Lingering AFC South issues
October, 15, 2009
By Paul Kuharsky | ESPN.com
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky
We know a lot about the AFC South after five weeks, and each team has at least one big question as Week 6 rolls around. Let’s examine each team, shall we?
|Ronald Martinez/Getty Images|
|Steve Slaton is gaining just 3.2 yards per carry after averaging 4.8 ypc in 2008.|
But these Texans cannot run -- they rank 30th in the league with only 75.4 yards a game. After they struck out in their pursuit of free agent Cedric Benson -- who may have been perfect but certainly found a better situation in Cincinnati -- they failed to find the complementary back to go with Slaton. Their undrafted rookies didn’t earn the job and they turned to veteran Chris Brown. Unfortunately, Brown is completely miscast as a short-yardage specialist and has failed to score from close range when given the chance to tie two games late.
Left guard Chester Pitts was lost for the season after suffering a knee injury in Week 2 and right guard Mike Brisiel is finished for the year with a foot injury. Take away 40 percent of a line that relies on continuity and it compounds the problem. With a 3.2-yard average, Slaton is not been nearly as explosive as he was last season when he averaged 4.8 yards a carry.
Maybe they tinker with the scheme based on how they are being defended. But they’re going to have to do their best to work through it, as a personnel change that would solve things doesn’t seem possible.
Cop-out alert: At 5-0 heading into their bye, the Colts aren’t perfect and run-blocking qualifies as a concern. But I am hard-pressed to call it an issue or to find another. I think they are the best team in the AFC.
I thought the waiving of Ed Johnson was going to amount to the team’s first adversity. But once the team said it was a result of performance, I think it became something that won’t linger long. Having the smallest section in this blog entry is a good thing, and the three others would happily trade spots.
The Jaguars have done all sort of tinkering with their defensive front, and they are now regarded as a 3-4 team that converts into a 4-3 on third down and clear-cut pass-rush situations. No matter how the linemen and linebackers are aligning, however, they fail to generate a consistent pass rush.
|Al Messerschmidt/Getty Images|
|Derrick Harvey, a 2008 first-round pick, has yet to collect a sack this season.|
They will continue to try to find ways to collapse the pocket and hit the quarterback. But the Jags are downplaying expectations for second-year end-outside linebacker Derrick Harvey as a rusher. They traded up to draft him at No. 8 last season and took Quentin Groves in the second round. The two were supposed to be the next generation of pass-rushers. They’ve combined for no sacks, one fewer than defensive tackle Montavious Stanley, a player who’s been waived four times since 2006.
Guys on the roster can get better and stronger, but this group needs an influx of talent that won’t arrive until free agency and the draft.
The good news on the pass-rush front? Nine of the Jaguars’ remaining 11 opponents don’t have unflappable, high-quality quarterbacks. But those quarterbacks will be excited at the possibility of having their best days against Jacksonville because they could be harassed less against the Jags.
There isn’t a unit on the Titans that isn’t culpable for their 0-5 start. Out of 22 starters, I can only look at one -- middle linebacker Stephen Tulloch -- and conclude he’s doing better work this season than he did a year ago.
|AP Photo/Wade Payne|
|The Titans need Michael Griffin to step up in the secondary.|
Certainly a less effective, less consistent pass rush is a piece of the poor pass coverage. The defensive line is considered the team’s deepest position, and it’s a group that must play better to help those in coverage survive.
But what the Titans need to happen in the defensive backfield to provide some long-term comfort is for free safety Michael Griffin, who’s regressed, and Finnegan, once he’s healed up, to make leaps in maturity and accountability and show they can be guys to be built around the way Michael Roos and David Stewart are on the offensive line.
The young talent must return to form. We’ve talked about age as an issue, and it’s fair to presume there will be a lot of turnover after this season with or without a new collective bargaining agreement.