Just rummaged through the quality weekly notes from Gary Horton of Scouts Inc.
Here’s some of what he’s thinking about the AFC South, with some reflection by me.
Horton: “The Texans do a nice job of staying exactly with their preferred game plan, which is run the football in their zone schemes and then use play-action off the run game to create a productive passing game. Defenses have trouble with it because they are so conscious of the run and they are also concerned about being 'cut-blocked' in those zone schemes -- and it is hard for defenders to transition from run defense to pass defense and they always make defenses worry about those backside cuts and seal blocks ... and it doesn’t always pay to be overly aggressive vs. this offense.”
Kuharsky’s thinking: I just saw the Chiefs last week. I’m not envisioning them as being overly aggressive against the Texans; they looked quite defensively disciplined. So Houston’s unlikely to have that working for it this week.
Horton: “The [Giants’] coaches saw a flaw in Houston’s coverage on defense Sunday and they really exploited it. The Texans’ safeties have a habit of biting on play-action fakes and that leaves the deep middle of the field open and Eli Manning did a nice job of taking advantage of it with big passes. Also, the Giants' defense did an excellent job vs. the Houston run game and zone-blocking scheme. They were great at covering gaps and they filed every cutback lane to prevent Arian Foster from getting anything going. Great discipline by this improving defense.”
Kuharsky’s thinking: Can Kansas City do some of the same things the Giants did? Deep middle is a concern for Houston, but in order for the Chiefs' play-action to be believable, they’ve got to get Jamaal Charles and/or Thomas Jones going. And they couldn’t get those guys going a week ago against a Colts run defense that’s way more suspect than Houston’s.
Horton: "Peyton Manning is seeing a lot of defenses that are rushing three and dropping eight into coverage because they don’t respect the Colts' lackadaisical run game. All that coverage really forces Manning to work the ball into tight spots and he does not have a lot of big plays available because he can’t get those good individual matchups to exploit. This defensive 'sit back' approach really forces Manning to be patient and work hard for plays -- even if he has time to throw the ball."
Kuharsky’s thinking: Manning will be as patient as required. But obviously the Colts like to get people out of this thinking by running effectively the way they did against the Giants. That will be more difficult if Joseph Addai (neck) isn’t part of things.
Horton: "[Washington’s] defense has struggled at times making a transition under coordinator Jim Haslett. They are now a 34 defense that plays mostly zone schemes, but in the past [under Greg Blache] they played a 43 with mostly man coverages. Their biggest problem right now is that they do not put a lot of pressure on opposing QBs and they only have one true pass-rusher, OLB Brian Orakpo."
Kuharsky’s thinking: If they can’t get a rush from more than Orakpo, it would seem they’d look at Kansas City’s success in loading up coverage and play the make-Manning-patient game with hopes that their offense can do a lot better than the Chiefs did to help make it work.
Horton: “The Titans are the best red zone defense in the NFL, statistically, and when you see them on film you can tell why they are so good. They are very physical on the back end and they can play aggressive press coverages when the field shrinks and they are good in man schemes but what impresses you the most is their defensive speed. They fly to the ball, they close early and even if they make a mistake they can make up for it with that speed.”
Kuharsky’s thinking: Defensive speed’s up with Will Witherspoon and Gerald McRath in at linebacker, and even as Alterraun Verner lacks deep speed, he’s as fast or faster than Nick Harper was last year. The Jaguars are the third-best red zone offense in the league with seven touchdowns in eight trips. Marcedes Lewis is a dangerous option for David Garrard when Jacksonville gets close to the end zone.
Horton: When you watch Vince Young on film -- it looks like he should be making more positive plays. Because of [Chris Johnson] and the run game and because nobody really respects their WRs, defenses will put at least eight defenders in the box and that gives him good one-on-one matchups on the outside -- and usually those coverages are easy to read.
Kuharsky’s thinking: Kenny Britt is the key here. He’s the most threatening pass target the Titans have and they need to continue to go to him the way they did in Dallas. NFL Stats & Info numbers show that Young is increasingly better the further he’s throwing the ball down the field, which is somewhat counterintuitive. His passer rating is 82.9 when he throws 10 yards or fewer in the air, 103.0 from 11-20 yards and 127.1 on balls 21 yards or further.
Apologies to Jacksonville. He didn’t go there.