AFC South: 2013 Week 4 Upon Further Review

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 4

September, 30, 2013
An examination of five topics from the Indianapolis Colts’ 37-3 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars.

[+] EnlargeDarius Butler
Phil Sears/USA TODAY SportsFor the second straight season, DB Darius Butler was dandy for the Colts in Jacksonville.
Feeling at home: Colts nickelback Darius Butler is making Jacksonville a second home. Butler intercepted a Blaine Gabbert pass and returned it 41 yards for a touchdown on Sunday. The touchdown was the second in as many games in Jacksonville for Butler. He had two interceptions, a touchdown, a fumble recovery and two passes defended in the Colts' win at Jacksonville on Nov. 8, 2012. Butler was named AFC Defensive Player of the Week for his performance in that game. “I’m originally from Ft. Lauderdale, so I guess it’s the Florida ties I have here,” Butler said, laughing.

A lot of carries, not a lot of yards: Running back Trent Richardson got his first start in place of the injured Ahmad Bradshaw. Richardson got a lot of carries (20), but he had a difficult time finding running room. He finished with only 60 yards rushing, with 12 yards being his longest run. Donald Brown rushed for more yards (65) than Richardson on 17 fewer carries. Richardson is averaging only 2.9 yards a carry. Bradshaw’s status for next week’s showdown against Seattle is uncertain. It’ll be interesting to see who coach Chuck Pagano starts if Bradshaw is ready to play. “I feel real good,” Richardson said. “I know the big run is going to come. I know I have to contribute more to the offense, but when it comes to the time where it’s play-action and they’re not touching [quarterback Andrew] Luck and our receivers are catching the ball, that’s also a good day for me.”

Continuing the winning ways: The Colts ended September with a 3-1 record and tied with Tennessee for first place in the AFC South. The Colts have a league-best 26-10 record in September games since 2003 -- one more victory in that span than New England and Seattle.

Pounding it on the ground: Richardson has gotten off to a slow start in his two games with Indianapolis, but that hasn’t stopped the Colts from continuing to be a balanced team. The Colts have rushed for at least 100 yards in all four games this season. The team record for consecutive 100-yard games to open the season is five. They can tie the record when they face a Seattle defense that is giving up 109 yards a game on the ground this season. The Colts are fourth in the league in rushing at 149.5 yards a game. The Colts have run the ball 121 times compared to 131 pass attempts. That's pretty balanced.

Reed finally makes his debut: Do you remember receiver/kick returner David Reed? It’s OK if his name doesn’t ring a bell. Reed was acquired for running back Delone Carter from Baltimore in training camp, but he spent the first three weeks of the season dealing with a concussion and quad injury. Reed finally made his debut Sunday. He returned two kickoffs for 45 yards. The goal is for Reed to be the team’s kick returner if he can remain healthy.

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 4

September, 30, 2013
An examination of four hot issues from the Titans' 38-13 win over the Jets:

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/Patric SchneiderDespite being knocked out with a hip injury in Week 4, Jake Locker is among the top five NFL quarterbacks in passer rating (99.0).
Is anyone actually watching? It’s time to start giving Jake Locker his due. He was superb against the Jets, with three touchdown throws in the first half. Yet a national overnight radio host put him in the same category as Tim Tebow and another national personality compared him to Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor. Sure, Locker has had issues with his game before this season. But if you've actually watched him through four games, you see a guy making good decisions and good throws. The Titans are 3-1 largely because of Locker, not despite him. Now they have to see how long he’ll be out with a hip injury and how well they can survive with Ryan Fitzpatrick at the helm.

Michael Griffin wavers: A week ago against the Chargers, the Titans free safety went low on a pass-catcher on a play he could have blown up with a high hit, or might have even intercepted. He admitted the reason he approached the play as he did was because of the way the NFL is fining players for high hits. Against the Jets, as Alterraun Verner intercepted a Geno Smith pass on the second play from scrimmage, Griffin hit the receiver, Stephen Hill, in the chin with his helmet. Hill wound up with a concussion, and odds are Griffin will end up with a fine.

Receiver depth showing: Kenny Britt was out because he’s got an injured rib and neck. Set aside any conspiracy theories. The Titans may lack a superstar receiver, but all along we’ve spoken of their good depth. They showed it off against the Jets. Nate Washington was big again. Justin Hunter had a TD catch that was better than the game winner against the Chargers. Damian Williams chipped in with five catches for 53 yards. With or without a functioning and focused Britt, the Titans have guys who can make plays.

Swarming: The Titans don’t have a singular pass-rusher, but if the group effort is like this, they don’t need one. Ropati Pitoitua, a run-stopping defensive end, had two sacks of Geno Smith. Linebacker Zach Brown and defensive tackles Jurrell Casey and Karl Klug also had sacks. He Titans hit Smith an additional six times. He dropped back 34 times and the Titans hit him on just under a third of them.

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 4

September, 30, 2013
Analyzing four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 23-20 overtime loss to the Seattle Seahawks:

[+] EnlargeRichard Sherman
Matthew Emmons/USA TODAY SportsRichard Sherman had a season full of clutch plays, including this interception in Houston.
Was the play call wrong on the pick-six? The play on which Richard Sherman intercepted Matt Schaub was a short pass on third-and-4 with just under three minutes left in the game. The Texans were up seven points and ran four straight run plays on which Arian Foster had gains of 6, 5, 5 and 1 yard immediately before that play. Texans coach Gary Kubiak said it was the wrong call.

"I believe we've got to just run the ball, but we run the plays that are called, and we have to make good decisions," Texans tight end Owen Daniels said.

I say both the play call and the execution were wrong. A run play eats the clock and doesn't have as dramatic a floor as a pass play does. Fumble returns for touchdowns are possible, but much less likely than a pick-six, especially against Seattle's transcendent secondary. If they hadn't picked up the 4 yards necessary, so what? Punt the ball, let your defense do what it did for all but one drive. Further, the Seahawks had that play well-scouted, running it in practice all week. Then again, in the situation in which he found himself, there's no excuse for Schaub to have tried to force the ball to Daniels. Up seven with so little time left in the game, he didn't need the first down.

Is it time to panic? The panic that followed this game was tremendously predictable. Those panicking should remind themselves that the Texans have played only four games and this most recent loss was to what might be the best team in the NFL.

Wilson vs. blitzes: Russell Wilson has been good against blitzes, but he hadn't faced a team yet this season that brings extra pressure quite as much as the Texans do. Wilson was successful against five or more rushers in his first three games, averaging 9.2 yards per attempt. The Texans were much more effective at containing him: He averaged just 4.7 yards per attempt on Sunday in Houston. When Wilson finally got going it was because he used his legs, which he would rather not do.

Rotating guards: The Texans fidgeted with their left guard position on Sunday. Starter Wade Smith rotated with second-year guard/center Ben Jones, who started 10 games at right guard last season. Smith had knee surgery before this season, and last week I asked Kubiak if Smith's knee was still bothering him after he had some rest during the week's practices. Kubiak said it was not, but added that getting Smith ready between games has been a more involved process because of how quickly he returned. Smith didn't appreciate my asking if his knee felt OK. "Why does that matter?" he replied. I said I wondered if the knee was part of why he rotated with Jones and asked what he was told about the rotation. "I felt fine," Smith said, to both questions.

Upon Further Review: Jaguars Week 4

September, 30, 2013
A review of four hot issues from the Jacksonville Jaguars’ 37-3 loss to Indianapolis:

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Phil Sears/USA TODAY SportsThe Jaguars are sticking by starting quarterback Blaine Gabbert -- at least for the time being.
Staying with Gabbert: Blaine Gabbert has thrown five interceptions and has led the offense to just three points in two home games this season, but Jaguars coach Gus Bradley is sticking with him as the team’s starting quarterback. Gabbert has a 5-21 record as a starter and has shown little progress since he was selected 10th overall in the 2011 draft, but Bradley wants to see more of Gabbert in the team’s current system before making any judgments about his future with the team. “I know you say, ‘Gus, we’ve waited to see,’ but I’ve got to see it,” Bradley said. He said some of the issues on Sunday may have been receivers not finishing routes, plus all three interceptions came after receivers bobbled passes.

No help: With Marcedes Lewis’ return lasting just the first series before he had to leave the game after reinjuring his calf, the Jaguars were again without any complementary playmakers to receiver Cecil Shorts. It’s one of the offense’s main problems because teams are able to roll coverages toward Shorts and force Gabbert to beat them with the other receivers -- two of whom were signed from the practice squad on Saturday. It didn’t work, obviously. Gabbert completed just five passes to other wide receivers (four to Ace Sanders, one to Jeremy Ebert). Justin Blackmon returns this week from a four-game suspension, so that should help, but Lewis’ absence is still significant.

TE troubles: The Jaguars again struggled to cover the tight end. Coby Fleener caught five passes for 77 yards and one touchdown, a 31-yarder in which he was wide open. Depending on the defense called, responsibility for the tight end falls to a linebacker, safety or nickel back. Regardless of which player had responsibility, there have been mistakes that resulted in big plays. As good as he is against the run, linebacker Paul Posluszny sometimes struggles in coverage, and the Jaguars started a pair of rookies at safety against the Colts. Through four games, tight ends have caught 20 passes for 244 yards and three touchdowns. The Seahawks' and Colts' tight ends combined to catch 14 passes for 183 yards and three touchdowns.

Discipline problem: It’s not the fact that the Jaguars committed nine penalties for 65 yards that’s troubling. It’s the kinds of penalties that are the issue. Eight of the nine were discipline penalties: four defensive offside/encroachment, one illegal substitution, one false start, one roughing the passer, and one unsportsmanlike conduct. Those are mental mistakes that are avoidable. Jason Babin committed three, including lining up offside twice. The Jaguars aren’t close to being talented enough to be able to overcome mistakes like that, especially against a quarterback like Andrew Luck. “We cannot have that as part of our game,” Bradley said. “Obviously our players aren’t getting the message, and that’s on me.”