AFC South: Drew Brees

Pro Bowl selections: Indianapolis Colts

December, 27, 2013
12/27/13
10:15
PM ET
INDIANAPOLIS -- Robert Mathis entered the season wanting to prove that he could be successful without playing alongside Dwight Freeney.

Mathis picked up his 100th career sack and led the league in that category most of the season. He set the Colts’ single-season and franchise record for sacks earlier this month. He’s a Defensive Player of the Year candidate.

And now he’s a Pro Bowler.

Mathis was selected to his sixth straight Pro Bowl on Friday night. He has 53 tackles and is second in the league in sacks with 17.5. Mathis was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month for October.

The Pro Bowl draft will be held on Jan. 22.

The Colts are 10-5 and won the AFC South, but Mathis is the lone Colts player to be selected to the Pro Bowl.

An argument could be made that quarterback Andrew Luck and special-teams ace Sergio Brown should have made the team.

Justin Bethel of Arizona and Matthew Slater of New England were the two special-teams players taken over Brown.

Here’s the breakdown of the quarterbacks taken over Luck:


Luck's completion percentage doesn't help his cause. He could be named to the team as an alternate.

Click here for the complete Pro Bowl roster.
A weekly examination of the Colts’ ESPN.com Power Ranking:

Preseason: 10 | Last week: 6 | ESPN.com Power Ranking since 2002

I figured the Indianapolis Colts would move up at least one spot in the rankings if they beat Seattle, but New England’s loss to Cincinnati helped them jump two spots from last week. The only thing stopping the Colts from being a top-three team are the three remaining undefeated teams in the NFL: Denver, New Orleans and Kansas City. Indianapolis plays two of those teams -- the Broncos and Chiefs -- this season. This coming week, Indianapolis goes on the road to play at San Diego, which is 20th in this week’s rankings, in its lone Monday night game of the season. The Colts will have another chance, albeit a small one, to move up next week because the Saints travel to New England to take on the Patriots this weekend. The Patriots, though, don’t have enough offensive weapons to keep up with Drew Brees and Co. The Chiefs host the Oakland Raiders. We’re not even going to talk about Denver’s opponent, because you’ve probably got a better chance of winning the lottery than the Broncos losing to the winless Jacksonville Jaguars.
ST. LOUIS -- Blaine Gabbert will be the Jacksonville Jaguars' starting quarterback next Sunday against Denver -- provided his left hamstring injury isn’t severe enough to put him on the bench.

Coach Gus Bradley didn’t hesitate a bit when asked that question after the Jaguars’ 34-20 loss to the St. Louis Rams. Gabbert is his quarterback.

[+] EnlargeBlaine Gabbert
AP Photo/L.G. PattersonBlaine Gabbert threw a TD pass and two interceptions in the loss against the Rams.
Gabbert’s performance against the Rams produced some compelling reasons why he shouldn’t -- and should -- be.

First, the bad:

He air-mailed a pass 6 feet over Justin Blackmon’s head that was intercepted and returned for a touchdown.

He fumbled twice while trying to scramble around in the pocket.

He threw an end-zone interception on fourth down.

And he missed a wide open Cecil Shorts on the sideline on a scramble, when he had enough room to run for a first down and time to set his feet and make a good throw.

Now, the good:

He threw a perfect pass to Shorts along the right sideline for a 28-yard gain from the Jaguars’ 1-yard line.

He also converted a third-and-5 with a nifty pass to Shorts a millisecond before Rams defensive end Robert Quinn hit him in the legs.

He answered the interception return for a touchdown by guiding the team on a seven-play, 50-yard drive that culminated with Josh Scobee’s 48-yard field goal to give the Jaguars a 10-7 lead.

But that’s quintessential Gabbert. Inconsistent, with flashes of the kind of talent that would warrant being the No. 10 overall selection in the 2011 draft.

"We just need the consistency of making good decisions," Bradley said. "We just have to continue to train. The challenge is for our guys to play with some freedom. We have to find that balance, where we are making good decisions, but yet we have freedom to make plays."

The problem is that Bradley and GM Dave Caldwell haven’t been able to get a full evaluation on Gabbert this season because he has been injured and playing without full firepower. He had a sprained ankle and fractured thumb in the preseason, then suffered a cut on his hand that required stitches and kept him out of two games. Now he’s dealing with a hamstring strain that put him on the bench in the third quarter against the Rams.

He hadn’t had Just Blackmon, his best receiver, until Sunday, and tight end Marcedes Lewis has been on the field for just two plays this season because of a calf injury. The Jaguars are now on their third left tackle after the trade of Eugene Monroe and the season-ending ankle injury to Luke Joeckel.

The running game has been no help, either, averaging just 49.0 yards per game going into Sunday’s game -- although the Jaguars did run for a season-high 96 yards against the Rams.

"Things haven’t gone the way we wanted to the first couple weeks of the season for this team and with some individuals on it, but it’s just something that we’ve got to fight through," Gabbert said. "We’ve got to fight through some adversity, and we’ll get better in the long run."

That’s what he’s been saying all season, but at some point you have to rise above adversity and just start making plays. There have been opportunities for big plays in every game he’s played this season, and he has failed to make the throws.

He’s making the same mistakes this season he made as a rookie. Any strides he made with his pocket presence evaporated on Sunday when he hopped around and bolted out early. Not once or twice, but several times.

Nobody is asking Gabbert to be Peyton Manning or Tom Brady or Drew Brees. The Jaguars just want him to not be Mark Sanchez, and that’s not too much to demand in his third season.

Barring injury, Gabbert will start against the Broncos, but his time to prove that he deserves to have that job at the end of this season and beyond is running out.

Grantland: Luck takeover starts now

September, 7, 2013
9/07/13
10:30
AM ET
Grantland has an article talking about how it's usually a good idea to assume that teams that have Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees and that player who goes by Peyton Manning will make the playoffs.

Luck
And some feel that the Colts and Andrew Luck will regress this season. Andrew Sharp, the writer of the story, believes Luck will continue to get better and eventually take the league by storm.

I agree with Sharp.

I’ve already said I believe the Colts won’t win 11 games this season, but Luck -- and the rest of the team -- will be better this season.

Sharp noted that Luck was the "sloppiest of any of the four young superstar quarterbacks" last season. That's not surprising considering Luck spent most of the season taking a pounding. He was sacked 41 times and hit more than 100 times. That still didn't stop him from setting rookie records for most passing yards, attempts and 300-yard games.

I’ve only been around Luck for five weeks and I can already tell he doesn’t carry himself like he thinks he’s already made it to the top. I’ve seen that kind of arrogance out of a lot of young players I’ve covered in this business over the past 13 years.

Luck’s the complete opposite.

He constantly talks about what he did wrong and needs to fix instead of praising himself. That's what you want out of somebody who has everything necessary to be one of the best at his position for at least the next decade.
Adam Schefter reports the Jaguars have asked the Saints for permission to talk to offensive coordinator Pete Carmichael, who’s got an expiring contract.

It’s a great move.

Here’s the Choice Carmichael faces:
A) Re-sign with the Saints, resume working under a head coach in Sean Payton who is the play-caller and continue to be part of the career of one of the NFL’s top quarterbacks, Drew Brees.

B) Sign with the Jaguars as Gus Bradley's top offensive coach, get a lot more power in terms of charting the course for an NFL offense, help choose the starting quarterback and call plays for an offense with no one close to Brees.

Those are two pretty nice options for a guy who’s been in New Orleans since 2006 and has drawn some interest as a head coaching candidate.

If Carmichael wants to ultimately be a head coach, which choice would offer the best path? More of the same or something different?

I think if he chooses the Jaguars and leads an improved offense, it could further round out his resume. It could bring bigger rewards, but it comes with bigger risk.

I said just a couple hours ago the first, biggest question from Bradley would be who his offensive coordinator is. If it's Carmichael, Bradley will get a big thumbs-up for his first major move.

UPDATE: Larry Holder of the New Orleans Times-Picayune reports Carmichael is expected to decline invitations to talk to the Jaguars and Eagles.

Final Word: AFC South

January, 4, 2013
1/04/13
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North AFC: North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about wild-card weekend:

Rematch in Houston: This is the fourth time under the current playoff format that teams are meeting in the wild-card round in back-to-back seasons. In each of the previous three instances, the team that won the first game also won the second game. Houston won on Jan. 7, 2012, at Reliant Stadium 31-10. The Bengals haven’t won a playoff game since 1990. Every other NFL franchise has won a playoff game since then. Cincinnati is 0-5 all-time on the road in the postseason, tied with the Saints (also 0-5) for the worst road record in NFL postseason history. If the Bengals lose, Marvin Lewis will become the first head coach to lose his first four playoff games since Wade Phillips (now the Texans' defensive coordinator) lost his first four before earning his postseason victory in 2009.

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
AP Photo/Rick OsentoskiColts QB Andrew Luck hasn't thrown an interception since Dec. 9 in a win against Tennessee.
Playing cleaner: Colts rookie quarterback Andrew Luck led the NFL with 23 turnovers in his first 13 games. But in the last three, he’s protected the ball well and not turned it over at all. Can he stay clean against the Ravens and ball hawking safety Ed Reed, or does he fall back into bad plays? Luck has thrown 10 interceptions on passes 15 or more yards downfield this season, tied with Mark Sanchez and Drew Brees for most in the league. Seven of Luck’s interceptions on such throws have come on the road, the most in the NFL.

Big plays from Andre: Andre Johnson has 10 receptions of 30 or more yards this season, tied for fourth most in the league. The Bengals' defense has allowed only 10 such passing plays all season, the fewest in the NFL. The Texans' ability to find such a play could be a gigantic factor in what I expect to be a defensive game. Matt Schaub has looked to Johnson too much in the Texans’ three recent losses. If the Texans are able to spread the ball around better, it can actually increase opportunities for the throws to Johnson to result in back-breaking, field-flipping plays.

Wayne in the end zone: As good as Reggie Wayne has been this season, less than 5 percent of his 105 catches and less than 3 percent of his 180 targets have been for touchdowns. ESPN Stats & Info says his one touchdown every 36 targets is Wayne’s lowest touchdown rate in the past five seasons, and the sixth-lowest rate in the NFL this season among receivers with at least three touchdowns. (The Colts' Donnie Avery has the fourth lowest with one touchdown every 38.7 targets.) Wayne needs 162 receiving yards to pass Cliff Branch for the third most in NFL postseason history and he needs one touchdown reception to tie Fred Biletnikoff, Antonio Freeman, Randy Moss and Hines Ward for third most touchdown receptions in NFL postseason history.

Also: A.J. Green has four touchdown catches this season on play-action passes, tied for third most in the league. Andy Dalton has not thrown a touchdown pass to any other receiver out of play-action this season. … The Ravens are trying to become the fourth team in NFL history to win a playoff game in five straight seasons. … Of the 16 teams he has faced more than once since 2008, Schaub’s Total QBR of 89.4 against the Bengals is his best against any team. … Arian Foster’s 285 rush yards are the most ever by a player in his first two career playoff games. … Joe Flacco’s not been pushing the ball downfield as much since Jim Caldwell took over as offensive coordinator.
When Peyton Manning won his fourth MVP award in 2009, he did it with 37 1/2 of the votes cast by the AP panel that selects the winner.

Drew Brees got 7 1/2 votes, Philip Rivers got two and Brett Favre got one.

Missing was Chris Johnson, the running back who ran for 2,006 yards for the 8-8 Titans.

I had no objection to that, and Johnson ran away with the offensive player of the year award.

Adrian Peterson’s story this season is a similar one. His team could also finish 8-8 and out of the playoffs. But even if the Vikings find their way in, I don’t see why voters would make a case for him as 2012 MVP.

Sure, the context of the other candidates and their seasons is important.

But if Johnson wasn’t worthy of a single vote just three seasons ago, what’s changed to make Peterson a bigger contender this year?

His comeback from knee reconstruction surgery has been phenomenal, and he and Manning make for the most interesting comeback player of the year contest in memory. (It would be fitting if they shared it.)

As for MVP, there is no lack of quarterback candidates in Manning, Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers.

And considering the season J.J. Watt is having, if the Texans defensive lineman can’t win it, I’m left wondering if, when and how a defender will ever win it again.

Peterson 2012 and CJ2K in 2009 look a lot alike to me. If I had a vote, I’d put Peterson down for offensive player of the year.

For the sake of consistency, a 2,000-yard season by a running back in 2009 and 2012 should be valued about the same.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 14, 2012
12/14/12
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 15:

On the verge: A year after finishing 2-14, the Colts can clinch a playoff spot with a win OR a loss by the Jets. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, since the schedule expanded to 16 games in 1978, only two teams have made the playoffs the year after going 2-14 or worse: the 2008 Dolphins and 1982 Patriots, both of whom lost their first playoff game. The Texans, meanwhile, will clinch the AFC South with a win and can wrap up a first-round bye with a win, Patriots loss and Broncos loss. Houston, which won the division for the first time last season, can become the only team other than the Colts to win consecutive AFC South titles since the division was created in 2002.

Bad beginnings: The Titans' slow starts have been a major problem. ESPN Stats & Information points out the Titans have allowed 38 more points in the first quarter than any other team. They are minus-66 in the first quarter. The Raiders are second worst (minus-57). The Titans have allowed 131 first-quarter points, 38 more than the Saints, who are second worst. The Jets are averaging only three first-quarter points. They are trying to take pressure off struggling quarterback Mark Sanchez. The Titans need to stuff Shonn Greene and Bilal Powell on the ground and put the game on Sanchez’s shoulders.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/Aaron M. Sprecher'J.J. Swatt' has deflected 35 passes this season, tops in the league.
Watt vs. Luck: The Texans have batted or tipped a league-high 35 passes this season, including 15 by J.J. Watt. Andrew Luck has a league-high 21 passes batted or tipped this season. That’s a major issue to keep an eye on, particularly if the Texans can turn tipped balls into interceptions. Luck has the most drop backs under duress in the fourth quarter this season, but he has handled the pressure. Luck has been his best under duress in the fourth quarter, throwing two touchdowns (as opposed to one in the first three quarters) and no interceptions.

Back home: Chad Henne will face the Dolphins, who drafted him in 2008 with the 57th overall pick. In 36 career games and 31 starts with Miami, Henne completed 60.7 percent of his passes. That is the highest completion percentage in franchise history (minimum 200 attempts). If he’s to play well, ideally he’ll be looking to Cecil Shorts, who is coming off a concussion. He has a receiving touchdown in four straight games. Only Fred Taylor and Maurice Jones-Drew have scored a touchdown in five or more consecutive games in team history.

Play-action at issue: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub has 10 touchdown passes on play-action throws this season, tied for the league lead with Drew Brees and Peyton Manning. The Colts have struggled to defend play-action this season, allowing the fifth-worst Total QBR (84.1) on those plays with 9.4 yards per attempt, six touchdowns and no interceptions. If Houston can get Arian Foster going and make play-action believable, it could be a long day for Indianapolis.

Some thoughts on the Jaguars’ 27-24 win over the Saints Friday night in New Orleans:

Justin Blackmon looked the part: I saw a physical, confident receiver who made himself available for Blaine Gabbert. On an early catch, he stopped and went backwards to allow a tackler to miss and gain some extra yards. And he pulled in a dart from Gabbert on a third-and-7, skipped a defender who tried for the ball and bolted into the end zone for a 16-yard touchdown. He wound up with four catches for 48 yards and the score. I thought it was a strong start that showed us a bit about who he can be.

Gabbert: A smooth and efficient night for the second-year quarterback. If he plays like this, the Jaguars are going to be a competitive team that surprises a lot of people making the too-easy prediction the Jags will struggle. He connected on 13 of 16 passes for 112 yards, two touchdowns and a 135.4 passer rating. Those numbers were enhanced a bit by replacement officials who were too quick with pass interference flags. But Gabbert was not sacked and he looked confident and in command, stepping up to deliver the ball with minimal concern about what might have been closing in on him. He fired one pass to Mike Thomas even as he was getting hit by Junior Galette. Take it all as a major cause for encouragement with him as he built on last week’s good showing.

Rashad Jennings and the run game: The Saints were not in a tackling mood, and the Jaguars took advantage. Jacksonville averaged 5.5 yards on the ground, with Jennings turning 11 touches into 62 yards. He continues to look like a starting-caliber back to me in the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew.

The rush: Defensive end Jeremy Mincey is not Jared Allen or Julius Peppers. But he’s not “just” a high effort guy, either. He was a real pain in this game, hounding Drew Brees as a consistent presence in the backfield. He can really be a tone setter. We also saw some flashes of just how dangerous Andre Branch’s speed can be coming off the other edge.

Coverage: The Jaguars got picked apart by Brees at times -- particularly on the nine-play, 85 yard drive that cut the Jags lead to 17-10 -- but that’s what the Saints can do. Jacksonville was without Derek Cox (hamstring) and Rashean Mathis (resting knee on turf) so the corner depth got work. William Middleton was draped on Devery Henderson when he made a strong, one-handed catch of a perfect 8-yard touchdown throw.

Winning it: Preseason results don’t mean much, of course. But you’d rather have the late drive to win a game than not, and Jordan Palmer provided it -- a 12-play, 74-yard march that ended with an 11-yard TD pass to undrafted rookie Kevin Elliott with 13 seconds left to provide the winning margin.

On MJD for MVP

January, 4, 2012
1/04/12
4:15
PM ET
Mike Sando’s final MVP Watch is out and you can peruse it here.

If I had an MVP vote, I’d use it on Aaron Rodgers. If it was a three-deep ballot, mine would be Rodgers, Drew Brees and Tom Brady.

[+] EnlargeMaurice Jones-Drew
AP Photo/Bob LeveroneMaurice Jones-Drew had an MVP-caliber season despite Jacksonville's 5-11 record.
Maurice Jones-Drew had a phenomenal season for the Jaguars. But Sando knocked him off his final list as he parted ways with players from losing teams.

I don’t have an issue with that.

I think MJD is incredibly valuable. No non-QB in the league accounted for nearly as large a percentage of his team's yards.

But the Jaguars could have easily lost 11 games without him. And part of that huge reliance on him is a result not of him forcing them to give him the ball, but of them having nary another consistently viable option to throw or hand the ball to.

Without Jones-Drew, the Jaguars probably wouldn’t have won the five games they did. But five games aren’t enough, and he suffers for being on a bad team.

As Sando goes 10-deep on his weekly post during the season, he creates a secondary question: Who’s the most valuable non-quarterback in the league?

In order on his ballot: Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson, Baltimore running back Ray Rice, New England tight end Rob Gronkowski, Arizona receiver Larry Fitzgerald and New Orleans running back Darren Sproles.

All but Fitzgerald are in the playoffs, and the Cardinals managed an 8-8 finish.

It’s hard for me to make the case for Jones-Drew as having more value than any of those guys.

I’m guessing many of you will feel differently about a guy who impressively ran through stacked boxes all season long.

NFL32: How Polian's firing affects Manning

January, 3, 2012
1/03/12
8:07
AM ET

What Bill Polian's firing means for Peyton Manning, Andrew Luck and the Colts and the race between Aaron Rodgers and Drew Brees for MVP.

Rapid Reaction: Saints 22, Titans 17

December, 11, 2011
12/11/11
4:20
PM ET

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Thoughts on the Titans’ 22-17 loss to the Saints at LP Field:

What it means: A largely unfavorable day. The Titans lost while one of the teams they are fighting with for position for a wild-card berth, the Jets, won. The Texans’ last-second win in Cincinnati means that Houston clinched the AFC South, but it hurt another wild-card competitor, the Bengals.

What I didn’t like: Penalties were out of control. Mike Munchak’s team is supposed to be a disciplined bunch, but special teams and the offensive line were primary culprits. Eight penalties for 54 yards consistently slowed the Titans or helped the Saints. A couple of mistakes will happen, but on this scale it’s both unacceptable and unsurvivable. The Saints were sloppy, too, but Drew Brees found his moments. And at times, like when he had all day to throw to an open Marques Colston at the goal line, a high pass wasn’t a problem as the receiver had time and space to go up and get it, then get it in the end zone for a 35-yard score. His follow up touchdown throw to Colston, from 28 yards, fell neatly between Alterraun Verner and Cortland Finnegan.

What I liked: Jake Locker put a good ball on him and banged-up receiver Nate Washington made a great play looking it in while Jabari Greer flew by a second late for a 40-yard touchdown with 5:58 left in the game that closed it to 22-17. He hit him again right near the end for another 40.

What I didn't like: The Titans' last two plays from the 5-yard line. The first was well-defended by Tracy Porter, but I question throwing to Marc Mariani no matter if Washington was out hurt. Locker ran and bought time on the last play, but has to at least try a throw instead of getting sacked.

What I want to know: What’s the trade-off between an aggressive third-and-1 call with a throw into the end zone when you then fail to convert the quarterback sneak on fourth down? We're talking the Titans' second-to-last drive there.

Injury concerns: Matt Hasselbeck suffered a left calf injury that knocked him out of the game, though he limped on and hopped off for one play when Locker took a tough shot to the ribs. Linebacker Akeem Ayers suffered a shoulder injury and No. 2 running back Javon Ringer injured his hand. Neither returned to action after getting hurt. Washington had to be tugged off the field by Chris Johnson after his late catch.

What’s next: The Titans head for Indianapolis for their second game against the winless, division-rival Colts.

Final Word: AFC South

December, 9, 2011
12/09/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 14, with large thanks to ESPN Stats and Info:

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Jim Brown/US PresswireArian Foster has been the catalyst for Houston's recent win streak.
Workhorse: Houston Texans running back Arian Foster has taken on a huge load during their six-game win streak. He has scored seven touchdowns since Week 7, as many as anyone in the NFL. He’s got 147 rush attempts, most in the league, in that time period while averaging 101.8 rushing yards. He’s also been the team's primary pass target when they’ve been without Andre Johnson, who has a new hamstring issue. When Johnson was out, Foster was the team’s leading receiver with 32 targets, 26 receptions and 427 yards.

Scoring issues: The Jacksonville Jaguars have not scored more than 20 points in a game this season. That streak extends to 14 games dating to the 2010 season. If they don’t get to 21 or more on Sunday against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers at EverBank Field, they will tie the Cleveland Browns of 2008-09 for the longest such streak since 2001. Only the St. Louis Rams have fewer points per game (11.7) than the Jaguars (12.7) this season. But the Bucs have given up 350 yards or more in nine consecutive games. Can the Jaguars find a way to get a lead? No team has spent more time trailing this season than the Buccaneers, who have been behind for 475 minutes and 22 seconds. The Bucs have trailed for 43 more minutes than the Colts, the next worst team.

Elements and points: Sunday in Nashville is the final game of the regular season in which the New Orleans Saints will play outdoors. New Orleans is 2-2 in games played outside this season. The forecast for Sunday: Sunny with a high in the 40s. I’m not seeing playing outdoors as major issue in this game. The temperature may not be the only thing in the 40s if Drew Brees is working against minimal pass rush and if cornerback Jason McCourty is out after a head injury. The Tennessee Titans know they’re going to have to score to stay in this one.

Serving up Rice: The Indianapolis Colts are 30th against the run. Baltimore Ravens running back Ray Rice is second in the NFL with 1,474 scrimmage yards this season. Rice ranks third in the NFL in rush yards and his fullback, Vonta Leach, deserves some credit. ESPN Stats and Info says Leach has been a lead blocker on 173 of Rice’s 208 rushes, including all of his NFL-high nine rushing touchdowns. No other running back-fullback combo has been together for as many rushes. The Colts are newly depleted at cornerback. Second-level run-stopping help from the secondary will probably be undependable.

And also: The Saints have scored on 49.6 percent of their offensive possessions this season. Since the start of 2007, only the 2007 New England Patriots finished with a higher scoring percentage. … Matt Hasselbeck has averaged 5.0 yards per attempt in his last three games, the lowest number among quarterbacks with at least 30 attempts. … This season, the Cincinnati Bengals are 1-5 against teams that currently have a winning record. They are 6-0 against teams currently with a losing record. … The Jaguars have lost their last two games against NFC South opponents, scoring 10 points in each game.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. — We pointed out Wednesday that New Orleans and Drew Brees have had ridiculous success throwing to the middle of the field this season.

ESPN Stats & Information says Brees is connecting on 72.4 percent of his passes between the numbers for an average of 8.2 yards per attempt with 14 touchdowns and six interceptions.

His primary target there is 6-foot-6, 260-pound tight end Jimmy Graham.

Rookie middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is coming off an AFC defensive player of the week award for the Titans, but with Graham roaming the middle, McCarthy will face a new kind of challenge. And he’ll need help, particularly from safeties Michael Griffin and Jordan Babineaux.

“When you’re 6-7 and 6-4 (like receiver Marques Colston) and you’re throwing it over little bitty guys, why wouldn’t you go over the middle,” said Titans defensive coordinator Jerry Gray. “I don’t think we’ve covered a 6-6, 6-7 tight end. The thing is the safety has got to come down and hit him and help (McCarthy) out.

“The biggest thing I think in this league is, you’ve got to start putting fear in guys’ hearts from throwing the ball in the middle of the field. If that means getting a letter from the commissioner on Monday, that means getting a letter from the commissioner. But a lot of times you’ve got to let these guys know, you’re not going to be able to throw the ball over the middle of the football field. This is not a basketball, this is a football game, so the ball doesn’t go down the middle of our field. And that’s what safeties should do in this league.”

Have the Titans safeties done enough to send that message this season?

“Of course not,” Gray said. “Or they wouldn’t be throwing the ball down the middle of the field.”

As for encouraging play that could be deemed fine-worthy, Gray softened that stance while drawing a laugh.

“Do a clean hit, you hit a guy clean,”’ he said. “And the good thing is, he’s 6-7, you’re not going hit him in the head anyway.”

RTC: Jags have to find pass pressure

December, 8, 2011
12/08/11
7:29
AM ET
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

Jeff Garcia said he hadn’t totally checked out, but he wasn’t throwing every other day either when the Texans called, writes Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle. I have no idea what he has left. But if something happens to T.J. Yates and the Texans have to play a fourth quarterback, he or Jake Delhomme is probably as good an alternative as can be found.

Indianapolis Colts

Baltimore’s old guard will never forget the way the Colts sneaked out of town, and certainly is enjoying Indianapolis’ struggle this season, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. I can understand why that scar is still there for people who were dedicated to a team that bolted.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Philip Rivers was too comfortable in the pocket in San Diego’s win over the Jaguars Monday night, writes Vito Stellino of the Times-Union. To give their inexperienced cornerbacks a chance, the Jaguars simply have to find a way to pressure the quarterback better.

Tennessee Titans

Quarterbacks Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady are all in position to threaten Dan Marino’s record for single-season passing yards, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. As the Titans prepare for Brees and the Saints, Wyatt looks at what’s created so many passing yards.

SPONSORED HEADLINES

AFC SOUTH SCOREBOARD