AFC South: Carson Palmer

Keenum-BabinGetty ImagesAre Case Keenum's Texans and Jason Babin's Jaguars on different paths as they near season's end?

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The streaks the Jaguars and Texans are on entering tonight's game are ones that would have been hard to believe after the first two weeks of the season.

The Jaguars started 0-2 and played so poorly it looked like they would go down as one of the worst teams in NFL history. The Texans started 2-0, and while those victories were shaky, it looked like they'd be able to right the ship and be one of the top playoff seeds in the AFC.

Three months later, the Jaguars (3-9) are 3-1 since their bye and have won back-to-back games for the first time since 2010. The Texans (2-10) have dropped a franchise-record 10 consecutive games, including a 13-6 loss to the Jaguars in Houston on Nov. 24.

Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and Texans reporter Tania Ganguli break down the matchup:

DiRocco: Tania, the Texans felt like they were at rock bottom after losing to the Jaguars on Nov. 24. What's their state of mind heading into Thursday's game?

Ganguli: They were up for Sunday’s game against the Patriots. It was a big one for the Texans after the way the Patriots blew them out twice last season, and that was apparent in the game. The Texans' offense played what might have been its best game with Case Keenum at quarterback, moving the ball from start to finish. There were some positives in that game, but ultimately the loss officially knocked the Texans out of playoff contention. Now they’re playing for pride. They can still avoid the league’s cellar when the season ends. And while there’s a section of fans that cares about the No. 1 overall pick above all else, a win would mean a lot to the team.

The last time the Texans played the Jaguars, the Texans fell to 2-9 and the Jaguars rose to 2-9, causing the Texans to join the Jaguars with the worst record in the NFL. Now the Texans are there alone and the Jaguars have won three out of their past four games. Is that indicative of a turnaround, or of poor play by their opponents?

DiRocco: It's a little of both, but I'd say more that the Jaguars have improved. In the four games since the bye, they're much better against the run (68 yards per game allowed vs. 162), have recorded nine of their 20 sacks, and are plus-3 in turnover ratio. The offensive line has been more consistent and receiver Ace Sanders has begun to emerge as a reliable option. So they are playing much better than the first eight games, which they lost by double digits. But the Jaguars haven't exactly played against the league's elite: The four teams are a combined 18-30 and only one (Arizona) has a winning record. They haven't exactly had to deal with elite QBs, either: Jake Locker/Ryan Fitzpatrick, Carson Palmer, Keenum and Brandon Weeden. Still, that shouldn't take away from the fact that the Jaguars are a better team than they were a month ago and have played well enough to win three consecutive games on the road for the first time since 2007.

Ben Tate looked pretty good against the Patriots, and it's probably not a coincidence that he rushes for 102 yards and the Texans nearly win. Is he back to 100 percent and is he the key for the Texans against the Jaguars? He really struggled in the previous meeting.

Ganguli: The running game just didn’t seem to get going in these teams’ last meeting, but Tate rebounded in a big way against the Patriots last weekend. He was asked if it was the best game the offensive line had played, and he said it was definitely one of them. Tate won’t talk about it, but he’s playing for a contract, as this is his final year with the Texans. The Texans’ offense needs him to be productive, and he was on Sunday.

It feels, from the outside, like a completely different season has sprouted for the Jaguars, whose nine losses all have been by double digits. Who has been the MVP of their three recent wins?

DiRocco: It hasn't really been one player, which is indicative of the growth the team has made since the bye week. Against Tennessee it was linebacker Paul Posluszny, who set the tone for the defense on the game’s first offensive snap when he knocked the ball loose from Chris Johnson and recovered the fumble at the Tennessee 19-yard line. Three plays later the Jaguars took a 7-0 lead and never trailed. Against Houston it was running back Maurice Jones-Drew, who ran for a season-high 84 yards and one touchdown and had a season-high 144 total yards. Against Cleveland it was Cecil Shorts, who fought through two drops and dealing with cornerback Joe Haden. Shorts beat Haden on a double-move to catch the game-winning touchdown pass with 40 seconds to play.

The last time the teams met, the Jaguars held Andre Johnson to just two catches. What kind of game do you expect out of him on Thursday?

Ganguli: Johnson’s production in that meeting had as much to do with the shakiness of the quarterback as it did with Johnson. Keenum had a rough day with both his decision-making and accuracy. He was gun-shy, and it hurt him and his receivers. It was no surprise then that a better day for Keenum coincided with a better day for Johnson against the Patriots. He caught eight passes for 121 yards, becoming the second-fastest player in league history to reach 900 career catches. I think you’ll see something closer to that version of Johnson. I don’t see Keenum regressing to what he was 11 days ago.

To wrap up, let’s talk about Jones-Drew some more, a guy who is probably pretty happy with the events of the past week. His college team won its big rivalry game, his current team won again and he got to throw a touchdown pass. That followed a game against Houston with those 144 all-purpose yards. Do you expect similar production from him? And how thrilled was he to get to throw that touchdown pass?

DiRocco: Jones-Drew is riding a pretty good wave, isn’t he? He’s probably the most proud of the touchdown pass, which makes him the first non-quarterback to throw a TD pass in franchise history. It also makes up for his only other career pass attempt, which got intercepted. Jones-Drew’s production has increased the past several weeks because the offensive line has been more consistent and he’s more involved in the passing game. He says catching passes doesn’t result in as much pounding as running through the line of scrimmage, so he’s fresher in the fourth quarter. I expect him to get 20 touches tonight.

Colts need to do some soul searching

November, 24, 2013
Andrew LuckChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck managed just 163 yards passing in Indianapolis' 40-11 loss to Arizona.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- One moment the Indianapolis Colts are one of the feel-good stories of the NFL, the team that’s overcome the adversity of losing five offensive players to season-ending injuries to be on top of the division. The next moment, they’re the team that leaves you scratching your head wondering how in the world are they in first place in the AFC South.

You know what?

That feeling won’t go away anytime soon.

The past four weeks haven’t been an aberration. These are your Indianapolis Colts. So sit back, strap up and prepare to be taken on an emotional roller-coaster ride during the final five weeks of the season.

The Colts (7-4) had their second embarrassing performance in three games, when the Arizona Cardinals put on a clinic against them in their 40-11 loss on Sunday.

“Yeah, it stinks,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “It’s a tough pill to swallow for anybody when you get beat like this. We have to worry about us and get things fixed on our end.”

Several Colts said they're not concerned about how things have gone recently. They should be concerned because things aren't going to drastically turn around for them.

The mood inside the locker room said it all.

Players weren’t sitting around talking to each other at their lockers. It was near silence as they quickly dressed to head to the bus for their flight home. The normally media-friendly Robert Mathis left without talking to reporters. His frustration was evident late in the first half when he threw his hands up in disgust after Cardinals receiver Larry Fitzgerald's 16-yard catch on third down extended the drive for them.

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck threw around the word “stink” in some form six times during his postgame news conference the same way Arizona quarterback Carson Palmer threw the ball around the field on Indianapolis’ defense.

“It stinks,” Luck said. “It’s frustrating, but we realize the onus is on us to get it fixed. It’s on the players to do our job. I have to do my job better if we are going to have a chance to win consistently.”

The Colts are 11 games into the season and they have yet to establish an identity. They have beaten the Seattle Seahawks, San Francisco 49ers and Denver Broncos to only turnaround and get manhandled by the Cardinals and St. Louis Rams.

Running game? Nope. The Trent Richardson trade has been a bust.

Passing game? It’s anybody’s guess who will show up at receiver each week for the Colts. Luck had the second-lowest passing game of his career with 163 yards.

The defense? It's more surprising when a pass isn't completed against them these days. Palmer threw for 314 yards and two touchdowns.

The Colts’ slow starts have become laughable. They have been outscored 92-13 in the first half of their past four games. They’ve played only three decent quarters out of their past 16. Defensive lineman Cory Redding lowered his head some, shook it and said finding a way to fix their slow starts is the “million-dollar question.”

“There’s blood in the water right now and until we get it fixed they are going to keep coming at us,” Pagano said. “It’s the same thing week in and week out on both sides of the ball and on special teams. Until you put out the fire, they will keep testing you until you put the fire out.”

Part of the reason behind the lack of an identity is because injuries have decimated the Colts. Not having Reggie Wayne, Donald Thomas, Ahmad Bradshaw, Vick Ballard and Dwayne Allen has put players in roles they’re not capable of handling.

The “Next Man Up” theme Indianapolis has used for so long isn’t working right now.

“There has to be some soul searching, some gut-check calls,” Redding said. “Some look in the mirrors, some accountability, whatever it takes. Everybody. We have to dig deep, find a way to get this win against Tennessee next week.”

Something has to change, and it has to happen soon. The Colts still have a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans in the AFC South. But if they lose to the Titans next weekend at Lucas Oil Stadium, the polo shirt Pagano wears during games will get even tighter. It’s his job to ensure his players are ready to play each week.

“We just haven’t been executing from the get go,” linebacker Pat Angerer said. “We still have our goals ahead of us. We definitely have to start playing better and something has to change.”

Finding an identity would be a start.
GLENDALE, Ariz. -- Here are four storylines (outside of the Chuck Pagano-Bruce Arians reunion) to pay attention to in Sunday’s game between the Indianapolis Colts-Arizona Cardinals.

Start fast: This has been an area of concern for the Colts most of the season. It’s really been a problem the past three games. They’ve been outscored 66-9 in the first half of their past three games. Yes, the Colts won two of those games, but relying on a strong second half isn’t the right way to go about things, especially since that approach won’t work in the playoffs. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton scripts the first 15-20 plays. The Cardinals have outscored their opponents 49-37 in the first half of their current three-game winning streak. The Colts don’t have the offensive weapons outside of quarterback Andrew Luck and receiver T.Y. Hilton to come back against a team like the Cardinals, who have two dangerous receivers in Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd.

Pressure Palmer: Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards against Jacksonville on Nov. 17. He threw for that many yards because the Jaguars allowed him to sit back in the pocket and pick them apart. Put pressure on Palmer and it’s a different game. Memo to Colts linebacker Robert Mathis, the league leader in sacks: The Cardinals have an atrocious offensive line. Palmer has been sacked 27 times and he’s thrown 15 interceptions. The Colts will be without starting linebacker Erik Walden (suspended) and cornerback Greg Toler (groin) on defense.

Play with urgency: Win Sunday and the Colts will be able to wrap up their first AFC South title since 2010 with a victory over the Tennessee Titans at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 1. The Colts will likely still win the division if they stumble against the Cardinals, but the sooner they win it, the better their odds will be to get one of the top two seeds -- likely the second seed -- and a first-round bye in the playoffs.

Chris Rainey: The David Reed experiment at returning kicks has to stop at some point, right? Reed has been more of a disaster than an impact player in that area this season. Reed is 12th in the league in kickoff returns at 23.8 yards, but what’s not accounted for is how many times he’s attempted to return kicks 7 or 8 yards deep in the end zone. So why not give Rainey, who the Colts signed last week, a shot? He possibly can’t do any worse. Pagano said late last week that no decision had been on if Rainey will be active for the game. But Rainey did have a good first week of practice. “He’s very explosive for a guy being out for the amount of time that he’s been out,” Pagano said. He’s really been amazing, to be honest with you. He’s a great athlete. He’s got tremendous quickness, speed, acceleration, burst, football instincts. Catches everything -- punts and kickoffs, catching balls out of the backfield, running the card team, the look team for us. Didn’t miss a beat. It looked like he’d been playing for somebody for the last whatever, so he looked good.”
INDIANAPOLIS – The good news for the Indianapolis Colts is that they know Bruce Arians' Arizona Cardinals will throw the ball downfield a lot in Sunday's game. The Colts did the same thing under Arians last season.

The bad news is that Indianapolis' secondary has a tendency to give up big plays.

Houston’s Andre Johnson had nine catches for 229 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts on Nov. 3. St. Louis’ Tavon Austin had two catches for 138 yards and two touchdowns the following week.

Now the Colts get to face Arizona receivers Larry Fitzgerald and Michael Floyd and quarterback Carson Palmer, who threw for 419 yards against Jacksonville last weekend.

“Run it and throw it down the field as far as you can and complete a lot of them,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said about Arizona’s offense. “[Arians has] been doing it a long time. He’s a great playcaller. We all know that. You see a lot of similarities in there and he’s utilizing their talent very well.”

The struggling secondary may be without one of its starting cornerbacks for the fourth straight game. Greg Toler hasn’t practiced this week because of a groin injury. He wants to play Sunday because he spent his first four seasons with the Cardinals, but he tweaked his groin while working out Monday. Safety LaRon Landry also hasn’t practiced this week because of a toe injury, although he said he believes he'll play Sunday.

Vontae Davis and Cassius Vaughn, who started in place of Toler in his absence, will be matched up on Fitzgerald and Floyd, who have combined for 1,211 yards and nine touchdowns this season. The Cardinals became the first team since 1971 to have touchdown receptions of at least 80 and 90 yards in a season when Floyd scored on a 91-yard pass against Jacksonville.

“He’s a future Hall of Famer and he’s still playing at a high level and making plays, 45 catches and six touchdowns,” Pagano said about Fitzgerald. “Floyd and the rest of the guys, they got a bunch of skill guys, they got a bunch of playmakers. Carson’s doing a good job of spreading the wealth and getting the ball out to them.”

The Colts have to take advantage of Arizona’s weak offensive line and put pressure on Palmer. He’s thrown for 2,573 yards this season, but he’s also been picked off 15 times and sacked 27 times.

Colts linebacker Robert Mathis leads in the league with 13.5 sacks. Only three quarterbacks – Miami's Ryan Tannehill, Denver’s Peyton Manning and Houston’s Case Keenum – have thrown for more than 300 yards against Indianapolis this season.

“A heck of a quarterback who can throw the ball downfield,” Colts defensive lineman Cory Redding said. “Again, back end we got to challenge. And they’re up for it. Our guys, we don’t back down from a fight. We stand up, and even when everybody points us down and says we’re not going to do anything, that’s when we rise up the best and we go out there and showcase it. I believe my guys on the back end, our defensive unit, our DBs are going to step up and rise to the occasion. Everybody on the defense is going to rise up and play the ball game.”

Can Colts surpass 2012's win total of 11?

November, 18, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- Six games remaining and a three-game lead in the AFC South.

That’s where things stand for the Indianapolis Colts. They should win the division for the first time since 2010 unless they completely collapse down the stretch. And even then, they still may win it when you think about the rest of the teams in the division.

I predicted that the Colts would go 10-6 when the season started. They’re currently 7-3 with half of their remaining games on the road.

There’s a chance the Colts could match their win total from a year ago -- 11 -- because only three of their remaining games are against teams with a winning record. The three games are all on the road. The Colts still have issues with slow starts; they've been outscored 66-9 in the first half of their past three games. They’ll be fine if they can get that fixed. If not, there could be a lot of suspense in the remaining games.

Nov. 24: at Arizona

Cardinals quarterback Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards in their victory over Jacksonville on Sunday. The Colts are 18th in the league in pass defense at 239 yards a game. That’s not a good thing when the Cardinals have Larry Fitzgerald at receiver. Fellow receiver Michael Floyd had six catches for 193 yards against the Jaguars. Colts cornerback Greg Toler should be back in the lineup to face his former team after missing the past three games with a groin injury.

Dec. 1: Tennessee

The Titans -- more specifically tight end Delanie Walker -- seem to be more worried about getting even with Colts linebacker Erik Walden than getting the victory. Walker told the Tennessee media after last week’s game that he’ll see Walden in “two weeks and I’m going to whoop his butt again” after the Colts linebacker head-butted him in the game last week.

Dec. 8: at Cincinnati

This has been a toss-up game with me all season. It’s still a toss-up. The Bengals have victories over Green Bay (with Aaron Rodgers playing), New England and they beat the New York Jets by 40 points. It’s been well documented this season that the Colts have a tendency to step up to the challenge against teams with a winning record.

Dec. 15: Houston

From Super Bowl contender to benching quarterback Matt Schaub to now counting down the days until the season ends. The Texans are on an eight-game losing streak. The good news -- for Texans fans at least -- is that they play Jacksonville twice over the next three weeks.

Dec. 22: at Kansas City

The Colts have to hope that quarterback Andrew Luck has found a rhythm with his receivers and they’re still running the ball well heading into this game because the Chiefs have a top-10 defense.

Dec. 29: Jacksonville

The only suspense for the Jaguars will be whether or not they need to lose the game to lock up the No. 1 overall pick in next year’s draft.

Do you think the Colts will match, surpass or finish below last season’s win total?

Jags stop the run, but not much else

November, 17, 2013
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks has said for a while that it would be pretty simple to fix the Jaguars’ porous rush defense.

Everyone just needed to do their job. Stay in their assigned gap. Quit freelancing. Just do what you’re supposed to do on each play.

Turns out he was correct.

[+] EnlargeGus Bradley
AP Photo/Stephen MortonGus Bradley and the Jaguars held the Cardinals to 14 rushing yards on Sunday, but were burned for several big plays through the air.
The Jaguars held Arizona to just 14 yards on the ground in a 27-14 loss at EverBank Field. That’s the second-lowest single-game total in franchise history, behind only the 10 yards the Jaguars yielded to Kansas City in 2007.

It also is pretty much the only positive thing you can say about the defense on Sunday.

Carson Palmer threw for 419 yards and two touchdowns, including a 91-yarder to Michael Floyd in which three players missed a tackle, and the Cardinals controlled the ball for nearly 36 minutes. But the defensive front -- which was without middle linebacker and leading tackler Paul Posluszny (concussion) -- showed up.

"Just like I’ve been saying the whole year, every time we’ve had runs get out on us, we have a guy out of a gap," Marks said. "Our thing was after the bye we had to hold everybody accountable. We’ve been doing it ever since we came off the bye week. We’ve got guys in the right gaps, and everybody is where they’re supposed to be.

"Everybody’s been accountable, and when you do that you tend to stop the run."

Rashard Mendenhall gained 14 yards on 13 carries. One of which was a 5-yard touchdown run, which means he managed just nine yards on his other 12 carries. Andre Ellington, a speedy breakaway threat, managed just 3 yards on eight carries. The Jaguars entered the game giving up an average of 153.0 yards per game rushing.

"We were aware of the run game, and we did not want that to get going," head coach Gus Bradley said. "We did a good job attacking the run and controlling Ellington."

The defense certainly felt the loss of Posluszny, who is by far the team’s best defensive player. He has two interceptions, eight pass breakups, two forced fumbles, and one fumble recovery. Posluszny didn’t practice all week, and was finally ruled out on Saturday morning. Russell Allen, who normally starts at outside linebacker, filled in and made seven tackles, but failed to deliver a big play.

Actually, he made one but it didn’t count. He stepped in front of Palmer’s pass to Larry Fitzgerald inside the Jacksonville 20-yard line in the third quarter, but officials announced that the Cardinals had called timeout before the snap.

"I think you grow to appreciate Poz and what he’s all about, but for Russell to step in and manage the defense like he did ... then he had the interception that would have helped out," Bradley said. "He did a nice job managing the defense. If he got more reps [during the week] we would see even better."

The Jaguars were certainly better against the run than in stopping Palmer, Fitzgerald, Floyd, and whichever tight end happened to be in the game at the time. Floyd caught six passes for 193 yards, including a 91-yard catch-and-run in which Allen, safety Josh Evans, and cornerback Will Blackmon missed tackles.

Fitzgerald caught a modest six passes for 61 yards and one touchdown, but tight ends Jim Dray, Jake Ballard and Rob Housler combined to catch nine passes for 117 yards -- continuing the trend of tight ends taking advantage of the Jaguars’ rookie safeties (Evans and Johnathan Cyprien).

Things could have been even worse had cornerback Alan Ball not broken up four passes in the first half.

The Tennessee Titans had similar trouble on the ground (83 yards) and success through the air (288 yards, two TDs) last week. The biggest difference is the Jaguars forced the Titans into four turnovers. They didn’t get any against the Cardinals.

"We feel good about how we played against the run, and we felt like it was something we were going to be able to do going in, but unfortunately we gave up too many big plays in the passing game," Allen said. "Any time we can give our offense a short field it’s important, giving them an opportunity to put points on the board. Getting some breaks ... would have helped a lot."

Rapid Reaction: Jacksonville Jaguars

November, 17, 2013

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars' 27-14 loss to the Arizona Cardinals.

What it means: The Jaguars were trying to achieve something that hasn't happened since 2010: win back-to-back games. They beat Tennessee and Oakland in consecutive weeks in December that season but have won just eight games since. There is a silver lining in the loss, though. Tampa Bay was routing the Falcons, which leaves the Jaguars as the league's only team with a single victory and puts them in the lead for the No. 1 overall selection in the 2014 draft.

Stock watch: Punter Bryan Anger had perhaps his best game of the season, averaging nearly 50 yards per punt and pinning the Cardinals deep in their own territory. In the third quarter alone he forced the Cardinals into starting drives on their 9-, 10- and 2-yard line. Anger kept the Jaguars in the game while the offense sputtered in the second half. Cornerback Alan Ball had a solid game, too, by breaking up four passes in the first half -- three of which were intended for Michael Floyd.

TOs overturned: The Jaguars had what appeared to be two turnovers deep in Arizona territory wiped out. Patrick Peterson fumbled a punt at his own 10-yard line. Three Jaguars pounced on the ball but somehow Peterson came out with it and the Cardinals retained possession. Replays appeared to show long-snapper Carson Tinker coming out of the pile with the ball and the Jaguars challenged the play, but officials upheld the ruling on the field. Two plays later, middle linebacker Russell Allen intercepted Carson Palmer's pass to Larry Fitzgerald, but officials announced after the play that the Cardinals had called timeout before the snap.

Sneaky: The Jaguars scored their first touchdown on an interesting fourth-and-1 call. They lined up at their own 38 with extra tight ends. The Cardinals played run all the way, and the play-action fake allowed recently acquired tight end Danny Noble to get behind the first level of defenders. Chad Henne hit him with a good pass and Noble broke a tackle to score a 62-yard touchdown. What made the play work is the fact that Noble is a blocking tight end who had played in only five games and never had a catch until Sunday.

What's next: The Jaguars will play at Houston on Sunday.

Schedule favors Indianapolis Colts

October, 27, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts will return to the practice Monday afternoon after coach Chuck Pagano gave his players the entire week off following their victory over the Denver Broncos on Oct. 20.

The Colts won't have receiver Reggie Wayne (knee) the rest of the season, but they're still in a good position to win the AFC South for the first time since 2010.

The Colts (5-2) have a two-game lead over the Tennessee Titans (3-4). They also have a favorable schedule the rest of the season. It puts them in the perfect spot to match their 11-5 record from last season as long as they can overcome losing Wayne and avoid playing to the level of their competition when they face struggling teams.

The road to their 5-2 record hasn’t been easy for the Colts. They’ve beaten the Broncos, Seattle and San Francisco. And they did it while having to overcome season-ending injuries to Wayne, Dwayne Allen, Vick Ballard, Donald Thomas and Ahmad Bradshaw. Starting safety LaRon Landry also missed four games with a high-ankle sprain. That’s what makes Indianapolis’ start even more impressive.

The Colts’ remaining nine opponents went into Sunday with a combined record of 23-26.

Here’s a breakdown of the Colts’ schedule:

Nov. 3 at Houston: The Texans were possible Super Bowl contenders in the AFC when the season began. Instead they've been one of the biggest disappointments. You wouldn’t have thought the Texans would have a quarterback issue with Matt Schaub, but he's thrown nine interceptions and isn’t a fan favorite in Houston.

Nov. 10 versus St. Louis: You know things are bad when a team calls 44-year-old Brett Favre to see if he’s interested in coming out of retirement to play quarterback. Starting quarterback Sam Bradford is out for the rest of the season with a torn ACL.

Nov. 14 at Tennessee: This is toss-up game for the Colts. The Titans have dropped three in a row, but they lost against Kansas City, Seattle and San Francisco and they were without quarterback Jake Locker in two of those games.

Nov. 23 at Arizona: The Bruce Arians reunion game. The Cardinals have Carson Palmer at quarterback – 8 touchdowns, 13 interceptions and sacked 20 times. Enough said.

Dec. 1 versus Titans: The Colts are 9-1 against the Titans in the last 10 games played in Indianapolis.

Dec. 8 at Cincinnati: The Bengals get the edge in this one because they’re at home and unlike Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, Cincinnati quarterback Andy Dalton has one of the best receivers in the league, A.J. Green. The Bengals also have a top-10 defense.

Dec. 15 versus Texans: The Texans have never beaten the Colts in Indianapolis (0-11). The losing streak will remain.

Dec. 22 at Kansas City: Coach Andy Reid deserves a lot of credit for the job he’s done in turning the undefeated Chiefs around. They have a top-five defense.

Dec. 29 versus Jacksonville: History could be made at Lucas Oil Stadium on this day. I wouldn’t be surprised if the Jaguars entered the game 0-15.

Why NFL trades are so rare

October, 31, 2012
Fans love the idea of trades.

The right addition can throw a team over the top. Or, if things are going poorly, a team can dump a guy for a draft pick. And nothing creates hope like draft picks.

Here’s the thing: Dumping players with expiring contracts for picks (or prospects) is a baseball thing or a basketball thing. Last year’s deal between the Raiders and Bengals for Carson Palmer was the rare major deal.

Such things are uncommon in football, where receiver Mike Thomas going from Jacksonville to Detroit for a pick qualifies as significant.

More common are deals that don’t ever come together.

Teams generally don’t want to trade for a guy with an expiring contract -- odds are they won’t be able to extend him and will have given up a pick for a rental.

Teams generally don’t want to trade quality players with expiring contracts, because they hold out hope of re-signing the player, and likely get a compensatory draft pick if they lose him.

Why else don’t trades usually trend?'s Andrew Brandt points to changing schemes, cap implications and fear of guys who are available.

If your huge hole doesn’t match up just right with someone else’s sale, the most likely thing we’ll hear as Thursday's deadline approaches are crickets, like the one currently making music in the Titans’ press room in Nashville.
Joey Harvey from San Antonio, TX writes: When considering physical demands, how can NHL players handle 80 games a yr and NFL players only 16?

Paul Kuharsky: Hockey is very physical and the ability of players to endure the grind can be remarkable.

Still, I think even most hockey players would tell you the ability to bounce back from a hockey game and from a football game are different. I don’t think a hockey player is taking the pounding in one game that a running back or lineman takes in one game. A hockey shift and a football series are two different things, too.

Rivers McCown from Houston writes: Assuming that the Texans miss out on [Nnamdi] Asomugha because, well, they're the Texans, is signing someone like Carlos Rogers or Ike Taylor along with a safety such as Gerald Sensabaugh enough in your mind to get the Texans defense to average?

Paul Kuharsky: I like the idea of Rogers or Taylor. But Sensabaugh is no big solution. Jaguars have all kind of safety issues and they dropped him a couple years back. Add one of those corners and find a safety and they could be on their way to average.

Ben from the UK writes: After seeing your response on the Plaxico Burress issue, I must say I disagree with your assessment on the Colts' requirements. Your description of what the Colts need as a 'sharp route runner who reads coverage and adjusts' merely sounds like Austin Collie, and to an extent what we still have with Reggie Wayne. Do you not feel we need someone with game-breaking speed and utility around the offense (like for example Reggie Bush minus the ridiculous salary) as opposed to another slower route runner?

Paul Kuharsky: Yes, they need game-breaking speed. I don’t think Burress has it. (And even a speedster needs to run routes the way the Colts expect.)

I refer to someone more knowledgeable than me on such things, Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.:
“It is Burress' movement skills that I worry about. Even a few years ago when he was in his prime, Burress was never a real quick-twitch guy. He is a long strider who had build-up speed, but he wasn't quick, elusive or explosive. Now, you just have to think that those movement skill qualities have lessened over the past two years.

“Although he might look great and probably spent a lot of time in prison lifting weights, I tend to think that keeping his explosiveness under the circumstances he was in was close to impossible. And he does turn 34 in August.

"Now, like [Michael] Vick, that isn't to say he can't get those skills back to some extent. But separating from defenders seems like the hurdle Burress is going to have the most difficult time getting over upon his return.”

Doesn’t sound to me like a guy who would give the Colts what they lack.

Adam C from Central Vermont writes: Missed your chat yesterday Paul due to a busy spell at work. I read that you think the Titans should target a guy like Carson Palmer, but said a second round pick was too expensive to do so. Would Cincinnati really be willing to take less than that? What do you think is an offer the Titans should give to see if Cincy will actually accept?

Paul Kuharsky: Once they spent No. 8 on Jake Locker, the option of giving up a value pick to get a veteran disappeared. They can’t trade now for a guy who they may only stick with as the starter for six games.

So it’s got to be a free agent: Matt Hasselbeck, Kerry Collins or one of the lesser names who will be on the market and cost nothing more than a contract.

@texantakeover writes: Do you think that with the Texans defense vastly improved this year would allow them to overtake the Colts for the division?

Paul Kuharsky: Vastly improved? We’re basing that on a new coordinator, some new assistants and a draft class? I’m going to need to see it all result in better play before I declare the Texans D vastly improved. And even if it’s vastly improved I have trouble seeing Houston winning the division.

Dan from Raleigh, NC writes: The Randy Moss experiment was a failure but the Titans could still use some help on the outside. When FA starts, does Plax get a shot? Or are the Titans' sights aimed exclusively at a veteran QB?

Paul Kuharsky: I don’t see them chasing another big-name veteran receiver. And I can’t imagine Mike Munchak and his staff -- who will put a premium on discipline and character -- are looking to start off with a big acquisition of a guy who just got out of jail.
Is there less buzz about the upcoming NFL draft than usual?

I certainly think so. The lockout and labor impasse are putting a damper on everything. There has been no free-agency build up. And there won’t be trades involving veteran players.

ESPN Stats & Info’s Mark Malzewski sifted through the past 11 drafts to find all the draft-day trades involving players.

There have been 37 such trades, or 3.4 per draft. That included two deals involving drafted players, and those aren’t allowed this time either. (Think Eli Manning and Philip Rivers in 2004.)

These trades included significant names such as Jason Campbell, Pacman Jones, Randy Moss, Trent Green and Ahman Green.

Last year the Jaguars gave up a fourth-round pick to Oakland for linebacker Kirk Morrison and a fifth-rounder.

We’ll see no such movement in this draft and it certainly takes away one layer of intrigue. Allow trades for veterans in this draft and it could be way more interesting considering all the quarterback uncertainty around the league.

Quarterbacks Kevin Kolb, Carson Palmer, Kyle Orton and Matt Flynn, who could eventually be traded, will not go anywhere.

Here’s the year-by-year review of the sort of trades we won’t be seeing.

Jim in glorious Greenville, S.C., writes: How does Kerry Collins' arm compare to Carson Palmer's? It seems the Titans may be able to get Palmer cheap. I like Palmer's fit with the Titans as you do, but I'm concerned that his repaired elbow and knee will thwart the deep ball. Do you have the same concern? Collins' arm strength is underrated in my opinion.

Paul Kuharsky: Palmer’s been a hot topic for Titans fans and I think he's the best combination of attractive option and manageable trade price for a veteran. That presumes of course his arm is OK. If it is, with good coaching, good protection and a good running game, I think he could be resurrected for a nice Act II.

On arm strength, I went to Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc.:
“Palmer is the toughest quarterback in the NFL for me to analyze arm strength. That is because of his injuries. Over the past two seasons, he looks nothing like he did in his prime in terms of throwing the football. He used to be an amazing passer. But now, his mind writes checks that his arm can no longer cash. It just doesn't get there like it used to...until the San Diego game late in the 2010 season. In that game, Palmer looked like the old Palmer. I don't know if it was the 1st time in two years that he was healthy or if it was just an aberration, but Palmer was slinging it against the Panthers. If that guy is the true Palmer, then Palmer has the better arm. If not, Collins does by a large margin. Arm strength has always been Collins' best asset.”

Collins can fire it, but it hasn’t made him a good deep-ball thrower in recent seasons.

Whether Palmer is in the picture or not, I see the Titans moving away from Collins as their veteran guy. Mike Munchak has made some pretty sweeping changes, and sticking with a guy that was a Jeff Fisher/Mike Heimerdinger favorite is unlikely in my eyes.

That said, perhaps finding another option while waiting on a draft pick to be ready is too difficult.
We at the AFC South blog like Carson Palmer best as a practical trade target for the Titans, who we expect to add a draft pick and a veteran QB as they restock.

Mel Kiper agrees.

The piece is Insider, covers six guys, and No. 6 is the guy the Titans are trying to replace: Vince Young.

Here's what Kiper says about Palmer's prospects with a new team.
"I can hear the dissenters, as Palmer is coming off a bad year for his standards, but if you want to win now, with Palmer you can at least guarantee a level of proficiency. He has a career quarterback rating of 86.9, has thrown for over 234 yards a game, and not always in front of the best offensive line. Is Palmer the best quarterback for your franchise for the next 10 years if you make a deal? No. But even three years is a coaching eternity in this league, and if you're a team like Arizona or San Fran, with a lot of good pieces but a void under center, how can you not get a price quote on a guy who has demanded to be traded?"

More on Palmer as a potential Titan

January, 26, 2011
A bit more on Carson Palmer, who I pushed as the Titans' best veteran option at quarterback earlier in the week.

I presumed he’d improve if he got away from Pittsburgh and Baltimore, regularly two of the toughest defenses in the NFL who account for a quarter of Palmer’s schedule while playing with the Bengals.

Colin Cowherd hit on a similar theme during The Herd yesterday, suggesting how much better Palmer would fare if he could get to the weak NFC West.

But Mark Simon of ESPN Stats & Information was kind enough to run the numbers for me. Take out Palmer’s games against the Steelers and Ravens and his numbers are not much different at all.

His career passer rating, which factors in completion percentage, touchdowns and interceptions, is 86.9. Without Pittsburgh and Baltimore and it slides up to 89.1.

That’s a significant dent to that theory.

One other element here: I’m hardly married to AccuScore, but we do look weekly at the preview numbers it provides on probabilities of our games.

AccuScore reran the 2010 season with Palmer as the quarterback of five quarterback-needy teams versus the primary quarterback who played for those teams.
  • San Francisco had 6.5 wins and a 28.1 percent playoff chance with Alex Smith, numbers that move to 8.8 and 66.6 percent with Palmer.
  • Arizona had 5.6 wins and an 11.0 percent chance of a playoff berth with John Skelton, numbers that shot to 8.8 and 62.2 with Palmer.
  • Tennessee had 7.3 wins and a 26.5 percent playoff chance with Kerry Collins, numbers that went to 9.0 and 58.4 with Palmer.
  • Seattle had 5.9 wins and a 14.9 percent playoff chance with Matt Hasselbeck, numbers that moved to 7.3 and 34.5 with Palmer.
  • Minnesota had 7.9 wins and a 25.4 percent playoff chance with Joe Webb, numbers that moved to 8.5 and 34.3 percent with Palmer.

Podcast: MJD's criticism, Carson Palmer

January, 25, 2011
Paul Kuharsky dishes on Maurice Jones-Drew's criticism of Jay Cutler and explains why he thinks Tennessee would be a good fit for Carson Palmer.