NFL Nation: Final Word 2011 Week 10

Final Word: AFC South

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:31
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10

Scoring defense: The Colts have allowed at least 23 points in all nine of their games this season. If they give up 23 to the Jaguars, they will become the third team in the last 30 seasons to allow at least 23 points in their first 10 games of a season -- joining the 2010 Texans (10) and 1981 Baltimore Colts (15). The Jaguars are probably a prime candidate not to get to 23. Jacksonville is averaging just more than 12 points a game.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Brett Davis/US PresswireExpect running back Arian Foster to continue carrying the load for the Texans at Tampa Bay on Sunday.
Determined to run: The Texans' run game is their foundation this season. They lead the NFL in attempts per game at 34.8 and are second in rushing yards per game at 155.1. Arian Foster has not only been a dominant force in the backfield, he’s picked up the slack as a receiver in the absence of Andre Johnson with a league-best 285 yards after the catch since Week 5. Matt Schaub’s not been putting up big numbers, which is just fine, because the offense is doing so well with him handing off more than dropping back.

Contain Cam: The Titans just lost to rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and the Bengals. Now they see a different style of rookie quarterback in Cam Newton. He’s big and strong and can run effectively, but he’s done a nice job of being a throw-first quarterback. The Titans have not blitzed a lot, and the tendency against young quarterbacks is to try to confuse them with coverage. With a young quarterback who’s hard to bring down, that may be even more the case. But the Titans would be wise to throw some new blitzes into the mix. An interesting contrast -- Newton has the most completions in the league (24) on throws of more than 20 yards in the air this season while the Titans defense has allowed the fewest such completions (five).

Between the tackles: Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew has the most rushing yards in the league running between the tackles. His 457 yards give him a giant lead over Adrian Peterson (335). MJD has eight rushing touchdowns in 10 career games against the Colts. Indianapolis rookie defensive tackle Drake Nevis could be ready to return from a back injury, and the Colts should get a boost from him if he’s on the field.

Tampa Bay’s play-action: The Texans have intercepted the most passes (five) and allowed the fewest yards per attempt (5.0) on play-action passes this season. That tells me guys have been disciplined about not biting on fakes. Tampa Bay quarterback Josh Freeman has thrown the most interceptions (five) on play fakes this season. So this could be a nice match for Houston in that department. The pass rush could be limited, though, because the Buccaneers have protected Freeman rather well.

Final Word: NFC South

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

Saints like the Georgia Dome: Much has been made of how well the Falcons have played in the Georgia Dome since the arrival of coach Mike Smith in 2008. That’s understandable, because the Falcons are 22-5 at home. But the Saints have shown they can win in Atlanta. They’ve won in the Georgia Dome each of the past two seasons. The last time the Falcons won three straight on the road against Atlanta was from 1991 to 1994, when the Saints won four straight.

[+] EnlargeDrew Brees
Fernando Medina/US PresswireTurnovers have been an issue for Drew Brees and the Saints on the road this season.
Turnovers matter: Then again, the road hasn’t been kind to the Saints this season. All three of their losses have come on the road, and they’re 4-0 at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome. The Saints have won by an average of 22.5 points in their home games. Their point differential on the road is -1.6. Their biggest road problem has been turnovers. They’re +1 in turnover margin at home, but -7 on the road.

Defense on the rise: There have been recent signs that Atlanta’s defense is starting to reach its potential. In the past two games, the Falcons have allowed opponents to convert third downs into first downs just 19.2 percent of the time. That’s the best percentage in the league since Week 7. In the first six weeks of the season, the Falcons were ranked last in the league in that category at 49.4 percent.

Red-zone woes: Tampa Bay’s biggest offensive problems have been in the red zone. The Bucs have the league’s worst red-zone touchdown percentage (37.2). They also are tied for No. 20 in goal-to-go touchdown percentage.

Strength vs. strength: Carolina’s Cam Newton has completed a league-high 24 passes of 21 or more yards downfield. But it might not be so easy to get the ball downfield against Tennessee. The Titans have allowed a league-low of five completions of 21 yards or more.

Final Word: AFC East

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Here are five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

Battle in the trenches: If you're looking for a big-time matchup in Sunday's AFC East grudge match, look no further than the battle between New York Jets Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold and New England Patriots Pro Bowl defensive tackle Vince Wilfork. These are two of the best at their positions, and both have a lot of respect for one another. It's no secret the Jets want to ground-and-pound New England's struggling defense. The winner of the Mangold-Wilfork matchup will have a lot of say in who wins this game.

[+] EnlargeShonn Greene
Richard Mackson/US PresswireJets running back Shonn Greene is averaging 4.82 yards per carry over the past two games.
Greene picking up steam: One of the biggest reasons for the Jets' turnaround is the increased production of starting tailback Shonn Greene. The third-year player has 188 rushing yards in New York's past two victories against the San Diego Chargers and Buffalo Bills. He is averaging 4.82 yards per carry in those games, well above his season average of 3.8 yards. Greene, a power back, is known for having his best games late in the season. The Jets hope he turns it on again in November and December to help New York make a playoff run.

Another week, another Ryan: The Bills get another tall task in facing Dallas Cowboys defensive coordinator Rob Ryan. His twin brother, Rex Ryan, gave Buffalo's offense fits last week in a 27-11 trouncing by the Jets. Dallas also runs a 3-4 scheme with some similar concepts. The goal for the Cowboys is to pressure and confuse the quarterback. That happened last week to Buffalo quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick. He had his worst game of the season against Rex Ryan's Jets defense, throwing for 191 yards, one touchdown and two interceptions.

Homecoming for Jackson, Nelson: The Bills will have a homecoming in Texas for a pair of key players. Buffalo star tailback Fred Jackson grew up a Cowboys fan and was raised in Arlington, Texas, where Dallas' new mega stadium was built. Jackson is excited to return home and play against his childhood team. Bills receiver David Nelson also grew up Dallas. And here is an interesting wrinkle: Nelson's girlfriend is a Cowboys cheerleader.

Bringing life to Sun Life Stadium: Will the Miami Dolphins finally win a home game? Miami is 1-12 in its past 13 games at Sun Life Stadium and hasn't won at home since Nov. 14, 2010. The Dolphins (1-7) have a winnable game Sunday against the struggling Washington Redskins (3-5). Miami plays three of its next four at home and has a chance to gather some momentum.

Final Word: AFC North

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAndy Dalton and the 6-2 Bengals host the 6-3 Steelers on Sunday.
Rough on rookies: The Pittsburgh Steelers look to continue their domination of rookie quarterbacks when they face the Bengals' Andy Dalton. Since Dick LeBeau returned as Steelers defense coordinator in 2004, rookie quarterbacks are 1-11 against the Steelers, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. The only rookie who has beaten Pittsburgh was Baltimore's Troy Smith in the 2007 regular-season finale, when the Steelers rested many of their starters. Pittsburgh has held rookies to a 62.8 passer rating with seven touchdowns and 12 interceptions. The Ravens' Joe Flacco lost three times to the Steelers in his 2008 rookie season, and the Browns' Colt McCoy lost twice to Pittsburgh last year in his first NFL season.

Looking to avoid another trap: In John Harbaugh's first three seasons, the Ravens lost only once to a team with a losing record at the time. They've done it twice this season. After a season-opening rout of Pittsburgh, the Ravens fell flat in a loss at Tennessee. After a convincing Week 5 win over AFC South-leading Houston, Baltimore didn't show up in an upset loss at Jacksonville. Now, after another win over Pittsburgh, the Ravens insist they're not overlooking the 2-6 Seattle Seahawks. Harbaugh has referred to this disturbing trend as the Ravens' "Achilles' heel so far this season."

Getting run down: Over the past two weeks, running backs have gained 421 yards against the Browns, averaging 5.9 yards per carry and scoring three touchdowns. In comparison, Cleveland's entire offense has produced just 41 more yards during that time. Three running backs have reached 115 yards against the Browns in the past two losses, which is a concern in facing 1-7 St. Louis. Rams running back Steven Jackson is going for his third straight 100-yard game, which would tie the second-longest streak of his career (according to ESPN Stats & Information). Jackson, 6-2 and 236 pounds, is "bigger and stronger" than anyone the Browns have faced this season, Browns defensive coordinator Dick Jauron said.

Soaring from the start: Baltimore, which ranks second in scoring defense, is the only NFL team that has shut out every opponent this year on the opening drive. Baltimore has only allowed 13 points in the first quarter, which also leads the NFL. It would be a surprise to see the Ravens' shutout streak end in Seattle. The Seahawks have yet to score in the first quarter against three AFC North teams this season. The division has held Seattle to five points per game (one touchdown, three field goals).

Air attack: Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger has thrown for at least 300 yards in a franchise-record three straight games. He has 1,068 passing yards since Week 7, the most in the NFL during that span (according to ESPN Stats & Information). The Bengals' pass defense has been stingy, giving up eight touchdowns through the air, which is the third fewest in the league. The Bengals can take pride in the fact that they've allowed only one 300-yard passer this season. But that achievement is tarnished a bit when you learn that the quarterback who threw for 323 yards against Cincinnati was Seattle's Tarvaris Jackson.

Final Word: NFC North

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge on Week 10:

1. Road/home-field advantage: It's true that the Chicago Bears have won 10 of their past 12 regular season divisional games at home. But from a national perspective, I wonder if everyone is aware of the Detroit Lions' recent road success. The Lions are 4-0 on the road this season and have won six consecutive games away from Ford Field after stopping a 26-game road losing streak last December. The Bears feel confident that playing at home will alleviate the issues they experienced in the teams' Week 5 matchup in Detroit, namely nine false start penalties. The experts seem to agree. The Bears have been steady three-point favorites this week and all 10 ESPN experts, human and otherwise, are predicting a Bears victory. Recent history, at least, suggests the call is not quite that clear-cut. A victory would give the Lions a 7-2 record for just the second time since the 1970 AFL-NFL merger.

[+] EnlargeJay Cutler
Tim Fuller/US PresswireHow the Bears choose to protect Jay Cutler will be a key to the rematch against Detroit.
2. Added protection: The Lions are tied for fourth in the NFL with 24 sacks, and until their Week 8 game against the Denver Broncos, they had almost exclusively used four-man rush packages. It will be interesting to see if they return to that four-man rush against a Bears team that has accepted it needs to keep in additional blockers to protect quarterback Jay Cutler. If the Lions rush four, will offensive coordinator Mike Martz be tempted to reduce his protection commitment? Cutler has been sacked only three times in three games since Martz made the adjustment, as we discussed Thursday.

3. Stretch run: Monday night will mark the first of a three-game, 11-day stretch for the Green Bay Packers. They'll play on Nov. 14 against the Minnesota Vikings, on Nov. 20 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and then Nov. 24 for their Thanksgiving showdown with the Lions. It's not as difficult as it might seem. In 2009, you might remember, the Packers played three games in 12 days and won all three.

4. Smart pressure on Rodgers: Vikings defensive end Jared Allen has 11.5 sacks against the Packers in games that left tackle Chad Clifton hasn't played. Clifton (hamstring) has been ruled out of this game, to be replaced again by Marshall Newhouse, and the Vikings are hoping to get Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers out of his rhythm Monday night at Lambeau Field. But Allen brought up a good point this week. He noted Rodgers throws well when flushed out of the pocket and suggested that "we've got to get him to scramble where we want him to scramble." Allen wasn't specific about where that might be, but here are the facts: Rodgers has thrown 38 passes from outside of the pocket this season. He's averaging 14.5 yards per attempt (not completion) on those throws, the best in the NFL by a long shot. No other quarterback is averaging more than 8.5 yards per attempt outside of the pocket with a minimum of 20 attempts.

5. Slowing Peterson: Vikings tailback Adrian Peterson has eclipsed 100 yards in two of his past three games at Lambeau Field and had 175 yards against the Packers in the teams' meeting at the Metrodome last month. Of that 175-yard performance, 89 yards came after first contact. That was the third-highest total in an NFL game this season, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Peterson has saved some of the hardest running of his career for games against the Packers, and he is the Vikings' best chance for a victory Monday night. Quarterback Christian Ponder has displayed poise in his first two starts, but it's helped that Peterson has gained 258 yards in those games.

Final Word: NFC West

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

Stepping up in class. The 2011 49ers have faced two quarterbacks with Pro Bowls on their resumes. Those two quarterbacks, Tony Romo and Michael Vick, combined to complete 50 of 79 passes for 761 yards with four touchdowns and one interception. Romo had an NFL passer rating of 116.4, a season high. His Total QBR against the 49ers (93.9 out of 100) was the highest in the NFL that week. Vick's NFL rating was 99.5 and his QBR was 89.6, fourth-highest in Week 4. The 49ers face another Pro Bowl quarterback when Eli Manning visits Candlestick Park, making this a measuring-stick game for their defense.

[+] EnlargeSan Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh
AP Photo/Paul SakumaCoach Jim Harbaugh has his 49ers team sitting at 7-1, a vast improvement from last year's 2-6 record to open the season.
Harbaugh and history. Back in 2004, Jim Mora became the first rookie head coach since the 1970 merger to lead a five-game improvement in the standings through the first eight games of a season. His Atlanta Falcons opened 6-2 after going 1-7 the season before Mora's arrival. The 49ers' Jim Harbaugh has matched Mora's record for improvement through eight games. His team is 7-1 after opening 2-6 last season. Mora's Falcons won their next three games to reach 9-2.

Road worriers. The Arizona Cardinals have lost their last 11 road games, tied with Carolina for the longest active streak in the league. The Panthers are home against Tennessee this week, meaning a Cardinals defeat at Philadelphia would leave Arizona in sole possession of the distinction. This is already the Cardinals' longest road losing streak since the team dropped 17 in a row over the 2002-04 seasons. The game at Philadelphia is the first of three consecutive road games for the Cardinals before a three-game home stand.

Owning third down. The Seattle Seahawks' last three opponents have converted 24 of 52 chances on third down. That percentage would rank 30th in the NFL if applied to this season as a whole. The third-down trouble stands out as a primary concern against Baltimore. The Ravens made first downs 14 times on pass plays alone against Pittsburgh last week, the highest single-game total in the NFL over the last 15 seasons, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

Time for Bradford to produce. St. Louis Rams quarterback Sam Bradford failed to produce a touchdown drive during the team's overtime defeat at Arizona. That was the first time a Cardinals opponent has gone without an offensive touchdown since Arizona defeated Seattle in Week 5 of the 2009 season. Bradford has not thrown more than one touchdown pass in a game all season. He's riding an 11-game streak of such games overall. Factors beyond Bradford's control have contributed to the streak, but at some point, a No. 1 overall draft choice should transcend such things.

Final Word: NFC East

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

DeMarco tough to bring down: One of the things that's made Dallas Cowboys rookie running back DeMarco Murray a success in his past three NFL games is his ability to break tackles. According to the ESPN Stats & Information Group, Murray is averaging 3.1 yards per rush after contact, which is the best figure in the league among players with at least 40 rush attempts. The Saints' Darren Sproles and the Texans' Ben Tate are tied for second on that list at 2.8 yards per carry after contact. It doesn't appear as though Felix Jones will play this week, so Murray has the Cowboys' backfield duties all to himself for another game and should retain the lion's share of the carries even once Jones returns.

[+] EnlargeDeMarco Murray
Tim Heitman/US PresswireDallas rookie DeMarco Murray has rushed for 466 yards in his past three games.
Redskins' O is a no-go: The Washington Redskins have scored a total of 11 points over their past two games. They've also punted 11 times. That's not a good ratio of points to punts, 1-to-1. You want that ratio to come up a little bit if you're going to do something like win. The Redskins have five turnovers, four failed fourth-down conversions, a missed field goal, a made field goal and a touchdown over those two games. And of course you know that John Beck is 0-7 in his career as an NFL starting quarterback. The first 0-4 of that came with Miami in 2007. He's hoping his first career win can come in his return to South Beach.

Taking the fourth: If NFL games had just three 15-minute periods, the Philadelphia Eagles would be among the best teams in the league. They have outscored their opponents by 57 points in the first three quarters of games this year, which is the fourth-best figure in the NFL. But in fourth quarters, they've been outscored by a total of 36 points. They've held fourth-quarter leads in four of their five losses, making them the third team in league history to blow fourth-quarter leads and lose in at least four of their first eight games. The others were the 1954 Packers and the 1999 Saints. So if the Eagles go into the fourth quarter with a lead Sunday against the Cardinals... you know... don't change the channel.

Comeback kids: Speaking of fourth quarters, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning leads the NFL with five game-winning drives in the fourth quarter this year. 49ers quarterback Alex Smith, the Giants' opponent this week, is second in the league with three of them. So whichever team takes a lead into the fourth quarter Sunday in San Francisco... you know... don't change the channel.

Second half start: The Giants are in first place with a 6-2 record at the midpoint of their season. But as every Giants' fan can tell you, the second half of the season is where things get interesting. Since Tom Coughlin took over as their head coach in 2004, the Giants' second-half record is 24-32, which ranks 24th in the league. The Giants would love to get the second half kicked off the right way with a big win over a potential playoff opponent in San Francisco.

Final Word: AFC West

November, 11, 2011
11/11/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

[+] EnlargeKansas City's Matt Cassel
Dak Dillon/US PRESSWIREKansas City's Matt Cassel has completed 33 of 49 passes for 383 yards and two touchdowns on play-action plays.
Cassel excelling in play-action: The Broncos will have to try to find a way to limit Kansas City from executing play-action plays. Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel is eighth in the NFL in play-action passing, according to ESPN Stats & Information. Cassel has completed 33 of 49 passes (a solid 67.3 percent) for 383 yards and two touchdowns on play-action plays.

Denver’s receivers are not dynamic: The Chiefs’ secondary is not preparing for an overly explosive group of receivers. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver is 31st in the NFL in yards after the catch. Just 606 of its 1,515 receiving yards -- 40 percent -- have been gained after the catch.

No coaching drama: The Broncos-Chiefs first meeting of last year is most remembered for Kansas City coach Todd Haley pointing his finger at now-former Denver coach Josh McDaniels and refusing to shake his hand after a lopsided Denver win. I’d be shocked if Haley and new Denver coach John Fox engage in any shenanigans after Sunday’s game.

Can Denver continue QB-RB ground attack? The Broncos would love to have the same ground attack they enjoyed in Oakland last week. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Denver quarterback Tim Tebow and running back Willis McGahee became the first quarterback-running back combination to rush for 100-plus yards each since 2006, when Michael Vick (quarterback) and Jerious Norwood (running back) accomplished the feat. McGahee had 163 yards and Tebow had 117 yards.

Can Chiefs protect Arrowhead? If the Chiefs, 4-4, are going to stay in the AFC West race, they need to protect their home field better. Last week, the Chiefs were beaten, 31-3, by previously winless Miami at home. It was the second time this season that Kansas City lost at Arrowhead by at least 28 points. It’s been a recent problem. Kansas City has lost at home by at least 28 points four times since 2009. Before then, it had just one home loss by that many points in the history of Arrowhead Stadium.

SPONSORED HEADLINES