NFL Nation: 2013 Week 10 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Dolphins Week 10

November, 12, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Miami Dolphins' 22-19 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on Monday:

New low: Miami's loss to the previously winless Buccaneers is now its worst loss of the season. It trumps the Dolphins' previous home loss to the Buffalo Bills. Miami (4-5) cannot be taken seriously as a playoff contender if it can't beat a winless Buccaneers team in November. Chances are, the Dolphins will be sitting at home in January -- and they have ugly and disappointing losses such as to Tampa Bay and Buffalo to blame.

Saga continues: The Dolphins didn't take care of business on the field, and many layers remain in Miami's huge controversy involving suspended guard Richie Incognito and teammate Jonathan Martin. Both players appear unlikely to return. However, the NFL is fully investigating all parties, and there could be major repercussions if coaches or members of the front office are culpable. Expect plenty of new developments over the next several days and weeks.

Disappearing act: Just when you thought Miami's running game was coming around, it completely disappeared Monday against Tampa Bay. The Dolphins rushed for a franchise-low 2 yards on 14 carries. The losses of two starters -- Incognito and Martin -- certainly contributed to Miami's struggles up front. With neither player likely coming back this year, Miami must stick with what it has up front.

Looking ahead: The games get more challenging for the Dolphins. They have an important two-game home stand against the San Diego Chargers in Week 11 and the Carolina Panthers in Week 12. Both of these homes games will go a long way to determine whether or not the Dolphins are capable of turning their fledgling season around. Miami has lost five of its past six games.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 10

November, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 20-17 overtime loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeVincent Rey
Evan Habeeb/USA TODAY SportsBengals LB Vincent Rey, No. 57, had a career performance against the Ravens on Sunday.
Defense stands tall: Lost in much of the chatter about Cincinnati's defeat Sunday was the fact that its defense, all things considered, had a rather impressive game. Penalties were a problem all afternoon for the Bengals, who were charged with seven infractions on defense alone. The first one, a pass interference charged to safety Reggie Nelson on a flea-flicker that came on the Ravens' fifth play of the game, set an ugly tone for the Bengals' defensive unit. When they weren't whistled for fouls, the Bengals made life difficult for Baltimore's offense. They allowed the Ravens to gain only 189 yards of total offense, and limited them to a 3-for-19 showing on third down. Interceptions from Terence Newman and Vincent Rey and a fumble recovery from James Harrison were key turnovers for the at-times-beleaguered unit.

Green goes off: Receiver A.J. Green didn't really want to discuss his 51-yard touchdown reception off a Hail Mary as time expired in regulation. "It would have been a greater play if we had won," he said. Still, as great as that play itself was -- win, lose or tie -- it was only one piece in what ended up being a historic day for the wideout. Targeted 15 times, Green caught eight passes for 151 yards and that lone touchdown. It marked the fifth straight time he had more than 100 yards in a single game. No other Bengals receiver has accomplished that feat in franchise history. After struggling with getting his yards early in the season, Green has suddenly hit his stride and has a strong connection with quarterback Andy Dalton, even as Dalton has struggled in recent weeks.

King Rey: With Rey Maualuga still out with a knee injury, the Bengals have been relying the past two weeks on backup Vincent Rey to keep things stable until Maualuga can make his return. The starting middle linebacker is expected to miss possibly one more game as he recovers from an MCL sprain. In relief, Rey hasn't only kept the defense stabilized. He's taken over. Along with his five tackles in last week's loss at Miami, Rey had 15 against the Ravens on a day that was full of personal milestones. Not only were the 15 tackles a career high, but so were his three sacks. His second-quarter interception also was the first of his career.

Wind a factor? If you ask Dalton or Green if the winds affected their play, they will quickly shake their heads no. Of course, few players would admit that. That's just a case of someone not making excuses. But if we're to be honest, it did appear the wind, which had gusts upward of 20 mph, was a factor for both quarterbacks, and at least the Bengals' kickers. Mike Nugent missed his fourth field goal of the year when he kicked into a tough crosswind that yanked the ball wide left, and Kevin Huber had two punts that barely traveled any distance. He averaged 34.3 net yards on his six punts. Dalton, who often missed throws high, was 24-for-51 passing.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 10

November, 11, 2013
PITTSBURGH -- A review of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers23-10 win over the Buffalo Bills:

[+] EnlargeJerricho Cotchery
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsSteelers wide receiver Jerricho Cotchery catches a touchdown behind Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore during the second quarter of their Week 10 game.
It's a start: The Steelers improved to 17-2 against rookie quarterbacks since 2004, and EJ Manuel averaged less than four yards per passing attempt. Manuel's inexperience and the fact he was playing in his first game in five weeks because of a knee injury precluded the Steelers' players from saying the defense is back after giving up 610 total yards the previous week at New England. “No offense [to the Bills], but they have a quarterback who hasn’t had the opportunity to play in awhile,” Steelers free safety Ryan Clark said. “I think they played extremely vanilla and didn't allow him to do much so we needed to stop the run and that was the first step toward getting back, but we have a long way to go.”

Sleeper hold: Jerricho Cotchery tied his career high for touchdown receptions in a season when the 10th-year veteran hauled in his sixth scoring catch late in the second quarter. Running what he called a “fall-asleep fade,” Cotchery delayed his release and caught Bills cornerback Stephon Gilmore peeking into the backfield. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger put enough touch on the pass for the touchdown that snapped a 3-3 tie. “It was a great call by [offensive coordinator Todd] Haley," Cotchery said. "He went into the archives for that one and pulled it out at the right time.” According to Cotchery, it was a play Haley had used when he coached the wide receivers for the Bears from 2001 to '03. "It's something that we’ve been working on," Cotchery said. "We executed it well."

Key to victories: Roethlisberger always talks about how important balance is to the Steelers' offense, and the math backs him up. In the Steelers’ three wins, they have run the ball 51.1 percent of the time. In six losses they have run the ball just 30.5 percent of the time. The Steelers established the run early against the Bills and rushed for 136 yards on 4.1 yards per carry. Roethlisberger, meanwhile, had fewer passing attempts (30) than Steelers rushing attempts (33). "I thought we were able to find a rhythm and establish the running game and convert on some third downs," Steelers coach Mike Tomlin said.

OL sustains another injury: The Steelers lost another offensive lineman to injury when left guard Ramon Foster hobbled off the field early in the third quarter after hurting his ankle. Safety Shamarko Thomas (ankle) and outside linebacker LaMarr Woodley (calf) also left the game with injuries and did not return. Tomlin said all three were evaluated after the game but he did not have any information beyond that. Woodley said his injury was not serious. "I'll be good to go," he said.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 10

November, 11, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS – An examination of five topics from the Indianapolis Colts' 38-8 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

[+] EnlargeVontae Davis and Tavon Austin
AP Photo/AJ MastReceiver Tavon Austin gave the Rams a spark as a rookie in 2013.
Getting roasted: Colts cornerback Vontae Davis was defending Rams rookie Tavon Austin on both of his long touchdown receptions (57 and 81 yards). Davis appeared to give up chasing Austin on his first touchdown catch along the Colts' sideline. "Oh no, we just had busted coverage," Davis said when asked if he was injured on the play. "It was busted coverage on my part. I misread the play. Busted coverage on my part, so he got behind us." Austin came across the middle of the field, caught a pass from Kellen Clemens and then just outran Davis and safety Antoine Bethea for his second touchdown. "They moved him around a lot, put him in mismatch situations, using his speed to run away from coverage and stuff," Davis said. Austin finished with two catches for 138 yards.

Good to get back on the field: Having a short turnaround in between games is supposed to be a bad thing. The Colts don't see it that way. They like that they play again on Thursday night against Tennessee Titans. The Titans are coming off a home loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars, who went into the game winless. "Yeah, this is a time where we're looking forward to getting back out there," Bethea siad. "We can get this taste out of our mouth and put this game behind us. Give credit to St. Louis, they played better than us today. But we have to bounce back and get ready for Thursday."

Zero running game: I give Colts offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton credit for trying to establish the running game with Trent Richardson. It just simply didn't work. Richardson ran the ball four times in the first quarter. Those four carries led to minus-3 yards. That was just a sign of things to come the rest of the afternoon for the Colts. They gained 18 yards on 14 attempts. But wait, there's more: Quarterback Andrew Luck was responsible for 17 of those yards. That means Richardson, Stanley Havili, Donald Brown, Matt Hasselbeck and Dan Herron combined for 1 yard rushing. The Rams entered the game ranked 28th in the league against the run. "It's tough when you can't run the ball," Luck said. "Credit to them for forcing us into a one-dimensional attack."

Good play turned bad: Sergio Brown did the right thing when he saved the ball from going into the end zone in an attempt to pin the Rams deep on their end of the field. What Brown and the Colts didn't expect, though, was for Austin to grab the ball and go 98 yards for a touchdown. "Had guys down there and a bunch of guys maybe assuming play is going to be down at the 1-yard line," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "We told our guys, they knew this guy would catch it at the 1, catch it 5 yards deep. He's that type of player and he's dynamic that way. He made a great play and we obviously didn't cover well enough." Austin finished with 172 yards on punt and kickoff returns.

Scoreless day: Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri's streak of scoring at least one point came to an end at 154 games. The Colts scored a touchdown when Luck threw a 13-yard touchdown pass to Brown in the third quarter. Pagano bypassed the extra point to go for two. Luck found tight end Coby Fleener for the conversion.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 10

November, 11, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO -- An examination of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 10-9 victory over the San Francisco 49ers:

Just how big was the win? This was the first time the Panthers (6-3), winners of five straight and six of their past seven, have beaten a team with a .500-or-better record this season. It was the first time they have won a game decided by three or fewer points since Week 7 of the 2010 season, which happened to be a 23-20 victory over San Francisco in Charlotte. Cam Newton had been 0-5 in games decided by a field goal or less, which according to ESPN Stats & Information was the worst record for any quarterback in the NFL since he entered the league in 2011. Josh Freeman was second at 1-5, followed by Matt Moore at 1-4 and Philip Rivers at 3-6.

[+] EnlargeLuke Kuechly
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezLuke Kuechly led the way in shutting down Colin Kaepernick and the San Francisco offense.
Just how well did the defense play? The 151 yards allowed was the fewest San Francisco has gained since Week 9 of 2006, when the Vikings held the 49ers to 133 yards. The 49ers had scored 30-plus points in five straight games and in all six of their wins. It was absolute domination. And here's an early vote for middle linebacker Luke Kuechly for NFL Defensive Player of the Week. The second-year player had a team-best 11 tackles, a sack and two tackles for losses.

Safety valve: Newton's numbers were dreadful in the first half as he completed 5 of 14 pass attempts for 54 yards, an interception and a passer rating of 18.2. His top target on the season, Steve Smith, was shut out. Newton adjusted in the second half and completed 6 of 8 attempts to Smith for 63 yards, including 4-of-5 on third down. None was bigger than his 9-yard completion on third-and-8 with 2:18 to play and the Panthers trying to run out the clock. Newton, who had the NFL's top third-down passer rating coming into the game, was 1-for-4 with an interception on third down in the first half.

Ginn's return: Nobody wanted to impress the 49ers more than Ted Ginn Jr., who had only two catches for his former team in 2012. Ginn only caught two passes for 19 yards after being targeted four times on Sunday, but he made a huge contribution with his punt returns. After averaging fewer than 11 yards a return in the first eight games, he averaged 21.7 yards on three returns Sunday, almost breaking a couple. He was so excited that he developed cramps and had to go into the locker room for an IV at one point.

It was a fumble: I asked coach Ron Rivera why the officials didn't overturn the incomplete pass call on a play to San Francisco tight end Vernon Davis in the second quarter to a catch and fumble. It appeared to the Panthers and almost everyone at Candlestick Park that Davis had possession, was stripped of the ball and Carolina's Thomas Davis recovered. Rivera's explanation from the officials: "Well, apparently, there are three phases as to what has to happen on a catch and he hit two out of three." He didn't sound convinced. None of the Panthers did, either. "He took three steps. He took three steps. Ball out,'" safety Mike Mitchell said.

Bonus observation: Rivera was asked whether he had any hesitation on sending kicker Graham Gano out for the game-winning 53-yard field goal in the fourth quarter. Really? Gano's missed 48-yarder in the third quarter was his first after going 12-for-12. He is now 5-for-5 on field goals of 50 or more yards, the most in the league from that range. Rivera, by the way, had no hesitation.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 10

November, 11, 2013
GREEN BAY, Wis. -- Taking a look at four storylines from the Philadelphia Eagles' 27-13 win over the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.

Nick Foles is flirting with history. Foles has thrown 16 touchdown passes this season without an interception. That would've tied the NFL record set in 1960 by Milt Plum, except that Peyton Manning already broke that 53-year-old mark this season. Manning threw 20 touchdowns before throwing a pick.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Gregory Shamus/Getty ImagesNick Foles has thrown 10 touchdown passes and no picks in the Eagles' past two games.
What's even more compelling is that Foles isn't being extra cautious. In fact, his receivers say that he's trusting them and throwing the ball out where they can get it. That raises the degree of difficulty on the no-pick streak.

“Nick does a great job protecting the football,” coach Chip Kelly said. “He hasn't thrown an interception. He doesn't really make egregious mistakes. If he misses, he may not be as accurate on the throw. He's got a good grasp and command of what we're doing.”

Foles put two strong games together. After his rough outing against Dallas, Foles needed to prove he could be consistent. Check that box.

His numbers in the past two games combined: 34-of-46 (73.9 percent) for 634 yards, 10 touchdowns and no interceptions. Foles has a passer rating of 155.3 for the two games.

“We just have to keep moving, but I felt good out there,” Foles said. “Receivers were making some good plays and helping me out.”

Does that mean he will be the starting quarterback if Michael Vick is healthy? It's a question Kelly won't answer. Until Vick is 100 percent, it's a question Kelly doesn't have to answer.

Tempo works both ways. The Eagles have done a better job maintaining Kelly's high-tempo offense. But in some ways, their ability to run a slow-it-down offense has been just as important at times. In the fourth quarters of wins in Tampa Bay and Green Bay, the Eagles drained the clock by methodically running the ball.

“You're in a game, it's a couple-score game,” Kelly said. “Even if we did turn the ball back over, hopefully there's not a lot of time left on the clock. Everybody knew what was happening. Everybody knew we were running it. It's something to build upon. We feel comfortable it's something we're getting better with.”

LeSean McCoy ran the ball nine times for 50 yards in the Eagles' last drive, which took up the final 9:32 of the game. Foles ran for a first down. Bryce Brown mixed in a couple of runs for 11 yards.

“That's what championship teams have to be able to do,” wide receiver Riley Cooper said.

The Ouch Department was extra busy. The Eagles went into the game without starting cornerback Bradley Fletcher, who injured a pectoral muscle last week. They lost two more defensive starters, linebacker Mychal Kendricks and safety Earl Wolff, plus offensive tackle Jason Peters -- all in the first half.

“I think it speaks a lot about the depth,” Kelly said. “You have to have it. It's a tough, hard-nosed, physical game and everybody needs to be ready to play at any point in time. I thought the guys that stepped up and came in did a really nice job.”

Cornerback Roc Carmichael, linebacker Najee Goode and safety Patrick Chung helped the defense hold the Packers to 13 points. Allen Barbre replaced Peters at left tackle.

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 10

November, 11, 2013
An review of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders' 24-20 loss to the New York Giants:

A new ground attack? Seemingly lost in the Raiders' listless passing offense was the gritty showing of running back Rashad Jennings, who rushed for 88 yards on 20 carries in place of Darren McFadden (hamstring). Jennings ran hard and hardly went down on first contact. “The offensive line was putting hats on hats and leaving holes for the backs,” Jennings said. “Hats off to them. That's what we expect from the backfield, is for us to run physical.” It's something McFadden, who has now missed two games this season and 15 of Oakland's past 34 games, has not provided much of lately.

[+] EnlargeOakland's Rashad Jennings
AP Photo/Bill KostrounRashad Jennings rushed for 88 yards on 20 carries against the Giants.
Punch it in: As welcome a sight as it was for the Raiders to see themselves employ a successful power running game, it was just as disheartening for them to settle for a field goal after having first-and-goal at the 1-yard line in the third quarter. “There are no excuses for not being able to get in the end zone,” Jennings said, “and that's starting with myself just being the running back out there.” Jennings ran for no gain on first down, then Terrelle Pryor threw an incompletion before Khalif Barnes was called for a false start. “I could hear T.P. say, ‘Hut, hut,' but I've got to move when the ball moves,” Barnes said. Another Pryor incompletion followed and Sebastian Janikowski kicked the field goal to put the Raiders up 20-14. “That's the difference in the game,” Pryor said. “We got three points there and lost by four.”

The book on the Mannings: With his second-quarter 43-yard pick-six on Giants quarterback Eli Manning, Tracy Porter became the only player in league history to return an interception for a touchdown against both Manning brothers. “It's just a coincidence,” said Porter, who picked off Peyton Manning and returned it 74 yards for a score that sealed the New Orleans Saints' Super Bowl XLIV win over the Indianapolis Colts. “It would have been the same if we had won the game [against the Giants]. It's bittersweet.”

Of explosive plays IX: And now for our weekly tracking of “explosive” plays. As deemed by Raiders coach Dennis Allen, such a play is one that gains at least 16 yards through the air or 12 yards on the ground. The Raiders had four such plays against the Giants, one run, and three passes, while New York had five explosive plays, two runs and three passes. In nine games, the Raiders have 64 explosive plays (22 runs, 42 passes), with two TD runs and four passing scores. Oakland's opponents, meanwhile, have 64 explosive plays combined, with 14 runs (one TD) and 50 passes (five TDs).

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 10

November, 11, 2013
BALTIMORE -- A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 20-17 overtime win over the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeBaltimore's James Ihedigbo
AP Photo/Patrick SemanskyJames Ihedigbo had two interceptions and tied for a team high with nine tackles.
Constant pressure: Baltimore held Bengals quarterback Andy Dalton to a 52.2 passer rating, the second worst of his career. This was the result of constant pressure on Dalton (five sacks and nine quarterback hits). Elvis Dumervil led the Ravens with 2 1/2 sacks, the most of his brief Ravens career. The Ravens have recorded at least two sacks in 17 straight games, the NFL's longest such streak. Baltimore now has 67 sacks at home dating back to 2011, an average of 3.4 sacks per game. This year, the Ravens have recorded 16 sacks in four home games.

Rare miscues at home: Joe Flacco led his 17th game-winning drive in the fourth quarter or overtime, but it was hardly a stellar performance. His 140 yards passing were a season low, and no one had fewer yards passing in a win Sunday. Flacco's three turnovers (two interceptions and one fumble) were his second most in a game this year. This was the first time Flacco has been picked off at home this season, ending a streak of five straight without an interception at M&T Bank Stadium (a span of 176 passes). Flacco hadn't thrown multiple interceptions in a home game since Oct. 11, 2009, which also came against the Bengals. The Ravens improved to 3-7 in games when Flacco turns the ball over at least three times.

Pick party: The Ravens nearly matched their interception total for the season Sunday when they picked off Dalton three times. Baltimore had only four interceptions in its first eight games of the season and hadn't picked off a pass since Oct. 13. Safety James Ihedigbo came up with the first two interceptions of his career after going 77 games without one. Cornerback Lardarius Webb wrestled an interception away from Bengals receiver Marvin Jones, which was his first since tearing his anterior cruciate ligament last October. Under coach John Harbaugh, the Ravens are 18-5 when they force at least three turnovers.

Clutch kicker: Justin Tucker's 46-yard field goal in overtime was the fifth game winner of his 29-game career and his third in overtime. He has now converted a career-best 16 straight field goals and hasn't missed since Week 2. During his streak, Tucker has hit half of those field goals from 40 yards or longer. His career success rate (including playoffs) is 91.2 percent. Only three kickers -- Jacksonville's Josh Scobee, Seattle's Steven Hauschka (a former Raven) and Dallas' Dan Bailey -- have been more accurate since the start of the 2012 season.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 10

November, 11, 2013
NEW ORLEANS -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 49-17 loss to the New Orleans Saints.

Going nowhere: Only three times in their first 10 games have the Cowboys converted on at least 40 percent of their third-down opportunities. They were 0-for-9 against the Saints. Tony Romo missed on all six of his third-down passes, continuing a poor season-long trend for the quarterback. Romo was the 30th-ranked quarterback in third-down passer rating before Sunday, ranking ahead of only Matt Schaub and Brandon Weeden. Winning on third down is a must, and the Cowboys don't win nearly enough.

"Typically you have to get yourself in favorable third-down situations," coach Jason Garrett said. "I believe you have to make first downs on first down and drive the football and stay out of some of those third-down situations. But when the time comes you've got to convert and you've got to make some plays, and we've just got to do a better job. We'll evaluate what we're doing and see if we can put our players in better positions to do that."

[+] EnlargeDarren Sproles
Derick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsDallas gave up three scores on the ground and 242 rushing yards to the Saints.
Pounded on the ground: The Saints ran for 282 yards against the Cowboys. Mark Ingram had 145 yards. Pierre Thomas had 87 yards. It was the second time this season the Cowboys gave up 200-plus rushing yards. Washington had 216 yards on Oct. 13 but lost. The Cowboys have given up at least 84 yards on the ground in six of their last seven games. The Cowboys had eight players in the box Sunday, dropping a safety, but the line was of no help with the running backs often not getting touched as they broke through to the second level. That's where they missed Sean Lee, but the tackling was atrocious.

"It's not good when they can just line up and run it right at you," defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin said.

Slowing down: Terrance Williams was able to catch a 21-yard touchdown pass from Romo, but it was his only catch of the game on five targets.

In the last three games, Williams has caught just five of the last 22 passes thrown his way. Not all targets are created equal and viewing them purely in a batting average fashion can be dangerous, but Williams has to be more efficient. If teams are going to do whatever they can to take away Dez Bryant, then Williams has to win more. If he wins, then Bryant cannot be doubled as easily as he has been doubled. A healthy return of Miles Austin would also help the offense and Williams.

What's the deal? Maybe the Cowboys don't lead the league in hamstring injuries, but they must be close. Lee was forced from Sunday's game in the first half. Justin Durant was forced out in the second half. Claiborne did not play against the Saints because of a hamstring injury. Austin missed his fifth game in the last seven weeks because of a hamstring injury.

Garrett is confounded by the issue that has cropped up and has said the Cowboys examine all of their stretching issues before and after practices as well as before games.

"I think they're fairly common around the league," Garrett said, "but we've certainly had our share of them."

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 10

November, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears21-19 loss to the Detroit Lions:

[+] EnlargeMarc Trestman
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesMarc Trestman called for a run on an fourth-and-1 play that failed and, later, proved pivotal.
Fourth-down call: Considering the Bears lost by two points, coach Marc Trestman will receive some criticism for opting to go for it on fourth-and-1 from the Detroit 27 in the second quarter instead of taking the three points by kicking a field goal. Trestman called a Michael Bush run behind right guard Kyle Long that went for no gain. “We’re coming off a game where the Lions put up 500 yards and they went down the field on the first series and scored,” Trestman said. “It’s just that possession became very, very important, relevant to the start of the football game.” Next time, take the points.

Offensive line/running game: Chicago’s offensive line allowed just two sacks, but Jay Cutler and Josh McCown seemed to be under duress quite a bit. Cutler and the team say an ankle injury reduced the quarterback’s mobility, and that made it more difficult for the offensive line to adequately protect him. But the most pronounced deficiency up front was the group's inability to open space for the run game. Matt Forte averaged 1.9 yards per carry, with his longest attempt of the day going for only 7 yards. That needs to improve.

Front seven: Defensive end Shea McClellin was out of action, but the front four still fared decently, with Corey Wootton and Stephen Paea each applying pressure to Matthew Stafford. The front four didn’t collect any sacks, but they also didn't allow Stafford to sit back in the pocket and pick apart the secondary. The Bears gave up 145 yards on the ground, but they didn’t let the Lions control the flow of the game with the rushing attack the way they did in the first meeting.

Conte: Safety Chris Conte seems to be Chicago’s most-criticized defensive player, and although he made a few mistakes here and there (such as on Reggie Bush’s 39-yard run in the third quarter), he finally made a couple of plays worthy of recognition. Conte picked off a Stafford pass intended for Calvin Johnson and returned it 35 yards, setting up a Robbie Gould field goal that made the score 14-13 with 9:17 left to play. And Conte broke up what appeared to be a sure touchdown to Johnson on a third-down throw into the end zone on Detroit’s next offensive possession.

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 10

November, 11, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars29-27 victory over the Tennessee Titans:

[+] EnlargeWill Blackmon
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesThe Jaguars went "back to basics" on defense and forced four turnovers, one of which Will Blackmon returned for a touchdown.
Simple success: Apparently, simpler is better for the Jaguars' defense. Coach Gus Bradley and defensive coordinator Bob Babich spent part of the bye week going over the defensive game plans from the first half of the season and decided that trimming the amount of coverages, blitzes and personnel groups would help. The result was the defense’s best performance of the season. The Jaguars forced four turnovers -- the most they'd had in a game in three years -- and held the Titans to just 83 yards rushing. The Jaguars were last in the NFL in rush defense (161.8 yards per game) entering the game. “We got back to basics,” linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “Early on or even the last couple weeks ... we had games we were trying to do a little too much, and we scaled our package down for this week. I think we had a really good plan going into the game, very basic, not complex. It was stuff that we knew really well and we felt like we could play really fast with.”

Special teams: Kick returner Jordan Todman nearly got benched this week after bobbling three kickoffs against San Francisco, but he responded with a huge game against the Titans. He averaged 33 yards on three returns, including a season-long 46-yarder. That came on his final return and it helped set up another big play on special teams, when LaRoy Reynolds downed Bryan Anger’s punt at the Tennessee 1-yard line. The Jaguars got a safety two plays later on a holding call in the end zone, which ended up being the winning margin. The Jaguars’ special teams have improved markedly since training camp, thanks mainly to an overhaul of the bottom of the roster and the addition of players such as J.T. Thomas and John Lotulelei.

No stupid penalties: Did the Jaguars make mistakes on Sunday? Plenty, such as Chad Henne’s terrible throw to Marcedes Lewis that got intercepted and Brad Meester’s shotgun snap that bounced off receiver Ace Sanders. But the Jaguars didn’t commit the stupid penalties that were a regular occurrence during the team’s first eight games. They were penalized four times for a season-low 19 yards. Meanwhile, the Titans did commit a couple of costly penalties: a holding call in the end zone for a safety and a roughing-the-passer flag on Bernard Pollard that extended a drive that ended with a touchdown.

Commitment to the run: The Jaguars didn’t have a lot of success on the ground, rushing for only 54 yards and averaging just 1.8 yards per carry, but offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch stayed committed to it all day. The Jaguars had only 56 offensive snaps and Fisch called 30 runs, including 21 by Maurice Jones-Drew. That’s the kind of balance Fisch wants in terms of runs and passes. Obviously the production needs to increase on the ground.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 10

November, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 29-27 loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars at LP Field:

Who’s a cancer? Safety Bernard Pollard and now tight end Delanie Walker have talked after recent failures about players who may be holding the Titans back. Walker went so far as to say after this loss that it may be time to start calling guys out and that the Titans need to “find the cancer.” So who’s the cancer? Nobody is saying at this point, though the Twitterverse is drawing some conclusions. I'm not going to speculate who qualifies without anyone telling me a name. But I think the place to start looking is where big paychecks aren’t meeting big production.

Depth issues: Teams aren’t going to be deep everywhere, but they need to be deep at the right spot. I don’t know what kind of player Chris Spencer really is. That’s the first we’ve seen him at center in the regular season. But Brian Schwenke had been a difference-maker in two games since he became a starter. He was lost relatively early to an ankle injury, and his physical presence left when he did and Spencer took over. The Titans ended up running for 3.1 yards a carry and just 83 yards total against the NFL’s worst run defense. That’s not close to good enough for a team that expects to be one of the top rushing attacks in the league.

Quarterback: The Tennessean reported that Jake Locker is not expected to play again, and a source told me he was 99 percent sure the quarterback is done for the season after suffering a foot injury late in the first half. Ryan Fitzpatrick was an ineffective starter when he filled in for Locker against Kansas City and Seattle. Perhaps he will be better this time around. Locker grew in his third season and second as a starter, but not enough. He showed gradual improvement in his first four games. Then he missed two games while hurt, and he wasn't strong in the three games since he came back. Now he’s going to carry a question about whether he’s injury prone.

Self-inflicted: Four giveaways, missed tackles and poorly timed penalties were all factors in the Titans' loss. They aspire to be a disciplined team that plays crisp football and puts stress on opponents. At 4-5, they more often hurt themselves in the ways bad teams do. Still, they are one of five teams with four wins in the AFC, just one game behind the Jets, who are in line for the final playoff berth at 5-4. As bad as things look, they aren’t dead yet.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 10

November, 11, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A review for four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 28-20 win over the San Diego Chargers on Sunday.

Hits keep on coming: In each of the last three games, quarterback Peyton Manning has been hit from his blindside by an opposing pass-rusher and fumbled the ball. First, it was the Colts' Robert Mathis, then it was the Redskins' Brian Orakpo and Sunday it was Chargers outside linebacker Tourek Williams, who swiped the ball out. It is a growing concern and obviously opposing defenses see backup left tackle Chris Clark as someone they can take advantage of from time to time. Clark has generally played well since Ryan Clady went to injured reserve, but opposing pass-rushers have forced the issue a little more of late with momentum-changing results.

[+] EnlargeSan Diego's Tourek Williams
AP Photo/Denis PoroyTourek Williams was the latest pass-rusher to force Peyton Manning into fumbling.
Lots of action in play action: Manning has always said he believes play-action, when done by an offense that has enough of a running game to make it work, is one of the most difficult things for a defense to handle. Sunday was certainly proof of that. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Manning was 9-of-9 passing with three touchdowns on play-action plays. That total included Manning's 7-yard scoring pass to Demaryius Thomas, when he also moved from the shotgun to under center just before the snap.

Rotation: It's not clear whether it's due to the fact linebacker Von Miller missed six games to open the season with a suspension or Jack Del Rio's desire to use everyone in uniform, but Miller was not in the lineup for several plays on defense Sunday. Miller was not in the nickel package for five consecutive snaps in the second quarter -- he is usually lined up as a defensive end in that look -- and was also not in the nickel and base defense for a selection of snaps in the first quarter.

Ground rules: During two recent games in which Manning has taken plenty of punishment -- the Broncos' loss in Indianapolis and Sunday in San Diego -- the Broncos ran the ball a season-low 20 and 22 times, respectively. Nothing slows down an opposing rush like the running game. Sunday the Broncos ran it just three times in the first half. The Broncos did have just one possession -- a three-play scoring drive -- in the first quarter Sunday, but the Broncos may have to go big and grind it out a little more moving forward, especially if Manning's mobility is limited at all against the Chiefs.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 10

November, 11, 2013
SAN FRANCISCO -- A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 10-9 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Ben MargotAs Colin Kaepernick and the offense go, so go the 49ers. And on Sunday, just about nothing went well.
Offense sputters: The 49ers lost this game on offense. The defense was terrific, but the offensive was lackluster, especially in the second half. All the 49ers had to show for the game was three first-half field goals. The 49ers had just 45 total yards in the second half, and quarterback Colin Kaepernick threw for 91 yards and was sacked six times, a season high. The 49ers had just 4 yards on 14 plays in the fourth quarter. Ultimately, the 49ers’ success depends on their offensive production. In their six wins, the 49ers have scored at least 31 points. However, in their three defeats, the 49ers have scored in single digits.

Third-down defense sags: The 49ers' defense was very good; the Panthers scored on a broken play and a long field goal. But the 49ers were not perfect on defense. A major reason the Panthers won this game was the third-down success of quarterback Cam Newton. He was 6-for-8 on third-down passes in the second half. This is an area the 49ers immediately have to address with Drew Brees and New Orleans looming.

Smith being eased back in: 49ers linebacker Aldon Smith played about 12 snaps Sunday. Most of his action was as an inside defensive lineman on third down. It was Smith’s first action since Week 3. The 49ers are easing Smith back into game action after he spent five weeks at an alcohol treatment center. He said after the game that he understands the decision, but wants to play more. He said he hopes to be a full a participant next week in New Orleans. I’d think as long as everything remains positive for Smith, he will get more playing time next week.

Returning switch: Not surprisingly, the 49ers made a switch at returner. Kyle Williams, who struggled badly against Jacksonville in Week 8 before the team''s bye week, has been replaced on punts and kickoffs. LaMichael James was the punt returner Sunday and Anthony Dixon returned kicks. I’d expect the switch to continue.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 10

November, 11, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 38-8 win against the Indianapolis Colts:

Tavon Time: Rookie receiver/returner Tavon Austin is one of the biggest storylines in the league, let alone for the Rams, coming out of this one. He had 314 all-purpose yards in a breakthrough performance.

Austin’s efforts nearly single-handedly put the Colts away and gave the Rams a much-needed big-play element that has been sorely lacking this season, and for the better part of the past decade.

[+] EnlargeTavon Austin
AP Photo/AJ MastReceiver Tavon Austin delivered 314 all-purpose yards in St. Louis' rout of the Colts.
Still only 10 games into his rookie season, Austin has plenty of room to improve. Though it’s unlikely he’ll be able to repeat Sunday’s effort on a regular basis, giving opponents the knowledge he can should help open things up for others.

As efficient as it gets: Since he took over as the starter three weeks ago, quarterback Kellen Clemens has never been asked to throw the ball all over the field. There were no expectations of monster statistical games.

No, the Rams want Clemens to take care of the ball, manage games and make plays when the opportunity arises. Well, they couldn’t have asked for much more than what he did Sunday.

Clemens posted the first triple-digit quarterback rating of his career at 140.6 as he threw for 247 yards and two touchdowns while completing only nine passes. More impressive was the damage Clemens did on third down, where he completed 7 of 9 for 229 yards, two touchdowns and six first downs.

St. Louis would gladly take six more performances like that from Clemens to close out the season.

Saffold stands in: Rodger Saffold made his first career start at right guard Sunday in place of injured starter Harvey Dahl. According to Saffold, it was his first start inside since he was a seventh grader in Ohio.

With only a week to get acclimated to the position, Saffold acquitted himself pretty well. Coach Jeff Fisher was pleased with Saffold’s performance at first glance, and Saffold said he felt surprisingly comfortable given his relative lack of experience inside.

In their ongoing effort to put the five best linemen on the field at the same time, don’t be surprised if the Saffold-at-guard experiment continues.

Win with Quinn: Defensive end Robert Quinn got Sunday’s win started with a big play when he sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and forced a fumble. Chris Long recovered the fumble and scored the first touchdown of his career.

Later, Quinn would add another sack, and was his usual disruptive self the rest of the game. Quinn has 12 sacks and five forced fumbles this season.

Quinn has made it crystal clear that he’s the Rams’ best and most productive player, but with each passing week, he’s making a stronger case that his name needs to be in the mix among greater honors, such as defensive player of the year.