NFL Nation: 2013 Week 9 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Packers Week 9

November, 5, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Green Bay Packers' 27-20 loss to the Chicago Bears on Monday night:

[+] EnlargeSeneca Wallace
AP Photo/Mike RoemerSeneca Wallace mostly struggled after taking over for injured Packers QB Aaron Rodgers on Monday.
Wallace’s woes: Backup quarterback Seneca Wallace has not won a game as a starter since Oct. 3, 2010, when he led the Cleveland Browns to a win over the Cincinnati Bengals. And it showed. He was rusty during his three-and-a-half-quarter relief appearance after Aaron Rodgers left the game after getting sacked on the game’s opening series. It showed up the most on third down, when Wallace was forced to make plays. The Packers were just 1-of-9 on third downs, including 1-of-8 with Wallace in the game. He missed a key throw on third-and-goal from the 5 to tight end Andrew Quarless in the third quarter. “Seneca, he needs to perform better, and he’ll definitely do that with a week of practice,” Packers coach Mike McCarthy said after the game. “We’re on a short week.”

Running game not enough: Usually, when the Packers go heavy on the run, they win. But not even 199 yards rushing, including a career-best 150 from rookie Eddie Lacy, was enough. The Packers ran the ball on designed rushes 50.9 percent of the time (28 of 55 plays) against the Bears. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the Packers had a 33-2 record since 2008, the year Rodgers took over as the starter, when calling designed rushes at least 40 percent of the time. Lacy had 97 yards after contact, the most by any running back in a game this season, and had 110 of his rushing yards between the tackles, the most by a Packers running back since Week 5 of the 2010 season. In all, the Packers gained 156 of their rushing yards between the tackles, the most the Bears have allowed since Week 11 of 2008 (157, also against the Packers), according to ESPN Stats & Information. “We knew we could go out there and run the ball,” Packers left guard Josh Sitton said. “That was our game plan coming in. You know, we wanted to pound them on the ground and run play-action. We were able to do that throughout the whole game, we just couldn’t convert on third down a lot.”

Missed tackles: While missed tackles were a problem, Monday’s game wasn’t the Packers’ worst tackling performance of the season. According to, the Packers missed nine tackles against the Bears. A week earlier against the Minnesota Vikings, they missed a season-high 12 tackles. They also had an 11-missed-tackle game in Week 1 against the 49ers. Against the Bears, perhaps the bigger problem was not getting to the ball carrier soon enough. Running back Matt Forte ran for 80 of his 125 yards before contact, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The Bears’ 113 yards before contact were the most the Packers have allowed this season. “They did pretty much what they wanted on our defense,” defensive tackle Ryan Pickett said. “We didn’t have a stellar performance at all.”

Special teams comes through: Half of the Packers' points came as the result of big plays on special teams. Jamari Lattimore's blocked punt in the first quarter led to James Starks' 32-yard touchdown run. In the third quarter, Lattimore recovered Mason Crosby’s surprise onside kick, which led to a 23-yard field goal. “I thought the special teams played well,” McCarthy said. “We recovered the surprise onside kick and then did a pretty good job with [Chicago return man] Devin Hester.”

Upon Further Review: Bears Week 9

November, 5, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Chicago Bears' 27-20 win against the Green Bay Packers:

[+] EnlargeJosh McCown
Jeff Hanisch/USA TODAY SportsBears QB Josh McCown has seamlessly filled in for the injured Jay Cutler, throwing for three touchdowns and no interceptions in two games.
Offensive line: It has been a long time since Chicago’s offensive line protected this well against the Packers, and the group’s performance provides a glimpse of just how far the Bears have come. Not only did the Bears limit Green Bay’s defense to one sack, the line provided enough push in the ground game to allow the Bears to chew up eight minutes, 58 seconds on an 18-play drive in the fourth quarter with the club clinging to a four-point advantage.

Defensive line: Led by Shea McClellin, who churned out a career-high three sacks, Chicago’s front four finally generated a strong enough pass rush to produce a season-high five sacks. Along the way, the Bears knocked Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of the game, and there’s no question that played a significant role in the team’s success. Julius Peppers finally emerged as a disruptive force and tallied a sack and an interception in addition to batting down two balls. It would be easy to say the group pass rushed so well because of injuries to Green Bay’s offensive line. But let’s not lose sight of Chicago’s injury situation along the front four.

Then again: The defensive line bears some responsibility for the team’s horrid showing against the run. That needs to get fixed ASAP. It wasn’t as if Green Bay’s offensive line dominated the Bears up front, either. The gaping holes the Packers ran through on many occasions came as a result of improper run fits from the defensive line and linebackers. In addition, the safeties either took bad angles or tackled poorly, which resulted in extra yardage from the Packers after contact. Eddie Lacy averaged 6.8 yards per carry and gained 150 yards for Green Bay. That’s too much yardage allowed for the Bears to be consistently successful.

What to do with Cutler: Jay Cutler is expected to play Sunday when the Bears host the Detroit Lions in a showdown for sole possession of first place in the NFC North. But if there’s any question as to whether Cutler would be susceptible to reinjuring his torn groin muscle, the Bears shouldn’t hesitate to sit him another week and give Josh McCown another start. In his past two outings, McCown has proven plenty capable of engineering Chicago’s offense at a high level, generating passer ratings of 90.7 and 119.6 with three touchdowns and no interceptions.

Upon Further Review: Vikings Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues following the Minnesota Vikings' 27-23 loss to the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday:

[+] EnlargeChristian Ponder
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsVikings quarterback Christian Ponder is tackled on a scramble by Cowboys cornerback B.W. Webb in the first quarter at AT&T Stadium.
Last-minute meltdown -- again: For the third time this season, the Vikings gave up a touchdown on a two-minute drill, and unlike in the first two games, which both occurred in September, players were willing to voice their frustrations with what went wrong. Both defensive end Brian Robison and defensive tackle Kevin Williams questioned the decision to rush three linemen for most of the last drive, giving Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo time to pick apart the team's depleted secondary. It will be interesting to hear what coach Leslie Frazier has to say about his players' comments today; Frazier has thrived on building consensus on his teams, but at 1-7, his veterans' criticisms are getting harder to ignore.

Peterson shines in Lone Star state: Adrian Peterson grew up just less than two hours from Dallas, and he bought tickets for 62 friends and family members on Sunday. Those who came to watch the reigning NFL MVP got a good show; Peterson ran for 140 yards on 25 carries, benefiting from a game plan that got him the ball after three straight weeks in which he failed to log more than 13 carries. Peterson also was as tough for the Cowboys to bring down as he was in his best moments last year; he averaged 8.5 yards per carry against eight-man fronts, which is easily his highest total this season. For as much as it's seemed like he's struggled, Peterson has 711 yards through eight games, which is only 64 yards behind where he was at this time last year -- although it should be mentioned that Peterson ran for 1,353 yards in the second half of the season last year.

Loadholt injured: The Vikings' five starting offensive linemen -- Matt Kalil, Charlie Johnson, John Sullivan Brandon Fusco and Phil Loadholt -- have started 25 straight games together, dating back to the first week of the 2012 season. That streak could be in jeopardy after Loadholt suffered a concussion during the second quarter of Sunday's game. And with the Vikings' next game on Thursday, it seems unlikely Loadholt will be able to return in time. J'Marcus Webb, Loadholt's replacement, gave up a sack in the end zone on the team's first play of the second half on Sunday, and the Cowboys' Nick Hayden recovered Christian Ponder's fumble for a touchdown. If Webb, who signed with the Vikings after the Chicago Bears cut him in August, can't protect Ponder on Thursday against the Washington Redskins, the Vikings could be in for more headaches.

Ponder back in the saddle: The quarterback appears likely to start again on Thursday after going 25-of-37 for 236 yards, a touchdown and an interception on Sunday; with a short week after a decent performance from Ponder, the Vikings probably won't turn to Josh Freeman yet. But it's worth asking at this point when, or if, the team will turn things over to Freeman. The Vikings have a 10-day break after Thursday's game, but their next two games are against two division leaders in two tough venues -- Seattle and Green Bay. If the Vikings want to see Freeman before December, they might have to bite the bullet and play him in a difficult environment.

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 9

November, 4, 2013
HOUSTON -- An examination of five topics from the Indianapolis Colts' 27-24 victory over the Houston Texans:

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck and the Colts had a much better second half Sunday night.
Adjusting to the rush: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had a difficult time when the Texans rushed four or fewer players in the first half. He was only 2-of-8 and was pressured on 56 percent of his dropbacks (5-of-9) in the half. Luck handled the pressure better in the second half. He was 10-of-16 for two touchdowns and averaged 10.4 yards an attempt. “Tale of two halves,” Luck said. “They were beating our butts fair and square. We made some mistakes, but they’re the No. 1 defense from our perspective.”

Finally slowing Johnson: Texans receiver Andre Johnson looked like he was going to challenge Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson’s 329 yards when he had his way against Indianapolis' secondary during a seven-catch, 190-yard performance in the first half. The Colts held Johnson to only two catches for 39 yards in the second half. “We switched it up some in the second half,” Colts cornerback Vontae Davis said. “It’s a 60-minute game. We’re a bunch of guys who have been in the league for a number of years. We know it’s not over until it’s over. It’s about making adjustments.”

No rushing: To no surprise, the Colts finished with a season-low 69 yards rushing. Donald Brown picked up 24 of those yards on a run in the first half. The Colts went away from their ground game in the second half. They rushed the ball only one time prior to their final offensive series, when they ran it on three consecutive plays to try to eat up some clock. "We didn’t want to totally abandon the run game but we felt like the offensive guys did a great job, [offensive coordinator] Pep [Hamilton] did a great job changing the tempo a little bit,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Did a little bit more up-tempo and give our guys a chance to make some plays.”

More Luck and Hilton: Second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton found a rhythm with Luck in the second half after letting his quarterback down in the first half. Hilton had 115 of his 121 yards in the second. Luck was 3-of-3 for 78 yards and two touchdowns when targeting Hilton under standard pressure in the second half. There’s only one Reggie Wayne, but Hilton proved Sunday night that he plans to do his best to try to fill the void left behind by the veteran receiver because of his season-ending knee injury.

Barely got it off: Not even Colts punter Pat McAfee could explain how he got a punt off with Bryan Braman of the Texans flying at him. The officials did not call a penalty on Braman despite the fact he ran into McAfee and didn't touch the ball on his block attempt. “I seriously don’t know,” McAfee said. “I couldn’t see the ball, I do know that. I think I was just swinging for whatever was there and I just happened to hit the ball. Obviously it’s much better than getting it blocked to the house. But we have to clean up some stuff.” McAfee dropped the ball on a punt attempt on the play prior to his collision with Braman. The Colts punter picked the ball up and eluded a defender to get off a 55-yard punt. That play was called back because of an illegal player downfield. “I was going to run for it but I saw too many humans that are way more athletic than me,” McAfee said.

Upon Further Review: Raiders Week 9

November, 4, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Oakland Raiders49-20 loss to the Philadelphia Eagles:

[+] EnlargeD.J. Hayden
Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesRaiders cornerback D.J. Hayden was burned repeatedly by Eagles receivers Sunday.
Right where they wanted ’em: The Raiders had just scored to get within 21-10 in the second quarter and their defense had the Eagles in a third-and-16 at their own 14-yard line. A defensive stop would surely shift momentum to the Raiders. Except ... Oakland rushed only three players, Eagles quarterback Nick Foles had plenty of time to look downfield and DeSean Jackson found a soft spot in the zone, camped out and caught Foles’ pass for a 17-yard gain and a first down. Five plays later, the Eagles scored on the fourth of Foles’ record-tying seven touchdown passes, a 15-yard toss to Zach Ertz, and the rout was on. “That’s just unacceptable for this defense,” free safety Charles Woodson said. “That’s a chance to give yourself momentum and we came out and played fired up for the first couple of plays on that series, then, all of a sudden, they hit a third-and-16 and they keep the ball and continue to move down the field. That’s uncharacteristic of the way we’ve been playing throughout this season.”

Hayden’s baptism by fire: D.J. Hayden did his best Phillip Buchanon impersonation, and that was not a good thing. Hayden, the Raiders’ first-round draft pick, was torched, specifically by Jackson and Riley Cooper. On three specific catches, Hayden surrendered 139 yards, having come into the game with 20 catches surrendered on 34 targets for 247 yards. Hayden declined to comment at his locker. “He had a tough day,” Raiders coach Dennis Allen said of Hayden. “He had a tough day, and D.J. wasn’t the only one that had a tough day. Obviously, when you play out there on the island and you have a tough day, those things stand out a little bit more. He’s a young player. He’s going to continue to work. He’s going to continue to get better and we still have confidence that he can go out and do the job.”

Watson debuts: Rookie Menelik Watson, who has been sidelined by calf and knee and issues, made his NFL debut in the second quarter, replacing the injured Matt McCants (foot) at right tackle. Was Watson nervous? “No, man, never nervous, never nervous,” he said. “They’re men out there, it’s not machines or aliens we’re playing against, it’s just men. I’m never nervous, whoever it is, it doesn’t matter to me.” The question, then, is if Watson takes over the starting gig at right tackle.

Of explosive plays VIII: And now for our weekly tracking of “explosive” plays. As deemed by Allen, such a play is one that gains at least 16 yards through the air or 12 yards on the ground. The Raiders had 11 such plays against Philadelphia, four runs, and seven passes, while the Eagles had 13 explosive plays, three runs and 10 passes (four of which went for touchdowns). In eight games, the Raiders have 60 explosive plays (21 runs, 39 passes), with two TD runs and four passing scores. Oakland’s opponents, meanwhile, have 59 explosive plays combined, 12 runs (one TD) and 47 passes (five TDs).

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 28-21 win over the St. Louis Rams:

His role now: Kenny Britt is a run blocker and a decoy. He can be effective in the first role; defenses surely welcome him on to the field in the second. He was targeted only once by Jake Locker on Sunday, and while Cortland Finnegan's interception was the result of a bad throw more than anything Britt did, you can’t help but think the percentages of something good happening when Britt is the target are low. Kendall Wright, Justin Hunter and Damian Williams are all more threatening. Nate Washington was a go-to guy for Locker before his injury and has caught only three passes in two games since Locker’s return. The Titans should be focused on getting Washington going again well ahead of being concerned about Britt.

[+] EnlargeTennessee's Kenny Britt
Dilip Vishwanat/Getty ImagesCortland Finnegan will likely have to restructure his contract in order to return to the Rams in 2014.
Ayers as a factor: They’ve tried a bunch of different things with Akeem Ayers since drafting him in the second round out of UCLA in 2011. He’s still not an impact guy. In St. Louis, he didn’t come off the field, playing his usual strongside linebacker spot in base and as the Mike in the nickel. In such situations, his forte should be as a run stopper, but the Rams ran for 160 yards and 5.0 yards per attempt. On Sunday, they abandoned the idea of him as a situational end. It’s impressive that the defense has been what it has been through eight games with no consistent presence from Ayers.

Um, about that missed call: I’ve been critical of the Titans bemoaning the officials a bit too frequently, as if the NFL has some rationale for picking on them. But I liked Washington’s approach when talking about Jake Locker’s second interception in St. Louis. Washington didn’t get to where Locker was throwing because he was held up by former teammate Cortland Finnegan. The play drew no flag and was an easy interception for safety Rodney McLeod. “Cortland did a great job of holding me, flat out,” Washington said. “Rookie back judge [Dale Shaw], it’s his first year. So I’m not going to go toO far with it, I don’t want to get fined. But at the same time, let’s just say Cortland did a good job of being Cortland.” Nice work by Washington knowing Shaw’s résumé.

Um, about that one snap: Jurrell Casey is one of the Titans' best defenders and the defensive tackle has a team-high six sacks. He’s a problem-causer. No need to outsmart yourself and drop him into coverage on an athletic, speedy tight end like Jared Cook. It made for an easy 17-yard completion to Cook and didn’t make a lot of sense. I believe future teams on the schedule would love to see Casey moving backward instead of forward.

Upon Further Review: Eagles Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Philadelphia Eagles' 49-20 victory over the Oakland Raiders on Sunday.

[+] EnlargeNick Foles
Kirby Lee/USA TODAY SportsNick Foles tossed seven touchdowns and 406 yards against the Raiders.
Nick Foles has to play. The main reason is obvious. Coach Chip Kelly says his intention is to try to win every week, and that makes it nigh impossible to bench a quarterback who just threw for seven touchdowns in a game.

But even if Kelly says he's not thinking beyond this season, he still has to know what he has in Foles. The 23-year-old has started only nine games. He had two bad games mixed in among his six starts last year. This year, he followed a very good start in Tampa with a disaster against Dallas, then produced his epic performance in Oakland.

A winning team needs consistent quarterback play. Foles can't be expected to duplicate what he did Sunday, but the Eagles have to know whether that Dallas game was a one-time aberration or part of a pattern of up-and-down performances.

Foles is not a statue. He has always suffered from the inevitable comparison to Michael Vick, one of the most mobile quarterbacks of all time, but Foles can move around a little bit. On two of his touchdown throws Sunday, Foles rolled out to his right -- once by design and once, Foles said, in an “ad lib.” He had three runs for 14 yards.

“Nick's a good athlete,” Kelly said. “He's not a blazer. We all understand that, but I think he really moves around, he keeps things alive. That's what he did today.”

The tight ends finally appeared. When the Eagles added free agent James Casey and second-round pick Zach Ertz to a roster that already had Brent Celek, the expectation was that Kelly would find all kinds of ways to deploy his tight ends. That really hadn't happened until Sunday.

Ertz was targeted six times, Celek four times. Ertz had five catches for 42 yards and his first career touchdown. Celek caught three balls for 27 yards and a touchdown.

“It's a matchup thing,” Kelly said. “It's something we hoped we'd get to at some point in time. Some weeks, it's not the flavor of the day. We really felt this week it would be a big thing for us.”

The pace was fast. The Eagles looked much more like the fast-break team Kelly wants them to be. They ran only 57 plays (compared to a whopping 92 for the Raiders), but really seemed to put pressure on the Oakland defense with their tempo.

“It's tough to play tempo when it's first down, incomplete,” Kelly said. “The ball's not going your way. It's hard to get going. Our guys are starting to get a better feel for it.”

“The most important thing about it,” guard Evan Mathis said, “is you start to learn what the blueprint for success is. We have a lot of young guys on our team. They start to see that the hard work, the trust in the process, can translate to these kinds of results.”

Upon Further Review: Falcons Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of five hot issues from the Atlanta Falcons' 34-10 loss to the Carolina Panthers:

Matty iced: It's unusual to see Matt Ryan put together consecutive poor performances like he did against Arizona and Carolina. Ryan had three interceptions Sunday after throwing four in a loss to the Cardinals the week before. Some might blame unproven receiver Drew Davis' route running for Ryan's pick-six on Sunday, but Ryan probably shouldn't have thrown it. On the other two, Ryan tried to squeeze the ball in with multiple defenders covering his target. It looks like Ryan is trying to overcompensate without Julio Jones and Roddy White in the lineup. "Really, all three of the interceptions, I think, are a case of being aggressive and trying to get the ball in spots," Ryan said. "But I don't see it as pressing. I think that, [I'm] trying to give our guys opportunities. I didn't put the first one in a very good spot. And the second one, the ball kind of just bounced around. ... I've just got to be more efficient with what I'm doing and know that, at the quarterback position when you're playing in tight games, if you turned the football over, it's going to be tough to overcome."

[+] EnlargeAtlanta's Tony Gonzalez
AP Photo/Mike McCarnTony Gonzalez had five catches for 77 yards and this touchdown in the first half.
Future on the line: The Falcons made a statement by sliding Lamar Holmes back over to right tackle upon left tackle Sam Baker's return to the lineup. Holmes had started on the left side in place of Baker the previous three games but supplanted veteran Jeremy Trueblood on Sunday. It was Trueblood who took Holmes' starting job at right tackle in Week 4. The Falcons firmly believe Holmes has Pro Bowl potential despite his noticeable mistakes, which included being flagged for illegal formation against the Panthers. The line actually did a solid job pass protecting Sunday while allowing just one sack. But the Falcons' running blocking still needs much work. Holmes, who needs work in both areas, talked about being back on the right side. "I welcome any opportunity they give me to play," he said. "I played decent, for the most part. But I really won't know until we get in there and watch the film."

Foul play: Speaking of Holmes' illegal formation penalty, the Falcons finished with seven penalties for 59 yards on Sunday. The most costly were a holding call on guard Garrett Reynolds that wiped out a Steven Jackson touchdown run and a 12 men on the field penalty whistled against the defense on a third-and-1 play during the drive that ended with Cam Newton's 8-yard touchdown run. "The penalties were critical," coach Mike Smith said. "Those things are unacceptable."

Third downer: Once again, the Falcons failed themselves on third down. Defensively, they allowed the Panthers to convert 8 of 14 third downs (57 percent). The Falcons let Newton be "Superman" on a third-and-12 play when Newton avoided pressure from Osi Umenyiora, Paul Worrilow and Asante Samuel and completed a pass to Steve Smith for 23 yards. On a third-and-8, Desmond Trufant was whistled for pass interference to keep a drive alive. And on a third-and-6, the Panthers picked up 30 yards on that strange play in which Samuel gave up a big gain to receiver Brandon LaFell then caused a fumble that fell into Lafell's hands after Robert Alford couldn't corral it. Offensively, the Falcons were 4-of-10 on third down.

Holding on: Falcons tight end Tony Gonzalez, who caught a pass in his 203rd consecutive game, torched the Panthers for five receptions for 77 yards and a touchdown in the first half. Gonzalez had just one catch for 4 yards in the second. The Panthers threw every look they could at Gonzalez, but nothing compared to the way middle linebacker Luke Kuechly scored a takedown of Gonzalez in the end zone early in the game. Gonzalez, who later beat Kuechly for a touchdown, had no complaints about the initial play. "I was pushing off a little bit, too," Gonzalez admitted. "Just two pros going at it. And they're going to get physical, too. And the way I feel about it, yeah, they better get physical. Otherwise, I'm going to eat you up." Gonzalez was more concerned about how the offense performed as a whole. "Well, I think I had optimism for good reason because I thought we came out and played pretty well up until the fourth quarter," he said. "The fourth quarter for us was not the way we play football. It was a disaster."

Upon Further Review: Chiefs Week 9

November, 4, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Kansas City Chiefs' 23-13 win over the Buffalo Bills:

Bye bye, Chiefs: Though there might seem to be a better time for the Chiefs to have their bye than while on a nine-game winning streak, nobody was arguing the timing. "This comes at a reasonable time," coach Andy Reid said. "The guys have been going for quite a bit of time with training camp and the nine games here. I don't think it's a bad time. I've got a mature bunch. I think they'll handle it the right way." The Chiefs have the normal collection of bumps and bruises but no significant injuries that need time to mend. But the break gives the Chiefs a chance to regroup before their Nov. 17 game for AFC West supremacy against the Broncos in Denver. "It's a chance to catch our breath a little bit," quarterback Alex Smith said.

Tying the record: The Chiefs allowed just 13 points against the Bills and haven't given up more than 17 points in any of their nine games this season. That equals the NFL record of nine consecutive games allowing no more than 17 points. It is held by the 1977 Atlanta Falcons. The Chiefs' quest for 10 straight figures to be challenged in its next game against the high-scoring Broncos.

Scoring on defense: The Chiefs won by getting only three field goals from their offense. Both touchdowns were scored by their defense. The Chiefs through nine games have seven touchdowns from their defense or special teams, or almost half of the 16 they've scored on offense. The Chiefs have more than a few things to figure out before playing against the high-scoring Broncos. Kansas City had a season-low 210 yards against Buffalo and failed to score a touchdown on its only trip inside the Buffalo 20. A strength early in the season, the Chiefs are now below 50 percent when it comes to scoring a touchdown after getting inside the red zone.

Breaking the Buffalo jinx: The Chiefs hadn't defeated the Bills in Buffalo since 1986, a streak that included two defeats in the playoffs and four in the regular season. The Chiefs have busted some other hexes this season. They traditionally play poorly in Florida but beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville in the season opener. Then last month the Chiefs won their annual meeting with the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium for the first time since 2006.

Upon Further Review: Saints Week 9

November, 4, 2013
An review of four hot issues from the New Orleans Saints' 26-20 loss to the New York Jets on the road in MetLife Stadium:

Missing Ivory? I focused my postgame stories on the Saints' inability to stop former running back Chris Ivory and their inability to establish a run game of their own. So it's hard to ignore the question: Do they miss Ivory? I still say the answer is no. If he had stayed in New Orleans, he'd certainly have some highlight moments, like he did in the past. But he would also have quiet days, like he did in the past, for a Saints team that doesn't feature the run as often or as well as the Jets.

[+] EnlargeNew Orleans' Drew Brees
Robert Deutsch/USA TODAY SportsDrew Brees was sacked twice in the final 20 minutes.
The trade made sense for the Saints, since their backfield is still overcrowded and they got good value in return for him (a fourth-round pick). But obviously the Saints need to figure out how to establish a more consistent run game, from their play calling to their blocking to the runners themselves.

Protection breakdown: The Saints became one-dimensional when they trailed by nine points throughout much of the second half. And the offensive line didn't hold up well under the pressure. Over the final 20 minutes, quarterback Drew Brees was sacked twice, guard Jahri Evans and center Brian de la Puente were flagged for holding, and guard Ben Grubbs was flagged for illegal hands to the face. Brees was also pressured into some incomplete passes, and the Saints failed to score a second-half touchdown.

The Jets do have one of the NFL's most disruptive defensive fronts. But the Saints' pass protection has been more up and down than usual this year, with most of the pressure coming up the gut.

Defensive breakdown: The Saints' run defense also broke down too often Sunday, allowing Ivory to bust loose for gains of 52, 30 and 27 yards. It was obviously unsettling, since the Saints had made it their primary focus to stop the run against a Jets team that doesn't throw the ball very well. The Saints now rank 26th in the NFL in run defense this year, allowing 121.3 yards per game.

However, I still don't see this as a huge area of concern going forward. The Jets are the first team all year that really dominated the Saints with the run game. And most of their damage came on those three long runs. Ivory gained only 30 yards on his other 15 runs.

Hartley's redemption: One of the best things that came out of the Saints' second-half offensive struggles is that it gave kicker Garrett Hartley the opportunity to make two high-pressure field goals from 55 and 43 yards. Before that, Hartley had missed three consecutive field goals -- including a 43-yarder wide left in the first quarter against the Jets. The two made field goals should help him settle back into a groove.

Upon Further Review: Bills Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Buffalo Bills' 23-13 loss to the Kansas City Chiefs:

[+] EnlargeJeff Tuel
Tom Szczerbowski/Getty ImagesJeff Tuel completed 18 of 39 passes for 229 yards and one touchdown on Sunday.
Hackett simplifies Tuel's reads: One possession after Jeff Tuel threw his game-changing pick-six, the Bills drove to the Chiefs' 36-yard line, facing a long fourth-and-2. Instead of trying to run for almost 3 yards, the Bills opted for a quick lob pass down the left sideline. Receiver T.J. Graham appeared to have trouble finding the ball, which dropped between his arms and fell incomplete. Offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett was asked after the game why there was such a risky play call on a fourth-and-short. "I took it all off of [Tuel]. I made it so he was throwing to one guy and one guy only," Hackett said. "We had already thrown a bunch of slants and they were getting beat up a little bit. We weren't getting some calls, so they were all up on him. I figured the best chance we had was to run by them in that situation."

Pass-rushers silenced: Anyone else surprised that, in a game featuring the two teams with the NFL's most sacks, there were just two sacks in this contest? With Kiko Alonso credited with a 1-yard sack after forcing Alex Smith out of bounds in the first quarter, it was Jerry Hughes who owned the game's only "true" sack. It wasn't Mario Williams, or Tamba Hali, or Justin Houston, who all entered the game with double-digit sacks. Hughes forced Smith to fumble, and if cornerback Leodis McKelvin was able to corral the loose ball instead of having it squirt away, we could be talking about a different result Monday morning.

Marrone defends Gilmore: Of the Chiefs' 210 total offensive yards, 163 came from running back Jamaal Charles and receiver Dwayne Bowe. Part of it may have been Smith's lack of other options, but Bowe was targeted 12 times Sunday, almost double that of any other Chiefs receiver. On the surface, that doesn't reflect well on Bills top cornerback Stephon Gilmore, who allowed Bowe to finish with seven catches for 67 yards. After the game, though, coach Doug Marrone didn't blame Gilmore for Bowe's performance. "I think [Gilmore] is playing, doing the best he can. He’s going out there against a guy, you’ve got to remember that’s Dwayne Bowe out there and he’s covering him man to man in a lot of situations," Marrone said. "He did a good job; at the end of the day when you look at it, they had three points. So how could you say anyone on defense didn’t do a great job out there?"

Chiefs perspective: Many Bills followers saw this game as an opportunity, facing an undefeated Chiefs team that has looked very beatable at times this season. The result Sunday in some ways validated that opinion, leading some to believe that the Chiefs have been "lucky." For those wondering if Kansas City views the win from a similar perspective, ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher's column is worth a read.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 9

November, 4, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 27-24 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.

Kicking lows: Texans kicker Randy Bullock has made 61.9 percent of his field goals this season. That ranks 32nd in the NFL and is the second-worst percentage of any kicker who has made at least one field goal this season. His 63.6 make percentage from 40 to 49 yards ranks 26th in the NFL. He has attempted four kicks of at least 50 yards and made none of them. One could have tied the Texans' game against the Colts as time expired. Worse for the Texans, they're a team that needs him. Bullock has attempted 21 field goals, the third most in the league this season. "Honestly, tonight was a rough night for me," Bullock said. "I had a really good week of practice and didn’t see any of this coming. It is very upsetting and very frustrating."

[+] EnlargeCase Keenum
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesCase Keenum threw three first-half touchdown passes on Sunday.
Quarterbacking highs: There were some definite late mistakes, and some instances when Case Keenum was lucky he didn't add to the Texans' dreaded pick-six total. But Keenum had another bright night and became the first Texans quarterback since 2009 to throw three touchdowns and no interceptions in a game, according to ESPN Stats & Information. The last one to do it was the deposed Matt Schaub. Keenum threw for 350 yards and stretched the field. Thirteen of his 20 completions traveled 10 or more yards in the air. He has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions on such throws this season. Schaub and T.J. Yates threw two touchdowns and three interceptions on such throws.

Dubious firsts continue: The Texans' six-game losing streak ties a franchise record. Sunday night's loss also snapped a nine-game winning streak in games in which the Texans led by at least 18 at halftime. This is only the second time in team history the Texans have lost after holding a halftime lead that large.

Running back shuffle: Arian Foster wasn't interested in even acknowledging that he had been asked a question as he walked through the locker room Sunday night. He declined other media requests as well, maintaining his trend from the prior week during which he declined interview requests on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. Sometimes when players dodge the media with so much gusto, it's because they are frustrated about their own health. Foster should be. This, after all, is a separate injury than what was ailing him for the past two weeks. For two weeks it was a hamstring that kept him out of practices. On Sunday he lasted one series before suffering what the Texans said was a back injury that knocked him out of the game. That left the Texans with Ben Tate, still recovering from his four broken ribs, and undrafted rookie Dennis Johnson. Both players had some good moments, but that's not an ideal position for Houston.

Upon Further Review: Browns Week 9

November, 4, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Cleveland Browns' 24-18 win over the Baltimore Ravens:

[+] EnlargeJason Campbell
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesJason Campbell put together a steady performance on Sunday in leading Cleveland to a victory.
In the hunt ... for real: Don’t look now, but the Browns are 4-5. In many cities, this would be a disappointment. In Cleveland it exceeds expectations. Few thought the Browns would enter the bye week in the midst of a wild-card chase. But it’s happened, in part because there aren’t many strong records in the wild-card group. Seven AFC teams have either four or five losses, and the Browns are one of them.

Why it matters: The Browns haven’t had a 4-5 start since 2007, which is also the last year they beat Baltimore. And Sunday’s win gave the Browns four wins over defending Super Bowl champions in the past six seasons. For a team that has won 23 games in five seasons coming into 2013, this is progress.

Where in the world ... : The Jason Campbell who has played quarterback for the Browns the past two games is a bit of a revelation -- not to overstate anything, of course. But his calm, placid personality belies his competitiveness. Campbell played through serious pain and discomfort after 340-pound Haloti Ngata fell on him in the first quarter. He would not be taken out of the game, and he made some outstanding throws. This is the Campbell Oakland saw for six games in 2011, but it’s also a Campbell nobody has seen since, including the Bears, who had no interest in bringing him back after last season.

Running on empty: Talk about a passing league. Neither Baltimore nor the Browns did anything in the run game. Willis McGahee was the leading rusher with 31 yards -- on 21 carries. Joe Flacco led the Ravens as Ray Rice averaged a career-low 1.5 yards on his 11 carries. Both quarterbacks had their team’s longest run. At least the Browns kept running. McGahee’s 21 carries continue an NFL trend -- when a team has a back that carries the ball 20 times, it wins three of four times.

Upon Further Review: Seahawks Week 9

November, 4, 2013
A review of five hot issues from the Seattle Seahawks' 27-24 victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers:

Much improved played on the offensive line: You might not have noticed it when the Seahawks got behind 21-0, but the blocking up front for the run and the pass was much better than it had been the previous two games. The line was opening holes for running back Marshawn Lynch, who rushed for 125 yards, and doing a better job of protecting quarterback Russell Wilson. It wasn't perfect by any means, but going from seven sacks at St. Louis to none on Sunday was a quality effort. The bad news is center Max Unger suffered a concussion, and his status for Sunday's game at Atlanta is unknown. The good news is injured offensive tackles Russell Okung and Breno Giacomini both worked out and ran well on the field before the game. They will begin practicing this week and will return later this month.

[+] EnlargeSeattle's Marshawn Lynch
Steve Dykes/Getty ImagesMarshawn Lynch rushed for 125 yards on 25 carries against Tampa Bay.
Tate making game-changing plays: Two weeks in a row, Golden Tate has made a big play that had a major effect in the Seahawks' eventual success. And this time, he did it without controversy. With the Seahawks trailing 24-14 late in the third quarter, Tate fielded a punt at the Seattle 4, headed up field, broke six tackles and returned the kick 71 yards to the Tampa Bay 25. "That was a huge emotional swing for us," Seattle coach Pete Carroll said. "That kind of let everyone know, 'We're here. We're coming for this win.'" Tate had an 80-yard touchdown catch at St. Louis that was the difference in Seattle's 14-9 victory, but it was remembered for Tate's taunting penalty during his run into the end zone, a mistake for which he later apologized.

Missed tackles: The Seahawks' defense gave up 205 yards rushing Sunday, the second game in a row that Seattle has allowed 200 yards on the ground. The reason is simple: poor tackling. “We're not tackling well,” Carroll said. “We're trying to take the ball away so much that we're not tackling very well. Until we fix that, we're going to continue to struggle. We're kind of going for too much and trying a bit too hard. But there are a lot of yards after first contact, so we need to do much better there.”

Baldwin is back: After having only one reception in each of the previous two games, slot receiver Doug Baldwin stepped up when Seattle needed him most Sunday. Baldwin had six catches for 75 yards, including a 10-yard TD that tied the game in the fourth quarter. On the touchdown, he grabbed a Wilson throw at the Tampa Bay 5, then slipped past the defender to the end zone. Baldwin also did what he does best with another tip-toe catch on the sidelines for a 19-yard reception to the Tampa Bay 10 that set up a Wilson TD run on the next play. All three Seattle receivers played well, including Jermaine Kearse, who had a 16-yard TD catch and made up for the absence of Sidney Rice.

Wilson does it again: For the 10th time in his 27-game NFL career, and the third time this season, Wilson led the Seahawks to a come-from-behind victory in the fourth quarter or OT. He threw two interceptions in Tampa Bay territory, including one on a first-and-goal play at the Tampa Bay 3. But Wilson kept his composure, as always, and guided the team to victory in the end. He threw two TD passes, completing 19 of 26 throws for 217 yards, and ran for another touchdown.

Upon Further Review: Panthers Week 9

November, 4, 2013
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- An examination of five hot issues from the Carolina Panthers' 34-10 victory over the Atlanta Falcons:

[+] EnlargeBrandon LaFell
David T. Foster III/Charlotte Observer/MCT via Getty ImagesBrandon LaFell and the Panthers found the ball bouncing their way in Sunday's victory.
Lucky bounce: When wide receiver Brandon LaFell fumbled inside the Atlanta 10-yard line with a 17-10 lead in the fourth quarter, Carolina coach Ron Rivera had a flashback to the season opener against Seattle. The play was eerily similar to the fourth-quarter fumble running back DeAngelo Williams had inside the 10 against the Seahawks with the Panthers driving for the potential winning touchdown. The difference? Seattle recovered, ending Carolina's upset bid. On Sunday, LaFell recovered when an Atlanta player knocked the ball back into his arms. Panthers quarterback Cam Newton scored on an 8-yard run on the next play to extend the lead to 14 points. The ball often bounces your way when things are going good, and things are going good for a Carolina team that has won four straight.

Fourth-and-1: The Panthers are so effective on fourth-and-1 now that they have defenses totally guessing. For the second time in four games they scored a touchdown on a fourth-and-1 pass. This one was a 14-yard toss to wide-open tight end Greg Olsen on a rollout by Newton to make it 14-3 in the second quarter. Last month at Minnesota, Carolina scored on a 2-yard pass to Steve Smith. The Panthers now have been successful on five of six fourth-and-1 calls. No other team had converted more than five coming into Sunday. Carolina's opponents are 1-for-7 on fourth down.

Lockdown on Gonzalez: Carolina intercepted the first pass intended for tight end Tony Gonzalez because Matt Ryan threw into triple coverage. For the rest of the first half it appeared the Panthers forgot to cover the future Hall of Famer as he caught five passes for 77 yards and a touchdown. On most he was wide open. But the Panthers got more physical with Gonzalez coming off the line in the second half and defensive coordinator Sean McDermott made some coverage adjustments to hold Ryan's favorite target to one catch for 4 yards over the last two quarters.

Fresh legs: Without Jonathan Stewart the Panthers were averaging 3.99 yards per carry and 130 yards through seven games. With the team's No. 2 all-time leading rusher on Sunday, they averaged 4.0 yards per carry for a total of 131 yards. They averaged 32.57 rushes a game without Stewart and 33 with him. In other words, the Panthers didn't alter their approach just because they added another piece to the puzzle. But they did keep fresh legs in the game, which over the course of a 16-game schedule should help.

How far is too far? That's what Rivera is trying to determine when it comes to kicker Graham Gano. The coach didn't hesitate to attempt a 55-yard field goal early in the third quarter, and Gano rewarded him with a successful line-drive kick. "He said he over-swung and hit it right in the middle of the ball, which is kind of scary,'' Rivera said. What's scary is Gano is 12-for-12 on field goals, including 4-for-4 from 50 yards or longer. He also is perfect on all 24 extra-point kicks.