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Tuesday, November 22, 2011
AFC South Stock Watch

By Paul Kuharsky

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FALLING

1. Jack Del Rio, Jacksonville Jaguars coach: His damage control on Monday was better, but he had a terrible Sunday. When he says coordinator Dirk Koetter makes the play calls, he appears to be throwing the assistant under the bus. He also appears not to have a good feel for the job. Allowing coordinators to do their thing is important. But it’s not a violation of their freedom to do their jobs for a head coach to participate in a timeout discussion of what’s to come. To claim that Koetter has complete autonomy is to distance yourself from important decisions. That’s a weak strategy. Shouldn’t the buck stop here?

2. Tennessee Titans defensive ends: The Titans were excited about getting Derrick Morgan in the mix after losing him for his rookie year to a torn ACL, but he’s made minimal impact and hurt an ankle in Atlanta. They moved Jason Jones from tackle to end to help beef up the outside, and he has not been a big presence. Dave Ball is hurt again. William Hayes flashed a week ago but clearly is not a staff favorite and killed the Titans with a fourth-down offside penalty against the Falcons. Production from the group has been simply insufficient.

3. Indianapolis Colts quarterbacks:  We probably will learn the team’s verdict on the starting quarterback for the Carolina game on Wednesday. But does it matter much? I think Curtis Painter is better than Dan Orlovsky and should be the choice, but it’s not much of a choice. The best-case scenario is that whoever is at quarterback makes a couple of big plays to Pierre Garcon and Reggie Wayne, then plays mistake-free. Even in that scenario, the Colts would need the sort of defensive effort to win that they don’t seem capable of.

Jake Locker
Jake Locker played well in relief of Matt Hasselbeck this past Sunday.
RISING

1. Jake Locker, Tennessee Titans backup quarterback: He showed himself to be ready and able in relief work of Matt Hasselbeck. Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer put him in favorable situations -- working out of shotgun, throwing on the move, in position to take off running. He sailed a few throws but overall earned an "A" for being prepared, confident and effective. That said, the right move is to return him to the bench behind Hasselbeck. It’s the kind of playing time and experience that’s really healthy for Locker at this stage.

2. The perception of the AFC South as super-weak: The Colts are winless. The Jaguars can’t beat the bad Browns. The Titans are average. The Texans are a good team, but they are moving forward without their quarterback. Hasselbeck is the division’s best quarterback now with Matt Schaub out, and although we need to see Matt Leinart, we know Painter and Blaine Gabbert are awful now. The AFC North and NFC South feel very good about drawing this division on their schedules this year.

3. Andre Johnson, Houston Texans receiver: He’s ready to return, and adding one of the game’s best receivers to the lineup should provide a jolt. Leinart must find him early and take advantage, too, of the attention the Jaguars are likely to devote to him, creating space and opportunity elsewhere. The Texans did great work with Johnson out of the lineup for six games with a hamstring injury. Getting him back for the first game without Schaub is a big, big deal. Someone asked me how long I thought it would take for Johnson to get back into the flow. I say three plays.