NFL Nation: Final Word AFC 2011 Week 5

Final Word: AFC South

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

[+] EnlargeChris Johnson
Matt Sullivan/Getty ImagesChris Johnson was effective last week with the Titans protecting a big lead. Can he keep it up against the Falcons?
Counter action: A week ago, we examined how the Titans had moved away from some run plays that had benefited Chris Johnson in the past, plays that unconventionally featured a counter element. In the win at Cleveland, those plays re-emerged. K.C. Joyner said the Titans employed that counter action on Johnson’s 25-yard run and again on an 8-yard gain in the win over the Browns. It was a good adjustment and needs to be part of what the Titans do going forward. Look for it against the Steelers.

Darren McFadden to the left: ESPN Stats & Information says that Raiders running back Darren McFadden has had great success running to the left this season. He’s averaging a remarkable 8.2 yards per carry going that direction. It’s bad news for the Texans, because they’ve been susceptible to runs in that direction, allowing 6.35 yards a carry, the fourth-highest average in the NFL. I’m sure defensive coordinator Wade Phillips and the Texans are aware of this and will be concentrating on making sure it’s not an issue Sunday at Reliant Stadium.

Quiet first quarter: The Colts and the Chiefs are two of five teams in the league that have not scored a first-quarter touchdown this season. Kansas City is the only team that hasn’t scored a rushing touchdown. Defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis may be the Colts' two most productive players through four weeks. Kansas City quarterback Matt Cassel’s protection and ability to get rid of the ball have been pretty good; he’s been sacked only five times so far. The ability of the Colts' pass-rushing duo to hit and harass Cassel may be the biggest factor in the game.

No let up: When we first looked at the Jaguars’ schedule, this game against Cincinnati looked like one they should win. But heading into a game pitting rookie quarterbacks head-to-head, Andy Dalton versus Blaine Gabbert, the Bengals have the league’s top defense. That’s not good news for a Jacksonville offense that’s last in points per game and second to last in yards per game. On the bright side, the Jaguars have won seven times in a row against the Bengals in Jacksonville. Gabbert threw flat-footed too often this past Sunday in the loss to New Orleans and needs to be better mechanically to increase his offense’s chances to move the ball and score some points.

Badly timed injury: Former Titans tight end Frank Wycheck (who I work with on Nashville radio) rates Craig Stevens as one of the best blocking tight ends in the league. Stevens would figure to be key in a game against the physical Steelers, even without the injured James Harrison. But the tight end has been out this week with a rib injury suffered in Cleveland, and odds are he's unable to play. Without him at Heinz Field, Daniel Graham and Jared Cook will have to do more blocking. I expect the Steelers to try to really test them and for Tennessee to really miss Stevens.

Final Word: AFC West

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Raiders likely to miss Andre Johnson again: For the second straight season, the Raiders are expected to face the Texans without having to defend superstar receiver Andre Johnson. He has a hamstring injury that will likely keep him out of the Raiders' visit to Houston on Sunday. Houston beat Oakland, 31-24, in Week 4 of 2010. The Texans relied on 249 yards rushing in the game.

[+] EnlargeChargers' Vincent Jackson
Kirby Lee/US PRESSWIREVincent Jackson and the Chargers' receivers could be set for a big day running after the catch against Denver.
Yards after the catch available in Denver: The Denver Broncos’ defense must do all it can to keep the Chargers’ receivers in check after they catch the ball. San Diego’s’ receivers are strong after the catch and the Broncos’ defense has been one of the worst in the NFL in allowing yards after the catch. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Denver has allowed 96 catches that involved yards after the catch. It has allowed 556 yards after the catch in four games for an 8.4-yard average per catch. Of Denver's passing yards allowed, 48.1 percent come after the catch. Denver has missed left cornerback Champ Bailey in the past three games. He is an outstanding tackler and he is hoping to play Sunday.

Crucial Luck game: If the Kansas City Chiefs win at Indianapolis on Sunday, they will push further away from the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. The Stanford quarterback is considered as the best prospect to enter the NFL in years and he will surely be the No. 1 overall pick. The Chiefs beat Minnesota in Week 4 in a battle of winless teams. Now, the Chiefs play the 0-4 Colts. If the Chiefs lose this game, they’ll still be in contention for the Luck. Although getting Luck is one heck of a consolation prize, no one involved in Sunday’s game is hoping to have the No. 1 pick.

Raiders need to show they can win a non-divisional road game: The Raiders have ended a lot of nasty streaks lately and they are currently enjoying the NFL’s longest division win streak, which stands at eight. Oakland can end a bad streak at Houston. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Oakland has lost seven consecutive non-divisional road games since a win at Pittsburgh in Week 13 of 2009. Since the start of 2006, the Raiders are 3-23 in non-divisional road games. It is the worst record in the NFL during that stretch.

Chargers like playing in Denver lately: The Chargers are averaging nearly 23 points a game. They scored a season-high 26 points in a Week 4 win over Miami. Perhaps Sunday’s trip to Denver will spark an explosion by the Chargers’ offense. They have loved playing in the Mile High City the past five years. Since 2006, the Chargers have scored 179 points in five games in Denver. Their lowest output in that stretch is 32 points. The Chargers are 4-1 in their past five trips to Denver. Their only loss in the stretch was the infamous Ed Hochuli game in 2008 when the Broncos won, 39-38, in a classic game that was marred by a controversial late call by the official.

Final Word: AFC East

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Welker visits Revis Island: How do you stop New England Patriots receiver Wes Welker? That's been a huge topic of discussion this week as the Patriots prepare to face the New York Jets. The Jets have a trio of talented corners in Darrelle Revis, Antonio Cromartie and Kyle Wilson. Although New York won't reveal its game plan, expect Revis to cover Welker, the NFL's leading receiver, for some or all of this game. The Jets love to put top receivers on "Revis Island." It would make a lot of sense for the Jets to slow down Welker with Revis and see whether other receivers can beat New York's defense. Welker does a lot of damage from the slot. But Revis is good enough to cover all parts of the field.

[+] EnlargeWes Welker, Darrelle Revis
Rich Kane/Icon SMIThe Jets will likely try to put Patriots receiver Wes Welker on "Revis Island."
Mangold's impact: Jets head coach Rex Ryan says ground-and-pound football is back. It starts Sunday against New England. New York is expected to get Pro Bowl center Nick Mangold back from a high-ankle sprain. The Jets' offensive line has been horrendous in the two games Mangold has been out. Mangold should have an impact, even if he's not 100 percent. He won't get an easy assignment. Mangold will have to battle Patriots defensive tackle Vince Wilfork a lot in his first game back.

Big week for Fred Jackson? Buffalo is a pass-first offense. But the Bills also have been able to run the football efficiently in the first month of the season. That might be Buffalo's best chance to beat the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. The Eagles are ranked 30th against the run and are allowing 5.3 yards per carry. Bills tailback Fred Jackson is averaging a 5.8 yards per carry. Methodically moving the chains will keep Philadelphia's explosive offense off the field.

Winning third downs: Buffalo's offense has been very good. But third-down conversions were suddenly a problem for the Bills in last week's loss to the Cincinnati Bengals. Buffalo was 4-for-14 on third-down conversions. The Bills' offense couldn't stay on the field and mustered only three points in the second half. That helped Cincinnati overcome a 14-point deficit. The Bills have to execute a lot better at home to beat the Eagles.

Dolphins' issues: Miami's bye week comes at a good time, because the team has a ton of issues to fix. The biggest is how to get last year's sixth-rated defense back on track. This season Miami's defense, which has many of the same players, has been awful. The group is ranked No. 30, a drop of 24 spots from 2010. The running game also needs to be fixed. Starting running back Reggie Bush hasn't been as effective as the team hoped. Finally, can quarterback Matt Moore do anything to spark the team? Miami is in the dumps after losing four straight. Moore needs to infuse energy into the team when the Dolphins play their next game against the Jets on Oct. 17.

Final Word: AFC North

October, 7, 2011
10/07/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 5:

Protect Ben Roethlisberger: The Steelers' quarterback has a sprained left foot and won't be able to elude pass-rushers like he's done in the past. Roethlisberger has been sacked 14 times this season, which is tied for third most in the NFL. Injuries have made it difficult for Pittsburgh to maintain continuity on its offensive line. If recently signed Max Starks starts at left tackle, it will mark the 10th different starting offensive lineman for the Steelers this season -- two more than any other team in the NFL (according to ESPN Stats & Information).

[+] EnlargeAndy Dalton
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesAndy Dalton has performed well away from home this season.
Road warrior rookie: The Bengals' Andy Dalton has displayed a great deal of poise for a first-year quarterback, especially when it comes to handling the adversity of playing on the road. In two starts away from home, Dalton has completed 66.1 percent of his passes for 413 yards. He has thrown three touchdowns and no interceptions for a 105.7 rating. Dalton should target tight end Jermaine Gresham against the Jaguars, who got lit up last Sunday by Saints tight end Jimmy Graham (10 catches for 132 yards and one touchdown).

Another test for run defense: The Steelers have another shot at redeeming themselves when it comes to stopping the run. Pittsburgh has already allowed more 100-yard rushers in four games this season than the previous three seasons combined. The Steelers are looking to get back on track against a running back who righted himself last week. Titans running back Chris Johnson gained more yards rushing last Sunday against the Browns (101 yards) than his first thee weeks (98 yards). Pittsburgh's front seven will be without linebacker James Harrison (eye) and defensive end Aaron Smith (foot).

Validation time: The Bengals surprised everyone with an upset win over Buffalo, which evened their record at 2-2. But Cincinnati started last season at 2-1 before losing 10 straight games. The Bengals can prove they're a different team with their next three games against opponents whose combined record is 2-10 -- at Jacksonville (1-3), home against Indianapolis (0-4) and at Seattle (1-3). Those just happen to be the three worst offenses in the NFL, and Cincinnati just happens to have the No. 1 defense in the NFL.

Moving on up: It looks like a strong possibility that Steelers running back Isaac Redman will go from third string to the starting lineup. Pittsburgh's top two running backs -- Rashard Mendenhall (hamstring) and Mewelde Moore (ankle) -- didn't practice Wednesday or Thursday. If both are sidelined, Redman would have to carry the workload against the Titans and the NFL's eighth-ranked run defense. Undrafted out of Division II Bowie State in 2009, Redman has averaged 4.8 yards per carry in his two-year career. He has never carried the ball more than 10 times in a game.

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