Strange days indeed.
Week 7 saw a wealth of changes in the fortunes of the AFC North. Interpret the games as you will, but it’s safe to say that the winners also received a healthy dose of good fortune, while the losers…well…
Weekly breakdown as follows. Enjoy.
Atlanta Falcons at Baltimore Ravens
Sunday, October 19, 1:00pm
Final: Ravens 29, Falcons 7
To say this game was a reflection of the score would be a gross understatement. The Ravens’ defense took control early by allowing only four first downs in the first half and 15 overall, effectively shutting down every offensive avenue Falcons quarterback Matt Ryan attempted to deploy, and were easily the story of the day. The Ravens’ front seven limited the Falcons to 68 rushing yards (although the Falcons understandably abandoned the run by the second half) and chased Ryan out of the pocket on almost every snap, eliminating his comfort zone and sacking him five times, including twice each by ends Pernell McPhee and Elvis Dumervil. Capping the outstanding defensive performance was a safety by linebacker Terrell Suggs, surprisingly his first in a long career.
Offensively, the Ravens did enough, particularly on the ground, to control the clock and convert their opportunities. Quarterback Joe Flacco was unable to reproduce his iconic numbers from the previous week, but still managed to throw two touchdown passes, albeit couched around two inexplicable and unnecessary interceptions. Running back Justin Forsett collected 95 rushing yards in a workmanlike performance that garnered first down after first down all day.
What’s Next: The Ravens travel to Cincinnati (October 26, 1:00pm, CBS) to take on a Bengals team that handed them one of their two losses. This should be one of the better matchups of the season.
Cleveland Browns at Jacksonville Jaguars
Sunday, October 19, 1:00pm
Final: Jaguars 24, Browns 6
Expectations are often tough to live up to, as the Browns were slated by most to dispatch the Jaguars in much the same way that they leveled the Steelers the previous week. Needless to say, such projections were a bit premature.
In a game that featured poor quarterback play on both sides, former Michigan quarterback Denard Robinson, now a running back for the Jaguars, rushed for 127 yards and a touchdown, enabling the Jaguars to control the clock and time of possession throughout. The Browns’ defense managed to intercept three (Jaguars rookie quarterback) Blake Bortles passes, but did little with them, converting only one field goal off the turnovers.
The Browns’ offense, meanwhile, contributed three turnovers of its own, including two fumbles; one each by quarterback Brian Hoyer and punt returner Jordan Poyer. The Browns clearly missed the interior presence of center Alex Mack, as Jacksonville concentrated most of their pass rush efforts up the middle, limiting Hoyer to just 16 completions on 41 attempts. The Browns’ running game, a staple of their success so far this season, was held to 69 total yards at a paltry 2.3 YPC.
What’s Next: The presumably awful Oakland Raiders come to Cleveland (October 26, 4:25pm, CBS) in a game the Browns can’t afford to take for granted, as their margin for error has now shrunk considerably.
Cincinnati Bengals at Indianapolis Colts
Sunday, October 19, 1:00pm
Final: Colts 27, Bengals 0
Yes, that’s a zero, and it’s safe to say that many Bengals fans were using that and much more to describe their team after Sunday’s woeful showing in Indianapolis. For a team that was hailed for collecting superior talent and for using it judiciously, the Bengals displayed almost none of it against the Colts.
The Bengals’ defense did little to consistently slow the Colts, allowing Colts’ quarterback and MVP candidate Andrew Luck to pass for 344 yards and two touchdowns. The Bengals’ defense was on the field for 39 minutes while the Colts drained them of their resistance with many short passes and bruising runs. There were no standouts for the Bengals overall, but the defense was particularly devoid of positive plays, even after forcing two Indianapolis fumbles, neither of which (obviously) resulted in points.
Offensively, the Bengals accomplished nothing on the scoreboard and almost that on the field, controlling the ball for a little over 20 inefficient minutes. Quarterback Andy Dalton completed 18 passes for a mind-numbing average of 3.3 yards and a rating of 55.4; good for his worst outing by far this season. Tight end Jermaine Gresham managed ten catches, but had nothing to show for it, as the Bengals managed eight first downs all day, including two by virtue of Colts penalties and one by running the ball. There’s really no need to mention the running game beyond that, as no other numbers are worth noting, as they’re almost non-existent.
What’s Next: The current AFC North leader and longtime nemesis Baltimore Ravens come to town (October 26, 1:00pm, CBS) in a game that must see the Bengals reverse their fortunes or risk falling substantially behind in a suddenly-crowded division race.
Houston Texans at Pittsburgh Steelers
Monday, October 20, 8:30pm
Final: Steelers 30, Texans 23
In a game the Steelers truly needed to keep pace in the AFC North, they managed to produce some offense and quite a bit of defense, extending their home winning streak on Monday nights to 16 games; certainly an oft-repeated stat from the ESPN faithful.
This game had an ominous look for the Steelers for most of the first half, as the Texans built an early 13-0 lead with solid blocking, timely passing, and excellent rushing, primarily by feature back Arian Foster. The Steelers’ defense, after being essentially pushed around for the first quarter, began to stack the interior with safety Troy Polamalu, which produced exactly the results they needed, as Foster did little for the remainder of the game. Outside of one early and one late drive, Texans quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick was largely ineffective, connecting on 22 passes overall, but throwing a momentum-shifting interception to Steelers end Brett Kiesel during a tumultuous stretch that saw the Steelers score 24 points in under three minutes to close out the first half and stymie any emotional chance the Texans had of reclaiming the lead.
The Steelers’ offense was opportunistic and under control, as they only turned the ball over once courtesy of a strip of quarterback Ben Roethlisberger, who enjoyed an excellent night otherwise. Wideout Antonio Brown continued his record play this season with nine catches for 90 yards, although the real hero for the Steelers offensively was second-year running back Le’Veon Bell, who delivered 145 total yards (57 rushing, 88 receiving) in timely spots and generally for first downs, including a receiving score. Also of note was the offensive line, who limited standout Texans end J.J. Watt to three tackles and one sack.
What’s Next: The Indianapolis Colts arrive in Pittsburgh (October 26, 4:25pm, CBS) and will be a more effective litmus test for the Steelers than the Texans were.