NFL Nation: 2013 Week 5 Upon Further Review AFC

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 5

October, 8, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 30-28 victory over the Atlanta Falcons on "Monday Night Football":

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
Dale Zanine/USA TODAY SportsRookie Geno Smith leads the NFL in game-winning, fourth-quarter drives. He has three for the Jets this season.
1. Broadway Geno: This is what makes the NFL so compelling: A week ago, Geno Smith was a turnover-prone rookie, hearing whispers about his job security. Now he's Mr. Clutch, delivering one of the Jets' best two-minute drives in years to stun the Falcons. Years from now, this could be remembered as a turning point in his career. For now, he should savor the moment. Consider: He became the first rookie quarterback in the Super Bowl era to compile this trifecta on the road -- 80 percent completion rate, three touchdowns and zero interceptions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Oh, by the way, he leads the NFL in game-winning, fourth-quarter drives -- three. How meaningful is that? Prior to this season, it happened only twice in Jets history by a rookie quarterback. One word: Wow.

2. Three-headed monster: Asked about the wide receiver injuries last week, Rex Ryan joked that maybe they should play the wishbone. Was he really joking? On a few plays, they actually used two halfbacks and a fullback in a pistol set -- Bilal Powell, Chris Ivory and Tommy Bohanon, respectively. In fact, they opened the game in that formation. Overall, the Jets averaged 5.4 yards per carry and used their personnel to the max. They had their full complement of backs for the first time, with Ivory (healthy) and Mike Goodson (suspension served) joining Powell. Ivory and Goodson combined for only eight touches, but the workload included 19- and 26-yard runs, respectively. David Lee's fingerprints were on the game plan. He's a former college coach who helped bring the Wildcat to the NFL. The Jets ran five plays for 33 yards out of the Wildcat. The emphasis on the backs, as well as the tight ends, was designed to exploit the Falcons' patchwork linebacker corps.

3. Don't say the words: There might not be a phrase in the English language that Rex Ryan despises more than "bend but don't break." As an aggressive defensive coach, that philosophy simply isn't in his DNA -- but it sure looked that way in this game. The Jets allowed 363 total yards, didn't put up much of a fight on third down (6-for-12) and let the Falcons control the ball on four drives of at least 10 plays. If you didn't know better, you might have thought the strategy was to play soft between the 20s and crank up the pressure in the red zone -- where the Falcons had been struggling. If that was the plan, it didn't work, as the Falcons scored touchdowns on four of five trips to the red zone. In the past two games, the Jets' once-formidable red zone defense has slacked off, as opponents have converted seven of nine visits for touchdowns.

4. The tough guys won: Overshadowed in the pregame hype, which focused on Falcons QB Matt Ryan and his weapons, was the Jets' superiority on both lines. It played out that way, as they dominated in the trenches. The Falcons ran up some pretty offensive numbers, dinking and dunking and claiming an 11-minute advantage in possession time, but they got pushed around up front. Coach Mike Smith, perhaps trying to convince his players they could outmuscle the Jets, took that fourth-and-1 gamble at the end of the first half, passing up three easy points -- the difference in the game. The Jets were forced to play a near-perfect game, but they did, thanks to Smith and PK Nick Folk (3-for-3).

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 5

October, 7, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 34-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe performance of RB Arian Foster was one of the few bright spots for Houston on Sunday night.
Special teams struggled: The Texans didn't get much from their special-teams units once again. It started with a missed 45-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that could have cut the 49ers' lead to 7-3. Instead, San Francisco maintained a shutout until the third quarter. Returner Keshawn Martin made some questionable decisions on when to bring the ball out of the end zone, seemingly pressing to make a big play. The Texans allowed a kickoff return of 29 yards and two punt returns for a combined 28 yards. Martin also suffered a shoulder injury for which he was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.

More on the injury front: Left tackle Duane Brown seemed to have come out of the game in good shape injury-wise after working through a case of turf toe that he suffered against the Tennessee Titans. But safety Ed Reed came up hobbling after stopping a sliding Colin Kaepernick. Reed said after the game that he tweaked his knee on the end of the play, not the hip on which he had arthroscopic surgery in April. Reed also said he wasn't concerned about the injury and it did not need further tests Monday.

Run defense: I'll repeat my thought from Sunday night that you cannot blame the loss on the Texans defense. It is worth noting, though, that the rushing defense was gashed by San Francisco. The Texans gave up 177 rushing yards, 81 of them to Frank Gore, an underrated talent who has worked through injuries for a lot of his career. (Side note: Gore was one of the former University of Miami teammates that Reed talked about wanting to reunite with in free agency. Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Gore.) The 49ers averaged 4.9 yards per carry and Kaepernick only ran the ball once. That's 0.7 yards per carry more than the Texans went into the game giving up. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers gained 118 of their 177 rushing yards before contact.

On the other hand: It was for naught, but given the situation Arian Foster might have played his best game of the season. Before the game, a group of 49ers fans heckled him by saying he wouldn't have a 100-yard performance. Foster almost got there, rushing for 98 yards. But he did it on only 21 attempts for a 4.7 average, a mark well above his 3.8 yards per carry entering Sunday night.
An examination of four hot issues from the Raiders’ 27-17 win over the San Diego Chargers:

[+] EnlargeCharles Woodson
AP Photo/Tony AvelarVeteran Raiders DB Charles Woodson certainly had a reason to celebrate on Sunday night.
Pryor matures: If you think the Chargers were surprised by the Raiders throwing deep on their first offensive play of the game -- a 44-yard scoring bomb from Terrelle Pryor to Rod Streater -- imagine Pryor’s reaction when he received the call from offensive coordinator Greg Olson. After all, accuracy has been an issue for Pryor, and things did not work out so well the previous two times the call came in -- interceptions in the preseason finale at Seattle and in the regular-season opener at Indianapolis. “I thought we started fast and then we slowed down,” Pryor said. “And that’s not going to work in the NFL.” It’s all part of Pryor’s evolution as an NFL quarterback.

C-Wood makes like Rickey: It was on this same field, granted, 22 years earlier, that former Oakland A’s outfielder Rickey Henderson proclaimed himself the “greatest” upon breaking Lou Brock’s career stolen-base record. But about a football field away, in the Raiders' locker room, Charles Woodson was feeling it when he was asked about tying Rod Woodson and Darren Sharper for the all-time NFL mark for defensive touchdowns (13) with his 25-yard fumble recovery and run. “It just means I’ve been around a long time,” Woodson said. “I’ve made a bunch of plays, and I’m one of the greatest to ever play this game.” He’s also been better than the Raiders could have hoped this season.

A D.J. Hayden sighting: Observers had started to come down a bit on the Raiders’ first-round draft pick. After all, isn’t a No. 12 overall draft pick (the Raiders, who had the No. 3 pick, said they liked Hayden enough that they would have taken him at No. 3 if they hadn't been able to trade down) supposed to be an immediate impact player? But after having a rough game against fellow rookie Keenan Allen, Hayden distinguished himself by picking off Philip Rivers in the back of the end zone late in the fourth quarter. “I saw Allen kind of do a little dig, and I just followed him,” Hayden said. In fact, he made the kind of impact play the Raiders expected when they selected the cornerback. “Sometimes,” Rivers said, “they make good plays.”

Of explosive plays V: And now for our weekly tracking of “explosive” plays. As deemed by 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 six such plays against San Diego, one run and five passes, while the Chargers had seven explosive plays, all by air and four on one fourth-quarter drive. In five games, the Raiders have 40 explosive plays (13 runs, 27 passes), with four passes for touchdowns. Oakland’s opponents, meanwhile, have 38 explosive plays combined, eight runs and 30 passes with a touchdown each way.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 5

October, 7, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos51-48 win over the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday:

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsPeyton Manning and the Broncos used a balanced offensive attack to beat the Cowboys in Week 5.
No runs: It’s easy to lose track of some things when two quarterbacks combine for 920 yards passing in a single game. But the Cowboys, despite all of the aerial heroics by Tony Romo, still made the mistake everybody has made this season -- they still kept giving the ball back to Peyton Manning. The Broncos' defense did not face a running play in the fourth quarter Sunday, even after the Cowboys had some limited success running against the Broncos’ nickel package earlier in the game. Overall, 11 of the Cowboys' 14 rushing attempts came against the Broncos' nickel and they gained 41 yards in those runs.

Missed opportunities: After four games of fairly solid work tackling, Broncos defenders had their share of difficulties against the Cowboys. They missed tackles, took poor angles and in the case of cornerback Tony Carter on a 79-yard catch-and-run play by Cowboys wide receiver Terrance Williams in the fourth quarter, didn’t wrap up when trying to knock the ball free. All in all, add it to the rather long list of defensive question marks.

Stay with it: Perhaps everyone is jaded by what Manning does each week -- 20 touchdown passes and counting after five games to go with back-to-back 50-point outings -- but Manning and offensive coordinator Adam Gase actually found a way to be somewhat balanced in this wild roller coaster of a game. When all was said and done, the Broncos had put 51 points on the board and wound the clock to make the winning kick as time expired. They ran it 31 times to go with Manning’s 42 pass attempts.

Battered and bruised: The Broncos have one more game before Von Miller returns from his suspension, Champ Bailey has yet to play this season and now the defensive attrition has reached a troubling rate. Linebacker Wesley Woodyard (neck), defensive end Robert Ayers (shoulder) and cornerback Chris Harris (concussion) all left Sunday’s game and did not return. Cornerback Omar Bolden, who already has dealt with a shoulder injury this season, also looked as if he aggravated it making a tackle late in the fourth quarter as well. Defensive coordinator Jack Del Rio, coming off allowing 506 passing yards to Romo, may not even know who’s available this week until Saturday.

Upon Further Review: Patriots Week 5

October, 7, 2013
CINCINNATI -- A review of four hot issues following the New England Patriots' 13-6 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanPatriots QB Tom Brady finished Sunday's Week 5 game in Cincinnati with 197 yards, no TDs and one interception.
Offensive struggles: In a script that has been flipped from recent years, it's the defense carrying the offense at this point. Quarterback Tom Brady was held to fewer than 200 yards passing for the second time this season, as the Bengals defense controlled the game at the line of scrimmage. "We scored six points; I don't even remember the last time we've done that," Brady said Monday morning on sports radio WEEI. The last time the Patriots scored fewer points was a 21-0 shutout loss at Miami on Dec. 10, 2006. Looking for a place to start when it comes to turning around the fortunes of the offense? Start up front with the offensive line, where all five starters return and a better performance than what was put forth Sunday in Cincinnati is expected.

Rob Gronkowski's potential return: The tight end has missed the first five games of the regular season, but he could return Sunday against the Saints. The Patriots couldn't convert in their one trip inside the red zone Sunday, and Brady threw incomplete to left tackle-turned-eligible tight end Nate Solder in the end zone. Gronkowski, who figures to be managed upon his return to the field, could at least help in the red zone.

Tommy Kelly and defensive tackle depth: The veteran defensive tackle left Sunday's game with a right knee injury in the fourth quarter and didn't return. Kelly said after the game that "everything was good" with the knee, and he wasn't walking with a limp or with the aid of crutches, although it's still a bit unclear what that means. The Patriots are thin at defensive tackle after losing Vince Wilfork to a season-ending Achilles injury, and if Kelly is sidelined for any period of time, it would further deplete the ranks. Rookies Joe Vellano and Chris Jones are the only other defensive tackles on the roster, while Marcus Forston and A.J. Francis are on the practice squad.

Banged-up running back group: With veteran Leon Washington leaving Sunday's game with an ankle injury and not returning, Shane Vereen on short-term injured reserve, and Stevan Ridley sidelined Sunday with a knee injury, the Patriots were down to just two running backs -- LeGarrette Blount and Brandon Bolden. Both had miscues that hurt the team -- Blount a second-quarter fumble and Bolden two drops. As the passing game struggles to produce consistent results, it would help to be able to turn to the running game. But it's a depleted group and we'll be interested to see if Washington's injury leads the team to consider injured reserve as an option.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 26-17 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

[+] EnlargeKenny Britt
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyKenny Britt caught just one pass for 9 yards in Sunday's loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.
Figure out the run: The Titans look to me to have more talent on their offensive line than the Chiefs. Chris Johnson has a similar skill set to Jamaal Charles. Former Titans quarterback Neil O'Donnell suggested on Nashville radio Monday morning, and I fully agree: The Titans should be looking closely at the Chiefs and trying to model some of their running game after the team that just beat them. I’ve complimented Mike Munchak and his staff for not being stubborn about game plans and approaches. Sunday, with the way they tried to run against the Chiefs and the personnel they deployed for some clear run situations, they were stubborn. Either that or they’ve totally overestimated their personnel. Stubborn is the better of those two options, and it's easier to fix.

Kenny Britt: In response to a question about the struggling receiver, offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said the team has to reassess everything. Not every uncaught target is a drop, of course. But Britt has pulled in just six of 21 passes thrown his direction. That 28.6 percent catch rate is 333rd of 340 players in the league who’ve been thrown a pass. I understand wanting to be patient and help a slumping player through a tough stretch. The Titans have to find a way to solve it on the practice field, however. No matter how well he blocks in the run game, his team can’t have nearly three-fourths of the passes thrown to him not produce yardage.

Return teams: Damian Williams was victimized by an unfortunate bounce on an early punt that hit his leg and turned into a Chiefs touchdown. The problem started with return man Darius Reynaud. If he couldn’t come forward to field the ball, he has to communicate loudly and thorough to the entire punt-return team that it needs to get away. Reynaud is too shaky, and there is reason to worry that once a game he’ll make a play that hurts the Titans. He shouldn’t be bringing many kickoffs out of the deep half of the end zone, either.

Accelerate progress: Munchak tends to be overly patient, at least with what we can see. In a post Sunday, I pointed back to something he said in July about the team’s identity. The Titans intended to win in the trenches, but it’s not happening regularly, particularly in run-blocking on offense. Games at Seattle and against San Francisco will be major challenges in those departments. If you’re the more physical team able to get a tough yard and stop people from getting one, we’re going to need to see it against two physical opponents.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Chiefs’ 26-17 win over the Titans:

[+] EnlargeMarcus Cooper
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsSigning CB Marcus Cooper before the start of the regular season has proved valuable for the Chiefs.
Don’t hit the QB: The Chiefs received a huge break on their go-ahead touchdown drive in the fourth quarter when the Titans were penalized for a late hit against quarterback Alex Smith, who had scrambled and was heading out of bounds. Smith went out of bounds before the first-down marker on the third-down play, so the Chiefs would have had to punt. Tennessee’s Moise Fokou appeared to launch at Smith while he was still in bounds, but the call will almost always be made when a quarterback is involved. A Tennessee penalty on a similar play on Dexter McCluster’s punt return moments earlier was erased after officials determined the Titans player launched at him before McCluster had gone out of bounds. But, then, McCluster is not a quarterback.

Not playing like a rookie: Cornerback Marcus Cooper made a big contribution for the second straight game. He scored the game’s first touchdown when he recovered a punt muffed by the Titans in the end zone. He also intercepted a pass in the fourth quarter to set up a field goal. The Chiefs claimed Cooper, a seventh-round draft choice of the San Francisco 49ers this year, off waivers a week before the start of the regular season. He started last week’s game for the injured Brandon Flowers and against Tennessee, he was the third cornerback instead of veteran Dunta Robinson.

Penalizing the defense: The Chiefs were penalized on defense three times against the Titans and it’s no coincidence the penalties all happened in Sunday's third quarter, their worst defensive period of the season. Tennessee had 153 yards in the quarter and scored 10 of their 17 points. Their last touchdown happened on the first play of the fourth quarter. Two holding penalties and another for pass interference allowed the Titans to continue two different scoring drives. The Chiefs had been penalized just four times on defense in the first four games.

Negative field position: The Chiefs had been thriving this season by winning the field position battle, but things were even in that department against the Titans. Each team started two possessions on its opponent’s end of the field. Average starting field position for both teams was the 29-yard line. In their first four games, the Chiefs had started 13 possessions in opposing territory while their opponents had started just one on Kansas City’s end of the field.

Upon Further Review: Bengals Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cincinnati Bengals' 13-6 win over the Patriots:

[+] EnlargeBenJarvus Green-Ellis
AP Photo/Tom UhlmanBenJarvus Green-Ellis scored the game's only against his former team, the Patriots.
Law Firm leads the way: On the Bengals' off day Tuesday, running back BenJarvus Green-Ellis spoke to students at a southwest Ohio middle school. Leadership was the theme of his visit. "A leader is someone you can depend on," said Green-Ellis, the player whose lengthy, official-sounding name long ago earned him the nickname of "The Law Firm." Against his former team Sunday, he was every bit the offensive leader the Bengals needed, and more. A week after one of Cincinnati's worst single-game offensive collapses, Green-Ellis was out to prove that he and his unit weren't as bad as they had showed against the Cleveland Browns. Green-Ellis heard the criticisms about the Bengals' lacking run game and wanted to silence them. Against the Patriots, he rushed 19 times for 67 yards and the game's only touchdown on a 1-yard run on fourth-and-1.

Huber helps again: If there were an Unsung Hero Award to hand out after five games, punter Kevin Huber would receive it. He's been consistent this season, working high punts into places where his coverage team can quickly swallow returners. He's stifled some of the NFL's best punt returners and helped the Bengals hold a potentially explosive Julian Edelman in check Sunday. A case could be made that Huber's performance against the Patriots was his worst of the season, but that shows just how valuable he has been. Called upon six times, he averaged 45.8 yards on his punts. One traveled 57 yards; two, including a pair of first-quarter punts, landed inside the 20. Those helped set the tone for the Patriots' day of poor field position.

Offense getting closer: For some, the most refreshing part of Cincinnati's first half was seeing the offense successfully tinker with its identity on a series of drives. The first four-play drive featured the rushing attack. After going backward on their second drive, the Bengals' third possession showcased their tight end talent. The fourth drive was a mix of passing to the tight ends and running backs, and the fifth finally got the wide receivers involved. Quarterback Andy Dalton also had a few keepers during the game that showcased a little-used area of his game: mobility. Offensive coordinator Jay Gruden was encouraged by what he saw but believes that his offense still has improvements to make. "We haven't come close to our standards yet, but brighter days are ahead," he said.

Dominant defense: While Cincinnati's offense rushed for 162 yards and passed for 179, the day's biggest storyline revolved around the 166 passing yards by Patriots quarterback Tom Brady and the zero touchdown passes he threw. It was the first time since the second week of the 2009 season that he hadn't thrown a touchdown. It also was the 19th consecutive time the Bengals hadn't allowed a quarterback to pass for more than 300 yards. To say the defense was dominant might be an understatement. The unit, which had four sacks and a crucial late-game interception, was so good that defensive coordinator Mike Zimmer received the game ball.

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 26-23 win over the Miami Dolphins:

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesThe numbers show that getting Ray Rice the ball often spells victory for the Ravens.
Feed Rice the ball: It's important to get the ball to running back Ray Rice, whether handing it off or throwing it to him in space. If you don't believe me, look at the numbers. In Rice’s career, the Ravens are 23-3 when Rice has at least 25 touches and 30-24 when he is active and does not, according to ESPN Stats & Information. When you factor in Rice's 102 yards on 33 touches Sunday, Baltimore has won 20 straight games when he has at least 25 touches. The Ravens have to be careful not to wear down Rice because he's dealing with a hip injury. But you've seen flashes of Rice bouncing back into form, especially in the red zone. He reached the end zone twice Sunday, and if you needed another number favoring him, the Ravens are 22-5 when he scores a rushing touchdown.

Showstoppers: The Ravens' defense is becoming one of the game's top finishers. That is, when it comes to stopping drives or closing out games. On Sunday, the Ravens allowed yards on just three of the Dolphins' pass plays in the fourth quarter. They sacked Ryan Tannehill on four of those 15 dropbacks, including three by linebacker Terrell Suggs, and all four came while rushing just four linemen, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Entering the game the Ravens were tied for sixth on third-down defense, and they were even better against the Dolphins, allowing Miami to convert just 3 of 16 third downs (a season-best 19 percent).

Unexpected contribution: With only three healthy wide receivers, the Ravens needed someone to step up. No one believed it was going to be tight end Ed Dickson and wide receiver Tandon Doss. Both had more receiving yards Sunday than in the first four weeks combined. Dickson caught both passes thrown his way for 51 yards, which is 26 more total yards than he had in the first four games. Doss had three receptions for 58 yards, which was 11 more yards than he'd had.

Going to the extreme: Much of the talk was about the Ravens' commitment to the running game. But it shouldn't be overlooked that Baltimore's defense was committed to stopping the run. Baltimore held the Dolphins to 22 yards rushing, the fourth-fewest ever allowed in Ravens history and the fewest in seven years. The Dolphins basically gave up on trying to run the ball. Miami attempted two runs in the second half -- sound familiar, Ravens? -- and finished with 11 rush attempts. This is quite a turnaround for the Ravens, who gave up 203 yards to Buffalo a week ago.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 5

October, 7, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- A review of three topics from the Indianapolis Colts34-28 victory over the Seattle Seahawks.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY SportsColts RB Trent Richardson finished Sunday's game against Seattle with 56 yards on 18 carries.
DPOY: You should have Colts linebacker Robert Mathis on your defensive player of the year list if you didn't have him on there before. Mathis has made any thoughts about him not being able to be a force without former teammate Dwight Freeney vanish. Mathis leads the league in sacks with 9.5 after picking up two Sunday. He also became the 30th player in league history to reach 100 career sacks when he recorded a strip sack on the final play of the first half. “I can appreciate it and never take it for granted because it is a big milestone,” Mathis said. “Appreciate it and I’m very blessed.”

Finding a rhythm: Running back Trent Richardson had a brutal first half -- and that’s being polite -- when he ran for 2 yards on six carries. But things changed for him in the second half when he averaged 5.4 yards on his 12 carries. You had a feeling Richardson would have a better second half when he took off for 16 yards, his longest run of the season, on his first carry. His best run came when he went off the left tackle for a 10-yard gain on third-and-5 to keep a drive alive in the fourth quarter. Adam Vinatieri later made a 49-yard field goal to put the Colts up 34-28. Richardson is still working to find a rhythm, with his play in the second half being a step in the right direction. “Everything is starting to slow down for me,” he said. “At first, you know it was pretty fast, trying to learn. Now I’ve played three games. With that, I’m still a professional, so at the same time I got to be on my P’s and Q’s. I've got to know what’s going on.”

Special teams were special: It was a rough start on special teams. The normally reliable Pat McAfee shanked his first punt -- 34 yards -- giving the Seahawks the ball near midfield. Then the Seahawks overloaded the middle and ran a pick-and-roll (excuse the basketball terminology) on snapper Matt Overton, allowing Jermaine Kearse to block McAfee’s punt. Jeron Johnson couldn’t gather the ball before it went out of the back of the end zone, giving Seattle a safety. The Colts countered the Seahawks’ blocked punt when defensive lineman Lawrence Guy blocked Steven Hauschka’s 48-yard field goal attempt. Safety Delano Howell picked up the loose ball and returned it 61 yards for a touchdown, barely outrunning Seattle holder Jon Ryan. “He was kind of quick,” Howell said. “I wasn’t expecting that. Respect to him. I heard he was a wide receiver at one point.” Sunday marked the fourth time in team history that the Colts have returned a blocked field goal for a touchdown.

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 5

October, 7, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams:

TO troubles: The Jaguars are not 14 points worse than the Rams, but they ended up that way because they continue to hurt themselves with turnovers. The Blaine Gabbert pass that sailed over Justin Blackmon's head and was intercepted and returned for a touchdown was one of his worst throws of the season. Clay Harbor's fumble on the sideline, which led to a Rams TD, happened because he didn't cover the ball as he was going to the ground. Gabbert's second interception was to a completely covered Cecil Shorts in the end zone on fourth down. The Jaguars are now minus-7 in turnover margin this season. “There are so many times when these games come back to the small security of making good decisions with the ball,” Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said. “We will continue to emphasize that.”

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Maurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonMaurice Jones-Drew rushed for a season-best 70 yards against the Rams.
Run game makes progress: The Jaguars entered the weekend averaging just 49.0 yards per game rushing, but nearly doubled that against the Rams, running for 96 yards on 25 carries. Maurice Jones-Drew ran for a season-high 70 yards on 17 carries and had his first big run of the season, a 20-yarder that helped set up a field goal. This came with a new right tackle (Austin Pasztor) and the third player to play left tackle in a week (Cameron Bradfield). The Jaguars had success later in the game running the ball out of the pistol and having center Brad Meester slide down the left side of the line to help block the edge. “That's how the run game goes,” Jones-Drew said. “At first it's like 2 yards, zero, negative-3, and then after a while you start breaking runs. The offensive line did a great job of capturing the edge and we were able to make some runs. We want to continue building on that and it takes time.”

More TE damage: Bradley disagreed with an assessment earlier last week that the Jaguars were having trouble handling tight ends. Guys weren't getting beat one-on-one. There were coverage busts, especially against Seattle. Both happened again against the Rams. Lance Kendricks and Jared Cook combined to catch seven passes for 63 yards and a touchdown. Nearly half of those receptions were key plays, too. Kendricks had a 16-yard TD catch and also had another 16-yard catch on second-and-9. Both came on play-action rollouts in which Kendricks shadowed Bradford across the field and eluded linebackers. Cook had a 14-yard catch in the middle of the field against safety Johnathan Cyprien on a third-and-10 play and he also was the beneficiary of a 21-yard pass interference penalty by cornerback Will Blackmon.

More mistakes: Committing only four penalties for 45 yards normally would be a laudable stat, but nothing is that simple with the Jaguars. LaRoy Reynolds' illegal block above the waist wiped out Ace Sanders' 88-yard punt return for a touchdown and Blackmon's pass interference penalty jump-started a scoring drive that ended with a field goal.
An examination of four hot issues from the San Diego Chargers27-17 loss to the Oakland Raiders.

[+] EnlargeManti Te'o
Tony Avelar/AP PhotoManti Te'o has the maturity and smarts to handle heavy adversity, Chargers GM Tom Telesco said.
Te’o needs to play free: After playing just 14 snaps in his regular-season debut last week, San Diego rookie linebacker Manti Te'o saw significantly more time against the Raiders. Te’o finished with a combined five tackles but did not make any of the game-changing plays that he became known for at Notre Dame. “I’ve got to do a better job,” Te’o said. “Personally, for me, I can’t take that long to get into a groove of things. I’m just thinking too much. When you think, you stink. As a rookie you’re trying so hard not to make a mistake, but sometimes by taking that mentality, you end up making mistakes anyway. So I need to just let the game flow and just go out there and play football.”

Turnovers still an issue: The Chargers have a minus-eight turnover differential through five games, tied for fourth-worst in the NFL, after turning it over five times against the Raiders. San Diego has forced just two turnovers this season while giving up the ball 10 times. And San Diego’s defensive backfield still does not have an interception. The Chargers will not be a consistent winner until they do a better job in this important statistical area.

Freeney’s absence noticeable: The Chargers sacked Terrelle Pryor four times, but none in the first half as the Raiders jumped out to a 17-0 lead. Starting outside linebacker Jarret Johnson did a nice job of picking up the slack with the team’s best pass-rusher, Dwight Freeney, done for the year after suffering a torn quadriceps injury last week. Johnson finished with two sacks, two tackles for loss, a quarterback hurry and a forced fumble. However, Freeney’s replacement, Larry English, finished with just two tackles, and did not make an impact as a pass-rusher. Thomas Keiser, the team’s backup edge rusher, had one tackle in limited duty. “There was definitely more I could have done,” English said. “It wasn’t a good enough showing for me, personally, and we know as a team it’s wasn’t good enough.”

Allen a draft steal: While first-round selections Tavon Austin, Cordarrelle Patterson and DeAndre Hopkins have received more attention nationally, San Diego’s Keenan Allen is quickly developing into one of the most productive rookie receivers this season. Allen was targeted by Philip Rivers nine times against Oakland, finishing with six catches for 115 yards, including a 7-yard touchdown catch. Allen posted this impressive performance a week after totaling five catches for 80 yards in a win against Dallas last week. NFL scouts questioned Allen’s speed and ability to create separation at the next level because he's 6-foot-2, 211 pounds. But the Chargers grabbed the physical receiver out of California in the third round, and he’s averaging a healthy 16.1 yards per catch this season. He's also earned the trust of Rivers.

Upon Further Review: Dolphins Week 5

October, 7, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Miami Dolphins' 26-23 loss to the Baltimore Ravens:

Bye-week blues: It’s going to be a long two weeks for the Dolphins. Miami enters its bye losers of two consecutive games. The losing streak puts a damper on the Dolphins’ stellar 3-0 start. Now, the Dolphins are simply a middle-of-the-pack team struggling to find its way. Miami has a lot of issues to address, and also needs to use this bye to get healthy. The Dolphins will host the Buffalo Bills (2-3) on Oct. 20.

[+] EnlargeRyan Tannehill
Robert Mayer/USA TODAY SportsThe Dolphins are on pace to let Ryan Tannehill be sacked more than 70 times this season.
Protection issues: Perhaps the biggest issue for Miami is protecting starting quarterback Ryan Tannehill. This is not new. The Dolphins have had pass-protection issues since the first week of the season. Miami leads the NFL with 24 sacks allowed in five games, and is on pace to allow more than 70 sacks this season. The Dolphins are suffering from various leaks. Sometimes, it's the offensive line. Other times, it's the running backs failing to block or the quarterback holding the ball too long. Miami is probably not a playoff team if the pass protection doesn’t improve. Either Tannehill is going to get injured at some point, or the passing game is going to stall. It's amazing that Tannehill is still playing at a high level despite all the pressure he’s facing.

Sherman watch: It has been a rough couple of weeks for Dolphins offensive coordinator Mike Sherman. His play-calling has been shoddy, including a pair of head-scratching decisions to run the ball outside on third-and-1. Sherman called only 11 runs in what was a close and competitive game, whereas the Dolphins passed the ball 40 times. It will be Sherman’s job to re-evaluate the offense and his play-calling tendencies over the next two weeks. Opponents are starting to catch up to the Dolphins' offense after a solid start in the first three games.

Trade talk: In-season trades are not the norm in the NFL, but expect the rumor mill to get churning for Miami, especially during the bye week when not much is going on. The Dolphins could certainly use a boost on the offensive line and maybe at running back. Another veteran cornerback also wouldn’t hurt, especially considering Miami’s injuries. There are rarely quick fixes available via trades this time of year. But Dolphins general manager Jeff Ireland has been very aggressive in the offseason, so you can’t completely rule anything out.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 5

October, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 37-24 win over the Buffalo Bills:

Out for the season: Browns quarterback Brian Hoyer will miss the rest of the season after tearing his anterior cruciate ligament in the win over Buffalo. It’s a tough blow for Hoyer, who performed well in his two full starts playing for his hometown team. Injury is the risk of playing in the NFL, but it’s a tough part of the game.

[+] EnlargeBrian Hoyer
AP Photo/David RichardLosing quarterback Brian Hoyer forces the Browns to turn to Brandon Weeden again.
Back to Brandon: Browns coach Rob Chudzinski was asked on a conference call why he believed he could get from Brandon Weeden what he needs now that Hoyer is out. “Because we have no other choice,” Chudzinski said. He doesn’t. Hoyer was a pleasant surprise, but the Browns are back to where they started with their quarterbacks. Weeden is the starter and Jason Campbell the backup. If Weeden does not improve in a hurry, this season could turn long very fast.

Bryant OK: Desmond Bryant left the game and was taken to the Cleveland Clinic in an ambulance after experiencing shortness of breath. Chudzinski said Bryant also had an irregular heartbeat. “We took him to the hospital,” Chudzinski said. “He stayed overnight as a precaution. He’s fine; everything is back to normal. We’re not expecting any issues going forward.” Between Bryant having an irregular heartbeat and Barkevious Mingo bruising a lung, the Browns have had some scary-sounding injuries this season.

Above breakeven: Lost in the injury to their starting quarterback is the fact that the Browns have won three in a row, are over .500 and are in first place in the AFC North. Those are all figures that cause double-takes for a team that won 23 games the five seasons coming into this one. Just less than one-third into the season, the Browns can actually ponder the possibility of competing for the division. Pittsburgh is winless. Cincinnati is not playing close to expectations. And Baltimore has its struggles. The Browns can think big, but the key is their quarterback. Since they are back to square zero at that position, it’s a rather big question.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 5

October, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 37-24 loss to the Cleveland Browns:

Johnson, Graham should be OK: Bills wide receiver Stevie Johnson has a lumbar strain, head coach Doug Marrone said Friday. Johnson left in the second quarter of Thursday night's game and did not return. Marrone said Johnson is "already better than expected" and should be ready to play on Oct. 13 against the Bengals, following 10 days' rest. The Bills also appeared to dodge a bullet with wide receiver T.J. Graham, who briefly left the game with an apparent neck injury but later returned. Having a healthy group of receivers -- one that could also include rookie Marquise Goodwin -- will be a major factor in determining how the Bills' "interim" starting quarterback performs.

[+] EnlargeEJ Manuel
AP Photo/Tony DejakBuffalo center Eric Wood was upset with the some Browns players for the way they reacted when Bills QB EJ Manuel was injured in the third quarter.
Hang time an issue with Powell: Marrone said hang time on punts hurt the Bills in their loss to the Browns, when Cleveland's Travis Benjamin returned one punt 57 yards and another 79 yards for a touchdown. "When you’re covering balls that are under four seconds, it’s very difficult to cover. It’s only a matter of time in this league before you get exposed," Marrone said Friday. Benjamin set a Browns franchise record for punt-return yardage, and the Bills released their punter, Shawn Powell, on Friday. Buffalo will have 10 days to find another punter. No word yet on whether they're interested in bringing back longtime punter Brian Moorman, who is a free agent.

Marrone explains botched challenge: The Bills were docked a timeout in the second quarter of Thursday night's game when Marrone tried to challenge a play that was nullified by an illegal-contact penalty against Buffalo. Marrone said Friday that it was "my mistake," saying that he saw an official's hat come off, signaling that Browns receiver Jordan Cameron had stepped out of bounds. However, Marrone explained that the rules only allow that sort of penalty to be reviewed when the receiver who stepped out of bounds makes contact with the ball. Since the pass never reached Cameron, the Bills couldn't challenge the call.

No taunting call against Browns: Center Eric Wood was upset with the Browns on Friday, calling some of their players "classless" for how they acted after quarterback EJ Manuel was injured in the third quarter. Marrone was asked for his reaction Friday, and simply said that he can't control what the other team does. He did say, however, that he asked officials if there should have been a taunting call against them on the play and they told him no.




Thursday, 8/21
Friday, 8/22
Saturday, 8/23
Sunday, 8/24