NFL Nation: 2013 Week 7 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 7

October, 22, 2013
10/22/13
3:00
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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
10/22/13
12:00
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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: Packers Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
2:00
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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: Redskins Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:30
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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: Lions Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:30
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A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 27-24 loss to the Cincinnati Bengals.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Jason Miller/Getty ImagesCalvin Johnson was back to his old self on Sunday.
First major injury issues of the year: And at a spot the Lions can ill afford to have them. Yes, Detroit has had some injury problems at wide receiver with both Nate Burleson and Calvin Johnson, but this could end up being a bigger issue. Depending on what happens with left tackle Riley Reiff and right tackle Corey Hilliard this week, the Lions might be down to one healthy tackle: undrafted rookie free agent LaAdrian Waddle. Waddle saw extensive action in place of both Reiff and Hilliard on Sunday, but this will be something to really watch as the week progresses. Reiff came back into Sunday’s game, but didn’t look nearly as healthy as he has for the majority of the season.

Martin’s confidence: He hit the worst punt of his short NFL career, but rookie punter Sam Martin answered every question with honesty afterward and took complete and total blame for the mistake. He had a bad game before, struggling in the opener against Minnesota -- but Detroit won that game. This punt wasn’t an overarching issue as Martin was able to diagnose the problem as soon as he kicked the ball, but he needs to be able to forget about it because he has been having a very good season prior to his last kick.

Calvin Johnson is healthy: Even if he isn’t actually fully healthy, Johnson looked like his old self Sunday against Cincinnati. He had two touchdown catches, and neither one of them easy. He caught one with a defender with him step for step -- a perfectly thrown ball from Matthew Stafford, and an impressive catch from Johnson. Then there was his second touchdown, a 50-yard grab in triple coverage that might have been the catch of the season. There may have been some design to the play, but it certainly didn’t come with three defenders right on him and a fourth somewhat nearby. Yet Johnson outleapt all of them for the grab. He had nine catches for 155 yards and two touchdowns.

Sunday looms large: The NFL is undoubtedly an up-and-down league, and almost every team has good weeks and bad weeks in a season. The Lions need a good week this week against Dallas. It may seem a little early for it, and even if the Lions were to lose to the Cowboys, they would still be at .500 entering the off week and still in the divisional race. But for momentum purposes, Detroit needs a big game against Dallas. It is much different heading into the off week at 5-3 with a win against a potential playoff team instead of 4-4 on a two-game home losing streak against potential playoff teams, with road games at Chicago and Pittsburgh coming up after the break.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:30
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PHILADELPHIA -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys17-3 win against the Philadelphia Eagles:

[+] EnlargeTony Romo
AP Photo/Michael PerezTony Romo and the Cowboys will need to work on connecting for longer plays in early downs.
Early down woes: The Cowboys converted on only five of 16 third-down tries in part because of their issues on first downs. Of their 36 first-down plays, the Cowboys ran the ball 13 times and did not have a rush of more than six yards. They had only seven “chunk” plays that went for more than 10 yards. As a result, they faced too many third-and-long situations that made it more difficult for the offensive line to protect when the defense knows the pass is coming. Without DeMarco Murray (knee) and facing a poor pass defense, the Cowboys wanted to attack through the air but Tony Romo had nine first-down incompletions. Second-and-10 is a difficult down and it leads to too many third-and-long situautions.

Sage advice: The Cowboys, who were without DeMarcus Ware, mixed in several new faces on the defensive line, added undrafted safety Jeff Heath to the equation in the secondary and were still able to keep the Eagles' offense in check.

Jerry Jones knows why.

“I’ve just got to say the obvious: coaching,” Jones said. “We’re really getting coached up. Monte [Kiffin] and all of them, Rod [Marinelli], they’re showing these guys and showing our players where to be, how to fundamentally play.”

Last year the Cowboys had to mix in key players on defense as the season wore on, but were unable to finish games.

Getting to the ground: The Cowboys knew LeSean McCoy would be a challenge because of his ability to make people miss. Where the Cowboys excelled was in making McCoy work for his yards. He still made people miss, but they were at the line of scrimmage and the back side and secondary were able to close on him to get him on the ground. Kiffin said the defense was gap sound, which is a must against a back like McCoy.

The Cowboys were also strong tacklers. J.J. Wilcox missed one to give up a first down, but there weren’t many misses the rest of the day. Tackling is something of a lost art because of practices nowadays, but Sean Lee disagreed.

“Actually, when you thud up, that actually can be better than some of the tackling drills because you’re forced to move your feet and move your hips instead of lunging,” Lee said. “So we work on putting ourselves in good body position every day in practice. To where when we get to the game, it will transfer over.”

Pressuring the empty package: Romo completed seven of 11 passes for 78 yards when the Cowboys broke out their empty package against the Eagles, but he was under a lot of pressure from their defense. When the Cowboys went to their empty look, the Eagles attacked Romo and made him get rid of the ball earlier than he would have wanted. As the Cowboys look to use the empty package more, they will have to come up with a way to handle the blitz.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:30
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PHILADELPHIA -- Taking a look at four issues a day after the Philadelphia Eagles' 17-3 loss to the Dallas Cowboys:

Chip Kelly really has a quarterback problem now: The status of Michael Vick's hamstring is unknown. Nick Foles was being evaluated for a concussion. Rookie Matt Barkley is healthy, but threw three interceptions. Kelly won’t know what his options are until later Monday or Tuesday. As for Foles’ performance, Kelly said he was “off” and the numbers support him. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Foles over- or underthrew receivers on 12 of his 29 attempts Sunday. He did not complete any of his eight attempts that traveled 15 yards or more. Coming into the game, Foles had the highest percentage on such passes in the NFL (58.3 percent). So it was, statistically and to the naked eye, a terrible drop off for Foles.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
AP Photo/James D. SmithNick Foles' injury adds to the quarterback woes for Eagles coach Chip Kelly.
Foles was not able to discuss his terrible game, but Tony Romo was: One possible element: “It probably didn’t seem like it,” Romo said, “but the wind played enough of a factor to where, just to complete balls down the field it was going to be a little more difficult. Even when you threw them well, it was swirling. ... When you got down toward the end zone, it switches.” Foles did not have to deal much with that last part. The Eagles got near an end zone only once in the first three quarters. But it might help explain Foles’ trouble with downfield throws.

Romo also had soothing words for Barkley: After the fourth-round pick from USC threw three interceptions in the fourth quarter, Romo encountered him on the field. “I’ve been there,” Romo said. “We’ve all been there. I just told him, 'You’ve got to go out and let the ball go.' The young guys who end up being successful are the ones who throw it, they see it, they let it go. And eventually they’ll tighten all that stuff up. The guys who just stand there and hold it, they don’t last very long.”

The Eagles' home losing streak is officially in their heads: The loss to the Cowboys was the ninth in a row for the Eagles at Lincoln Financial Field. That is the franchise record for consecutive home losses, eclipsing an eight-game streak at Municipal Field from 1936 to 1937. Even through their most miserable seasons in the late 1960s and early 1970s, even with Jerry Williams and Ed Khayat as coach, the Eagles never managed that. The first six losses in the streak came last season, under Andy Reid, but Kelly and this group now have an 0-3 home record. “It’s an embarrassment,” center Jason Kelce said. It’s hard to argue with him.

Upon Further Review: Rams Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:30
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A review of four hot issues from the St. Louis Rams30-15 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

[+] EnlargeKellen Clemens
Sam Sharpe/USA TODAY SportsKellen Clemens takes over as the Rams' starting QB following a season-ending injury to Sam Bradford.
Bradford finished: Quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the season after suffering a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his left knee. Losing Bradford is a devastating blow to any hopes the Rams harbored of contending for a spot in the postseason, and there are important long-term implications as well. The Rams have maintained they are committed to Bradford for the long haul, but losing him means not only a missed chance to contend this year but also a lost opportunity to evaluate where Bradford is in his development heading toward a draft in which they’ll have two first-round picks.

Clemens’ turn: The Rams now must turn the reins over to veteran backup Kellen Clemens, a move that isn’t going to inspire much confidence in Rams fans. After the loss to Carolina, a number of Rams voiced their support for Clemens, but he has struggled to produce in the past, and it remains to be seen what he can do now. The Rams will also have to add another quarterback to the mix, which should be an interesting proposition given the lack of quality backups in the league, let alone those still available.

Dealing with discipline: More often than not, the Rams found themselves on the wrong end of a number of melees that broke out in Sunday’s loss. It wasn’t that they were losing fights with the Panthers so much as they were losing in the eyes of the officiating crew. Both sides threw plenty blows, but the Rams kept getting caught retaliating, which led to four unsportsmanlike conduct penalties and an ejection for defensive end Chris Long. They had five total for the game. The Rams had four unsportsmanlike conduct or unnecessary roughness penalties combined entering the Carolina game and more than doubled that total to tie for the most in the league in that category.

Right tackles take turns: As expected, Joe Barksdale started at right tackle again instead of the returning Rodger Saffold. But that doesn’t mean the job is Barksdale’s after Saffold got plenty of work in what turned into something of a rotation. Both players got their share of snaps against the Panthers as Saffold worked his way back into the mix from a knee injury suffered in Week 2 against Atlanta. In fact, it was nearly a 50-50 split, as Barksdale played 31 offensive snaps and Saffold played 30. The Rams don’t necessarily have to make a choice between Barksdale and Saffold, but for continuity’s sake, it couldn’t hurt to settle on one of the two before next week’s game against Seattle.
An examination of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 31-17 victory against the Tennessee Titans:

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick and Akeem Ayers
AP Photo/Mark HumphreyThe Titans struggled to contain Colin Kaepernick and the 49ers all afternoon.
49ers are hot: The 49ers have won four straight games after starting 1-2. They are 5-2 and play the winless Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday before the bye. The 49ers are clicking in all three phases of the game and has scored at least 31 points in all four games. The 49ers have scored 30 or more points five times. It is the second most in the league behind Denver, which has scored 30 or more points in all seven games.

Read-option lives: The 49ers used the read-option offense Sunday more than any point this season -- seven times for 42 yards. Quarterback Colin Kaepernick had 35 yards on five carries, including one for a 20-yard touchdown run. The 49ers have run the read-option offense nine times total this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The 49ers are running well during their four-game win streak. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers have called designed runs on 59 percent of their plays during the streak, a big turnaround from the start of their season. In the 49ers’ first three games, designed runs were called on 35 percent of their plays.

49ers taking advantage of turnovers: The 49ers have forced 12 turnovers during the winning streak and have scored points off every one -- eight touchdowns and four field goals. That in itself has played a huge role in the string of victories.

Safeties should be fine: San Francisco safety Donte Whitner left the game in the third quarter with a knee injury. Early indications are that the injury may not be serious. But he will be monitored as the week goes on. Fellow starting safety, rookie Eric Reid, had to leave the game briefly in the fourth quarter with an ankle injury. He returned to the game. He said after the game he was fine.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
12:00
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An examination of five hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 31-23 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Small wonder: Harry Douglas said on the radio Monday morning he would take his running back one-on-two against any defenders in the league. Of course, he was talking about diminutive teammate Jacquizz Rodgers, who caught two touchdowns in the red zone Sunday while winning his one-on-one matchups. On the first, the 5-foot-6, 188-pound Rodgers lined up in the slot against Bucs linebacker Lavonte David, grabbed a perfectly placed floater from Matt Ryan and carried David a couple of yards into the end zone. The Falcons were 2-of-3 in the red zone thanks to Rodgers and are 6-of-8 the last two games. "We want to be perfect," Rodgers said. "I think we missed an opportunity down there [Sunday]. But the past two games, we've been pretty good down there." It's about time.

[+] EnlargePeria Jerry
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesMike Glennon has had an up-and-down rookie season.
On the run: As much as Rodgers excelled in the passing game Sunday, the Falcons' running game was pretty much nonexistent. Rodgers and Jason Snelling combined for just 30 yards on 15 carries. The effectiveness of screen plays, of course, can work just as well as a long rush. Still, the Falcons could use more balance with the run game because they can't expect Ryan to be a flawless passer every time out. Since it remains unclear when Steven Jackson will return from a Week 2 hamstring injury, Rodgers and Snelling have to be more effective moving forward.

In a rush: The Falcons went without a sack in two of the first four games. Thanks to defensive coordinator Mike Nolan dialing up blitzes, the defense was able to put adequate pressure on Bucs rookie quarterback Mike Glennon. Safety William Moore had one of those sacks, which led to a fumble and momentum-building 30-yard touchdown for fellow safety Thomas DeCoud off the fumble recovery. Peria Jerry had a sack near the end of the first half that forced the Bucs to kick a field goal. And Jonathan Massaquoi and Joplo Bartu combined for the other sack. The Falcons also got in five quarterback hits, led by Jerry with two. As they prepare to face one of their former teammates in Arizona, the Falcons might want to show John Abraham they don't miss him.

Catching on: Darius Johnson came to the Falcons as an undrafted rookie from SMU. After starting the season on the practice squad, Johnson was promoted to the active roster over the weekend to add depth, with Julio Jones and Roddy White both out. Johnson didn't look the least bit lost as the first receiver off the bench in a three-receiver set. He caught two passes for 24 yards while being targeted three times. "He has earned the right to go out there and play, had a crucial catch for a first down in the game," Falcons coach Mike Smith said of Johnson. "He is a very athletic, not big receiver, but athletic receiver with good speed. It was good to see him get his first catch in the National Football League."

On the line: Douglas somewhat criticized the media for not interviewing the offensive linemen following Sunday's game. Of course, he was the center of attention following a career-best 149 receiving yards, but Douglas couldn't stop praising the line's performance.

Ryan wasn't sacked in the game, and it wasn't just because he was getting the ball out quickly. But the line can't get too comfortable, not with the way the upcoming Cardinals can get to the quarterback with Darnell Dockett, Calais Campbell & Co.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 7

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
8:00
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CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A review of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 30-15 victory over the St. Louis Rams:

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Bob Donnan/USA TODAY SportsOver the Panthers' past two games, Cam Newton is 35-of-43 for 446 yards and four TD passes.
Cam can: How impressive are Cam Newton's consecutive passer ratings of 143.4 (Minnesota) and 136.3 (St. Louis)? No other quarterback in the league -- including Peyton Manning, who is having a career year -- has had consecutive games of 136.0 or better this season. Newton was 15-for-17 for 204 yards and a touchdown against the Rams. Both incompletions were in the first half, and one was a drop by wide receiver Steve Smith. In Carolina's three wins Newton is 50-for-70 for 669 yards and seven touchdowns. He also ran for two touchdowns in those games.

Fourth-and-1: The past few games have been about the Panthers' ability to convert, but on Sunday it was all about the defense's ability to stop. With the Rams threatening to knot the score at 7-all on fourth-and-goal from the 1, Carolina had everything covered perfectly on a pass play the Rams used successfully for a touchdown a week earlier against Houston. Safety Quintin Mikell in particular did a nice job of standing his ground on the play-action pass, leaving quarterback Sam Bradford nowhere to throw.

The Lurk: Safety Mike Mitchell stood on the St. Louis sideline after Bradford out of bounds in the fourth quarter with his arms spread wide. He called that his "lurk," meaning he's always lurking in the secondary. Mitchell said he didn't realize Bradford had injured his knee, which would sideline him for the rest of the game. (Bradford has a torn ACL, a source told ESPN's Adam Schefter.) Harvey Dahl didn't like the "lurk" move, which ultimately resulted in the offensive lineman getting a personal foul. Mitchell said his issues with Dahl began earlier in the game when Dahl hit linebacker Luke Kuechly late to draw his first personal foul. “You saw the cheap shot he put on Luke earlier," Mitchell said. "I told him about it and I think he had something against me the rest of the game because I got up in his face and told him, ‘You won’t do that to one of our players.'" Mitchell, by the way, also drew a personal foul from wide receiver Brian Quick.

The Luke: No, nothing's wrong with Kuechly, the reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year. Kuechly had a career-low three tackles against the Rams and hasn't had double-digit tackles since the second game after having 10 such games last season. The guys up front simply are making more plays so the middle linebacker doesn't have to. Rookie first-round draft pick defensive tackle Star Lotulelei had a career-best six tackles, including two for losses. Second-round pick Kawann Short had three tackles, including two for losses. End Greg Hardy had four tackles, including a sack. Considering the Rams only ran 21 times, there weren't a lot of other opportunities. This is a sign the defense as a whole is playing better, not Kuechly playing worse.

Taking care of business: The Panthers (3-3) have won two in a row and three of their past four. With a win on Thursday night at Tampa Bay (0-6) they can climb above .500 for the first time since 2008. Then comes a winnable game against banged-up Atlanta (2-4). If Carolina can get to 5-3 it has a chance to make a run at the NFC playoffs with only seven teams posting a record better than 3-3 thus far. With six of the next 10 against NFC South opponents the division title could be within reach.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 7

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
1:00
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A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 34-22 loss to the Seattle Seahawks.

Passing by: When the Cardinals did find opportunities to throw the ball Thursday, their options included two familiar faces. Tight end Rob Housler caught all seven of his targets for 53 yards. And after starting the game with three quick catches, Andre Roberts wasn’t targeted again until the second half, but he finished with five catches for 33 yards. In all, quarterback Carson Palmer completed passes to nine receivers including cornerback Patrick Peterson. Michael Floyd had a team-high 71 yards on six receptions.

[+] EnlargeJohn Abraham and Russell Wilson
Mark J. Rebilas/USA TODAY SportsVeteran LB John Abraham's playing time and productivity have recently picked up for the Cardinals.
Sack sighting: As if the Cardinals’ defense wasn’t good enough already, another dimension came to life Thursday night. Linebacker John Abraham got his first two sacks of the season. He came into this season as the NFL’s active sack leader with 122. With Abraham finding a groove from the outside, the Cardinals now have another way to get to the quarterback. And with the middle being plugged by Dan Williams and Alameda Ta’amu, having Abraham off the edge could continue to create problems for offenses. Abraham was pleased with his performance, especially since his two sacks caused fumbles (one recovered by the Cardinals), but losing put a damper on his two-sack day.

Not a sack party: In one game, the Cardinals increased their sacks-allowed by more than 50 percent. They entered Thursday allowing 13, but four in the last three games, a steady improvement from the nine allowed in the first three. But against Seattle, Arizona gave up seven, giving them 20 for the season. After seven games last season, the Cardinals had given up 28 sacks. Eight Seahawks accounted for the sacks. Seattle had 16 heading into Thursday night.

Wake-up call: The Cardinals’ defense didn’t seem to wake up until early in the second quarter when it forced the Seahawks into a turnover on downs after stopping them at the Arizona 43-yard line on fourth-and-1. Then it was like the Cardinals’ alarm clock went off. On Seattle’s next possession, Arizona linebacker Matt Shaughnessy strip-sacked Russell Wilson and Cards defensive end Calais Campbell recovered. Arizona continued to rub the sleep out of its eyes with another strip-sack of Wilson but the Seahawks recovered the fumble. The pressure the Cards’ defense applied kept the offense in the game. Twice the defense set the Cardinals’ offense up in prime position to score: once at the Seattle 3-yard line after Shaughnessy's strip-sack and the other at the Seattle 15 after Abraham’s strip-sack.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 7

October, 18, 2013
10/18/13
1:00
PM ET
A review of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 34-22 win against the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeZach Miller
Kevin C. Cox/Getty ImagesAfter missing two games, tight end Zach Miller returned to the Seahawks lineup in grand fashion -- scoring a touchdown Thursday night in Arizona.
Dominant defense: The headline stat was a season-high seven sacks, but the Seahawks defense was stellar across the board. It’s truly misleading that Arizona scored 22 points. Ten of those points came after Russell Wilson was pressured and fumbled twice in the backfield deep in Seattle territory. The Cardinals did not have a drive of more than 26 yards until late in the fourth quarter after the game was decided. Arizona had only 30 yards rushing on 18 carries. The longest run of the game for the Cardinals was 6 yards. And Seattle had two interceptions, one of which would have been a pick-six if not for Brandon Browner tripping himself near the goal line.

Big return for Miller: This game was a nice homecoming for tight end Zach Miller, a Phoenix native who went to college at Arizona State. After missing the past two games with a hamstring injury, Miller returned to the starting lineup and had five receptions for 40 yards and one touchdown. Miller makes a big difference by occupying safeties and linebackers in the middle of the field and enabling the wideouts to get open more often.

Offensive line still struggling: If anything keeps the Seahawks from reaching all their goals this season, which they hope includes a trip to the Super Bowl, it will be the offensive line that holds them back. Thursday was another awful effort overall. Wilson was under enormous pressure, getting sacked three times and getting hit constantly. Seattle rushed for 135 yards, but a lot of that was incredible second effort by Marshawn Lynch, who had 91 yards and carried defenders on his back at times. The line woes will improve when tackles Breno Giacomini and Russell Okung return, but it won’t solve all the problems up front. It’s hard to justify making player changes on the line while the team is winning, but that would not be true if not for Wilson’s remarkable athleticism that enables him to avoid the rush and make something positive out of negative situations. However, Wilson can’t continue to endure this much punishment without an injury at some point.

Road warriors: Let’s put to bed a myth about the Seahawks. The theory that this team can’t get it done on the road isn’t accurate now. The Seahawks are 3-1 away from home this season. They also are 6-2 on the road since December of last season.

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