Thoughts on Week 12: Jets' Sanchez thrives with added protection

by | CBS Sports
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1. New York Jets -- In what essentially was a do-or-die game, they came from behind to beat Buffalo with a fourth-quarter rally. One of the objectives of the game was for the Jets to give Mark Sanchez better pass protection so he would be more comfortable in the pocket and stay within his reads. The Jets did not give up a sack, and Sanchez did seem to stay with his reads longer. Give him credit for a clutch drive late in the fourth quarter. On that drive, he converted on two third-and-long throws. On the touchdown, Sanchez did what he does best, in my opinion, and that is make plays outside the pocket, as evidenced by the pass to Santonio Holmes. Some quarterbacks have a knack for that, and he's one of them. One other thing they emphasized to Sanchez was to improve on his game management, and it appeared he did a better job in that area against Buffalo.

2. Buffalo -- Another tough loss for the Bills. The loss of Fred Jackson hurt them against the Jets. Jackson not only was a terrific runner, but he caused major matchup problems for teams because he could line up at wide receiver and be covered by a linebacker. The problem the Bills face is they don't have an adequate replacement for Jackson at running back. Former high-first-round pick C.J. Spiller lacks the strength to be a running back. He is similar to Reggie Bush in that he is best when you get him out in space as a runner, but lacks the leg strength to be an effective runner inside the tackles. Once again, Chan Gailey had a creative plan on offense, but the lack of a running attack limited them. WR Steve Johnson did a lot of good things in the game and put the Bills in a position to win, but some late drops and an ill-conceived touchdown celebration hurt the Bills' cause. The Bills will need to add speed at the WR position next year to help this offense and back the coverage off some.

3. Denver -- Improved its record to 6-5 over the slumping Chargers. Once again, Tim Tebow will be the focus of the discussion on whether you can win with him as a quarterback in the NFL. I still believe his passing ability and recognition of defenses must improve before you can consider him a successful NFL quarterback. But you have to give him credit for his competitive spirit, as he does have a way of making big throws late in the game, which he did again against San Diego. The real hero in the Denver resurgence has been the defense. They held San Diego to one touchdown and thus put Tebow and the offense in a position to win. When I ask Denver about its success on defense, the first thing everyone points to is the success it has had learning and executing defensive coordinator Dennis Allen's scheme. This is the reason for the steady progress on the defense. Also, there is the play of Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate Von Miller. On draft day, they chose him over DT Marcell Dareus, even though their biggest need was a DT. Von Miller has not disappointed as a pass rusher. He is still learning to play OLB, but his contributions as a pass rusher opposite Elvis Dumervil have been invaluable. They've certainly helped Dumervil rush the passer.

4. Philadelphia -- Tough week ahead for the Eagles with a Thursday game in Seattle. Against the Patriots, the Eagles came out with an aggressive game plan and had some success early by throwing the ball against New England's secondary. What ultimately caught up with the Eagles were dropped passes. DeSean Jackson dropped one in the end zone where he short-armed a ball. Jackson is not consistent catching the ball across the middle in tight quarters. The other issue in the offense was Vince Young. He did make a number of good throws but he missed open receivers, underthrew deep and held on to the ball too long at times. The plan was good but not the execution. Teams will study what Philly did on offense and like it. On defense, the safety position did the Eagles in. And they have injuries at cornerback, too. Nate Allen had a couple of ugly plays in the game. On one, he was fooled on play-action for a touchdown, and on another, he missed a tackle that gave the Pats a first down. If he had made the stop, New England instead would've faced third down coming out of its own end zone when the game was still close enough for the Eagles to have a chance to come back.

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5. Washington -- The Redskins broke a six-game losing streak, the longest in Mike Shanahan's career. They did it in a tough place to play in Seattle. They did it by playing good defense. The pass rush of Brian Orakpo and Ryan Kerrigan helped clinch the victory in the fourth quarter. Rex Grossman still commits costly turnovers but he gives the Redskins a downfield passing game. The Redskins do a good job of designing plays to get receivers open and Grossman has taken advantage of that the past two weeks. Shanahan has praised the character the team showed during the losing streak. This character is the foundation of a winning team in the future. The Redskins dedicated last offseason to improving the defense, next offseason will be the offense.

6. Houston -- Overcame another tough injury to win in Jacksonville, where Matt Leinart was knocked out of the game. The defense rose to the occasion once again with seven sacks. Connor Barwin had a career day and statistically one of the best days ever by an OLB. He had four sacks, 10 tackles, five tackles for loss and six QB hurries. I don't ever remember seeing a linebacker with those stats. The one thing that stands out when watching this Wade Phillips defense is how hard they play. They play fast and reckless to the ball. With Leinart out, it now falls to rookie T.J. Yates. Yates is smart with a quick release and a strong arm. He is not a top athlete and was viewed as a backup-type talent when he was drafted this past year. Gary Kubiak told me he really liked this guy and believed he was better than the scouting reports read on him. Much like Leinart, it won't fall totally on Yates' shoulders to win the game. I did like the way he was aggressive throwing the ball. The problem with the run-first approach for the Texans is it takes the ball out of their best player's hands; Andre Johnson was targeted only three times in this game.

7. Cincinnati -- Excellent come-from-behind victory for the Bengals, who moved to 7-4 on the season. Cleveland's Colt McCoy and Cincinnati's Andy Dalton have similar stats on the season throwing the ball, but when you see them play each other, two points are evident to me. First, Dalton has a stronger arm. And maybe more important, he has the better weapons. It was never more evident than on A.J. Green's 51-yard pass reception in the last minute to put the Bengals in a position to win. He also made a 35-yard reception in the third quarter that set up a Bengals touchdown. A.J. Green will be the next great receiver in the NFL. McCoy has no such weapons, which limits his ability to make big plays. The other thing that was evident in the game to me was Peyton Hillis' limitations as a running back. In this game, I didn't see the burst to threaten the outside. It might have been because he was rusty or out of shape because of the time missed, but defenses can set the edge on him and contain him. After the year he has had, his free-agent options are not going to be great. I would not be surprised if he ends up signing a one-year contract with the idea he will be motivated to have a big year. I thought his market was going to be limited anyway because of his style as a runner.

8. Arizona -- Kevin Kolb sat out again, but word out of Arizona is they expect him to be ready to go next week, barring any complications during practice. Even more than most quarterbacks, Kolb has to be healthy because mobility is a big part of his game. John Skelton struggled for the second successive week (two interceptions, passer rating of 30). What won the game for the Cardinals was the play of their two first-round picks. Beanie Wells looked like what the Cardinals envisioned when they drafted him -- a big, physical back with speed. Wells had a number of big runs in the game, including a 14-yarder to set up the winning field goal. He rushed for a club-record 228 yards (8.4 per carry). His issue has always been injuries. Also, rookie Patrick Peterson had his fourth kick-return touchdown. Peterson is a rare type of returner who has size to break tackles and speed to run away from defenders.

9. Chris Johnson -- Johnson was given the ball 23 times for 190 yards, and for the first time all year, I saw some of the burst and speed that made him special the previous two years. It was not a great field to play on because of the rain, but it did not appear to be a bad field. Johnson also seemed more decisive in his runs. He is a guy who despite not being a big back actually thrives on having more than 20 carries in a game. Maybe Johnson will get on a roll here late in the year. The Titans are two games behind the Texans, but with the Texans' uncertain quarterback situation, and with one more game left with Houston in the season finale, they are not out of the playoff picture yet.

10. San Francisco -- Considering the 49ers traveled across the country to play a Thursday game against a very good team in Baltimore, they played with great effort in a loss. The NFL should not schedule these types of games. The Harbaugh brothers playing each other is a nice story, but very unfair to the San Francisco team. The only reason this game was scheduled had to be the brother rivalry because there was no reason in the spring to think this would have been a competitive game. So I am not sure whether it is fair to evaluate the 49ers in this game with the travel they had to endure, but I will make one observation: what showed up in this game was the athletic limitations of the San Francisco offensive lineman in pass protection. Their line is big and fairly physical, built more for the running game than the passing game. Where they will struggle is when they have to come from behind and pass block a lot. Against Baltimore, right tackle Anthony Davis especially struggled, as did backup guard Chico Rachael, who came into the game for Adam Snyder. Their toughest matchups in the playoffs would be against high-scoring teams like Green Bay and New Orleans, unless they can play ball control and keep the ball away from them.

More thoughts on Week 12

1. Ndamukong Suh -- What is interesting when you study his case is he has been fined only four times in two years, and two of them were in the preseason. I am not saying that is acceptable, but you would think with all the publicity surrounding him as a so-called "dirty player" there would be more fines. What will hurt him in his latest infraction is that in the NFL's policy on discipline for rules infractions, this act comes under the section that says "infraction occurred outside the normal course of the game." What that means, in short, is the play didn't occur in the normal course of a football play, and is therefore deemed as being flagrant. If the NFL views his incident in this area (I would, and I believe the NFL will, too), then I don't know how he avoids a suspension. As far as the team fine, Detroit has been fined a total of $72,500, and that number could be less with reductions that have not been published. Suh is paid $82,000 per week. The team fine rule is for the first $100K the team pays $50K, at $150K they pay an additional $25K, and after that, it is dollar for dollar. The rule was put in to get the team involved in stopping a player's behavior if the NFL's fine system didn't. It would be interesting to know if the fact that there are only six games left in the season affects the length of the suspension (if indeed there is one) versus if this were the first game of the season. Another thing working against Suh is his press conference. Clearly he doesn't see what he's doing as wrong. If I were making the decision, it would be a two-game suspension, which would be pretty severe at this time of the season. Remember, Suh met with the commissioner, and you have to believe Roger Goodell left no doubt in Suh's mind what his expectations were. If I did that with an employee and he flagrantly acted against the rules, the punishment would be severe. That is what Suh did. I think he needs counseling, too.

2. Ray Lewis -- He missed the 49ers game, and with Cleveland and Indianapolis being Baltimore's next two opponents, I believe he will sit those out as well and prepare to return for San Diego on Thursday, Dec. 15.

3. Kyle Orton -- I believe he wanted to go to Chicago. By claiming him, the Chiefs sent a strong message to their locker room that they're committed to getting to the playoffs. To spend $2.6 million on a QB with only six games to go is a major move. To learn the offense, and be effective in executing it, he'll need all the reps in the next couple of weeks. Will Todd Haley give him that? He is, after all, a big fan of Palko. If KC doesn't sign Orton for next year and he signs with another team, they can get a supplemental pick from the NFL, possibly a sixth-rounder.

4. Helmet Sensors -- Interesting concept to study the effects of contact to the brain. There are three types of sensors being studied: helmet, mouthpiece and ear. The helmet has been studied at North Carolina since 2004. The mouthpiece and ear sensors are new in their research. A couple of interesting points: There is a number, when reached by a player on a collision, where they will check the player to see if he has any concussion symptoms, but they don't automatically take him out of the game. On the other hand, IF a player has concussion-like symptoms in hot weather, they will check to see if he has had any severe blows to the head, and if he hasn't, then it probably indicates it is heat exhaustion. One other point I thought was interesting in the study was that in helmets-only practices, there were actually more blows to the head than in a full-padded practice. The reason is because when players don't have shoulder pads on, they tend to hit with the head more.

5. Mark Sanchez -- I showed the Sanchez interception in the Denver game that was returned for a TD. He rushed his read and didn't allow enough time for Joe McKnight to beat the linebacker up the sideline. The safety had vacated the middle of the field, so this could have been a touchdown. Sanchez hasn't been trusting his protection and he has been rushing his reads. To counter this, the Jets ;will emphasize pass protection more to get Sanchez more comfortable in the pocket so he can finish his reads.

Charley Casserly can be followed on Twitter @CasserlyCBS

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