NFL Nation: 2013 Week 7 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 7

October, 22, 2013
An examination of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 23-7 loss to the New York Giants:

[+] EnlargeAdrian Peterson
AP Photo/Julio CortezRyan Mundy and the Giants put the clamps on Vikings RB Adrian Peterson on Monday night.
1. An encore for Freeman? Two weeks after signing with the Vikings, quarterback Josh Freeman's debut on Monday night had the feel of a calculus midterm after an all-night cram session. Freeman overthrew 16 of his 33 incompletions, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Only Tony Romo -- against the Giants in Week 8 last year -- has overthrown more passes in a game in the past eight seasons. Freeman chalked up many of the issues to a lack of timing with his receivers, saying some of his passes were just "a hair off," but no amount of practice or game plan study will make up for an inability to hit receivers. The Vikings might as well see if Freeman can improve on Sunday night against the Green Bay Packers, but three of their next four games are against division leaders (Packers, Cowboys, Seahawks). Two of those are on the road. That's not a recipe for much more success.

2. Peterson MIA: For just the third time in his career, running back Adrian Peterson failed to rush for 30 yards after logging double-digit carries. But Peterson's workload wasn't exactly heavy; he carried just five times in the second half as Freeman uncorked 37 passes, including 31 in the fourth quarter. Like most teams do against Peterson, the Giants stacked the box with eight and nine defenders, daring Freeman to throw and cutting off Peterson's rushing lanes. But teams were doing that to the Vikings last year, and they still managed to open holes for Peterson. The running back said the team needs to be more physical, like it was last year, but it's been startling to watch how ineffective the Vikings have been running the ball, considering Peterson, fullback Jerome Felton and their entire offensive line returned this season intact. Offensive coordinator Bill Musgrave's decision to use Peterson so little was perplexing, but how long do you try something that isn't working?

3. Pass protection issues: At the risk of piling on the offensive line, the Vikings weren't much better at protecting Freeman than they were at clearing holes for Peterson. Left tackle Matt Kalil -- playing with lower back tightness -- allowed seven pressures, according to Pro Football Focus. So did left guard Charlie Johnson, who was beaten on a number of blitzes up the middle. The Vikings were better at run blocking than pass protection last year, but they were by no means deficient at keeping quarterback Christian Ponder upright, either. Ponder was sacked 32 times in 2012, and the Vikings were tied for 11th in the league in sacks allowed per game. It's been startling to watch Kalil struggle after a Pro Bowl rookie season, though, and as a whole, the Vikings have given up 15 sacks in seven games.

4. Hot seats? Owner Zygi Wilf dismissed the idea of any immediate staff changes after the loss, saying, "I'm sticking with my team." But if the Vikings get throttled at home against the Packers next week, could coach Leslie Frazier meet the same fate his predecessor, Brad Childress, did after a lopsided loss to Green Bay in 2010? One thing that might help Frazier is the lack of an obvious successor; the Vikings had Frazier waiting in the wings in 2010, but of the Vikings' current assistants, only special-teams coordinator Mike Priefer might be an obvious interim candidate. And Priefer's unit marred a punt return touchdown with two turnovers Monday night. Moreover, a midseason coaching change would be the Vikings' second in four years, and would add another dose of uncertainty to a season that's already had plenty of it. The next few weeks could reveal how much more the Vikings' ownership can stomach.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 7

October, 22, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 23-7 victory over the Minnesota Vikings:

[+] EnlargeEli Manning
AP Photo/Bill KostrounPeyton Hillis had 18 carries and a touchdown in his Giants debut.
The impact of Jon Beason: What's amazing is that Beason was only available in trade because he'd lost his starting outside linebacker job in Carolina to Giants castoff Chase Blackburn. After two games in New York you can make a legitimate case that Beason is the best defensive player on the team. Justin Tuck called him a "godsend" and spoke of Beason's impressive football knowledge and ability to direct traffic and get guys positioned on defense before the snap. Beason also plays fast and finds his way to the ball quickly. He looks like a very good middle linebacker, and it may be that he needed to be in the middle instead of on the outside where Carolina was using him. The extent of the upgrade he represents over what the Giants had been using at linebacker prior to his arrival speaks ill of the decision not to prioritize the position in the offseason.

What a little pressure can do: The Giants got only one sack, raising their league-worst team total to six for the season, but they did pressure Vikings quarterback Josh Freeman and it did matter. Antrel Rolle's interception came on a play on which Shaun Rogers was draped around Freeman's ankles. Tuck's sack came on third down. Both plays deprived the Vikings of at least field goal chances. The Giants' pass rush has been absent all year and must resurrect itself if they are going to win more games. It was encouraging that Jason Pierre-Paul (who now has one sack in his past 14 games) looked quicker off the ball in the first half, but he has to carry it through the game.

The Peyton Hillis thing: The newly signed Hillis made his best contribution as a receiver out of the backfield, catching five passes for 45 yards. He ran for a touchdown, but he had only 36 yards on 18 carries and the Giants averaged only 2 yards per rush attempt as a team. They didn't have to do much on offense to beat a Vikings team that looked as though it wasn't trying to score. And Hillis is a neat story if he really is making a comeback of any sort here. But to think the run game woes are suddenly solved would be a mistake.

Whither Hakeem Nicks? He was once again the Giants' most-targeted receiver, as Eli Manning threw his way 10 times. But Nicks caught only two passes for 28 yards. He can't seem to get separation from defenders, at all, anymore, which means he has to outfight them. And while he's capable of that, it's no way to go through a game and help your quarterback. Increasingly, Nicks looks like a guy who's not worth the No. 1 wide receiver money he seeks. And if he's still seeking it in March, he's not likely to be a Giant next year.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 31-17 loss to the San Francisco 49ers on Sunday:

[+] EnlargeKenny Britt
Don McPeak/USA TODAY SportsTitans wide receiver Kenny Britt and 49ers cornerback Tarell Brown exchange words during the second half of their Week 7 game on Sunday.
The biggest cause for hope: It's not as much in the Titans’ locker room as it is on their schedule. They just lost to teams with the fifth-, second- and eighth-ranked defenses. There is no debating how tough a stretch it was, and they faced the first two with their backup quarterback. Their next three games come against teams currently ranked 21st, 27th and 17th. The Titans have to show us it’s been about their opponents, and not their insufficiencies, by moving the ball far more effectively when they return to action.

Woe is them: Maybe officials blew the unnecessary roughness call against Akeem Ayers that undid a Bernard Pollard interception and set up an early 49ers touchdown. But the Titans can’t point to it as the root of their undoing; I don’t believe they were going to win that game even without that call. Later, when he was involved in a scrap, Pollard said the play was blown dead, after which someone was tackling him. “If we were to do that, we wonder what it would have been like,” he said. The men in black and white aren't targeting the Titans. What would their incentive be to do so?

What to do with Kenny Britt: The struggling receiver played 19 snaps, 32 percent of the team’s offensive plays. He let cornerback Tarell Brown get in his head late in the game, shoving him after drawing a pass interference call then committing an unnecessary roughness call when he tangled with Brown on the next play. Losing his cool that way does nothing to help him climb out of the deep hole he’s in. Tight end Delanie Walker called Britt out on it.

Re-evaluation time: I don’t get the sense that there is anyone on defense whose heart isn't in it, and the only guy on the team currently who’s got an issue about being in the way is Britt. But Pollard sent a message as the Titans head into their week off. “This is a week where guys need to re-evaluate themselves,” Pollard said. “This is for anybody: If you don’t want to help us, get out of our way. Talk to Ruston [Webster]. Go talk to the head coach. Get out of our way.” What’s in the way is the production on offense, and the inability to establish and maintain a run game. If they can’t solve that, their troubles will continue.

Upon Further Review: Broncos Week 7

October, 21, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Denver Broncos' 39-33 loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeRobert Mathis
Thomas J. Russo/USA TODAY SportsRobert Mathis and the Colts were able to sack Broncos QB Peyton Manning four times on Sunday.
Going big: Last regular season, opposing offenses had 38 pass plays of 20 yards or more against the Broncos' defense. After seven games this season, the Broncos have surrendered 40 such pass plays, including five Sunday night. But the last three weeks are of far more concern. Until a Week 5 win over the Cowboys, most of the damage was done when the Broncos sported big leads. But Dallas repeatedly challenged the Broncos downfield in the passing game, especially with tight end Jason Witten. The Cowboys finished with nine pass plays of at least 20 yards and the Colts followed suit as they completed three of their big pass plays to tight ends and running backs Sunday night.

Rush hour: Robert Mathis is not just another guy among the Colts' pass-rushers. He currently leads the NFL with 11.5 sacks, including his two on Sunday night. But after Mathis, you have to go all the way down to 34th to find the next Colts player on the league's sacks list: linebacker Jerrell Freeman, with 3.5. Yet the Colts consistently made trouble for the Broncos' mix-and-match offensive line, sacking Peyton Manning four times -- twice on third down and twice on first down. It may force the Broncos to find a happier medium between their desire to open up the formation with three wide receivers and their need to protect Manning, at least until right tackle Orlando Franklin returns to the lineup.

Shipping and handling: Last season the Broncos' running backs tied for the league lead (with Buffalo) for the position group in lost fumbles with seven. Seven games into this season, it is again an issue. The Broncos are currently tied for the league lead in lost fumbles by running backs with three -- with Green Bay, the Giants and San Diego. If wide receiver Eric Decker hadn’t dove into the pile to secure Ronnie Hillman’s fumble against Jacksonville, Denver would have sole possession of the league lead. And with Hillman’s fumble at the Colts' 3-yard line as the Broncos were trying to close the gap to two points with just over three minutes to play, the Broncos' backs have now lost two fumbles inside their opponent's 10-yard line this season. Montee Ball lost one at the Giants' 6-yard line in Week 2 to finish the Broncos' first possession of that game.

Flag bearer: There is intense, and then there is what defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson did Sunday night. Vickerson had two unsportsmanlike conduct flags in the third quarter -- both for removing his helmet on the field of play -- and an inexplicable roughing the passer penalty in the fourth quarter. Vickerson is one of Denver's veterans on defense, but his seven penalties leads the team.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 7

October, 21, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- A review of five hot topics from the Indianapolis Colts' 39-33 victory against the Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Michael ConroyStatistically, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, 12, outplayed counterpart Peyton Manning.
No disrespect to Peyton: Cornerback Vontae Davis has been hearing from a lot of people about his slip-up for accidentally referring to Denver quarterback Peyton Manning as New England's Tom Brady during a postgame interview. “I slipped up and caught myself, I meant Peyton,” Davis said. “Shoot, they’re both similar quarterbacks. They’re great quarterbacks. It wasn’t an insult. You have nightmares about both of those guys. I’m pretty sure they’re going to get me with ‘C'Mon Man’ [on ESPN].”

Luck better than Manning: The fine folks at ESPN Stats & info said Andrew Luck had a better quarterback rating than Manning on Sunday. The second-year quarterback had four total touchdowns -- three passing and one rushing. Manning was sacked four times, the most he's been taken down since Week 12 of the 2007 season. Luck’s QBR was 65.4 compared to a season-low 57.9 for Manning.

Still perfect: Luck has yet to lose back-to-back games as a Colt. They had a complete team effort, especially the defense, which sacked Manning four times and also intercepted him. Manning had been sacked only five times all season. “This team has been able to bounce back,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “They find a way to -- win or lose -- put the last one behind. It doesn’t matter who is really coming into town.” The Colts are 7-0 following a loss under Luck and Pagano.

Solid recoveries: Tight end Coby Fleener and receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey had a difficult time catching the ball in the Colts’ Week 6 loss to San Diego. Both players put that game behind them and gave a solid contribution against the Broncos. Heyward-Bey had four catches for 44 yards and a touchdown, and Fleener contributed five catches for 38 yards and a touchdown, and he even tried to leap over a defender on a catch-and-run play.

Strong team running attack: The Colts didn’t have anybody stand out individually in the rushing department. Trent Richardson led them with 37 yards. But Indianapolis rushed for 121 yards on 31 carries. The Colts are now 10-0 since 2012 when they have at least 30 rushing attempts. Five players, including a 30-yard run on a reverse by Heyward-Bey, had at least one attempt. Luck’s 10-yard touchdown run in the fourth quarter is the eighth since 2012, which is second only behind Cam Newton's 10 for Carolina. The Colts are eighth in the league in rushing at 129.3 yards a game.

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 17-16 win over the Houston Texans:

More aggressive decisions: Andy Reid has been coaching the Chiefs this way all season and he continued his aggressive game decisions against Houston. Up by a point early in the fourth quarter, Reid had the Chiefs try for a touchdown rather than kick a field goal while on the Texans’ 1-yard line. The Chiefs failed to score when quarterback Alex Smith’s pass intended for tight end Sean McGrath missed the mark. "I made a deal with the players on that when I first got here," Reid said. "We’re going to stay aggressive and at the same time try to do what we think is right there. We thought we could get that son of a gun in there."

[+] EnlargeDwayne Bowe and Alex Smith
Jamie Squire/Getty ImagesDwayne Bowe and Alex Smith celebrate the Chiefs' one-point win against the Texans in Week 7.
Winning while losing: The Chiefs lost the turnover battle for the first time this season, committing two while the Texans coughed up the ball just once. The Texans' turnover, quarterback Case Keenum’s fumble with less than two minutes remaining, was the crucial one because it killed what eventually proved to be Houston’s last possession. The Texans started just one possession in Kansas City territory while the Chiefs started two on Houston’s side of the field. The Chiefs, at plus-11, still lead the NFL in turnover differential. Three teams are tied for second at plus-7.

Other receiving threats: For the first time in four games, running back Jamaal Charles did not lead the Chiefs in receiving. The Chiefs made a concerted effort through formations to get the ball to wide receiver Dwayne Bowe and the move paid off as Bowe had season highs in receptions (five) and yards (66). Slot receiver Dexter McCluster and tight end Anthony Fasano each had four catches. The development of other offensive threats is crucial to the Chiefs, who are close to getting the maximum from Charles. Charles was again an offensive leader against Houston with 86 yards rushing and 37 receiving. Charles also scored one of their two touchdowns, giving him eight of their 14 offensive TDs. He has at least one touchdown in each of the seven games.

Charles expresses regret: Via Twitter, Charles indicated he felt badly about the block on Texans linebacker Brian Cushing that injured Cushing’s knee. “Wishing @briancushing56 a speedy recovery. Hate to see anyone get injured on the football field," Charles tweeted. In response, Cushing indicated he didn’t blame Charles for the injury. “I know you were just doing your job," Cushing wrote.

Upon Further Review: Ravens Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Baltimore Ravens' 19-16 loss at the Pittsburgh Steelers:

[+] EnlargeRay Rice
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsThe Steelers' defense kept Ravens RB Ray Rice from gaining any long yardage, especially after contact.
Falling behind: The Ravens have been playing catch-up in nearly every game this season. Sunday's game in Pittsburgh marked the fifth time in the last six weeks that the Ravens' opposition has scored first. This is significant because the Ravens are 41-8 under coach John Harbaugh when scoring first. Baltimore hasn't been ahead at the end of the first quarter since the season opener in Denver. Over the past six weeks, the Ravens have held a first-half lead for 18 minutes, 47 seconds out of 180 minutes (which is about 10 percent of the time). Baltimore has scored 53 points in the first half this season, an average of 7.5 points.

Nothing after contact: The Ravens' ground game remained grounded in Pittsburgh primarily because Ray Rice and Bernard Pierce couldn't generate yards after being hit. They combined to rush for a season-low 11 yards after contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. This number is even more disappointing when you factor in the Steelers have allowed 305 yards after contact this season, the seventh-most in the NFL. Rice and Pierce combined for 58 yards on 21 carries, a 2.7-yard average. The Ravens' backs have been held under 3.2 yards per carry in every game this season.

Getting run over: Two weeks ago, the Ravens had the NFL's No. 6 run defense, giving up 89.8 yards on the ground. But Baltimore hasn't looked the same since, failing to contain a couple of rookie running backs. Green Bay's Eddie Lacy ran for 120 yards and Pittsburgh's Le'Veon Bell rushed for 93 yards, which are career highs for both second-round picks. The Steelers, who had the second-worst run game in the NFL, gained a season-high 141 yards rushing, ending a franchise-record streak of 11 straight games with fewer than 100 yards rushing. This explains why the Ravens are losing the time of possession battle the past two weeks.

Penalty problem: The Ravens were flagged nine times, which is their second-highest total in a game this season. There were plenty of mental mistakes from a delay of game penalty after a timeout, jumping offsides on a field goal attempt and going offsides on an onside kick. And there were times when the Ravens needed more discipline, which was the case when Elvis Dumervil pushed quarterback Ben Roethlisberger after he had thrown a pass. Three of Baltimore's penalties allowed the Steelers to convert third downs. For the season, the Ravens have been penalized 49 times, which is the 10th-most in the league.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 17-16 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Defensive effort: For the previous six games, the Texans' defense had limited its yards allowed, but failed to force more turnovers than the Texans' offense gave up. On Sunday the Texans won their turnover battle for the first time all season, but the defense also gave up more than 300 yards for the first time all season. The defense was better late than early. Houston allowed two touchdown drives in the first half, but only a field goal in the second. And it was finally in the second half that they got to Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith.

[+] EnlargeBrian Cushing
AP Photo/Ed ZurgaBrian Cushing hasn't lost his fierce attitude following his latest season-ending injury.
More on Brian Cushing: After suffering a season-ending injury, Cushing tweeted this: "It's not how many times you fall down but how many times you get back up. Life is tough but I'm the toughest SOB it's ever seen. Ill be back"

There are times when back-to-back knee injuries can turn a team off, but this isn't likely to be one of them. First, it's an injury to a different part of the knee, not the anterior cruciate ligament that Cushing tore last year. Cushing is the kind of player to whom you give the benefit of the doubt because of his work ethic, ability and stature on the team. The Texans have no financial reason to part ways with Cushing, either. They've guaranteed his contract -- the six-year extension he signed in September -- for injury through the 2014 and 2015 seasons.

Not every low hit is dirty: Worth noting, there was no bad blood after the game between Cushing and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles, whose helmet to Cushing's knee caused the injury. Conversely, Cushing and his teammates were furious last season when Matt Slauson's illegal peel-back block caused Cushing's torn ACL. Not every low hit is dirty, but sometimes players forget that when caught in the emotion of losing a teammate. That wasn't the case this time.

The fake to nobody: It was a head-scratching play. Smith turned to hand the ball off, but he turned in a spot where nobody appeared as the Texans' defense watched. Then Smith tucked the ball and ran 5 yards for a touchdown. Randy Covitz of the Kansas City Star talked with Charles, who admitted he goofed on the play. He simply forgot which way he was supposed to go. Here's Smith on what he was thinking as the play unfolded: "Getting the defensive end to pause and then hitting the hole."

Upon Further Review: Steelers Week 7

October, 21, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Pittsburgh Steelers' 19-16 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeEmmanuel Sanders
Charles LeClaire/USA TODAY SportsEmmanuel Sanders' clutch kick return set up the Steelers' winning drive in the fourth quarter.
Making a statement: An offensive line that provided a consistent push up front and protected quarterback Ben Roethlisberger is what the Steelers envisioned before the start of the season. That finally translated into the Steelers controlling the line of scrimmage, and they did it against a defense that had been giving up fewer than 100 rushing yards per game. Right guard David DeCastro, who is really starting to come into his own, said the Steelers used some inside zone blocking on the way to a season-high 141 rushing yards. But it didn’t take a Stanford education for DeCastro to break down why the Steelers were so successful on the ground. “Winning one-on-one blocks,” the second-year man said. “I think we’re finally starting to jell. We’re communicating really well. It’s a positive.”

Gamble pays off: Emmanuel Sanders received the green light from special teams coordinator Danny Smith to return the game’s final kickoff no matter how deep he fielded it in the end zone. That confidence and Sanders’ speed almost delivered a dramatic touchdown. Even though Sanders stepped out of bounds -- and it appears that his left foot touched the chalk, albeit barely -- his return set up the offense with good field position at Pittsburgh's 37-yard line. That allowed the Steelers to employ a methodical approach to their game-winning drive instead of forcing Roethlisberger to take chances down the field. “It was one of those ones where [Sanders] started running out [of the end zone] and you said to yourself no, no, no and then yes, yes, yes,” Roethlisberger said. “What a heck of a play by him.”

A trick and a treat: The Steelers used a trick play to score their only touchdown. But the 2-yard touchdown pass to tight end Heath Miller on a left-handed flip from Roethlisberger had been a part of the Steelers’ offensive repertoire for years. The Steelers used the shovel pass with Hines Ward, and Roethlisberger lobbied the coaches early last week to bring the play out of retirement. The Steelers executed it perfectly and Miller crashed into the end zone for his 40th career touchdown. “We knew that their ends like to come up the field,” Roethlisberger said. “As a quarterback you love those short, easy passes and let Heath do all the work.”

Return to form: The Steelers were as effective at stopping the run as they were running the ball. They held the Ravens to 82 yards rushing and limited them to 3.1 yards per carry. On half of Baltimore’s 26 runs, it gained 2 yards or fewer. The Steelers have allowed 165 rushing yards in the two games since Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson gashed them for 140 rushing yards and two touchdowns.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 31-13 win against the Cleveland Browns.

Come out firing: It was probably no coincidence that the Green Bay Packers threw passes on their first seven plays from scrimmage. Surely, coach Mike McCarthy wanted to prove that their offense does not have to -- and will not -- change just because receivers Randall Cobb and James Jones were out with injuries. Aaron Rodgers completed five of his first seven passes, including a 26-yard completion to tight end Jermichael Finley to set up Finley’s touchdown catch on the first series, and a 15-yard completion to fill-in starter Jarrett Boykin on the second series before finally settling into a more balanced plan of runs and passes. McCarthy did not shy away from using his preferred three-receiver set package just because two of those three receivers were out. Boykin and rookie Myles White joined Jordy Nelson in that set. White played 47 of 71 snaps, Boykin played 69, and Nelson 66. So before asking how the Packers' offense might change if Finley can't come back anytime soon from the neck injury he suffered in the fourth quarter, think about how the Packers opened the game.

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/David StlukaAaron Rodgers and the Packers have shown they're not afraid to throw the ball no matter who is in their lineup catching passes.
Timely audible: Last week, offensive coordinator Tom Clements said Rodgers was nearly perfect on his decision-making when checking out of plays at the line of scrimmage. It looked like Rodgers hit on another audible in the first quarter. On third-and-5 from the Browns’ 22, the Packers were spread out in a three-receiver set and in the shotgun. Rodgers appeared to change to a running play, and Eddie Lacy found a huge hole for a 13-yard gain for a first down that set up a touchdown. When asked whether he changed the play at the line, Rodgers said: “Possibly, yes. Can’t give away all the secrets, but possibly, yes, that was.”

Pass-rush prowess: The loss of outside linebacker Clay Matthews has not significantly slowed down the pass rush. With three sacks and eight quarterback hits on Cleveland’s Brandon Weeden, the Packers have combined for eight sacks and 14 quarterback hits since Matthews had surgery on his broken thumb two weeks ago. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers might have had to dial up more blitzes, but so far he has been able to keep the pressure coming. And it has come from a variety of sources. A week after linebacker A.J. Hawk had three sacks, linebacker Jamari Lattimore recorded his first career sack. Part of it might have had to do with Weeden’s penchant for holding the ball too long, but the Packers also deserve credit for disrupting him.

House call: A week earlier, Davon House broke up three passes in the first quarter against the Baltimore Ravens, but then saw his playing time as the third cornerback in the nickel package reduced to almost nil. On one of those breakups, he dropped what should have been an easy interception. Given another chance against the Browns, House delivered three more pass breakups, but this time he came up with his interception -- the first of his career -- and played 57 of 71 snaps. House continued to make a push for increased playing time even when nickel cornerback Casey Hayward returns from his preseason hamstring injury. The Packers’ depth in the secondary is impressive. A week after safety Jerron McMillian struggled in coverage against the Ravens, the Packers replaced him in the dime package with Hyde, who played 22 snaps on defense.
An examination of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-23 loss to the Atlanta Falcons.

Schiano’s future: Coach Greg Schiano is 0-6 this season and 1-11 in his last 12 games. Patience has to be wearing thin with ownership, and it might be worn out with fans. But I don’t think the Bucs are ready to make a move in a week in which they have to play a Thursday night game. Schiano’s job could be in jeopardy, but I think that’s at least a week away.

[+] EnlargeMike James
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMike James' workload will increase if Doug Martin is out for an extended period of time.
Doug Martin’s shoulder: The running back suffered a shoulder injury in the third quarter that the team believes is a torn labrum, according to reports. If he’s out for the rest of the season or even an extended period, the Bucs will have to turn to rookie Mike James, who did some good things Sunday. But James is not Martin.

The disappearing pass rush: I haven’t had time to go watch the replay yet, but I feel confident in saying that Atlanta quarterback Matt Ryan barely was touched. He might have been hit once or twice, but that’s it. The pass rush is supposed to be a strength of the Buccaneers, but it failed against Ryan. There’s no excuse for that because Ryan’s playing behind a patch-work offensive line that hadn’t been playing that well.

The quick turnaround: The Bucs, who had 11 penalties against the Falcons, should spend a lot of time correcting their mistakes. But the problem is they don’t have time. They have barely any practice time before they take on Carolina on Thursday night at Raymond James Stadium.

Upon Further Review: Jets Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the New York Jets' 30-27 overtime win against the New England Patriots.

The "push" heard 'round the world: There's no doubt that Chris Jones pushed teammate Will Svitek into blocker Damon Harrison on Nick Folk's 56-yard field goal miss, violating a new rule on the NFL books. On Monday, Patriots coach Bill Belichick came clean, admitting his postgame interpretation of the rule -- that it's illegal only if the push comes from a second-level defender -- was wr ... wr ... wr ... wrong. Yes, he actually said the word. Asked why he had the notion that second-level pushing was illegal but pushing at the line was within the rules, Belichick replied, "Because obviously we are wrong. What else is there to say? We’re wrong." Jets fans might want to tape that quote to the refrigerator.

[+] EnlargeRex Ryan
AP Photo/Peter MorganDespite having to employ a trio of new coordinators, Rex Ryan has the Jets contending in the AFC East.
Now there's a new wrinkle: I checked the tape of the Patriots-New Orleans Saints game from the previous week, and the Patriots ran the exact same technique on the Saints' 39-yard field goal late in the game. Same technique, same two players, Jones pushing Svitek. There was no penalty flag.

But wait, there's more to this story: The Jets might have been guilty, too. On Stephen Gostkowski's 44-yard field goal at the end of regulation, the Jets' Quinton Coples appears to shove a teammate into the Patriots' formation. It's hard to get a clear view from the TV tape. The coaches' tape, which should be released later Monday, will have a better angle.

Yep, another chapter in the Jets-Patriots rivalry.

Ground & Pound & Pound: Did Rex Ryan call the plays in this game? I say that jokingly, but there's no denying the game plan had Ryan's fingerprints on it. The Jets ran 52 times, their most rushing attempts since a 57-attempt day against the Cincinnati Bengals in the 2009 season finale. This was a radical departure for coordinator Marty Mornhinweg, who averaged 26 rushes per game last season with the Philadelphia Eagles. The game-winning drive was way out of character for Mornhinweg, who ran on 11 of 12 plays. He got conservative at the end, calling an inside handoff on a third-and-5 from the Patriots' 36. The message was clear: Mornhinweg/Ryan had more faith in Folk from around 50 yards than they did in Geno Smith dropping back to pass. They almost got burned. The "push" play saved them from heavy criticism.

Crazy Legs Geno: Smith has rushed for 146 yards, already surpassing Mark Sanchez's career season high by 40 yards. Smith was at his best against the Patriots, with six runs for 32 yards. His 8-yard touchdown run was a thing of beauty, as he cut and slashed his way through three defenders. He made former Jets cornerback Marquice Cole look silly with an open-field move. Smith should run more often. If the Jets continue to see a lot of man-to-man coverage, meaning the defenders' backs are turned to the quarterback, it makes sense for Smith to take off if no one is open.

Defense rocks: Ryan called off the blitz, sending five or more rushers on only six of 49 dropbacks by Tom Brady, according to ESPN Stats & Information. It was a highly unusual approach by the aggressive coach, but it worked. Confident in the front four's ability to generate pressure, Ryan emphasized coverage. Part of the reason was because the secondary was healthier than it had been in several weeks, with the return of rookie cornerback Dee Milliner. It turned out to be one of the most impressive defensive days of the Ryan era. It's hard to believe, but the Jets held the Patriots to only two field goals on their final 10 possessions.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 23-21 win against the Miami Dolphins:

[+] EnlargeThad Lewis
Steve Mitchell/USA TODAY SportsThad Lewis and the Bills improved on their third-and-long efficiency on Sunday against Miami.
Third, long, and no problem: One of the deciding factors in the game was the Bills' ability to convert on third-and-long. They struggled early in the season to move the sticks on third down, but on Sunday, a combination of poise from quarterback Thad Lewis and shiftiness from his receivers after the catch helped keep the punt unit off the field. In fact, the Bills had third down and at least 7 yards to gain 11 times in the game, tied for fourth-most among all NFL games this season. They converted five of those chances; only the New England Patriots in Week 1 (6-of-11 on third-and-long) had more first downs in that situation this season.

What next for Jackson, Spiller? The flip side to the Bills' success on third-and-long is that they were often forced there by ineffective plays on first and second downs. Both Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller, who would normally carry the load on early downs, are banged up. While the toughness of both players is evident, we're only coming up on the halfway mark of the season. It will be worth monitoring if the Bills decide to sit Jackson or Spiller for a game, likely one at a time, to stem what has been a dangerous rate of wear and tear.

Second-quarter woes: After a strong start Sunday, the Bills began to slide in the second quarter before being able to recover later in the game. It's a similar script to that from Week 5, when the Bills were off to a hot start in Cleveland but let it slip away. Fortunately for Buffalo, they were able to make the plays in the end to pull out the win, but surrendering a 14-0 lead can't make coach Doug Marrone too happy. Overall, opponents are outscoring the Bills by 23 points in the second quarter, the fourth-worst margin in the NFL.

Impressive company: Through Week 7, just two NFL teams have scored at least 20 points in each game: the Bills and the Denver Broncos. Even with the Broncos losing, that's good company for Buffalo to keep. Doing it with two different quarterbacks, one a rookie, is noteworthy. It's the fourth time in franchise history the Bills have started a season with at least 20 points in each of their first seven games, and the first since 2011.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 7

October, 21, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 45-41 win over the Chicago Bears:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Nick WassRobert Griffin III showed off the Griffin of old against Chicago, rushing for 84 yards and throwing for 298.
Robert’s return: Quarterback Robert Griffin III has been playing all season, obviously, but Sunday marked the first official return of Griffin pre-knee injury. He hurt Chicago running (84 yards) and throwing (298 yards). What really helped the Redskins was the ability to be balanced in their play calls and to use a large dose of play-action passes. Defenders were out of position and alleys created because of Griffin’s success. If the Redskins need him to play this well every week to win, then they’ll continue to struggle because Sunday’s game will be hard to duplicate. But when Griffin gets on a roll, it raises the confidence of everyone around him. Defenders talked often last year about how they knew that they had a quarterback who could bail them out.

Meriweather's status: The NFL will suspend safety Brandon Meriweather. It's just a matter of how many games, according to ESPN's Adam Schefter. Meriweather plays with a lot of passion and an exuberance that rubs off on his teammates. He’s also been effective -- not great but OK -- in the secondary. He’s mostly a sure tackler, but his hits are killing the Redskins and cost them 22 yards Sunday. They’ll cost him a lot more in his pocketbook -- and it will cost the Redskins a player for one or two games. The Redskins don’t have the depth to withstand the loss. Meriweather says he’s changed the way he hits and he probably has. And it’s difficult for defensive backs to play with his old sort of abandon anymore. But Meriweather must change; if he can’t, then it’ll be difficult for a team to trust him in the future. It’ll also make it a lot tougher on his current team.

Defensive inconsistency: The Redskins played terrific in the first half against Chicago and quarterback Jay Cutler. They tackled well and prevented big plays and disrupted timing. And then they went in the tank against backup quarterback Josh McCown. The game tested the Redskins' resolve and they could learn a lot about themselves. But you could feel a lot better about the overall defense had Washington not been picked apart in the second half. With Denver’s Peyton Manning and San Diego’s Philip Rivers in the next two weeks, they need to do better or continue what they showed in Dallas and the first half versus Chicago.

Two-headed monster: The Redskins surpassed 200 yards rushing for a second straight game and, while Griffin’s legs certainly helped here, so, too, does having Alfred Morris and Roy Helu. Morris lacks Helu’s burst, but his vision and patience makes him an excellent back. And Helu does more than just provide a change-of-pace. He’s a big back (5-foot-11, 215 pounds) who has been effective in the red zone, in part because with him in the game the Redskins can run or pass. Most of the time when Helu is in the Redskins do pass, so defenses must honor that threat (as opposed to Morris, who is not a good pass-catcher). Having that balance in the red zone is imperative. It’s why Helu rushed for three touchdowns. Meanwhile, Morris averaged 5.0 yards per carry and gained 95 yards. If Washington keeps games close, these two can both be productive and helpful.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 7

October, 21, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 31-13 loss to the Green Bay Packers:

[+] EnlargeBrandon Weeden
AP Photo/Mike RoemerThe Packers sacked Brandon Weeden three times and he completed just 40.5 percent of his passes.
Offensive offense: The Browns had some poor offensive numbers in the loss to Green Bay, a natural byproduct of scoring 13 points and not winning. Brandon Weeden threw for 149 yards on 42 passes. The Browns as a team ran for 83 yards, 20 of them came on two Weeden scrambles. Their only touchdown drive went 20 yards. Josh Gordon was targeted six times and caught just two passes for 21 yards. And the 216 total yards were the fewest by the Browns since the 2012 season opener -- also Weeden's first start. Weeden remains at the center of all concerns, but clearly the offense had many issues at Lambeau Field.

Third-down struggles: The Browns started the game 29th in the league in defensive third down stops, meaning they'd been letting teams sustain a lot of drives. Defensive coordinator Ray Horton said the third down defense was a focus of last week's practice. What did Green Bay do? Without two of their better receivers? Convert 7-of-13. "Third downs are crucial in this league," safety Tashaun Gipson said. "And right now we're not very good at it."

Running on empty: The Browns put up decent numbers running the ball, but it's worth asking if the team as it's constructed can actually run the ball, and run it consistently and successfully. Willis McGahee is aging with bad knees. Chris Ogbonnaya is a fullback. And the fans can now say they were there for the start of the Fozzy Whitaker era. The Browns gained 83 yards and averaged 3.6 yards per carry, but called 20 runs compared to 40 passes. Some of that was because they fell behind. But most teams down 14-0, as the Browns were, would not totally abandon the run. The Browns might not believe they can run efficiently.

Eye of the storm: For the second time this season Gipson finds himself at the center of a hit that caused an injury. Gipson sidelined Buffalo quarterback EJ Manuel for a month with a hit to the knee, then drew the ire of the Bills for looking like he celebrated the injury. Against Green Bay, Gipson hit tight end Jermichael Finley in the head with his shoulder at fullspeed, and Finley could not move on the field after the hit. "When I'm breaking out of the post and I'm running fullspeed I'm not thinking about settling down," Gipson said. "At the same time I'm thinking about getting the ball on the ground. Not under these circumstances, unfortunately." Gipson said he felt awful about Finley's injury, and would try to get in touch with him.