What Have We Learned From Week 6 of the 2016 NFL Season

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49ERS-BILLS

LeSean McCoy (25), running back for the Buffalo Bills vs. San Francisco 49ers in NFL football game on Sunday, Oct. 16, 2016, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Bill Wippert)

Here is What Have We Learned from Week 6 of the 2016 NFL Season, thanks to the AP Pro 32 for photos & help in this article.

Ups

  • Rex Ryan OK with ‘boring’ during Bills 4-game winning streak– Despite Rex Ryan’s propensity for brash and bold talk, the Buffalo Bills coach has no problem with boring.”Boring is good,” he said on Monday. “Maybe that’s the old-school in me.”The usually colorful Ryan is referring to the relatively simple blueprint the Bills have used in overcoming an 0-2 start by reeling off the franchise’s first four-game winning streak in eight years.

    As the Bills once again proved in a 45-16 win over San Francisco on Sunday, their approach consists of handing the ball to LeSean McCoy and Ryan leaning on his opportunistic defense to stop the run, apply pressure and force turnovers.

    McCoy scored three times and led a ground attack that totaled 312 yards rushing, fifth most in Bills history.

    The eighth-year running back has been on a tear in combining for 470 yards and six touchdowns (including one receiving) over the past four games for a team that led the NFL in yards rushing last season. The surge coincides with Ryan firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman and replacing him with running backs coach Anthony Lynn.

    The re-emphasis on running the ball has taken the burden off quarterback Tyrod Taylor having to force the passing game.

    “We don’t have to throw it 50 times a game,” Ryan said. “And quite honestly, if we throw it 50 times a game, we’re getting beat and getting beaten badly.”

    The numbers bear him out.

    Since taking over the starting job to open last season, Taylor is 1-6 in games he attempts 30 or more passes, and 11-2 with 29 or fewer.

    The quarterback has also been efficient with eight touchdowns passing versus just two interceptions and a lost fumble this season.

    Ryan’s prized defense has also played a key role in Buffalo’s turnaround, which began after a 37-31 loss to the New York Jets on Sept. 15.

    Since being burned for 493 yards and four touchdowns by New York, the Bills are allowing an average 317 yards and have given up just four touchdowns over the past four games.

    Buffalo already has 20 sacks this season — one fewer than it totaled last year — and forced 12 takeaways (six fumbles, six interceptions), three of which have been returned for touchdowns.

    The Bills held the 49ers in check by forcing a fumble on special teams, getting three sacks and stopping San Francisco twice on fourth down.

    The turning point came with Buffalo leading 17-13 late in the third quarter, when linebackers Preston Brown and Lerentee McCray teamed to stop Mike Davis for no gain on fouth-and-1 at Buffalo’s 40.

    The Bills then broke the game open by scoring three touchdowns in a span of 7:02.

    Next up for Buffalo is Sunday’s game at AFC East rival Miami (2-4). The Bills haven’t won five straight since a six-game streak in 2004.

    They also have a winning record through six games for just the third time since 2000, when Buffalo began a 16-season playoff drought — the NFL’s longest active streak. Buffalo was 4-2 in 2011 before finishing 6-10, and got off to a 5-1 start in 2008 before losing eight of its final 10 games.

    Ryan is careful to note he’s a long way off from mentioning playoffs.

    “A long, long, way,” he said. “There’s no sense even thinking about that. We’re not even close to that.”

    NOTES: Ryan confirmed the Bills intend to activate first-round draft pick LB Shaq Lawson off the physically unable to perform list. Lawson has been sidelined since May, when he had surgery to repair a shoulder injury that nagged him at Clemson. … Players got the day off and don’t return for practice until Wednesday. … Buffalo’s 16 first downs rushing against the 49ers were the most since the Bills had a team-record 21 in a 38-13 win against Washington on Nov. 3, 1996.

  • Redskins winning with balanced offense, clutch defense– Washington Redskins players and coaches say their turnaround from 0-2 to 4-2 is a matter of resilience.Coach Jay Gruden and cornerback Bashaud Breeland cited a strong response to “adversity,” and quarterback Kirk Cousins said no one hit the panic button. But this four-game winning streak isn’t just about next man up, taking it one play at a time, never quitting, always believing or any other sports cliché.No, Washington has climbed back up the NFC East standings on a foundation of a balanced offense, clutch defense and improved play from Cousins over the past four weeks. The Redskins go into Week 5 at the Detroit Lions feeling good about themselves — but not too good, knowing how quickly things can change.

    “We know we’re on fire, but in order to stay on fire in this league you have to take it one day at a time,” wide receiver DeSean Jackson said. “You can’t peak. We have the Lions ahead of us and that’s a big game for us. Every game is big.”

    After opening with home losses to the Pittsburgh Steelers and Dallas Cowboys, the Redskins have come up big in victories against the New York Giants, Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Philadelphia Eagles .

    It’s no coincidence that three of those four wins came with a heavy emphasis on the running game. The Redskins had 89 passing attempts to 39 rushes in the first two weeks of the season, and since then Cousins has thrown the ball 138 times and handed it off 109 times.

    The three-headed running attack of feature back Matt Jones, rookie Robert Kelley and third-down back Chris Thompson has allowed Cousins to get a breather and given him more time to execute the offense.

    “It benefits everybody when we have good balance,” Gruden said Monday. “We love that recipe, man. It’s been good to us when we can run the ball as much as we throw it.”

    Throwing it has been better, too. After one touchdown and three interceptions in the first two games, Cousins has eight touchdowns and three interceptions during the streak.

    His QB rating was over 100 against the Giants and Browns, and while the picks have been a problem he has been good enough to make up for his mistakes.

    On the other side of the ball, the defense has withstood a season-ending injury to safety DeAngelo Hall, potentially season-ending ones to safety David Bruton and nose tackle Kedric Golston and injuries to Breeland and cornerback Dashaun Phillips.

    After getting torched for 38 points and 437 yards by Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers, and giving up 27 points to Dak Prescott and the Cowboys, the Redskins’ defense hasn’t allowed a second-half touchdown in four consecutive games.

    “They’re doing it a lot of different ways,” Gruden said. “They’ve mixed up their coverages and stunts and stopped the run game better in the second half. We give up some big plays, but they bend but don’t break and hold to field goals, which is excellent.”

    Defensive end Chris Baker said it has been a case of playing better fundamental football, which includes solving the tackling problem that had cropped up. A big difference is the defense is better rested because it has improved on third down of late.

    The Ravens and Eagles converted on just seven of 27 third downs over the past two weeks. And the Redskins’ defense hasn’t allowed a touchdown since four minutes into the Baltimore game, a streak of almost eight full quarters.

    Defensive coordinator Joe Barry was criticized for early season struggles, and now he and the position coaches are getting some credit for the improvements and adjustments

    “Those guys are doing an excellent job coaching those guys up, but the players are making plays and that’s what it’s about,” Gruden said. “They’re getting off blocks and they’re making the tackles when they have to make the tackles. … They’re pursuing to the football, they’re playing hard, they’re playing with confidence (and) they’re making plays.”

    Notes: Gruden said receiver Josh Doctson will be shut down for a few weeks to rest a lingering left Achilles tendon injury. Injured reserve remains a possibility for the first-round pick. … Linebacker Su’a Cravens will increase his workload this week as he tries to come back from a concussion that caused him to miss the Eagles game, Gruden said. It’s unclear if Cravens will be ready to face the Lions.

 

  • NFL prepares for 1st London game at Twickenham Stadium– Twickenham Stadium has seen its share of tackles and tries, field goals and forward passes.The NFL is about to bring some more, but with a twist.A sporting event other than rugby will be held at the venue for the first time in its 107-year history when it hosts a game between the Los Angeles Rams and the New York Giants on Sunday.

    After playing 15 games over 10 years at Wembley Stadium, the league is slightly broadening its international horizons, moving one of its annual international games to a different London location.

    Forget about scrums and say hello to huddles. Keep an eye out for yellow flags, not yellow cards.

    Even for those who have made the trek to Wembley, Sunday’s game will provide a different type of atmosphere. Think of it, in American terms, as Lambeau Field meets Wrigley Field.

    “Twickenham is definitely a suburban, residential venue, and so it offers a very different experience for fans,” said Mark Waller, the NFL’s executive vice president for international. “I think it’s going to be fascinating and interesting for our fans to give us feedback on how that experience will compare to what many of them will already have seen and known at Wembley.”

    To prepare Twickenham for Sunday’s game, the NFL and the Rugby Football Union had to make a number of significant changes.

    For one, with football rosters twice the size of their rugby counterparts, the existing locker rooms will be insufficient. The Rams, the designated home team, will dress in a temporary facility in the Twickenham gym, while the Giants will utilize an adjacent reception hall.

    The coaching booths, located just above the access tunnels for rugby games, will be moved to the sixth level to provide coaches with an appropriate viewpoint. Those converted suites also will need to be fitted with replay and communications systems — something the NFL and RFU have been working to install.

    Accommodations will also be needed for cheerleaders and the media, who will work from three sections in the southwest corner. Because of the stadium’s location, a detailed transportation plan is also needed for buses transporting players and team personnel to and from Twickenham.

    Some of those changes will be noticeable to longtime Twickenham attendees. In addition to the goal posts, which were installed last Monday, and the field markings, to be painted later this week, the capacity of the stadium will be reduced from 82,000 to 75,000 for NFL games.

    According to Charlotte Harwood, an RFU spokeswoman, that’s because views from the front several rows of the lower bowl rise just above field level and will be obstructed by players and coaches on the sidelines.

    The goal, of course, is to make sure that any potential issues have been addressed by Sunday. Those attending the first games at Wembley — the Giants, coincidentally, played in the first game in London in 2007 — reported a number of hiccups that were ironed out in subsequent years.

    Waller said the RFU’s experience hosting the semifinals and final of the Rugby World Cup in 2015, has eased a number of concerns about the venue.

    “It’s an important event for them in the same way that it’s an important event for us,” Waller said. “They’re very focused on it being successful as well.”

    The Rams, who flew through the night after a 31-28 road loss to the Detroit Lions, arrived in London early Monday. Per the terms of their relocation from St. Louis, they will play at least one home game in London every year until their new stadium opens in 2019.

    That game is not guaranteed to always be at Twickenham. The league and the RFU reached an agreement last October to play a minimum of three games in three years at the venue, but not necessarily one each season.

    The NFL also has agreements to play at least two games at Wembley each year through 2020 and will begin playing at least two games a year at the redeveloped White Hart Lane, the home of English Premier League club Tottenham, beginning in 2018.

    Thus, how successful Sunday’s game is could play a role in the NFL’s future at Twickenham. Waller said the league isn’t considering games at any other venues in London, and the reason Twickenham and White Hart Lane were contracted is because Wembley hosts a number of other events.

    “The most exciting thing for us is the ability for us to get a new experience, a new stadium experience,” Waller said. “We’re very happy and have always been very happy with Wembley, and so for us, it’s never been about looking for something better than Wembley. It’s, ‘Hey, we need to give our fans the best experience available.'”

Middle

  • Path to postseason difficult for rookie QBs– Dallas’ Dak Prescott and Philadelphia’s Carson Wentz have performed well enough in their rookie seasons to lead their teams to winning records and potential playoff contention.Wentz was named the Eagles’ starter in the preseason. Prescott took over the Cowboys’ quarterback spot after Tony Romo broke a bone in his back and has played so well that it’s created debate about who should have the job after Romo returns.If each of these rookies lead their teams into the playoffs, they’d join select company. Here’s a look at some quarterbacks who reached the playoffs in their rookie year after starting the majority of their teams’ regular-season games.

    Keep in mind this list only includes guys who were starters for the majority of their rookie seasons. For example,  Jim Everett, Todd Marinovich, Shaun King and T.J. Yates all started playoff games as rookies but didn’t start the majority of their teams’ regular-season matchups.

    Dan Marino, Miami Dolphins, 1983: The first-round draft pick from Pittsburgh started nine games as a rookie while helping Miami go 12-4 and win the AFC East. He threw for 193 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions as the Dolphins lost 27-20 to Seattle in the AFC divisional playoffs.

    Bernie Kosar, Cleveland Browns, 1985: After Cleveland took him out of Miami in the supplemental draft, Kosar started 10 games his rookie year as the Browns went 8-8 and won the AFC Central. Kosar threw for just 66 yards as the Browns fell 24-21 to the Dolphins in the divisional round.

    Ben Roethlisberger, Pittsburgh Steelers, 2004: The first-round pick from Miami (Ohio) started 13 games his rookie year and helped the Steelers go 15-1 and win the AFC North. Roethlisberger rallied the Steelers to a 20-17 overtime victory over the New York Jets in the divisional rounds but threw three interceptions in a 41-27 AFC championship game loss to New England.

    Joe Flacco, Baltimore Ravens, 2008: Flacco, a second-round pick from Delaware, started all 16 regular-season games as a rookie and helped Baltimore go 11-5 and earn a wild-card playoff berth. The Ravens beat the Miami Dolphins and Tennessee Titans in the playoffs before Flacco threw three interceptions in a 23-14 AFC championship game loss to Pittsburgh.

    Matt Ryan, Atlanta Falcons, 2008: The first-round pick from Boston College started all 16 regular-season games as a rookie and helped Atlanta go 11-5 and earn a wild-card berth.  Ryan threw for 199 yards with two touchdowns and two interceptions as the Falcons lost 30-24 to the Arizona Cardinals in the opening round of the playoffs.

    Mark Sanchez, New York Jets, 2009: Sanchez, a first-round pick from Southern California, started 15 games as the Jets went 9-7 and earned a wild-card berth in 2009. The Jets beat the Cincinnati Bengals and San Diego Chargers in the playoffs before falling 30-17 to the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC championship.

    Robert Griffin, Washington Redskins, 2012: Griffin, a first-round pick from Baylor, started 15 games and helped the Redskins go 10-6 and win the 2012 NFC East title. Griffin injured two ligaments in his right knee as the Redskins fell 24-14 to the Seattle Seahawks in the divisional playoffs.

    Andrew Luck, Indianapolis Colts, 2012: Luck started all l16 games as a rookie in 2012 after the Colts drafted him in the first round out of Stanford. The Colts went 11-5 and earned a wild-card berth but lost 24-9 to the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs. Luck was 28 of 54 for 288 yards with an interception.

    Russell Wilson, Seattle Seahawks, 2012: Wilson, a third-round pick who played collegiately at North Carolina State and Wisconsin, started all 16 games as a rookie and helped Seattle  go 11-5 and earn a wild-card playoff berth. The Seahawks beat the Redskins 24-14 before losing 30-28 to Atlanta in the divisional playoffs.

Downs

  • Panthers hope to regroup during bye after 4-game skid– Panthers coach Ron Rivera is hoping a bye week and some in-depth self-scouting will help the defending NFC champions salvage what is quickly becoming a lost season.Carolina (1-5) is marred in a four-game losing streak following a 41-38 loss to the New Orleans Saints on Sunday, a game in which his young secondary was shredded for the second time in the last three weeks.”Oh, yeah. It really is a big challenge,” Rivera said Monday. “… The easiest thing to do is quit, but shoot, we’ve got 10 games to play. Atlanta lost (Sunday). So heck, we’re not in a bad spot. What we’ve got to do is take care of our business and doing the things we’re capable of. That starts now.”

    Big challenge might be an understatement.

    The Panthers are three games behind the Falcons (4-2) in the NFC South — and 0-3 in division play. They’ve matched the worst record through six games for teams coming off a Super Bowl appearance, joining the 1987 New York Giants, 1999 Atlanta Falcons, 2002 St. Louis Rams and 2004 Panthers, who also started 1-5.

    Rivera encouraged players to “get away” from football following their practice on Tuesday.

    The Panthers are obviously frustrated as evidenced by Cam Newton’s brief postgame interview Sunday — which he ended after about one minute.

    During their time off, the coaching staff plans to do extra self-scouting to figure out how a team that went 17-2 last season and reached the Super Bowl has fallen off course.

    “Hopefully we get some answers,” Rivera said.

    The biggest focus will be the team’s pass defense, which is allowing 282 yards per game and has surrendered 13 touchdowns through the air since jettisoning All-Pro cornerback Josh Norman.

    The Panthers have failed to generate much of a pass rush with their starting defensive ends Charles Johnson and Kony Ealy combining for one-half sack this season. That, combined with a young secondary that has been riddled by injuries and lacks game experience, has led to some poor results.

    Atlanta’s Matt Ryan threw for 503 yards and Drew Brees put up 465 against the Panthers, the two biggest totals by an opposing quarterback in the franchise’s 22-year history. Both threw for four touchdowns.

    “Well, that’s probably the biggest disappointment is we haven’t had the production we would have liked out of the front,” Rivera said. “The front has done a nice job. We’ve done a good job stopping the run. But (the run defense) is not what’s killing us.”

    Rivera said the Panthers will look at ways of being more creative on defense to get additional pressure on opposing QBs.

    The problem with blitzing more is it leaves Carolina’s young cornerbacks — the Panthers have three rookies on the roster — exposed more in coverage. Carolina has already given up eight passes of more than 40 yards, second most in the NFL.

    Rivera said the Panthers are seeing more double teams on defensive tackle Kawann Short, more play-action on first and second down and more chipping on their defensive ends on third down.

    “There are some things we’ve got to be able to do to counter that stuff,” Rivera said.

    The Panthers were counting on third-year defensive end Ealy to have a big season after he came on strong at the end of last season and had three sacks, a forced fumble and an interception in the Super Bowl. But Ealy has been completely shut down this season, and Rivera acknowledged the team hoped he would be further along in his progression as a player.

    “Right now, for a six-game stretch you’d like to see a little more production,” Rivera said. “It’s not like he’s not trying. It’s tough because of the way people approach us now and look at us.”

    Defensive end Wes Horton said Monday the biggest difference from last year’s defense that finished in the top 10 in the league overall and first in takeaways is the lack of communication and consistency.

    “There are flashes where we’re doing well and other times when guys just aren’t in the right place,” Horton said.

    If nothing else, the bye should also help the Panthers get healthier.

    They played Sunday without three starters: cornerbacks James Bradberry (toe) and Robert McClain (hamstring) and left tackle Michael Oher (concussion). Defensive tackles Vernon Butler (ankle) and Paul Soliai (foot) also sat out with injuries.

 

  • Eagles reeling after 2 straight losses– Suddenly the Philadelphia Eagles are a sloppy, undisciplined and flawed football team.Carson Wentz and the offense are not in sync, the defense can’t stop the run, and the team is committing penalties at an alarming rate.A 24-23 loss at Detroit last week exposed some weaknesses. Still, the Eagles would’ve won that game if Ryan Mathews didn’t fumble in the final minutes — or if the play was overturned after a video review.

    But the Redskins dominated Philadelphia on Sunday in a 27-20 win that wasn’t that close.

    “There’s no panic, no panic whatsoever,” coach Doug Pederson said Monday.

    The offense had no chance to get in a rhythm against Washington. Rookie Halapoulivaati Vaitai made his NFL debut filling in for suspended right tackle Lane Johnson and allowed 2 1/2 sacks and several pressures. He wasn’t completely responsible for the sacks because he was supposed to get help on certain plays.

    Pederson is sticking with Vaitai despite the fifth-round pick’s struggles in his first game.

    Overall, Wentz was sacked five times . But he held the ball too long on a couple of those in the second half, showing he’s still a rookie. He accepted blame like a veteran.

    “(Sacks) hurt us early and it was one of those things where it was no one’s fault. I should’ve made the right protection call and could’ve got the ball out in time better,” Wentz said.

    As for two sacks late in the game, Wentz said: “I’ve got to get the ball out. I can’t take those sacks and that’s definitely on me. The line gave me time on both of them. Those are things I just have to learn.”

    The biggest concern is the defense, the team’s strength the first three games. Defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz’s group was flying high after holding Ben Roethlisberger and the Steelers to a field goal in a 34-3 rout in Week 3.

    Now the Eagles allowed 21 points in the first half in consecutive games. They’ve played much better in the second half both weeks, but couldn’t make key stops in the fourth quarter.

    “You can’t just be out of control and I think right now we are,” safety Malcolm Jenkins said. “The last two games, that’s been the story. Collectively, we haven’t been doing our job. One play after another and you get beaten.”

    The schedule isn’t going to help Philadelphia. The Eagles host the Vikings (5-0) this week before going back on the road for division games at Dallas (5-1) and the Giants (3-3). All three opponents will be playing Philadelphia after their bye, so they’ll have an extra week to prepare.

 

  • Terrell Suggs’ injury adds to Ravens’ woes after 3rd straight loss– The injuries, penalties and losses are mounting for the Baltimore Ravens, whose 3-0 start has been negated by three straight defeats.Baltimore was without several key players Sunday in a 27-23 loss to the New York Giants, and the injury list expanded Monday when coach John Harbaugh confirmed that linebacker Terrell Suggs has a torn left biceps.”He’s played with that injury before. So he has a chance to come back soon,” Harbaugh said. “How soon remains to be determined.”

    Harbaugh acknowledged that the team’s career sack leader probably won’t be ready to play this Sunday against the New York Jets. But he added, “I don’t put anything on Terrell Suggs as impossible.”

    The Ravens’ injury report will be lengthy this week. Against the Giants, they used a makeshift offensive line to compensate for the loss of starters Marshal Yanda (shoulder) and Ronnie Stanley (foot). Baltimore was also without top receiver Steve Smith (ankle), kick returner Devin Hester and linebackers C.J. Mosley (thigh) and Elvis Dumervil (foot).

    It got worse as the game went on. Cornerback Jimmy Smith missed the entire second half with a concussion, cornerback Jerraud Powers left with a groin injury and Suggs hurt his arm while sacking Eli Manning in the fourth quarter.

    Despite playing short-handed, the Ravens (3-3) nearly pulled it out. They led late in the fourth quarter before Manning connected with Odell Beckham for a 66-yard touchdown, the last of a handful of big plays by New York that proved to be the difference.

    “It’s the same thing that happened the first eight games last year that we got corrected,” Harbaugh said. “It’s the same thing that cannot continue to happen. It’s not going to continue to happen. The guys who allow it to happen are not going to be out there.”

    The game might not have been close if Baltimore didn’t get called for 15 penalties totaling 111 yards. That offset an attack that rolled up 391 yards in its first game under offensive coordinator Marty Mornhinweg.

    “We get down there in a good position and we go backward instead of forward so it definitely hurts,” said Joe Flacco, who threw for 307 yards. “It’s frustrating.”

    The penalties were more maddening to Harbaugh than anything else that transpired in the maddening defeat.

    “That is the biggest issue we have on offense,” the coach said. “Why did we bog down?’ Well, it’s because of that. We’re sitting there at first-and-20. So it will continue to be addressed, and it will get corrected because you can’t lose the game if you want to win.”

    Every one of Baltimore’s games this season has been decided by six points or fewer. Harbaugh is convinced the Ravens can still make something of this season, regardless of the expansive injury list. But first, they must stop making ill-timed mistakes.

    “Our issues are self-inflicted. We can fix them ourselves,” he said. “If I have any frustration, it’s the fact that it’s taken us this long. We won four preseason games, we won our first three games. We had issues in those games as well, but we found a way to win them.”

    Lately, however, the Ravens have found a way to lose.

    “If we eliminate those penalties, we’re like 6-0,” receiver Mike Wallace said. “We do these every single game. We all have a hand in our offense. It just has to get better.”

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