Monday, August 5, 2013

Fourth & Forever: Previewing the AFC South

Johnny J

In 2012, the Indianapolis Colts waived one good quarterback and drafted another. They released the then eleven-time Pro Bowler, Peyton Manning for concerns with a neck injury that required several surgeries. Thanks to a 2-14 season in 2011, the Colts drafted quarterback Andrew Luck with the number one overall pick. Thus the Luck Era has arrived: 4000 passing yards and 28 overall touchdowns in his rookie season.  I'm looking for a bigger season this year, but they will have to hold off the division champs, the Houston Texans. The Texans are a strong running team that moves the ball down-field. Then we all know about J.J. Watt who does a lot more than bat balls out of the air. He is part of a good defense that just became a little tougher with the signing of safety Ed Reed. The other two teams in the division--the Tennessee Titans and the Jacksonville Jaguars--have great running backs in Chris Johnson and Maurice-Jones Drew. But with no help around them, they may be on the outside looking in and might struggle to finish above .500--again.

We'll start off with the good in this division. Quarterback Andrew Luck is a good quarterback and its the people around him who helped this team go from 2-14 to 11-5. They finished the division 4-2 and did so with a big distraction. Their head coach, Chuck Pagano, was dealing with leukemia and was away for most of the season, but he received treatment and came back, which became a big inspiration throughout the NFL world. Now for the supporting cast: Wide receiver Reggie Wayne had an enormous year despite him getting up in age. The 34 year-old had 115 receptions and nearly 1500 yards. Its safe to say he is Luck's favorite target. His second favorite was receiver T.Y. Hilton, who had seven touchdowns. In the backfield Vick Ballard averaged 3.9 yards a carry and racked up 905 yards on the ground. The difference is he only had three total touchdowns and that just wont cut it. He's got to help Luck out with the scoring. With the release of defensive end Dwight Freeney, someone has to step us on the defensive line. I'm not talking about Robert Mathis, but the signing of Aubrayo Franklin--315 pound nose tackle, run stopper--should help out in a big way. They also signed safety LaRon Landry, a hard-hitting, throwing his body with force defensive back. He puts fear into offensive skill position players. This guy is huge for a safety. Last year as a member of the New York Jets, he had over 100 combined tackles, four forced fumbles and two picks. A major upgrade to their defense which gave up almost 400 yards a game.

The Houston Texans are looking to build off a second round loss to the New England Patriots. Going 5-1 in the AFC South is a good feeling, but not the best when you look at all the teams. Nevertheless, this team is moving in the right direction for the 2013 season. This team runs, runs, and finally comes the action, play that is. Not Kidding nor Playing, just the hype that came along with rappers Kid N Play. Then there was play-action. It's very hard to bring down a running back in Arian Foster, especially someone who averaged 4.1 yards per carry. Foster was running through holes that even Charles Barkley can run though with a donut in his hand. No wonder Foster had 17 touchdowns and almost 1700 yards on the ground. So just run, and with a mediocre quarterback in Matt Schaub, it gives their QB time to find open receivers. This guy has never had a quarterback rating over 100, but he gets the job done. They finally gave help to receiver Andre Johnson, by drafting DeAndre Hopkins, a Clemson receiver who had 18 touchdowns his junior year. He's another threat to safeties overplaying Johnson. Their defense was already good, but with a playmaker in Ed Reed, this defense has became elite. A defense who only gave up 2.4 touchdowns a game. A defense who ranked 10th in giving up 21.4 points a game. Now you pair Reed, with safety Danieal Manning and cornerback Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson, this is a top five secondary. On the front-end you have the powerful, fast-motor J.J. Watt. 75 solo tackles is nothing, but 42 tackles for loss is dynamic. In the middle you have performance enhancing hormone abuser Brian Cushing. A good linebacker, with good speed. Even after being caught, he still kept his defensive rookie of the year trophy. (Clay Matthews got robbed! (Matthews will be happy to know that the trophy stayed at USC--Ed). Overall I'm looking for the Texans to repeat as division champs and I'll say if healthy--The Super Bowl.

The Titans have constantly clashed with being an underperforming team. They replaced an established, well-known good coach in Jeff Fisher, who now is in St. Louis. Replaced by Mike Munchak, a former offensive guard drafted by the Houston Oilers in 1982. He then became an offensive assistant coach to the offensive line coach to head coach. Someone who hasn't established himself as a good coach. The results will be the years added on of not making a playoff appearance since 2008. How can you replace a legend with an offensive line coach to making the playoffs? It's simple; you can't. Usually coaches moving up get to be an offensive coordinator before making the leap. This tells me the Titans are cheap and are not looking at making the playoffs any time soon. The coach doesn't know the whole offense, so as a player why should I respect a line coach? With that said, Chris Johnson is the running back to build around. The three-time Pro Bowler, doesn't have help around him. His line is constantly in disarray. He has a quarterback in Jake Locker who is constantly struggling and they don't have a play-making receiver at all. So defenses could just stick everyone in the box, because they have no outside threat. Wide receivers Kenny Britt, Kendall Wright and Nate Washington are decent, but not outstanding. Between all three of them they had 155 receptions. The highest at 64 and that just wont cut it. With the Titans having offensive woes with their offensive line coach, the defense isn't much better. They gave up 29.4 points a game, ranked last in the league. They gave up 3.4 touchdowns a game, ranked last in the NFL. The rush defense was ranked 10th in the league. It was the secondary that was terrible. They added safety Bernard Pollard. Not a great coverage guy, but demands respect with punishing hits. They also added safety George Wilson. A leader on and off the field. He had 362 tackles, 12 interceptions and three forced fumbles in 92 games with Buffalo. The back-end has leadership and fierce hitting safeties on their side. A small defensive upgrade and definitely not playoff made.

The Jaguars are in the same predicament. A quality running back in Maurice Jones-Drew, but with no help around him they are just struggling to not be embarrassed. Coming off a 2-14 2012 season, the Jaguars are looking to just move in the winning direction. Their best player, Jones-Drew, missed 10 games last season with a foot injury and is just looking to rebound from a bad season. Jones-Drew hasn't missed more than two games since entering the league in 2006. He is the focal point of the Jaguars' offense and he will continue to be. He has run for over 1000 yards in three out of the last four seasons. It would've been 1500, if they had a good quarterback--wishful thinking--but instead they have a terrible quarterback in Blaine Gabbert. The Jaguars are holding an open competition between Gabbert and Chad Henne. They both suck, but let's say Gabbert wins the competition. This guy is scared of getting hit. He doesn't stand in the pocket to make a throw. Instead, he is already looking to start running when he's in the shotgun. He doesn't connect on 60 percent of his passes and in two years he hasn't had a quarterback rating higher than 80. Gabbert doesn't have any playmaking receivers at all. Receiver Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon are not good. How many people do you know who will draft a Jaguars' receiver on their fantasy football teams? The defense is terrible as well. Opponents run the ball 50 percent of the time against them, because they can't stop it. They rank 29th in points allowed at 27.8 ppg. The addition of Roy Miller should help the line. He anchored the defense for the Buccaneers last season, holding opponents to 82.5 rush yards. Now in the secondary, the Jaguars drafted safety Johnathan Cyprien. Just watching college film, this guy is all over the field, making hard hits and picking off quarterbacks. This was a great second round pick for the Jaguars.  This is going to be a process, but for this upcoming season the Jaguars will come in last place again.

The AFC South is a two headed race between the Colt and the Texans. The Texans will out-last the Colts and repeat as division champs. They have too many playmakers on both sides of the ball. They also gave Andre Johnson some help by bringing in DeAndre Hopkins. But what really impresses me is the defense is getting stronger. Bringing in Ed Reed to help the young secondary is just what the doctor ordered. A leader with playmaking abilities. The Colts are going to be a playoff team, although I believe a lot needs to happen in order for me to put them over the Texans. Vick Ballard needs more touches in the red zone and someone has got to help the 34 year-old Reggie Wayne in the receiving corps. I'm not sold on what they have now. The defense needs to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks to help solidify the potential of what the secondary can do. The Titans are going to run the ball, yes I know, but the line needs to stay healthy for Chris Johnson. Also one of the receivers has to establish themselves as the leader of the pack. Right now its neck and neck. The defense is young with big expectations for being early picks. They need to show heart in their performance. With the Jaguars, it's all about MJD. They don't have a quarterback in Gabbert or Henne. They also need receivers to keep the defense honest as well. I like the moves in the defense, but I don't think one year will turn everything around. It's a process. But I expect them to win more than two games.

More NFL content is available here

No comments: