John Clayton's Last Call: Stingy Ravens D sends Denver to first loss
AP Photo/John Russell
Week 8 observations: Five things I learned
By John Clayton, ESPN.com1. Ravens solve Broncos: The Ravens were the first team to unravel the mystery of the Denver Broncos, who had their six-game winning streak snapped in a 30-7 blowout in Baltimore. In many ways, the Ravens' defense had a perfect game plan. Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton doesn't throw the ball long. Entering the game, he had only 16 passes that went longer than 21 yards in six games. The Ravens kept one safety deep in coverage and designed their pass defense to keep Denver's receivers in front of it. "We blitzed a lot more with a safety playing high," Ravens cornerback Domonique Foxworth said. "It puts pressure on the secondary but it also put pressure on the quarterback. The way to beat that is screen and hitches, but we did a good job of coming to the ball."
AP Photo/Nick Wass
The Ravens sacked Broncos QB Kyle Orton twice and held him to 152 passing yards.
Ravens middle linebacker Ray Lewis said the key was keeping receivers Brandon Marshall and Eddie Royal in front of the defensive backs and rushing three and four defenders to stop them. It worked. Orton passed for only 152 yards; according to ESPN Stats & Information, Orton completed only 4 of 10 passes for 17 yards when the Ravens brought extra pressure.On offense, the Ravens negated the ability of Denver's defense to make second-half adjustments by coming out in a no-huddle and working at a tempo that wore down defenders. Joe Flacco completed his last 14 passes for 159 yards. "We wanted to come out and set the tempo in the second half, which is why we came out with no-huddle and ran a little two-minute offense," said Flacco, who was 20-of-25 for 175 yards. It also helped that Lardarius Webb returned the second-half kickoff 95 yards for a touchdown to open a 13-0 lead. 2. Dolphins spell misery for Jets: Let's face it: The downfall of the New York Jets is the Miami Dolphins. Last year the Jets traded for Brett Favre to get them over the hump. The Dolphins, using former Jets starting QB Chad Pennington, knocked New York out of the playoffs with a win in the season finale. By beating the Jets 30-25 on Sunday to complete a season sweep, the Dolphins once again put the Jets in a tough spot. Pennington beating a wounded Favre last season was an embarrassment for the Jets' organizational strategy. Sunday's loss was a gut-wrencher because first-year coach Rex Ryan fixed the defensive problems, but his team still gave up 30 points because of mistakes. Ryan limited Miami's Wildcat formation to five plays and 15 yards, sacking Ronnie Brown for 9 yards and forcing a Brown incompletion. Two of the Dolphins' touchdowns came on kickoff returns. That is a tackling problem that points to Ryan. Also, I had trouble with Ryan's decision to go to two-point conversions too early. Ryan first went for the two-point conversion trailing 24-19 with 1:35 left in the third quarter. He also went for two after a Dustin Keller touchdown made the score 30-25 with 5:52 left. Both conversions failed. Had the Jets kicked the conversions, they would have been down 30-27 on their final drive with at least a chance to tie the score with a field goal. In the final minute, the Jets were inside the Dolphins' 10, but they had to go for the touchdown and lost. Ryan said after the game he went for the two points because he always felt his defense could stop the Dolphins. It didn't. 3. Big blow for surging Texans: The Houston Texans' victory in Buffalo has them heading into next Sunday's game against the Colts with a 5-3 record, but they have to play without tight end Owen Daniels, who was lost for the season with a serious knee injury. Matt Schaub losing Daniels is like Peyton Manning losing Dallas Clark. Daniels' ability to stretch the field and move the safety opens up big plays for wide receivers Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. Daniels' success is one of the reasons Schaub has passed for 2,342 yards and 16 touchdowns in the first eight games. Daniels also has helped Houston become a better road team and Schaub cut down on the turnovers that haunted him in his first two seasons as the Texans' starter. Many in Houston believe next Sunday's game is the biggest in Texans history. A loss to the Colts would leave Houston at 5-4, 3½ games behind in the division. The win over the Bills was huge, but you get the feeling the Texans are competing more for a wild-card berth than the AFC South title. 4. Big problems for Giants: Going into the season, the Giants appeared to be the team to beat in the NFC East. Now they are the team everyone is beating. The Giants entered Week 8 with the league's No. 1-ranked defense statistically. The stats lied. The Giants gave up 48 points to the Saints (Week 6) and 24 points at home in a loss to Kurt Warner and the Cardinals (Week 7). In beating the Giants 40-17 on Sunday, Eagles QB Donovan McNabb led an attack that totaled 391 total yards and five touchdown drives. The Giants can't stop the inside run, and their inability to consistently pressure quarterbacks is killing them in coverage. ESPN Stats & Information noted in the Giants' three losses, their defense has been vulnerable to 277 rushing yards up the middle on 45 attempts, a staggering 6.2 yards per carry. Eagles fullback Leonard Weaver had a 41-yard touchdown run up the middle. Rookie LeSean McCoy had a 66-yard run. Eagles coach Andy Reid takes criticism for not running the ball enough, but Philadelphia had 180 yards on 24 carries Sunday. Running was easy. The Giants tried to bolster their defensive front seven, but the moves haven't worked out. Defensive tackle Chris Canty has been out all season with injuries, and weakside linebacker Michael Boley has been available for only two games. Rocky Bernard was another free-agent signing who hasn't been a factor. Some may point to the loss of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as the reason for the downfall. Whatever the reason, the Giants' defense is playing small. 5. Cold reality for Packers fans: The weather is turning colder in Wisconsin, and Packers fans have to live with the reality that Favre is going to the playoffs and a possible championship game wearing Vikings purple. He went into Lambeau Field and threw for four touchdown passes in a 38-26 victory over the Packers, sweeping the series and turning the NFC North into what looks to be a runaway. The Vikings lead the division by 2½ games and you really don't see the rest of the pack catching up. The Bears, who beat the Browns 30-6, aren't good enough in the red zone and stout enough on defense to catch up to the Vikings. The Packers can't be criticized for not having a quarterback ready to replace Favre. Aaron Rodgers is a great one, but offensive line woes have left Rodgers and the Packers in a horrible spot. Rodgers looked like a wounded warrior, limping through the final minutes of the game, throwing passes that left his receivers -- Greg Jennings and Donald Driver -- vulnerable to hits. The NFC North is a division that belongs to Favre. The problem for Packers fans is that he has relocated to Minneapolis.
Clayton's short takes
John Clayton's game balls
Sunday Countdown | ESPN.com • Coach Ratings: Week 8 • NFL Blog Network
Week 8 rundown
The Broncos usually get better as the game progresses. Not on Sunday. A nightmarish second half paved the way for Denver's first loss under Josh McDaniels.
• Chicago 30, Cleveland 6
The Browns' ineptitude on offense is getting comical. With such a poor supporting cast, it really doesn't matter who's playing QB.
St. Louis 17, Detroit 10
This one was far from a classic, but at least the Rams can heave a collective sigh of relief. Their run of futility (17 straight losses) is finally over.
Miami 30, N.Y. Jets 25
Verbal sparring. Two nail-biters in less than a month. Yes, it's safe to say the Dolphins-Jets rivalry is alive and well.
Philadelphia 40, N.Y. Giants 17
That 5-0 start has become a distant memory for Giants fans. The past three weeks have exposed many chinks in New York's armor, especially on defense.
Carolina 34, Arizona 21
The enigmatic ways of the Cardinals continue. Of course, it's not easy to win when your quarterback turns the ball over six times.
• Houston (5-3) at Indianapolis (7-0): Maybe the biggest game in Texans history.• Baltimore (4-3) at Cincinnati (5-2): The well-rested Bengals will be eyeing a season sweep of the Ravens. • Dallas (5-2) at Philadelphia (5-2): NFC East supremacy on the line. • Pittsburgh (5-2) at Denver (6-1): Another tough game for the Broncos. How will they bounce back from their first loss? • Week 9 schedule