NFL Nation: 2013 Week 1 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 1

September, 10, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Washington Redskins' 33-27 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
Brad Mills/USA TODAY SportsRedskins QB Robert Griffin III had a shaky first game back following offseason knee surgery.
Robert’s Rust: It turns out Robert Griffin III is human after all and even he needs game action to get back into a groove. Griffin learned lessons as a rookie in the 2012 preseason about being in the pocket and dealing with the rush. He clearly was off on some throws. The final two quarters will help get his feel back. Though almost all of those passes were underneath throws, it enabled him to find a rhythm. The Redskins say they practice like it’s a game, but no experience is better than game experience. It’s not just about the physical aspects, but also the mental. Griffin said he thought he saw something else on his first interception. But replays showed the corner, Brandon Boykin, had Santana Moss covered the whole way with safety help. There was never a chance to squeeze the ball into him. When Griffin is in rhythm, he does not make that throw.

Not so special teams: The Redskins lost the field position battle because the offense struggled to move the ball and because the special teams provided no help. Returner Chris Thompson fair caught one punt at the 5-yard line (it might have been downed around there anyway) and he ran back three kickoffs for 56 yards. Those three returns left Washington with the ball at its 9, 13 and 21, respectively. A bad debut for the rookie. Punter Sav Rocca started out fine, but his 34-yarder gave Philly the ball at Washington’s 44 en route to a touchdown. And placekicker Kai Forbath missed a 40-yarder wide right -- he was 17 of 18 in 2012.

Safety trouble: With Brandon Meriweather still nursing a sore groin -- he really hasn’t been healthy at all in Washington since signing in 2012 -- the Redskins opted for speed at safety and moved corner E.J. Biggers to strong safety. It did not give the Redskins what they had hoped. Biggers did not tackle well (missing LeSean McCoy, as others did, on his 34-yard touchdown run in the third) and appeared to be out of position (he wasn’t alone) on a DeSean Jackson touchdown in the opening quarter. They did not use veteran Reed Doughty, a better tackler but not as strong in space, in coverage. Rookie free safety Bacarri Rambo also missed tackles.

Run down: Running back Alfred Morris had a terrible start with a fumble on his first series and dropping a pitch in the end zone for a safety. Morris only gained 45 yards on 12 carries. But too often a missed block caused him to cut back several yards deep in the backfield, preventing a possible solid run. On some of these plays, it would be well-blocked to where he was headed. It wasn’t just the linemen; the tight ends lost some blocks, too. Regardless, it prevented the Redskins from taking pressure off Griffin with the run.

Upon Further Review: Chargers Week 1

September, 10, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers' 31-28 loss to the Houston Texans:

Another collapse: Norv Turner is no longer the Chargers’ coach, but a similar thing happened. The Chargers blew a huge lead again in the first game of the Mike McCoy era. San Diego had a 28-7 lead with less than 11 minutes remaining in the third quarter Monday, only to be outscored 24-0 the rest of the game. Last October, on a Monday night, the Denver Broncos came back from a 24-0 halftime deficit to beat the Chargers 35-24. McCoy was Denver’s offensive coordinator in that game. Seeing such a promising start end a familiar way to begin the McCoy era is difficult for San Diego to digest.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Jeff Gross/Getty ImagesPhilip Rivers threw four touchdown passes, but struggled in the fourth quarter Monday night.
Rivers’ fourth-quarter failures: San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers was terrific for the first 34 minutes of the game as he threw four touchdown passes. But as the Texans came back, Rivers was unable to spark his team. Rivers was 1-for-7 in the fourth quarter, including an 18-yard interception return for a touchdown by Houston linebacker Brian Cushing to tie the game at 28-28. According to ESPN Stats & Information, since the start of last season Rivers has an NFL-worst 7.7 fourth-quarter Total QBR and a league-high 13 turnovers.

Great start: The Chargers squandered a dynamic start to the game. After a great stop on special teams, the San Diego defensive came on the field and forced Houston quarterback Matt Schaub into an interception on the first offensive play of the season. Defensive tackle Cam Thomas intercepted the ball at the Houston 14. On the next play, the San Diego offense punched in a touchdown on a pass from Rivers to Ryan Mathews. It was a stunning turn of events. In the end, it meant little.

Get better on third-down defense: The Chargers improved on third down defensively some last year after finishing dead last in the NFL in 2011. But the Texans came back fueled on third-down success Monday night. The Texans converted on third-and-18 and third-and-13 during the comeback. This is a good, solid defense. But destructing on third-and-long is no way to build a winner. There are many reasons Houston came back. But it all started on third down.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 1

September, 10, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 31-28 win over the San Diego Chargers:

Mental toughness: Just how sure were the Texans that they were going to win last night's game?

Midway through the third quarter, safety Danieal Manning and inside linebacker Brian Cushing started chatting about another improbable comeback from years ago. That one was during Manning's rookie year in 2006, when he played for the Bears. You'll remember that as the game that led to then-Arizona Cardinals coach Dennis Green ranting that the Bears "are who we thought they were."

[+] EnlargeRandy Bullock
Robert Hanashiro/USA TODAY SportsHouston Texans kicker Randy Bullock and holder Shane Lechler celebrate Bullock's game-winning field goal as time ran out Monday night in San Diego.
Manning brought it up to Cushing as a reminder that these things happen. And because this game felt the same.

"Right in the middle of the third quarter, when it was about 28-14," Cushing said with a chuckle. "We just felt it. We felt that we could do it. Got it done."

With every player I spoke with after the game, I asked why this game was different than other times the Texans have faced big deficits. The answer most often was that this is a more mature team that has been through such adversity before. The Texans were accused of lacking mental toughness last season, and last night's game was a step toward proving that isn't true anymore.

While on the subject of accusations, the Texans turned another one on its head last night. I asked cornerback Johnathan Joseph if the Texans made a statement with the win: "Hopefully so, showing that we’re a resilient team, we can come back and play from behind."

Vintage Dre: Texans tight end Owen Daniels said he thinks Andre Johnson is actually getting better each year. Johnson had 146 yards on 12 catches, eight of which came in the second half as the Texans mounted their comeback. It wasn't easy on his body, but Johnson played like a kid again. He and quarterback Matt Schaub excelled when their team needed them the most.

About that first half: The start of the game was about as bad as it could have gone for the Texans, and they can't ignore that. Last night's win wasn't just a case of coming from behind, it was the biggest comeback in franchise history. That requires a big deficit first.

"If we're mature enough to hang in there and win tonight, we have to be mature enough to know we didn't play very good, too," Texans coach Gary Kubiak said.

Every phase of Houston's game struggled. The Texans' offensive and defensive lines got outplayed, they only made it to the red zone once, they allowed 100 percent red-zone efficiency on three trips, and their average drive started 11 yards shy of where the Chargers did. And, of course, the first three plays of the game were a bobbled kickoff return, a Schaub interception, and a 14-yard touchdown pass from Philip Rivers to Ryan Mathews. Rivers finished the half with a 122.6 passer rating.

Third-down efficiency was big: In the first half, the Chargers converted 63 percent of their third downs, often with big plays. In the first quarter, they converted a third-and-6 with a 17-yard pass to Eddie Royal, another third-and-6 with an 11-yard pass to Danny Woodhead and a third-and-7 with a 15-yard pass to Antonio Gates. In the second quarter, there was a 34-yard pass to Gates and a 10-yard touchdown pass -- both on third downs.

"Coming into halftime, that’s what we were saying, we’ve got to get off the field on third downs," cornerback Kareem Jackson said. "It definitely swung the game in our favor tremendously."

Indeed, in the second half, the Chargers converted only two.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 1

September, 9, 2013
A review of the hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 23-17 victory against the Atlanta Falcons at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

[+] EnlargeSean Payton
AP Photo/Bill HaberCoach Sean Payton said Rob Ryan's new defensive scheme helped rejuvenate the Saints in 2013.
Payton’s return: Coach Sean Payton was back after missing last season while serving a suspension for the bounty scandal. There’s no question Payton’s presence gave his team a boost. But it went deeper than that. The Superdome crowd is always loud, but it was even more of a factor as it welcomed Payton back.

Maybe the defense is better: It was only one game, but coordinator Rob Ryan seems to have the defense headed in the right direction. Holding Atlanta’s offense to 17 points is a pretty major accomplishment. And the defense came through with a huge interception at the end of the game to seal the victory. If the defense can play like this all season, the Saints could be very dangerous.

The offense was mediocre: Everything’s relative when you’re talking about the New Orleans offense. But it’s fair to say this unit didn’t have a great day Sunday. The good news is the defense stepped up, and you can’t count on the offense slumping for long.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 1

September, 9, 2013
A review of the hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons23-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan & Tony Gonzalez
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe Falcons' offense, including Matt Ryan and Tony Gonzalez, got off to a disappointing start in Week 1.
Not the Greatest Show on Turf: There was a lot of offseason talk about Atlanta’s offense and how it could be among the greatest ever. That was obvious Sunday as the Falcons scored 17 points against a defense that was the worst in the league last season. When you have Roddy White, Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez, Matt Ryan and Steven Jackson, you should be scoring 17 points a quarter.

A case of the drops: When they signed Jackson, the Falcons made a lot of noise about how valuable he would be as a receiver out of the backfield. But Jackson dropped two passes, including one that could have been a game-winning touchdown.

The offensive line is a problem: The Falcons juggled their offensive line after releasing right tackle Tyson Clabo and the retirement of Todd McClure. It’s obvious this unit is going through growing pains. Ryan was under duress way more than he should have been against a defense that isn’t that talented.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 1

September, 9, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 23-21 season-opening loss to the New England Patriots:

[+] Enlarge C.J. Spiller
Rick Stewart/Getty ImagesRunning back C.J. Spiller averaged just 2.4 yards per carry in Sunday's loss to New England.
Offense needs more than Spiller: The Patriots stymied Bills running back C.J. Spiller on Sunday, forcing Buffalo to look for other ways to move the ball. Spiller gained just 5 yards on his first five touches (four runs, one catch), fumbling on the second play of the Bills' first drive. Quarterback EJ Manuel seemed more comfortable going to Spiller, Fred Jackson and tight end Scott Chandler than to his wide receivers. Of Manuel's 27 passes, only 10 were thrown to wide receivers, and, of those, just five were caught. With Steve Johnson (98 percent of snaps), Robert Woods (97 percent) and T.J. Graham (95 percent) playing virtually the entire game, the Bills need more production out of that position.

"Chunk plays" hurt Bills' defense: There's little doubt that the Bills were able to come up with key stops at critical moments in the game. Both of Buffalo's sacks came on third downs, including Kyle Williams taking down Tom Brady in the red zone. But Patriots offensive coordinator Josh McDaniels pointed out Monday that the Patriots had a good amount of "chunk plays." The Patriots gained 19 yards or more nine times in the game. All but one of those plays occurred in Bills territory or pushed the Patriots across midfield. The Patriots were just 2-for-5 in the red zone, but the "chunk plays" kept the Bills' defense on the field.

Bills sputter on third down: Outside of their opening drive of the second half, an impressive 80-yard march that ended in a touchdown, the Bills' offense was just 2-for-11 on third down. Of course, one of those third-down misses came on Johnson's dropped pass in the fourth quarter, but the problems were larger than just that. "I think the biggest thing is getting the first one off the drive," tight end Scott Chandler said. "We had some short ones and some ones in key situations that we didn't convert."

Time of possession: Issue or overrated? The Bills managed to hold the ball for 22 minutes, 17 seconds, in contrast to the Patriots' 37:43 mark. The Bills want to maintain an up-tempo pace on offense, something that could limit their ability to maintain possession in games this season. "I don't think we're going to win any time-of-possession battles this year, and we're fine with that," center Eric Wood said. "We just need to run more plays. We would have liked to have their number of plays yesterday, and wear them down a little bit more. When we were able to put drives together, I felt like our tempo was great. But when we go three-and-out, our defense will be hung out to dry."

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 1

September, 9, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Jaguars’ 28-2 loss to the Chiefs:

Can Blaine Gabbert go this Sunday? Gabbert suffered a cut on the top of his right hand that required 15 stitches to close, and that puts his status for Sunday’s game at Oakland in doubt. Gabbert was able to play against the Chiefs despite still recovering from a fractured right thumb that he injured during the second preseason game. But this latest injury could be too much to overcome. Fifteen stitches is a significant number and means the cut was pretty substantial. Gabbert said the cut is near his pinkie finger, which means there shouldn’t be too much strain on the area when he throws the ball. However, there’s always a risk of tearing the cut open again. Gabbert said his thumb was not an issue against the Chiefs, but Sunday was by far the most pounding it took since it was injured. How it responds the next day or so will be telling.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
David Eulitt/Kansas City Star/MCT via Getty ImagesBlaine Gabbert faced consistent pressure from the Kansas City defense on Sunday.
Joeckel’s poor debut: It was likely a case of nerves and the fact that he was facing one of the AFC’s best pass-rushers, but right tackle Luke Joeckel didn’t look anything like a No. 2 overall draft pick. He gave up two sacks to Justin Houston, allowing the Chiefs linebacker to blow by with hardly any resistance. He also failed to execute a cut block on linebacker Tamba Hali, who ended up in perfect position to intercept Gabbert’s screen pass and return it 10 yards for a touchdown. Hali was right in Gabbert’s sight line and Gabbert shouldn’t have thrown the ball, but it was still a poor cut block. Coach Gus Bradley said Joeckel at times didn’t follow his assignments and got away from fundamentals. That’s a mistake of youth.

Playmakers have to emerge: The offensive line struggled all day, which played a huge role in the offense’s struggle (only 178 total yards) and was the main reason the Jaguars had few explosive plays. However, the Jaguars’ top playmakers weren’t able to get loose and make big plays, either. Maurice Jones-Drew gained 45 yards on 15 carries, but he had 19 yards on two of those carries. That means he averaged 2.0 yards per carry on his remaining 13 carries. Cecil Shorts finished with three catches for 40 yards, but he didn’t have his first catch until midway through the fourth quarter. Not having tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) was unfortunate because he would have helped as a blocker, and his presence as a receiver in the middle of the field would have given Gabbert a matchup the Jaguars could have exploited.

Secondary was solid: There was a blown coverage on one touchdown pass, but overall, rookie cornerback Dwayne Gratz and rookie safety John Cyprien played pretty well in their professional debuts. Both had three tackles, and Cyprien had one of the Jaguars’ four quarterback hits. Certainly one of the day’s few bright spots.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 1

September, 9, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- An examination of four hot issues from the Indianapolis Colts' 21-17 win against the Oakland Raiders:

[+] EnlargeVick Ballard
AP Photo/Doug McSchoolerThe Colts' running game, led by Vick Ballard, showed promise against Oakland.
Maybe the Colts can run after all: What was lost in the all the talk of the Colts' fourth-quarter comeback and Terrelle Pryor's creativity was Indianapolis' ability to run the ball, and I’m not talking about quarterback Andrew Luck's 19-yard touchdown run to win the game. The Colts, who talked about a balanced attack all preseason, rushed 26 times and attempted 23 passes. That likely won’t happen too many times this season. Vick Ballard gained 4.8 yards a carry on his 13 rushes. Ahmad Bradshaw added 26 yards on seven attempts. Don’t be alarmed by Bradshaw’s yards and attempts. The plan all along was for him to get a limited number of snaps because he sat out the entire preseason rehabbing his foot from offseason surgery. He’ll get better as the season progresses. “We blocked up some things and Vick hit some holes, and you saw what Ahmad can do in a limited amount of snaps and exposure,” coach Chuck Pagano said. “I know we probably left some yards out there and we had some times, some penetration that we’ve got to clean up, where we had some negative plays because of hits in the backfield.”

Luck throws under pressure: The Raiders were able to sack Luck four times. He faced five or more pass-rushers on 15 of his 31 drop backs -- the third-highest rate of his young career. Luck was on target when he was able to get the ball off. He was 11-of-12 for 99 yards and seven first downs when facing five pass-rushers. Luck completed only 50 percent of his attempts for seven touchdowns and five interceptions when facing at least five pass-rushers last season. Luck can expect more pressure this weekend against the Miami Dolphins; they had six sacks and three interceptions against the Cleveland Browns on Sunday.

Landry will make an impact: Some people made a big deal about Pryor giving Colts safety LaRon Landry a good stiff arm on his 26-yard run in the third quarter. That wasn’t a big deal. What was, though, was Landry having a presence all around the field. He had a game-high 15 tackles, including 10 unassisted. Landry’s best tackle came when he caught Raiders tight end Jeron Mastrud from behind on his 41-yard catch and run that could have put Oakland ahead in the final minutes of the game. The drive -- and any chance of the Raiders winning -- ended when Antoine Bethea intercepted Pryor with 31 seconds left.

Wayne still producing: As good as the offense could be this season -- and it should be really good with the weapons surrounding Luck -- one thing remains certain: Reggie Wayne will continue to be the primary target until he starts showing signs of slowing down. Wayne caught three passes on the Colts’ opening 10-play drive, which ended with his 12-yard touchdown catch on a perfectly thrown ball from Luck in the corner of the end zone. Wayne, who has caught at least one pass in 113 straight games, had five catches by the end of the Colts’ second drive, which put them ahead 14-0. He had only three more catches the rest of the game. One was a third-down grab on the Colts’ game-winning drive.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 1

September, 9, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 24-21 loss to the Chicago Bears:

1. Where were the sacks? After signing two defensive linemen to extensions and franchising another in the offseason, the Bengals' front office entered the season hopeful the line would take another step toward asserting itself as one of the league's more dominant units. On paper, the group didn't appear to do its job Sunday. Anchored by newly re-signed $55 million tackle Geno Atkins, the defensive line didn't record a single sack on Bears quarterback Jay Cutler. With a Bears offensive line that featured a pair of rookies and two other newcomers, the matchup seemed to bode well for the Bengals. Despite the fact they didn't record a sack, the Bengals' D-linemen still pressured Cutler, who somehow avoided getting touched. Cutler was one of the NFL's worst quarterbacks last season when teams rushed more than five players at him. Against the Bengals, he completed 80 percent of his passes for 94 yards and a touchdown in similar situations.

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
AP Photo/Charles Rex ArbogastWith Chicago's pass rush mostly contained, Bengals QB Andy Dalton had a strong showing.
2. Offense will be fine. Speaking of sacks, where were the ones on Bengals QB Andy Dalton? Aside from one fourth-quarter sack on a delayed stunt past left guard Clint Boling, Cincinnati's offensive line turned in a rather admirable effort protecting its starting signal-caller. With an upright Dalton, the Bengals amassed more than 300 yards of total offense, had a pair of touchdown passes, and got into a rhythm that at one point made the overall offense appear unstoppable. On one third-quarter drive, the Bengals converted three straight third downs. It ended with BenJarvus Green-Ellis' 5-yard touchdown run. Yes, the Bengals had three turnovers, but those particular miscues are fixable.

3. Security lessons. Of the Bengals' three turnovers, two resulted from receivers not immediately securing the ball. Pro Bowl receiver A.J. Green, who had nine catches for 162 yards and two touchdowns, bobbled away a pass that was perfectly thrown through multiple defenders. When the ball squirted free, Chicago cornerback Charles Tillman caught it for his second interception. His first came on the Bengals' second play of the afternoon, when he jumped a route that Green didn't completely sit down on. The final turnover was the product of a Mohamed Sanu fumble. Just after catching a 10-yard pass for a would-be first down, Sanu lost the handle on the ball when the Bears' Tim Jennings dislodged it with a hard hit to Sanu's hands. Immediately after that play, Cincinnati's momentum stalled. The Bears responded with their go-ahead touchdown.

4. Manage the clock. Cincinnati's late-game clock management left much to be desired. On one fourth-quarter Chicago drive alone, the Bengals used their last two timeouts because of defensive personnel issues. Coming with 8:06 left in the game, those timeouts proved critical. Cincinnati couldn't stop the clock in the final minute when it still had a chance to rally. Like the turnovers, this issue is a fixable one. It primarily was the product of having less than two weeks to tweak linebacker packages after Emmanuel Lamur went down with a season-ending injury in the final preseason game.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 1

September, 9, 2013
ARLINGTON, Texas -- An review of four hot issues from the Cowboys’ 36-31 win over the Giants:

Big hustle play: In last year’s season-opening win against the Giants, Tyron Smith made a touchdown-saving tackle after an interception, and then the defense held Eli Manning and his offense to a field goal. On Sunday, DeMarco Murray tracked down safety Ryan Mundy after an interception at the Dallas 1, and once again the defense held New York to a field goal.

[+] EnlargeDallas' DeMarco Murray
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsDeMarco Murray tackled Ryan Mundy just short of the goal line and the Cowboys held the Giants to a field goal.
On first down, David Wilson was stopped for no gain. On second down George Selvie sacked Manning for a 10-yard loss. On third down Brandon Myers was tackled at the 2, setting up the field goal.

“Defense did a great job but that doesn’t happen if DeMarco doesn’t make that hustle play,” coach Jason Garrett said. “We talk about the team, the team, the team all the time. That was a team play.”

Dirty work: Dwayne Harris made his name late last season as a punt returner and valuable backup receiver. On Sunday he had two catches for 12 yards and averaged 9.5 yards on two punt returns, but it was his work on the coverage teams that stood out most. He had three special-teams tackles, stopping Giants returner Rueben Randle cold. Last year Harris had five solo special-teams tackles the entire season.

Playing from ahead: How strange was Sunday’s game? The Cowboys did not trail the entire game. They could not say that at all last year. And by at all, we mean at all. They trailed at some point in every game in 2012. The last time they did not trail in a game came on Dec. 17, 2011, at Tampa Bay when they beat the Buccaneers 31-15.

Lineup changes coming? Brian Waters was inactive, but the Cowboys want to work him in as quickly as possible. The question is where? Mackenzy Bernadeau started at right guard and left guard Ronald Leary made the first start of his career. For Waters, a Week 2 start at Kansas City, where he spent the first 11 years of his career, would seem fitting.

“We’ll see how he fits into the mix, gets himself acclimated to our system and get him ready to play again,” Garrett said. “But I thought our guys fought well tonight. We’ll talk about how the roster evolves, how the starting lineup evolves over the next couple of weeks.”

Upon Further Review: Buccaneers Week 1

September, 9, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 18-17 loss to the New York Jets on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeJosh Freeman
Brad Penner/USA TODAY SportsThe Jets sacked Josh Freeman three times in the Bucs' loss on Sunday.
Freeman's future: We’re not yet to the point at which the Bucs have a full-fledged quarterback controversy, but let’s be totally honest: Josh Freeman did not look good Sunday. When he didn’t look good in the preseason, it was easy to shrug off, but this was the real deal, and it’s time to start getting concerned. Freeman completed 15 of 31 passes for 210 yards with a touchdown and an interception in a game in which the offense never got into anything close to a rhythm. Undoubtedly, some fans will already be calling for rookie Mike Glennon. I still think Freeman is Tampa Bay’s best option to win, but my opinion on that could change with a few more performances like this one.

Sophomore slump? After a stellar rookie season, running back Doug Martin had a dud of a game. Martin averaged only 2.7 yards per carry. He gained 65 yards on 24 carries. But don’t go cutting Martin from your fantasy team just yet. Keep in mind the Bucs were without guard Carl Nicks and fullback Erik Lorig, who are two of Martin’s most important blockers.

The overaggressive defense: Lavonte David's late hit on rookie quarterback Geno Smith set up the game-winning field goal for the Jets. Safeties Mark Barron and Dashon Goldson were also flagged for 15-yard penalties that turned out to be very costly. You want a defense to be aggressive, but you also want it to be smart. The Bucs have to be smarter on defense.

The bright spot: There was at least one for the Bucs. That was a pass rush that produced five sacks. Two came from linebacker Mason Foster, and David and linebacker Dekoda Watson each produced one sack. Daniel Te’o-Nesheim was the only defensive lineman to record a sack. The fact the Bucs came up with five sacks was encouraging, but they’ll need more pressure out of their front four if they’re going to have a chance against New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees next week.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 1

September, 9, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions’ 34-24 win over the Minnesota Vikings:

[+] EnlargeNdamukong Suh
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsSunday wasn't the first time Lions coach Jim Schwartz has seen a play from Ndamukong Suh come under scrutiny.
Ndamukong Suh facing discipline: Suh’s low block on Minnesota center John Sullivan eliminated an interception return for a touchdown by linebacker DeAndre Levy in the second quarter. Frankly, it isn’t that surprising, either. By the time Suh made contact with Sullivan, Levy already was well past Sullivan and on his way to the end zone. Suh told reporters he spoke with Sullivan about the play and that he wasn’t going for his knees. Watching it again, it is tough to say. Suh said he was aiming for Sullivan’s waist, but it is not clear from the re-watch exactly where Suh was trying to hit Sullivan. Either way, Suh’s conduct and play will come into scrutiny again this week.

First-half miscues can’t happen again: In some ways Detroit got away with one Sunday against Minnesota. Yes, Reggie Bush was special and the defensive line put a ton of pressure on Vikings quarterback Christian Ponder and did a good job tying up Adrian Peterson, but Detroit cost itself too many points off of its own errors. Suh’s penalty cost the Lions a touchdown because Matthew Stafford was intercepted on the following play. A poor hold from rookie Sam Martin cost Detroit a field goal. A hold by Brandon Pettigrew on a fourth-and-1 call also killed a drive and Detroit had to settle for a David Akers field goal. Do those types of things again and it’ll cost Detroit a game.

The defensive line could be really good: For all the discussion above about Suh’s questionable play, he and the rest of the defensive line were extremely effective and showed their depth. The Lions rotated eight defensive linemen and although Suh (87 percent) and Nick Fairley (75 percent) took the majority of snaps at defensive tackle, there was enough of a break to keep them fresh. Reps were almost equal at defensive end, with starters Willie Young and Jason Jones each taking 29 of 55 snaps and Israel Idonije and Ziggy Ansah taking 26 each. If Detroit has success this season, it will be because of this position group. As a group, they combined for three sacks and five of six quarterback hurries and also helped contain Peterson.

Blocking was strong: Detroit’s offensive line had three new starters Sunday -- left tackle Riley Reiff, right guard Larry Warford and right tackle Jason Fox -- but looked like a competent, veteran group that has been playing together for a long time. Add to that Fox played only 15 snaps because of a groin injury and was replaced by Corey Hilliard, and it is impressive Stafford was sacked only once and hit four times. Three of those hits and the sack came from Jared Allen. Otherwise, Minnesota’s defense was well blocked almost the entire game.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 1

September, 9, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 23-10 loss to the Miami Dolphins:

Right is wrong: I'm not sure if I've ever seen one side of a line play so poorly as right guard Oniel Cousins and right tackle Mitchell Schwartz did Sunday. Cousins has an excuse because he's a third-stringer making his second career start at guard. Schwartz, a second-round pick from a year ago, does not. Sure, Schwartz had a tough assignment in Pro Bowl end Cameron Wake, but he looked like an overmatched rookie in what was the worst effort of his 17-game career. Schwartz allowed three sacks and countless quarterback hits. Cousins was flagged four times, including a fourth-quarter holding penalty that brought back a touchdown. Shawn Lauvao needs to get healthy quickly.

[+] EnlargeCleveland's Trent Richardson
AP Photo/David RichardTrent Richardson carried the ball just 13 times for 47 yards against the Dolphins.
Questionable play calling: Did offensive coordinator Norv Turner forget about Trent Richardson being a 300-carry running back? Richardson ran the ball on four of the game's first six plays. He then had nine carries in the last 66 plays. Instead of putting the ball in the hands of their best offensive player, the Browns chose to throw the ball 53 times in a game that the Browns were trailing by a field goal heading into the fourth quarter. In order for Richardson to be a 300-carry back, he needs to average 19 carries per game. He had a grand total of 13 in the season opener. Richardson had only four games with fewer carries last season.

Tale of third downs: Some will point to turnovers as the reason the Browns lost, but Miami got only one field goal out of Brandon Weeden's three interceptions. This game was decided on third downs. While the Browns' defense did a commendable job in stopping the run and getting pressure on quarterback Ryan Tannehill, Cleveland couldn't get the Dolphins off the field. Miami converted eight of 16 third downs, which is quite an improvement for a Dolphins offense that ranked 16th on third-down conversions last season (38 percent). Tannehill was 9-of-13 for 82 yards on third downs, an average of 9.1 yards per completion. The Browns, meanwhile, couldn't stay on the field. Cleveland was a woeful 1-for-14 on third downs.

Stumbling in season openers: The Browns are 1-14 in season openers since returning to the NFL in 1999. Eight of the losses, including Sunday, have been by double digits. The only season-opening victory was in 2004 against the Baltimore Ravens, and the Browns finished 4-12 that season. No coach in the expansion era Browns has won his first game. The six coaches -- Chris Palmer, Butch Davis, Romeo Crennel, Eric Mangini, Pat Shurmur and Rob Chudzinski -- have lost their first game by an average of 16.1 points. Surprisingly, Davis, Crennel and Shurmur all won their second game as Browns coach. Chudzinski draws the defending Super Bowl champion Ravens in Week 2.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 1

September, 9, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 16-9 win against the Pittsburgh Steelers:

The defensive mentality: As the 2012 season ended, the Titans were already talking about the need to be more aggressive. Then Mike Munchak brought in Gregg Williams as a senior assistant/defense.

[+] EnlargeBen Roethlisberger
AP Photo/Gene J. PuskarJurrell Casey and the Titans sacked Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger five times in Week 1.
Munchak emphasized that defensive coordinator Jerry Gray called the Pittsburgh game. And the Titans didn’t go crazy with blitzing the way Williams’s defenses have in the past.

But the defense was well-prepared to keep Ben Roethlisberger hemmed in the pocket. The Titans sacked him five times. Though the Steelers found some plays to Emmanuel Sanders, Antonio Brown and Jericho Cotchery, the biggest pass play was 22 yards.

Williams' influence and the swagger he brings seemed to be at work, at least to a degree. As I’ve said before, Gray is in a no-win situation. We’ll look at improvements because of Williams, and if they are bad we’ll say it’s the same old stuff.

Jake Locker's poise: One of his biggest issues has been his desire to do too much. So one of the Titans' biggest goals has been to shape a team that can shape games where he doesn’t feel like he has to overreach. And he didn’t overreach in Pittsburgh.

He was calm and efficient. He misfired a few times. But we’ve said in the right sort of context he could be a bit like former Titans quarterback Steve McNair, where the numbers don’t always look as good as the quarterbacking.

That was the case here. Locker did his part.

I think his confidence grew through a preseason where he showed steady improvement. And I am sure it will grow some more from helping engineer a tough win in a tough place against a tough defense.

Three tight ends: The Titans used a three-tight-end formation quite a bit, mostly with Damian Williams on the field as the lone receiver and a running back behind Locker.

It was pretty effective, but going forward the Titans will have to do more to show they can be balanced when Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens and Taylor Thompson are on the field together.

By the count of Terry McCormick of Titan Insider, the Titans gave up a sack and threw just twice in 17 snaps with three tight ends, some of which was with Williams and a back, and some of which was with two backs. Locker threw incomplete once and connected on a 13-yard pass to wide receiver Nate Washington.

Williams said it won’t be too predictable.

“Sometime in that formation, you’ve got three tight ends and a receiver, that’s four eligible receivers that are capable of catching the ball,” he said. “You do have to throw out of it to keep them honest.”

Third-down defense: The Titans gave up some third-and-long conversions in their preseason game in Cincinnati that were of particular concern. The Steelers converted third-and-8, third-and-9 and third-and-8, respectively, on their opening possession.

That left me thinking the Titans were going to have some serious issues. But they settled down and played really well on third down the rest of the way, allowing the Steelers to convert just one of 10 the rest of the game.

“We knew those weren’t good on our part and those third downs were long, we weren’t happy,” cornerback Alterraun Verner said. “We came back to the sideline and said, ‘We can’t have that happen.’ We were able to respond.”

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 1

September, 9, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Giants' 36-31 loss to the Cowboys:

[+] EnlargeDavid Wilson
Ron Jenkins/Fort Worth Star-Telegram/MCT via Getty ImagesGiants running back David Wilson lost two fumbles in Sunday's loss to the Cowboys.
David Wilson's fumbles. This isn't like last year, when the Giants could afford to stash Wilson on the bench after his Week 1 fumble against the Cowboys because he was a rookie and they had Ahmad Bradshaw and Andre Brown in the backfield. Bradshaw is gone and Brown is out until at least Week 10 with a broken leg. Wilson is supposed to be the guy who breaks out in the Giants' run game this year and emerges as the big-play threat they drafted him to be. Even if they sign a veteran back this week, the Giants know they need Wilson to recover from Sunday's two fumbles and earn his way back into the lineup as the starter and lead runner. He'll have to get another shot, and soon.

The secondary. The defense was on the field too much and playing with too short a field as a result of the turnovers, but I thought the Giants' secondary covered well. Had a plan and executed it. The Giants shaded a safety to Dez Bryant's side all night, whether he was lined up on Corey Webster, Prince Amukamara or Aaron Ross. They kept Terrell Thomas in the slot on Miles Austin, and he purposely played off of Austin so as not to let him get behind him for a big play. It was probably a blueprint for next week's game against the Broncos (watch for Thomas on Wes Welker in the slot), though if Amukamara's concussion keeps him out of next week's game, using Ross at corner for a whole game could cost them.

Linebacker as a weakness. The Cowboys' plan was clearly to attack the middle of the field with short-range passes against the Giants' linebackers, which is a position of weakness for the defense. Tight end Jason Witten didn't have 18 catches as he did in the previous matchup, but he had eight and Austin had 10 in that part of the field as Tony Romo made a point of getting rid of the ball as quickly as possible. The Giants' pass-rushers must find a way to force quarterbacks to take shots deeper down the field. It will increase the chances for opponents' mistakes and reduce the Giants' dependence on the linebackers to handle the middle of the field so much.

High-octane receivers. If the Giants can get the play blocked (and there were issues with that Sunday night as well), their passing offense will keep them in games. Victor Cruz and Hakeem Nicks both looked healthy, and Rueben Randle had a 100-yard game as well. With that many options to throw to, Eli Manning could pile up yards this year. The key now is to make it so he's not always playing from behind.



Sunday, 1/25