NFL Nation: 2013 Week 8 Upon Further Review NFC

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 8

October, 29, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks’ 14-9 victory against the St. Louis Rams:

[+] EnlargeRussell Wilson
Michael Thomas/Getty ImagesRussell Wilson was under heavy pressure Monday night, getting sacked seven times.
A disaster up front on offense: Russell Wilson was sacked seven times Monday night, the most in his career. Wilson has been sacked 19 times in the past five games, which still doesn’t tell the story of how often he gets hit and how much he is under siege. The Seahawks coaches try to portray this in a positive light, saying it will get better, but it isn’t getting better. Playing backups at both tackle spots is only part of the problem. No one on the line is playing well. Something needs to change now. The team can’t just wait around for starters Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini to return from injuries.

Lynch unhappy: Marshawn Lynch had only eight carries Monday night for 23 yards, and it was clear on the sideline near the end of the game that he wasn’t very happy about it. Neither was coach Pete Carroll. "He’s a competitor and he wants the ball," Carroll said of Lynch. "He didn’t have a chance tonight because we didn’t get him the football enough. He was frustrated and I was, too." Everything revolves around the power running game for the Seattle offense, so it's miraculous that the team won when it had only 44 yards rushing on 15 carries. It was a bit of a surprise that returning fullback Michael Robinson didn’t have more of an impact.

Tate good and bad: Seattle wouldn’t have won this game without wide receiver Golden Tate, who scored both touchdowns for the Seahawks, including a stellar 80-yard catch and run when he out-fought the defender for the ball, then set sail for the end zone. But he also made a classless gesture of taunting the safety who was chasing him for the last 20 yards of the run. Tate later apologized, saying he let the emotions of the moment get the best of him. "I’ve got to represent the team a little better than that," Tate said. "I have to act like I’ve been there before. And it hurt our special teams [with the 15-yard penalty on the kickoff]. It won't happen again. It was a lesson learned."

Defense tough in the red zone: The Seattle defense had a rare bad game against the run, giving up 200 yards rushing to a Rams team that was struggling previously at running the football. But the defense got it done when it counted the most. St. Louis was 0-for-4 inside the red zone, settling for field goals the first three trips before a goal-line stand by Seattle at the end of the game preserved the victory. Linebacker Bruce Irvin had an outstanding game with nine tackles, including one sack, and an interception on a deep sideline pass, a spot where Irvin wasn’t asked to cover anyone in the past.

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 44-31 win against the Minnesota Vikings:

Rodgers' responsibility: Every time quarterback Aaron Rodgers loses one of his key playmakers, his job gets harder. Consider that within a span of eight days, he lost two of his top three receivers (Randall Cobb and James Jones on Oct. 13 against the Baltimore Ravens) and his top tight end (Jermichael Finley on Oct. 20 against the Cleveland Browns). Yet in the past two games, Rodgers has played some of his finest football. In his past two games, Rodgers has attempted 65 passes and completed 49, or 75.4 percent. He has thrown five touchdowns without an interception in the past two games. That followed a stretch in which Rodgers -- with all of those weapons -- went three straight games without throwing more than one touchdown. “I think this is really shaping up to be one of Aaron’s best years,” coach Mike McCarthy said Sunday night. “Aaron’s had a lot of challenges Monday through Saturday that don’t show up on a stat sheet, just the change, just trying to get on the same page with younger players, trusting the game plan.”

[+] EnlargeAaron Rodgers
AP Photo/Jim MoneThough the talent around him has been depleted by injuries, quarterback Aaron Rodgers is thriving.
Special teams breakdown: The rash of injuries that has hit the Packers this season has impacted them most on special teams. They had six rookies or first-year players -- including two (receiver Chris Harper and tight end Jake Stoneburner) who weren’t on the Week 1 roster -- on their kickoff coverage team who allowed Cordarrelle Patterson's 109-yard kickoff return for a touchdown to open the game. The Packers had several chances to stop Patterson deep in Vikings territory. Jerron McMillian and Sam Barrington both had shots inside the 20-yard line, and Micah Hyde missed a diving attempt at the 23. Special teams coach Shawn Slocum also pulled punter Tim Masthay off of kickoffs after Patterson’s return. Field goal kicker Mason Crosby handled kickoffs the rest of the game, making it a light night for Masthay, because the Packers never had to punt.

An opportunity for Sherrod: As good as Don Barclay is in the running game, where he regularly finishes blocks with an aggressiveness about him, the second-year right tackle has had his struggles in pass protection. Barclay had his hands full with Vikings defensive end Brian Robison. Although Robison did not record a sack, he regularly beat Barclay and forced Rodgers to have to escape the pocket to avoid him. The Packers might have to consider giving Derek Sherrod a chance at right tackle -- if he’s ready, that is. Sherrod, a first-round pick in 2011, returned to practice two weeks ago and can be activated off the physically unable to perform list. The Packers have to decide by the beginning of next week whether to put Sherrod on the 53-man roster. He appears to be fully healed from the broken leg he suffered on Dec. 18, 2011. He has not played in a game since he suffered the injury late in his rookie season.

No new injuries: It’s always possible an injury or two could pop up in the next couple of days, but perhaps the best thing to come out of Sunday’s game was the fact that the Packers did not suffer any more injuries. For a team that has been hit hard by the injury bug, that’s no small matter. All but one of the seven inactive players on Sunday was injury-related. What’s more, linebackers Nick Perry (foot) and Brad Jones (hamstring), along with James Jones (knee), might be able to return for Monday night’s game against the Chicago Bears. And linebacker Clay Matthews, who told on Sunday night that he will have the pins removed from his broken right thumb Nov. 4, could return as soon as the following week against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 44-31 loss to the Green Bay Packers on Sunday:

Who's the QB? Coach Leslie Frazier wouldn't say Monday whether the Vikings will make another quarterback change before Sunday's game against the Dallas Cowboys, but he did say Matt Cassel won't be in the mix to start; the decision will be between Christian Ponder and Josh Freeman, Frazier said. Freeman has been cleared to return from a concussion and will participate in practice Wednesday, and after an underwhelming performance from Ponder, the Vikings might decide they're best off going to Freeman and seeing if he can improve following an ugly first start with the Vikings. Freeman said he was first able to run around without feeling concussion symptoms Saturday, so there was no way he would have been ready to play Sunday. But if he's healthy, it seems quite likely the Vikings could go back to him.

[+] EnlargeGreg Jennings
AP Photo/Jim MoneProduction has been hard to come by for Vikings receiver Greg Jennings this season.
Jennings quiet: Wide receiver Greg Jennings had just one catch for nine yards against his former team Sunday night, and his numbers in seven games are far from overwhelming (25 catches, 336 yards, two touchdowns). Jennings looked frustrated with Ponder on one throw Sunday, when Ponder failed to deliver the ball to Jennings running through the middle of the Packers' defense and tossed the ball out of bounds. But Frazier said Jennings came to him after the game with words of encouragement, and again called Jennings "the ultimate team guy." Jennings did not talk to reporters in the locker room after the game, bolting quickly following his on-field embrace with quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers didn't divulge what was said, but it's reasonable to wonder if Jennings was trying to smooth things over after what he said about Rodgers this summer.

Secondary in for more pain: The Vikings were missing both starting safeties by the end of the game Sunday, with Harrison Smith already on injured reserve and Jamarca Sanford leaving with a strained groin. Cornerback Chris Cook also left with a hip muscle strain, and though both players could be back Sunday, the Vikings might have more trouble ahead of them trying to stop quarterback Tony Romo and wide receiver Dez Bryant. Rodgers targeted rookie Xavier Rhodes early, before the Packers went to work with wide receiver Jordy Nelson matched up on Josh Robinson in the slot. Teams have continued to pick on Robinson all season, and Rodgers drilled the first of his two touchdowns to Nelson over Robinson.

Signs of discord? It doesn't seem as though Vikings players have started to quit on the season yet, at least not from Frazier's perspective; the coach said Monday he still liked the effort the Vikings showed on a goal-line stand toward the end of Sunday's game, long after the Packers had pulled away, but admitted he wanted to "have a pulse" on whether players were mailing it in. "We're approaching our eighth game of the season," he said. "You have to remind them there are a lot of reasons for us to really work as hard as we can to get a win this coming Sunday. We do have to have a feel for what guys are thinking and where their mindset is. It's important."

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues as the Chicago Bears return from their bye week:

Don't bury yourself: With Detroit and Green Bay coming off victories Sunday, the Bears -- regardless of the injury situation -- can’t afford to lose the next two and bury themselves beneath the division. Given the way things appear to be shaking out so far, it looks as though at least one of the wild cards will come out of the NFC West (Seattle or San Francisco) and one could come from the NFC North. But consecutive losses at Green Bay on Sunday followed by the Lions at Soldier Field would put Chicago in a position where it would be nearly impossible to reach the postseason.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
AP Photo/Alex BrandonWith Jay Cutler injured, the Bears need to force more turnovers and make more plays on special teams to keep from falling out of the playoff race.
Takeaways: It’s pretty well established that the Bears can’t stop the run or the pass, but they can alleviate those major deficiencies with their uncanny ability to generate takeaways. So they definitely need to get back to taking the ball away, with quarterback Jay Cutler and linebacker Lance Briggs expected to miss a significant chunk of action. Against the Redskins, the Bears forced only one takeaway, and that’s clearly not sufficient. In each of the past two losses, Chicago generated one turnover or fewer. But in each of the four wins, the club forced at least three. The turnover differential comes into play here, too. When the Bears have finished on the minus side or equal in turnover differential, they’ve lost their past three games.

McCown using supporting cast: QB Josh McCown doesn’t need to step outside of himself and try to be a hero as he fills in for Cutler because he has plenty of playmaking talent around him. The staff can help out with a game plan that features plenty of Matt Forte in the rushing attack to keep the Packers out of pass-rush mode. By establishing the run early, McCown can operate off play-action and hit high-percentage passes that allow the targets to gain their yards after the catch.

Special teams needs to carry heavier load: Devin Hester finally found his groove against the Redskins with an 81-yard punt return for a touchdown. But given the limitations on offense and defense, special teams needs to become a more dynamic facet of Chicago’s game. Adam Podlesh can help the Bears win the field-position battle with long punts, while the coverage units on kickoffs and punts need to limit the yards gained on returns. Robbie Gould missed his first field goal attempt of the season against the Redskins, but it’s unlikely he’ll continue that course.

Upon Further Review: Redskins Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Washington Redskins' 45-21 loss to the Denver Broncos:

[+] EnlargeRobert Griffin III
AP Photo/Paul SpinelliShaky pass protection hurt Washington QB Robert Griffin III during Sunday's loss at Denver.
The passing game: Don’t pin it all on QB Robert Griffin III, though clearly he has a lot to do with the inconsistency of the passing game. The Redskins have yet to find a solid No. 2 receiver to put alongside Pierre Garcon. The emergence of tight end Jordan Reed helps quite a bit, but the Redskins continue to get little production from the other wideouts; even the once sure-handed Santana Moss has dropped crucial passes. And the pass protection breaks down when defenses know what’s coming. Denver hurt the Redskins with looks they either hadn’t seen or didn’t anticipate. At times the protection would slide one way only to have Denver send a stunt the other way. But Griffin will, and should, get plenty of blame. He’s a developing passer hurt more by his lack of offseason work than most originally realized. He’s still learning to read coverages at a faster speed. Griffin has made some strides, but not enough to carry the team as a passer.

Shanks for nothing: Punter Sav Rocca had a terrific game for much of the day. Rocca averaged 43.2 yards on his first six punts, with one fair catch and four downed inside the 20-yard line. But after a three-and-out by the offense, Rocca’s 15-yard punt enabled Denver to drive for a field goal and 10-point lead. Rocca was knocked in Philadelphia for these sort of lapses and he seemingly has had more of these shanks this season than in his previous two. They never occur at a good time.

Play calling: The Redskins were imbalanced on first-down plays, tilting heavily toward runs. Until the fourth quarter Washington had called 13 runs on first down compared to six passes. In the first four drives of the fourth quarter -- the fourth drive started with 7 minutes, 54 seconds remaining and Denver leading by 10 -- the Redskins called four passes on first down and one run. Problem is, their passing game kept putting them in bad spots: Through the first four drives of the fourth quarter, Griffin completed only 2 of 6 first-down throws for 15 yards. He was sacked twice, lost a fumble on one and scrambled for 4 yards. So 10 first-down passing plays netted the Redskins 19 yards. Their 14 runs gained 70 yards (27 coming on one play). Go ahead and blame play calling all you’d like, but that obscures the bigger issue, which goes back to the passing game.

Improved play: The special teams did a much better job in coverage, helped by Rocca’s punts (until the last one). If the Redskins want to win a couple games in a row, and it’s a possibility, then this unit needs to provide more games like Sunday. They managed a 34-yard punt return from Josh Morgan, after he fielded the ball inside the 10-yard line and somehow eluded two tackles. They still need more from their special-teams units.

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 8

October, 28, 2013
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- A review of five hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 27-13 loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeMatt Ryan
Matt Kartozian/USA TODAY SportsFalcons QB Matt Ryan spent much of Sunday's game trying to avoid being hit by Cardinals defenders.
Big problem: The Falcons' defense continues to give up big plays, surrendering a backbreaking, 80-yard touchdown run to speedy Cardinals rookie running back Andre Ellington. Defensive tackle Corey Peters and linebacker Paul Worrilow missed the initial opportunity to bring Ellington down up the middle. Then Ellington bounced outside and sprinted by linebacker Joplo Bartu and safety Thomas DeCoud. Safety William Moore, who was on the other side of the play, tried to explain what happened. "Leverage is the name of the game," Moore said. "One person misses their leverage and some more people have to come put their hats on the ball. He got outside the defense, and that's going to happen nine times out of 10 when he gets outside. ... That's one of those plays where everybody could have gotten to the ball a little better." The Falcons have surrendered 11 plays of 40-plus yards this season.

No pointing fingers: Although quarterback Matt Ryan could have used much better protection -- he was sacked four times and hit 11 times -- no one in the locker room said the offensive line needed to do a better job protecting. Wide receiver Harry Douglas even seemed to take offense when it was implied that the offensive line didn't do its job. "I'm not singling anybody out," Douglas said. "We win as a team. We lose as a team. We glorify each other as a team. And we're going to fix it as a team. I think everybody across the board -- offense, defense and special teams -- we all could have did something better to win this football game and step up."

Top target: Speaking of Douglas, he finished with another stellar effort in the loss, catching 12 passes for 121 yards. He was targeted a team-high 18 times. The effort came a week after Douglas posted a career-high 149 receiving yards against Tampa Bay. With Julio Jones out for the season following foot surgery and Roddy White missing his second straight game due to hamstring and ankle injuries, Ryan looked to Douglas often. The Falcons need Douglas to continue that production when White returns to the lineup. Drew Davis, who had a career day versus the Cardinals with five catches for 77 yards and a touchdown, also could be a key part of the equation when White returns.

Tight spot: Tony Gonzalez caught three passes for 26 yards to extend his streak of consecutive games with a catch to 202. But all the talk over the next two days will likely relate to whether the Falcons might consider trading Gonzalez to a contender so he can have the chance to retire with a Super Bowl ring. Gonzalez maintains he wants to finish things out in Atlanta, but he's obviously frustrated by the team's 2-5 mark. Ryan was asked if he talked to Gonzalez following Sunday's game. "Talked to him briefly and same as after we lost in the past," Ryan said. "I think everybody takes it personal. He certainly does, and I do. I think the message across the board is that we just have to get back to work."

Rotating line: When defensive coordinator Mike Nolan addresses the media on Tuesday, he's sure to be asked about his defensive line rotation. Against the Cardinals, veteran starters Osi Umenyiora and Jonathan Babineaux were pulled from the lineup on a few series, including when Ellington broke loose on that 80-yard touchdown run. Cliff Matthews and Peria Jerry were on the field with Peters and Jonathan Massaquoi. Babineaux said it was just the rotation that was decided upon. We'll see how that rotation pans out for the remainder of the season.

Upon Further Review: Cardinals Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Arizona Cardinals' 27-13 win over the Atlanta Falcons.

[+] EnlargeTony Gonzalez
AP Photo/Rick ScuteriSafety Rashad Johnson helped Arizona shut down star Atlanta TE Tony Gonzalez on Sunday.
Fast Teddy in the house: Cardinals coach Bruce Arians made it clear that Teddy Williams wasn’t signed to be a threat at receiver. Arizona has plenty of those. Williams was signed as a gunner to complement Justin Bethel, but Arians likes to take advantage of speed when he has it. Thus, the Cardinals implemented a play for Williams to take the top off Atlanta’s defense. It worked, but almost too well. Williams had to slow down to catch a 51-yard pass, which the Falcons weren’t expecting.

“I don’t know if they knew who he was,” Arians said. “I knew he could run. I didn’t know if he could catch.

“I’m just happy he caught it. I’m really happy he caught it. I was holding my breath. I know he was holding his.”

Containing a tight end: It’s no secret tight ends have been the Cardinals’ lone defensive liability, but they were able to limit Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez to three catches for 26 yards. Arizona did it by rotating defenders on him, that way the Falcons couldn’t adjust their plans according to coverage. Arizona mixed traditional defenses on Gonzalez with gimmick schemes, such as lining up two defenders on him like a punt situation.

“It was a team effort -- team defense, playing with great technique on the back end, defensive line getting pressure,” linebacker Karlos Dansby said. “We did it together.”

Time off needed for Fitz’s hammy: He might’ve said he’s fine, but Larry Fitzgerald’s hamstring hasn’t been at 100 percent for a while and it showed again Sunday. He had 48 yards and a touchdown on four catches. Arians said Fitzgerald played a solid game. But Fitz can’t wait for the bye.

“I’m glad we’re going into the bye to get some time to really get after it and nip it in the bud and have smooth sailing for the next eight games,” Fitzgerald said. “That would be ideal for me."

Ellington still looks to Mendenhall: Despite staking his claim for the starting running back job, rookie Andre Ellington still sees it as Rashard Mendehall’s. When Mendenhall returns, Ellington said it won’t be hard to accept a lesser role -- if he does.

“Rashard is our bell cow,” Ellington said. “He’s our leader in the room. This guy earned that respect. I’m waiting for him to get healthy and get out there and make plays.”

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 8

October, 28, 2013
An review of five hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 35-17 victory over the Buffalo Bills:

Graham hurts Bills: Saints tight end Jimmy Graham might be limited for a while in practices and games while he manages the pain of a partially torn plantar fascia. But he showed Sunday that he’s still capable of making a big impact in small doses. Graham played just 18 snaps by unofficial count -- most of them in the red zone -- and was targeted only three times. But he caught all three of those passes for 37 yards and two touchdowns. His last two plays in the game were both touchdowns (one late in the second quarter, another in the third quarter).

[+] EnlargeJimmy Graham
Chris Graythen/Getty ImagesJimmy Graham battled through an injury to still record two touchdowns on Sunday.
Graham and coach Sean Payton explained that there isn’t a significant risk of a more serious injury if he continues to play on the sore foot. But Graham will have to continue to deal with the pain. (In some cases, it helps for the plantar fascia to completely tear, but Graham said he doesn’t know whether that’s true in his case.)

Strong Brees: I almost didn’t include Drew Brees in this report because his weekly brilliance is practically a given. But five touchdowns passes is probably always worth a mention. Brees completed 26 of 34 passes for 332 yards -- hitting 10 different receivers along the way. Brees and Payton were both disappointed that the Saints’ overall performance was too sloppy at times. But they proved once again what a quick-strike threat their offense poses.

Thanks again, D: Once again, the Saints' defense got off to the stronger start Sunday, providing a couple of jump-starts that finally got the offense going. Twice in the first nine minutes, the Saints forced fumbles inside the Bills’ 22-yard line (one by linebacker David Hawthorne, one by end Cameron Jordan). The first led to a missed field goal, but the second led to a touchdown.

Later in the first half, Saints linebacker Junior Galette forced a fumble that was recovered by the Bills. And cornerback Keenan Lewis intercepted a pass in the fourth. The Saints did allow a few big gains on the ground and through the air, but they were mostly outstanding throughout the day. They held the Bills to a net total of 299 yards and held them under 20 points for the first time all season.

Out of line: Once again, the biggest disappointment for New Orleans was the inconsistent blocking up front. The Saints allowed four sacks (one by left tackle Charles Brown, one by left guard Ben Grubbs, one by a free blitzer and one against fullback Jed Collins). They also were flagged for three holding calls (Brown, center Brian De La Puente and Collins). They had two runs go backward for losses, including a third-and-1 attempt in the first quarter. And two screen passes also got snuffed out for losses. The run game was just so-so with 80 yards on 23 carries (not counting Brees’ kneel-downs). The Saints showed more balance in all of those areas in the second half, though.

Off target: Kicker Garrett Hartley missed both of his field goal attempts Sunday, which snapped a streak of seven straight successful kicks. The first, from 47 yards, took a nasty snap-turn to sail wide left. The second, from 38 yards, went straight all the way, but it started too far left. I would expect a veteran like Hartley, who has been through slumps before, to be fine. But it's probably important that he makes the next one to keep the drama at bay.

Upon Further Review: Cowboys Week 8

October, 28, 2013
DETROIT -- A review of four hot issues from the Dallas Cowboys' 31-30 loss to the Detroit Lions on Sunday.

What to make of the antics: After the game the Cowboys did their best to diffuse any possible issue regarding Dez Bryant’s emotion during and after the game. They put it on competitiveness and passion. When Terrell Owens would have outbursts like that, Owens was viewed as selfish. Perhaps Bryant was being positive with what he was saying, but he has to understand the cameras will always be on him and the story might change in the future.

[+] EnlargeSean Lee
AP Photo/Duane BurlesonDespite forcing four turnovers, including two picks by Sean Lee, the Cowboys couldn't hold on to beat the Lions.
Win turnover battle, lose game: Coach Jason Garrett always says the turnover battle is the biggest determining factor in the outcome of games. They Cowboys forced four Detroit turnovers and did not give it away even once, and they lost. It is the second time the Cowboys have had a plus-four turnover margin this season (they beat the New York Giants in the opener) and just the 11th time they have had two or more games with that margin since 1999.

“When you win it 4-0 and have two penalties in the ballgame in terms of not beating ourselves, we did a damn good job of that,” Garrett said. “Unfortunately we didn’t make the plays necessary on offense and didn’t make the stops on defense at the critical moments of the game and that was the difference.”

Help wanted: The trade deadline is Tuesday and while the Cowboys might want to make a trade, salary-cap issues will make any deal difficult. The most they can hope for is help from within. Running back DeMarco Murray and defensive end DeMarcus Ware missed their second straight game with knee and quadriceps injuries. Both could be back this week against the Minnesota Vikings. Murray was able to take part in three limited practices last week but the coaches did not believe he looked comfortable enough to play against the Lions. Ware has not practiced in two weeks but has seen the strength return to his leg.

Turnover machine: Linebacker Sean Lee had the second two-interception game of his career. His first came on Dec. 5, 2010, against Peyton Manning, and the Indianapolis Colts. Lee has 11 interceptions in his first four seasons, the most by a linebacker in the NFL since 2010. The last time the Cowboys had a player with at least four picks in the first half of a season was cornerback Anthony Henry, who had five in 2007. Lee also made double-digit tackles for the sixth straight game, finishing with 10. Now if he can do something about the secondary and defensive line the Cowboys might be in business.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 8

October, 28, 2013
PHILADELPHIA -- Taking a look at four pressing issues a day after the Philadelphia Eagles’ 15-7 loss to the New York Giants.

[+] EnlargeMatt Barkley
AP Photo/Matt RourkePhiladelphia's offense has been woeful the past two weeks with Matt Barkley at quarterback.
Maybe QB Matt Barkley should practice with the first team this week. As coach Chip Kelly acknowledged in his weekly appearance on 94.1 WIP FM Monday morning, Michael Vick is almost certainly out for next week. Nick Foles has not yet been cleared by doctors to resume practicing. Even if Foles does get clearance through the concussion protocol, Kelly may want to make sure Barkley is better prepared than he was for his last two unplanned relief appearances.

“I think it is valuable just to practice with those guys and see their timing and know their breaks in a full-speed environment,” Barkley said. “Routes versus air is one thing, but to be able to get reps in team periods and seven-on-seven, I think it will be valuable.”

Unless, of course, the Eagles can convince the Raiders to cover DeSean Jackson with air instead of a defender.

Jackson’s history might have worked against him Sunday. There was booing after he let a punt skip off his fingers and go out of bounds deep in Eagles territory. Eagles fans are all too aware that Jackson has admitted to letting outside issues, like his contract, affect his commitment on the field.

But this just seemed to be a punt that was carried by the wind.

“The punter punted it pretty far,” Jackson said. “It was one of those things where he outkicked me. It was over my head and the wind took it.”

LeSean McCoy took the blame again. The running back said, “I didn’t show up” for the game against Dallas last week, when clearly there were a lot of problems with the running game. McCoy vowed Sunday’s game against the Giants would be different.

He gained 48 yards on 15 carries. McCoy remains the NFL’s rushing leader with 733 yards, but all that talk about his early pace seems like ancient history. After three weeks and 395 yards, McCoy was on pace for more than 2,100 rushing yards. He’s now on pace for 1,466 and trending sharply downward.

“It starts with me,” McCoy said. “I feel like, coming into the game, we want to establish the run. Teams know that. It starts with me. I have to get out there and get it going.”

The last two games may be reality. The previous two might have been misleading.

The Eagles got to 3-3 with consecutive road wins against the Giants and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. That had Kelly’s team feeling like it was on the right track, with a chance to assume control of the NFC East with home games against Dallas and New York.

The Eagles are 0-2 with zero offensive touchdowns in those games. While there is plenty to chew on in explaining their offensive futility, it may be worth a second look at the Eagles’ wins. The first came in the season opener at Washington, against a rusty Robert Griffin III and a defense with no game tape of Kelly’s offense to study. The next two came against teams that were winless when the Eagles played them.

It’s totally understandable for the Eagles to lose against exceptional teams like Kansas City and Denver, who are a combined 15-1. The losses to similarly flawed teams like San Diego, Dallas and the Giants suggest that the Eagles just aren’t good enough to be called average.

Najee Goode outscored his father. John Goode played in 30 NFL games as a tight end with the Eagles and the St. Louis Cardinals. He never scored a touchdown.

Goode’s son Najee, a linebacker and special teams mainstay for the Eagles, recovered an errant long snap Sunday to score the Eagles’ only touchdown of the game -- and the Goode family’s only NFL touchdown as well.

“I was just going to go hit him,” Goode said, referring to Giants punter Steve Weatherford's inept pursuit of Zak DeOssie's bad snap. “I was going to knock the mess out of him to get the ball into the end zone. Then the ball came through and I saw it and my eyes got big and I scooped it up.”

Goode found the end zone, something the Eagles' offense has failed to do for the past eight quarters.

Upon Further Review: Lions Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Detroit Lions' 31-30 win over the Dallas Cowboys.

[+] EnlargeCalvin Johnson
Leon Halip/Getty ImagesCalvin Johnson had his way with the Dallas secondary on Sunday.
Mega-Hundreds: As in the hundreds of yards (yes, hundreds) receiver Calvin Johnson had Sunday. His 329 yards against the Cowboys would put him 70th in the NFL in receiving yards this season -- if that was the only game he played. Instead, he’s played in seven games and has an NFL-leading 821 yards on 47 catches. Johnson often draws double coverage, but part of the key to his success Sunday was Dallas’ decision to play a lot of single coverage on Johnson. Do that and quarterback Matthew Stafford will find Johnson over and over again, as the Cowboys learned.

Stafford’s decision: Yes, he’s had fourth-quarter comebacks before, and yes, he’s made big plays before. But with the way Detroit’s season has been going, with what the Lions are trying to do, there was a different level reached in the final minute against Dallas. Had Stafford not converted the fake-spike sneak, Detroit would have struggled to get one more play off and it could have been the second straight week in which the Lions suffered a devastating final-seconds loss at home. It could have been a play, frankly, that potentially derailed the rest of Detroit’s season. Instead, it was a play that could boost the franchise and its quarterback for a long time to come.

Durham’s emergence: He’ll never be the flashy guy, and as Kris Durham told me after Sunday’s game, if he can get 100 yards in a game, that’s a pretty good day, but he’s become a reliable target for Stafford when it matters. He now has three or more catches in five straight games, and his 40-yard grab on Detroit's final drive, in which he used a slight, slick move to beat the Dallas cornerback to make some room for himself, was massive. For a player who didn’t appear to be a lock to make the team out of training camp, he has put himself in a position where he could be a valuable member of Detroit’s offense for a while.

Fairley well: This was lost in a lot of the last-minute insanity of Detroit’s win, but Nick Fairley had a productive game for the Lions. He was a big factor early on in the game, twice pressuring Tony Romo into third-down incompletions and punts. He had three pressures on the day and showed yet another glimpse of what Detroit hoped to get out of him when it selected him in the first round of the 2011 draft. He was a good complement to Ndamukong Suh and showed surprising athleticism for his size as he ran at Romo.

Upon Further Review: Giants Week 8

October, 28, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the New York Giants' 15-7 victory over the Eagles:

[+] EnlargeNew York Giants strong safety Antrel Rolle
John Geliebter-USA TODAY SportsNew York Giants strong safety Antrel Rolle tallied one of the Giants' season-high four sacks against the Eagles on Sunday.
Sacks! The Giants got four sacks Sunday, which is a stunning number for a team that had only six in seven games all season prior to Sunday. Two of the sacks came from defensive backs Antrel Rolle and Terrell Thomas, one from defensive end Mathias Kiwanuka and one from defensive tackle Linval Joseph, who said he was relieved when slippery Michael Vick was replaced at quarterback by the more stationary Matt Barkley (whom he sacked). Defensive tackle Cullen Jenkins said it wasn't "the most ideal situation" for the sacks to come from the defensive backs, but the Giants would take them any way they can get them -- especially the Thomas one that forced a turnover just before halftime.

Balance on offense: The Giants ran the ball 33 times for 81 yards, their third-highest single-game rushing total of the season and their season high for rush attempts in a game. (They had 32 against Minnesota in Week 7.) It helps that they've actually had halftime leads the last two games, which they did not in the first six. And it helps that Peyton Hillis has added a dimension as a receiver out of the backfield for which teams have to account. Everyone's interested to see how it'll work when Andre Brown is eligible to return from injury after the bye.

Incremental progress: The Giants were 8-for-19 on third downs in the game and are 22-for-49 (44.9 percent) on third downs over their last three. Through their first five, they were last in the league at 26.2 percent. It was also Eli Manning's second straight game without an interception after throwing 15 in his first six. So while it frustrated the Giants that they didn't score a touchdown, they are seeing improvement in key areas on offense.

Practicing what they preach: Through the six-game losing streak that began their season, the Giants spent a lot of time talking about the importance of sticking together and focusing on the game in front of them. Those things can sound like cliches, but this team has meant -- and lived by -- those words, and now it's paying off. We see teams every year in the NFL fall apart after falling out of contention, but that hasn't happened to the Giants. There is ample pride on display in the individual performances of guys like Rolle and Thomas and Joseph and Jon Beason and the like. There's no finger-pointing, no woe-is-us moping and no stewing over what's come before. A month ago, they likely would have lost a game as close as the one they played Sunday. But they're playing better now, and while it's not likely to matter in the big picture, Giants fans should feel good that they'll continue to get an honest effort from their team every week.

Upon Further Review: 49ers Week 8

October, 28, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the San Francisco 49ers' 42-10 victory against the Jacksonville Jaguars in London on Sunday:

[+] EnlargeColin Kaepernick
AP Photo/Matt DunhamColin Kaepernick and the 49ers ended the first half of their season with a dominant performance.
49ers are rolling: The 49ers ended a 10-day road trip in style. They thrashed winless Jacksonville in London. This game was never in question as San Francisco led 28-0 in the second quarter. Last Sunday, the 49ers led the Titans 24-0 at one point. San Francisco has won five straight games and is 6-2 at its bye. The 49ers have scored at least 31 points in every game during the win streak. Sunday was an all-around great day for the 49ers. Kansas City improved to 8-0, so a third-round 2014 draft pick became a second-round pick to complete the trade of quarterback Alex Smith. The 49ers ended up with two second-round picks in the deal. It’s a win-win.

Trade deadline looms: Will the 49ers make a trade? The NFL trade deadline is 4 p.m. ET on Tuesday. They have been rumored to be interested in receivers for weeks. Still, it is unlikely a trade is made with Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham returning. The NFL Network reported the team is willing to deal backup running back Anthony Dixon. He is a free agent at the end of the season. The 49ers likely wouldn’t get much in return for Dixon. He is a key special teamer and might be the new kick returner. Kyle Williams was benched Sunday after a miserable game.

Kaepernick is explosive: For the second straight game, 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick made big plays with his legs. He had 69 yards and a touchdown on 10 carries at Tennessee. Sunday, he had 54 yards and two touchdowns on seven carries. The 49ers are opening up Kaepernick in the ground game as the season goes on, and that’s dangerous for opposing defenses.

Greg Roman sends message? San Francisco's offensive coordinator Greg Roman had a great night calling plays on Sunday. It was varied and aggressive. The Jaguars’ defense had no answer. It could serve as a retroactive reminder to first-year Jacksonville general manager David Caldwell, who didn’t wait to interview Roman for the Jaguars head coaching job when the 49ers went to the Super Bowl, even though Roman and Caldwell were college teammates. Caldwell went with Gus Bradley. It seems it’s just a matter of time before Roman gets the head-coaching call somewhere.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 8

October, 25, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A review of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 31-13 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

[+] EnlargeCam Newton
Kim Klement/USA TODAY SportsCam Newton and the Panthers offense has been thriving with the short-passing game.
Short and sweet: Remember when we made issue over Cam Newton not going deep enough in a Week 1 12-7 loss to Seattle? He then went deep often the following week and the Panthers lost 24-23. The past three games he has seldom taken a chance downfield and the Panthers are undefeated. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton's average target depth has gone from 10.1 yards (fifth-highest among quarterbacks) during a 1-3 start to 6.5 during a 3-0 run. His completion percentage has improved from 57.5 to 77.3. His touchdown-to-interception ratio has improved from 6-5 to 6-0. He was an amazing 20-for-24 on passes that traveled 10 or fewer yards against the Bucs for 171 yards and two touchdowns. Keeping it short and sweet works.

Five and alive: Defensive fronts of five men or more gave the Panthers fits in the first four games, particularly a Game 4 loss at Arizona in which Newton was sacked seven times. On Thursday, according to ESPN Stats & Information, Newton faced five or more pass-rushers on 49 percent of his dropbacks. He completed 73.3 percent of his passes for 83 yards and both touchdowns against that front. Tampa Bay had allowed only two touchdowns when sending five or more pass-rushers in its first six games. After the Arizona game, Newton had thrown two touchdowns and four interceptions against five-man fronts. The offensive line and Newton seemingly have figured this out.

Bonus Newton: Newton doesn't want credit for Carolina's recent success, but there's no denying he deserves it. Here's an interesting statistic ESPN's crackerjack crew dug up. Thursday's game was the 15th time Newton has passed for at least 200 yards with a touchdown pass and touchdown run. That ties him with John Elway and Donovan McNabb for the fourth most of any quarterback in the Super Bowl era. The only active quarterback with more is Michael Vick with 17. Steve Young has the most at 21. That's pretty good company Newton is keeping.

Less means more: DeAngelo Williams didn't touch the ball on Carolina's first 12 plays. That seemed kind of odd because he is the team's leading rusher and has been a big part of the running game all season. But that was the game plan going in and it worked. Although Williams had only eight carries, he averaged a season-best 5.4 yards per carry -- better than his 4.2 yards-per-carry average on the season. The Panthers finished with 4.8 yards a carry, almost double what they had the previous week. Newton, by the way, led the team in rushing with 11 carries for a season-high 50 yards and one touchdown. This could be more of what we see moving forward with Jonathan Stewart, the team's second all-time leading rusher, expected to come off the physically unable to perform list next week.

Seeing red: Carolina scored on four of five trips inside the Tampa 20-yard line, which should move them up from ninth in the NFL in red zone scoring. Going for it on fourth down in the third quarter certainly helped the red zone touchdown percentage. Instead of settling for a field goal, the Panthers gambled on fourth-and-1 and won. They now have been successful on four of their past six fourth-and-1 tries. Coach Ron Rivera's willingness to take chances shows just how much faith he has not only in his offense, but his No. 3-ranked defense.

Upon Further Review: Buccaneers Week 8

October, 25, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 31-13 loss to the Carolina Panthers.

[+] EnlargeGreg Schiano
Daniel Shirey/USA TODAY SportsThe Bucs' Thursday night performance surely didn't help the job security of coach Greg Schiano.
Greg Schiano’s status. Although fans have been calling for his firing for several weeks and the noise is getting louder, Schiano still has a job -- at the moment. That still could change. But, with every minute that passes, it looks as if Schiano will be around for at least one more game.

Could there be a scapegoat? If the Bucs don’t fire Schiano, they still might feel they need to make a statement that they care. The other way to do that would be by firing a coordinator. Offensive coordinator Mike Sullivan’s unit has struggled all season. Defensive coordinator Bill Sheridan’s group has regressed in recent weeks.

The offensive line is a problem. This group was supposed to be a point of strength, but it hasn’t been. Sure, guard Carl Nicks is out with a staph infection, and that doesn’t help. But this line can’t open holes for the running game, and quarterback Mike Glennon was sacked three times.

The defense is regressing. Look at the defense and you see some strong individual talent -- Gerald McCoy, Adrian Clayborn, Lavonte David and Darrelle Revis. But this unit allowed 31 points for the second straight week. It’s easy to point to the schemes as the problem, but the players deserve some blame as well.



Thursday, 10/23
Sunday, 10/26
Monday, 10/27