AFC South: Barrett Ruud

When Bob McNair bemoaned the Texans linebacking depth on Jan. 13, it came across as silly.

Houston used 11 different linebackers last year.

Brian Cushing, Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, Daryl Sharpton, Barrett Ruud and Mister Alexander all played inside last year and Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus, Bryan Braman and Jesse Nading saw time outside.

No team, 3-4 or not, is going to field quality players when it turns to its ninth, 10th or 11th player at the position.

Yet after the season ended, McNair offered this:

“As we develop more depth, when those things happen it’ll hurt us less and less. In this particular case, we got hit at one position with a lot of injuries. It made it very difficult. We’ll work on adding more depth and playing better.”

If they need 11 linebackers, they will struggle again.

But, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, they’ve added an additional veteran who can help, signing Joe Mays, the former Denver Bronco. He buried Matt Schaub on Sept. 23, 2012 during a 31-25 Texans’ win in Denver last year, a hit that drew a $50,000 fine.

The Texans lost Barwin in free agency and Ruud, James, Alexander and Nading are also gone.

They’ve now added third-rounder Sam Montgomery and fourth-rounder Trevardo Williams as well as Mays, a sixth-round pick by Philadelphia in 2008. The Eagles swapped him to Denver in 2010 in exchange for running back J.J. Arrington.

As long as Cushing can stay on the field a year after he tore an ACL, the Texans should be fine if they are assured of Sharpton, Dobbins or Mays as a second inside guy. Sharpton is on the NFI list. He and Dobbins don’t have good records of staying healthy.

Mays has played in only 47 of a possible 80 games over five seasons. He was suspended for one game last season then missed the final nine games of the regular season with a broken leg and ankle.
A review of the best member of the 2012 Houston Texans who’s still unsigned:

Shaun Cody, defensive tackle

Over the past four years, Cody started 57 of a possible 64 regular-season games.

In Wade Phillips’ 3-4, he worked as the nose tackle in the base defense, surrounded by far more notable players in the Houston front. He’s 30 years old and his eight seasons of wear and tear have taken a toll. In late January or early February he had “microscopic lumbar discectomy surgery for a lumbar disc herniation," per the Houston Chronicle.

There have been no indications that the Texans are interested in having him back.

Whoever is at nose tackle isn’t a part of the Texans nickel or dime packages, and they are in nickel and dime a good share of the time.

Cody missed three games last season and wound up playing 24.06 percent of the time on defense, and Earl Mitchell played 37.41 percent.

Mitchell will take over as the starter and Chris Jones, a sixth-round pick out of Bowling Green, will have the chance to win a backup job.

Others still unsigned include: Linebacker Bradie James, cornerback Stanford Routt, guard Antoine Caldwell, linebacker Barrett Ruud, safety Quintin Demps, and tackle Rashad Butler.

Reassessing the Texans' needs

April, 4, 2013
4/04/13
2:44
PM ET
They are two-time defending division champs and have been to the second round of the playoffs two consecutive seasons.

Teams like that are not typically prime players in free agency. They have players they have to spend to retain, limiting the cash on hand to go get a bunch of free agents.

This is the case with the Houston Texans, who’ve lost more than they’ve gained in free agency and anticipate addressing primary needs in the draft.

Wide receiver -- They cut Kevin Walter to gain some cap relief, but also because they need a more dynamic second receiver who might ultimately have a chance to replace Andre Johnson. With DeVier Posey recovering from surgery to repair his Achilles, a top receiver is this team’s No. 1 need.

Inside linebacker -- The Texans are confident Brian Cushing will be recovered from ACL repair and ready to go at the start of training camp. But there is still a hole beside him. Bradie James, Tim Dobbins and Barrett Ruud are free agents who aren’t returning. Darryl Sharpton is injury-prone. Safety Glover Quin often played as a virtual linebacker in a dime package. He’s gone, and Ed Reed isn’t going to do that. The second inside linebacker is not a simple two-down run-stopping job any longer. Big need.

Outside linebacker -- Whitney Mercilus may not be sturdy against the run yet (another ingredient making inside linebacker increasingly important). But he can rush the passer and will start. The Texans will find ways to maximize his strengths. Connor Barwin’s departure means they need a third outside guy. I wouldn’t count on Bryan Braman as depth or someone who could rotate in. It’s a need for sure.

Safety -- They basically swapped Quin for Reed. In a good draft for safeties, they should grab one. They need to grab someone who can develop behind veterans Reed and Danieal Manning, upgrade depth and provide a better dime option if Wade Phillips wants to utilize it as much as he has in the last couple years. Quintin Demps and Shiloh Keo shouldn’t be on the field with the defense.

Nose tackle -- Shaun Cody is a free agent and Earl Mitchell is in line to take over as the starter. I think they are content with that, though they need a backup. I’d love for them to draft a guy who could challenge Mitchell for the nose job in the base defense.

Running back -- Ben Tate is No. 2 with Justin Forsett gone, so they need a third. But whether they need to spend even a low pick on the spot is the question. If they like one, have at it. If not, no pressure.
As we sort through the needs each team has with free agency and the draft approaching, inside linebacker comes up often for the Houston Texans.

I believe the need is being overrated and the focus is on the wrong element of the team’s two inside guys.

The Texans do need a steady, reliable second inside linebacker, but it’s their first inside guy who’s the key. Brian Cushing was lost to a torn ACL just five games into the 2012 season. The defense suffered the rest of the way without him, and when a bunch of other inside guys got hurt the position became a real problem.

Cushing
Put a healthy Cushing back in the lineup, and the second inside guy is a role player. Ideally he’s a good run defender who supplements the defensive front. But he’s just a part-time player, often leaving the field when Houston shifts to nickel.

That’s why Cushing’s progress is very important.

He’s about a week away in his rehabilitation from jogging, per Nick Scurfield of the team’s website.

Said Cushing:
“Really looking forward to that. Really, where I stand right now is just looking forward to the next step always and what’s coming up and my progression. It’s been a long, long journey and I still have a lot to go, but you know, it just makes me cherish playing that much more, because when it’s taken away for you, you realize how much you love it.”

“…(It’s) been going well. I’ll be here for the majority of the time and really just focusing on my rehab, getting back, getting my knee back to 110 percent and just really looking to the year coming up. Obviously, my year was cut short last year, and I’m looking forward to getting back out there with the guys and playing football.”

 

Bradie James was the starter alongside Cushing at the start of the season. He and two others who saw significant action inside for the Texans last season after Cushing’s injury -- Tim Dobbins and Barrett Ruud -- are heading for unrestricted free agency.

That leaves injury-prone Darryl Sharpton as the other inside guy, for now.

Certainly the Texans need to restock the position. Dobbins tends to get banged up, but he can be a solid player when healthy.

The Texans need to add a couple of guys at the spot. But I don’t believe they need to spend a premium pick on a guy who will be a part-time player.

The biggest offseason development at inside linebacker for the Texans will be Cushing’s rehab progress, not the addition of the guy who will play next to him.
Reading the coverage ...

A ranking of offensive line performance for the entire league, from Phil Gaskin of The Pulling Lineman.

Houston Texans

The Texans are counting on Reliant Stadium to provide a big advantage for them Saturday, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

To which I say: Wouldn’t it have been nice if they were counting on it next week and the week after that? Have you heard they blew three chances to get that?

What happens in the postseason will define Matt Schaub’s legacy, says Jerome Solomon.

Tim Dobbins will be a game-time decision, and if ankle and shoulder injuries keep him out, Barrett Ruud will be a starter at inside linebacker against the Bengals, says Dale Robertson.

Coach Gary Kubiak wants to see reckless abandon from his team on Saturday, not a fear of making mistakes, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

Robertson remembers the Oilers’ collapse in Buffalo.

J.J. Watt is Pro Football Focus defensive player of the year.

Johnathan Joseph against A.J. Green is a giant matchup in Sunday’s game, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

Jerrell Freeman, not Ray Lewis, will be the best inside linebacker on the field Sunday in Baltimore, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

The Colts gave the Bears permission to interview Bruce Arians for their head-coaching job, says the AP.

To which I say: Arians could do some good work with Jay Cutler. I wonder who he’ll pitch as his defensive coordinator.

The understated Jim Caldwell is downplaying his role calling the offensive plays for the Ravens against a team he was head coach of a year ago, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star.

Dwight Freeney is coming off his best game and finishing strong, writes Mike Chappell.

Potential was all over the place for these Colts back in the spring, writes Chappell. Rookies have accounted for 3,108 yards. "That's the most by a team's rookie class since the 1970 NFL merger. The previous high: 2,751 yards by the 1999 Edgerrin James-led Colts."

Jacksonville Jaguars

Shad Khan isn’t expected to hire a new general manager until next week at the earliest, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. Marc Ross of the Giants has emerged as another candidate.

“For now, we wait and speculate," writes John Oehser of Jaguars.com. "As we do, we’ll spend the coming days taking a look back at the 2012 season, and try to take a look forward to 2013. Of course, these plans blow up immediately when Khan picks a general manager who will shape the franchise for the foreseeable future."

Poor gamesmanship in the draft is one thing we learned the Jaguars can improve upon from the Gene Smith era, says Adam Stites of Big Cat Country.

To which I say: It's a good point that a guy who was all about the draft was OK giving picks up to move up, but didn't move back to accumulate choices.

Tennessee Titans

Are the Titans starting to morph into the dysfunctional Raiders? David Climer of The Tennessean explores.

To which I say: Bud Adams is eccentric, but he’s not the de facto general manager of his team. The Titans aren’t close to the Raiders at their worst.

Cornerback Alterraun Verner says the Titans need more killer instinct, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The Titans get a B-plus from Dunlevy for their 2012 draft.
HOUSTON -- The question is the same today as it was during the week.

Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph will play, but how well? His groin injury hurt his performance in Houston’s last two games, a win at the Jets and a loss to the Packers.

He didn’t do much this week as the team looked for rest to help him get back to form. Before the injury, he ranked as one of the most effective corners in the league.

How much he’s able to contribute to preventing big plays from Torrey Smith and Anquan Boldin is likely to be a giant storyline as the Texans and Ravens vie for AFC supremacy.

Outside linebacker Terrell Suggs is active for the Ravens but will not start. How much he contributes after his quick return from a torn Achilles is another big story in this very big game.

The inactives:

Texans
Ravens

Texans not thinking about prestige

October, 14, 2012
10/14/12
7:48
PM ET
HOUSTON -- The Green Bay Packers have deep, long roots and an impassioned regional and national following.

The Houston Texans do not.

That had no bearing on Houston as it prepared for tonight’s game at Reliant Stadium against Green Bay. Running back Arian Foster doesn’t think the Texans are measuring themselves against the Packers any more than they do against any opponent any week, he said.

“That’s up to whatever your pen writes there,” he said. “We’re going to go out and play whoever they let us play and we’re going to go out there and settle it on the field. We’ll let you guys worry about the prestige of the organizations.”

What I’d hate to see happen here is the Texans lose, which would hardly be an unreasonable result, and for people to overact about how the Texans have not beaten anybody and couldn’t produce in a big test against a desperate team.

Win or lose, they’re good and everyone should know it after five games and no losses.

Inactives for tonight, when the roof is closed.

Texans
Packers
Trindon Holliday had a great preseason.

It didn’t translate to the regular season.

The Texans have been bad on special teams, and it will take more than a new return man for them to improve. But it’s one place they’ll start. Receiver Keshawn Martin will be the primary return man now, as the Texans cut Holliday to make room to help at inside linebacker, where they signed veteran Barrett Ruud.

But it wasn’t a straight swap. With Brian Cushing moved to injured-reserve, the team had room for Ruud. It also promoted guard Cody White from the practice squad, a move that required the need for a second opening on the 53-man roster.

“By no means is it a statement to what we thought of Trindon,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said, per the Houston Chronicle.

That’s a bit far-fetched. If you love him, you cut someone else. Cutting anyone makes at least some degree of a statement about him.

Ruud played last year for the Titans, but was ineffective. A shoulder injury ended his season and rookie Colin McCarthy starred once he took over the job. Ruud was traded from Seattle to New Orleans this year, then recently released by the Saints.

Holliday told the Chronicle he didn’t think he underperformed.

He was averaging 19.4 yards per kick return, 27th in the NFL, and 9.2 yards per punt return, 16th in the NFL.

He certainly wasn’t overperforming.
Early thoughts on the Titans' players scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

The Titans have already re-signed three players who were heading for free agency: tight end Craig Stevens, tackle Mike Otto and receiver Lavelle Hawkins.

Fullback Ahmard Hall -- He’s a great locker room guy, but did not have a great season and the Titans have Quinn Johnson in house.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery -- Couldn’t push his way into action and presuming the team drafts at least one receiver, it should have no interest.

Guard Jake Scott -- Team will say thanks for solid service and look to get younger and better on the interior.

Defensive end Dave Ball -- He’s not the solution, but he’s a quality complementary part who can get into the backfield.

Defensive end William Hayes -- Just hasn’t panned out. The team needs at least one new end and there won’t be room for him any longer.

Defensive lineman Jason Jones -- Was not as good at end in the new defense as he was at tackle in the old one. He can still be a very good player.

Linebacker Barrett Ruud -- Didn’t play well before he was hurt, then got displaced by rookie Colin McCarthy.

Cornerback Cortland Finnegan -- I don’t think the Titans want him at anything near what he’ll be able to command.

Safety Jordan Babineaux -- Played well enough that safety-starved Tennessee should want him back.

Safety Michael Griffin -- Does the best when everything around him is going well. But the price he’ll want gets paid to a leader, not a follower.

Safety Chris Hope -- Made a difference on the field and in the locker room for a long time, but his time is now past.

Other UFAs:
It’s rare that an early read of a draft class matches up to the grade down the road.

But the Titans' rookie class of defenders is scoring very high. The 33 starts for Titans rookie defenders are the most in the NFL. Denver ranks second with 32.

Coach Mike Munchak and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray have not hesitated to rely on kids after a lengthy Jeff Fisher era where the coach was often reluctant to use an unproven player.

Part of it is that Tennessee didn't have the healthy, established and productive veterans who needed to be displaced to get rookies into the lineup.

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy (five starts) benefited from a groin injury to Barrett Ruud, and now McCarthy looks to be a fixture going forward. Akeem Ayers (14 starts) was a second-round pick the team intended to start from the beginning. Jurrell Casey (13 starts) is a run-stuffing defensive tackle and Karl Klug (one start) is working as a nickel rusher on an interior where the team was thin.

With two games remaining, the group will surpass the franchise high since the Oilers became the Titans in 1999. In 2002, rookies started 33 games on defense, with safety Tank Williams accounting for 16.

Ayers is in line to become just the third defender in the “Titans era” to start every game as a rookie, joining Williams and defensive end Jevon Kearse (1999).

Two seventh-round defenders from the 2011 draft are also well-regarded.

Defensive tackle Zach Clayton has shown some promise. And while cornerback Tommie Campbell is coming off a terrible game where he got benched for special teams penalties, he’s got great speed and is a raw player the Titans think can be molded into a significant contributor.
Colin McCarthy has proven to be a very good football player as a Titans’ rookie middle linebacker. So much so he might wind up a magician, too. He might make injured veteran Barrett Ruud disappear.

[+] EnlargeColin McCarthy
Fernando Medina/US PresswireTitans linebacker Colin McCarthy has made the most of his playing time this season.
McCarthy’s been the Titans' guy in the middle for the bulk of the past three games, and he’s been an upgrade over Ruud, who has missed time with a groin injury.

A fourth-round pick out of Miami, McCarthy’s an instinctive playmaker who is Tennessee's third rookie in the starting lineup on defense, joining defensive tackle Jurrell Casey and strongside linebacker Akeem Ayers.

Wednesday, both defensive coordinator Jerry Gray and linebackers coach Frank Bush offered big praise of McCarthy, who’s been reporting to work as early as 5:30 a.m.

“I think if he had come from another university other than the University of Miami -- those guys work with a swagger, and I am serious,” Gray said. “He feels like he belongs there. He’s not afraid to get up in front of the huddle and tell those guys, 'Shut up, let’s go.' That’s what it takes out of a middle linebacker -- ‘Just because I am a rookie doesn’t mean I am going to be a shy guy.’”

Said Bush: “He’s done an excellent job coming in and really not being intimidated by the gravity of the whole situation. It’s a tough job to come into a veteran group and be a rookie leader, and he’s done a good job being himself. He’s got a little bit of swagger, a little bit of confidence and all the guys seem to be listening to him.”

McCarthy’s more of a force in the run defense, but he’s also on the field when the Titans go to two linebackers in nickel or just one in dime, so he’s able against the pass as well.

In the three games -- two starts and an early entry as Ruud’s replacement when he aggravated his injury -- McCarthy’s got 33 tackles, four for a loss and an interception.

So long as he's healthy, McCarthy should remain in the spot.

His production is earning him the ultimate, simple praise from teammates that means a lot at the start of a career.

“He’s a player,” safety Jordan Babineaux said.

AFC South Stock Watch

November, 29, 2011
11/29/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

[+] EnlargeDeji Karim
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesDeji Karim had two carries for minus-2 yards against the Texans on Sunday.
1. Deji Karim, Jacksonville Jaguars running back: He’s playing as the second back rather than the third because Rashad Jennings was lost for the year before the season. Still, Karim has been a big disappointment as the changeup from Maurice Jones-Drew. He seems to stumble a lot, and he’s averaging 2.0 yards per carry. He’s hardly bringing a dynamic element to the kick return game, either. Jones-Drew’s workload is heavy, and the Jaguars need to have a functional alternative. They currently do not.

2. Barrett Ruud, Tennessee Titans middle linebacker: He missed his second game in the Titans’ last three with a groin injury, and once he’s healthy the Titans are going to have a hard time reinstalling him. He has brought the team the leadership and understanding of the defense it needed when it signed him. But rookie Colin McCarthy is simply a more rugged player at the spot. McCarthy has done just fine calling the defense and is making a lot of the sort of plays the Titans weren’t getting from Ruud. Maybe the Titans will slide Ruud to the IR.

3. The chances for Indianapolis to compete over the next two weeks: The expectation is that the New England Patriots will happily pile on to add to their rivals' misery on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. What has been the league’s marquee matchup may wind up the league’s marquee mismatch this time around. And then the Colts will recover with a trip to Baltimore, where the Ravens will surely be thinking they can shut out Indianapolis.

RISING

1. Connor Barwin, Houston Texans outside linebacker: He set a franchise record with four sacks against the Jaguars and was phenomenally disruptive, torturing Jaguars right tackle Guy Whimper. We’ve paid a lot of attention to Brian Cushing, Antonio Smith, J.J. Watt and even Brooks Reed on the team’s defensive front. But Barwin has been a steady force and contributor. He’s the guy the team thought it was drafting in 2009 in the second round. He's a key piece to a defense that’s the primary hope of the Texans going forward now with a third-string quarterback.

2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans running back: He exploded for 190 rushing yards in the win over Tampa Bay. Great blocking sprung him into space, and he looked like the guy we expected to be the centerpiece of Tennessee's offense when he got his big contract before the season. The question now is whether it can carry over and be a big element in what Tennessee hopes is a big five-game run to a playoff berth. Expectations that he was “back” rose after he got to 100 yards in Cleveland and Carolina, but his work against the Buccaneers looked and felt different.

3. The potential for meaningful change in Jacksonville: Wayne Weaver is selling the team to Shahid Khan. Weaver wasn’t about to hire a high-priced coach after the interim five-game stint of Mel Tucker wound down. Could new ownership be more willing to look at a broader pool of candidates and to pay a name? Despite what Weaver said, Khan certainly had to have a voice in the move to dump Jack Del Rio, since the announcements of the coaching change and the sale come on the same day. GM Gene Smith, who got a new contract, will have a big hand in the choice. What kind of budget will there be?

Wrap-up: Titans 23, Buccaneers 17

November, 27, 2011
11/27/11
6:55
PM ET

Thoughts on the Tennessee Titans’ 23-17 win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at LP Field:

What it means: The Titans improved to 6-5 by finding their balance in the fourth quarter of a wet and sloppy game against the Buccaneers. Chris Johnson had his best day of the season with 23 carries for 190 rushing yards, though he lost a fumble for one of Tennessee’s four turnovers. With Matt Leinart now also hurt for the Texans, the Titans have to still feel like they can catch Houston. But they need to pair some wins with some Texans losses to do so.

What I liked: Matt Hasselbeck had a poor overall game, with two picks -- one returned for a touchdown -- two sacks and only 160 passing yards. But at a crucial moment with 3:01 left in the game and facing a fourth-and-goal from the Tampa Bay 2-yard line, he got great protection, showed great patience and found Damian Williams with a dart in the back middle of the end zone for a touchdown that provided the game-winning points. The Titans were down 17-10 at the start of the fourth and took control, outscoring Tampa Bay 13-0 in the quarter.

What I also liked: Great play on the first-quarter kickoff return with Tommie Campbell taking a reverse handoff from Marc Mariani and bolting to an 84-yard touchdown.

What I didn’t like: Four turnovers, including the two picks by Hasselbeck and lost fumbles by Johnson and running back Javon Ringer. Tampa Bay turned those into 14 points. Meanwhile, the Titans had five takeaways and turned them into a grand total of six points. They were quite fortunate to win the game given that discrepancy.

What I wonder: Will rookie linebacker Colin McCarthy, who had a game-high 10 tackles and a game-sealing pick, keep the starting middle linebacker spot even after veteran Barrett Ruud (groin) is healthy?

What’s next: The Titans travel to Buffalo, where the weather may be tough but the opposition is a lot less dangerous than it was early in the season.

RTC: Is it over for Manning in Indy?

November, 18, 2011
11/18/11
10:22
AM ET
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

The run game will make for an easier transition for Matt Leinart, says Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle. I’m with the consensus opinion. It would be hard to find a better situation for a backup quarterback to be stepping into.

Indianapolis Colts

Writes Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star: “…(T)his isn't the time for sentimentality. This is the time for cold, hard business calculations. The two best options, as painful and unpalatable as they are, look to be either trading (Peyton) Manning or letting him walk as a free agent.” Kravitz may be right, but it’s still a hard thing to swallow at this point. Colts fans should begin preparing for anything.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars are fired up about guard Uche Nwaneri, who GM Gene Smith says is playing as well as he has since he’s been with the team. Tania Ganguli of the Times-Union tells us about it. He’s a rare positive on a horrible offense.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were happy with rookie Colin McCarthy’s play as a fill-in middle linebacker, but they will turn back to veteran Barrett Ruud Sunday in Atlanta, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. The team likes Ruud’s leadership and calm, and I understand the value of those things. But the equation must measure the level of play above other things.

AFC South Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
11/15/11
1:00
PM ET
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

FALLING

1. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars tight end: This offseason MMA training was supposed to transform him and take his game to another level. That’s great if his hips are opening up better, but does it matter if he’s not catching the ball and if he hasn’t earned the confidence of the team’s rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert? If Tennessee’s Chris Johnson wasn’t getting all the attention, there would have been far more attention on Lewis’ poor production and we’d be asking the same question: Did he get happy and relax after landing a big contract at the start of training camp? Blocking well is not enough. This team expected and deserves more.

2. The Colts' decision to IR Kerry Collins: Look, the veteran quarterback wouldn’t automatically be fixing all that’s wrong with the Colts. But if his concussion has cleared up he’d sure provide a better alternative right now to Curtis Painter than Dan Orlovsky does. And if Collins were available and could put together one steady game with some big pass plays mixed in, the Colts would have their chance to win a game. Instead, they’re choosing between two bad options and are going to be hard-pressed to find a victory.

3. The Texans’ confidence, potentially: They’re coming off a fourth straight win and feeling great and, bam, bad news about their quarterback. Matt Schaub’s done with a foot injury. The Texans are saying all the right things and I believe they do believe in Matt Leinart. But take a team heading for the playoffs and maybe even a first-round bye and tell it the quarterback who got it there is out, and it has to have a psychological effect. We’ve questioned the mental makeup of this team in this space before. The Texans seem to be making big strides in that department, and they’ve overcome the loss of significant guys in Mario Williams, Andre Johnson and Danieal Manning. But Schaub is a different deal. The quarterback is the centerpiece and he’s been steering things very well. Doubt can creep in.

RISING

[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
AP Photo/Gail BurtonMatt Leinart won't be the only one under pressure when he starts Nov. 27; his offensive line will face a big adjustment as well.
1. The importance of everyone surrounding the quarterback for Houston: Leinart could do just fine as he steps in for the injured Schaub the rest of the way. But when the Texans start out with him in the huddle on Nov. 27 in Jacksonville, everyone else needs to make him as comfortable as possible. That means a continued excellent run game, behind continued great blocking from a line that also needs to protect well. It means reliable routes and catches from everyone in the Texans’ big stable of pass targets. The more they can do to ease him in, the better.

2. Tennessee Titans linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Will Witherspoon and rookie fill-in Colin McCarthy were active and effective for the Titans in Carolina in a very good collective effort. There was better work going on in front of them as the pass rush had its best day of the season. The Titans dragged Cam Newton down five times. McCarthy was solid in the middle playing for the injured veteran Barrett Ruud. Mike Munchak said Ruud (groin) will be back in when he’s ready, but McCarthy could get additional work in some packages.

3. Jeremy Mincey, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end: He continues to get better, and on a defense with some veterans who were brought in with big contracts, he’s providing valuable energy as an edge rusher. In Indianapolis, he made a great spin move to get inside on Anthony Castonzo for the first sack, he helped Daryl Smith put Painter down to share a sack and got around the corner and swiped a fumble free from Orlovsky in the fourth quarter.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD