- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Staff Writer
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Monday we presented the All AFC-South offense. Today we move to defense and special teams.
To accommodate the personnel of the 3-4 Texans along with the 4-3 Colts, Texans and Titans, we created a 12-man defense with four linemen and four linebackers. It seemed like a fair approach to me that stops short of bastardizing the team.
DEs: Houston rookie J.J. Watt was a giant presence from the start, serving as a key piece of the team’s revamped front. He was easily the division’s rookie of the year. Mathis gets the nod over Freeney but it could have gone either way. They both had fewer chances because teams threw less against them, but remained quite effective.
DTs: Antonio Smith of the Texans played end in base and tackle in nickel and his versatility was really highlighted in the 3-4 system. Casey was not at a similar level, but the Titans rookie was a stout and reliable run-stopper.
OLBs: The Jaguars were stacked at linebacker thanks to their free-agent shopping. On an upgraded defense, Daryl Smith really got to show himself a fine player. In Houston, Connor Barwin blossomed into an 11.5-sack guy who was constantly around the quarterback.
ILBs: Brian Cushing was a terror for the Texans, proving an excellent fit as an inside backer for Wade Phillips. At his best, he was something to behold. The same can be said for Jacksonville’s Paul Posluszny. He gave the Jaguars everything they were looking for in terms of production and leadership as a free-agent acquisition.
CBs: Houston’s Johnathan Joseph was the AFC South MVP in my eyes. The Texans hit a home run by adding Joseph, a settling force in the secondary who played sticky coverage all season. Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan didn’t produce on the same level, but his willingness and ability to shift inside and play a physical brand of nickel was a positive factor for the Titans' defense.
S: The Texans' move of Glover Quin from nickel corner to strong safety worked out beautifully and they are trend-setters in terms of having guys with corner skills playing in the middle of the field. He was steady and productive. Dwight Lowery showed good smarts and awareness for the Jaguars at a spot that was a huge hole the previous season. Signing him will be a priority.
P: The Colts' Pat McAfee gets the edge over the Titans' Brett Kern in a very close race. Punting out of trouble was more important more often for Indianapolis, and McAfee’s net average was hurt by less than stellar coverage but shouldn’t offset his slightly bigger leg.
PR, KR: There was no outstanding work done in these spots for anyone in the division, so we pretty much go chalk. Tennessee punt returner Marc Mariani led in punt return average and Jacksonville kick returner Deji Karim led the division in kick return average.
ST: Kassim Osgood of the Jaguars continued to be a top guy in coverage work.