How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

December, 29, 2009
12/29/09
11:01
AM ET
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Falling

1. Jaguars pass defense: Free safety Reggie Nelson was benched in favor of Anthony Smith, but that was hardly a shake-up that produced a big effect. A combination of a toothless rush and loose coverage helped assure the Jaguars dropped to 7-8 in New England.

Tom Brady completed 23 of 26 passes for 267 yards and four touchdowns. Randy Moss ran open for big plays and Wes Welker caught all 13 balls that came his way. The Jaguars were not credited with a quarterback hit, let alone a sack.

2. Jim Caldwell, Colts coach: His team's bizarre Sunday surrender against the Jets shines a bright spotlight on Indianapolis’ first-year coach. Caldwell made all the right moves in winning his first 14 games, and his team needs to believe this was a correct one for the long term, even if it hurt in the present.

Not trying doesn’t seem to benefit the team in anyone’s eyes, and what if they don’t win that Super Bowl? Won’t we point back at the Jets game as a spot where the possibility crept into the Colts’ consciousness?

3. Vince Young, Titans QB: The finale in Seattle is a big game for Young, who surely wants to head into the offseason feeling better about his game than he did after a miserable performance against San Diego on Christmas night.

He completed 38 percent of his passes for 89 yards, nothing longer than 15, with two interceptions, no TDs and an 11.9 passer rating. As good as Young's been since taking over for Kerry Collins, a performance like that showed why some still might have doubts.

Johnson
Don McPeak/US PresswireChris Johnson needs 128 yards next week to reach 2,000 yards for the season.
Rising

1. Chris Johnson, Titans RB: The Chargers did great work against the Titans, and still Johnson managed 142 rushing yards and another 37 receiving. While his touches have increased, he’s shown no signs of wearing down.

On a Sunday when six games involving at least one AFC team have playoff implications, Titans-at-Seahawks won’t be one of them. Still, the game will draw a lot of interest. Johnson’s got a shot at becoming the sixth player to rush for 2,000 yards in a season (he needs 128 yards). He needs just 75 yards from scrimmage to eclipse Marshall Faulk's single-season record in that category (2,429 yards in 1999). Johnson needs 234 yards to break Eric Dickerson’s single-season rushing record (2,105 yards in 1984).

2. Brian Cushing, Texans OLB: The rookie is nicked up, but you can’t really see it on Sundays. Against Miami he didn’t play like a beat-up, worn-down first-year player. He played like Houston’s best defender.

Game statisticians gave him nine tackles to go with his sack and interception. He showcased the versatile game that made him the guy the Texans spent the 15th pick in the draft on.

3. Arian Foster, Texans RB: We’ve crushed the Texans for their failures in the run game, so Foster deserves credit for making the most of his chance in a crucial game against Miami. Nineteen carries for 97 yards, a 5.1-yard average and a touchdown amounted to a fine day.

Odds are the Texans will be forced to run in order to beat the Patriots Sunday. Foster should be first in line for carries in that scenario and beyond if the Texans earn a playoff berth.

Paul Kuharsky | email

ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter

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