Weekend Recap  


Renewed emphasis in running game makes Bengals hard to stop

Ed Reinke / Associated Press
Carson Palmer threw for five touchdowns in the Bengals' rout of the visiting Bears.
» Best of Week 7 | More photos

Bengals 45, Bears 10
Marvin Lewis' decision to retool the running game in the offseason is paying huge dividends for the Bengals. Cincinnati has been able to successfully pound Cedric Benson between the tackles, and the emergence of its rushing attack has made the offense nearly impossible to stop. Against the Bears, the running game offered an effective counter to the two-deep coverage used on early downs. With only seven defenders in the box, Benson repeatedly found bubbles along the line of scrimmage and busted a series of big runs in the first half. With the established, the Bengals were able to routinely throw down the middle of the field off play-action. Chad Ochocinco and Carson Palmer frequently hooked up on square-ins and digs as the Bears were unable to muster much of a pass rush after falling for the run fakes. The offense is starting to hit its stride and Cincinnati's formidable ground game has been the key.

Saints 46, Dolphins 34
After watching the Dolphins suffocate their aerial attack with a combination of blitzing and press coverage, the Saints turned to Jeremy Shockey. Drew Brees exploited Shockey's matchup with Yeremiah Bell to loosen Miami's tight coverage. By frequently targeting Shockey over the middle, Brees eventually diverted some of the attention away from the outside receivers and opened up the field for Marques Colston and Devery Henderson. New Orleans' passing game has been lauded for its versatility and depth, and those factors enabled the Saints to overcome a defense that seemingly had an answer for their wide-open tactics.

Packers 31, Browns 3
The Packers put together another balanced offensive showing against the Browns. Aaron Rodgers orchestrated a dynamic attack that took advantage of Cleveland's soft coverage with a variety of short and intermediate routes. The quick, high percentage throws allowed Rodgers to get the ball to his playmakers and, in turn, the receivers gobbled up chunks of yardage after the catch. The Packers complemented the low-risk tactic by repeatedly running Ryan Grant between the tackles. He gained 148 yards on 27 carries, which helped the Packers dominate the critical time of possession battle 35:54 to 24:06.

Texans 24, 49ers 21
Although the 49ers lost a close one in Houston, they may have found a remedy to their offensive woes in Alex Smith. The former No.1 overall pick was sensational in the second half against the Texans and the offense finally looked like a potent unit under his direction. Smith connected on 15 of 22 for 206 yards with three touchdowns and one interception. He made quick decisions in the pocket and pushed the ball up the field while showing excellent accuracy. In addition, he appeared to have great chemistry with Michael Crabtree and Vernon Davis. With the trio showing promise, the 49ers may have uncovered a suitable complement to Frank Gore and their formidable running game.

Chargers 37, Chiefs 7
The Chargers' defense revved up its pass rush to dismantle the Chiefs. Coordinator Ron Rivera called a variety five-man overload pressures with their safety ( Eric Weddle) blitzing off the edge out of both the nickel and dime packages. The increased use of the blitz resulted in four sacks and three interceptions. In addition, the constant harassment resulted in Matt Cassel completing on only 10 of 25 for 97 yards. Although he tossed a touchdown to Dwayne Bowe, Cassel never found a rhythm and the Chiefs rarely challenged a secondary that had been maddeningly inconsistent heading into the game. Coaches always talk about a pass rush improving a team's coverage, but the Chargers' performance against the Chiefs clearly validates the theory.

Colts 42, Rams 6
The offense continues to grab all of the headlines for the Colts, but it is their defense that continues to lead the way. The unit harassed Marc Bulger all day on the way to recording three sacks. Whereas most teams opt to blitz five and six defenders to create pressure, the Colts were able to generate consistent heat with their front four. The ability to rush with only its defensive line allowed Indianapolis to use an assortment of zone coverage to suffocate St. Louis' passing game. With two interceptions and allowing just 117 net yards passing, the combination of pressure and coverage worked to perfection.

Patriots 35, Buccaneers 7 (in London)
The offense is beginning to show the potency that most expected with the return of Tom Brady. The Patriots rolled up 414 yards of total offense and tallied 28 points against an overmatched defense. The impressive showing was keyed by the coaching staff's decision to move around their personnel in various formations to exploit favorable perimeter matchups. The team cycled from conventional two-back formations to empty sets to get their playmakers in one-on-one situations against Tampa Bay's linebackers. Sam Aiken's 54-yard touchdown was the result of him racing past Barrett Ruud in coverage. Ben Watson's 35-yard touchdown reception was a byproduct of the Patriots emptying the backfield to get their athletic tight end in single coverage against the Geno Hayes. Throw in the numerous bubble screens and quick passes to Wes Welker and the varied attack slowed down the Bucs' aggressive defense. With their offense starting to hit its stride, the Patriots are beginning to reemerge as a serious contender in the AFC.

Steelers 27, Vikings 17
The Steelers' opportunistic defense shined in a big win over the Vikings. The unit recorded four sacks and forced two fourth-quarter turnovers that were returned for touchdowns. In addition to producing 14 points, the defense contained Adrian Peterson (18 rushes for 69 yards with one score) and forced the Vikings into a one-dimensional attack that put the onus on Brett Favre. While he had 334 yards passing, the Steelers were able to force the Vikings away from their strength by relentlessly blitzing on early downs to force long-yardage situations. Pittsburgh's defense has been overshadowed for most of the season, but the outstanding performance against Minnesota shows that the unit remains the class of the league.

Bills 20, Panthers 9
The defense continues to carry the Bills by coming up with timely turnovers. The scrappy unit forced four turnovers against the Panthers and only surrendered nine points. The success in those two categories continues a theme that has been an emphasis of Dick Jauron since his days as a defensive coordinator in Jacksonville. The veteran coach has always believed that yards allowed is an overrated stat and that good defenses are judged by their ability to keep opponents out of the end zone while forcing critical turnovers. The Bills converted their four takeaways into 17 points, which was the difference in a game that will look like a lopsided win on for the Panthers on the stat sheet.

Jets 38, Raiders 0
The Raiders finally pulled the plug on JaMarcus Russell after the former No. 1 pick turned the ball over three times in the first half. The abysmal start led to 14 points for the Jets, a deficit too much to overcome for the Raiders. Although the insertion of Bruce Gradkowski did little to ignite the offense, Russell had to be benched to maintain a level of accountability within the locker room. Now, the challenge falls to Russell to pick himself up and show his teammates that he has the moxie to be the leader of the franchise for the foreseeable future. How well Russell handles this bout of adversity could determine Oakland's fate for this season and beyond.

Cowboys 37, Falcons 21
The emergence of Miles Austin has given the Cowboys the playmaker they desperately needed in the passing game. He caught six passes for 171 yard with two touchdowns and is quickly becoming the team's No.1 receiver. Austin has not only given Dallas more speed on the outside, but he is making plays over the middle of the field on an assortment of intermediate routes. Whereas Roy Williams was expected to do most of the damage in those areas, it has been Austin handling the bulk of the dirty work the past two weeks.

Cardinals 24, Giants 17
The Cardinals used some unconventional methods to disrupt the Giants' offense. Operating out of their hybrid 3-4 defense, the Cardinals attacked the Giants with a host of five-man blitzes to keep Eli Manning off balance. The Cardinals cleverly varied their attack points on the pressure package, and often sent a combination of overload pressures to hurry Manning's throws. The Cardinals also mixed in some three-man rushes, dropping eight defenders into coverage to shrink the passing windows. This constant switching kept Manning out of sorts, resulting in his dismal passing performance. The Cardinals' defense has started to come on in recent weeks, and their stellar performance against the Giants sent a message to the rest of the NFC that they will not relinquish their NFC crown easily.


Seven from Sunday

A look at seven statistical highlights from games played during the seventh week of the 2009 season.

» There were three return touchdowns of at least 75 yards in the fourth quarter of Pittsburgh's 27-17 win over Minnesota. Steelers linebacker LaMarr Woodley had a 77-yard fumble return, Vikings rookie Percy Harvin had an 88-yard kickoff return and Pittsburgh linebacker Keyaron Fox had an 82-yard interception return. It marked the first time in NFL history that a game featured three return touchdowns of at least 75 yards in the fourth quarter.

» The New England Patriots, who defeated Tampa Bay 35-7 in the NFL International Series game in London, England, have won 17 consecutive regular-season games against the NFC, the longest winning streak any team has posted against the opposite conference since the 1970 merger.

Over the last two weeks, the Patriots had a streak of 80 unanswered points, the most consecutive points by a team since Buffalo scored 86 in a row in 1992.

» The New York Jets rushed for 316 yards in a 38-0 win at Oakland. The Jets, who rushed for 318 yards last week, are the second team since 1960 to record at least 300 rushing yards in consecutive games in a season (Buffalo, 1975).

» Indianapolis quarterback Peyton Manning completed 23 of 34 passes for 235 yards and three touchdowns in the Colts' 42-6 win at St. Louis. Manning now has 3,995 completions and passed Pro Football Hall of Famer Warren Moon (3,988) to move into fourth place all-time.

Manning has completed 3,995 of 6,175 career passes for a 64.7 completion percentage, the highest mark of any quarterback with at least 2,500 completions.

» Houston wide receiver Andre Johnson had 62 receiving yards in the Texans' 24-21 win over San Francisco. Johnson, who now has 7,013 career receiving yards, reached the 7,000-yard mark in his 93rd game, tying Chad Ochocinco for the seventh-fewest games to reach the milestone.

» New Orleans safety Darren Sharper had a 42-yard interception-return touchdown in the Saints' 46-34 win at Miami. Sharper has 11 career interception-return touchdowns, the second-most in NFL history behind Pro Football Hall of Famer Rod Woodson's 12. Sharper has three interception-return touchdowns this year, tied for the fourth-most in a season.

» Indianapolis rookie head coach Jim Caldwell improved to 6-0 with the Colts' win over St. Louis. Caldwell tied the best start by a rookie head coach since 1970 and combined with Denver's Josh McDaniels to become the first pair of rookie head coaches to each start 6-0 in the same season since the merger.

Caldwell is only the fourth head coach in NFL history to lead his team to a 6-0 start the year after replacing a head coach with at least 100 career regular-season victories (Tony Dungy). McDaniels accomplished the feat last week for the Broncos ( Mike Shanahan).

Monday night

Eagles at Redskins: How do the Redskins close out a week rift with controversy? With a prime-time, nationally televised game against an Eagles team still smarting from an upset loss to the Raiders. This all makes for an intriguing 147th meeting between these two teams.
» Game preview

Fantasy studs

Who was this week's best fantasy player? Was it Aaron Rodgers? What about Carson Palmer following that five-TD effort? Or, was it Miles Austin? Check out all of Michael Fabiano's nominees and cast your vote.
» Vote for Week 7 fantasy stud


The NFL delivered more exciting games and performances in Week 7, including the Patriots' win over the Buccaneers at Wembley Stadium in London. Check out the memorable moments with the best images from a Week 7.

» Fans of the NFL
» NFL cheerleaders during Week 7
» NFL.com photo gallery archives

Weekly Countdown

NFL Weekly Countdown, which airs each Wednesday at 4:30 p.m. ET on NFL Network, lets fans program the show. Check out the 15 nominations for the best performances, and then rank them in the order you want to see them on the show. Come back Wednesday to see the results.

Top 15 moments of Week 7:

» Cardinals pick Manning | Vote
» Grant gains ground | Vote
» Steelers D gets offensive | Vote
» Vernon Davis' hat trick | Vote
» Rodgers extremely efficient | Vote
» Action Jackson strikes in K.C. | Vote
» Colts gallop to 6-0 | Vote
» Palmer helps bury Bears | Vote
» Benson gets back at old team | Vote
» Williams just fine for 'Fins | Vote
» Saints DBs lead comeback | Vote
» Jets run rampant vs. Raiders | Vote
» Air show in Dallas | Vote
» Pace sacks Raiders | Vote
» Jolly good time in London | Vote

» Vote: Week 7's top performances

Ahead ... Week 8!

Sunday (all times ET)
Denver at Baltimore, 1 p.m.
Houston at Buffalo, 1 p.m.
Cleveland at Chicago, 1 p.m.
Seattle at Dallas, 1 p.m.
St. Louis at Detroit, 1 p.m.
San Francisco at Indianapolis, 1 p.m.
Miami at N.Y. Jets, 1 p.m.
N.Y. Giants at Philadelphia, 1 p.m.
Oakland at San Diego, 4:05 p.m.
Jacksonville at Tennessee, 4:05 p.m.
Minnesota at Green Bay, 4:15 p.m.
Carolina at Arizona, 4:15 p.m.
Atlanta at New Orleans, 8:30 p.m.

Bye week: Cincinnati, Kansas City, New England, Pittsburgh, Tampa Bay, Washington.

» Complete schedule



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