NFL Nation: 2013 Week 13 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 13

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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SEATTLE -- An examination of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 34-7 loss to the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.

Dome or doomed? Even after one of their ugliest losses of the Sean Payton-Drew Brees era, Brees steadfastly denied that the Saints struggle outside of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. He again pointed out that they have the best road record in the NFL since 2009 and said, "If you just look at that, nobody's really done their research obviously." However, Brees didn't try to deny what had just played out on the field in Seattle.

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Payton
Brees
"We certainly didn't prove anybody wrong who's saying that by tonight's performance," Brees said.

The truth lies somewhere in the middle. The Saints (9-3) aren't automatically doomed outside of the Superdome. They're just a lot more human. And that doesn't play well in matchups against teams like Seattle. The Saints only turned the ball over once (a costly fumble when Brees was sacked in the first quarter). But Seattle's defense was stifling, holding New Orleans to 188 yards (the Saints' lowest total since 2001). Whether it's the location or the opponent, the Saints will have to figure out how to deal with both if they want to get past the NFC Championship Game, because it will almost certainly be played in Seattle. But first they have to get past the Carolina Panthers in the NFC South.

Nowhere to throw: Brees threw for only 147 yards -- his lowest total since 2006. His streak of 43 consecutive games with 200 passing yards ended -- two shy of the NFL record held by Hall of Famer Dan Fouts. Brees was under duress a few times (such as when end Cliff Avril caught him from behind on the forced fumble). But mostly the Seahawks were blanketing all of his targets. Richard Sherman broke up two deep pass attempts. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Brees was 0-for-8 on throws 15 yards or more down the field.

Defenses that can get physical on the Saints' receivers and tight end Jimmy Graham have always caused the Saints the most problems. The Panthers might be able to do the same -- but the Saints will test them right back, especially in the Superdome.

Sleight of hand -- or feet: The Saints defense sold out to stop running back Marshawn Lynch -- and the Seahawks made them pay for it. While they held Lynch to 45 yards on 16 carries, everyone else seemed to burn them. Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson threw for 310 yards and three touchdowns and ran for 47 yards on eight carries. The Saints bit on play-action too often and got burned when they blitzed -- one time with their five-linebacker alignment. It wouldn't be a huge concern, because Seattle is built differently than most teams and simply won the chess match this time. But Carolina is built almost exactly the same way -- so the Saints need to be a lot more disciplined against the Panthers and quarterback Cam Newton.

Strief optimistic: Saints right tackle Zach Strief left Monday night's game with a left ankle injury, but said afterward that he's optimistic he can return sooner than later. "We'll see," Strief said. "I'm not a guy that has to be 100 percent; I'm a bad enough athlete. I think it scared me a good bit on the field, but it's not as bad as it could have been. So we'll see how it goes [Tuesday]."

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 13

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
8:00
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SEATTLE -- A review of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 34-7 victory against the New Orleans Saints:

Bennett
Wilson
Big plays galore: Monday night was a big-play extravaganza for the Seahawks. The biggest play probably was the 22-yard fumble recovery by defensive lineman Michael Bennett, grabbing the ball in the air after defensive end Cliff Avril knocked it out of Drew Brees’ hand. Other big plays included a 60-yard catch and run by tight end Zach Miller and a 52-yard deep throw to Doug Baldwin when Russell Wilson burned the New Orleans all-out blitz.

Happy homers: The Seahawks have won 14 consecutive homes games. They haven’t lost at CenturyLink Field since the end of the 2011 season. Over that span, Seattle has outscored its opponents by an average score of 31-13 and has a plus-21 turnover margin. Wilson, of course, is unbeaten at home, having thrown 29 TDs and only six interceptions at the CLink.

Brees-less: All you have to do to understand just how good the Seattle defense played Monday night was to look at some key stats involving Brees. After throwing for at least 200 yards in 43 consecutive games, Brees had only 147 yards passing. And here's the stat that seems impossible to believe: Brees did not complete a pass all night that was thrown more than 15 yards downfield. He was 0-for-8 on those throws. He had completed at least three passes downfield of more than 15 yards in every game this season before Monday night.

Unflappable Russell: Wilson was at his best Monday night when the Saints tried to attack and pressure him. When New Orleans sent five or more pass-rushers at him, Wilson completed 8 of 9 throws, including two for touchdowns and an 18.9-yard average per pass. Wilson is tied for the second-best quarterback rating against added pressure at 84.3. He has a 99.9 QBR against added pressure in each of his past three games. Wilson was a perfect 3-of-3 passing for 66 yards and a touchdown when the Saints blitzed a defensive back.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals’ 24-21 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

Making progress: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians doesn't consider Sunday’s ugly performance a step back. It just means there’s different areas to work on.

Peterson
Peterson
“There is still a lot of progress,” Arians said. “We lost the game. Progress doesn't [stop] because you lost a game. We won four in a row, that’s a lot of progress, and like I said, we have a big game in the division next week [against the St. Louis Rams] and we’ll come back and hit the practice field.”

When will the Cardinals begin?

“Tomorrow,” Arians said after the game.

Return policy: Sunday wasn't the best day for Patrick Peterson. Of the Eagles’ eight punts, he returned just one for 3 yards, called three fair catches and let the Eagles down the other four. However, they didn't go as smoothly as it seems. One of the punts Peterson let Philly down bounced off Javier Arenas’ shoulder and was recovered by Antoine Cason, who then fumbled his return, which the Eagles recovered. But the Cardinals were reunited with the ball after it was ruled Cason was down. Peterson waved off another return after he claimed he heard the referee blow the play dead from behind him, but the Eagles were flagged for an illegal substitution.

Officially unhappy: Arians wouldn't use it as an excuse, but there was no denying the Cardinals’ unhappiness with the officiating.

“I’ll say this,” Arians said, unprompted. “Refereeing did not determine us losing the football game. We didn't make enough plays.”

But when prodded, Arians said he couldn't reflect on the officiating immediately after the game.

“I’ll watch the tape,” he said. “I don’t make any comments on officials until after I watch the tape. What I see on the JumboTron sometimes doesn't come out from what’s on tape.”

Slow motion: Throughout the week leading up to Sunday’s game, the hottest topic of conversation was about the Cardinals figuring out ways to combat the Eagles’ tempo. Arizona worked specifically on substitution patterns during practice, so it could get the right personnel on the field.

But after the game, the Cardinals weren't impressed with the Eagles’ supposed fast tempo.

“They were faster in practice,” Arians said. “They averaged 25 seconds to call a play. That’s not bad.”

The Eagles entered the game running plays at a league-fast clip of 23 seconds per play.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
10:45
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A review of four hot topics following the Washington Redskins' 24-17 loss to the New York Giants:

Running trouble: For the second week in a row, the Redskins faced a defense that, statistically at least, ranked among the top 11 in the NFL. For the second week in a row, the Redskins failed to generate a ground game. In the past two games, against two teams that have done well against the run, Redskins running back Alfred Morris has gained 78 yards on 25 carries. He was a bigger factor Sunday night in the first half in the pass game (27 yards) than in the run game (11). And he had two carries in the second half, gaining 15 yards. After that, Morris didn’t touch the ball, which is really difficult to believe. Nor should that happen in a close game. I know the Giants geared up to stop him, but I also think this game exposes more problems with the Redskins’ offense and its inability to adjust (or to make its adjustments work). It only works when it can play one way -- especially against the better defenses. The Redskins have played seven of the NFL’s worst nine defenses in terms of overall yards allowed; if they want to factor in who they have faced at quarterback to explain some defensive issues, you have to look at this when gauging the offensive success. They have played two defenses in the top 11: New York and San Francisco. And the Redskins failed to sustain anything against either.

[+] EnlargeBrian Orakpo
AP Photo/Nick WassBrian Orakpo can help Washington's pass defense improve by generating a consistent pass rush.
Orakpo’s resurgence: Linebacker Brian Orakpo continues to play well, and Sunday he was credited with two sacks and two hurries and again played the run well. On both sacks he was able to cut inside left tackle Will Beatty, something Orakpo hasn’t done a lot of -- he’s typically winning by driving his man back or going around him. Beatty even had outside help so he could play to the inside, but it didn’t matter. Orakpo said last week that he’s playing better now in part because the rust is gone, not to mention any fear about hurting his pectoral muscles again. He’s playing for his next contract, too, though let’s not look at this like he’s, say, Albert Haynesworth. Nobody ever questioned Orakpo’s effort. But it does make the next four weeks interesting for him. The Redskins need to find a way to keep him (Rob Jackson is just not the same player). But I wonder the pay level Orakpo is anticipating; he considers himself an elite pass-rusher.

Blocking woes: If the coaching staff does return, and there’s no scheme change, they’ll have to make changes along the offensive line. They drafted three linemen last year; someone needs to emerge. Though the right side has struggled, they are far from the lone culprits. In the past two weeks, every offensive lineman has had issues. But that was true last season, too. However, the blocking on the edge was much better than it’s been the past two games, with the tight ends and even the receivers. If Santana Moss, for example, holds his block on the bubble screen to Pierre Garcon early on the final drive, it has a chance to be an excellent gain. The big plays come when the blocking on the edges and downfield is good. That has not been the case.

Griffin’s performance: The reason why you don’t sit Robert Griffin III in the next four weeks is because of games like Sunday night. He needs to continue to be placed in all kinds of situations if he’s ever going to become a franchise quarterback. Some growth was evident in his game, with the first-half check-downs and freezing the safety with his eyes. Griffin needs to experience all of this over the next four weeks, because his development is crucial to the organization’s future. That’s true regardless of who is coaching here in 2014. It’s imperative that he get put in positions to win a game at the end -- and then go do it. You build off such scenarios. Thing is, Griffin did what he could on that final drive, and his teammates didn’t help with three drops and a stripped ball. Nor did the officiating crew with a botched down marker. (I'm not going over that again since it was covered in depth Sunday night; not much more needs to be said. A massive screw-up.) Still, there’s nothing to gain by sitting Griffin.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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A review of four hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 34-31 overtime win over the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at Toronto's Rogers Centre:

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Ryan
Jackson
In the running: The Falcons were able to balance things on offense with a solid rushing attack. Steven Jackson led the way with 84 yards on 23 carries as the Falcons rushed for 151 yards, 1 yard shy of their season high. Jackson credited offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter. "I'm definitely in my rhythm now,'' Jackson said. "[Koetter] is allowing me to get multiple touches. He's allowing me to stay in the rhythm of the game. And that's when I feel at home. That's when I feel that I'm at my best. And the offensive line is doing a good job of getting me some push, giving me some options.'' Not to mention Jackson got help from small wonder Antone Smith, who turned his one carry into a 38-yard touchdown. "I'm very happy for him,'' Jackson said of Smith. "He comes in there and makes it look easy.''

Stumbling and bumbling: Matt Ryan completed 28 of 47 passes for 311 yards and a touchdown. Plus he connected with Harry Douglas for a 20-yard gain in overtime to set up Matt Bryant's game-winning 36-yard field goal. But Ryan also had a few uncharacteristic missteps, like when he stumbled dropping back while at the goal line and when he had a fumbled exchange with center Joe Hawley. The latter was recovered by Bills linebacker Kiko Alonso, setting up a Buffalo touchdown. Ryan was asked what happened on the exchange. "We just weren't on the same page, for whatever reason,'' Ryan said without going into detail.

On the line: As Jackson noted, the offensive line did a nice job clearing some holes in the run game. But once again, there was too much pressure on Ryan, who was sacked a season-high six times. One of those, of course, was when he stumbled. Some of the others, however, could have been avoided with better protection up front. On one play, the Bills ran a stunt that seemed to confuse left tackle Lamar Holmes and left guard Justin Blalock. When Ryan got sacked by Mario Williams early in the fourth quarter, it knocked the Falcons out of field goal range. The coaches made some tweaks along the line, like giving rookie Ryan Schraeder more playing time as the extra tackle and allowing him to spell Jeremy Trueblood at right tackle. More tinkering obviously is needed or else Ryan might not finish the season.

Hit list: William Moore got flagged for another illegal hit, this time for what the official called a high hit on Bills wide receiver Robert Woods. Moore already has been fined $74,550 for four illegal hits this season, according to NFL records. Considering how Titans safety Michael Griffin recently was suspended one game for repeated illegal hits, one has to wonder if Moore could face the same punishment now. As for the latest violation, Moore really had no explanation. "As every other hit, I don't know until I watch it on film,'' Moore said. "Y'all seen it better than I did. I didn't watch replay. It's just happened so quick. And I guess I got to go appeal it, as every other one.'' The hit didn't take away from Moore's late-game heroics, as his forced fumble in overtime paved the way for the Falcons' first road win of the season.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A review of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 27-6 loss to the Carolina Panthers on Sunday:

The Schiano Watch: During a three-game winning streak, it appeared as if coach Greg Schiano's grip on his job security was getting stronger. But an ugly loss to Carolina put Schiano firmly onto the hot seat. The reality is he's won only three games, and that's not enough. With just four games left, Schiano needs to finish strong to have any chance of keeping his job in 2014.

[+] EnlargeMike Glennon
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsThe Panthers sacked Mike Glennon five times, the most for the rookie quarterback in his young career.
Glennon's rough day: The knock on quarterback Mike Glennon coming out of college was that he wasn't mobile enough to play in the NFL. Glennon had done a reasonable job of dispelling that thought -- until Sunday. He was sacked five times and intercepted once. Put some of the blame on the offensive line and give Carolina's pass rush some credit. But it's also worth pondering if Glennon is mobile enough to be truly successful.

No running game: Schiano prides himself on a basic formula that starts with running the ball well on offense. But the Bucs didn't come close to doing that against Carolina. With the Panthers daring Glennon to beat them, they devoted most of their attention to stopping the running game. That worked nicely for Carolina. The Bucs netted only 16 rushing yards in the first half. Bobby Rainey had some success in the second half, finishing with 63 yards on 17 carries. But the Bucs need to run the ball consistently well for their formula to work.

Revis' injury: For the second week in a row, cornerback Darrelle Revis went down with an injury. Revis, who was listed as questionable for the game with a groin injury, had to leave the game in the third quarter. Revis injured his shoulder and chest attempting to intercept a pass intended for Steve Smith. After the game, Schiano didn't have any update or details on Revis' condition.
A review of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 23-20 loss to the Minnesota Vikings:

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McCown
Cutler’s return: Backup quarterback Josh McCown performed well in relief of Jay Cutler, completing 23 of 36 passes for 355 yards and two touchdowns. And while the team will gladly welcome back Cutler, there’s still got to be at least some concern about the potential for the starter returning to the lineup rusty next Monday night against the Dallas Cowboys. Cutler has played in just one game in the past five weeks, and hasn’t played an entire contest since Oct. 10. So in addition to the rust factor, there’s also got to be a little trepidation about the quarterback’s conditioning level. So if the plan for Cutler is to bring him back for the Dec. 9 game, the Bears need to work overtime repping the quarterback to knock off some of the rust while making sure he’s in condition to go all four quarters without any drop off, because fatigue causes mistakes. At this point, the Bears can’t afford many more.

Front four: What a difference a couple of players make on the defensive line. Recent addition Jeremiah Ratliff made his Bears debut, and the team also welcomed the return of defensive tackle Stephen Paea. The Bears started Sunday’s game with Paea and Corey Wootton inside at the tackles with Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin on the outside before bringing in Ratliff with 10:57 left in the first quarter. The addition of Ratliff allowed for some creativity with the lineup. At times, the Bears kicked Peppers inside to play alongside Ratliff with Wootton and McClellin outside at the ends. The Bears scored sacks on each of Minnesota’s first three drives, with two coming from Peppers and another one split behind Paea and nickel corner Isaiah Frey. Peppers finished the game with 2.5 sacks.

Run D: The Bears applied pressure to Christian Ponder on passing downs, but the defense’s futility in stopping the run emerged once again with Adrian Peterson and Cordarrelle Patterson shredding the unit. Peterson gained 60 yards on his first eight carries. With a 33-yard score on his first carry, Patterson became the second receiver to line up in the backfield against the Bears in two weeks and bust a long touchdown run. (St. Louis’ Tavon Austin scored on a 65-yard run on his first attempt of the game last week.) The coaching staff places the blame mostly on missed run fits, but in some cases, players are just being beaten physically by the opponent.

In addition, the staff constantly discusses the need to stop teams from hitting the Bears for large chunks of yardage, yet the defense hasn’t responded. In addition to Patterson’s 33-yard run, Peterson broke a 23-yard gain in the first quarter and finished with 211 yards, averaging 6 yards per attempt.

Jeffery a major factor: Second-year receiver Alshon Jeffery produced his fifth 100-yard outing of the season, hauling in 11 passes for 245 yards, including an 80-yard touchdown that made him the club’s first 1,000-yard receiver of the season. Jeffery finished with two touchdowns on the day.

The Bears fantasized in the past about owning a true pick-your-poison scenario with their receiving corps, and it appears they’ve finally made that a reality with Jeffery and Brandon Marshall. This should be an exciting duo for at least the next couple of years; especially if rookie Marquess Wilson blossoms the way the club expects he will, and provides a threat in the slot.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
8:00
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A review of four hot issues after the Minnesota Vikings' 23-20 win over the Chicago Bears:

Peterson wills his way past Bears: Adrian Peterson might not have all of his breakaway speed as he plays with a strained groin, but the performance he turned in on Sunday was the kind of tour de force he churned out so often in the second half of his MVP season a year ago. Peterson ran for 211 yards against a steady diet of eight- and nine-man fronts; he faced at least eight defenders in the box on 24 of his 35 carries, according to ESPN Stats and Information, and averaged more yards per carry with eight or more in the box (6.1) than he did against seven defenders or fewer (5.8).

[+] EnlargeRhett Ellison
Bruce Kluckhohn/USA TODAY SportsRhett Ellison's tipped ball for an interception was one of his two crucial plays that could have cost Minnesota the game.
QB decision looming: The Vikings will wait to see how Christian Ponder recovers from a concussion as they try to make a decision on their quarterback for Sunday's game in Baltimore, but Matt Cassel once again had the Vikings' offense running smoother than Ponder has at many points this year. Cassel threw for 243 yards, and handled extra pressure better than either Ponder or Josh Freeman has this season. He hit 11 of his 17 throws for 148 yards and a touchdown against five or more pass-rushers, according to ESPN Stats & Information. His completion percentage against such fronts (65.9 percent this season) is better than Ponder's (61.9 percent) or Freeman's (33.3 percent). Cassel could be competing with either Ponder and Freeman, or just Freeman, to play next week against the Ravens, but he did enough to possibly get another start.

Special teams confusion: The end of Sunday's game brought a number of odd special teams situations that seemed to confuse the Vikings. First, after Blair Walsh tied the game in regulation, the Vikings kicked deep to Devin Hester, who returned the ball 57 yards and might have scored if Walsh hadn't angled him out of bounds. Coach Leslie Frazier admitted after the game the Vikings shouldn't have kicked to Hester, adding they expected him to down the ball in the end zone like he had with Walsh's other deep picks. When the Bears tried a 67-yard field goal on the final play of regulation, the Vikings hurried Cordarrelle Patterson out to return the kick, barely getting him on the field in time. And then, after Rhett Ellison's face mask penalty wiped out Walsh's would-be game-winning field goal in overtime, the Vikings' field goal unit stayed on the field before the offense came back out to try to get Walsh closer than 54 yards on third down. Frazier said the Vikings wanted to get 4 more yards for Walsh, but Peterson lost three and Walsh missed from 57.

Ellison gets "elephant off my back:" Had the Vikings lost, Ellison likely would have worn much of the blame; he couldn't control what might have been a touchdown pass from Cassel with less than five minutes to play. He wound up tipping the ball toward the Bears' defense, where Khaseem Greene wound up intercepting it and running it back to midfield. Then, Ellison's face mask penalty negated Walsh's field goal, setting off a bizarre scene in which referees sorted things out amid postgame fireworks. Wide receiver Greg Jennings had to be pulled back from the tunnel up to the Vikings' locker room. Asked what he was thinking after the mistakes, Ellison replied, "That I really screwed the team over and that I made a big mistake." And when Walsh hit the game-winning field goal, Ellison said it was "like an elephant off my back. I don't know. It was just a miracle, I guess."

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
8:00
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SANTA CLARA, Calif. – A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 23-13 win over the St. Louis Rams:

Crabtree
Crabtree effect: The 49ers were waiting all season for standout receiver Michael Crabtree to return from a torn Achilles he suffered in May. When he came back Sunday, the 49ers were not disappointed. He caught two passes, including one that went for 60 yards, and his presence opened up routes for Anquan Boldin and Vernon Davis and made quarterback Colin Kaepernick a more productive player. This bodes well for the stretch run.

Defense dominates: The San Francisco defense has been playing at a championship level essentially all season. In recent weeks, though, it has upped its game. Spanning the final half of last week’s win at Washington and the first half against the Rams, the 49ers’ defense allowed 103 yards and three points.

Austin not a factor: St. Louis rookie star Tavon Austin averaged fewer than 17 yards per kick return and had one punt return for 10 yards. He added 35 yards combined on four catches and one carry. Austin has been explosive in recent weeks. Keeping him from making big plays was a focal point for the 49ers, and they did their job.

Run game stumbles: San Francisco's run game has faltered in recent weeks. Frank Gore had 42 yards on 15 carries Sunday and lost his third fumble of the season. In the past three games, Gore has 121 yards on 41 carries. I wouldn’t say it’s a problem, but the 49ers definitely would like to see Gore regain his normal pace of production. For the season he has 821 rushing yards and is averaging four yards a carry.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
8:00
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SAN FRANCISCO -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 23-13 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

All but eliminated: In a purely mathematical sense, the Rams remain in the NFC playoff picture at 5-7, but for all intents and purposes, Sunday's loss wiped out any remaining hope the Rams had of making the postseason. To get in the mix, the Rams would need to win out to finish 9-7 and then top it off with an incredible amount of help from about a half dozen teams.

Instead, the Rams will play their final four games with a focus on making more improvements with an eye toward 2014. Rams brass has quietly viewed 2014 as the team's possible breakthrough year, but for that to happen they need their young team to continue taking positive steps in that direction in the season's final month.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Matt Giordano
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezMatt Giordano is tackled for a loss by Anthony Dixon on a fake punt.
Rough day for offense: There weren't many good things to take away from Sunday's game for the Rams as a whole, but especially for the offense. Quarterback Kellen Clemens was under siege for most of the day, and when he was able to throw it, he missed on some passes he should have hit. When Clemens did throw an accurate ball, he was victimized by about six drops from his pass catchers.

The run game, which had been so successful in recent weeks, also wasn't able to get rolling. The final rushing numbers (114 yards, 4.4 yards per carry) didn't look bad, but much of that success came when the game was already lost. The Rams ran six plays and did not pick up a first down in the first quarter.

Line dancing: The Rams have had their share of injuries along the offensive line this season, but they hadn't reached a point where they almost ran out of healthy options until Sunday, when center Scott Wells left with an ankle injury just before the half and did not return. Later, left tackle Jake Long suffered a concussion and also did not return.

That left the Rams scrambling for help with Tim Barnes getting his first extended look in the middle in a regular-season game. Shelley Smith jumped in at right guard with Rodger Saffold kicking back out to left tackle. It remains to be seen how much time Wells and Long will miss, but the Rams' line appears poised to do even more shuffling with those injuries and the impending return of guard Harvey Dahl.

Second guessing: With his team trailing 16-6 early in the fourth quarter, Rams coach Jeff Fisher called for a fake punt deep in Rams territory. The trickery backfired when safety Matt Giordano was unable to get the pitch to receiver Stedman Bailey on a reverse and the Niners tackled him for a loss of 5. The Niners took over at the Rams' 17 and scored on the next play to make it 23-6 and seal the win.

Fisher took the blame for the call after the game, acknowledging that he was trying to give his team a spark given the aforementioned offensive struggles, but also said that it may not have been the best time or location for the call.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
8:00
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LANDOVER, Md. -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 24-17 victory over the Washington Redskins:

[+] EnlargeWill Hill
Harry E. Walker/MCTWill Hill ripped the ball from Pierre Garcon to seal New York's win.
The play that sealed it: Safety Will Hill said that cornerback Terrell Thomas was hollering all game, "We need a turnover! Who's going to get a turnover?" So when Hill saw Redskins wide receiver Pierre Garcon holding the ball out away from his body on his fourth-down catch with a minute and a half left in the game, Hill figured it might as well be him. He ripped the ball out of Garcon's hands and stumbled forward eight yards knowing he'd locked down the game. "All I could think was about getting that ball to Eli so he could take a knee and we could get out of here with that W," an elated Hill said. Quarterback Eli Manning did indeed take two knees, and the Giants had beaten the Redskins.

Stopping the run: Giants linebacker Jon Beason called running back Alfred Morris the "cowbell" of the Redskins offense. And while Beason meant "bell cow," he can be forgiven for misspeaking after his 17-tackle performance helped limit Morris to 26 yards on 11 carries. Beason said the Giants believed the Redskins could win if quarterback Robert Griffin III had a poor game while Morris had a good one, but not if it was vice versa. So the Giants committed to stopping the running back who came into the week third in the league in rushing. As they have against so many of the league's other top rushers this year, they succeeded.

Efficiency in the passing game: Manning was under pressure all night, and pressure led to his one interception. But for the most part he did a good job managing a low-key passing game. He completed 22 of 28 passes for 235 yards and one touchdown. Tight end Brandon Myers, who caught the touchdown, was the Giants' second-leading receiver behind Victor Cruz with five catches and 61 yards. The ability to find Myers and running back Andre Brown in short range in the middle of the field helped Manning keep the pressure off enough to move the ball.

Tuck's huge night: Justin Tuck had four sacks, total, in the 2012 season. He had 2.5 sacks, total, in the first 11 games of this season. He had four sacks Sunday night. Tuck is a free agent at the end of this season, which means he may have just begun his final month as a Giant. But he says he hasn't been thinking about his contract situation all year, and it's easy to believe him. Tuck has been playing well this year, but it hadn't shown up in the sack totals. As he worked his way through the list of the other Giants (Lawrence Taylor, Pepper Johnson, Michael Strahan and Osi Umenyiora) who'd had four sacks in a game, he seemed to be relishing his place on the list. It was a satisfying night for a decorated Giants veteran.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
8:00
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A review of four hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 27-6 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

How confident are they? The Panthers are so confident that left tackle Jordan Gross said he hopes New Orleans beats Seattle on Monday night to make Sunday's NFC South showdown at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome even bigger. That's nice and all, but Gross really should be pulling for a Seattle victory. A loss by the Saints would leave them tied with Carolina at 9-3. That means the Panthers could take a one-game lead instead of move into a tie with a victory over the Saints in the first of two meetings over the next three weeks. A Saints loss tonight also would make New Orleans 7-1 in NFC games, giving Carolina (7-2 NFC) a chance to take the edge in that tiebreaker next week. Carolina is two games back of Seattle in the overall standings, with a 12-7 loss to the Seahawks in the opener that really makes it three games back.

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton led all Panthers with 68 yards rushing, including a 56-yard scramble in the first quarter.
Newton's 56-yard run: If you thought quarterback Cam Newton appeared ready to go down near the first-down marker early in his 56-yard, first-quarter run, you're right. But Newton thought otherwise when he saw wide receiver Steve Smith throw a block to seal off the left side, opening up a lane that got him to the 15. If you're wondering if Newton was tripped by Tampa's Dashon Goldson, or simply went down on his own, Newton said, "I'm going to stick to he tripped me up. ... I've just got to be better than that. I'm not going to hear the last of that.''

Why Hardy didn't start: Defensive end Greg Hardy was held out for the first two defensive snaps because he was late for a team meeting last week, the Charlotte Observer reported. Hardy also was fined an unspecified amount. That left the Panthers without both starting ends for the start of the game. Charles Johnson missed his second straight start with a sprained right knee. Hardy came back to record a sack and two quarterback hurries. Johnson is expected back this week against New Orleans.

Marquee move for Ginn: Tampa Bay's Darrelle Revis is considered one of the top cornerbacks in the NFL, so Carolina wide receiver Ted Ginn Jr. should take great pride in the move that freed him for a 36-yard touchdown catch in the third quarter. The hitch-and-go route left Ginn all alone down the left sideline, and Newton hit him in stride for the touchdown. It is yet another step in the development of Ginn -- who came to Carolina primarily as a kick returner -- into a quality receiver.

Halftime adjustments: If a good way to judge a team is how well it adjusts at halftime, then the Panthers are one of the elite teams. Tampa became the fourth opponent in the past five games that has failed to score against the Panthers in the second half. Only New England, with 17 second-half points, has scored. Overall, Carolina has given up 157 points to rank first in the NFL. In case you're wondering, the NFL record for fewest points allowed in a 16-game season is 165 by the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. The 1986 Chicago Bears, a team coach Ron Rivera played linebacker for, ranks second at 187.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 13

December, 2, 2013
12/02/13
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PHILADELPHIA -- A look at four issues from the Philadelphia Eagles' 24-21 win against the Arizona Cardinals Sunday.

[+] EnlargeNate Allen
Matt Rourke/AP PhotoEagles safety Nate Allen did his best to keep Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald in check during their Week 13 game Sunday.
Foles is lucky as well as good. Nick Foles needs to throw just two more touchdown passes to break Peyton Manning's NFL record of 20 touchdown passes without an interception. Foles also broke teammate Michael Vick's team record of 224 consecutive pass attempts without an interception. Going back to late last year, Foles has thrown 233 pick-free passes.

That's all good. But luck came in when he threw an ill-advised pass as he was being hit in the fourth quarter. The ball landed in the hands of Arizona cornerback Patrick Peterson, but the interception was negated by a holding penalty on safety Tyrann Mathieu.

"It definitely was a mistake by me," Foles said. "I was happy there was a penalty that kept our drive going. It wasn't a smart decision." It was the kind of decision that can turn a game around. Luck kept that from happening.

"That's just the game of football," Foles said. "It's a crazy game, and things happen."

Nate Allen isn't Brian Dawkins, but that's OK. Allen, the fourth-year safety from South Florida, made a nice break on an underthrown Carson Palmer pass for an early interception. Allen was part of an egregiously bad secondary the past two years and has not exactly been a huge fan favorite. But his improved play has been a big part of the defense's development.

"He's one of the hardest workers in the building," Eagles defensive coordinator Bill Davis said. "It means so much to him. He's motivated because he hasn't had the success and everyone has been on him for a couple years here. Everyone wanted him to be Brian Dawkins and now everybody's kind of letting him be Nate Allen."

Fitzgerald? Check. Megatron? The Eagles' defense did a decent enough job on Arizona's Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd. Each caught a touchdown pass. Fitzgerald caught five passes for 72 yards, Floyd five for 99. Those are very good numbers, but neither could break open the game. That's encouraging, because the Eagles defenders get Detroit's Calvin Johnson here next Sunday.

"Those guys stepped up and took on the challenge of playing this top receiving group," Davis said. "There's a lot of times they were one-on-one. Throughout the game, I was mixing in [coverages], but there were a lot of snaps that were, 'Hey, get your man.'"

Davis often had linebacker Connor Barwin lined up directly across from Fitzgerald, especially in the slot. Barwin was able to get a more physical jam on Fitzgerald at the line before giving him up to a defensive back to cover.

The NFC playoff picture is a little clearer after this. The Eagles earned a tiebreaker over Arizona should they wind up with the same record in the wild-card race. Sunday's win also keeps them within a game of San Francisco (8-4), which is currently in position to earn the second wild card. Chicago's loss to Minnesota leaves the Bears at 6-6, a game behind Detroit. The Eagles face those three NFC North teams over the next three weeks -- Detroit and Chicago at home, with Minnesota on the road in the middle.

The Eagles' best shot at the playoffs remains in beating Dallas (7-5) for the NFC East title, but the Cowboys are one of the teams with a realistic shot at a wild card.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 13

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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Four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 40-10 win over the Green Bay Packers.

Defensive line domination: It was the type of performance Detroit had been waiting all season for. The Lions had built this defensive line, with Ndamukong Suh and Nick Fairley as their anchors, figuring this type of game would be what they would see with regularity.

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn and Ndamukong Suh
Tim Fuller/USA TODAY SportsNdamukong Suh and the Lions sacked Matt Flynn seven times on Thursday.
It hasn't been, though. Detroit saw increased protections from opponents all season long, something that has prevented the Lions from getting to quarterbacks. Not on Thursday, when the entirety of the defensive line showed up. Perhaps most impressive was Ziggy Ansah, the rookie defensive end who sacked Matt Flynn twice. He routinely beat his man and caused havoc for the Packers.

Turnovers still a problem: Detroit's win was good. The Lions' defense was suffocating. But Detroit put a lot of pressure on its defense in the first half. The Lions had three turnovers on their first four drives, including one in Green Bay's red zone and one that turned into a fumble-six for the Packers. Against almost any other team in the league on Thursday, that could have been disastrous for Detroit. It is the third straight game the Lions have lost the turnover margin and fourth time in the past five games.

In the past four games, Detroit has turned the ball over 17 times. The Lions have forced only four turnovers during the same stretch. The turnover issues over the past four games have sent the Lions' turnover margin plummeting as they now have eight more turnovers than they have forced.

“We really need to fix the turnover issue,” receiver Kris Durham said. “That's for sure. We really need to fix that up.”

The Lions haven't had a positive turnover margin since Week 6 against Cleveland, when the Lions were plus-1 in turnovers.

About those playoff chances: They are very much alive for the Lions right now. While it is more likely still going to be division title or bust for Detroit, a divisional title is a decent proposition now. The Lions all but eliminated the Packers on Thursday, being two games up in the win column with four games to play. At least until Sunday, the Lions have a game-and-a-half lead on Chicago (because of the season sweep) as well.

Kicking issues: David Akers missed a field goal. Sam Martin had two kicks sail out of bounds in a dome. Luckily for the Lions, those miscues didn't hurt Detroit much, but in a closer game they could have been critical. They were especially rare gaffes for Martin, who said after the game “something wasn't right.” He was trying to place the ball in the corner to prevent any returns and ended up pulling it. Just not a strong day for the Lions' kickers.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 13

November, 29, 2013
11/29/13
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DETROIT -- A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 40-10 loss to the Detroit Lions on Thursday at Ford Field:

Who’s to blame?: One question needs to be asked after a game like this, when a team is completely dominated in all facets of the game: Was it the fault of the players or the coaches? It comes down to performance or scheme. Noting that it starts with himself, coach Mike McCarthy did go on to defend the plan he and his coaching staff put together for this game. “You line up with 46 [players] each and every week and you put a plan in for those guys to be successful, and we didn't even come close to hitting the mark today,” McCarthy said after the game. For their part, the players -- especially on the defensive side of the game -- defended the coaches. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers, whose unit allowed a season-worst 561 yards of total offense, has come under fire again in recent weeks. “The scheme’s definitely not an excuse,” linebacker A.J. Hawk said. “The coaches are up in the box and on the sideline. It’s us. It’s us 11 out there, good plays or bad. We can’t blame anybody but ourselves.”

[+] EnlargeMatt Flynn
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiMatt Flynn was sacked seven times and led only one drive that resulted in points against Detroit.
Flynn flops: Maybe it won’t matter if Aaron Rodgers comes back for the Packers’ next game, Dec. 8 against the Atlanta Falcons. But if he doesn’t, where would McCarthy turn at quarterback? Matt Flynn played poorly against the Lions even if he didn’t get much help from the offensive line. In fact, a decent case could have been made for pulling Flynn in favor of Scott Tolzien, who was pulled from the previous game against the Minnesota Vikings. Flynn completed just 10 of 20 passes for 139 yards with no touchdowns and one interception. He was sacked seven times and led only one drive that resulted in points, and that was a 54-yard field goal after the Packers started with great field position at their own 40-yard line. Flynn might have a better command of the offense, but Tolzien might be more decisive and appears to have a better arm. Flynn held the ball too long and didn’t have much zip on the ball. “I didn’t really feel Matt had a lot of great opportunities, frankly,” McCarthy said. “Hey, he didn’t play clean either.”

Trouble for Tramon: Cornerback Tramon Williams could face discipline from the NFL after he bumped an official in the fourth quarter. Williams appeared to push away the hand of back judge Dino Paganelli after Lions running back Joique Bell's 1-yard touchdown. Williams was penalized for unsportsmanlike conduct. He said he did not realize that it was an official. “I just saw a guy walk in front of me and kind of brush up on me,” Williams said. “I just kind of knocked his arm off. That’s about it. It was just emotions running. It wasn’t much there. There wasn’t anything behind it.”

Ross' revenge: The Packers once viewed Jeremy Ross as a triple-threat kind of player -- one who could return kicks, catch passes and even run the ball. But when he fumbled a kickoff against the Cincinnati Bengals in Week 3, they cut him. Maybe that was a mistake. Ross, who was signed by the Lions last month, did a little bit of everything against his old team. He caught a 5-yard touchdown pass against cornerback Davon House. He had one rush for 24 yards, and he had a 35-yard punt return in the second quarter that helped set up a touchdown.

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