Posted by ESPN.com’s James Walker
Here are seven notes and observations from Week 7:
What was the impetus of the Cincinnati Bengals’ 45-10 romp of the Chicago Bears? According to the Bengals (5-2), it was their Week 6 loss to the Houston Texans. The Bengals, despite four straight victories, got complacent with winning ugly. They were still committing penalties, often falling behind, and relying on fourth-quarter comebacks. But the Houston game was the first time the Bengals played sloppily and were never competitive from start to finish, and it caught their attention. Cincinnati coach Marvin Lewis said his players didn’t enjoy getting "their noses rubbed" against Houston. The result was a focused Bengals group that played its first complete game of the year.
For the second time this season Bengals tailback Cedric Benson is leading the NFL in rushing. His career-best 189-yard performance against his former team pushed Benson (720 yards) ahead of Adrian Peterson (687 yards) of the Minnesota Vikings. Benson leads the AFC by a wide margin; Thomas Jones of the New York Jets is second in the conference with 602 yards. Benson is on a Pro Bowl pace and is one of the biggest surprises of the 2009 season.
The Pittsburgh Steelers’ 27-17 win over the Minnesota Vikings was one of the strangest games between two elite teams in a long time. For all the exciting "splash" plays, it wasn’t very well played. Both teams were a combined 1-for-8 in the red zone. The Steelers (5-2) struggled on third down offensively and defensively. Minnesota committed 11 penalties. The fourth quarter was especially bizarre as the teams combined for 21 points, but the scoring came from Pittsburgh's defense and Minnesota's special teams.
The Steelers needs to be leery of a dangerous trend. They are putting the football on the ground at an alarming rate. They have five fumbles in the past two games, losing four. Starting tailback Rashard Mendenhall is the biggest offender with a pair of lost fumbles. Against Minnesota, Mendenhall gave a good effort to dive for extra yards but lost the ball in the process. Expect ball security to be a major focus for the defending champs during their bye.
The biggest Week 7 mismatch in the AFC North had to be the secondary of the Green Bay Packers against Cleveland Browns rookie receivers Brian Robiskie and Mohamed Massaquoi. Packers Pro Bowl cornerbacks Al Harris and Charles Woodson made it look easy locking down Cleveland’s pair of rookie second-rounders. Neither Robiskie nor Massaquoi could get open and often looked lost against two of the NFL's best. They combined for one catch for 22 yards.
Looking at their schedule, the Browns could be hard pressed to find their next victory. Cleveland (1-6) plays three of the next four games on the road, with the most winnable being Nov. 22 at the Detroit Lions (1-5). The schedule eases up in the final three weeks of the season with games against the Kansas City Chiefs (1-5), Oakland Raiders (2-4) and Jacksonville Jaguars (3-3). But there could be a lot of tough Sundays on the horizon for the Browns before that stretch.
One of the most intriguing things about this week’s game between the Baltimore Ravens (3-3) and Denver Broncos (6-0) is both teams are coming off a bye. With the exception of the Super Bowl, that’s a rare scenario in the NFL where two teams get two weeks to prepare for each other. You could see new wrinkles from Denver and Baltimore, or one team extremely sharp and another team very rusty. It all depends on which team was most productive during its time off. Either way, expect the Ravens and Broncos to be one of the best games of Week 8.