AFC South: Colin Kaepernick

INDIANAPOLIS -- Like every NFL front office official, coach, player or fan, Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck heard about San Francisco 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick's new, lucrative $110 million deal.

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Luck, like he has always done, isn't worried about what that means for him once he's eligible for a contract extension next year.

"As a football fan I pay attention. I think it's weird to talk about other people's contracts,” Luck said during a meeting with the media at the team's complex Thursday. “It's weird. What's his business is his business, but as a football fan, you go 'that's awesome.' I got to know Colin in the Bay Area, so I'm happy for him. As it pertains to me and the future, it's for my agent to discuss. It's not the time or place to think about that.”

It's not surprising that Luck didn't have much to say about Kaepernick's new deal. The Colts quarterback doesn't operate like that. His focus is strictly on what it'll take for Indianapolis to take the next step in the AFC next season.

Kaepernick led the 49ers on deep playoff runs in his two seasons as the team's starting quarterback, including a trip to Super Bowl XLVII.

Luck, despite dealing with poor offensive line play and an inconsistent defense, has a 22-10 record and led the Colts to the playoffs in each of his first two seasons.

ESPN NFL Insider Adam Schefter reported Thursday that Luck and Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson could get deals between $24 million to $25 million a year when they get their new deals.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blaine Gabbert never became the franchise quarterback former Jacksonville Jaguars general manager Gene Smith envisioned when he traded two picks to get him in the first round of the 2011 draft. The Jaguars finally gave up on Gabbert last Tuesday when current GM David Caldwell traded Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick in this year’s draft and a possible conditional pick in 2015.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson break down the trade:

DiRocco: Blaine Gabbert clearly wasn't in the Jaguars' plans any longer and I, like most people, expected the team to release him at some point -- though I thought he'd at least go to training camp. But GM David Caldwell was somehow able to work out a trade with 49ers GM Trent Baalke to send Gabbert to San Francisco for a sixth-round pick and a conditional pick in 2015.

What does Baalke like about Gabbert and why did he swing that trade?

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
Sam Greenwood/Getty ImagesUnder the guidance of coach Jim Harbaugh, the 49ers are hoping that Blaine Gabbert can finally flourish.
Williamson: The 49ers had 12 draft picks and they have a stacked roster, thus, low-round draft picks don’t mean much to them. Baalke and 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh (who loves taking fliers in young quarterbacks) were both at Gabbert’s pro day three years ago and they had him visit prior to the draft. The 49ers have a need for a backup and always kept Gabbert in mind. I know it may have come as a surprise to folks in Jacksonville that the Jaguars got anything more than a loaf of San Francisco sourdough bread from the 49ers, but they actually do see value in Gabbert.

Mike, what do you think the 49ers are actually getting in Gabbert?

DiRocco: They're getting exactly what you want physically in a quarterback: a big (6-foot-4, 235 pounds), athletic, strong-armed player. That has never been his issue. It's what happens mentally that has held him back. He's somewhat skittish in the pocket and he makes too many questionable decisions on where to throw the ball. It's disconcerting because he's a pretty good practice player, but it doesn't transfer to game day.

There seems to be the thought that if anyone can fix him, it's Jim Harbaugh. But how much time can he devote to Gabbert while still working with Colin Kaepernick?

Williamson: You make a good point. Kaepernick is still not a finished product. But Harbaugh loves tinkering with quarterbacks. Gabbert’s time will be in the offseason, training camp and in the preseason. He needs to take advantage of working with the Quarterback Whisperer. Colt McCoy said last year he learned more about quarterbacking in his one season in San Francisco than in his entire playing career. So this is an opportunity for Gabbert; Harbaugh and his staff are top notch.

Mike, do you think Gabbert can put the misery of the past three years behind him and take advantage of this opportunity?

DiRocco: I think he will definitely benefit from the fresh start, but I don't know if he can overcome his mental issues. I don't buy the argument that he panics and is afraid to get hit. I think he was hurt by being forced to play before he was ready, plus he didn't exactly have a lot of weapons in the passing game. Not many quarterbacks are going to flourish under those conditions. If he's willing to start over from ground zero and approaches this with an open mind, I think he can make strides. He's still only 24 years old.

Bill, it may be too early to tell, but do you think the 49ers view Gabbert as a potential long-term backup or is this just them kicking the tires to see if he's a viable option?

Williamson: I think it’s a total kick-the-tires expedition. Again, it’s a low risk at a low cost. He’ll be the backup this year and they will see what he can do. If he’s terrible, they will move on. If they fix him, perhaps they will try to flip him and make a nice draft-pick profit. Basically, this is a guy who previously intrigued them and they are confident they can make him better. If it doesn’t work, well, at least Baalke and Harbaugh will know they tried.
The Carolina Panthers made an offer to Hakeem Nicks thinking they had a legitimate shot to sign the former New York Giants receiver.

That was until the Indianapolis Colts stepped in and not only offered Nicks a one-year contract worth up to $5.5 million, but also an opportunity to be on the receiving end of passes from quarterback Andrew Luck and be a part of a team that could be one of the best in the AFC next season.

ESPN.com Panthers reporter David Newton and Colts reporter Mike Wells talk about Nicks' decision to sign with Indianapolis

[+] EnlargeHakeem Nicks
Al Bello/Getty ImagesHakeem Nicks chose the Indianapolis Colts over the Carolina Panthers.
Wells: David, Carolina quarterback Cam Newton proved last season that he's one of the best young quarterbacks in the league. But Luck has proven in just two years -- with 22 victories -- that he has the complete package: arm, foot speed and mental toughness. So it seems Nicks made the right decision to sign with the Colts. What are your thoughts?

Newton: Totally agree. When Nicks picked Indy over Carolina I mentioned one of the reasons may have been Luck was the more proven quarterback. It didn't sit well with Carolina fans. My argument was simple. Two trips to the playoffs to one. But the bigger reason is Nicks will be surrounded by proven receivers in Indy. Maybe that would have happened at Carolina, but at the time of the decision the Panthers didn't have a receiver on its roster with an NFL catch. When Brandon LaFell signed with New England on Saturday that guaranteed Newton won't have any of his top four wide receivers from last season. At Carolina, Nicks risked the possibility of being double-teamed because there wasn't anybody proven to take coverage away. He would have been the clear-cut No. 1, and I'm not sure he's a No. 1. Luck also has a more established offensive line. So when I said Luck was more proven there were other factors around that.

Having said that, if you were starting a team from scratch would you pick Luck or Newton?

Wells: I like how Newton played last season, but I've still got to give Luck the edge over him and players such as Seattle's Russell Wilson and San Francisco's Colin Kaepernick. Luck's résumé speaks for itself. He led the Colts to an 11-5 record during a rookie season when his coach, Chuck Pagano, missed 12 games while battling cancer. He repeated that record last season while losing five offensive starters by Week 7. Luck has led the Colts on 11 fourth quarter or overtime game-winning drives in his young NFL career. Should I continue? It also helps that Luck's Colts have already beaten the Seahawks and 49ers. Maybe you and I can corner Rob Chudzinski somewhere after the season and ask him his thoughts because he obviously coached Newton in Carolina and he's about to coach Luck with the Colts next season.

It seems like the Panthers don't seem to know which direction they're headed with players like receiver Steve Smith being released. Am I wrong to think that could sway a free agent's decision?

Newton: It would have to cast doubt. It certainly casts doubt in my mind. It'll all come down to how convincing general manager Dave Gettleman is on selling his plan. And yes, there's a plan. Jerricho Cotchery is coming in for a visit on Monday and James Jones says he'd like to play for Carolina. If the Panthers can get a couple of solid veterans -- even if they aren't bona fide No. 1s, and select a dynamic receiver with either their first- or second-round pick, the receiving corps potentially could be better than last season. Even Smith admitted he's not a No. 1 anymore. So for all the grief I've given Gettleman for making a mistake in dumping Smith, in the long run it could work out. I mean, the beef on LaFell last season was he wasn't a bona fide No. 2. Ted Ginn Jr. had a nice season, but he had only two catches the year before. Domenik Hixon had only one catch that impacted a game. So big picture, they didn't really lose a lot.

So how do you expect Nicks to fit in at Indianapolis? Can he help put Indy over the top?

Wells: Colts fans are a little leery because there was high hope last year when Darrius Heyward-Bey, the No. 7 pick in the 2009 draft, signed a one-year contract the same way Nicks did. Heyward-Bey, to put it as nice as possible, was brutal last season. So brutal that he ended up being demoted to special teams where he actually did a great job downing punts inside the 20-yard line. I think Nicks will fit in nicely because he doesn't have the pressure of being the No. 1 receiver. He simply has to just fit in alongside of fellow receivers Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton. Tight ends Dwayne Allen and Coby Fleener are also receiving options for Luck. The fact that Nicks had almost 900 yards receiving last season and that was considered a down year for him is a good thing for the Colts. Luck will find him as long as he can get open.

Newton needs somebody to throw the ball to. What are the Panthers going to do since Smith is gone and Nicks decided playing with the Colts was a better option?

Newton: As I mentioned above, Cotchery is coming in for a visit and I still believe they'll get Jones. The plan is to find a few bargains and blend them in with a draft pick. Smith would have made a nice No. 2 receiver in this package in my opinion. But from everything I gather Newton won't be heartbroken to see his top receiver gone. Smith has gotten in Newton's face more than a few times the past few years. As much as that may have been needed, there is a belief on the team that Smith might have been a distraction to Newton as the central leader of the offense. It will be interesting to hear how Newton spins it when we finally hear from him.

Now that the Colts have Nicks, what's the rest of their free-agency plans?

Wells: General manager Ryan Grigson has put an emphasis on defense so far. They still need to find a safety to replace Antoine Bethea, who signed with San Francisco last week. The interior part of the offensive line could use some help, too. They signed former Dallas center Phil Costa last week. The Colts haven't completely shut the door on Cleveland center Alex Mack even though it is a longshot that they'll be to get him because the Browns used the transition tag on him. Adding another guard wouldn't be a bad idea, either.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jacksonville Jaguars owner Shad Khan created a bit of a stir among fans when he said it’s no mystery that the team would draft a quarterback in May -- and possibly even two.

Notably absent from his comments, however, was the phrase "in the first round."

The Jaguars have the No. 3 overall selection and will have a shot at Teddy Bridgewater, Johnny Manziel or Blake Bortles. For months I’ve been on the Bridgewater bandwagon. I believe he’s the most polished, NFL-ready quarterback in the draft. Manziel wouldn’t be a bad option either because he’s such a dynamic player and will certainly make the Jaguars instantly relevant nationally.

The Jaguars, though, should pass on a quarterback with their first-round pick. They should do the same in the second round, too.

[+] EnlargeJadeveon Clowney, Dak Prescott
Streeter Lecka/Getty ImagesUsing the No. 3 overall pick on an elite defender like South Carolina's Jadeveon Clowney, 7, could appeal to Jacksonville head coach Gus Bradley.
That certainly won’t be a popular opinion among fans, who desperately want the team to move on from Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne. But it’s the best decision for general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley as they continue their rebuild of the franchise. Fix and bolster the defense first, especially the pass rush and the secondary, then make quarterback a priority.

Two reasons:

Defense is more important to winning championships than most people realize.

Young, inexperienced quarterbacks, provided they have the pieces in place around them, can make it to and win Super Bowls.

Seattle won the Super Bowl last Sunday because of its stifling defense, which led the NFL in yards allowed per game, passing yards allowed and scoring, and finished tied for seventh in rushing yards allowed. The Seahawks absolutely throttled Denver’s record-setting offense and badgered Denver quarterback Peyton Manning in a 43-8 victory.

But don’t believe that what the Seahawks did signifies a changing philosophy or the start of a new trend in the NFL in which defense -- and not elite quarterbacks -- win championships. Defense has been winning Super Bowls for years, but people overlook that because of the elite quarterbacks.

Six of the past 10 Super Bowl winners had a defense that ranked in the top 11 in the NFL in three of the four major statistical categories (total defense, rush defense, pass defense and scoring defense): Seattle, Green Bay (2011), Pittsburgh (2009, 2006), New York Giants (2008), and New England (2005). Each of those teams -- with the exception of the Seahawks because it’s too early to tell how good Russell Wilson will be -- also had elite quarterbacks.

The Green Bay team that thrived on Aaron Rodgers' right arm? The Packers' defense ranked second in scoring and fifth in passing and total defense. Pittsburgh’s 2009 Super Bowl title team led the league in total defense, pass defense and scoring defense.

The last time New England won the Super Bowl was 2005. That was Tom Brady's third title in four years, but the Patriots' defense was one of the league’s best that season, ranking second in scoring, sixth in rushing and ninth in total defense.

The four other Super Bowl champs of the past decade won because of their quarterbacks (Baltimore in 2013, New York Giants in 2012, New Orleans in 2010 and Indianapolis in 2007), but the Giants wouldn't have won without their pass rush, and the Saints might not have won without cornerback Tracy Porter's fourth-quarter interception return for a touchdown.

The Jaguars’ defense has some solid building blocks -- tackle Sen'Derrick Marks, linebacker Paul Posluszny, safety Johnathan Cyprien and cornerback Dwayne Gratz -- but Caldwell and Bradley need to bolster the pass rush, get more depth on the defensive line and add help at outside linebacker. They should address those areas in the first two rounds, especially if they can nab defensive end Jadeveon Clowney with the No. 3 pick.

Bradley is surely in favor of taking that approach. It’s the way Seattle did it during his four years as the Seahawks’ defensive coordinator, and we just saw how well it worked. The team was built around its defense, and everything was in place for a Super Bowl run once Wilson was added to the mix.

Wilson is clearly not an elite quarterback right now. He wasn’t even in the Seahawks’ plans two years ago when they drafted him in the third round, because Pete Carroll had traded for Matt Flynn in the offseason and gave Flynn the starting job. Wilson beat out Flynn and has played solid but not spectacular football, winning a Super Bowl ring in his second season.

More proof that young quarterbacks aren’t a hindrance to success: Colin Kaepernick led San Francisco to the Super Bowl in his second season in the league; Andrew Luck has led Indianapolis to the playoffs in his first two seasons; Ben Roethlisberger led the Steelers to the AFC Championship Game as a rookie; and Brady won a Super Bowl in his first season as a starter, which was his second season in the NFL.

Taking a quarterback with the No. 3 pick won’t guarantee that the Jaguars will be ready for a playoff run in 2014 or 2015, especially if, as some inside the building believe, none of the quarterbacks available in this draft are ready to contribute right away. There is no guarantee that Bridgewater, Manziel or Bortles will turn out to be a better quarterback than Aaron Murray, Zach Mettenberger or Jimmy Garoppolo, anyway, and those latter three are players the Jaguars could land in the third round or later.

The Jaguars need immediate impact players, which is why taking Clowney or another elite pass-rusher in the first two rounds is the better -- albeit not popular -- option.

Jacksonville Jaguars mailbag

December, 19, 2013
12/19/13
4:45
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A few thoughts on the Jacksonville Jaguars42-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers.

What it means: The Jaguars are halfway to a dubious historical accomplishment after getting pounded by San Francisco at Wembley Stadium in London. The Jaguars are 0-8 and still on track to become just the second team to go 0-16 in NFL history (2008 Detroit Lions). It was an abysmal first half, with the 49ers at one point having outgained the Jaguars by more than 200 yards. The defense couldn’t stop Frank Gore or Colin Kaepernick. The two drove the 49ers to four consecutive touchdowns, with Kaepernick really hurting the Jaguars with his feet. The Jaguars' offense did show signs of life in the second half, but could manage only one touchdown.

Stock watch: Maurice Jones-Drew touched the ball just 11 times in last week’s loss to San Diego. He more than doubled that against San Francisco, carrying 19 times for 75 yards and catching six passes for 47 yards, by far the most work he’s had this season. Jones-Drew needs to be this heavily involved in the game plan to provide balance in the offense. It was a wasted performance, though, because the Jaguars were overwhelmed defensively.

Development: Mike Brown is developing into a solid No. 3 receiver for the Jaguars. He caught three passes for 43 yards and a touchdown. He was a quarterback at Liberty University who spent much of last season on the practice squad, and this season missed four games because of a fractured vertebra, but he has settled into his role as a slot receiver.

Losing streak continues: The Jaguars have now lost 13 consecutive games dating back to a 24-19 victory over Tennessee on Nov. 25, 2012.

What’s next: The Jaguars have a bye week before returning to action at Tennessee on Nov. 10.
Willis/ShortsGetty Images, USA Today SportsPatrick Willis' 49ers meet Cecil Shorts' Jaguars in the second NFL game in London this season.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The San Francisco 49ers have righted the ship after a shaky start. The Jacksonville Jaguars are still sinking.

The teams going in opposite directions will meet Sunday in London's Wembley Stadium in the second of two NFL games being played in the United Kingdom this season.

The 49ers (5-2) have won four games in a row -- and scored at least 31 points in each of those games -- since starting the season 1-2. The Jaguars are 0-7 and are the first team since the 1984 Houston Oilers to lose their first seven games by double digits.

That makes Sunday's game look like a giant mismatch, yet the Jaguars were 28-point underdogs to the Denver Broncos two weeks ago but lost by only 16 points -- and trailed by just two at halftime.

ESPN.com Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco and 49ers reporter Bill Williamson break down the matchup:

DiRocco: The 49ers used the read-option the most they have all season against Tennessee in Week 7. Will that be a bigger part of the offense again as the season progresses?

Williamson: Mike, I think it is going to be a week-to-week situation. The 49ers used the read-option seven times last week after using it a total of nine in the first six games. The 49ers saw they could exploit Tennessee's defense using it. I think we will see it again, but probably in more challenging games and only in certain situations, when the 49ers are confident it will work. We could maybe see it some in London, but I have a feeling it will be more like the first six weeks of the season.

Mike, if the 49ers do run a lot of read-option offense, do you think the Jaguars can handle it?

DiRocco: Probably not. The Jaguars are last in the NFL in rushing defense (153.3 yards per game) and have given up a league-high nine rushing touchdowns. The defense's biggest problem against the rush is that it has given up a lot of explosive plays. Jacksonville has allowed an NFL-worst 10 rushing plays of 20 or more yards. Stopping the read-option is assignment football and the Jaguars' ends have not been as disciplined as needed. For example, Oakland's Terrelle Pryor ran for 50 yards in Week 2, including a 27-yard run in which the entire defensive front bit on the inside fake.

Bill, the Jaguars have had trouble with tight ends all season and now they face Vernon Davis. Who is the last team that's shut him down how?

Williamson: Davis hurt his hamstring late in the Seattle game in Week 2. He was pretty well shut down in that game before getting hurt. He missed Week 3 against the Colts and then came back against the Rams. He's been good and he is healthy. If the Jaguars have trouble against tight ends, the 49ers will exploit it. Davis and quarterback Colin Kaepernick have a great chemistry going this season. The 49ers' coaching staff is great at exploiting weaknesses.

Mike, do you seeing this being a big problem for Jacksonville?

DiRocco: Absolutely. Tight ends have combined to catch 42 passes for 401 yards and five touchdowns against Jacksonville this season. Depending on the defense called, the Jaguars will either have a safety or linebacker on the tight end. At times, the job has fallen to middle linebacker Paul Posluszny, who is very good against the run but not fast or quick enough in pass coverage. The Jaguars won't use the approach New England did against New Orleans standout Jimmy Graham -- the Patriots put their best corner, Aqib Talib, on him -- so I'd expect Davis to have chances to exploit some matchups with linebackers on Sunday.

Speaking of exploitation, the Anquan Boldin trade looked like a steal in Week 1. How is it regarded now?

Williamson: Still, unabashed thievery. Sure, Boldin had 13 catches in the first week and a combined 21 catches in the following six. But the 49ers would be in trouble without Boldin. He had three circus catches at Tennessee and he's been the team's only reliable wide receiver with Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham out. The 49ers would not be 5-2 without Boldin.

Mike, do you think the Jaguars will keep him in check Sunday?

DiRocco: The Jaguars have done a solid job the past two weeks of playing umbrella coverage and making sure they don't give up deep throws. That does leave the short and intermediate routes open, though, and that's where Boldin thrives. He's a physical receiver and the Jaguars don't yet have the kind of personnel to match up with him. Coach Gus Bradley wants to build a secondary similar to the one he helped build in Seattle, which includes big, physical corners. The Jaguars still have work to do there, although rookie third-round pick Dwayne Gratz (5-foot-11, 201 pounds) is finally back from his high-ankle sprain.

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W2W4: Colts-Broncos

October, 20, 2013
10/20/13
10:30
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INDIANAPOLIS – Here are five storylines to watch for Sunday night's game between the Indianapolis Colts and Denver Broncos.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Pat Lovell/USA TODAY SportsMight Andrew Luck have to throw more for the Colts to be successful on offense?
1. The clock-management game: Stick with the style that got you four wins or put the ball in your franchise quarterback’s hands and have him test the NFL’s worst pass defense team in the league? That’s the quandary Colt offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton finds himself in against the Broncos. Hamilton's sticking with the run-first mentality. That’s the right approach to take because the Colts are sixth in the league in rushing and a ball-controlled offense keeps Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning on the sideline with his helmet on, arms crossed and antsy to get his offense back on the field. But the Colts have to be effective in order to make it work, and they have to do it against a Denver team that’s only giving up 69.8 yards a game. The Colts ran for a season-low 74 yards and only had the ball for 21 minutes against San Diego last week. The Broncos are giving up a league-worst 338 yards in the air. The Colts have to score touchdowns. Field goals won’t cut it against Manning. Don't be surprised if Andrew Luck is forced to go back to being Andrew Luck of last season when he had to throw 45 times a game in order for the Colts to win.

2. Avoid the emotions: This game is all about Manning. Nobody else. Reggie Wayne referred to it as a circus. The Colts have downplayed Manning’s return by referring to it as just another game on the schedule. I wouldn’t have believed them if this were my first week covering them. But I actually believe them. They do a good job keeping their emotions in check when it comes to injuries, facing quarterbacks like Seattle’s Russell Wilson and San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick, and they’ve done a good job of avoiding the hype with Manning so far. But doing it on the football field is the only thing that matters. The Colts obviously respect Manning, but it seems like they’re tired of talking about his return.

3. Don’t get frustrated: Manning will make plays. He’s proven that over and over throughout his career. The Broncos have the best offense in the league, averaging 476 yards of total offense and 360.7 yards through the air to go with 44 points a game. The Colts got frustrated on defense because they couldn’t get off the field on third down against the Chargers. Do that Sunday night and the Broncos will easily surpass their scoring average. Cornerbacks Greg Toler, Vontae Davis and Darius Butler are risk takers. They're not going to shy away from gambling, but they better make the play because Manning will exploit them if they make a mistake. Linebacker Robert Mathis has an advantage because Denver's left tackle Ryan Clady (knee) is out for the season and right tackle Orlando Franklin is doubtful with a knee and ankle injury. “They’re going to make plays,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said about Denver. “But when the opportunity arises for us to make plays, we got to make sure we make them. It’s kind of like playing golf. It’s what you do with your mishits, not so much what you do with your hits. It’s that philosophy going into the game.”

4. Leave the drops behind: The Colts hurt themselves with a case of the drops against the Chargers. They officially had four drops even though an argument could be made that they had more -- Darrius Heyward-Bey getting both hands on the ball on what should have been a 60-yard catch -- in the first half. Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton, Coby Fleener, Trent Richardson and, yes, even Wayne, can’t have a repeat performance this week. “I think it was more so of an isolated incident,” Hamilton said. “It just happened that way. We’ll make those plays. Drops are not an issue for our offense.”

5. Richardson factor: Richardson deserves his own storyline because he’s yet to be a significant factor for the Colts since they acquired him Sept. 18. He hasn't rushed for more than 60 yards in a game with them. The Colts want to control the clock. It starts with Richardson. It’s time for him to step up. He’s only averaging 3.1 yards a carry as a Colt. “As far as my comfort level, I’m ready to play,” Richardson said. “I don’t know what you call a breakout game, I guess over 100 yards or whatever, but if it happens it happens. As long as we win, I think it’s a breakout game for me.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers said his team's success against the Indianapolis Colts -- 5-1 in the past six games -- can’t be taken into consideration anymore because the Chargers have a number of different faces on their roster now.

The roster might be different, but Rivers is still on it, and that’s all that matters.

Rivers has thrown for 577 yards and completed 71.8 percent of his pass attempts in three career meetings against the Colts.

[+] EnlargePhilip Rivers
Jeffrey G. Pittenger/USA TODAY SportsChargers QB Philip Rivers has passed for more than 400 yards three times this season.
“Trust me, I know what San Diego, especially Philip Rivers, is capable of,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “We’ve had a lot of battles over the years. Definitely not a team we’re sleeping on because they can beat you and they can beat you good. Everybody’s prepared, focused and has the task at hand.”

Playing a complete game has been a difficult task for the Chargers. That's part of the reason they're 2-3 this season. That hasn’t stopped Rivers from putting up very good statistics. Statistics so good that Colts coach Chuck Pagano basically had them memorized during his news conference earlier this week.

“Anytime you’re completing 73.8 percent of your passes and you’ve thrown for 1,610 yards, 13 touchdowns and five picks, you’re doing something right,” Pagano said. “He’s a game-wrecker. He’s a winner. He’s a Pro Bowler. He gives them a chance every single week to win.”

Not bad, Coach, you were nearly perfect. Rivers has actually completed 73.7 percent of his passes this season. That's still pretty impressive.

Pagano knowing Rivers’ statistics tells you how dangerous a quarterback he is.

“He’s done a great job of just managing the offense and running the system and believing in the system,” Chargers coach Mike McCoy said. “Take the short throw. Take the shot.”

Indianapolis has faced mobile quarterbacks in three of its first five games. Rivers is completely the opposite of Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Seattle’s Russell Wilson because he’s a pocket passer.

The Colts are sixth in the league against the pass (201.4 yards), and they’ve sacked the quarterback 15 times this season. But getting to Rivers might be a challenge because he likes to get rid of the ball quickly and the Chargers run a fast-paced offense. He has thrown for at least 401 yards three times this season.

“Regardless if he’s not the speed guy we’ve been going up against at the quarterback position, he’s still pretty dangerous,” Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. “That arm is still as alive as it was when he first got in the league. He’s definitely slinging that thing around, got a lot of guys he’s starting to become comfortable with.”

Upon Further Review: Texans Week 5

October, 7, 2013
10/07/13
3:15
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A review of four hot issues from the Houston Texans' 34-3 loss to the San Francisco 49ers:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsThe performance of RB Arian Foster was one of the few bright spots for Houston on Sunday night.
Special teams struggled: The Texans didn't get much from their special-teams units once again. It started with a missed 45-yard field goal by Randy Bullock that could have cut the 49ers' lead to 7-3. Instead, San Francisco maintained a shutout until the third quarter. Returner Keshawn Martin made some questionable decisions on when to bring the ball out of the end zone, seemingly pressing to make a big play. The Texans allowed a kickoff return of 29 yards and two punt returns for a combined 28 yards. Martin also suffered a shoulder injury for which he was scheduled to have an MRI on Monday.

More on the injury front: Left tackle Duane Brown seemed to have come out of the game in good shape injury-wise after working through a case of turf toe that he suffered against the Tennessee Titans. But safety Ed Reed came up hobbling after stopping a sliding Colin Kaepernick. Reed said after the game that he tweaked his knee on the end of the play, not the hip on which he had arthroscopic surgery in April. Reed also said he wasn't concerned about the injury and it did not need further tests Monday.

Run defense: I'll repeat my thought from Sunday night that you cannot blame the loss on the Texans defense. It is worth noting, though, that the rushing defense was gashed by San Francisco. The Texans gave up 177 rushing yards, 81 of them to Frank Gore, an underrated talent who has worked through injuries for a lot of his career. (Side note: Gore was one of the former University of Miami teammates that Reed talked about wanting to reunite with in free agency. Andre Johnson, Reggie Wayne and Gore.) The 49ers averaged 4.9 yards per carry and Kaepernick only ran the ball once. That's 0.7 yards per carry more than the Texans went into the game giving up. According to ESPN Stats & Information, the 49ers gained 118 of their 177 rushing yards before contact.

On the other hand: It was for naught, but given the situation Arian Foster might have played his best game of the season. Before the game, a group of 49ers fans heckled him by saying he wouldn't have a 100-yard performance. Foster almost got there, rushing for 98 yards. But he did it on only 21 attempts for a 4.7 average, a mark well above his 3.8 yards per carry entering Sunday night.
Arian Foster and Frank GoreGetty ImagesTwo of the NFL's top rushers, Arian Foster and Frank Gore, will try to carry their teams Sunday night.

The Houston Texans are not pleased with themselves, and neither is their Week 5 opponent, the San Francisco 49ers.

After starting off Week 4 the right way with a big win at St. Louis, the 49ers bitterly watched the Texans blow a huge fourth-quarter lead at home in an eventual overtime loss to Seattle, allowing the Seahawks to maintain their two-game lead over the 49ers in the NFC West.

San Francisco will try not to fall further behind when it welcomes the shell-shocked Texans to Candlestick Park on Sunday night. Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and I discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: What changed for the 49ers between Weeks 3 and 4? Is it as simple as playing a weaker opponent, or did they rediscover their identity?

Williamson: Easier competition may have had something to do with it. Against Seattle and Indianapolis, the 49ers were outscored by a combined 56-10. Against the Rams, the 49ers had their way in a 35-11 victory. I truly think the 49ers’ struggles this season have been more because of themselves than their opponent. The trouble in Weeks 2 and 3 started on offense. The 49ers badly miss injured receivers Michael Crabtree and Mario Manningham; they don’t have much beyond Anquan Boldin and tight end Vernon Davis, who has been injured. Fortunately, the rushing game got going in Week 4. If the 49ers can keep the run game hot and if quarterback Colin Kaepernick can get the ball to Boldin and Davis, the 49ers will be fine. That will take pressure off a good defense that wasn’t the main problem against the Seahawks or the Colts.

Tania, do you believe the Texans are up to the task of staying with the 49ers, especially after the heartbreak of the Seattle loss?

Ganguli: They were angry about that loss, especially J.J. Watt, who held a menacing news conference (menacing in general, not menacing toward reporters) after the game. They have taken steps to regroup mentally, holding a players-only meeting that allowed for venting, but I think their ability to bounce back will depend on being able to fix some of the problems they had in their first game. Those problems go well beyond quarterback Matt Schaub, who made the most costly and talked-about error this past Sunday in throwing a pick-six late in the fourth quarter. The Texans gave up a crucial fumble, dropped a couple of passes and committed a 15-yard penalty that helped set up the game-winning field goal. You’re right that the Texans’ defense hasn’t been the team's biggest problem this season, but Houston has given up drives of 99 and 98 yards this season, and it would like to change that.

How has losing Aldon Smith affected San Francisco’s defense?

Williamson: It would be inaccurate and naïve to think the 49ers don’t miss Smith. He will be away from the team for about a month as he seeks treatment for alcohol abuse. Smith had 4.5 sacks in the first three games this season, and he has an NFL-high 38 sacks since 2011. Last week, the 49ers dominated the Rams’ offense without Smith and star inside linebacker Patrick Willis, who was out with a groin injury, and recorded five sacks. Rookie Corey Lemonier and special-teamer Dan Skuta both played well in place of Smith, and linebackers NaVorro Bowman and Ahmad Brooks led the way with big games. Still, Smith is such a presence. The 49ers will be hard-pressed to have sustained dominance without him.

Tania, do you think the Texans can take advantage of Smith's absence?

Ganguli: The Texans have had their own issues in the trenches lately. Left tackle Duane Brown has missed the past two games with turf toe and is still considered day-to-day. Left guard Wade Smith rotated with second-year guard Ben Jones last weekend. Coach Gary Kubiak said that was to preserve Smith for the long term; Smith had knee surgery during the preseason and returned from it after three weeks. Meanwhile, right tackle Derek Newton, another young player, has really struggled. In fact, Brown’s replacement, Ryan Harris, has played far better than Newton, Houston's regular starter on the other side. Now right guard Brandon Brooks is hurt with a toe injury that’s got his foot booted. The most consistent player, in terms of health and production, on the offensive line has been center Chris Myers, but Schaub has faced a lot of pressure this season.

Speaking of Schaub, he had a rough weekend against the best secondary in the NFL. What challenges will he face against the 49ers?

Williamson: I think Schaub’s struggles start with him, and I think the 49ers will try to pressure him quickly to see if he crumbles again. You know better than I do, but from seeing replays, Schaub looked broken after the Richard Sherman pick-six. The 49ers are well aware that Schaub has thrown interceptions that have been returned for touchdowns in the past three games, and they will be looking to add to the list. A player to watch is rookie safety Eric Reid. He has proven to be a ballhawk already. I could see him benefiting from Schaub’s issues.

This is a huge key to the game, Tania. Do you think Schaub can bounce back and be effective?

Ganguli: That will be the most important factor in this game. While I don’t blame the entire collapse on Schaub, you’re absolutely right that he looked broken after Sherman’s interception. By contrast, in Week 2, Schaub threw a late pick-six against Tennessee that put the Texans in an eight-point hole, but he recovered quickly enough to lead a game-tying drive that forced overtime. He didn’t bounce back as well against the Seahawks. He made a few nice throws, including a 17-yard pass to Andre Johnson, but overall, looked rattled. If he can’t recover, the Texans have no chance. But if he can rediscover the guy who led that comeback effort you and I watched live against San Diego in Week 1, I think the Texans are in good shape.

 

Andrew Luck runs like a linebacker

October, 4, 2013
10/04/13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck runs with the aggression of a middle linebacker chasing down a running back when he tucks the ball and takes off downfield.

And at a time when talk centers around mobile quarterbacks like Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor, San Francisco’s Colin Kaepernick and Sunday’s opposing quarterback, Seattle’s Russell Wilson, Luck could easily be mentioned in the same breath as those players when it comes to mobility.

Or maybe not.

Luck has rushed for only 5 fewer yards than Wilson on 11 fewer carries this season.

But that’s not what the Colts want from Luck, who is still trying to master the art of sliding when he takes off running. Coach Chuck Pagano’s heart is racing when his franchise player is on the run.

“He understands he can’t play the game like a linebacker,” Pagano said. “Maybe a few years ago he could, but certainly not now. There’s too much at stake. He knows that.

“He needs to get the cobwebs knocked out or whatever. I told [quarterbacks coach] Clyde [Christensen] to slap him in the face or get somebody else to butt heads [with him] on the sideline. He knows what he has to do to stay healthy.”

Luck is second on the team in rushing with 126 yards on just 16 carries this season. You could call him the team’s leading rusher, since the real rushing leader -- Ahmad Bradshaw -- could be out awhile.

The Colts need Luck to remain healthy, but the second-year quarterback also doesn’t mind getting hit.

“I think there’s a little part of most football players who enjoy the aspect of getting hit,” he said, laughing. “I know in games, sometimes it’s good to get that first hit and say, ‘OK, now you’re in a football game.’ After that, no.”

Double Coverage: Colts at Jaguars

September, 26, 2013
9/26/13
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Maurice Jones-Drew and Trent RichardsonUSA TODAY SportsMaurice Jones-Drew and Trent Richardson will square off Sunday in Jacksonville.
The winless Jacksonville Jaguars return to EverBank Field after spending more than a week on the West Coast -- they played at Oakland on Sept. 15 and remained in California to prepare for this past Sunday's game at Seattle -- for Sunday's game against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts had a much better trip out West than the Jaguars. They routed host San Francisco 27-7 on Sunday by shutting down 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick. The Jaguars, meanwhile, fell to 0-3 after the Seahawks routed them 45-17. Sunday presents another tough task for the Jaguars. Colts reporter Mike Wells and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco take a look at this week's matchup.

Michael DiRocco: Mike, Peyton Manning was such an iconic figure in Indianapolis. With all the success he's had in his first 20 games, has Andrew Luck come close to that level yet?

Mike Wells: Manning may be on his way to his fifth MVP trophy out there in Denver, but the Colts could be set at quarterback for the next decade with Luck. It’s only natural to compare the quarterbacks because they both carry themselves in the same manner. They’re humble, perfectionists and, best of all, damn good quarterbacks. Luck isn’t at the same level as Manning, but the goal in Indianapolis is for him to reach that status or beyond. Speaking of quarterbacks -- or maybe it’s not a good idea -- what’s going on down there in Jacksonville with that situation? When do the Jaguars officially throw in the towel and say Blaine Gabbert is not the answer for them?

DiRocco: That is the general belief around Jacksonville, but that's not yet the case for new general manager Dave Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. They have given Gabbert a clean slate and will evaluate him based on what they see from the 6-foot-4, 235-pounder this season. They have to find out whether Gabbert is the player around whom they can build the franchise, so this season is essentially a pressure-packed tryout for him. He has not performed well since being taken with the 10th overall pick in the 2011 draft. This year he's dealing with a pretty porous offensive line, and two of his top three weapons -- tight end Marcedes Lewis (calf) and Justin Blackmon (suspension) -- have yet to play this season. By the end of the season Caldwell and Bradley will know whether Gabbert is the answer. The Colts obviously have one piece of their foundation in Luck, but they recently traded for Trent Richardson to fulfill the role Edgerrin James had for years. My question is this: Who's the next Marvin Harrison?

Wells: They don’t have that receiver yet. Reggie Wayne is obviously a future Hall of Famer, and he’s still playing at a very high level. But he’s also 34 years old. The Colts are hoping that Darrius Heyward-Bey could be that receiver. He was the No. 7 overall pick in 2009, so he has the potential to complement Luck and Richardson. But Heyward-Bey has to get over his case of the drops. Playing well in spurts isn’t good enough. In fact, T.Y. Hilton, the Colts’ third receiver, outplayed Heyward-Bey in the preseason. I hate to do this to you -- and probably a lot of NFL fans -- but is there any possibility that the Jaguars would even think about bringing in Tim Tebow? There are fans down there rallying for him. And if anything, it’ll help in the attendance department.

DiRocco: Not going to happen, no matter how much noise Tebow’s supporters make. The Jaguars are moving forward with Gabbert, and if it turns out he’s not the player around whom they can build the franchise, they’ll look to the 2014 draft to find a quarterback. I covered Tebow at Florida, and he was fantastic, one of the best collegiate players of all time, but he’s just not able to make the leap. And there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t diminish what he did at Florida in any way. As for attendance, the Jaguars actually ranked 20th in that stat last season, drawing an average of 64,984. That’s ahead of teams such as Chicago (62,329), Minnesota (60,725) and Miami (57,379). That was for a 2-14 team that didn’t have Tebow. Sometimes young, talented teams that make the playoffs take a step backward the following season before really taking off a year later. Do you see that being the case with the Colts in 2013?

Wells: The Colts are a better team this season, but they will take a step back with their record by a game. Good fortune was on their side in more ways than one last season. They caught some breaks and Luck led them to seven fourth-quarter comebacks. They're still a playoff team, and if Houston slips up, the Colts will take advantage of it and win the division. The Jags are ranked last in this week's Power Rankings. Will they stay there all season?

DiRocco: I think they'll battle the Browns and -- I can't believe I'm writing this -- the Steelers for the last spot all year. Right now no team is playing worse than the Jaguars, especially on offense. But I do think things will get a little better with the return of Lewis and Blackmon. The offensive line has to play much better, though. Cleveland's victory last week was surprising, but I see that as more of a byproduct of emotion and anger after the Richardson trade than anything else. The Steelers have looked horrible, and the loss of Maurkice Pouncey has them reeling. Plus, we all know it's a matter of time before Ben Roethlisberger gets hurt.

Colts send a message against 49ers

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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Ahmad Bradshaw Thearon W. Henderson/Getty ImagesAhmad Bradshaw led the Colts' running attack with 19 carries for 95 yards and one touchdown.
SAN FRANCISCO -- Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano's opening statement after his team’s 27-7 victory over the San Francisco 49ers was about how the win could be one the Colts talk about five or six years from now.

Then Pagano backtracked.

“Maybe one of those wins that propel you to do great things,” he said.

The hype surrounding the Andrew Luck-Jim Harbaugh reunion took a backseat to the type of performance general manager Ryan Grigson envisioned when he put the team together during the offseason.

The Colts took the first step in removing the finesse label that has lingered since the Peyton Manning years of throwing the ball around the field to Marvin Harrison and Reggie Wayne. On Sunday, the Colts imposed their will, taking the physical 49ers out back for an old-school beating.

“If you want to go finesse, open it up with five wide [receivers], we can do that,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “You want to go smash-mouth football, we can do that. We have two backs that can get it done and an O-line that can open up gaping holes.”

The Colts’ victory sends a message to Manning and the Denver Broncos, who appear to be the odds-on favorites to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl.

“All the good things we did today, we can keep building on so we can keep having performances like this,” defensive lineman Cory Redding said.

Indianapolis felt disrespected before it boarded its cross-country flight Saturday afternoon. The oddsmakers had the 49ers favored by 10 points, understandable with the Colts to play without six starters.

Pagano and his staff had to shuffle things around on the offensive line so the unit could open holes for the newly acquired Trent Richardson and for Ahmad Bradshaw and for for Luck to have time to pass.

The Colts had a rookie starting at left guard, the starting right guard slid to center and a player who opened the season third on the depth started started at right guard.

With all the shuffling, the Colts still rushed for 179 yards and Luck was sacked only once.

“I think we were very disrespected,” said Mike McGlynn, who started at center for the injured Samson Satele. “We knew nobody in the country picked us and it doesn’t matter.”

Luck’s passing ability has been well documented, but the Colts also need a running game to complement their franchise quarterback.

That's why offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton, Luck's coordinator at Stanford, has spent the entire season talking about establishing a power-running game.

The odds of having it all season became reality Friday, when Grigson acquired Richardson from Cleveland to go with Bradshaw.

Sunday was the first time the Colts had more rushing yards (179) than passing (157) since Dec. 18, 2011, against Tennessee.

Richardson and Bradshaw allow the Colts to chew up the clock and not put pressure on Luck to throw the ball 45 times a game like he had to last season.

The Colts clinched the game in the fourth quarter with an 11-play, 80-yard drive, including nine runs for 54 yards, using more than seven minutes of the clock.

After setting the 49ers up by pounding the ball with Bradshaw and Richardson during the drive, Hamilton called the perfect play with Luck faking a handoff to Bradshaw and rolling to his left for a 6-yard TD.

Grigson couldn’t control himself in the press box after Luck’s touchdown and spike. He pumped his fist, grabbed vice president of football operations Jimmy Raye and started shaking him by his shoulders in excitement.

“We’re pretty dangerous and it is hard to tell what is going to come at you,” Richardson said about teaming with Bradshaw. “It is kind of tough to know what is going to come at you.”

The long drives -- the Colts had the ball almost 13 minutes longer than the 49ers -- kept Indianapolis’ defense fresh, which in turn played a factor in them locking up San Francisco quarterback Colin Kaepernick and the read-option offense. Kaepernick had only 20 yards on seven carries.

The Colts went from playing “hero ball” against Oakland’s Terrelle Pryor to believing in their teammates and the scheme defensive coordinator Greg Manusky put together.

Indianapolis held the 49ers to 254 yards, with 91 of those on San Francisco’s only scoring drive. The Colts forced two turnovers, including a strip by linebacker Jerrell Freeman deep in San Francisco territory.

“That was a heavyweight fight right there,” Pagano said. “That was a 15-round slugfest. That was exactly what we thought it was going to be. It’s what we prepared.”

It was also a beat-down by the Colts, the kind they believe will keep them moving forward this season.

Rapid Reaction: Colts 27, 49ers 7

September, 22, 2013
9/22/13
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SAN FRANCISCO -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts’ 27-7 win over the San Francisco 49ers:

What it means: The Colts were without their league-leading tackler -- safety LaRon Landry -- and their leading tackler -- linebacker Pat Angerer -- from two seasons ago while having to face a San Francisco offense trying to get back on track. The Colts stood up to the challenge outside of a rough series on which 49ers running back Frank Gore ran wild. The Colts locked up 49ers quarterback Colin Kaepernick and their offense the rest of the game. The Colts held the 49ers to 254 total yards and forced two turnovers. Kaepernick was only 13-of-27 for 150 yards, and Gore gained only 12 yards in the second half after rushing for 70 in the first.

Stock watch: Something had to give between Colts quarterback Andrew Luck and his former college coach Jim Harbaugh. Luck was 5-0 after losses, and Harbaugh was 7-0 in the same situation. Luck got the better of Harbaugh to keep his perfect record intact. Luck sealed the game for the Colts when he ran in untouched from 6 yards out to put the Colts up 20-7 with 4:27 left in the game.

Premature flags: The officials had an issue with getting ahead of themselves during the first half. Referee Terry McAulay had to clarify that they threw an inadvertent flag three times. The officials cleaned it up in the second half, with no miscues during the final 30 minutes.

What’s next: The Colts stay on the road again, traveling to Florida to take on AFC South counterpart Jacksonville on Sept. 29.

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