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Week 11 thoughts: Undermanned Bengals impressive in defeat

by | CBS Sports
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1. Cincinnati -- Another great effort by the youthful Bengals, who played the game without A.J. Green and Leon Hall (gone for the season). The Bengals' plan was to be physical with the Ravens and try to win the battle upfront. Most people don't feel they can win that battle, but the Bengals have won it before. On Sunday, they did not quite do it. Andy Dalton did a lot of good things throwing the ball but also was picked off three times, not all of them his fault. What impressed me the most was his ability to keep coming back under adversity. In fact, if it had not been for Jermaine Gresham's TD being overturned on an acrobatic play (but unfortunate slight movement of the ball when he hit the ground) the Bengals would have been in a position to tie the game with a field goal in the last minute. On the last play of the game for Cincinnati, Dalton was sacked by Pernell McPhee, who has been doing a good job rushing the passer all year. This will be a critical point in the season for the Bengals after losing two tough divisional games. They can't have a letdown against Cleveland next week. I don't think they will. Young teams are excited to play and can't wait to go play the next game, but they will have to be mature enough to keep their focus on Cleveland through Thanksgiving week.

2. Baltimore -- Coming into the game, they planned on getting Ray Rice plenty of touches. He ran it 20 times for 104 yards and targeted him 10 times in the passing game, mostly with the screen pass. Rice averaged 5.2 yards carrying the ball and 8.6 yards on pass receptions. Joe Flacco was sharper in this game than he had been, but still showed some of his inconsistency. On his touchdown pass to Boldin, he did a good job of moving around in the pocket and finding Boldin, who adjusted his route to find an opening in the secondary. Flacco does a very good job moving to find the open man. Ray Lewis missed the game with a tendon injury in his toe. Lewis has a high threshold of pain and wanted to play. I am sure he will want to play Thursday, but should not if there is any chance of reinjuring the toe. After Thursday, the Ravens will get a 10-day break and then play Cleveland twice, San Diego and Indianapolis before finishing with Cincinnati. The playoffs are what Lewis should be thinking about.

3. Miami -- Give the Dolphins credit for their third victory in a row. During their seven-game losing streak, what you admired about them was the way they kept fighting and playing hard. Losing Chad Henne hurt them, especially since Matt Moore was, like many QBs this season, coming to a new team and having to learn a new system without an offseason. Over the past few games, he has found his rhythm. He was 14 for 20 with three touchdowns. The weakness in the Dolphins offense still exists; they don't get enough production out of their wide receivers, especially with the lack of a deep threat. They must find a true speed receiver to open things up for the rest of the receivers.

4. Oakland -- Carson Palmer and Michael Bush continue to impress. Palmer was not spectacular but efficient, completing 17 of 23 passes. You can see his command of the game when he plays, and you get the sense when he is in there the Raiders can move the ball against anybody. Michael Bush continues to impress with his physical running style. Though he gained only 3.6 yards per carry, his 30 carries were very impressive. He is the type of back who can wear a defense down. Bush will be an unrestricted free agent next year, and will be a must for the Raiders to re-sign with McFadden not being able to stay healthy.

5. Dallas -- Hard-fought victory in a must-win situation in Washington. The Cowboys have far more talent than the Redskins, but this shows you what rivalry games can be. I thought the Cowboys would have trouble running the ball against the Redskins front, which was more physical than the Cowboys offensive line. I was especially impressed with Tony Romo. The Redskins did a good job of pressuring him, and it seemed like they did a good job a mixing up their coverages to make Romo hold the ball. One of Romo's best strengths is his ability to move around and keep plays alive. It also can be one of his weaknesses, because sometimes he will try to do too much when he keeps plays alive and will force passes that result in interceptions. Against Washington, his biggest plays were when he bought time in the pocket and found Jason Witten for a touchdown and Dez Bryant for a critical first down in overtime. On both of those plays, the receivers adjusted the route to get open, and Romo found them. These are the type of plays Romo can make and they were the difference in the game.

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6. Detroit -- Battled back from a 24-7 deficit to beat Carolina. This is the third time this year the Lions have rallied to win when trailing by 17 or more points this season. They are the first team ever to do that, thus setting up a great Thanksgiving Day matchup with the Packers. Matt Stafford, who is playing with an injured finger on his throwing hand, had a terrific week in practice and carried it over into the game with 335 passing yards and five touchdowns. The surprise of the game was the performance of former Detroit third-round draft choice Kevin Smith, who had been plagued by injuries earlier in his career with the Lions. Smith rushed for 140 yards, which in part is due to Carolina's weak run defense. Smith can certainly help the Lions down the stretch. He was never a fast back, but he did have good instincts, he just could not stay healthy.

7. Chicago -- The Bears (7-3) won their fifth straight. It was not a pretty game, but they kept their winning formula intact by being balanced on offense with 31 passes and 27 runs. San Diego did show that if you have time, you can hurt the Bears on deep passes, something that will be a test for them when they play Oakland next week. With Cutler injured, they will have to reemphasize the run more than ever. But the Bears have confidence in backup QB Caleb Hanie. In the NFC Championship Game last year against the Packers, he led the Bears to two touchdowns in the second half. His final stats in that game were 13 of 20 for 153 yards, 1 TD and 2 INTs. He understands the Bears system. They have had enough belief in him to not sign another veteran QB to compete with him. After Oakland, Chicago will play Kansas City, Denver and Seattle. None of those teams throws well enough to hurt the Bears secondary. I expect the Bears defense to rise to the occasion and lead the team down the stretch until they face the Packers in Week 16.

8. San Diego -- They lost their fifth in a row with a depleted offensive line and without Malcom Floyd and Shawn Phillips. They struggled to run the ball against a better Bears front line, thus putting a lot of pressure on Philip Rivers. Rivers kept them in the game with a courageous performance, throwing under duress at times but still making plays. He had good success throwing deep, especially to Vincent Jackson, who looked the best he has looked all year. Rivers did throw two more interceptions but once again, it was because he was forcing the ball when they were behind. At 4-6, the Chargers face a critical game next week against Denver. The Denver defense has greatly improved, but the offense is still a work in progress with the addition of the option. This is a winnable game for San Diego, but it will be a gut check for the Chargers.

9. Tampa Bay -- Give the Bucs and Raheem Morris and his coaching staff a lot of credit for going into Green Bay with people giving them little chance to win and nearly pulling off the upset. They were aggressive in their offensive plan -- they exploited the Packers' weakness in their defense and passed for 342 yards. Tampa Bay, I think, got hurt more by the lockout more than any other team in the NFL except Philadelphia because of the number of young players they depend upon. The extra practices in the spring and the reduced time in training camp hurt the development of their young players, especially Josh Freeman, as he tries to become more of a drop-back QB. Morris went after the victory in the fourth quarter, which you should do when you are the underdog on the road. He went for a two-point conversion when he trailed 21-19 with 13:11 left in the fourth quarter. They failed, but later in the fourth trailing 28-26 with 4:31 left, he went for the onside kick, figuring they might not get the ball back if they kicked it to the NFL's best offense. As it turns out, Tampa Bay didn't get it back until after Green Bay scored a touchdown to put the game out of reach.

10. Washington -- The Redskins lost their sixth straight, a 27-24 loss to the Cowboys in overtime, but only after Graham Gano missed a 52-yard field goal in overtime. Nobody gave the Redskins a chance in this game, but the Redskins' defensive line was more physical than the Cowboys up front and stuffed the Cowboys rushing attack. On offense, they were aggressive throwing the ball downfield and for the most part, we saw the "Good Rex." His one interception came when he and his receiver were not on the same page. Any criticism of their offensive scheme and strategy is not fair, especially in this game. The downfall of the Redskins was a couple of big plays they gave up on passes. On one, DeAngelo Hall got beat by Dez Bryant, and the other was a broken route to Jason Witten, who was wide open. You do see these type of plays come up against the Redskins secondary from time to time. Give Mike Shanahan credit for having his players ready to play and nearly pulling off the upset.

More thoughts on Week 11

1. Matt Schaub -- Matt Leinart will take his place. He was signed to a two-year contract with a $2 million signing bonus with contract salaries of $1.75 million for 2011 and 2012. Leinart has taken snaps with the first team more than most backups, because Matt Schaub has missed some practices due to injuries. Leinart will run the same offense as Schaub with head coach Gary Kubiak emphasizing the plays Leinart can execute best. In the past, there had been questions on Leinart's work habits. The Texans have told me he has worked hard since he has been there. One thing to watch -- when he played in preseason, he had a tendency not throw the ball downfield enough. I would expect the Texans to find a way to get him to throw the ball deep more.

2. Tim Tebow -- The option they run is more off the ball than on the line of scrimmage so he will get hit less. The Jets talked to a number of colleges to get ideas on how to defend the option, and certainly did a good job defending it Thursday. One thing they told me was it cuts down on the number of defenses you can use because you have to be able to defend the option in each defense and have all of the responsibilities covered: QB, dive back and option back. Denver thought the Jets stopped rushing the passer and played the option first.

3. Earl Bennett -- The NFL ruled the shoes he wore in the San Diego game were legal because they were dominantly black with an orange accent. 4. Rex Ryan -- Why hasn't the NFL acted on Rex Ryan's situation with a fine? They will, but because of the Jets' short week last week with a Thursday game, it would not be fair to Rex Ryan to not give him an opportunity to meet with the commissioner if that was necessary. A decision will be announced this week on the amount of the fine.

5. Ndamukong Suh -- He was not fined in the Chicago game when he apparently ripped the helmet off Jay Cutler. After looking at all of the angles, I believe a penalty should have been called and a fine issued. He put his hand in the opening in the back of the helmet and pulled it off, in my opinion. The penalty would be for violating the "open helmet" rule, which states that you cannot put your hand in the open part of the helmet.

6. Pittsburgh Steelers meeting with NFL officials -- For the second time this season, the commissioner Roger Goodell and members of his staff met with a team to get everyone on the same page and head off further issues regarding the rules. During the meeting, the Steelers were shown plays not only of themselves, but also of other teams. Plays were shown of James Harrison and how he has changed his style of play to adapt to the rules. One of the outcomes of these meeting from the league's point of view is they get to hear the club's suggestions on better ways to communicate the rules to them. From the clubs' point of view, they get to bring up suggestions on rule changes and talk about the consistency, or lack thereof, of officiating. Philosophically, Goodell welcomes the opportunity to meet with teams, and I would not be surprised if there is not more of these meetings.

Follow Charley Casserly on Twitter @CasserlyCBS

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