AFC South: Audibles

Audibles: AFC South Week 1 preview

September, 5, 2008
9/05/08
4:25
PM ET

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Jacksonville at Tennessee, 1 p.m. ET

In the wake of Richard Collier's shooting, the Jaguars probably will be in an all-or-nothing state. Are they drained from hospital visits and sleepless nights wondering whether their teammate would survive the night? Or do they rally on his behalf, calling on a reserve to help provide some good news for him and the city? I think we'll have a feeling for which way the Jags will go in the first five minutes of the game.

Never mind the players for a moment. Many of us are expecting another low-scoring, defensive battle like last year's 13-10 Tennessee win at Jacksonville on opening day. But it could amount to a coming-out party for two offensive coaches. Dirk Koetter, the Jags' second-year offensive coordinator, now has a better handle on what he's got and a better comfort level calling an NFL game. The Titans' Mike Heimerdinger is back for a second term in the same post. Neither coordinator was showing much in the preseason. Now we'll see some of the plays they rate as their favorites. That should make a big difference, shouldn't it?

While it's a huge game, it seems to me the Titans are the team that can better handle losing it. Jeff Fisher's teams have a history of starting slowly, and have often managed to dig out of it. The Titans couldn't get anything going offensively with their first team in the preseason, so it won't be a surprise if they don't move the ball effectively. Jacksonville, meanwhile, is a popular pick to catch or pass Indianapolis. They seemed to be gradually ramping up in the preseason. How will they handle a loss after a month of listening to all the big expectations? Maybe better than I imagine. They did, after all, lose their opener to Tennessee last season in Jacksonville and recovered just fine.

It has been a football lifetime since Gregg Williams was the defensive coordinator for the Oilers/Titans, so it's hard to imagine such a thing would carry over. But it's still worth a mention: While his defenses beat some very good quarterbacks, they also tended to go after young and unproven guys and see it backfire. Remember Ryan Leaf? With Young's questionable decision-making and ability to dodge a rusher, is it better to send extra people at him or to complicate coverages and await mistakes? Six of his 30 regular season interceptions have landed in the arms of Jaguars defenders.

Houston at Pittsburgh, 1 p.m. ET

Steelers receiver Santonio Holmes averaged a ridiculous 18.1 yards per catch last year. For the Texans to cap that, they need to find a consistent pass rush and they need cornerback Fred Bennett to prove he can stick with Holmes. I'd also expect the Steelers to get a third wide receiver on the field in order to put Houston in nickel to get chances to test DeMarcus Faggins.

Against a 3-4, Houston's offensive line probably will need to cut more linebackers as part of Alex Gibbs' zone-blocking scheme. It's one thing to take down bigger linemen, another to get to the second level and deal with more athletic players.

Indications to this point are that the Texans may feel the need to pass to set up the run instead of vice versa. Either way, we find out if a couple of skill position players such as Steve Slaton and Kevin Walter can be factors or get cancelled out once the games begin to count.

The Texans won in Pittsburgh in 2002 despite gaining only 47 yards of total offense. The Texans forced five turnovers, returning three for touchdowns.

Chicago at Indianapolis, 8:15 p.m. ET

The Peyton Manning questions are twofold: How does he do on a left knee that kept him out of the entire preseason after he had an infected bursa sac removed from it July 14? And how does he do without his center, Jeff Saturday? Will Saturday's replacement, probably Jamey Richard, work to adjust things at the line of scrimmage the way Saturday did? Will another lineman? Will Manning take on even more responsibility?

Look for Manning to get rid of the ball even faster than usual with Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Anthony Gonzalez, Dallas Clark and Joseph Addai looking to break a tackle and get yards after the catch. The Colts aren't going to ask Manning to stand in very long with three new offensive linemen working against a defensive front that includes Adewale Ogunleye, Tommie Harris, Brian Urlacher and Lance Briggs. Harris will surely work to make it a long night for Richard.

Lucas Oil Stadium makes its regular-season debut on national television Sunday night. Will the crowd be able to influence a game the way it did at the RCA Dome? It's a much more difficult task with all the additional square footage under the roof, be it open or closed.

Kick coverage is always a Colts issue. Will they kick to Devin Hester as they did to open the Super Bowl two years ago? Can Courtney Roby (kicks) and Keiwan Ratliff (punts) help the offense out with some field position on returns?

Spotlight issues, obviously: Manning's knee, Dwight Freeney's foot, Bob Sanders' shoulder.

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