And the shuffle continues.
We’re beyond making sense of this season. Some of the most likely contenders in the NFL dropped games to lesser teams this past weekend. Some also-rans and non-entities established themselves as playoff contenders.
The only satisfaction seems to be from seeing the media “experts” and wealth of opinions fall as fretfully wrong as those of most of us little people.
Here’s a recap of last weekend’s AFC North action. Enjoy.
Cincinnati Bengals at New Orleans Saints
Thursday, November 16, 1:00pm
Final: Bengals 27, Saints 10
The Bengals reasserted themselves as a possible division-winning contender, provided everything falls into place for them, by routing the Saints at home after falling miserably flat in Cincinnati the week before. Quarterback Andy Dalton, after posting the lowest quarterback rating of his career, responded by completing 16 of 22 passes for three touchdowns and more importantly, no interceptions. Running back Jeremy Hill bolstered his claim to the starting job by rushing for 152 yards, and wideout A.J. Green demonstrated that his injury is truly behind him by catching six passes for 127 yards and a touchdown during the game’s decisive drive.
Defensively, the Bengals’ makeshift front seven did very well in limiting Saints running back Mark Ingram’s opportunities, mostly by sealing the edges and forcing him to stay in between the tackles. Linebackers Vincent Rey and Emmanuel Lemur did the rest, totaling 22 tackles (18 solo) between them. The secondary kept most of the action in front of them, as Saints quarterback Drew Brees, despite solid numbers, was only able to pass at a 6.2 YPC clip and was never able to stretch the field vertically, which is commonly a Brees trademark.
What’s Next: The Bengals travel to Houston to take on the Texans (Sunday, November 23, 1:00pm, CBS) and new starting quarterback Ryan Mallett.
Houston Texans at Cleveland Browns
Sunday, November 16, 1:00pm
Final: Texans 23, Browns 7
The Browns struggled early, and were unable to correct much during the course of the game, as quarterback Brian Hoyer’s numbers – 20-50, 330 yards, one touchdown, one interception – illustrate their frustrations rather accurately. The Browns were forced to turn away from their vaunted running game after falling behind early, and simply didn’t have the opportunities to ever draw any closer. Texans all-world defensive end J.J. Watt terrorized the Browns and Hoyer all day by forcing and recovering a fumble, registering three stops in the backfield, and (of all things) catching a short pass for the game’s first touchdown. The lone bright spot for the Browns was the play of diminutive-but-shifty wideout Andrew Hawkins, who caught six passes for 97 yards and a touchdown.
The Browns did little to stop the Texans, who maintained excellent protection for first-time starting quarterback Ryan Mallett through excellent play calling and the play-action pass, which was set up by the consistent rushing of rookie running back Alfred Blue (36 carries, 156 yards). The overused cliche of “manhandled in the trenches” certainly applied here, as the Browns were collectively pushed off the line most of the day. The secondary was kept busy trying to limit wideouts DeAndre Hopkins and Andre Johnson, who accounted for 148 of the Texans’ 211 receiving yards. Browns cornerback Joe Haden picked off a pass and logged 13 tackles (10 solo) on an otherwise forgettable day.
What’s Next: The Browns will be hosted by the suddenly NFCS-leading Atlanta Falcons (Sunday, November 23, 1:00pm, CBS).
Pittsburgh Steelers at Tennessee Titans
Monday, November 17, 8:30pm
Final: Steelers 27, Titans 24
There may not be enough accolades to lather on running back Le’Veon Bell this week, as his 204-yard rushing performance was clearly the highlight and saving grace of the Steelers, who flirted with adding another chapter to their well-documented history of losing to inferior teams. On a night when the offensive line was struggling to pick up the Titans blitz for much of the game, the Steelers wisely used the best avenue available by pounding the ball between the tackles and attacking the Titans’ mediocre linebackers and secondary. Quarterback Ben Roethlisberger was hit often enough to force him to undertake a carry for a first down in the third quarter, which seemed to energize the rest of the offense en route to their fourth quarter domination on the ground, including 74 rushing yards from Bell in the period.
Defensively, the Steelers were tested, as the Titans used a variety of high-percentage passes to move the ball and shorten the field. Rookie quarterback Zach Mettenberger had some early success, but was overwhelmed late by the Steelers’ pass rush, which, despite not collecting a sack, forced him out of the pocket and into several hurried off-target throws, most notably on third and fourth downs. The Steelers were able to limit the Titans rushing attack most of the night, although the high number of screens for moderate gains by the Titans outside almost compensated for it…almost.
What’s Next: The Steelers enjoy a welcome bye week, which should allow several of their injured defensive starters to return to the lineup December 2 against New Orleans.