The Dolphins' pass-rush kept Jets' quarterback Mark Sanchez in check all game long. (ZUMAPRESS.com)
“Second Read” rewinds the tape after each NFL weekend to determine why the games played out the way that they did … and what it all may mean for the rest of the season.
If you had to pinpoint the exact moment that the Jets' Week 8 started to spin out of control, here would be a good place to start: On 2nd-and-7 with about 4:30 left in the first quarter, down 3-0.
That's when Mark Sanchez dropped back to pass, as the Dolphins blitzed linebackers Koa Misi and Karlos Dansby. Right tackle Austin Howard, without any inside help, allowed Tony McDaniel to blow past him and level Sanchez as he threw, planting the Jets' QB into the turf.
Miami blitzed again on the next play, with safety Jimmy Wilson storming from Sanchez's blindside for a sack. New York's next possession ended in similar fashion -- Nolan Carroll came on a delayed blindside blitz, sacking Sanchez and forcing a fumble.
Without having to really worry about the Jets' downfield presences, Miami felt comfortable enough to bring extra pass-rushers time and again. That approach resulted in three sacks of Sanchez, double-digit hurries and a Jets offense that fell totally out of whack early Sunday. It was an aggressive approach by the visiting Dolphins that paid off in spades.
Nine other observations from a spin back through the Week 8 game tapes:
1. Did Carolina get too conservative in coverage?: So you want to be an NFL cornerback? Well, here's how Josh Norman's day went ...
For much of the afternoon against the Bears, he played about as well as we've seen him play in his rookie season. His biggest highlight came on a deep ball to Brandon Marshall -- Norman stayed with Marshall step-for-step, then made a terrific leaping interception near the Carolina goal line.
But with the Panthers clinging to a two-point lead late, Norman and and his defensive teammates backed off and played soft coverage in an effort to prevent Chicago's receivers from getting deep for a TD. As a result, Jay Cutler and Marshall hooked up four times for 36 yards, and none was particularly difficult. And that helped get the Bears in position for a game-winning field goal.
2. Steven Jackson looked worth trading for: Whether by design or in an effort to keep him healthy so they could dangle him on the trade block, the Rams kept Jackson more or less under wraps in Sunday's loss to New England.
Here's what interested teams would have seen before he was taken out of the game plan, though: Jackson had a strong 14-yard reception on St. Louis' first drive, then followed up with a pair of tough runs to set up a deep TD pass to Chris Givens. Later, Jackson also buried his helmet into a blitzer and gave Bradford time to throw. He can be a complete player, and might be a valuable pickup for a playoff team needing a back.
3. Eagles' D faltered playing it straight up: Think of this as the opposite of Miami's defensive plan.
Philadelphia blitzed Matt Ryan twice early. The first resulted in a 15-yard gain for an open Drew Davis; the second in a holding call against Jason Babin. The Eagles then brought extra pressure on just two more passes the rest of the game, giving Matt Ryan more than enough time to set and go through his progressions. Ryan -- and any legit quarterback -- will thrive if he has time, and that's exactly what happened.
4. Jeff Backus stepped up for the Lions: Riley Reiff has seen increasing playing time as a sixth lineman for Detroit lately and done a solid job, leading to speculation that the veteran Backus' days as a starter are numbered.
Not if he plays like he did on Sunday. Backus basically stuffed Chris Clemons, who entered Week 8 with seven sacks and close to 20 QB hurries on the season. Matthew Stafford only to had to bail on the pocket on a handful of occasions because of pressure from his blindside, making the job of Seattle's coverage guys that much harder.
5. Stevie Brown's stunning success: Brown was one of the victims of the ill-fated Rich Rodriguez era at Michigan -- between Lloyd Carr and Rodriguez, Brown's position was shifted about three or four times, resulting in a rough ride.
What the Giants have found out, though, and what Dallas learned Sunday is that he's a tremendous athlete. Brown may not always be in perfect position, but he showed against the Cowboys that he will fly to the football. That will result in him getting burned from time to time (even if it hasn't really happened yet), but he'll also make plays like his two picks and fumble recovery against Dallas.
6. Andrew Luck handles pressure like a seasoned vet: The Titans had two sacks Sunday, but that number should have been a lot higher because both of Tennessee's defensive ends (Derrick Morgan, Kamerion Wimbley) played very well. That duo constantly pushed upfield against Indianapolis' line. Andrew Luck, however, continued to prove how adept he is at escaping trouble and keeping plays alive.
He did it time and again Sunday, rolling both to his right and spinning out away from blindside rushes. His numbers under pressure: 14-of-17 for nearly 200 yards.
7. Ben Roethlisberger is pretty good, too: While we're on the subject of quarterbacks, a moment to appreciate the work Roethlisberger did against Washington on Sunday. Playing in some iffy weather conditions and with the Redskins guarding against Pittsburgh's speedy receivers getting long, Roethlisberger simply took what he was given. He attempted exactly zero passes of deeper than 20 yards, instead working short and intermediate routes with his talented weapons -- a plan that resulted in 222 yards passing and huge yards-after-catch totals.
8. Wesley Woodyard flat out make plays: I'm probably not telling Denver fans anything they don't know, but Woodyard can really disrupt an attack. New Orleans found that out the hard way Sunday night, and the tough thing for an opposing offense is that Woodyard gets it done in a number of ways.
Woodyard had a first-quarter sack of Drew Brees that forced a fumble. He picked off a 4th-and-2 pass in the second quarter, dropping into coverage and reading Brees' eyes. On multiple occasions, he crashed wide to take down Darren Sproles or Jimmy Graham. The list goes on and on.
The Broncos' linebacker has stepped up his play this year, and he's a dangerous defensive playmaker right now.
9. Arizona's offense doesn't have a prayer against good defenses: The Cardinals were on the ropes within minutes Monday night and never punched back. It's easy to blame the offensive line for all that ails Arizona -- and that line continues to be a total mess -- but there is plenty of blame to go around.
Arizona ran an abundance of screens Monday to try to counter San Francisco's vicious pass rush, but it just doesn't have the home-run hitters to turn those screens into big gains. And John Skelton was as much of a problem Monday as the offensive line. He was extremely deliberate in his decision-making, using time that he didn't have to try to find openings.