NFL Nation: 2013 Week 6 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 6

October, 15, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- A review of four hot issues from the Indianapolis Colts' 19-9 loss to the San Diego Chargers.

The Peyton factor: A legitimate argument can be made that the Colts were looking past the Chargers and ahead to this week's showdown against the undefeated Denver Broncos. I didn't think that would be the case after several players declined to talk about Denver when I asked them last week while trying to work ahead on some stories. San Diego was the only thing they would talk about. But how else can you explain the Colts' stinking worse than a baby's diaper while playing in the national spotlight of "Monday Night Football"? They had way too many self-inflicted wounds. Dropped passes. Missed tackles. Penalties at the wrong time. The Colts beat themselves against the Chargers.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/Denis PoroyTrent Richardson, playing in his fourth game for the Colts, only had 10 carries for 40 yards in the loss at San Diego on Monday night.
No running: Indianapolis arrived at Qualcomm Stadium as the fourth-best rushing team in the league. The Colts walked out of there not only with a loss, but they also dropped to sixth (the same spot they’re at in this week’s Power Rankings) in rushing at 130.7 yards a game. The 72 yards gained on the ground are a season low for them. The Trent Richardson show in the backfield continues to remain in neutral. The running back led the Colts in rushing, but it was nothing you can get excited about because he only gained 40 yards on 10 carries. Richardson is now four games in with the Colts, and it’s time for him to get rolling. "We came in averaging [142 rushing yards] per game," Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. "And today they held us under 100. We didn't get ourselves in enough third-and-manageables. We popped ourselves a few, but we were inconsistent.”

Harvey steps in: Let’s quickly get the good news out of the way with linebacker Mario Harvey. He led the Colts with a career-high 10 tackles (nine solo) while stepping in for Jerrell Freeman, who sat out the second half with a concussion. Now the bad news. Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers constantly picked on Harvey, who had a difficult time keeping up with San Diego’s tight ends and receivers when matched up against them. The Colts needed Freeman because he’s more athletic than Harvey. “When I first got out there, I didn’t have a feel for them because I just came out at halftime,” Harvey said. “I started picking it up once I got a feel.” The Colts better hope Freeman can pass the league’s concussion protocol, because Denver's Peyton Manning will pick on Harvey every chance he gets -- and there will be a lot of opportunities -- in Sunday's game.

Case of the drops: Not that any time is a good time to have a case of the drops, but the Colts picked a brutal time to have multiple players get hit with the bug. They had four drops, including a key one by tight end Coby Fleener. Indianapolis is the third team to have at least four drops in back-to-back games this season. That stat is alarming when you consider the Colts dropped only two passes total in their first four games. “I don’t know, just dropped the ball," receiver Reggie Wayne said. "That’s all I can tell you. Nobody wants to go out there and drop balls, miss blocks and make penalties. That is part of the game. We have to correct them. We know this was out of the norm for ourselves."
SAN DIEGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the Chargers’ 19-9 win over the Indianapolis Colts.

Are the Chargers a playoff team? Denver and Kansas City are both undefeated atop the AFC West at 6-0, making dreams of a division title unrealistic for the Chargers. Still, San Diego (3-3) is only a half-game behind 3-2 Miami for the final AFC wild-card spot. The Chargers have impressive wins over Dallas and Indianapolis at home, and disappointing losses at Oakland and Tennessee. They should (never assume anything with this team) take care of business on the road against winless Jacksonville heading into the bye week. Returning from the bye week, San Diego has three of four games on the road, including trips to Washington and Miami. If the Chargers can get through that tough stretch still hovering around .500, they will have a chance to compete for a playoff spot with four of five games at home to close out the regular season.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Kevork Djansezian/Getty ImagesThe San Diego defense kept Andrew Luck uncomfortable for much of Monday's game.
Little brother wins again: Chargers defensive coordinator John Pagano continues to get payback for all the roughing up he received from older brother and Indianapolis head coach Chuck Pagano during their younger years. The younger Pagano put together a good, aggressive scheme that created constant pressure in Andrew Luck’s face, and he's now 8-1 against Chuck when the two teams they coach have faced each other in the NFL. San Diego’s defense had been an area of concern after struggling to stop Terrelle Pryor last week. But even without frontline players Donald Butler and Jarret Johnson, the Chargers executed on defense, holding one of the top-scoring offenses in the NFL to just nine points.

Secondary plays to its potential: San Diego had just one interception heading into the Monday night game against Indianapolis, and that occurred on the first defensive play of the season against Houston, a tipped ball by Johnson hauled in by defensive tackle Cam Thomas. So it was important for cornerback Derek Cox to record his first interception of the year on Luck’s final pass of the night to seal the victory. San Diego’s secondary held Luck to 202 passing yards, no touchdowns and a 66.2 passer rating. The Chargers also were helped by five Indianapolis drops, but for the most part, San Diego’s secondary played tight coverage and made plays on the back end. The return of cornerback Shareece Wright to the starting lineup also seemed to improve the team’s pass coverage.

O-line key to success: With the return of left tackle King Dunlap to the starting lineup, the Chargers rolled out their fifth different starting offensive-line combination in six games. Usually, that’s a bad sign for a unit that depends on cohesion and chemistry for consistent play. But no matter what players rotate in, San Diego’s offensive line has been rock-solid in pass protection and jump-starting the run game. Philip Rivers has been sacked just 10 times in six games. And San Diego’s offensive line helped pave the way for Ryan Mathews to run for more than 100 yards for the first time since December 2011. Offensive line coach Joe D’Alessandris created some versatility by having all of the linemen learn different positions, and that should pay dividends in the second half of the season once everyone is healthy up front.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 32-20 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

[+] EnlargeCarson Palmer
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesAfter a rocky start, Carson Palmer found a nice rhythm Sunday.
There is an offense: All it took for the Cardinals offense to come to life were two interceptions by quarterback Carson Palmer in the game’s first six minutes. Then it was like a switch was flipped and Palmer was making passes we haven’t seen since the first couple weeks of the season. He was threading needles and lofting fades perfectly over defenders -- both types of passes that were picked off at various times this season. And Arizona coach Bruce Arians went to the run game early in the second half, which provided a much-needed balance and slowed the pass rush, giving Palmer more time in the pocket to make better passes. It’s all a domino effect.

Stick figures: Arians has shown a penchant for going to rookies on third down. He has done it with running backs Stepfan Taylor and Andre Ellington, and wide receiver Jaron Brown. But that might need to change. Arians -- like every other coach -- teaches his players to run third-down routes to the sticks, meaning the first-down marker. Each time Palmer went to one of the rookies Sunday on third down, they came up a yard short. Granted, the Niners were sitting back on defense, keeping their secondary on the first-down line, but the rookies couldn’t get the first down and drives faltered. They need to be taught to run their routes a yard or two past the sticks.

Long day on D: Try running into someone at full speed at the same level for three straight hours. Oh, you can’t? Neither can a defense. The Cardinals began to wear down in the third and fourth quarters because they were on the field so much. After a while they couldn’t do the simplest of tasks, such as run the assigned scheme. Even Arians said the defense was on the field for too long, a sign the offense couldn’t hold on to the ball enough. But don’t ask Arians if his defense ran out of gas. “You can’t run out of gas. There is no such thing as run out of gas. Just kick somebody’s ass and you’ll be all right and you’ll get off the field.”

Two points now or later? Arians has always been a creative mind, but he might have outsmarted himself Sunday. He went for two midway through the third quarter and used cornerback Patrick Peterson as the quarterback in a gadget play, the same one Peterson ran against Detroit. But Peterson held on to the ball a moment too long and missed an open Larry Fitzgerald in the back of the end zone. But Arians went for two a little early. Had he taken the extra point, the Cardinals would’ve been within one, then within eight. All manageable down the stretch.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 31-16 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

It’s tough to defend the clock management at the end of the first half. Redskins coach Mike Shanahan defended the way Washington handled the timeouts and play calls during that span. Shanahan knows more about coaching than I’ll ever know, but in this case, there is this: The Redskins had a chance to stop the clock at Dallas’ 17 with 37 seconds left. They would have had one timeout left. Conceivably, they could have run several more plays by stopping the clock at this point. They also would have been more limited to where they could throw with only one timeout, or whether they could run the ball. Still, they trailed 14-3 at the time and had a chance to gain momentum before the half. Instead, the Redskins ran three plays, including a quarterback keeper on third-and-10. They got their field goal; but they also lost a chance for more plays and perhaps more points.

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Tim SharpRobert Griffin III finished the loss to the Cowboys with 19 completions for 246 yards and no TDs.
Robert Griffin III regressed during the game from a passing standpoint. He completed 9-of-21 passes for only 112 yards in the second half, looking off-target on too many throws. The interception in the end zone wasn’t just on him, as receiver Santana Moss slipped and fell after the ball had been thrown. Griffin was under duress often and it possibly affected his accuracy. Regardless, Griffin’s passer rating got worse with each quarter, starting with a 111.5 rating in the first and finishing with a 25.0 in the fourth. He ran well; it wasn’t nearly enough.

Washington’s defense played its best game of the season, bothering quarterback Tony Romo enough to hurt his accuracy. Corner DeAngelo Hall did a terrific job on receiver Dez Bryant and, after a bad first series, the defense did a better job tackling. For the third straight game, they also stopped the run. For the first time this season, they did not allow a play of more than 20 yards. After a horrific start, the defense can feel better about themselves entering the Chicago game.

Bad calls occur every game. But the Redskins lost a chance to gain early momentum when the officials ruled that B.W. Webb was a passive player when he was blocked into the ball on a Washington punt. That meant it was not a fumble. But former vice president of officiating Mike Pereira told WFJK-FM’s Grant Paulsen that he would have ruled it a fumble because Webb was an active blocker, extending his arms to block Washington’s Jerome Murphy. The Redskins would have had the ball at the Cowboys’ 24 trailing by a touchdown. They did force a punt and drove for a field goal. But they lost a chance at more points.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys’ 31-16 win over the Washington Redskins:

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/LM OteroTony Romo and the Dallas offense stepped up their production in the third quarter.
Man, what coverage: If you’re looking for a change in how the Cowboys played defensively, it was in the secondary. Cornerback Brandon Carr followed Pierre Garcon all over the field. Morris Claiborne and Orlando Scandrick were matched up in man coverage more. The result was three pass breakups apiece for Carr and Claiborne and two for Scandrick.

“I think that takes us back to what we’re all here for,” Scandrick said. “Whether it’s man or zone, it’s our job to play the scheme, but Brandon Carr was brought over from Kansas City, gave him a bunch of money to play man-to-man. Mo, traded up for him to play man-to-man. Signed me long-term to play man-to-man, so …”

Answering the call: In a Sept. 22 loss to the San Diego Chargers, the Cowboys ran just seven plays in the third quarter and lost 30-21. On Sunday they ran only eight plays in the third quarter but managed to score a touchdown thanks to Dwayne Harris’ kickoff return. After that, however, the offense had two three-and-out drives. After Kai Forbath missed a 49-yard field goal early in the fourth quarter, the Cowboys answered with a nine-play drive that ended with a 30-yard field goal from Dan Bailey for an eight-point lead. For six of those nine plays, the Cowboys went with their “empty” personnel, spreading the field. Tony Romo completed four of six passes for 42 yards with no running back on the field with Cole Beasley catching three of the passes.

Need line help: The trade deadline is two weeks away, and the Cowboys will be open for business but face salary-cap restrictions when thinking about making a deal. While DeMarcus Ware felt confident his strained quadriceps would be OK, there is little proven help along the defensive line, leading to a question about adding a defensive lineman through a trade or free agency. The Cowboys have about $2 million in cap room, making the acquisition of a name player difficult. At one point the defensive line Sunday was Caesar Rayford, Drake Nevis, David Carter and Kyle Wilber, who did have his first career sack. They pressured Robert Griffin III at times, but can this “no-name” group, as Jerry Jones called it, get it done every game?

Quiet return: After missing two games with a hamstring injury, Miles Austin was held without a catch against the Redskins. He was targeted four times and nearly had a touchdown, but Redskins cornerback DeAngelo Hall managed to deflect the Romo pass at the last second. It was the second straight game Austin was held without a catch by the Redskins. It also happened in last year’s season finale, but he missed a lot of action in that game with an ankle injury. For the offense to be at peak efficiency, Austin will need to make some plays. The good news is that he did not aggravate his hamstring injury, so he should improve as he grows more confident in his legs.

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars' 35-19 loss to Denver Broncos:

Who's the starter? Quarterback Chad Henne completed 27 of 42 passes for 303 yards. He did throw two interceptions, but both came after deflections at the line of scrimmage. Coach Gus Bradley, however, was non-committal about whether Henne would remain the starter even after Blaine Gabbert (strained left hamstring) is cleared to return. “He did some very good things, and that's what he's supposed to do,” Bradley said. “He's supposed to come in and lead our team. He's supposed to come in and make plays. He's supposed to come in and [get] the playmakers the ball, and he did some of those things.” Henne still made some significant mistakes. He missed a wide-open Clay Harbor on the first offensive play. He also could have run for a first down on fourth-and-3 from the Denver 11-yard line but threw behind Justin Blackmon in the end zone. Still, Henne has outplayed Gabbert, who has missed three starts because of injuries, all season.

[+] EnlargeJacksonville's Chad Henne
Doug Pensinger/Getty ImagesChad Henne passed for 303 yards against Denver, but also had some significant mistakes.
Umbrella coverage: The Jaguars' game plan against Peyton Manning was pretty simple: Play two-deep safeties to eliminate big plays down the field and try to flood the secondary with defenders. It worked pretty well. Manning threw for a season-low 295 yards and two touchdowns and was intercepted for only the second time this season. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Jaguars sent four or fewer rushers on 41 of Manning's 42 dropbacks. They blitzed one time and Manning beat them with a 3-yard touchdown pass to tight end Julius Thomas. Jaguars defenders limited Broncos receivers to season-low 116 yards after the catch and forced Manning to throw to the running backs a season-high 14 times. The result was a season-low in points, total yards, and passing yards.

Brown contributes: Lost in Justin Blackmon's 14-catch performance was the way receiver Mike Brown filled in for Cecil Shorts, who suffered a sprained right shoulder on the game's third offensive play and did not return. Brown caught four passes for 49 yards, including a 19-yard pass on third-and-20 that put the Jaguars in position to attempt and convert on fourth down. Sunday was Brown's first game since he suffered a fractured bone in his back in the season opener. Brown, a converted quarterback from Liberty, will have to produce like he did against the Broncos if Shorts, the team's leading receiver (31 catches), is out for an extended period.

Dead zone: The Jaguars' struggles inside the red zone continue. They scored only one TD in three trips. It was a mix of play-calling and bad decisions that doomed the latter two trips. Henne was penalized for delay of game and then offensive coordinator Jed Fisch called a sweep to the short side of the field. Those plays moved the ball from the 4 to the 12. Henne could have run for a first down on their last trip but instead threw behind Blackmon.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 6

October, 14, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks 20-13 win over the Tennessee Titans:

[+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
AP Photo/Scott EklundRichard Sherman and the defense held the Titans offense to just two field goals Sunday.
Defense corrects recent problems: Seattle's defense did not allow the Titans to reach the end zone. The only touchdown for Tennessee came of a 77-yard return by Jason McCourty of a botched field-goal attempt on the last play of the first half. The defense held Tennessee to two field goals, and the Titans rushed for only 66 yards on 20 carries. And the Seahawks' defense didn’t give up the big plays that have hurt them the past two games. “We cleaned up the things we needed to clean up," said cornerback Richard Sherman, who had one of two Seattle interceptions.

Pass blocking is improving: Quarterback Russell Wilson was sacked twice Sunday, but one was a running play for no gain. Max Unger returned at center and coach Pete Carroll was pleased overall. “Solid, he said. “A good job in pass protection. They gave Russell a ton of time. He ran when he needed to as opposed to when he had to. I thought it was the best pass protection in the last few weeks. I think Max had something to do with it, for sure.”

Browner take a seat: Cornerback Brandon Browner was having a hard time covering Tennessee receiver Kendall Wright in the first half, so the coaches took him out of the game and inserted Walter Thurmond, who started the first two games this season when Browner had a hamstring injury. “We just gave [Browner] a break,” Carroll said. “They were going after him. We have plenty of guys to play and I wanted to make sure we were fresh. I had a chance to talk to [Browner] about some of the stuff that was going on in the first half. I just told him we were going to go with the other guys for a little bit. Brandon is an excellent football player. He did a nice job in the second half.”

Help is coming on offense: Carroll emphasized some of the issues the offense is having likely will improve soon with players who will get back on the field, including tight end Zach Miller and receiver Percy Harvin. “We have some guys that are going to juice us up in a couple of weeks,” Carroll said. “Zach will be back next week for sure. Percy is coming around the corner.” Miller missed the past two games with a hamstring injury. Harvin has yet to play a game in a Seahawks uniform after undergoing hip surgery Aug. 1.

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot items from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 19-6 win over the New York Jets.

[+] EnlargeGeno Smith
AP Photo/Kathy WillensThe Pittsburgh defense on Sunday made life miserable for Jets quarterback Geno Smith.
Statement game: The Steelers’ defense made a stand after an atrocious showing in a 34-27 loss to the Minnesota Vikings on Sept. 29. The Steelers allowed their fewest points in a road game since 2008 (Washington), according to ESPN Stats & Information. They also showed how effective they can be when they force teams to play from behind -- when it comes to the sticks or the scoreboard. The Steelers didn’t allow the Jets to convert one time on a third down when New York needed at least 6 yards to move the chains. Two of the Steelers’ three sacks came on those third downs, and Geno Smith threw both of his interceptions when the Jets trailed by double digits. “Finally we got a lead to play with,” defensive end Brett Keisel said, “and we can do good things when teams are forced to throw the ball.”

LT still in flux: What is next for the Steelers at left tackle if Levi Brown is lost for the rest of the season with a torn right triceps? Kelvin Beachum played admirably Sunday as he settled down after a shaky start, but he is probably better suited for the interior of the line and is not a long-term fix at left tackle. If the Steelers need a stopgap while Beachum fills in until the coaches are ready to give Mike Adams another shot at left tackle, Max Starks is among the veteran offensive tackles who are unsigned. The Steelers brought back Starks in October 2011 after they cut ties with the two-time Super Bowl winner, so there is certainly precedence there.

A steady hand: Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger impressed coach Mike Tomlin with his command of the game as much as his pinpoint passing. “He did a great job of communicating,” Tomlin said. “Sometimes in hostile environments that becomes difficult.” Roethlisberger and offensive coordinator Todd Haley did not have any communication issues even though the former initially disagreed with what turned into the call of the game. On third-and-1 from the Steelers’ 45-yard line early in the third quarter, Roethlisberger thought the Steelers would try to run for the first down. Haley called for a play-action pass and Roethlisberger hit a wide-open Emmanuel Sanders for a 55-yard touchdown. “That was a great call on his part,” Roethlisberger said of Haley. “I was a little hesitant at first. After we broke the huddle I thought that this was a good play call.”

Getting his kicks: The Steelers would have blown the Jets out had they been able to finish more drives. But what a weapon Shaun Suisham has become when the Steelers have to settle for field goals. The ninth-year veteran banged home four of them Sunday, including a pair from beyond 45 yards. Suisham has made 42 of his last 43 attempts inside of 50 yards. He has also made a personal-best 17 consecutive field goal attempts between 40 and 49 yards.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 6

October, 14, 2013
ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- A review of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 35-19 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars:

[+] EnlargeChamp Bailey
Chris Humphreys/USA TODAY SportsThe Denver Broncos could use the veteran experience of cornerback Champ Bailey, who returned to the secondary Sunday for the first time this season.
Air defenses: The Broncos got cornerback Champ Bailey back Sunday, and linebacker Von Miller, who returns next week, says he’s ready to be the impact player he was before his six-game suspension for violating the league’s substance-abuse program. During their absences, opposing quarterbacks have found room to work in these pass-happy times. The Jaguars' Chad Henne had the fourth 300-yard passing game the Broncos have surrendered this season -- he’s 29th among league starters in passing yards. In the past two games, the Broncos have surrendered 809 passing yards and registered three interceptions. Last season, the Broncos did not surrender a 300-yard passing game until their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens in January, when Joe Flacco threw for 331 yards in the Ravens' win.

More pressure: To that end, the Broncos have to find a way to consistently pressure opposing passers. Miller should help if he has done the work he and those around him keep saying he’s done, but Malik Jackson had both Broncos sacks Sunday, and the two plays came during the same series in the third quarter. And that was against a battered Jaguars offensive line that has surrendered the fourth-most sacks in the league (22) after Sunday’s games.

Catch-and-run: With defenses consistently dropping at least seven players into coverage, including linebackers often sprinting away from the line of scrimmage at the snap, the Broncos have picked their spots and still found big plays. Quarterback Peyton Manning has been patient much of the time with at least 15 completions of 10 or fewer yards in each of the past five games and at least 18 completions of 10 or fewer yards in four of those games, including Sunday, when he had 19 completions of 10 or fewer yards against the Jaguars. Yet, the Broncos still lead the league with a gaudy 8.7 yards per pass attempt.

Power up: The Broncos again showed they can go big on offense, with two- and three-tight-end sets effectively moving the ball. After right tackle Orlando Franklin left the game in the third quarter, the Broncos used tight ends Julius Thomas, Joel Dreessen, Virgil Green and Jacob Tamme in a variety of situations, including a pile of snaps on scoring drives in the third and fourth quarters. Thomas played all 74 snaps on offense against the Jaguars, while Dreessen played a season-high 19 snaps on offense, Green played 15 and Tamme nine. Using more of these sets may be something the Broncos give a long look at since Franklin is expected to miss several weeks.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 6

October, 14, 2013
HOUSTON -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams' 38-13 win over the Houston Texans:

Stacy's the one: Two weeks into his tenure as the Rams' starting running back, rookie Zac Stacy has proved he should be getting the bulk of the work. Stacy's fearless style allows him to run between the tackles with the type of abandon that moves the chains and allows the Rams to have a much-needed second dimension for the offense.

[+] EnlargeSt. Louis' Zac Stacy
Troy Taormina/USA TODAY SportsZac Stacy is averaging 2.42 yards after contact per carry the past two weeks.
Stacy finished Sunday with 18 carries for 79 yards and is averaging nearly 4.9 yards on the 32 carries he's had the past two weeks. Stacy's ability to pick up yards after contact has helped him convert eight first downs over the past two weeks and average a solid 2.42 yards after contact per carry.

Maybe Stacy won't wow anyone with speed or dazzle with moves in the open field, but his straightforward, no-nonsense style is exactly what the Rams need.

Special teams surprise: The Rams' issues with special teams penalties have been well documented, especially in this space, but when credit is due, it needs to be given. The Rams showed improved discipline on special teams, committing just one infraction (an illegal procedure penalty for kicking the ball out of bounds on Greg Zuerlein) though they didn't have many punt-return opportunities.

Still, the Rams' coverage units have quietly been outstanding all season, and that surfaced Sunday as the group scored a touchdown while covering a kickoff when linebacker Daren Bates recovered a fumble and returned it 11 yards for the score.

Run D woes: It can be hard to nitpick a team when it wins, but it's not really nitpicking when the one weakness the Rams showed was so glaringly obvious. To nobody's surprise, Houston gashed the Rams for 153 yards on the ground with an average of 5.1 yards per carry. Aside from a bit of progress last week against Jacksonville, run defense has been an ongoing issue.

The Rams did a good job of keeping the Texans out of the end zone, but they are now 31st in the league in run defense, allowing 130.5 yards per game on the ground. With teams like Carolina and Seattle lurking, the Rams need to find solutions sooner rather than later.

Red zone success: It seems as though the Rams have been dealing with red zone issues, especially on offense, for the better part of the past decade. Quietly, that appears to have changed in the first six weeks of this season. They converted all three trips inside the 20 into touchdowns against Houston and now sit third in the league in red zone efficiency, scoring a touchdown two thirds of the time.

The defense has been fairly solid in its own right, holding opponents to a red zone efficiency of 52.4 percent, 13th in the league. That unit denied Houston on four of its five trips inside the Rams' 20.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Philadelphia Eagles’ 31-20 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

[+] EnlargeDeMeco Ryans
AP Photo/Steve NesiusDeMeco Ryans is averaging nearly nine tackles per game and is on pace for a career high in sacks.
Nick Foles may run the “same offense” as coach Chip Kelly insists. There is no question, though, that Foles plays quarterback differently than Michael Vick. That doesn’t necessarily mean better, but the difference could help sway Kelly in deciding which quarterback to start Sunday against Dallas. According to Pro Football Focus, Foles got the ball out in an average of 2.4 seconds per dropback. That’s nearly two seconds faster than Vick’s average release. Vick makes more plays by buying time with his mobility, and that raises his average. Still, Kelly likes a quick, decisive passer. PFF also looked at Foles’ performance when he was feeling pressure from Tampa Bay’s defense. His passer rating was 106.6, which is excellent.

The Eagles’ record is a peculiar 3-3. Maybe it says something about Kelly’s team. Maybe it says something about the NFL in 2013. Maybe it’s just a fluke of the schedule, but the Eagles got to .500 in very odd fashion. Their three wins are against teams with a combined record of 1-15. The three teams that beat the Eagles, all from the AFC West, are a combined 14-3. Because they are 2-0 in the NFC East and 3-0 in the NFC, the Eagles could survive a 1-3 start and compete for a playoff berth. They can really help that cause Sunday when they host the Dallas Cowboys, with whom the Eagles are tied for first place in the division.

Jason Peters was or was not at tight end at times. The Eagles’ Pro Bowl left tackle missed a total of nine offensive plays after hurting his shoulder Sunday. He returned, but played three different positions: left tackle, right tackle and tight end. Sort of. Peters lines up outside rookie tackle Lane Johnson in an unbalanced look Kelly deploys at times. The line can look like this: tight end, guard, center, guard, tackle, tackle/tight end. “It creates some different matchup problems on how they’re going to deploy themselves,” Kelly said. “You’re using Jason as a tight end. Are you going to put a defensive end on him? How are you going to time your blitzes?” While he lines up like a tight end, Peters does not report as an eligible receiver in that alignment.

The Eagles' defense had its moments. There were some bad moments, to be sure. Allowing Mike Glennon to throw two second-quarter touchdown passes to Vincent Jackson and take a 17-14 lead? That was bad. The 90-yard drive for a field goal after having a chance to pin the rookie quarterback at his own 1-yard line? Also bad. But the Eagles got excellent play from defensive linemen Fletcher Cox (two passes knocked down, five hurries per Pro Football Focus) and Cedric Thornton, who was vital in holding Doug Martin to just 67 rushing yards on 16 carries.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 6

October, 14, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 31-17 loss to the Detroit Lions:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
Ron Schwane/USA TODAY SportsQuarterback Brandon Weeden played well at times on Sunday but wasn't able to lead Cleveland to its fourth straight victory.
Quick change: Things change in a hurry in the NFL. One week ago, the Browns were fresh off a win over Buffalo, Brandon Weeden had completed some big passes in relief of Brian Hoyer and a home game separated them from four wins in a row. But instead of heading into a tough three-game stretch with a 4-2 record, the Browns looked bad in losing and now wonder where they’ll be after playing Green Bay, Kansas City and Baltimore before the bye. That’s life in the league among most of the teams not named Denver or Jacksonville. One loss, or win, changes much in a hurry.

Quarterback quandary: When Rob Chudzinski was asked last week why he believed the Browns could get Weeden ready to play, he said, “Because we have no choice.” Weeden had a good first half, but did little besides throw a pass for the follies reel that cost the Browns their last and best chance to stay in the game. The options that remain for the Browns are few -- neither Hoyer nor Brian Sipe is walking through that door. The Browns still have no choice, but nobody could blame them if they have a little less faith.

On film: NFL teams study what others do carefully, and the Browns now have a defensive weakness on film. The Lions took advantage of inside linebacker Craig Robertson in the pass game, and didn’t even try to hide it afterward. There were times Robertson was a step slow, but there were also times he was there and the Lions simply made the play, while he did not. Robertson is a dedicated player, a hard worker and after the game stood up to what happened. But the Browns may need an alternate plan on defense if they want to play more man coverage.

Shared duties: Tashaun Gipson admitted what everyone knew: The defense isn’t helped when the offense has 5 yards and no first downs in the third quarter. Not because the defense gets tired (why wouldn’t the other team’s offense get just as tired?), but because the lack of offensive production puts more pressure on the defense to be perfect. The Browns' second-half offensive struggles were exacerbated by the fact that the Browns' defense could not get off the field -- the Lions were 6-for-7 on third downs. Symmetry wins. The Browns had it in some games, but not against Detroit.

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 6

October, 14, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders24-7 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

[+] EnlargeTerrelle Pryor
AP Photo/Reed HoffmannDespite what the numbers said, Terrelle Pryor maintained, "I didn't take a beating."
Growing up? Terrelle Pryor was sacked 10 times, and the Chiefs registered 14 quarterback hits on him. Pryor carried the ball six times and gained 60 yards, but he was also picked off three times, and those interceptions resulted in 17 points for the Chiefs. You could say Pryor took a physical, as well as a mental, beating, no? “I didn’t take a beating,” he said. “I’m a big man, a grown man. They just tackled me. They got me and they made great plays. It was not a beating, though.” For what it’s worth, Pryor is listed at 6-foot-4 and 233 pounds. But you have to wonder how he rebounds from the biggest, ahem, beating of his young NFL career.

More SeaBass drama: Sebastian Janikowski has now missed more field goals (four) in six games than he did all of last season (three). And each of the left-footed kicker’s misses have come from the left hashmark. “I don’t know what the deal is with that there,” said long-snapper Jon Condo. “I mean, it’s probably just more coincidence.” Sunday’s miss, from 51 yards, was short after he seemed to stub his toe on the grass. “Right as soon as he kicks it, I can tell if he strikes it good, and I knew, I heard it,” Condo added. “Even the ball flight, you saw it kind of got up. The wind was coming the opposite way, and the rotation on it, we didn’t get a drive.”

Missed opportunities: The Raiders are rebuilding, no doubt, but they still need to learn how to tighten their grip. Two crucial mistakes cost them in the first half. First was Janikowski’s missed field-goal attempt with 12:26 to play in the first half. One series later, Pryor hit Denarius Moore for a 39-yard touchdown, meaning that had Janikowski connected earlier, the Raiders could've been looking at a 10-0 lead with their defense dominating. At least until Mistake No. 2: D.J. Hayden’s pass-interference penalty while covering Dwayne Bowe on third-and-10 from the Oakland 24-yard line. Hayden never turned to look for the ball. Kansas City went on to score a touchdown, and so what could've been a 10-3 halftime lead for Oakland was instead a 7-7 tie.

Of explosive plays VI: 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 five such plays against Kansas City (two runs and three passes), while the Chiefs had three explosive plays (one run and two passes). In six games, the Raiders have 45 explosive plays (15 runs, 30 passes), with one TD on a run and four passing scores. Oakland’s opponents, meanwhile, have 41 explosive plays combined (nine runs and 32 passes) with a touchdown each running and passing.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 6

October, 14, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 19-17 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeEddie Lacy
AP Photo/Gail BurtonRunning back Eddie Lacy helped power the Packers to a win in Baltimore on Sunday.
Playing tough: What elements make up a physical team? Start with a strong running game. Add a defensive front that manhandles offensive linemen. Then do it on the road against the defending Super Bowl champions. If the Packers were soft in the past -- something they have been accused of in recent years -- no one could say that after watching Sunday’s win over the Ravens. The offensive linemen opened holes for Eddie Lacy (120 yards on 23 carries) and when the holes weren’t huge, Lacy barreled his way to extra yards. On defense, the Packers came up with a goal-line stop, sacked Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco five times and allowed just 47 yards rushing. “If you’ve been to any of our training camp practices, you shouldn’t be surprised in seeing how we played,” defensive tackle Mike Daniels said. “The way we played against San Francisco and Cincinnati was overshadowed by the fact that those were losses. We played very tough in those games as well. This one, I think a lot more people will pay attention to because we won, but we played equally as tough in this game as we have in the past four.”

Linebackers shine: In the absence of Clay Matthews and Brad Jones, defensive coordinator Dom Capers turned A.J. Hawk loose as a pass-rusher. Hawk came flat free several times on blitzes and recorded three sacks. He was credited with 10 tackles, including five for losses. He took over for Jones as the dime linebacker and defensive signal-caller. Meanwhile, Jamari Lattimore held up well in his first NFL start, playing Jones’ spot in the base and nickel packages. He made three tackles, including two for losses. Nick Perry, despite missing part of the game because of an ankle injury, had five pressures in just 21 pass-rush attempts, according to ProFootballFocus. His strip-sack of Flacco late in the second quarter was a huge momentum play before halftime. Mike Neal couldn’t match his production from the previous week against Detroit, when he had six tackles and a sack. “I thought we were really rolling there in the beginning with Nick and Mike, and A.J., I think probably played one of his best games,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. “Jamari was making plays. We had excellent push inside. It was just really a combination of everybody.”

Special-teams gaffe: You wouldn’t expect veteran fullback John Kuhn to make the kind of mistake he did after Ryan Taylor blocked a Ravens punt in the second quarter. Kuhn tried to field the blocked punt after it had crossed the line of scrimmage, which made it a live ball. The Ravens recovered and got a fresh set of downs. “Heck, no one knows more about special teams than John Kuhn,” McCarthy said. Kuhn said he knew the rule but was trying to make a play. The Ravens didn’t score, though, because the Packers came up with a stop on fourth-and-goal at the 1. “It really came back to bite us,” Kuhn said. “But our defense stood up for me and had my back, and nobody was more appreciative of that goal-line stand than myself. I kind of leave here with a little bit of a reprieve because we won the game, but that’s a detrimental mistake that I can’t make.”

Punt returner found: The Packers have may found themselves a permanent punt returner. Rookie Micah Hyde averaged 13.6 yards on five attempts, including returns of 20 and 23 yards. The Packers came into the game averaging 7.1 yards per punt return. The job had been split by Jeremy Ross, Randall Cobb and Hyde. It likely will be turned over to Hyde on a full-time basis. “We’ll evaluate it,” McCarty said. “I’m pleased with what Micah did. But he’s definitely the front-runner.”

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 35-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

[+] EnlargeLeslie Frazier & Ron Rivera
Brace Hemmelgarn/USA TODAY SportsVikings coach Leslie Frazier talks with Panthers coach Ron Rivera prior to their game Sunday.
1. Hapless on third downs: The Vikings' defense has the second-worst third-down conversion rate in the league, and what happened on Sunday didn't help that statistic. Minnesota allowed Carolina to convert seven of its 12 third downs, raising opponents' third-down success rate to 49.3 percent this year. And for good measure, the Panthers converted a pair of fourth downs, throwing a touchdown to Steve Smith on a first-quarter fourth-and-2.

2. Newton in no hurry: Minnesota sacked Panthers quarterback Cam Newton just once on Sunday, as the previously erratic quarterback hit 20 of his 26 passes. For the season, the Vikings have just nine sacks, which ranks 29th in the league, and represents a stark change for a team that relies on its front four to generate consistent pressure. "It really came down to making plays, and putting people in the position to make plays," defensive end Jared Allen said. "And we aren't doing that right now."

3. QB carousel spins again? Coach Leslie Frazier said he would re-evaluate the Vikings' quarterback situation after this game, and would decide this week whether Matt Cassel will get another shot to start. The guess from here (and most corners), though, is that Josh Freeman gets the nod next Monday in New York. With an extra day to prepare, the Vikings can likely get Freeman ready, and at 1-4, their biggest priority might revolve around figuring out if they have a quarterback on their roster who can be the answer for the next few years.

4. Frazier's future: The Vikings' head coach came into 2013 in need of a successful year after the team decided to pick up his 2014 option and not offer him a contract extension, following a playoff berth in 2012. But the Vikings have started 1-4, played undisciplined football and had last-minute lapses on defense that led to decisive touchdowns in two of their first three losses. After Sunday's game, Allen said, "Guys have got to be accountable and do their job. That's not just players. That's coaches." And linebacker Chad Greenway compared the start of this season to that of the Vikings' 3-13 2011 season. Frazier has been handed a roster with some glaring holes, but most NFL teams have their warts. If the Vikings' final record even approaches their 2011 mark, it seems likely they'll be looking for a new coach.