Sunday reads: Quality team previews

Andy Benoit’s thorough Fifth Down previews are always a good read, so I thought I’d pass them along and get you started with an with an interesting chunk of each.

Houston Texans

“By constantly changing up [Andre] Johnson’s route tendencies and where he aligns in various formations, the Texans prevent a defense from finding a comfort zone and rhythm in its coverages. Defenses that get brazen and try to defend the 223-pound receiver straight up get burned (Johnson has great wheels and is too strong for most cornerbacks to even think about jamming). Defenses that commit the proper safety help leave themselves vulnerable to other mismatches -- usually involving a linebacker on Owen Daniels.

“Now more than a year removed from reconstructive knee surgery, Daniels will most likely re-establish himself as the smoothest tight end in all the land. He has remarkably soft hands and a natural feel for turning upfield. While Daniels battled the knee in ’09 and a hamstring in ’10, the Texans discovered a second practical receiving tight end in Joel Dreessen. He is used as a blocker, too, and compensates for mediocre power with fantastic technique.

“It’s a surprisingly typical receiving corps outside of Johnson.”

The full preview.

Indianapolis Colts

“Starting outside receiver Pierre Garcon is one of the physically strongest catch-and-run weapons in the N.F.L. The Colts will need a breakout season from Garcon, a fourth-year pro, because, with the exception of center Jeff Saturday, none of their older veterans have shown as stark a decline as Reggie Wayne. This may sound preposterous considering Wayne is coming off a 111-catch, 1,355-yard season. But in an offense as proficient as this, the numbers will always be there (especially when your quarterback attempts 679 passes). What’s more important is how those numbers are obtained. Are they coming against double teams and coverages tilted his direction over the top? Or are they against a lot of soft zones, where a receiver can get by on timing and precision? This is not a rhetorical question -- there’s an answer: zones. Wayne can still feast on zones. But in a private moment with all walls down, the Colts’ brass would probably tell you that Wayne is no longer explosive enough to consistently separate against quality man coverage. (Which may be why he has not received the long-term contract he desires.)”

The full preview.

Jacksonville Jaguars

“We know the Jaguars don’t believe they can be great with [David] Garrard. They’re right. His arm strength is ordinary at best and he’s not a sharp progression passer. Scrambling ability aside, he can only play within the basic confines of an offense, which means just about any big play the Jags strive for has to be deliberately manufactured by [Dirk] Koetter. That’s a caretaking quarterback to a T.

"Exacerbating the passing game’s mediocrity is an underwhelming stash of resources at wide receiver. Jason Hill runs well and can go over the middle, but there’s a reason he has caught only 51 passes in his five-year career. Mike Thomas can admiringly be described as a compressed version of Hines Ward, but stocky 5’8” receivers with good track speed but only decent football speed don’t become stars, no matter how excellent their blocking might be.

The fight for the No. 3 receiving job is uninspiring. In one corner is the oft-injured third-year pro [Jarett] Dillard. In the other is Cecil Shorts, a fourth-round rookie from Division III Mount Union. Possibly in the mix is Kassim Osgood, whose business card has always had ‘special teamer’ written in bigger font than ‘wide receiver.’”

The full preview.

Tennessee Titans

[Chris] Johnson’s life will be much, much easier now that Matt Hasselbeck is under center. Though the soon-to-be-36-year-old is struggling to learn a new system for the first time in his 13-year career, he’s still sure to be a marked upgrade over Vince Young. Young’s decision-making ineptitude and subpar pocket passing allowed defenses to crowd eight and even nine defenders in the box. Unless Jake Locker -- who, as a fairly inaccurate, run-first quarterback at Washington, is essentially another version of Young only with (Tennessee hopes) thicker skin and more maturity -- gets on the field, defenses will have to at least hesitate before dialing in completely on Johnson.”

The full preview.