AFC South: Danny Amendola

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
Andre Johnson and Chandler JonesUSA Today SportsAndre Johnson, left, and the Texans hope to surprise Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Texans faced the New England Patriots during the regular season, Houston was 11-1 and the hottest team in the league. To celebrate their youthful camaraderie, they ordered letterman jackets, the kind high school teams wear, and the jackets happened to come in right before the Patriots game.

That game marked a turning point for the Texans.

The timing of the jackets had nothing to do with the opponent; former Texans Connor Barwin and Shaun Cody were simply trying to create a tradition. That they lost so badly just after unveiling them turned the jackets into a punch line.

The Patriots won 42-14, and the Texans finished their season having lost three of their last four games. That meant losing the home-field advantage that seemed theirs before that game and led to another meeting with the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. New England won again, 41-28.

It was a lesson for the Texans in what it takes to be a great team.

Heading into this season, many thought the Texans were positioned to be one of the top teams in the NFL. The Patriots seemed poised for a down year, by their standards, but here we are in Week 13 and they sit in their usual spot atop the AFC East. Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Mike, how has the loss of so many of his top targets from last season impacted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

Reiss: We saw it impact Brady more significantly through the first eight games. But things have started to click the past two games, and it’s no coincidence that it coincides with tight end Rob Gronkowski's reaching a new level of comfort since his return Oct. 20, and running back Shane Vereen's coming off the injured reserve list. With those two joining receivers Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, the pass-catching corps has been as stocked as we’ve seen all season.

I know it’s been a down year for the Texans, but is J.J. Watt still creating havoc? Is that defense still tough?

Ganguli: Watt is still creating havoc. He has 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He is someone opposing offenses must track on every play. The Texans' defense has played well, but it has holes. On Sunday, the Jaguars had success with the matchup of receiver Cecil Shorts against cornerback Brandon Harris in the slot. Injuries to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Danieal Manning have been particularly damaging. The Texans have statistically been much better with Cushing than without him since he was drafted. Their attempt to add some mental toughness with Ed Reed didn’t work as they had hoped, so two young players are starting at safety -- Shiloh Keo at free safety and D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger is the Texans’ rookie second-round pick. He will be really good, but right now he’s learning a lot about playing at this level. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards, but have allowed too many points and not created enough turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, as I watched Sunday night’s Patriots game against the Broncos, it seemed every time I looked up the Patriots had either committed or forced a turnover. What did you make of that? Was it an aberration?

Reiss: The forced turnovers were the norm, as the Patriots recently ended a streak of 36 games with at least one forced turnover (Nov. 18 vs. Carolina). The Patriots' committing turnovers was a little more out of character, although one of the pressing issues facing the club is what to do with lead running back Stevan Ridley (3 lost fumbles in the past three games). The Patriots are traditionally strong in turnover differential, and this season is no different, as they are plus-8 with 23 takeaways and 15 giveaways.

I know this probably comes out of left field, but how is the playing surface at Reliant Stadium? Patriots followers remember the last visit, in 2009, when Wes Welker tore his ACL. I saw a recent game, and it looks like there are patches of grass on the field with noticeable seams in certain parts.

Ganguli: Not out of left field at all. If the game you saw was the Texans’ Nov. 3 Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts, this was a major topic of conversation that night. The field looked pretty bad, mostly because there was a college game played on the same grass that week. They replaced the center of the field, but the outer grass was a mess. The University of Houston has played five games at Reliant Stadium this season while its stadium is being renovated. It has played most of them on field turf. The Cougars will play again on Friday morning, and none of the grass will be replaced between that game and the Texans-Patriots game Sunday. I believe the thinking is that will give it enough time to recover. Something to watch, though.

Let’s talk more about defense to wrap up here. Will Aqib Talib be assigned to Andre Johnson on Sunday? How do you think he’ll fare?

Reiss: That would make a lot of sense, as Talib has often been assigned the opponent’s top receiver. After a rocky game Nov. 18 against Carolina and Steve Smith, he was very good this past Sunday night against Demaryius Thomas in the 34-31 win against the Broncos. Talib has been key for the pass defense. Meanwhile, the loss of key players to season-ending injuries (defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo) has hurt the run defense at times, such as in the Broncos game. But they played a 4-2-5 nickel for most of the game, and I don’t think that will be as much of a factor against the Texans. The Patriots will probably be in their base defense more often, and they played well against the Panthers’ tough running attack in that package.

One thing I think Patriots followers would be interested to hear is what has happened to the Texans? How could a team go so quickly from the AFC divisional round of the playoffs and talking about “letterman” jackets to vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Ganguli: Even with some of the missteps in the offseason, it would have been difficult to foresee this. There are a lot of issues, but I'll focus on the quarterback situation. The biggest mystery is what happened to quarterback Matt Schaub. He was never on the level of Brady, but he gave the Texans what they needed. He was consistent and productive. He actually played really well in leading comebacks against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans this season. That seems so long ago. The Texans' turnover margin has been among the worst in the league all season, and Schaub was part of that. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four consecutive games. He threw one on the first pass of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and that game marked the only time this season Schaub played poorly from start to finish. There were myriad other problems, but Schaub lost his starting spot when he suffered a foot and ankle injury in Week 6. First-year quarterback Case Keenum took over, but his play hasn't meant victories. In his first three starts, he played well in the first half and not so well in the second half. His most recent game, against Jacksonville, was his worst of the season. Keenum threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.


Newest Titans will add depth

April, 1, 2013
The Tennessee Titans added their 11th and 12th free agent in their ongoing roster revamp, signing receiver Kevin Walter and interior offensive lineman Chris Spencer.

Walter is familiar to the Titans as he played the last seven years for the Houston Texans, often serving as the second wide receiver opposite Andre Johnson.

He had 65 catches and eight touchdowns for Houston in 2007, but his role had diminished with only 39 and 41 catches the last two seasons and five total touchdowns. He was a recent salary-cap casualty for a team that drafted a couple receivers last year and is expected to draft a more dynamic No. 2 receiver at the end of the month.

The Titans have struck out with several veteran receivers, including Danny Amendola, Wes Welker and Brandon Gibson. Indications are they’d like to trade the expensive Nate Washington, but I am not sure Walter will add enough to make Washington expendable.

Walter joins Kendall Wright, Kenny Britt, Washington, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins and Michael Preston on the Titans receiving corps. The group has a new position coach in Shawn Jefferson.

Spencer is the third veteran, interior offensive lineman the Titans have added. He joins Andy Levitre, who will start at left guard, and Rob Turner.

While Fernando Velasco is expected to remain the starter at center, right guard will be wide open and Turner and Spencer could compete with a draft pick or slug it out between them.

Seattle picked Spencer in the first round in 2005 out of Ole Miss and he played the last two years in Chicago, where offensive line struggles were a big issue.

“Both Kevin and Chris are established veterans in this league who have a great deal of starting experience,” said Titans general manager Ruston Webster said in a statement. “They have made significant contributions on good teams during their careers. We feel like they can come in and provide increased competition at their respective positions for us.”

The addition of Spencer could mean the end of overpriced Eugene Amano, who was hurt in the preseason last year and missed the entire 2012 season.
I did not think receiver would be a spot the Titans delved into in free agency.

I was wrong on that.

They were players for Danny Amendola and were even part of the conversation about Wes Welker. (Regarding Welker, Titans GM Ruston Webster said on The Wake Up Zone in Nashville: "They contacted us and we looked into it ... but he had another destination.")

Clearly the Titans like the idea of finding a true slot guy, which would make Kendall Wright largely an outside receiver. If they add someone, they’d look to deal Nate Washington, who’s expensive.

[+] EnlargeNate Washington
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsNate Washington is reportedly in coach Mike Munchak's doghouse.
I can understand them asking Washington to take a pay cut. He’s due base salaries of $4.2 million this year and $4.8 million in 2014.

But he’s a far more dependable guy than Kenny Britt, who’s entering a contract year. Dumping Washington would leave the Titans with Wright, Britt, the newcomer, Damian Williams, Lavelle Hawkins (overpriced at $1.9 million this year) and Michael Preston. And a year from now they’d likely be subtracting Britt from that group.

Word is Washington lost favor with the team after he gave half-hearted effort over the last month of the season. If they didn’t think he worked, they should have gotten in his face about it. They should tell him they can’t pay him what he’s scheduled to make. Perhaps they’ve done those things.

I’m not sure they should be looking to trade him. But there is a big theme with this team right now, that Mike Munchak will sink or swim in his third year as coach with his guys. And his guys don’t give half-hearted effort in the last month of the season no matter how bad things are.

The thinking on Amendola or Welker was that they are different than anyone the Titans have, and could be super-reliable on short, simple passes for Jake Locker.

Who else out there profiles like that? I don't know if anyone does. Julian Edelman?

Brandon Gibson of the Rams doesn't seem the same type of guy to me, and he’s the next guy the Titans are courting.

Scouts Inc. rates him as an excellent route-runner, however, so I can understand the appeal of that.

“He understands how to read coverages and does a good job of finding seams to settle in when looking at zone schemes,” Scouts Inc. says.

Is Gibson at a cheaper rate an upgrade over an expensive Washington? I’m not so sure.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans now have a need at fullback, with James Casey gone to Philadelphia. They also cut receiver Kevin Walter, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. I think Casey will do a lot for the Eagles and leave people wondering why Gary Kubiak didn't manage to do more with him.

J.J. Watt has a snappy answer to a Twitter follower who wanted to fight him.

To which I say: Twitter muscles amuse me.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts felt like Day 1 all came together for them, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

The addition of cornerback Greg Toler signals the end for Jerraud Powers, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Toler’s deal is three years, $15 million according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

Exploring the idea of Greg Jennings to the Colts, with Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

The Colts' roster is still in need of some dynamic talent, says Greg Cowan of Colts Authority. He also looks at the somewhat controversial big dollars for Erik Walden.

To which I say: Odds now suggest the dynamic talent additions of the offseason are going to show up in the draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Quiet as free agency started, the Jaguars are asking fans to trust their plan, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: They did well to make it clear in advance they weren't going to be free-agency front-runners, so the reaction has been tempered.

David Caldwell and Gus Bradley were both at Florida’s pro day on Tuesday, says Hays Carlyon of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were sprinters at the start of free agency, adding guard Andy Levitre and tight end Delanie Walker, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. They are expected to add defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill Wednesday.

Shopping Nate Washington is risky, at least for now, says Wyatt.

To which I say: I’m not sure I understand the Titans' interest in St., Louis free agent Danny Amendola or their interest in moving away from Washington.

The Titans re-signed fullback Quinn Johnson, says Wyatt.

Running back Shonn Greene will visit Tennessee, says Wyatt.

Receiver notes

October, 30, 2009
Posted by’s Paul Kuharsky

ESPN Stats & Information spends hours and hours reviewing NFL games, in part so I can pass on their stuff and look smart.

Here are some updated receiver numbers that touch on the division.
  • Andre Johnson is tied with Randy Moss as the most targeted receiver in the NFL. They’ve each been thrown to 67 times in seven games. Reggie Wayne is seventh at 57, and the Colts have played only six games.
  • Rookie Mike Thomas is third in overall catch percentage, with 14 catches in 17 chances (82 percent). He trails only Greg Camarillo of Miami (90) and Danny Amendola of St. Louis (88). Houston’s Kevin Walter is tied for fifth at 78 percent.
  • In the red zone, Larry Fitzgerald (11), Chad Ochocinco (nine) and Moss (nine) are the most targeted receivers in the league. Nate Washington and Austin Collie have been thrown to eight times each. Washington has the best catch percentage of the eight top guys, at 88.
  • Washington’s 80 percent catch rate on third down is third best in the league.
  • Torry Holt's 60 percent catch rate for passes over 20 yards (minimum five targets) is tied for second best in the league.
  • Six receivers in the NFL have been targeted five times or more with passes of 20 yards or more and failed to catch any of them. Two of them are Titans -- Justin Gage (0-for-6) and Washington (0-for-6).