NFL: Seahawks Gallant Stand


Week twelve of the NFL season is now behind us, and the action will keep coming thick and fast, as the traditional Thanksgiving set of three games comes on Thursday. That will barely give us time to catch our breath and try figure out what happened on Sunday, with teams really jockeying hard for position.  The race is on in the AFC West and NFC East, somebody is going to feel hard done by in the AFC North and, eventually, someone will have to win the NFC South. But there are a lot of great games to come in the NFC West, so get ready for more titanic tussles to come. Let’s review the action.

Arizona Cardinals at Seattle Seahawks (3-19)

This was undoubtedly a statement win for the Seattle Seahawks, who wore down their division-leading opponents by controlling the battle of field position. Only surrendering three points to a team that was previously 9-1 is a clear sign that the Seahawks are ready to rally down the stretch. It can’t have been hard to get fired up for this do-or-die battle in front of the Twelfth Man, but the Seahawks really stepped up on defense for the first time since the season opener. The defensive front got massive pressure on Drew Stanton, allowing them to play twenty of their twenty-five offensive snaps in enemy territory. That they only put up nineteen points is a slight concern, but the win was most important here. Next up- San Francisco on Thursday night. Another critical fixture.

The Arizona Cardinals got bullies here, losing the battle in the trenches, which was a precursor to losing the war. Stanton never got comfortable, his throwing was off, and the offense missed Larry Fitzgerald. Andre Ellington ran well, but not well enough to put the team on his back against that ferocious Seahawks defense. The Cardinals defense actually did remarkably well to keep the Seahawks to nineteen points, getting to Russell Wilson time and again through star defensive end Calais Campbell. The Cardinals were never likely to go 15-1, but they need to bounce back against the Atlanta Falcons.

Detroit Lions at New England Patriots (9-34)

Teams should be very afraid of the New England Patriots right now. Whether they are on your remaining fixtures, or just if you are an AFC team with playoff aspirations, be very afraid. The Patriots now have enough personnel in place to take on any team at their weak point. Bill Belichick didn’t give a single snap to his 200 yard runner from last week, Jonas Gray. Admittedly, his missed practice may have been part of that, but equally he just wasn’t needed, with Rob Gronkowski, Julian Edelman, Shane Vereen, Tim Wright and Brandon LaFell being used to exploit the middle of the field, and newly acquired LeGarrette Blount making hard yards from the backfield.  Belichick and Tom Brady are exposing teams right now. Next up is Green Bay in Lambeau, a mouth-watering proposition.

This was a severe beating that the Detroit Lions have been more used to doling out than taking this year. Comprehensively outschemed and outfought, Jim Caldwell’s side were out of this one by half time. Matt Stafford- 18/46, 264 yards, no touchdowns and one interception. That, right there, is a problem for a team who, just a few weeks ago, looked a lock for the post-season. They may still get there, but not without some real hard work. Detroit is loaded with receivers, but with minimal ground attack and a defensive plan that depends on overwhelming offensive lines, the Lions may need to add some nuances to their game plan going forward.

Miami Dolphins at Denver Broncos (36-39)

The Denver Broncos squeaked out ahead in this one, having trailed for long stretches. Peyton Manning played inspired ball, completing eighty per cent of his passes for 257 yards and four touchdowns. Manning needed to play hard to take the Broncos out of their injury-laden slump of the last few weeks. Had he not been on top form, the Broncos would be all-square in a three-way dance in the AFC West. C.J. Anderson offered a much-needed running option, gashing the defense for 167 yards, with over six yards per attempt. Emmanuel Sanders shook off his concussion from last weekend to chip in with 125 receiving yards, and Demaryius Thomas had another big day. Concerns exist over Wes Welker, the health of the other running backs, and a defense that is suddenly giving up a lot of big plays. The AFC West is one to watch down the stretch.

Tough loss for the Miami Dolphins, who lost a lot of players in the secondary on Sunday. The next man up principle is a fine idea, but Peyton Manning tends to take advantage of corners who are pro-bowlers, let alone back-ups and practice squad guys. How this affects Miami’s defense in the run-in is worth keeping an eye on. Can they keep bringing the pressure if they can’t trust the coverage? Ryan Tannehill had a good day, but you couldn’t expect him to win a shootout on Manning’s home patch. Tannehill played well enough to win, and if he keeps hitting his guys like he did Sunday, the Dolphins will be in the shake up for post-season wild card spots. The wide variety of targets available helps the quarterback, as does a surprisingly good run game. Miami is a dangerous team to play now.

Cleveland Browns at Atlanta Falcons (26-24)

The Cleveland Browns came out on top in this game, one that seemed like no one wanted to win at certain points. Brian Hoyer continues to show that asking him to throw more than twenty times in a game is a recipe for losses. Hoyer has been very effective on play-action off the back of a strong run game, but he threw three awful interceptions here, very nearly tripping the Browns up. Josh Gordon returned, and Hoyer (somewhat understandably) wanted to get the ball into his hands, but forced it a few times. Gordon got eight receptions for 120 yards, and getting an explosive player back fresh at this stage in the season could be a game-changer for Cleveland. But they can’t go away from what worked in getting them to 6-4. The Browns, remarkably, are in last place in the AFC North, despite their 7-4 record. Efficiency has to be the name of the game from here on out.

The Atlanta Falcons had this one in the palm of their hands. Matt Ryan threw well. Roddy White, Julio Jones and Devin Hester all came good in the receiving game. The defense made three interceptions, and they were at home. Still lost, though. They have no running game whatsoever, which really makes them one dimensional. Their offensive line can’t keep Ryan upright, which cost them a strip-sack turnover. The defensive front can’t really get any pressure on the opposition quarterback. And Mike Smith made a huge timeout error that gave the Browns the chance to march down the field for the winning score. And yet, they still lead the NFC South. Such is football.

Cincinnati Bengals at Houston Texans (22-13)

The Cincinnati Bengals finally overcame their hoodoo against the Houston Texans, running out comfortable victors here. The NFL needs all the dynamic playmakers it can get, so it is great to see AJ Green putting together a run of big performances. Green finished with 121 yards on Sunday. A lot of the credit for that can go to the outstanding running work done by rookie Jeremy Hill, who added another 87 yards to his repertoire here. That one-two punch of Hill and Gio Bernard is a lot to handle, for any defensive front. But they got Andy Dalton time, and he overcame his many demons from playoff defeats against the Texans. The Bengals are back on track, but any more missed steps could prove disastrous in the fascinating AFC North.

The Houston Texans loss here pretty much finished their playoff hopes. It also robbed them of a chance to evaluate Ryan Mallett down the stretch, as it turned out his performance was affected by a pectoral injury that has now ended his season prematurely. The Texans are back to square one on the quarterback position, leaving them in purgatory until a solution is found. An awful shame because, like the St Louis Rams, they have a good team, minus a quarterback.

Image courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

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