AFC South: Antonio Cromartie
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts on the Titans’ 14-10 victory over the Jets at LP Field:
What it means: The end of a three-game losing streak for Tennessee (5-9). Coach Mike Munchak can use a solid finish to prevent owner Bud Adams from considering a change after the season. Chris Johnson sprinted to a 94-yard touchdown that gave the Titans a lead in the first half. After the Jets pulled ahead in the third quarter, Jake Locker engineered what was probably the best drive of his young career and ran in from 13 yards out for what stood up as the winning score. The result knocked the Jets out of the AFC playoff picture.
Bad times for bad punts: Brett Kern shanked a punt out of the Titans' end zone to give the Jets some great field position late in the third quarter. New York drove 35 yards to a Mark Sanchez-to-Jeff Cumberland 17-yard touchdown pass. Linebacker Tim Shaw was in range, but had his back turned to the ball. Then, with 47 seconds left in the game, Kern punted 19 yards out of his own end zone, giving the Jets the ball at Tennessee's 25. Sanchez couldn't scoop up a low shotgun snap on the next play, running back Bilal Powell kicked it and Tennessee linebacker Zach Brown recovered it.
Rocky ground: While Locker made enough plays to win and got a bit of a signature drive, he missed on a lot of throws. He was long on multiple deep throws where receivers didn’t have a chance. Early in the fourth quarter with Kendall Wright open deep, Locker was late and short, allowing two defenders to get back in the play and break it up. Wright wound up getting hurt as he landed awkwardly on top of Antonio Cromartie.
Another injury: The Titans were already playing four replacement offensive linemen. They lost center Kevin Matthews late in the first quarter to a sprained right ankle. Kyle DeVan, who has been on and off the roster numerous times this season, played the rest of the game.
An awful number: The Titans committed a season-high 14 penalties for 111 yards. None was bigger than a personal foul against linebacker Will Witherspoon that extended a Jets drive near the end of the fourth quarter. Witherspoon was bailed out by Michael Griffin's interception on the first play after the two-minute warning, Griffin's second pick of the game.
Four picks: Tennessee made sure Sanchez’s miserable season stayed miserable, as Jason McCourty and Griffin each intercepted him twice.
What’s next: The Titans travel to Green Bay for their last road game and their final game against the NFC North. They’ve lost to Minnesota and Chicago and beaten Detroit.
Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:
Excellent scrambling: From ESPN Stats & Info -- Andrew Luck has scrambled for a first down nine times this season, most in the NFL. His running abilities are extraordinary, and it’s a huge factor for a team that doesn’t rush particularly well with running backs. This week at the Jets, rookie Vick Ballard will work as the lead back because Donald Brown is recovering from knee surgery. It’s hardly all running for Luck, though. He has thrown three touchdowns in the last two minutes of the second or fourth quarter this season, tied for most in the NFL.
Slowing Rodgers: Green Bay is the second team to have a losing record through five games the season after winning 15 or more, joining the 1999 Vikings. A year after leading the league with 35 points per game, they are averaging just 22.4, which ranks 18th. Aaron Rodgers and the offense will face a Texans defense that has held opposing quarterbacks to a QBR of just 11.6, easily the best in the NFL.
Age and beauty: Reggie Wayne leads the NFL averaging 126.5 receiving yards this season, and has an average of nine receptions a game. No player Wayne’s age (he’ll be 34 in November) or older has ever averaged more than 91 receiving yards a game in a season. Wayne will see a lot of Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie. Cromartie played great last week for New York against Houston’s Andre Johnson. Wayne has been targeted 28 times when lining up on the left side of the formation, and 28 times when lining up on the right side this season. In his past two seasons with Peyton Manning (2009 and 2010), 82.9 percent of Wayne’s targets came after lining up on the left side of the formation.
Also: The Colts have lost nine straight road games, tied for the second-longest active road losing streak. But the Colts also are 11-3 in 14 road games against the Jets dating to 1989. … Rodgers has lost three straight road starts for the first time since 2008, and he’s been sacked 17 times combined in those games. … The Titans get a weekend off after their upset of the Steelers, and could have Jake Locker back under center Oct. 21 in Buffalo. … The Jaguars have a bye and return to action in Week 7 at Oakland, with a trip to Green Bay the week after that.
Hardly anyone in the NFL would try to cover Houston receiver Andre Johnson one-on-one.
Were Revis playing for the Jets at Met Life Stadium Monday, he’d be doing just that.
“Let’s face it, Andre Johnson is as good as it gets in this league as a receiver,” Jets coach Rex Ryan told Houston reporters on a conference call Wednesday. “But we would actually put Revis out there by himself and, not saying not to worry about it, but a lot of straight man-coverage against him and bet you we’re the only team in the league that would do that.”
Without Revis, Kyle Wilson steps into the lineup. He and Antonio Cromartie will be charged with slowing Johnson, but they’re sure to get help from one of three safeties -- LaRon Landry, Yeremiah Bell or Eric Smith.
It’s a shame we won’t see the matchup of two premiere guys. But the Texans won’t be sad to miss Revis, especially a year after they were the team missing key pieces for so many matchups.
Fullback Vonta Leach told SiriusXM NFL radio that the Giants are on his list of preferred destinations if the free agent doesn’t re-sign with Houston.
In an interview with UWbadgers.com, Texans first-rounder J.J. Watt talks about his transition to Houston. Two former UW players who are now Texans, Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham, have helped Watt. "I talked to them about places to live, how to avoid the traffic and places to eat. It's just nice to be around the guys and feel like you're part of a team again, even though we're still locked out," Watt said.
Once the lockout ends, the Colts have to turn their attention to signing Peyton Manning to a new deal. Reggie Hayes of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel looks at the dilemma facing the Colts: Considering Manning's age (35), how lucrative and how long should his next deal be?
Manning won't be ready once training camp begins July 31 as he recovers from surgery on a disk in his neck.
Single-game tickets for the Jaguars' two home preseason games will go on sale Wednesday.
Alfie Crow of Big Cat Country considers whether the Jags should pursue Jets free-agent corner Antonio Cromartie.
FoxSports.com's Brian Billick ranks the free-agent linebackers and he lists Jacksonville as a possible destination for the No. 4 player on his list, Paul Posluszny. Jags linebacker Kirk Morrison came in at No. 10 on the list.
Former Titans coach Jeff Fisher believes Vince Young will learn from mistakes.
Hughes could have had Cromartie at the 15-yard line or so, but his effort seemed halfhearted and it didn’t take much for Cromartie to angle a bit more to his right and run right past the first man on kickoff coverage.
The second-best chance at Cromartie was Nate Triplett, who had to dive about four yards later but didn’t even manage to slow the returner.
Would better people have been on the coverage team if the Colts were healthier? Absolutely. But those guys could have made a play and didn’t. Also on the field for the Colts at that point: defensive back Mike Richardson and receiver Taj Smith.
Triplett, Smith and Richardson all became part of the 53-man roster in December.
For Hughes, who showed very little as a rookie first-round defensive end, it’s the most memorable (non-)play of the season and the second most memorable thing about him as a Colt.
The first was Bill Polian’s radio lament about not taking Rodger Saffold, a player the Colts thought was a right tackle who played very well as a left tackle for St. Louis this season.
Three nuggets of knowledge about Saturday's Jets-Colts wild-card game:
Can the coverage contain Brad Smith? The Colts can’t let a big special teams play be a factor, and Smith can be exceptionally dangerous as a kick returner. Indianapolis should take a touchback every chance it gets. Seriously. There are two significant categories where the Colts and Jets are night and day. This is one of them. The Jets' average drive starts at the 31.5-yard line, the best spot in the league. The Colts start at the 22.7, the worst. It’s fair to cringe every time Indianapolis fields a kick, and that’s not a knock on Dominic Rhodes, who’s been handling the job. There is just nowhere for him to go.
What happens inside the 20? The other night and day contrast between these teams is in red zone production. The Colts don’t have to call on Adam Vinatieri a lot because they are busy scoring touchdowns. When they get close, they get touchdowns 67.9 percent of the time, the best percentage in the league by a good margin. New York doesn’t play great red zone defense. The Jets allow TDs 60.5 percent of the time with Indy’s defense faring better (52.1). On offense, the Jets punch it in only 40 percent of the time. That’s a lot of numbers to get to my point: A lot of Nick Folk on the field isn’t going to win this game, I don’t expect.
But the Colts outclassed the Jets in the second half and won easily to advance to the Super Bowl. The Jets had to regroup, knowing that to attain their Super Bowl dreams, they had to figure out a way to get past the Colts.
They won't need to look for them in the playoffs this year. The Jets and Colts will meet in the first round Saturday night, again in Indianapolis.
ESPN.com AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky and AFC East blogger Tim Graham break down the rematch.
Tim Graham: The first thought I have about the Colts is that Peyton Manning isn't going to win this game with his aura. Aside from past experience, the Jets don't have much reason to quake in their cleats Saturday night. They can beat this guy. Manning has proven to be a mortal without tight end Dallas Clark and receivers Austin Collie and Anthony Gonzalez to target. Seventeen interceptions? Almost knocked out of the playoffs by the Jacksonville Jaguars? These Colts are a shadow of what we've come to know.
Paul Kuharsky: How about with his chakra, then? You've been spending too much time with Ricky Williams, dude. Has Manning been perfect? Hardly. But as Colts blogger Nate Dunlevy points out, and our ESPN Stats & Information confirms, Manning threw for 4,700 yards, tossed for more than 30 touchdowns, connected on 66 percent of his throws, had an interception rate of 2.5 percent and won 10 games. If that's a shadow of what you've known, you must really know Tom Brady’s 2007 season then. Because that was the only other time it has happened.
PK: Well, Manning's always been crushed for being great in the regular season and not good enough in the playoffs. Congrats on being the first to hammer him for winning "only" 10 games and the division while throwing to Jacob Tamme and Blair White.
TG: That's what I mean. The Jets can contain those guys much easier than Clark and Collie. Plus, the Jets have been preparing for this matchup since last season's AFC Championship Game. They helplessly watched Manning carve the center of the field against them and realized immediately -- even though they had Darrelle Revis -- they needed more cornerbacks. Specifically with Manning in mind, the Jets traded for Antonio Cromartie and drafted Kyle Wilson in the first round. Previous starting cornerbacks Dwight Lowery and Drew Coleman gave them depth in nickel and dime packages. The Jets' biggest issue is at safety, where injuries have made them vulnerable.
PK: Manning has a bit of experience against teams with poor safety situations. His numbers against Houston and Jacksonville? Just nine touchdowns, one pick and a 101.5 passer rating. On the other side is the unspectacular Sanchez. I doubt Sanchez will be able to attack Aaron Francisco, the Colts' fourth-string strong safety, in a similar fashion, but we'll see. The Sanchize was near perfect in the first half of last season's AFC Championship Game. But the Jets asked him to throw only seven passes. After intermission, Indy greatly reduced his potency. The Colts didn't sack him and were credited with only four hits that day. The Colts' big-play potential from their Pro Bowl defensive ends was neutralized, and they still rolled to a 30-17 win. Of course, it might have had something to do with Manning throwing two-second half touchdowns to Sanchez's zero (and one interception). What happens this time if Dwight Freeney and/or Robert Mathis are able to introduce themselves to him a few times?
TG: Sanchez absolutely is the pivotal figure for the Jets on Saturday night. But, much like the personnel adjustments head coach Rex Ryan and general manager Mike Tannenbaum made on the defensive side to thwart Manning, they made changes on offense with the playoffs in mind. Sanchez might not have progressed much in his second season, but he didn't have a sophomore slump either. He has gained another 11 months and 16 games of NFL experience since the last time he faced the Colts. Plus, the Jets' offense has the ability to come from behind, something it couldn't do before. Last season's Jets were all ground-and-pound, and if an opponent took a two-score lead, the Jets' chances to win were slim. Sanchez showed several times this year he can strike in crunch time. Santonio Holmes and LaDainian Tomlinson out of the backfield give him much better weapons to go along with Braylon Edwards and tight end Dustin Keller.
PK: The most dramatic on-the-field difference in the Colts this year as compared to last is how they finished up running the ball and defending the run. Indianapolis enters the playoffs coming off four games in which they ran for 4.5 yards a carry and held opponents to 3.5 yards. Last year in their final four meaningful regular-season games, they were getting 3.5 yards and allowing 4.1 yards.
TG: Maybe the Colts will morph into the 1972 Miami Dolphins before our eyes.
TG: Momentum on the ground has been a concern for the Jets since their bye in Week 7. Tomlinson went from MVP candidate to looking like the worn out player the San Diego Chargers thought they were bidding farewell. But Shonn Greene and Tomlinson found some traction in the closing weeks. Let's not even factor in what the Jets did against the Buffalo Bills in the regular-season finale, even though their backups trampled the Bills' first-stringers for 276 yards.
PK: I’m always willing to toss out Buffalo. I don’t even really like wings.
TG: Yeah, but I know you still have a cache of Rick James 8-tracks. Anyway, the Jets ran the ball well against three of the NFL's best run defenses late in the year. They surpassed the Pittsburgh Steelers' league-leading average by 43 yards and the Chicago Bears' second-rated run defense by 34 yards. As for stopping the run, the Jets pride themselves on it and improved statistically this year. They ranked third this year at 90.9 yards a game and 3.6 yards a carry. But -- and this is a big one -- they allowed more than 100 yards in each of their games before the finale. The Steelers averaged 5.8 yards a carry. The Bears averaged 4.4 yards. That said, I would be willing to bet if the Colts wanted to try to run the Jets to death and not have Manning throw so much, then the Jets would be thrilled.
PK: Give me a little impersonation of Rex Ryan thrilled after winning this game.
TG: It probably would go a little something like this ... "Well, shoot, doesn't feel much better than that, to be honest with ya. We played like Jets today. It was a dogfight out there; I'll tell ya that much. Those Colts are sunthin' else. One thing I'll say about them: I saw Joseph Addai running like Lydell Mitchell out there and was, like, 'Whoa! Wait a second! We could be in for a long day here.' But our defense was flying around and eventually found a way to wrestle him down out there. I said earlier in the week this was personal with Peyton Manning, and they do a great job. He's great, and it's hard to get to him, but I just feel like we knew what to expect and were able to find a way to bear down and put all our chips in the center of the table and beat him. That guy's had my number and it feels good to know I can beat the guy when it counts. But I gotta give a ton of credit to our offense out there, too. Mark Sanchez played great and showed why we traded up to draft him. That right there's what we saw when we scouted him and just knew this guy was going to be a special player. Their crowd was tough with the way they were roaring at the opening kickoff I was, like, 'Whooo! Here we go!' It was full speed ahead. But one thing I should point out is that I broke out my lucky sweatshirt with the pizza stain this week." ... How would Jim Caldwell react to a Colts win Saturday night?
PK: I can hear him, his voice just the same as if they'd have lost: "We're pleased to have beaten a good football team, a quality football team. It's gratifying that our work this week paid off. I shared with you some of the examples of the studiousness I encountered during the preparation week. You saw the rewards of that. We'll enjoy it, we should enjoy it, it was hard-fought and we’re fortunate. We will have to do those same things to prepare for Pittsburgh. It’s a tough place to play, an excellent football team. It's a new challenge. It will be fun to see them get out there and see what they can do."
TG: In that case, I'm glad I'll be covering the Jets' locker room, win or lose. It'll be more interesting. I think the Jets have a better chance to win the game than a lot of prognosticators are giving them credit for. But even if they can't pull off the upset, they'll face a lot of questions as an organization. With all of the negative attention they've generated this season, a loss against the team they spent a year preparing for should lead to considerable introspection in Florham Park. Should we make picks?
PK: Sure. I pick St. Elmo. Make a reservation.
The Must Read
Peyton Manning and the Colts have changed expectations in the division, providing more security for Jack Del Rio and Gary Kubiak, says Chase Stuart.
The Texans should sign Vince Young as the No. 2, says Richard Justice.
Texans on offense who might not be back, from Houston Diehards.
Jacob Lacey and Justin Tryon are hardly household names, but they’ll be covering well-known receivers Santonio Holmes and Braylon Edwards, says Phillip B. Wilson. Tryon might be as good a symbol of the Colts ability to fill holes this season as they have. He’s been surprisingly solid.
Set fancy passing stuff aside, the playoffs are all about running it, says Bob Kravitz.
Pierre Garcon is looking forward to matching up with Antonio Cromartie, says Phil Richards.
Mike Tanier with a great Xs and Os look at the Colts vast options out of a vanilla set. (Hart tip to 18to88.)
Lockout fears are not slowing preparations for the 2012 Super Bowl in Indy, says Kravitz.
Can the Jets pressure Manning? Tony Monkovic considers.
The Colts look like a contender, says John Czarnecki.
Guys who’ve performed beyond what we could have expected, from Stampede Blue.
The Jets need to pressure Manning and protect Mark Sanchez, says Pat Kirwin.
Mel Tucker needs help to bolster the defense, says Gene Frenette.
Jeff Fisher won the big one, says David Climer.
Reaction from some Titans to the Young news, from John Glennon.
Finding the next quarterback will take a while, says Jim Wyatt.
A team source says Young was still having problems calling plays in the huddle, says Don Banks. What an indictment.
Five teams that should consider Young, from Shutdown Corner.
Paul Kuharsky: Here is why not: Brent Schrotenboer reports Cromartie’s got financial issues pertaining to child support.
Also Kevin Acee says Cromartie’s not particular good or willing to contribute to run defense and has a casual attitude.
The Titans were majorly wary of Travis Henry when his child support issues came up, and they ask their corners to be physical.
My colleague Bill Williamson suggested a third-rounder would be fair for Cromartie, so Cromartie for White might actually be a doable swap, barring the aforementioned issues.
Jim in Memphis writes: Paul, I enjoy your articles, comments, etc. What are the possible places LenDale White could land in a trade? Realistically, what can we expect to get for him?
Paul Kuharsky: I would think a second would be high. My guess would be a fourth. Seattle with the connection to Pete Carroll would be one possibility, I’d guess. I like the idea of him in Houston with Steve Slaton. But I don’t know what either of those teams think of him.
In the AFC South he’s a compelling guy in that he’s got a good résumé, he’s restricted, his team appears ready to move on and he’d certainly like to get out. That’s why I think he will be one of the most interesting stories to watch.
David in Jacksonville, Fla., writes: Would the Jaguars draft another WR in the first round after spending two first-round picks on WR's this decade and another on a TE? The Jags need talent at most positions but I have to think that the DL and pass rush have to be at the top of their list.
Paul Kuharsky: Well, you go best player available, but if he isn’t at a position where you feel it’s wise to spend your pick, you back out. So if they see Bryant as the best player there but don’t want to go receiver, they trade down.
He’d certainly help them, but I’d agree it’s not a priority spot. And they really need to address those priority spots -- pass-rushers first and foremost.
Susan Solnick in Nashville writes: Do the Colts, given the same Super Bowl results they had, now reflect that a PERFECT season would have been sweeter than the fat GOOSE EGG they hauled home from Miami?
Paul Kuharsky: I don’t think it makes a difference to them. They are miserable from losing the Super Bowl. A perfect season wouldn’t be perfect anymore. Didn’t seem like much solace to the Patriots a few years ago.
Allen in Houston writes: Hey PK. So now Owen Daniels has said he might skip training camp all together. So now you have another player coming off an injury like Dunta Robinson last year, and they are going to want a big contract. For Owen Daniels this is his third ACL tear he has had. If you’re the Texans, do you franchise him and deal with all the same stuff Dunta put us through last year, or do you pay the guy?
Paul Kuharsky: Like some other emailers, you’re confusing UFAs and RFAs. Unrestricted free agents can be tagged until the 25th. Daniels is a restricted free agent. Restricteds don’t get franchised, they get a tender offer. See details of that here.
If the Texans are willing to match any offer sheet Daniels gets, they are at no risk of losing him for 2010. He can hold out to make a play for a long term-deal, but has no alternative for getting on the field. I’d sign him long-term if I could. I’d take him for the season without camp if I had to under the tender.
I don’t think they can franchise Robinson, who will be unrestricted, again. Odds are someone gives him big dollars and he’s gone.
Daniel W. in Berea, Ky., writes: Indy is a solid team that will make it to the playoffs maybe even the Super Bowl next year. Both the Texans and Titans are iffy but should be pretty good. The Jags have sucked it up as of late. Do you think it is coaching, GM, or just general lack of star players? Or maybe because Florida already has three NFL teams and should share one with another state, say, Kentucky?
Paul Kuharsky: You’re kidding about three teams in the state, right? Why would that have a bearing on anything?
Coaching hasn’t been great, old GM was bad, team overestimated David Garrard in a big way, division is tough. That’s a tough recipe. New GM Gene Smith has them on an improved course.
Dustin in Stanford, Calif., writes: Hey Paul, Do you have any sense of the confidence level the Titans might have in Jason McCourty and Ryan Mouton? It is clear the Nick Harper is a gone and something needs to be done opposite Cortland Finnegan and I was wondering if one of those two might be it. Also, Jason's brother Devin is getting a lot of draft buzz. Is there a huge difference in Jason and Devin's skill set?
Paul Kuharsky: If the Titans go into the season expecting Mouton or McCourty to be the guy opposite Finnegan, they are showing way too much faith in them. They need to bring someone in to be the starter opposite Finnegan. Not up to speed on Devin McCourty at this point. Mel Kiper has him 16th in his most recent book.
Scott in Ottawa, Canada, writes: Paul, Iunderstand that the Titans usually put a value on a player and are loathe to pay more than that. The Titans must have a value in mind for guys like Keith Bulluck and Kyle Vanden Bosch. So my question is why don't they contact these guys before they hit free agency and see if they can make a deal at whatever value they think they are worth? Unless they see no value in KB or KVB, I don't see what harm it would do to reach out to these guys and at least have preliminary discussions about a new contract. Do you?
Paul Kuharsky: Because they decide, a) they are moving on and don’t care to have them back, or b) telling them what they think they’re worth would be insulting and just make the exit worse, or c) their agent has made it clear what he thinks they are worth and it’s not in the same ballpark.
While I don’t think it’ll apply here, I also think this is an important point: I’m not obligated to tell you what I think you're worth if I think it could potentially help me in negotiations down the road if you don’t get what you want elsewhere.
What player approaching free agency where he expects at least one new team to come forward and express love is going to be excited about his old team telling him frankly how it values him and go jump into negotiations?
James Williams in Old Hickory, Tenn., writes: If you could control what the Titans do with their 1st round pick, would you A.) Select a DE to go along with Jacob Ford and William Hayes. B.) Draft a CB to slot along with Cortland Finnegan. C.) Take an OLB to replace Keith Bulluck. D.) Try to trade down to replace the second rounder lost last season?
Paul Kuharsky: I appreciate the kind words. Please keep clicking.
I’d wait to see a) what happens in free agency and b) who’s there at my pick.
From my vantage point, they should hunt a free-agent linebacker and look to draft corner and defensive end. In February I can’t go a lot further than that.
Aaron in West Point, N.Y., writes: I'd like to start off by saying that I thoroughly enjoy your blog, and as an exiled Texan rely on it for scintillating Texans talk. In your esteemed opinion, do you think that the team's running woes last season were more indicative of a problem with the interior line or a lack of a stud back? Given the imminent free agency of Chester Pitts and more important needs on the defensive side of the ball, what do you think the Texans will/can do to fix it for next year via the draft and free agency?
Paul Kuharsky: Nice of you to say, thanks.
It was definitely a combination problem with the blocking and the backs. Pitts may be done. On offense, they need interior line help and a back to go with Slaton. Defense: Free safety, defensive line and a corner if Robinson leaves. They can address all of that in some through free agency and the draft.
Mike in St. Augustine, Fla., writes: What do you think of the Jags LB corps? We were told locally that it was one of the strengths of our team at the beginning of last year, but now it sounds like no one in that unit is a lock to stay other than unheralded Daryl Smith.
Paul Kuharsky: I think it’s a bit overrated. I see flashes, but for all I have heard for the last two years they don’t consistently live up to the billing. Part of it is the group in front of it and behind it have not been sufficient, so the backers have been asked to do too much.
Eric Cox from parts unknown writes: Paul, What free agents (UFA or RFA) do you perceive getting away from Indy? I am concerned about the safeties and DTs because they seemed to play such a huge part this year. I am certain they will get Gary Brackett taken care of, but I think Antoine Bethea and Melvin Bullitt are just as important, especially Bethea. That said, people are saying how important Antonio Johnson was. That's a little harder to tell on TV, but he and Daniel Muir certainly made the run D look much better.
Paul Kuharsky: I think the significant restricted free agents -- Bethea, Bullitt, Marlin Jackson, Charlie Johnson, Antonio Johnson, Muir -- will be tendered in a way that teams can’t afford to come after them or that the Colts would be likely to match an offer sheet. If they didn’t match, they’d be getting a pick or picks, and picks for Polian are a pretty good way to fill holes that departures could create. I feel like the 2010 Colts will look a lot like the 2009 version.
Getty ImagesThere's no love lost between Philip Rivers' San Diego Chargers and Vince Young's Tennessee Titans.
They’ve struck out with high draft picks. They’ve failed to develop mid- and low- round guys they’ve selected in droves. They’ve missed on free agents. They’ve been unlucky with injuries.
In 2005 they liked Vincent Jackson, but watched him go late in the second round to San Diego, where he’s developed into a consistent threat. Eight picks later they took Courtney Roby in their third round. He’s now returning kicks in New Orleans while the Titans will have to defend Jackson Christmas night in a crucial game at LP Field.
ESPN Stats & Information says Jackson has been the targeted on more throws that have been in the air for at least 15 yards than any other receiver in the NFL. On those 52 chances, he had 27 catches for 715 yards, a 26.5 average and four scores.
The Titans try to spread it out and veteran Justin Gage has missed time with a back injury. Still, they don't have a pass-catcher close to Jackson in terms of long-pass situational production, let alone overall output (63 catches, 1,097 yards, 9 touchdowns). Rookie receiver Kenny Britt leads the Titans wideouts in both receptions (40) and receiving yards (674).
The hit rate’s been low, but Tennessee has produced some receivers, Derrick Mason most notable among them. And Mike Heimerdinger thinks a trio of Mason, Kevin Dyson and Drew Bennett at their peak together might have been his best group in his two terms as the Titans coordinator.
His trio now is productive with upside and seems to have a bright future with quarterback Vince Young, who replaced Kerry Collins as starter eight games ago.
Britt appears to be worth every bit of the first-round pick they spent on him; the inconsistent Gage has made more plays since the quarterback switch but has only caught 45 percent of the passes thrown his way according to ESPN Stats & Information; and though drops are a significant issue as well for free-agent addition Nate Washington, he has produced a team-best six touchdown catches. (Gage and Britt are tied for second on the team with three touchdown receptions each.)
In the eight games with Young as the starter, the Titans have the second-most prolific offense in the NFL. Their 398 yards-per-game average trails only the Saints (413.9). Tennessee's 29.5 points-per-game average is tied with Philadelphia for second behind New Orleans (30.6).
When those receivers have made plays for Young, it’s opened things up for the team’s featured player, Chris Johnson. That’s the goal No. 1 for the Titans, who are 7-7 and need to win out and get help to keep their AFC wild-card playoff hopes alive.
San Diego’s starting corners Antonio Cromartie and Quentin Jammer have three picks apiece for the league’s 13th-rated pass defense. They’re both 6-feet tall, but the Titans' three primary wideouts are bigger. Britt and Gage are certainly capable of going up over them to get passes.
A nationally televised game is a good place for Britt, Gage and Washington to perform if they want a broad audience to believe the Titans are figuring things out at the position.
Four other things I’ll be watching or wondering about Christmas night as Chargers-Titans unfolds:
Bad blood: Shawne Merriman is still, um, annoyed about a play in a 2007 game where he felt Kevin Mawae and David Stewart teamed up to try to hurt him. Two physical fronts here hardly have a love affair from their two games that season, Chargers wins in the regular season and the first round of the playoffs.
Mawae doesn’t mind when opponents are worrying about him, and he will use it to try to use psychology as an aid on at least a couple plays.
Controlling Gates: Chargers tight end Antonio Gates causes a matchup problem for everyone. He can run over DBs and past linebackers. The Titans best coverage linebacker, Keith Bulluck, is out for the season. The Titans would be nuts to ask Gerald McRath or Colin Allred to handle him much. Nickel back Vincent Fuller’s physical, tough and responsible, but he gives up 70 pounds and three inches to Gates. I expect he will spend a lot of time on Gates, doing what he can to hold him up. Help better arrive quickly for gang tackling.
Making it hard for Rivers: Philip Rivers is gaining traction as the quarterback who should be talked about right after Peyton Manning and Drew Brees. How might the Titans have their best chance to limit the league’s third-rated passer who carries a league-high 8.76 average gain into the game?
Get him out of situations where he’s excelled. Rivers is gettable -- the Chargers have given up 24 sacks, which puts them in the bottom half of the league. The Titans need to rush well with their front four, because with the two kid backers on the field they can’t afford to bring any help.
Other pieces of the recipe for potential success against a good quarterback are hardly unpredictable: Get Rivers in third and long, because he’s got a 91.9 rating on third down. And don’t allow him to work with a lead in the fourth quarter. His passer rating in the fourth period is 98.8.
Punting contest: Brett Kern’s been a wonderful find for Tennessee, and his punts have helped out a great deal with field position. His 37.8 yard net isn’t among the league’s best numbers, but he’s been timely. His counterpart, Mike Scifres, is capable of controlling a game, as he did in the Chargers’ win over the Colts in the playoffs last season. The Titans' return game has been an abomination this year, so don’t expect it to handle Scifres' boomers very well. Remember, every fair catch amounts to a play that wasn’t a turnover. Chargers punt returner Darren Sproles, meanwhile, can be a major threat.
SAN DIEGO -- The Chargers' defense had been waiting and waiting, not showing what they planned on a play until the play clock was down to about 10 seconds.
Then they tried a player substitution and got caught sleeping, saw the Colts hurry a play instead of making all their adjustments and got burned for a giant scoring play -- Peyton Manning to Reggie Wayne for 72 yards and a touchdown over an unaware Antonio Cromartie -- that put the Colts up 17-14 in the third period.
It's the kind of play that begs for a thorough breakdown, especially if the lead holds up.
My hope is to try to dissect it for you after this is over.
But the Chargers are driving, so things may change again quickly.