AFC Week 9 Review, Analysis

BALTIMORE RAVENS 23 @ PITTSBURGH STEELERS 20

RAVENS: Joe Flacco saved his best for last, connecting with Torrey Smith with 8 seconds left to win the game. Flacco finished with 300 yards and the score but excelled in managing the game against one of the best defenses in the league. Once again, Boldin was the most targeted with 10, but we also saw a heavy amount of targets for Dennis Pitta (8) compared to Ed Dickson (5). Dickson has been the most productive, but something seems to have changed this week in terms of rotation. The Ravens were facing an elite defense so not much can be read into this except for the fact they have swept the Steelers on the season. This game should serve as a huge confidence booster and the Ravens only face 4 winning teams the rest of the season.

STEELERS: Same as the Ravens, the Steelers ran up against one of the better defenses in the league. Hines Ward exited with a neck stinger, which left Antonio Brown to once again be the trusted option in the pass game. Brown finished with 5 catches for 109 yards in Ward’s absence but has been the most target receiver the past several games. Brown is now a staple of this offense and it looks like Ward’s days are numbered. Roethlisberger finished with 330 yards with a score and one interception and has boded well in a system which has become pass first, run second. Mendenhall did score this week, but posted only 52 yards on 13 carries. The Steelers will face Cincinnati in two of their next three games and will need to win if they plan on winning this division.

NEW YORK JETS 27 @ BUFFALO BILLS 11

JETS: Sanchez started on shaky ground, throwing a pick in the red zone then fumbling later in the first half. Thankfully, Fitzpatrick had an even worse day and Sanchez came out in the second half showing us why he is the leader of this offense. Sanchez connected with Santonio Holmes for a score and should have had a second to Burress if not for a blown call by the refs. He finished with 230 yards on the day, his job made easier behind Shonn Greene’s 76 yard effort. While it doesn’t sound like much, Greene’s runs were timely and assisted in keeping the aggressive Bills front at bay. Sanchez had great protection as a result and I didn’t show much of the double clutch I’ve noticed most of the season from him. His quick decisions and reads were as good as I’ve seen from him this year. If he can continue to avoid the double clutching and poor mechanics we could see this offense finally flourish. Look for the Jets to be one of the better teams the second half of the season.

BILLS: Fitzpatrick couldn’t find his groove against the Jets pass defense, finishing with 191 yards with 1 score and 2 interceptions. At one point he had 8 straight incompletions, but that was more due to stellar defense than Fitz being ineffective.  Fred Jackson had a pedestrian 82 yards rushing by his standards, failing to reach the end zone. Jackson continues to perform at a high level even against the better defenses, but did give us a scare when he injured his neck in the second half. The injury caused his first fumble of the season, but he returned to the game fairly quickly so should be fine moving forward. If anything give credit to the Bills offense for sticking to their game plan despite being overmatched most of the game. Instead of abandoning the run and becoming one dimensional, the Bills continued their basic scheme and were only plagued this week by turnovers.

DENVER BRONCOS 38 @ OAKLAND RAIDERS 24

BRONCOS: Willis Mcgahee single handedly took over the game late in the third quarter, scoring twice on a 60 and 24 yard run. Tim Tebow also added 117 yards rushing on the day, contributing to the roll the Broncos were riding in the second half. Down 24-14 late in the 3rd, the Broncos took advantage of a tired Raiders defense, pounding them into submission. Let’s face it; this is not a pretty team in terms of execution and play design. Their college style option leaves much to be desired and Tebow did struggle overall with the pass but did connect when opportunities presented themselves. Bottom line, the Broncos are a hard nosed team playing old school small ball and Tebow is good enough to make it work. While it won’t get them into the playoff’s, it is buying them time to develop Tebow and raise his market value. Elway is an obvious fan of Andrew Luck and reminds me of the female owner in “Major League” who is praying for the team to lose. But there is Tebow, with a card board cut out of Elway, stripping off a piece of clothing with each win until the emperor has no clothes.

RAIDERS: Despite the loss, one thing is for certain; Palmer is the best quarterback this team has had since Rich Gannon. Palmer at one point threaded such a fine pass between a defender to Marcel Reece that you could never imagine Jason Campbell making that throw. For me, Campbell is in the same category as Tavaris Jackson; two great athletes but not quarterbacks. Palmer finished with 332 yards with 3 touchdowns and 3 interceptions. The picks were costly, but given it was his first start in a year you have to be extremely pleased with his production. Now we can finally see the talent of this wide receiving corps excel and used. The future is bright for Raiders fans, especially once McFadden returns.

CINCINNATI BENGALS 24 @ TENNESSEE TITANS 17

BENGALS: The key here was the play of Andy Dalton. After watching him all season, I am convinced he may be the best red zone passer in the game. He connects with precision in all areas of the end zone, and finished with 217 yards with 3 scores in this game. All three of his touchdown passes were from less than 18 yards out, the longest going to Jerome Simpson. Cedric Benson returned and received a huge bulk of the carries to finish with 78 yards and was a key to the Bengals success. The Titans never found a way to keep the run game at bay, allowing Benson and Scott nearly 4 yards per carry. The Bengals are the best unmentioned team in the league, sitting at 6-2 on the season now. Their defense is in the top 10 and has largely gone unnoticed due to the lack of “names” they have on this team. They are a perfect example of what building through the draft can do when executed correctly. They will face the Steelers next week in a battle to decide who will lead the division.

TITANS: Chris Johnson responded to all the criticism by having one of his most productive games to date. Johnson finished with 110 total yards on the day and finally returned to moving more North/South instead of bouncing to the edges exclusively. I’ve pointed out the issue for weeks and it seems Munchak has seen enough tape to nail the issue as well. This was as close as we have seen to the old CJ2K all season and expect more of the same moving ahead. While I did buy into the beginning of the end for him as well, another week of production like this will have us all with out feet in our mouths. Hasselbeck came out slinging the ball but seemed hampered after getting hit in the knee during the 3rd quarter. Hasselbeck overall was sharp, finishing with 272 yards with 2 scores. He was held scoreless in the second half, but Hasselbeck is thriving in Tennnesse and is legitimate in his production.

MIAMI DOLPHINS 31 @ KANSAS CITY CHIEFS 3

DOLPHINS: Matt Moore looked like Tom Brady most of the game, picking apart the Chiefs secondary with ease. Moore finished with 244 yards and 3 touchdowns, finding Anthony Fasano twice and connecting with Marshall for only his second red zone score of the year. Reggie Bush nearly had his 3rd 100+ rushing game of the season but came up short with 92 yards and a touchdown. Bush in my eyes has by far looked the best he has as a runner since his USC days, abandoning the dancing behind the line for a straight forward attack. Maybe it is maturity or the system, but one thing is for sure…Bush has found a home where he can thrive.

CHIEFS: Up to this point, O.C. Bill Muir had been calling some great games but decided to get cute this week against the Fins secondary. Yes, the matchup was good, but Muir strayed from the balanced attack focused on the run game and decided to go aerial from the start. The constant pass attempts led to a series of three and out drives, allowing Moore to take advantage and the Fins to build a lead. Then Muir was forced to stay with the pass game which negated the talent of Jackie Battle who has been one of the top 5 rushers since he got the job several weeks ago. Cassel attempted 39 passes compared to Battle’s 14 attempts which allowed the Dolphins front to go on attack mode. Cassel was running for his life most of the game, sacked 5 times and knocked around on 9 of his pass attempts. Muir was probably a victim of watching too much film on the Dolphins and strayed from what has been working as a result. With a divisional game against the Broncos coming up next week, look for them to get back to basics.

CLEVELAND BROWNS 12 @ HOUSTON TEXANS 30

BROWNS: This game was exactly as many of us expected and there really isn’t much to cover here. The Browns are anemic and will most likely be the winners of the Andrew Luck sweepstakes. Problem is they have far too many holes to fill in one draft. With Hillis expected to miss at least one more week and no contract in sight, we can expect his most mediocre effort when he returns. I have been very disappointed in Holmgren and his handling of this franchise to date. They seem almost content in losing and past Haden have not seemed to make the proper draft decisions. It all starts with ownership and although he was a stellar coach, at this point he gets a D for his abilities as a GM.

TEXANS: As I projected last week, Kubiac realized the importance of keeping Foster fresh over the long haul and split the carries more evenly. The Texans have the luxury of owning two backs which each have the ability to carry the load. Foster finished with 124 yards on 19 carries with a score, and Tate with 115 yards on 12 carries with a score. With the run game so effective, Schaub was only called upon to throw 23 passes, completing 14 of them to go with an interception. He did run one in so all was not lost in production for the quarterback, but don’t read too much into this game. When facing a much lesser team, you roll with the punches and let what is working take over while allowing the others to watch. This should be considered a bye week for the Texans but they will need to prepare as they travel to face the Bucs next week.

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