AFC South: Dwayne Bowe

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

January, 4, 2014
Jan 4
8:10
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few quick thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 45-44 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs.

What it means: The Colts made history. They went from looking like they were on their way to starting their vacation immediately after the game to pulling off the second-largest comeback in playoff history. The Colts were down 38-10 when quarterback Andrew Luck worked his magic and receiver T.Y. Hilton was on the receiving end of most of those passes. Luck shook off three interceptions to go 29-of-45 for 443 yards and four touchdowns. The Colts completed the 28-point comeback when Luck hit Hilton down the middle of the field for a 64-yard touchdown with less than five minutes remaining. Buffalo's 32-point, come-from-behind victory over the Houston Oilers in the 1992 playoffs is the largest.

Hilton plays big: Luck deserves a lot of credit for bringing the Colts back -- and for why they fell behind -- but he got plenty of help from Hilton, his go-to receiver since Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL. Hilton finished with 13 catches for a franchise-playoff record 224 yards, including the game-winning 64-yard touchdown that put the Colts up 45-44.

Toler leaves the game: Colts cornerback Greg Toler’s day went from bad to worse when he left the game with a groin injury in the first half. Toler’s bad game started when he missed tackling Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe twice on a 63-yard reception during Kansas City's second offensive series. Then former Colt Donnie Avery blew by Toler for a 79-yard touchdown on the third play of the second quarter. Toler left the game later in the quarter with the groin injury. Toler missed seven games during the regular season with a groin injury.

What’s next: The Colts will travel to Denver or New England next weekend, depending on the outcome of the Cincinnati-San Diego game Sunday.


Something will have to give when the Indianapolis Colts and the Kansas City Chiefs meet in an AFC wild-card playoff game at Lucas Oil Stadium on Saturday.

The Chiefs have lost seven straight playoff games, tying them for the longest playoff losing streak in NFL history. The Colts have lost three straight wild-card playoff games.

This is the second time the teams will meet in a three-game period. The Colts, who are on a three-game winning streak, beat the Chiefs 23-7 at Arrowhead Stadium on Dec. 22.

ESPN.com Colts reporter Mike Wells and Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher break down the matchup.

Teicher: The Colts were wobbling coming into Kansas City a couple of weeks ago but seem to have righted themselves that day. What can you point to as the reasons?

Wells: Most fans would say it's because of quarterback Andrew Luck. Don't get me wrong, Luck has been as good as expected, but the change has been led by the defense. The Colts have 12 sacks and have forced eight turnovers, including four against the Chiefs in Week 16, during their three-game winning streak. That's where Luck and the offense come in. You give Luck a short field to work with, and the odds are pretty good that he'll lead the Colts to a score. They scored a quick 17 points in the first quarter against Jacksonville last week.

Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to rest most of his starters against San Diego in the finale. Do you think that was the right thing to do?

Teicher: Undoubtedly. The Chiefs didn’t get a bye in the playoffs, but Reid created one for eight defensive and seven offensive starters who didn’t play against the Chargers. I would expect that to be reflected in how those guys play against the Colts. Momentum going into the playoffs is overrated. The NFL is such a week-to-week deal that it’s almost impossible for a team to carry anything over from one game to the next, and even at that, the starters were able to get in some practice time last week. Not that this is a huge thing with the playoffs beginning, but the Chiefs got a good look at some of their backups under game conditions against an opponent that needed to win. In several cases, they liked what they saw.

Donald Brown was the Colts’ playmaker against the Chiefs a couple of weeks ago. He obviously is fast and has more power than you would think by looking at him. Why don’t the Colts use him more as their featured back and why did they trade for Trent Richardson?

Wells: Brown took over the starting spot from Richardson against Tennessee on Dec. 1 because Richardson was having a difficult time finding a rhythm. I still think the Colts made the right move in trading for Richardson, because Brown has been inconsistent for most of his five seasons with the Colts up until now. Richardson is still the future for the Colts; they have no intention of parting ways with him after the season. They still envision him and Luck having a great future together. And Brown said it best earlier this week, “There are only a handful of teams that only use one running back. We’re going to need two, three running backs to get through the playoffs.”

Speaking of running backs, it looked like Jamaal Charles was going to have a huge game against the Colts (not that 106 yards is a bad game) after the first series. He ended up with only 13 carries. How come the team’s best player didn’t have more carries or more catches, for that matter?

Teicher: Reid messed up that one and he beat himself up for it afterward. You can count on that not happening again this time around. Charles was given the ball 18 times (13 carries, five receptions) against the Colts two weeks ago. That actually wasn’t a season low for him. He had 16 touches (and a monster game) the week before in Oakland and 18 touches in two other games (both Chiefs losses). Another thing to remember is the Chiefs had only 53 offensive plays against the Colts, their second-lowest total of the season. They didn’t have the normal amount of opportunities to get him the ball. But whether or not the Chiefs have a limited amount of snaps on Saturday, they will get him the ball more often. He’s their best offensive player, so they’re making a huge mistake if they don’t.

Linebacker Jerrell Freeman is another player who had a big game for the Colts when they played against the Chiefs. Has he had other games like that this season? Give us a little scouting report on his strengths and weaknesses.

Wells: You have to credit Colts general manager Ryan Grigson for finding Freeman. Grigson is known for finding players in different parts of the world. He’d probably go to Antarctica to scout if there were a football team there. Freeman is a former Canadian Football League player. He led the Colts in tackles as a rookie and would be the team’s defensive MVP if not for a player named Robert Mathis. Freeman reached double figures in tackles in 12 of the 16 games this season. He has no problem being matched up against a running back out of the backfield, a tight end or even a wide receiver if he has to, because he’s athletic enough to defend them. An argument could be made that Freeman deserved a Pro Bowl nod.

This is not a knock against Charles, but how come the Chiefs had a running back lead them in receiving this season? I would have said Dwayne Bowe led them in receiving if you asked me to take a guess on their leading receiver this season.

Teicher: It’s a number of factors. The Chiefs wanted to use Charles more in the open field and get him in favorable one-on-one matchups, and it’s easier to do that by throwing him the ball. Ideally, the Chiefs would go down the field to their wide receivers more often, but Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster haven’t been able to get open consistently and have delivered few plays. Quarterback Alex Smith has tended to do the safe thing and opt for the checkdown to Charles rather than take a chance down the field. It’s something the Chiefs will need to correct next season. They’ll find another receiver or two in the draft or through free agency.

Chris Johnson, Dontari PoeAP Photo With Jake Locker out, Chris Johnson,left, may see his workload increase. It'll be up to Dontari Poe and the Kansas City defense to contain him.
Raise your hand if you figured a Week 5 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Tennessee Titans in Nashville would feature teams with a combined 7-1 record.

If your hand is up, you’re likely fibbing.

In his first season in Kansas City, Andy Reid has already doubled last season’s win total. In his third season as the head coach of the Titans, Mike Munchak appears to have a revamped team on a good course.

ESPN Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and ESPN Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher discuss the teams they cover in advance of the game.

Teicher: Jake Locker was obviously playing well but he won’t be available to the Titans on Sunday. What do the Titans lose without him in their lineup and how will their offense change, if it does, with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback?

Kuharsky: Well, they won't have him running around as much, though he’s more mobile than one might think. But they haven't used Locker on bootlegs and roll outs so much as they might eventually, as they've been going against 3-4s. They moved away from Matt Hasselbeck in March as he was too expensive for a backup, and they were eyeing Fitzpatrick as they made that move. He’s a smart guy, obviously, and has been a good resource for Locker. He entered the Jets game with the Titans holding a big lead and he said his job was simply not to screw it up. He knows his job changes now for however long Locker is out. Fitzpatrick wasn't on a good team in Buffalo, but he turned the ball over way too much. The Titans are 3-1 in large part because they have not turned the ball over at all yet. The Titans are confident in their system and that Fitzpatrick will be able to keep the trend going.

Alex Smith is a minimal-mistake guy, too. How conservative has he been in Reid's offense?

Teicher: Smith opened things up a little more, went downfield a little more against the Giants on Sunday. Most of their long pass plays from the first three games had been of the catch-and-run type, but he has completed some passes down the field. The Chiefs actually have more pass plays of 20 or more yards (14) than their opponents (10). Smith threw his first two interceptions of the season Sunday, but you could argue that neither one was his fault. On the first, Dwayne Bowe ran a lazy slant route and allowed the cornerback to cut in front and make the catch instead. The other interception was deflected by Jamaal Charles, who accidentally kicked it straight to a defender. The throw wasn't a great one, it was slightly behind Charles, but the interception wasn't Smith’s fault. Going down the field a lot doesn't play to Smith’s strengths. He doesn't throw a great deep ball. His strengths are good decision-making and accuracy on shorter routes.

Big plays have hurt the Chiefs in the running game, but Chris Johnson is averaging fewer than 3.5 yards per carry. Is he still capable of exploiting KC’s run defense or are his best days behind him?

Kuharsky: He's definitely still capable of stellar runs. The Titans have faced some stiff run defenses, particularly in Pittsburgh and against the Jets. They rebuilt the interior of the offensive line, but the new threesome hasn't jelled as quickly as they may have expected. And Johnson will benefit from surrendering some carries to the bigger, better-in-short-yardage Shonn Greene, but Greene's been out since early in the opener with a knee injury that required a scope. He could return this week. Tennessee has run it 55 percent of the time, and Fitzpatrick and the Titans could look for that to go up.

Charles isn't just the Chiefs' top rusher, he's their top receiver. If the Titans can control him, how much will they improve their chances?

Teicher: A lot. In the passing game, no other receiver has stepped forward as a consistent threat for the Chiefs. Bowe has scored a couple of touchdowns, but otherwise, his numbers are way down. He’s just not getting open a lot. The other starting wide receiver, Donnie Avery, had a big game against the Eagles in Philadelphia but has otherwise produced little. Likewise, Dexter McCluster had a nice game last week against the Giants, but otherwise has given them almost nothing. The Chiefs are hurting at tight end. Of their top three tight ends at training camp, one is out for the season while the other two are injured and didn't play last week. In the running game, the Chiefs don’t trust anyone but Charles. They drafted Knile Davis in the third round this year, but between fumbles, lining up in the wrong place and running the wrong play, they can’t count on him for much.

The Titans are a lot like the Chiefs in that they are living off a nice turnover differential. The teams are tied for the league lead at plus-9. What’s it going to look like for the Titans when that begins to balance out?

Kuharsky: Not only are the Titans tied with Kansas City with the league-best plus-9, but Tennessee's plus-9 includes zero giveaways. Odds are this team is due to lose a fumble or throw a pick, and Fitzpatrick is more likely to get picked off than Locker, though he should be less inclined to force anything in this system than when he was pressing in Buffalo. But this is a big piece of what they want to do -- play mistake-free and capitalize on mistakes they help prompt.

Looking at the stats, I see the Chiefs are giving up 5.4 rushing yards a clip. Johnson once ran a mile for a touchdown at Arrowhead and then played the drums he found on the sideline to celebrate. Defensively, what's the best plan of attack for the Titans' offense?

Teicher: He played the drums well, too, as I recall. The Titans need to be patient with the running game. They need to stay with it even if they get behind early or it isn’t working well. If they give up on it early, it’s probably going to be a long day for Fitzpatrick and the offense because the Chiefs are relentless in getting after the passer. They have the players and the schemes to make it work, so the last thing Tennessee needs to do is drop-back the quarterback a bunch of times. Though their season stats look ugly, the Chiefs had only one game where their rushing defense stats were completely out of whack. Philadelphia rushed for 264 yards on 27 carries, but Michael Vick accounted for a lot of that. The Chiefs have allowed 11 runs of 10 or more yards and six were in that game. Their longest run allowed in the other three games is 15 yards. But that’s still the best plan of attack for the Titans.

The Titans haven’t received as much attention for the way they’ve played on defense, but they’ve got a lot of guys playing well on that side of the ball. Who are some of the defensive players the Chiefs need to make sure they account for in the running game and the passing game?

Kuharsky: A guy who's probably remembered by Chiefs fans, safety Bernard Pollard, is the defensive tone-setter. The Titans have managed to keep him out of coverage situations downfield, which are not his strength. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey is a really good, disruptive rusher and effective run-stopper who rates as the best player on defense. Zach Brown is a speedy weakside 'backer who's gotten to the quarterback. And cornerback Alterraun Verner has more takeaways than anyone in the league with four picks and two fumble recoveries. They wondered if he'd be good enough playing more man-press, which they're going to more often. He's been great.

Same question to you. We know Justin Houston's got 7.5 sacks and Eric Berry is a very good safety. Who else keys that defense?

Teicher: They have a lot of guys playing well on defense. Dontari Poe, their nose tackle, has been outstanding. He’s providing some consistent push in the pass rush they haven’t had from the middle of their line in a long time. Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is playing as well as he ever has. The other outside linebacker, Tamba Hali, had a big game against the Giants with a couple of sacks and a forced fumble. The corners, Sean Smith and Brandon Flowers, have mostly held up well. Dez Bryant of Dallas had a big game against Flowers. He has a sore knee that prevented him from playing Sunday and could be trouble for him again this week. A rookie, Marcus Cooper, filled in nicely for Flowers. A lot of their players seem to have taken to the pressure system put in by new coordinator Bob Sutton.

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Gud Bradley, Andy ReidAP PhotoGus Bradley and Andy Reid are looking to get off to fast starts with their new teams.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Fans know a lot about their favorite teams, but they don’t have the same depth of knowledge of the 31 other teams in the NFL. That’s not going to be a problem any longer.

Each week the NFL Nation writers will team up Q&A style to help you get a handle on each team. Today, Kansas City Chiefs reporter Adam Teicher and Jacksonville Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco help break down Sunday’s matchup.

Michael DiRocco: Is Alex Smith really an upgrade over Matt Cassel?

Adam Teicher: He had better be or the Chiefs are in some trouble. Cassel and Brady Quinn turned over the ball far too many times last season. One thing we know about Smith is that he hasn’t thrown many interceptions. He threw just 10 in his last 25 starts with the 49ers. So he’s been a quarterback who protects the ball, and if he can just do that, he’s already an upgrade over Cassel and Quinn. Another thing: Andy Reid’s West Coast offense will succeed if the quarterback completes a high percentage of throws. Smith completed 70 percent last season. If he can get close to that number this season, he’s even more of an upgrade.

Teicher: How patient will the Jaguars be with Blaine Gabbert on Sunday and this season?

DiRocco: This is a make-or-break season for Gabbert, who must prove he’s capable of being a franchise quarterback. That’s the team’s No. 1 goal for the season, so there will be a certain amount of patience. It does no good to give him a half or one game and yank him because the team will essentially be where it was heading into the season. That being said, if Gabbert really struggles during the first two months of the season, then the team will have its answer and may turn to Chad Henne or the recently signed Ricky Stanzi for the remainder of the season.

DiRocco: What’s the biggest change Andy Reid has brought to Kansas City?

Teicher: It’s a change brought by Reid and John Dorsey, the new general manager. Everybody seems to be pulling in the same direction. The Chiefs went through plenty of infighting the past few years and it was dragging them down. People often had their own agendas or felt they had to align themselves with one person or another. Dorsey and Reid swept that out the door. Winning looks to be the only goal and it certainly appears everybody is on board with that. Of course, it’s easy for a new administration to have everybody on board when it’s undefeated. So it’s an issue to keep an eye on once the Chiefs start losing some games.

Teicher: What are the biggest changes Gus Bradley and Dave Caldwell have brought to the Jags?

DiRocco: On the field, it’s on defense, where Bradley is implementing a more aggressive attitude and trying to rebuild the secondary with bigger, more physical cornerbacks -- essentially what he did in Seattle. Off the field, Bradley and Caldwell have changed the culture in the locker room. There’s a lot of energy and enthusiasm around the franchise even though everyone knows that the talent level needs a significant upgrade and the team likely isn’t going to reach .500. It was a much-needed boost, because the atmosphere around the team the past few seasons under Jack Del Rio and Mike Mularkey had become somewhat stale.

DiRocco: Some NFL experts have pegged the Chiefs as a playoff team just one season after finishing 2-14. What are a few things that have to happen for that to become a reality?

Teicher: They have many good players, but from the GM to the coach to the coordinators to the offensive and defensive system to the quarterback to 29 other players who didn’t play for the Chiefs last season, there’s a lot new here. How quickly Reid and his staff can pull everything together will be a key. The Chiefs have a favorable schedule the first half of the season and they need to take advantage because it gets more difficult after that. On the field, the Chiefs have to fix a turnover differential that was minus-24 last season. Their defense and special teams have to do a better job of providing better field position for the offense. This offense won’t make a lot of big plays, and if it has to go 80 yards on every possession, it will be a struggle.

Teicher: What are realistic expectations for the Jags this season in terms of number of wins?

DiRocco: I kind of let that slip in my earlier answer, but a six-win season would be the best-case scenario for the Jaguars. Four or five victories seems more likely, though, especially considering the team has back-to-back road games on the West Coast, plays San Francisco in London, and has to play at Denver, Indianapolis and Houston.

Details on the Luck-Wayne connection

November, 9, 2012
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At the start of the Colts’ Thursday night win over the Jaguars in Jacksonville, Andrew Luck developed rhythm by throwing to his most dependable target. Of course, to go so often to Reggie Wayne, the receiver had to be open.

ESPN Stats & Info says Luck began the game by targeting Reggie Wayne on eight of his first nine attempts for six completions, 64 yards and four first downs.

Luck
Bush
Wayne
Then, a fourth-quarter connection on third down extended the duo’s league-lead in conversions (18), completions (20) and yards (302) on third down.

In the Colts' 27-10 win at EverBank Field, Wayne was targeted 11 times and caught eight passes for 96 yards.

Stats & Info says Luck has targeted Wayne on 30.8 percent of his passes this season. That’s the third highest quarterback-to-receiver number in the league behind only Jay Cutler-to-Brandon Marshall in Chicago (38.0 percent) and Matt Cassel-to-Dwayne Bowe in Kansas City (31.8 percent).

The Colts rookie quarterback has thrown to Wayne a league-high 106 times this season, 13 more times than No. 2 Victor Cruz has been targeted by Eli Manning. Marshall is third with 89 targets.

When general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano took over in Indianapolis, they sold Wayne on re-signing to be a lynchpin in their rebuild.

Now the veteran receiver who’s about to turn 34 may rank as the most valuable non-quarterback on offense in the NFL. He’s done what they hoped for and more, not just by getting open and being productive, but by offering the right messages for a young team at the right time.

And that rebuilding?

The Colts are 6-3 and in great shape to win a playoff spot. Wayne is used to playing in the postseason. If he keeps playing like he has been, he may help ensure his revamped team appears in the postseason yet again.
Justin Blackmon was the best receiver available in the draft for a Jaguars team with a desperate need at the spot.

Kendall Wright was the sort of receiver the Titans were still missing as they look to become a more modern offense.

I like the additions for the Jaguars and the Titans, and at this point I’d certainly expect both guys to have good careers.

But I think early expectations for the two are unreasonably high.

Blackmon, still unsigned, is unlikely to pop in, learn the offense and make a bunch of plays for Blaine Gabbert on Sept. 9 at Minnesota.

Wright, just signed, is unlikely to take Kenny Britt's place if Britt isn’t ready or is suspended for the Titans Sept. 9 game against New England and produce like Britt could.

A.J. Green's 1,000-yard rookie year last season was the first for a receiver since Michael Clayton's for Tampa Bay in 2004.

Julio Jones made a big debut too, falling just 41 yards short of 1,000.

But receiver isn’t a spot where even highly-rated rookies generally get plugged in and make monstrous, immediate impacts. Maybe Green and Jones signified some sort of switch. But at this point I’m still inclined to see them as the exceptions rather than rewriters of the rule.

Per Keith Hawkins of ESPN Stats and Info, 16 first-round receivers who played as rookies in the last five years have averaged 44 catches, 615 yards and 3.8 touchdowns. That’s nice production from Green, Jones, Jonathan Baldwin, Demaryius Thomas, Dez Bryant, Darrius Heyward-Bey, Michael Crabtree, Jeremy Maclin, Percy Harvin, Hakeem Nicks, Britt, Calvin Johnson, Ted Ginn, Dwayne Bowe, Craig Davis and Anthony Gonzalez -- but hardly phenomenal.

That’s as many catches as Mike Thomas had for the 2011 Jaguars.

It’s not far off the stat line of 2010 third-rounder Damian Williams for the 2011 Titans -- 45 catches, 592 yards and five TDs.

Can Blackmon and or Wright be impactful players for their teams this year?

It probably depends on your definition of impactful.

Comparably valued players have provided roughly three catches for 38 yards with a score once every four games in their first year in the league.

Certainly it’s possible Blackmon and Wright do more. Are they going to be Week 1 fantasy football MVPs because of the monster numbers they put up early?

If I was making a bet, it wouldn’t be on yes.
How the 21 franchise tags from around the NFL affect the teams of the AFC South.

Houston Texans

Salary cap limitations likely mean the Texans are not active in free agency. The market may have shifted on a guy like Reggie Wayne, who could have been attractive with Dwayne Bowe, DeSean Jackson and Wes Welker out of the unrestricted free agent picture.

More significantly, the price defensive end/outside linebacker Mario Williams will be able to attract if he gets to free agency is likely up. The Colts tagged Robert Mathis, the Lions tagged Cliff Avril and the Cardinals tagged Calais Campbell, and they were the next-best pass-rushers for needy teams to target.

Indianapolis Colts

Those three receivers -- Bowe, Jackson and Welker -- disappearing from the market mean that two Colts unrestricted free agents to-be probably fare a bit better. Pierre Garcon has speed and youth to sell and Wayne has veteran wiles and reliability.

The Colts could make another charge at signing Garcon before March 13th, but he may be determined to see what free agency can bring him.

I don’t think they will have much money to spend on free agents, but the offensive line and defensive tackles pools -- their biggest positions of need beyond receiver -- are unchanged.

Jacksonville Jaguars

No one needs a big-time, team-leading wide receiver more than the Jaguars do. I don’t believe they would have been players for Jackson or Welker. But Bowe could have been a guy they were interested in.

Whether or not they will be players for Williams, plan B should have been Mathis. The hit to the potential defensive end market hurts as a big-time pass-rusher is the big defensive need. Cornerback could still be OK with Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan, Kansas City’s Brandon Carr and San Francisco's Carlos Rogers on track to reach free agency.

Tennessee Titans

That San Francisco tagged Dashon Goldson and Oakland franchised Tyvon Branch severely thinned the safety market, which helped prompt Tennessee to tag Michael Griffin. I would have loved to have seen their approach is the two guys from the West Coast were heading for unrestricted free agency.

Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean reported that Mathis would have been a target and general manager Ruston Webster had said a special, pass-rushing defensive end was one position for which the team might have been willing to overpay. He didn’t say overpay by a gigantic degree, however. With a bid for Williams unlikely, who’s the next best rusher now?

The money isn’t mine. I’m not certain about what you can afford and what the market will pay when free agency opens on March 13. I’m not positive about your plans and schemes.

But I’ve got a good sense of your team. We've looked at the free-agent list.

And here’s what I’d try to do with your major issues:

1) Land at least one premium free-agent wide receiver. I’d stack them something like this: San Diego’s Vincent Jackson, Kansas City’s Dwayne Bowe, Buffalo’s Steve Johnson, New Orleans’ Marques Colston. If you’re bold and will take two, I like Indianapolis’s Pierre Garcon or New Orleans’ Robert Meachem.

2) Re-sign safety Dwight Lowery. Just a year ago, you were a mess at safety. You did fine work signing Dawan Landry and trading for Lowery and shifting him from corner to fix it. You have to keep it fixed. Hopefully he realizes what a great fit he is in a top-flight defense. But there are a lot of safety-needy teams out there, including your AFC South rival Titans. Lowery needs to be in your lineup in 2012.

3) Be a player for Mario Williams. If Houston’s outside linebacker/defensive end becomes a free agent as I expect, you can afford to make a huge splash with him. And you’re a premier pass-rushing defensive end and a cornerback away from being a premier defense. If Williams goes elsewhere and the Colts’ Robert Mathis comes free, he should be the second target.

4) Shop free-agent quarterbacks to upgrade the backup plan for Blaine Gabbert. Chad Henne probably finds a better situation. Kyle Orton too. How about Jason Campbell? The new backup needs to have the right disposition -- sit back, offer guidance, run a good scout team. But he also needs to be able to play, because if Gabbert is bad again, you can’t just sacrifice the season. You have to have a better backup than Luke McCown.

5) Let defensive end Jeremy Mincey explore the market. He’s a supreme effort guy you’d like to have back. But he’s not worth the kind of money I imagine he’s looking for. If the rest of the league agrees, you’ll have a chance at him later. If he gets swept up, then someone likely overpaid.

6) Monitor your defensive tackles closely. Tyson Alualu's knee surgery wasn't said to be major, but the knee kept him from peak performance last season and they need to get it right. And Terrance Knighton's weight cannot continue to be an issue going forward. Ultimately it's on him, of course, but the new staff needs to find the best, most helpful approach.

7) Wait on Rashean Mathis unless he's cheap right away. The corner will be an unrestricted free agent but is coming off a torn ACL. He's a great team guy and can still play, but the end is in sight. You want him on a cheap, short deal and hopefully you draft the guy in April who replaces him in 2013.

8) While you have plenty of cap room, you still want to be conscious of paying reasonable prices. You can wait to decide on them later. But even a healthy Aaron Kampman isn’t worth a $4.97 million base. And fullback Greg Jones played only 38.7 percent of the team’s snaps last season but is schedule to make $3.4 million. Too much.
The Kansas City Chiefs' signing of cornerback Stanford Routt will likely wind up hurting the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Stay with me here.

By signing Routt, the Chiefs no longer need to re-sign Brandon Carr, their solid No. 2 corner. That gives them the freedom to use their franchise tag, if they so desire, on receiver Dwayne Bowe.

If Bowe doesn’t hit the market, there is one less good receiver available. Whether or not he’s the one the Jaguars covet, they should be as big a courter of receivers as we see when free agency opens March 13.

The more that are out there the better for Jacksonville.

So the AFC West has messed with at least one AFC South team — with Oakland releasing Routt and the Chiefs snatching him up.

Although the Jaguars also need a corner, and Carr's now out there.

Assessing WRs who may be free agents

February, 14, 2012
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K.C. Joyner breaks down seven free-agents to-be in the coming wide receiver pool Insider in this Insider piece.

I wish he also included two Colts, Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon.

The Jaguars had one of the NFL’s two worst groups of receivers in the NFL last season and will definitely be considering free agents at the position. If the Colts don’t keep one or both of their guys, they’ll also have a need.

Here are Joyner’s bottom lines on the seven guys he writes about:

Dwayne Bowe, Kansas City: “Bowe may have stretch vertical limitations, but he should be able to upgrade the short and medium pass game of any team.”

Marques Colston, New Orleans: “Colston has the potential to be the best possession receiver in the NFL, but his productivity could drop off if he joins a team with less creative playcalling than he received with the Saints.”

DeSean Jackson, Philadelphia: “There is a reason the Eagles have shown some hesitation in paying him a big contract and why they may be considering either putting a franchise tag on or trading Jackson. He has more big-dollar bust potential than any other wide receiver in this year's field.”

Vincent Jackson, San Diego: “Jackson might be biggest risk-reward wideout in this year's free-agent class.”

Steve Johnson, Buffalo: “Johnson wants to be paid like a true No. 1 wideout but there are too many facets of his game that say he has a production ceiling that doesn't justify that type of expenditure.”

Brandon Lloyd, St. Louis: “Lloyd has the highest volume of notable negatives in this comparison.”

Mario Manningham, NY Giants: “Manningham's postseason performance, age and 2010 numbers show that he may have the most upside of any wideout in this group. Depending on how his postseason is viewed by teams in the free-agent market, he could end up as the best value acquisition wide receiver.”

I asked Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. about the field-stretching speed of those seven plus Wayne and Garcon and what he’d like to see Jacksonville do.

“The Jags might need two of those guys! In terms of field stretchers, which is clearly a need for Jacksonville, Vincent Jackson and DeSean Jackson are way ahead of the rest. And both are excellent in this capacity. I prefer Vincent Jackson overall-bigger. And Mike Mularkey is going to want his receivers to block, which isn’t DeSean Jackson’s game. Manningham should be the cheapest on the list and if they were able to get two, he would be an ideal WR2 -- also with field stretching ability. Although not a burner, Dwayne Bowe could be the best fit. Physical and plays tough. But I bet Bowe is franchised.”

While we linked to a piece earlier today about how Jaguars' GM Gene Smith isn't completely determined to add only choir boys, I think Jackson's attitude might be a turnoff to Smith.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 14, 2011
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Blitzing Joe Flacco: The Texans generally get good pass pressure without extra rushers. A lot of that has been because of end-turned-linebacker Mario Williams. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Texans have 21 sacks when rushing four or fewer players since the start of 2010. Williams recorded 10 of them, and no other player has more than 4.5. Williams is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Can Houston get to Flacco with a standard rush? If it can’t, will defensive coordinator Wade Phillips call for more blitzing? How the Texans try to disrupt Baltimore’s quarterback will be a big story line in Texans-Ravens.

[+] EnlargeMaurice-Jones Drew
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThrough five weeks, Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew has 476 rush yards and two touchdowns.
Get MJD cranking: The Steelers have given up some big run yards this season, including 150 yards to Houston’s Arian Foster. To win at Pittsburgh, the Jaguars will need Maurice Jones-Drew to carry a big share of the load. He’s gained more than 80 yards in every game so far. That’s a rare feat; only Edgerrin James (2005), Priest Holmes (2003) and Robert Smith (1996) have done it over the last 15 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jacksonville’s offensive line has been inconsistent and injuries have caused them to change things up. Tackles Eugene Monroe and Guy Whimper have been limited at practice this week.

Defensive backfield in doubt: Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie receiver A.J. Green have developed a pretty good connection so far. The Colts will have to rely on their pass rush to throw Dalton out of rhythm, because their struggling secondary is a mess. Their best cornerback, Jerraud Powers, is probably out with a hamstring injury. That means Green will be working against the likes of Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson and Chris Rucker. It’s a group that did not have much success at all against Dwayne Bowe and the Kansas City Chiefs receivers a week ago.

Tight end- and running back-reliant: Matt Schaub threw for 416 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, but only 99 of those yards went to wide receivers. Schaub is the only quarterback since 2001 to throw for 300 yards in a single game to just tight ends and running backs. Although the team added Derrick Mason, Gary Kubiak and Schaub probably will continue to lean on Arian Foster, Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen. They can win featuring those guys in the passing game, provided they get plays after intermission as well as before. Houston has outscored the competition 90-25 in the first half and been outscored 70-37 in the second half. They have scored 6 points in the third quarter. It doesn't say much about their ability to make any adjustments.

Mindset: While the Titans enjoy a weekend off, everyone involved in the run game should be preparing to return to action absolutely determined to get things cranking. They simply cannot be the worst run team in the league and remain an AFC playoff contender. Chris Johnson has to show far more determination and get back to running downhill. All his blockers and play-caller Chris Palmer have to get to the root of the issue and solve it. Five games is plenty for them to understand what is happening, what is not happening, and why.

RTC: The frustration of Jacoby Jones

October, 13, 2011
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Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

Writes Richard Justice of the Houston Chronicle: “[T]he thing that both excites and frustrates them about [Jacoby] Jones is that he can and should be so much better than he has been the last two weeks. He has the size and speed to be an impact player. The Texans know this because they've seen flashes of it in practice and at times in games during his first four seasons.”

Trindon Holliday will take over as the returner, to allow Danieal Manning and Jacoby Jones to focus on their primary jobs, writes McClain. I like the concept of a player taking the jobs away from key guys on offense and defense, but I’m scared of Holliday.

Indianapolis Colts

Injuries have left the Colts nearly devoid of quality defensive backs, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star. Cincinnati’s rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and his receivers will have opportunities against this group.

Austin Collie’s workload is down, like a lot of skill players without Peyton Manning, says Mike Chappell.

Nate Dunlevy of 18to88 says Jacob Lacey was not as bad as people think against Dwayne Bowe.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars seek a new direction with their new punter Nick Harris, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Mike Tomlin didn’t care for questions about the Jaguars-Steelers playoff game that did wonders for the careers of Jack Del Rio and David Garrard, writes Tania Ganguli of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer was ticked off at Damian Williams for going on cruise control during the loss to the Steelers, writes John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Wrap-up: Chiefs 28, Colts 24

October, 9, 2011
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Thoughts on the Colts’ 28-24 loss to the Chiefs at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: Even with a 17-point lead at home against a bad team, the Colts are not safe. They dropped to 0-5 because they couldn’t contain receiver Steve Breaston, who caught two touchdown passes from Matt Cassel, and because they did nothing offensively after halftime. They had four series, three first downs and 64 total net yards after intermission.


What I didn’t like: I saw Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe run through virtually the entire secondary en route to a 41-yard touchdown. And Thomas Jones did similar work on a 21-yard run up the middle, where only Antoine Bethea was able to square him up and take him down. The Colts simply have to be closer to playmakers and do better bringing them down.

What I didn’t like, II: On fourth-and-6 with the Colts' last chance, Curtis Painter threw incomplete for Anthony Gonzalez. So be it. But if you’re throwing to a guy who’s going down on fourth down, at least make it a guy who’s at or beyond the first-down marker. A catch there is the same as the incompletion was because Gonzalez wasn’t deep enough.

What I liked: Aside from that final pass attempt, Painter was about as efficient as could be expected even with the second-half stall. He hit on 15 of 27 passes for 277 yards with no sacks behind a line that included a right tackle signed in the past week. He threw two TDs to Pierre Garcon for the second week in a row and didn’t throw a pick.

Injury concern: The Colts lost Joseph Addai to a hamstring injury after just six carries and Delone Carter and Donald Brown took the rest of the work at running back.

What’s next: The Colts make a short trip to Cincinnati to face the surprising Bengals and one of the league's top defenses so far.
NFL Power Rankings: Cornerbacks ESPN.com IllustrationDarrelle Revis won a tight race over Nnamdi Asomugha as the NFL's top cornerback.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 cornerbacks in the league today. Next week: Top 10 quarterbacks.

Positional Power Rankings have produced some wild variations in voting. But none has had so many players mentioned as cornerbacks.

Previously, multiple votes had yielded 17 names. Our polling for the top 10 cornerbacks in the NFL touched on 23, a record that might be hard to break.

In another close finish, the Jets' Darrelle Revis edged the Raiders' Nnamdi Asomugha. The two collected all the first- and second-place votes, but Revis outscored Asomugha 77-75 thanks to five first-place votes.

Overall, veterans ruled the day, with the top five outpointing the rest of the field by a good deal. Revis and Asomugha were followed by three players with a collective 33 seasons of NFL cornerbacking experience: Green Bay’s Charles Woodson, Philadelphia’s Asante Samuel and Denver’s Champ Bailey.

Woodson finished with 58 points, Samuel with 54 and Bailey with 53.

Of the votes for that trio, only two fell outside of the top five. NFC North maestro Kevin Seifert had Woodson sixth, just behind his teammate Tramon Williams. And AFC East maven Tim Graham placed Bailey seventh, with New England’s Devin McCourty (fifth) and Minnesota’s Antoine Winfield above him.

I had presumed Bailey started to slip in his 12th season in 2010. Then he shut down a red-hot Dwayne Bowe and got my attention in a way I remembered when I put him third on my ballot.

Graham’s thinking was quite different.

“We're in the offseason, so I've taken into account not only last season's performances, but also how the player projects into 2011 when compiling my positional Power Rankings ballots,” he said. “Bailey is going to be 33 years old before the start of next season and is on the downside. He's still great, but for how long?

“Power Rankings shouldn't be career-achievement awards. Devin McCourty was second-team Associated Press All-Pro, a first-team Sporting News All-Pro, voted a Pro Bowl starter by the fans, coaches and players and tied for second in interceptions. He deserved to be ranked ahead of Bailey, who wasn't mentioned for All-Pro and made the Pro Bowl as an injury replacement.”

Though Graham had him fifth, McCourty got bottom-of-the-list votes from most of us, who seemed to respect his inaugural campaign but did not want to overscore a player who has been through the league only once. NFC South cruise director Pat Yasinskas left McCourty off his ballot entirely.

“One great season does not make a great career,” Yasinskas said. “Let's see him do it again. I'm not saying he's got to do it for 10 or 15 years. I've got a guy in my own back yard, Ronde Barber, and a lot of people say he's already put up Hall of Fame numbers. I didn't even put him on the list because I think he's not much more than a very nice player in the system. But you have to be consistently at the top for at least a few years before you get on a top 10 list.”

Winfield finished sixth (29 points), Williams seventh (18), McCourty eighth (17), Washington’s DeAngelo Hall ninth (10) and Tennessee’s Cortland Finnegan 10th (eight).

Williams was the lone player to make the top 10 while not being looked at as his team’s No. 1 guy. As much as I liked him, that prevented him from getting one of my votes. Same for Oakland’s Stanford Routt.

Although Williams and Routt played very well in 2010, their jobs can be made a lot easier by playing with Woodson and Asomugha rather than being asked to be their team’s version of those players. The toughest receiver on the opposition isn’t usually a factor for Williams or Routt.

John Clayton had Routt sixth and NFC West chart-master Mike Sando had him 10th, which left Routt in 11th place. Clayton set me straight on why Routt was, in fact, deserving.

“Nnamdi has years of not being thrown on,” Clayton said. “He’s had years in which only 14 or 15 passes were caught against him in a season.

“Routt had a phenomenal year in 2010, which led to his big contract,” Clayton said. “The percentage of passes against him that were completed was among the lowest in the league. His job is tougher because he has more passes thrown on him because of Nnamdi.”

Wrap-up: Chiefs 34, Titans 14

December, 26, 2010
12/26/10
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Thoughts on the Titans’ loss to the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium.

What it means: At 6-9, the Titans are eliminated from playoff contention and will finish with a losing record.

What I didn’t like: The Titans did poorly against the Chiefs’ draws and screens as Jamaal Charles had 17 touches for a combined 117 rushing and receiving yards. They got killed by Dwayne Bowe, who took a third-and long conversion on an in-cut and went 75 yards for a touchdown while outrunning the entire Titans’ secondary. The Titans were just 3-for-12 on third down on offense and had the ball for just under 21 minutes.

What I liked: A big 52-yard touchdown connection with Kenny Britt for a touchdown that put Kerry Collins over 40,000 passing yards for his career. Five Collins-to-Jared Cook connections for 96 yards.

What I want to know: How do you manage one first down rushing all game? Can the Titans possibly defend defensive personnel who struggled yet again to get off the field, allowing nine conversions on 18 third downs and staying on the field for nearly 40 minutes?

What’s next: The Titans go to Indianapolis for their second game in four weeks against the Colts. They will have a chance to kill Indianapolis’ division title and playoff hopes.

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