Rams following their performance against the Cincinnati Bengals at the Edward Jones Dome in Week 15:

What it means: The Rams fell to 2-12 and remained tied with Minnesota for second in the projected draft order for 2012. The strength-of-schedule tiebreaker would come into play if both teams finished 2-14. The Rams held the tiebreaker heading into Week 15, but the situation was fluid heading into the final three weeks. The team is now 10-36 in two-plus seasons under coach Steve Spagnuolo.

What I liked: The Rams' defense was on its game from the beginning and put St. Louis in position to stay competitive throughout. Cornerback Josh Gordy picked off an Andy Dalton pass and returned it 30 yards. Chris Long added to his career-high sack total. Darian Stewart, James Laurinaitis, Quintin Mikell and others made aggressive plays against the Bengals' running game. Kellen Clemens' mobility and overall health at quarterback gave the offense a boost after Sam Bradford, named inactive for this game, struggled to play through an ankle injury previously. Danario Alexander's leaping touchdown grab in the final minutes brought the Rams within striking distance. Clemens passed for 229 yards and finished with a 95.7 NFL passer rating. Rookie Robert Quinn got his hand on an opponent's punt for the third time this season.

What I didn't like: The offense struggled again, and there were additional opportunities to question play calling. The Rams lost yardage on a toss to Steven Jackson on third-and-long. A week earlier, they ran five plays in a row from the Seattle 1-yard line before giving Jackson the ball. More than anything, the Rams couldn't seem to get a break. A questionable pass-interference call gave the Bengals a long gain. The Rams forced fumbles, only to have the ball bounce back into the Bengals' possession. It's been that kind of year for the Rams. Despite a mostly strong showing on defense, the Rams let A.J. Green beat them for six receptions covering 115 yards.

What's next: The Rams visit the Pittsburgh Steelers in Week 16.