What Have We Learned From Week 11 of the 2014 NFL Season

Demarus Dye| BKD TV Insiders

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 11 of the 2014 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Aaron Rodgers

Green Bay Packers’ Aaron Rodgers runs for a first down during the first half of an NFL football game against the Philadelphia Eagles Sunday, Nov. 16, 2014, in Green Bay, Wis. (AP Photo/Tom Lynn)

Ups

  • GREEN BAY, Wis. (AP) — After spending half of last season on the sideline with a broken collarbone, Aaron Rodgers has been a spectator a lot lately, too, though for a different reason.The Green Bay Packers offense is so good that Rodgers is not even playing a full game most weeks.

    It happened again during the Packers’ 53-20 victory over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Rodgers was done for the day with 12 minutes, 10 seconds left in the fourth quarter and his team up 46-13. He didn’t take any fourth-quarter snaps in the team’s previous three home games – a 42-10 victory over Minnesota, a 38-17 victory over Carolina and a 55-14 victory over Chicago.

    Green Bay is the first team in NFL history to score at least 28 points in the first half of four consecutive home games.

    Leading the way is Rodgers, who missed seven games last season with a fractured left clavicle but has been making a strong case for his second NFL MVP ever since telling Packers fans to relax on his weekly ESPN Milwaukee radio show after a 1-2 start.

    In those first three games, Rodgers completed 64 of 102 passes (62.7 percent) for 697 yards with five touchdowns and one interception for a passer rating of 95.1. Since then, the Packers have won six of seven while Rodgers has completed 145 of 211 passes (68.7 percent) for 2,051 yards with 23 touchdowns and two interceptions for a passer rating of 132.2.

    Against the Eagles, Rodgers finished 22 for 36 for 341 yards with three TDs, no picks and a passer rating of 120.3.

    He is getting plenty of help from his receivers. Top targets Jordy Nelson both rank in the top 15 in receiving yards – Nelson is third with 998, Cobb is 12th with 779 – and Cobb leads NFL wide receivers in touchdown receptions with 10; Nelson is tied for second with nine.

    Also helping the cause: The Packers are plus-14 in turnover differential this season and they have stayed healthy. Although guards T.J. Lang (ankle) and Josh Sitton (toe) have played each of the past two games with minimal practice time because of their injuries, their preferred starters have lost only one game due to injury this season.

    Otherwise, the starting five of David Bakhtiari, Sitton, Corey Linsley, Lang and Bryan Bulaga have been together up front. Nelson, Cobb and running back Eddie Lacy have started all 10 games.

  • HOUSTON (AP) — Ryan Mallett didn’t approach this Monday any differently than he’d handled all the other Mondays he’d spent in his four years in the NFL.Houston’s new quarterback, who picked up a win over the Browns in his first career start Sunday, didn’t let the weekend’s success change anything.

    Another thing that didn’t change Monday was Mallett’s easygoing demeanor. When he was asked about his “first game” he at first seemed annoyed.

    The Texans hoped benching veteran Ryan Fitzpatrick in favor of Tom Brady’s former backup would give their offense a spark that had been missing as they’d lost four of their last five games. The move paid off in a 23-7 win over Cleveland, where Mallett, who entered the game having attempted just four passes in his NFL career, threw for 211 yards and two touchdowns.

    He’ll need to this week if the Texans hope to compete with the AFC North-leading Cincinnati Bengals, who are coming off a 27-10 win over New Orleans. He denied spending any time celebrating his success on Sunday, insisting his thoughts immediately shifted to the Bengals.

  • CINCINNATI (AP) — The Bengals followed one of their worst performances in years with their best of the season and moved back into first place in the AFC North.It’s that kind of year in the division, where all four teams are within one game of each other. And it’s been that kind of season in Cincinnati, with the Bengals (6-3-1) turning into one of the league’s most extreme teams.

    Nobody knows what to expect out of them from week to week.

    Given the way they’ve played all season, they’re the definition of a week-to-week proposition. And until they put together a few solid showings in a row, there will be a lot of questions about whether they’re capable of getting to the playoffs again and finally winning one.

    They get reminded of that overriding goal this week as they prepare to play in Houston (5-5), the scene of some of their worst games. They lost first-round playoff games there in 2011 and 2012, with quarterback Andy Dalton struggling to get anything going.

    Dalton has been at his worst during three playoff losses and in prime time, including a 24-3 loss to the Cleveland Browns on Paul Brown Stadium on Thursday, Nov. 6. He finished that game with three interceptions, only 10 completions and a passer rating of 2.0.

    Dalton followed that with one of his best showings on Sunday. He went 16 of 22 for 220 yards with three touchdowns during a 27-10 win at New Orleans, numbers that equate to a passer rating of 143.9.

    Nobody more than this team.

    The Bengals opened the season 3-0 and were its last undefeated team. They got shredded in New England 43-17, starting that trend of following impressive showings with dreadful ones. They scored 37 points in a tie with Carolina, and then got shut out at Indianapolis. They piled up 27 points in a win over Baltimore, which hadn’t allowed so many points all season.

    The loss to Cleveland temporarily knocked them out of first place and reinforced their identity as the NFL’s least-predictable team.

    They got linebacker Rey Maualuga back in New Orleans and their defense improved significantly. He’d missed the last four games with a strained left hamstring. Coach Marvin Lewis said on Monday there’s a chance linebacker Vontaze Burfict will be back at practice this week after missing three games following knee surgery.

    Running back Giovani Bernard also is expected back at practice this week after missing the last three games with an injured shoulder and hip.

    The offense was significantly better on Sunday with A.J. Green looking closer to form. The receiver missed three games with an injured big right toe and wasn’t a factor in his first two games back, managing only six catches.

    Green had six catches for 127 yards and a touchdown on Sunday in New Orleans, including a 38-yard reception down the sideline.

Middle

  • Going south is exactly what the Saints, Panthers, Falcons and Buccaneers have done this season.Yet one of them will be playing in January.

    As it should, the NFL places a premium for the playoffs on winning a division. The problem is the team that makes the postseason from the NFC South will be more like the lucky loser.

    Of course, those four clubs will argue that they can replicate what the 2010 Seahawks did, winning the NFC West at 7-9, then beating 11-5 New Orleans, a wild-card team, in the first round of the playoffs.

    One of them certainly will get that opportunity — in a pure bit of irony, it could wind up being Seattle that gets the wild card with a superior record and then heads to the road for the opening round of the Super Bowl tournament.

    Regardless, there will be screams of protest that a seven-win, perhaps even a six-win team, gets to keep playing.

    If anyone has failed to do so thus far, it’s Carolina, which started 2-0, including a win over Detroit, and then was 3-2-1, with the tie coming against Cincinnati, before dropping five straight. The Lions and Bengals have been first-place teams.

    Yet with their 3-7-1 mark, the Panthers trail the Falcons (4-6) and Saints (4-6) by only a half-game even though their offense has stagnated (71 points in the losing streak) and their offense is, well, offensive in the wrong manner.

    At least they get a bye this week to lick their wounds and figure out some answers. Not that many answers are needed in this division. To think the Falcons have figured things out would be misguided, too. Yes, they are 4-0 in the division, but 0-6 against real opponents. Yet they sit atop the NFC South and remain optimistic even though they’ve played an easy schedule that now gets much tougher.

    Perhaps that’s true in other divisions, where winning most every week is critical. In the Falcons’ sector, they’ve climbed back into contention as much because the Saints were losing at home to San Francisco and Cincinnati as for anything the Falcons managed.

    Even the Buccaneers at 2-8 remain, to use Ryan’s term, relevant. But does anyone see Tampa Bay as capable of winning four or five of the final six games, even after the Bucs’ victory in Washington on Sunday? Doubtful. There are some who wouldn’t see the Bucs winning that many over the next four or five months, given the chance.

    Most perplexing in this division of defeat is New Orleans.

    The Saints seem to be the most talented of the four NFC South squads, with the most dynamic offense, a strong home-field advantage and plenty of experience.

    Except that the offense has sputtered in key spots, especially late in games when experience should matter most; the defense is mediocre at best; and the Big Easy has not been such a tough place to visit.

    Evans might be reaching too high. The NFC South winner could sneak in with fewer victories than that.

Downs

  • INDIANAPOLIS (AP) — Sometimes, coach Chuck Pagano sees the kind of Indianapolis defense he envisioned — tough, stout, dominant. At other times, he sees a defense that is frustratingly unrecognizable.The inconsistency is as perplexing to fans as it to Colts coaches and players, and they have six weeks to figure out what’s wrong.

    Sure, the 12-year NFL veteran has endured worse. It took Redding eight seasons to reach the playoffs. He missed out on a Super Bowl ring when he deiced to leave the Ravens in 2012 and follow Pagano to Indianapolis in 2012. He’s dealt with coaching changes, injuries and the ignominy of playing for the only 0-16 team in league history, the 2008 Detroit Lions.

    So he understands all is not lost. Indianapolis (6-4) still leads the AFC South by one game and has only two teams with winning records left on its schedule.

    But after a second poor performance in three games, Redding and his teammates know the Colts must find some answers.

    While Ben Roethlisberger’s six touchdown passes in a 51-34 thumping could be excused as an aberration because the game was played in Pittsburgh and the Colts lost their top cornerback, Vontae Davis, early in the game, there’s no explanation for what happened Sunday night.

    After New England rushed for 234 yards in a 21-point blowout of the Colts last January, coach Bill Belichick stayed on the ground against Indy’s revamped defense and rushed for 244. Indy couldn’t blame this one on the weather, injuries, the Patriots having an extra week to prepare or even Andrew Luck’s interceptions. Instead, New England (8-2) came into Lucas Oil Stadium and beat up the Colts on their home turf in a game with playoff implications.

    Just how far away are the Colts from being the sort of defense Pagano wants?

    A few weeks ago, against Baltimore and Cincinnati, it looked like Indy’s three-year rebuilding project was about to pay big dividends. The Colts gave up 13 combined points against the two playoff contenders and never allowed their offenses to get in sync.

    Then came the defensive debacle in Pittsburgh, another stout performance against the Giants and Sunday’s loss after a bye week. Now they must figure out how to avoid any more roller-coaster rides.

  • ALLEN PARK, Mich. (AP) — For a while, the Detroit Lions looked as though they might keep their streak of dramatic, come-from-behind victories alive.But Detroit finally fizzled at Arizona, losing 14-6 despite another stout defensive performance. The Lions had won four straight games, including exhilarating fourth-quarter rallies against New Orleans, Atlanta and Miami.

    Caldwell isn’t worried about his team’s ability to bounce back, even with a trip to New England next on the schedule.

    When asked about suiting back up to play a team as dangerous as the Patriots, running back Joique Bell said, “We’re going to play Lions football. Resilient football. We have a lot of playmakers on this offense. We just have to figure out what we need to do and take it from there.”

    And the offense does need to find some answers. The Cardinals kept the Lions out of the end zone Sunday, and Detroit mustered only 262 total yards. Quarterback Matthew Stafford managed just 164 yards on 18-of-30 passing with an interception.

    Some have questioned offensive coordinator Joe Lombardi’s play calling, but Caldwell said he is “certainly satisfied” with it and made it clear that it’s under his purview.

    Although the usually dangerous aerial attack never got into a rhythm against Arizona, Detroit did find more success than usual on the ground.

    Bell had 14 carries for 85 yards, averaging 6.1 yards per rush. As a team, the Lions averaged a season-best 5.1 yards per carry. Before Sunday, Detroit had not posted a per-carry average better than 3.9 yards in a game.

    And while he was clear that the overall performance Sunday was not where it needs to be, Caldwell is optimistic about the running game.

    The run game may get another boost from Reggie Bush, who missed the Arizona game with a nagging ankle injury. Bush said he plans to play against the Patriots.

  • EAST RUTHERFORD, N.J. (AP) — Sitting at home hours after tying his career-worst game with five interceptions, New York Giants quarterback Eli Manning couldn’t avoid watching the video of the frustrating loss to the San Francisco 49ers.Five interceptions in 45 passes, or one every nine throws. Five interceptions in a game that sent the Giants (3-7) to their fifth straight loss. Five interceptions in a 16-10 loss, including three on plays that started in San Francisco territory.

    It was akin to last season, when Manning threw a career-worst 27 interceptions. It was also out of character for this season. Coming into the game, Manning had thrown six picks all season in the new west coast offense.

    Bad Eli returned at the worst time, and it was hard for him to turn the page Sunday night.

    “Sometimes you don’t always see it exactly how you thought you saw it on certain plays,” Manning said Monday. “You try to learn from it. It’s hard to put it behind you. It kind of wakes you up and you start thinking about it at night also when you are trying to sleep. Plays you wish you had back or opportunities you wish you had.”

    While there were some interceptions where Manning and his receivers seemed to be out of sync, the two-time Super Bowl MVP said none of the picks resulted from a miscommunication between him and the intended targets.

    “I think all of them were on me, just a poor decision and trying to make the throw, or an inaccurate throw,” said Manning, who added even if a receiver blew an assignment he probably still would take the blame.

    Manning was candid about the interceptions.

    Manning is having an outstanding season, hitting 224 of 366 passes for 2,495 yards, 18 touchdowns and 11 interceptions. He is completing more than 61 percent of his passes.

    Coach Tom Coughlin said Manning threw the interceptions but there are many who can share the blame.

    The offensive line allowed him to get hit too many times and never got the running game going despite the return of No. 1 halfback Rashad Jennings. The 49ers also did a good job of getting defenders close to Manning just as he was about to release the ball, forcing him to hurry and make mistakes.Even with all this mistakes, the Giants had a first and goal at the 49ers 4 with five minutes to play. They threw three fade routes and Coughlin said two of them should have been caught.

 

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