NFL Nation: 2013 Week 6 Upon Further Review NFC

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: 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: 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: 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.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 6

October, 14, 2013
MINNEAPOLIS -- A review of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 35-10 victory over the Minnesota Vikings:

Insider trading: Look no further than Thomas Davis as yet another reason the Panthers were willing to trade Jon Beason to the Giants. Davis was moved from weakside to strongside linebacker during training camp to get Beason, coming off knee surgery, back on the field. But after two games it became apparent that Beason had lost a step at weakside, and that Carolina was better when Davis could move between weakside and strongside. That was most evident on Sunday when Davis had the first two-sack game of his career to go along with a team-high nine tackles. One of the sacks came at weakside and the other in the nickel package. It was the third sack in the past three games. The other came when Carolina first sat Beason against the New York Giants. He should have had another last week at Arizona.

[+] EnlargeCarolina's Thomas Davis
Hannah Foslien/Getty ImagesThomas Davis had a team-high nine tackles, including two sacks, against the Vikings.
Deeper into Newton's day: We already knew that Newton missed only six passes for the second-highest completion percentage (76.9) of his career. But if you look at passes within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage he was an amazing 18-for-21 (85.7 percent), the highest completion percentage of his career on such attempts. According to ESPN Stats & Information, only six quarterbacks had completed a higher percentage of those throws in a game this season heading into Week 6. Newton's percentage on those throws in the first four games was 63.2 percent. He had one touchdown and two interceptions compared to two touchdowns and no interceptions on Sunday.

Gambling man: Ron Rivera, who had gambled on fourth down less than every coach in the NFL except Denver's John Fox since 2011 after Week 2, has been successful on three of five attempts in the past three games. That ties for the 15th most in the NFL for the season. Carolina's 60 percent fourth-down percentage rate ranks tied for sixth in the league. In other words, expect the Panthers to continue to take chances inside the opponents 35-yard line.

1-2-3-4 punch: I asked Ron Rivera on Sunday if he hadn't put guard Amini Silatolu (ACL) on injured reserve because he was waiting to use that roster spot on running back Jonathan Stewart, available to come off the PUP list on Monday. "We'll see," he said. The addition of Stewart would give the Panthers one of the best running attacks in the league. They already are solid as evidenced again on Sunday when DeAngelo Williams had 64 yards on 17 carries, Mike Tolbert 27 yards on eight carries and quarterback Cam Newton 30 yards on nine carries. With Stewart they may have to change the nickname "Double Trouble" -- Williams and Stewart -- to "Quadruple Trouble."

Garbage time: Maybe Steve Smith's comments aimed at umpire Dan Ferrell paid off. Remember? Smith called Ferrell "garbage" and the "sorriest" official he'd ever met for allowing the Arizona defensive backs to be so aggressive with him last week. On Carolina's first drive against Minnesota, cornerback Chris Cook was called for holding Smith on third down to keep the drive alive. Asked if his comments may have helped, Smith smiled and said, "All I know is he was grabbing me -- again. I had a good catch on a slant. That's all I can say." Smith still hasn't heard from the NFL on a possible fine, and doesn't expect to at this point.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 6

October, 14, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 31-17 win over the Cleveland Browns.

Joseph Fauria still needs to grow: The rookie from UCLA had one of the best games ever for a Lions tight end on Sunday, catching three touchdown passes -- the most by any Lions tight end since the AFL-NFL merger. He’s a fantastic red zone threat who creates mismatches against any cornerback or safety he goes up against in the end zone. He also showed a little bit of the ability to stretch the field in single coverage against the Browns.

But the thing for Fauria is consistency. He has an insane amount of skill and could turn into Detroit’s next great tight end, but he still needs to find a way to become more involved in the Lions' offense outside of red zone plays. He knows this and discussed it last week before his breakout game. What Sunday should do is give him more opportunities in games to show he has made that adjustment. Another bonus with Fauria: He has yet to drop a pass this season.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Levy
Zumapress/Icon SMILinebacker DeAndre Levy has been all over the field for the Lions this season.
Calvin Johnson’s health: He left the locker room Sunday with a giant wrap on his right leg, and that should be expected considering he still isn’t 100 percent. But eventually teams will take a chance that Johnson isn’t able to really be the deep threat he is when healthy and sneak up more. At that point, until he is healthy, Detroit needs to figure out one of two options: either have Johnson go deep anyway and see what happens or work him as the main underneath receiver and send someone else deep who could break down defenses. The problem is, the Lions don’t have a lot of those guys.

Levy having a special season: After intercepting two passes and leading Detroit in tackles, LB DeAndre Levy deemed his performance “OK, other than the two picks, I don’t think I played too well.” That Levy is that critical of himself is part of why he has been having a monster season for Detroit. He has now intercepted four passes this season and been the Lions’ main screen killer. He is having a Pro Bowl-level year and, along with fellow linebackers Stephen Tulloch and Ashlee Palmer, has allowed both the defensive line and secondary to be able to focus on their specific jobs.

Drops are an issue: Once again, Detroit’s pass-catchers are struggling to hold on to the ball. The Lions dropped 9.3 percent of Matthew Stafford’s passes on Sunday and continue to lead the league in this statistic, dropping 8.5 percent of Stafford’s attempts. Among qualifying pass-catchers, Reggie Bush is fourth in the NFL, dropping 17.2 percent of the attempts Stafford throws to him. This is where the Lions miss Nate Burleson, who has 19 receptions and only one drop.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 6

October, 14, 2013
SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 32-20 win over the Arizona Cardinals:

Davis has huge game: Tight end Vernon Davis had a brilliant game with eight catches for 180 yards. He tied for the third-most yards by a tight end in a game in the past 20 years. San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick connected with six other receivers for a total of 72 yards. The 49ers’ passing game revolves around either Davis or Anquan Boldin. Sunday, Davis carried the day as he had 171 receiving yards in the first half.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco's Frank Gore
Ezra Shaw/Getty ImagesFrank Gore rushed for 101 yards on 25 carries against the Cardinals.
Grinding the meat: The 49ers’ had 149 yards rushing and starter Frank Gore had 101 yards on 25 carries. Gore is averaging 104.3 yards over the past four games. The 49ers are 3-1 in those games. The 49ers relied on the ground game on an 18-play, 89-yard drive that culminated in a touchdown to give San Francisco a nine-point lead late in the game. Coach Jim Harbaugh said the 49ers were “grinding the meat” during the drive.

Rookies continue turnover craze: The rookie class is making a difference for San Francisco. First-round pick Eric Reid had an interception and a fumble recovery. Third-round pick Corey Lemonier had a sack for a safety and forced a fumble. The 49ers forced four turnovers. They have created 10 turnovers in the past three games.

Discipline continues to get better: The 49ers were penalized just four times on Sunday. They have been flagged a total of seven times in the past two games after being flagged 39 times in the first four games. Earlier in the season, San Francisco was committing silly penalties (especially on defense) at an alarming rate. They hurt the team in losses to Seattle and Indianapolis. It seems like they have cleaned the issue up, which is vital moving forward.

Upon Further Review: Buccaneers Week 6

October, 14, 2013
TAMPA, Fla. -- An examination of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles.

The hot seat: There's no doubt that coach Greg Schiano has entered hot-seat territory. He's lost his first five games of this season and 10 of his past 11 dating back to last season. It's probably a bit too early to expect ownership to pull the plug and go with an interim coach. But the clock is ticking and all the off-field distractions aren't helping. If there isn't dramatic improvement soon, Schiano's NFL tenure could be a short one.

[+] EnlargeDarrelle Revis
Mike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesIs Tampa Bay's zone defense limiting Darrelle Revis' effectiveness?
The zone defense: Cornerback Darrelle Revis appeared to be looking for safety help on one touchdown pass and the Bucs seemed to be in zone on another touchdown. Revis might be the best cover corner in the league, but the Bucs aren't maximizing his skills.

The rookie might have a future: Quarterback Mike Glennon wasn't great in his second start, but he wasn't bad either. Glennon completed 26 of 43 passes for 273 yards with two touchdowns and an interception. Glennon, who isn't known for his mobility, also scrambled for a 16-yard gain. It's early, but there were some signs that Glennon can succeed in the NFL.

All for nothing? Linebacker Lavonte David is having a Pro Bowl-caliber season. On Sunday, he had a team-high nine tackles, a sack and two quarterback hits. But as long as the Bucs keep losing, David is not going to get a lot of Pro Bowl votes.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 6

October, 14, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints’ 30-27 loss to the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium:

Graham silenced: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham didn’t catch a pass Sunday after racking up four consecutive 100-yard games previously. In a rare tactic, the Patriots used standout cornerback Aqib Talib to shadow Graham for much of the game, as well as frequent double teams. But Graham’s shutout was only a mild surprise, since it’s obvious that a defense would try to do whatever it could to contain him. The bigger surprise was that the Saints weren’t able to exploit their other options.

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Matthew J. Lee/The Boston Globe via Getty ImagesJimmy Graham was held without a catch in Sunday's loss to the Patriots.
Receiver Marques Colston had just one catch for 11 yards. Quarterback Drew Brees completed just 17 of 36 passes overall (his biggest coming late when he nailed receiver Kenny Stills for a 34-yard touchdown in double coverage). The Patriots succeeded by getting physical with the Saints, chipping with big guys at the line of scrimmage and running a lot of bump-and-run coverage with their defensive backs.

The good news for the Saints is that such a game plan requires great execution across the board. Maybe other defenses will try to copy the plan, but that doesn’t mean they’ll pull it off.

Graham injured: The bigger concern going forward for the Saints is that Graham left the field late in the fourth quarter with an apparent ankle injury. Graham briefly went back into the game after being taped up, but he eventually limped off the field. The team didn’t offer any postgame updates. Fortunately for the Saints, they have a bye in Week 7 to give him extra time to heal. Perhaps receiver Lance Moore will be close to returning from a hand injury in Week 8, too.

Second guessing? The Saints gave Patriots quarterback Tom Brady too many chances to win the game before he finally pulled it off with five seconds remaining. Since hindsight is 20-20, perhaps Saints coach Sean Payton wishes he was more aggressive in his play calling on New Orleans’ final two drives (the Saints attempted one pass on third-and-7 on the first drive and none on the second drive). But Payton didn’t want to throw incomplete passes and stop the clock. He also said he trusted his defense the way it was playing -- and rightly so.

“We can wrestle with that for a while, but they made the stops when they needed to, got the ball back and made plays,” Payton said.

Defense comes close: The Saints' defense ultimately folded with five seconds remaining when cornerback Jabari Greer let receiver Kenbrell Thompkins get behind him in the end zone. It’s a shame the game ended on that note, though, because New Orleans’ defense had been downright dominant for most of the final three quarters. It had held New England out of the end zone on eight previous possessions, including an interception by cornerback Keenan Lewis on the second-to-last drive. The Saints also sacked Brady five times.

Greer shouldered the blame for letting that final play get past him. But he wasn’t the only one.

“We know how to finish. And we never counted them out. They just finished, and we didn’t,” Saints pass-rusher Junior Galette said. “The end result was we didn’t finish, and we’re in the business of winning.”

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 6

October, 11, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 27-21 win over the New York Giants:

Run defense: It’s still a significant issue, and it’s unlikely to get resolved anytime soon given the injury-ravaged state of the defensive line. Injuries to linebackers James Anderson and D.J. Williams further deplete the front seven. New York’s Brandon Jacobs became the third running back to gash the Bears for 100 yards or more, and the Giants averaged 4.7 yards per rush, which put them in manageable situations on third downs. That’s part of the reason New York converted 64 percent of third downs.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Jonathan Daniel/Getty ImagesJay Cutler passed for 262 yards and two touchdowns in the win against the Giants.
Jay Cutler's growth: Cutler came 38 yards short of throwing for 300 yards in three consecutive games for the first time in his career, and the first time in franchise history. But the quarterback broke his own career best, with two scoring strikes, to give him a touchdown pass in 12 straight games.

It’s not all about passing for Cutler, though. The quarterback’s decision-making is markedly better than in the past, and he’s scorching opponents with sneaky athleticism when the situation calls for it. Cutler has generated a passer rating of 100 or better in two straight games, and he’s now 27-2 (including the postseason) when his passer rating is 100 or better.

Third-down conversions: On the flip side of Cutler’s improved play is the fact the Bears struggled with consistency on third down against a horrid Giants defense. Make no mistake about it: a 45 percent conversion rate for the game is winning football. But the Bears moved the chains on 2-of-3 third-down attempts in the first half. Then, nursing a 24-14 lead to start the second half, they converted just 3-of-8.

Injuries: Let’s face it, the Bears lack the cap space to try to fix the injury situation by adding or making trades for players. So they’ve got to work with what they’ve got, which won’t be an easy feat and might require some creativity on the part of the coaching staff. In addition to the injuries to Anderson and Williams, the Bears played without cornerback Charles Tillman (groin and knee) and nose tackle Stephen Paea (turf toe). It’s likely all but Williams (who will miss the rest of the season with a torn pectoral muscle) will be available for next Sunday’s game against the Redskins. But all the replacement players such as defensive tackles Landon Cohen and David Bass and linebacker Jonathan Bostic need to step up, as do struggling starters such as Julius Peppers and Shea McClellin.

Bears coach Marc Trestman said he speaks every day with general manager Phil Emery about potential additions, but the truth is there’s not much they can do.

“We talk every day at some point in time about where we are, where we're going, how we're going, in terms of improving our football team,” Trestman said. “So that's always a part of really the daily process. We meet twice a week. I stick my head in the door, he does, once a day just to check in and see what we can do to help each other do their jobs.”

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 6

October, 11, 2013
CHICAGO -- An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 27-21 loss to the Chicago Bears:

Eli Manning and Rueben Randle: The thing with Randle is weird. Of Manning's 15 interceptions this year, six have come on throws targeted for Randle. Their inability to get in sync was part of the problem on each of the first two interceptions Thursday night. On the second, Randle said he thought Bears cornerback Tim Jennings jumped the route, so he kept running. Manning didn't see that, however, and threw short, where he expected Randle to be. Later in the game, Randle could easily have been called for a fumble after he slammed the ball on the ground after falling down and costing himself a touchdown, but the officials ruled that he'd given himself up. He said he believed he'd been touched down. Randle's still a work in progress in his second year, but there's something about him Manning likes. Only Hakeem Nicks (eight ) saw more targets Thursday than Randle, whose five targets tied him with Victor Cruz for second.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Jacobs
Mike DiNovo/USA TODAY SportsBrandon Jacobs was running like it was 2008, rushing for 106 yards and two scores.
Have they a run game? With leading rusher David Wilson out with a neck injury, little was expected of a Giants rushing attack that came in ranked dead last in the league in yards per game. But Brandon Jacobs delivered his first 100-yard game since Dec. 11, 2011, plowing for big chunks of yardage behind blocking fullback John Conner. Some of the success can be attributed to a Chicago defensive line that's missing several starters. And if Wilson continues to miss time, it's tough to imagine Jacobs repeating or sustaining that level of success at this stage of his career. But at least the Giants have some tape now of themselves running the ball effectively. That's got to help somehow.

Uneasy Eli: Manning's problems look pretty extensive to me. Even on some of his more successful throws, his feet are moving and he's staring down receivers, which he never used to do. It's possible the protection issues have resulted in a really uncomfortable quarterback who's off his game. But he's playing like a guy with whom something is seriously wrong. The interceptions are one thing, but where are those deep, pinpoint sideline bullets he used to throw in big spots? Right now, with Manning, you're just hoping he doesn't do something to cost the team the game.

Sack watch: No sacks. Mathias Kiwanuka was credited with two hits on Jay Cutler, and no one else on the Giants defense was credited with even one. The Giants defense has five sacks this year. Only the Steelers, who have played two fewer games, have fewer sacks (four). The Giants have eight sacks in their past 11 games dating back to last November. Jason Pierre-Paul has one sack in his past 13 games. When the Giants don't get sacks, they do not have a good defense.




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