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Week 7 Observations
By Matt Horkman

Six defensive touchdowns highlighted Sunday’s early action with five of those scores coming in the first half alone. Carolina cornerback Captain Munnerlyn intercepted a Sam Bradford pass and returned it 45 yards for a touchdown. Buffalo cornerback Nickell Robey did the same to Ryan Tannehill, as did Washington linebacker Brian Orakpo to Jay Cutler, though Cutler was the victim of a tipped ball. The Falcons were the benefactors of a Mike Glennon fumble. Atlanta safety William Moore -- who blitzed the rookie quarterback on the play -- made the hit, and Thomas DeCoud returned the fumble 30 yards for a touchdGeno Smithown. In New York, defensive touchdowns aided both teams. New England cornerback Logan Ryan, who returned the ball 79 yards for a touchdown, giving the Patriots a 14-7 first-quarter lead, intercepted Geno Smith. The Jets returned the favor in the second half after cornerback Antonio Allen returned a Tom Brady interception 23 yards for a touchdown.

New England linebacker Dont'a Hightower found himself in no man’s land during the third quarter of Sunday’s game. Smith was able to escape pressure and roll outside the pocket, giving him the opportunity to run or throw. Hightower turned his head away from Smith, allowing the rookie quarterback to run for the touchdown. The Patriots never lead in this game again.

Rule 9, Section 1, Article 3 of the NFL rulebook sucks. The rule states, “An opposing player(s) cannot push teammates on the line of scrimmage into the offense formation.” That’s exactly what New England defensive lineman Chris Jones did on a failed 56-yard field attempt from Jets’ kicker Nick Folk in overtime. The idea this foul warrants 15 yards is outrageous. Pushing another player is not the same as Brandon Meriweather launching himself headfirst at Alshon Jeffery. Because of safety precautions, players asked for this rule, so the league’s not likely to get rid of it. That’s fair enough. Tweak it and make it a five-yard penalty. Under that scenario, Nick Folk would’ve had to hit a 51-yard field goal to win the game. I rather see Folk try from 51 yards than have the officials hand the Jets 15 yards and a first down.

After throwing for a touchdown in 44 consecutive games, Brady has just one touchdown pass in his last 130 pass attempts. A bizarre penalty in overtime shouldn’t take away from what’s been arguably Brady’s worst season as a starting NFL quarterback.

Trailing 10-0 late in the third quarter, Philadelphia was in position to score their first points of the game after linebacker DeMeco Ryans intercepted a Tony Romo pass. On the third play of the drive, wide receiver Jason Avant broke open in the end zone on a corner route. Nick Foles, however, significantly under threw the ball, forcing Avant to attempt to pick the ball out of the ground. The ball deflected off the ground and a Dallas defender intercepted the ball, prompting a booth review. The play was overturned, but the attention on the review deflected away from Foles’ inaccurate throw.

Detroit punter Sam Martin deserves an assist in Cincinnati’s victory over the Lions. Punting from his own 23-yard line, the rookie punter got off a duck of just 28 yards, positioning the Bengals at their own 49 with 26 seconds remaining. The Bengals drove just 15 yards to setup their game-winning 54-yard field goal from Mike Nugent.

More gamesmanship from Green Bay head coach Mike McCarthy. Last week, he declined a penalty that would’ve pushed the Ravens back 10 yards, setting the stage for Green Bay’s second-quarter goal line stand. This week, even though his defense stopped the Browns four yards shy of a first down on a third-and-10, McCarthy opted to accept an illegal formation penalty. Instead of giving the Browns one down to gain four yards, McCarthy gave them two downs to gain 15. His strategy paid off, as Cleveland turned the ball over on downs after throwing back-to-back incomplete passes. 

The Broncos ran 73 plays over the course of 17 drives against Indianapolis, but 37 of those plays came from their final six drives. Denver was unable to sustain possession in the first 40 minutes, where they ran just 36 plays. Of their first 11 drives, seven ended in a three and out or turnover. In addition, another ended because Peyton Manning kneeled down to end the first half. Simply put, Denver spent the final 20 minutes attempting to climb out of a hole they spent the first 40 digging.

People focusing on Denver’s offensive output haven’t paid attention to the defenses they’ve played. Dallas, Jacksonville, N.Y. Giants, Oakland, and Washington are not defensive juggernauts. You could argue Baltimore’s pretty good, but the Ravens had a lot of turnover on their defensive (seven new starters), and they were playing Denver in the season opener. Indianapolis represented the Broncos’ first test. While the Broncos did score 33 points, the Colts exposed their woeful offensive line. I counted 19 times the Colts hit, pressured, or sacked Manning. The Broncos lack of protection contributed to their defeat and it could be their downfall (along with their defense) if they don’t correct the issue.

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