AFC South: Edgerrin James

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
4:07
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 25-3 victory over the Houston Texans:

What it means: The Colts didn't wait until the second half to get going offensively. They started on their first offensive series of the game. The Colts mixed up the run with the pass to go 80 yards on 11 plays on their opening drive. The drive ended with quarterback Andrew Luck finding receiver Griff Whalen for a 14-yard touchdown. That was the first time the Colts scored a touchdown in the first quarter since doing it against Denver on Oct. 20. Slow starts have been a problem the past seven weeks for the Colts, but they went into the half with a 20-3 lead. They were 5-of-8 on third down in the first half after going 0-for-6 in the first half against Cincinnati on Dec. 8. The one downside about the Colts on offense is that they started the game 5-for-5 on third down but failed to convert on their final 10 attempts.

Whalen steps up: Whalen has been an afterthought this season after having a strong training camp. He was elevated from the practice squad Saturday because of the injury to fellow receiver LaVon Brazill (foot). He took advantage of the opportunity. Whalen, a college teammate of Luck's at Stanford, caught four passes for 45 yards, returned three punts for 67 yards and a kickoff for 22 yards.

Being honored: Former Colts running backs Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk were inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime. Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards and 32 touchdowns during his five seasons with the Colts. He won the league's rushing title in 1988, when he gained 1,659 yards to go with 14 touchdowns. The Colts traded Dickerson to the Los Angeles Raiders following the 1991 season. Faulk rushed for 5,320 yards and 42 touchdowns to go with 297 receptions and 2,804 yards in his five seasons with the Colts. He was traded to the St. Louis Rams after the 1998 season because he thought he deserved a raise. Dickerson and Faulk join Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Ted Marchibroda, Jim Harbaugh, the 12th Man, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James in the team's Ring of Honor.

Injuries: Colts guard Joe Reitz left the game in first half after being tested for a concussion. Starting running back Donald Brown sat out the second half with a stinger. He ran for 38 yards on five carries. Linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring) and safety Sergio Brown (groin) also left the game.

What's next: The Colts go on the road to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The Colts and Chiefs have a chance to face each other in the playoffs in Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts put on extra layers, shook off the frigid air and spent the week practicing outside to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

There’s a chance Mother Nature won’t be too kind to either team at Paul Brown Stadium. The forecast calls for temperatures to be in the 30’s with a chance of snow on Sunday. The Colts haven’t played a game in the snow since the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/AJ MastTrent Richardson and the Colts' running backs might get a lot of work on Sunday in Cincinnati.
“You know what, the elements, it is what it is,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano. “From a ball-security standpoint, that’s what we stressed all week long. That’s why we got outside all week long. If it’s sleeting sideways and 30 degrees, 20 degrees, it really comes down to ball security, taking care of it. Makes throwing the ball a little bit difficult, too, so better pack a good run game.”

Limiting quarterback Andrew Luck's throwing ability and relying on the run game could cause some uneasiness since Luck is the Colts’ best offensive weapon, and the running game has been inconsistent this season.

But that’s what it might take for the Colts to have a chance to beat the Bengals, who are 5-0 at home, and get a game lead on them for the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff standings.

“I probably haven’t played in snow since I was throwing a football around as a kid, so very excited about it,” Luck said. “I love playing outside. I think there’s something about it that’s fun, so we’re looking forward to it.”

The Colts rushed for 104 yards -- only the second time in the past five games that they rushed for at least 100 yards -- against the Tennessee Titans last weekend.

“I can play in snow, as a kid,” running back Trent Richardson said laughing. “But it’s just something, you just got to go out there and fight it. You got to man up. This is what the big playmakers have done their whole life. You look at the Jim Browns, the Emmitt Smiths, the Fred Taylors, the Ricky Williams' and the Edgerrin James'. Look at those type of guys. Those guys fought through it, and they stuck it through the whole time in the snow. It didn’t matter to them.”

Indianapolis has to hope it can get something out of its running game, and with some Luck-being-Luck sprinkled in there, too, because the Bengals have the offensive weapons to put points on the board.

Cincinnati averages more than 363 yards a game and has won six of its past eight. Bengals receiver A.J. Green has 72 catches for 1,103 yards, which is only 71 yards less than what T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill and Da’Rick Rogers gave combined for this season.

Indianapolis' defense forced four turnovers against Tennessee last weekend, and the unit might get cornerback Greg Toler (groin) back in the lineup for the first time in five games.

“It’s a talented team,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “They got good receivers, a good quarterback ... they got some players in the backfield with (Benjarvus Green-Ellis) and (Giovani Bernard). Talented guys that can see the hole and break long runs. We got to make sure we bottle them up as best we can.”
Eric Decker, Jason McCourty AP Photo Jason McCourty, right, and the Titans' secondary face a formidable challenge in defending Eric Decker and the Broncos' passing attack.
It seemed a little out of place, but as the Denver Broncos were about to get to work on the Tennessee Titans this week, quarterback Peyton Manning said he was going to prepare for an "unfamiliar opponent."

Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.

Here, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?

Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.

Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?

Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.

On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?

Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.

The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?

Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.

Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?

Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.

Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?

Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.

Colts will honor Faulk and Dickerson

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
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INDIANAPOLIS – Lost in the news of running back Ahmad Bradshaw deciding to have season-ending knee surgery Tuesday was that the Indianapolis Colts plan to add former running backs Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson to the Ring of Honor together during the Dec. 15 game against Houston.

They will be the 10th and 11th members of the Ring of Honor, joining Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Jim Harbaugh, Chris Hinton and Ted Marchibroda and the 12th Man.

Faulk, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1994 draft, rushed for 5,320 yards during his five-year career with the Colts. Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards during his time with Indianapolis.

The city of Indianapolis also received some good news Tuesday, as it joins Minneapolis and New Orleans as finalists for the 2018 Super Bowl. Indianapolis hosted a successful Super Bowl in 2012.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars running back Maurice Jones-Drew ranks 50th on offense in ESPN.com's #NFLRank project, which ranks the top 100 players on offense and defense in the NFL.

Jones-Drew
Jones-Drew, 28, probably should be much higher on the list considering he led the NFL in rushing in 2011 (1,606 yards). However, he missed all but six games last season because of a foot injury. He was effective when he played, though, rushing for 414 yards on 86 attempts, which is a very good 4.8 yard per-carry average.

The Jaguars are being careful with Jones-Drew this preseason. He has carried the ball just 10 times for 37 yards in two games and coach Gus Bradley said Monday that Jones-Drew probably won't play against Atlanta on Thursday night.

From ESPN Stats & Info:

Jones-Drew missed 10 games with a foot injury last season but led the NFL with 1,606 rushing yards in 2011. He's one of just seven players in NFL history with 7,000 rushing yards and 2,500 receiving yards in his first seven seasons. LaDainian Tomlinson, Edgerrin James, Thurman Thomas, Marshall Faulk, Steven Jackson and Ricky Watters are the others.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak ranks 13th among NFL head coaches, and has to get out of his comfort zone to make a big move up, says Lance Zierlein of the Houston Chronicle blogs.

Indianapolis Colts

Edgerrin James is the Indianapolis Colts' all-time running back, according to Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. Chappell also considers tight end candidates.

Jacksonville Jaguars

“What the Jaguars need to see -- and what any team with a ninth-year running back entering the final year of his contract logically would want to see -- is what they think he will be in the future. That’s what makes this a very important year for [Maurice] Jones-Drew.” John Oehser of the team’s website on the future of the team’s star running back.

Tennessee Titans

Missed this at the start of the week: Jake Locker won’t be relying on a wristband as he calls plays in the huddle, says David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper.
Houston Texans

John McClain of the Houston Chronicle runs through the Texans’ schedule and comes out with a 13-3 record including wins against Denver and New England.

To which I say: That seems incredibly optimistic to me a year removed from major struggles against top quarterbacks.

The season really starts in January, says Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

Five things to know about the Colts’ schedule, from Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star.

Dwayne Allen doesn’t want the Colts to miss a beat as they look to build on 2012. (Video.)

Steve Emtman was the Colts’ fourth-worst draft pick while Edgerrin James was the third-best, says Wilson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars will open at home, but four of their first six games will be on the road, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

An offensive tackle at No. 2 remains one of many possibilities for the Jaguars, says O’Halloran.

Jaguars guard Will Rackley is back on track after a lost season, says Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

A pair of tough road games to open the season will make it difficult for the Titans to start well, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Both Wyatt and John Glennon of The Tennessean run through the schedule and come out with 8-8.

Mike Mayock of NFL Network discussed where the Titans will head with the 10th pick in the draft, from Wyatt.
Reading the coverage ...

A ranking of offensive line performance for the entire league, from Phil Gaskin of The Pulling Lineman.

Houston Texans

The Texans are counting on Reliant Stadium to provide a big advantage for them Saturday, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

To which I say: Wouldn’t it have been nice if they were counting on it next week and the week after that? Have you heard they blew three chances to get that?

What happens in the postseason will define Matt Schaub’s legacy, says Jerome Solomon.

Tim Dobbins will be a game-time decision, and if ankle and shoulder injuries keep him out, Barrett Ruud will be a starter at inside linebacker against the Bengals, says Dale Robertson.

Coach Gary Kubiak wants to see reckless abandon from his team on Saturday, not a fear of making mistakes, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

Robertson remembers the Oilers’ collapse in Buffalo.

J.J. Watt is Pro Football Focus defensive player of the year.

Johnathan Joseph against A.J. Green is a giant matchup in Sunday’s game, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

Jerrell Freeman, not Ray Lewis, will be the best inside linebacker on the field Sunday in Baltimore, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

The Colts gave the Bears permission to interview Bruce Arians for their head-coaching job, says the AP.

To which I say: Arians could do some good work with Jay Cutler. I wonder who he’ll pitch as his defensive coordinator.

The understated Jim Caldwell is downplaying his role calling the offensive plays for the Ravens against a team he was head coach of a year ago, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star.

Dwight Freeney is coming off his best game and finishing strong, writes Mike Chappell.

Potential was all over the place for these Colts back in the spring, writes Chappell. Rookies have accounted for 3,108 yards. "That's the most by a team's rookie class since the 1970 NFL merger. The previous high: 2,751 yards by the 1999 Edgerrin James-led Colts."

Jacksonville Jaguars

Shad Khan isn’t expected to hire a new general manager until next week at the earliest, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. Marc Ross of the Giants has emerged as another candidate.

“For now, we wait and speculate," writes John Oehser of Jaguars.com. "As we do, we’ll spend the coming days taking a look back at the 2012 season, and try to take a look forward to 2013. Of course, these plans blow up immediately when Khan picks a general manager who will shape the franchise for the foreseeable future."

Poor gamesmanship in the draft is one thing we learned the Jaguars can improve upon from the Gene Smith era, says Adam Stites of Big Cat Country.

To which I say: It's a good point that a guy who was all about the draft was OK giving picks up to move up, but didn't move back to accumulate choices.

Tennessee Titans

Are the Titans starting to morph into the dysfunctional Raiders? David Climer of The Tennessean explores.

To which I say: Bud Adams is eccentric, but he’s not the de facto general manager of his team. The Titans aren’t close to the Raiders at their worst.

Cornerback Alterraun Verner says the Titans need more killer instinct, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The Titans get a B-plus from Dunlevy for their 2012 draft.

RTC: Texans enter new territory

September, 24, 2012
9/24/12
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Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

“Through the first 50 minutes, the Texans had dominated on both sides of the ball. They were playing smart and playing clean, save for the safety (Matt) Schaub suffered on Houston’s first play from scrimmage, and they were ramming their way downfield. Then Ben Tate lost a midfield fumble and all hell, (Peyton) Manning-style, broke loose.” Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle on the win that moved the Texans to 3-0.

Be pleased, but don’t take this win as any sort of grand statement, says Jerome Solomon.

On a fantastic day, Matt Schaub suffered a gashed ear, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

“To get where you want to go, sometimes you have to do things you’ve never done,” Andre Johnson said. Like beat Manning on the road for the first time. Like winning your first game at Denver. John McClain of the Chronicle on the game.

Peyton Manning has an ability to get his team back into games that seem out of reach, and he did it again Sunday against the Texans, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle. But the Texans held on.

The finish was too close, but it was still a good win, says Randy Harvey of the Chronicle.

The Texans dominated and then held on for dear life, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

It was a game the Colts felt like they had to have won, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star. Two big plays that accounted for 139 yards and two scores for the Jaguars took just 21 seconds.

Bob Kravitz of the Star calls it a devastating loss and runs down the reasons the Colts couldn’t pull it out against the Jaguars.

Adam Vinatieri’s late field goal was not enough for the Colts to pull it off, says Zak Keefer.

Sergio Brown was simply the last and most noticeable culprit as the Colts rode an emotional roller-coaster to a dismal finish, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Edgerrin James felt the love as he was inducted into the Colts' ring of honor at Lucas Oil Stadium, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Kravitz’ report card: Nothing better than a C.

Screw up enough in the NFL and you’ll lose, says Wilson.

Spelling it out simply: Andrew Luck was great but his team is bad, says Josh Wilson of Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

“Instead of continuing their free-fall into the NFL sewer, the Jaguars showed they can rally, can create a turnover and can hit the home-run pass,” writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

Not long after Shad Khan told Maurice Jones-Drew he should run and catch the train, the running back was driving it, says Vito Stellino of the T-U.

Everything broke just right on the Jaguars’ game winning play, says Gene Frenette of the T-U. “When a team is 80 yards from the end zone -- and needs a young, struggling quarterback to pull off something spectacular in the last 56 seconds to avoid an 0-3 start to the season -- nobody expects him to hit the jackpot in just 11 seconds.”

The game plan was no knock on Blaine Gabbert, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski told Stellino. “We played it a little conservative. It was nothing more than we wanted to make sure we didn’t get a turnover. We wanted to play good field position football.”

It was needed and it was validating, says John Oehser of the team’s website.

The miracle pass and the Colts’ miscues produced the win, says Dunlevy.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans survive arguably the craziest game ever played at LP Field, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “In a span of about 10 minutes on the game clock, the Titans thought they had won the game, thought they’d lost it, and then made the play to end it.”

“Was this the start of a real reclamation project, or just a momentary uptick in an otherwise unremarkable season?” asks David Climer of The Tennessean. “I’ll have to get back to you on that.”

Darius Reynaud was the central figure in two monstrous special-teams plays for the Titans, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Jake Locker couldn’t have dreamed up anything crazier as a 5-year-old for his first NFL win as a starter, says Wyatt.

Wyatt’s report card includes three As.

Writes Mitch Albom of the Detroit Free Press: “One of the craziest, wildest, most poorly officiated Sunday afternoons in years, a game of huge plays, massive gains and spectacular accidents, came down, in the end, to a tiny fourth-and-1 in overtime that actually went backward -- and apparently wasn't supposed to take place at all.”

 

Final Word: AFC South

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
1:29
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Defending Manning: As quarterback of the Colts, Peyton Manning owned the Texans. He’s with a different franchise now, so that past success doesn’t mean a lot, and he has not played against the Texans with Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. (Here’s how he has done against Phillips-coached defenses.) Against Houston, ESPN Stats and Info tells us Manning is 16-2 with 42 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Since the 1970 merger, Manning’s 16-2 record is the third-best by any starting quarterback against a single team, with a minimum of 15 games played against that team. Ben Roethlisberger against the Browns and Tom Brady against the Bills are better. More of note on Manning: He has not been great bouncing back from three-interception games, with an 8-7 record and 26 TDs versus 23 picks. He has not been great in the middle of the field so far, so he could really look to test the Texans’ second outside cornerback, Kareem Jackson.

[+] EnlargeDerek Cox
Fernando Medina/US PesswirerJacksonville's Derek Cox could cause headaches for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Better coverage: Derek Cox is the Jaguars' best guy in coverage, but he has been out so far with a hamstring injury from the preseason. It looks like he could return in at least a limited role. Jacksonville needs him. After three picks in Week 1 against the Bears, Indy’s rookie quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t throw one against the Vikings. He has done well to establish connections with Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery. Cox could help mess with that, while alleviating some pressure on the other cornerbacks who would face less pressure in big situations. Cox healthy and contributing can be a difference-maker for the pass defense.

Interior space: The Texans don’t necessarily have to run well between the tackles to win, but it certainly helps their offense. ESPN Stats and Info says that with a change at right guard and right tackle from last season, Houston isn’t finding the interior space it did last season. The Broncos are allowing 2.8 yards per rush between the tackles this season, the fifth-best defense of that area in the NFL. The Texans are down 1.2 yards per rush, and nearly 1 yard after contact per rush on runs between the tackles so far this season. And in 2011 they had 11 runs of 20 yards or better in the middle of the field. So far this season they have none.

Pushed around: There are all kinds of stats and analysis floating around about how much penetration the Patriots and Chargers got from their defensive fronts in their routs of the Titans. Tennessee’s offensive line is clearly having issues, particularly with run-blocking. And it will be hard to solve those against a tough Detroit front built around Ndamukong Suh. “We are what we are, and we’re doing a good job in the pass-pro and the protection,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “Everybody has a trait that is either a strength or a weakness. You try to play to those strengths.” That’s as close as anyone not named Chris Johnson has come to talking about the offensive line as an issue.

Also: If the Titans stick with their preoccupation with minimizing big plays, Calvin Johnson will catch passes in front of them and then run over, through or around them … A touchdown for Maurice Jones-Drew would be the 63rd of his career, and move him ahead of Fred Taylor for the franchise’s all-time lead … A touchdown for Wayne would pull him into a tie for third in Colts’ history. Edgerrin James is third with 75, and will have his name added to the team’s ring of honor in a pregame ceremony … Of the six 2-0 teams in the NFL, the Texans have beaten the teams who were worst in 2011. While the 49ers beat two teams that were a combined 25-7 in 2011, Houston’s two wins have come against teams that were 11-21.

RTC: The Texans' sugar huddle

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Gary Kubiak is still very popular in Denver, where he played and coached with great success, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

A look at the Texans’ muddle huddle, or sugar huddle as Kubiak prefers to call it. “Nearly 30 years ago, the Cincinnati Bengals began running a sugar huddle or muddle huddle — an evolution of the no-huddle offense — that confounded and infuriated their opponents so much that they tried to get the NFL to intervene. Since then, no-huddles and variations of them have permeated the league.” Tania Ganguli’s story.

Indianapolis Colts

Edgerrin James was determined to leave a mark, and Sunday his name will go up in the team’s ring of honor, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Bob Kravitz of the Star says there should be no debate about who’s next: Bill Polian. “He was, quite simply, one of the best football executives ever to walk the planet, if not the greatest ever. I would go beyond the Colts Ring and say this: If the Football Hall of Fame is going to make room for more executives, Polian deserves serious consideration in the voters' room.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

Andrew Luck’s not playing like a 23-year old, middle linebacker Paul Posluszny tells Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. A look at what awaits the Jaguars as they ready for the Colts rookie quarterback.

Cornerback Derek Cox (hamstring) could be ready to rejoin the defense, though O’Halloran suspects Cox could get limited snaps.

Tennessee Titans

Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray is working to fix things, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “First thing you do is you look at yourself. I always look at myself and say, ‘What did I do to cause what we are doing?’ ” Gray said. “And then if we practiced things we’ve done wrong and I know we have proof, I’ll show those guys, ‘Hey we did this on Wednesday, Thursday and Friday in practices — what is going on on Sundays?’ ”

John Glennon’s notebook leads with Chris Johnson’s review of the Titans’ stagnant run game.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Assessing Houston's defensive line with Nick Scurfield of the team’s website.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts will induct Edgerrin James, the franchise’s all-time leading rusher, into their Ring of Honor on Sept. 23, writes Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. “It’s one of those things that you set out to do and hope to have a career where you can leave a lasting imprint,” James said.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars can’t budge with Maurice Jones-Drew, so if he’s determined to get a new deal they should trade him, says Justin Barney of the Florida Times-Union fan blog. This is unrealistic to me.

Tennessee Titans

Titans punter Brett Kern has tapped into a significant resource again this offseason -- the guy who held his job before him, Craig Hentrich. Jim Wyatt of the Tennessean looks at Kern and special teams.
Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Robert MathisUS Presswire, Getty Images, Getty ImagesThursday could be the last home game for Colts Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Robert Mathis.

INDIANAPOLIS -- There’ll be no ceremony at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight. No formal passing of the torch from the Colts to the Texans as kings of the AFC South, and no official commemoration of the careers of three huge contributors who may be wearing horse shoes on their helmets for a final home game.

But the knowledgeable fans of the Indianapolis Colts will find a moment to focus on receiver Reggie Wayne, center Jeff Saturday and defensive end Robert Mathis, knowing that the team staples with expiring contracts may soon depart.

Quarterback Peyton Manning defined the era more than anyone, and he might also be on the sideline for the final time, but he’s not playing. Neither is linebacker Gary Brackett, who could be a cap casualty. It could be a swan song, too, for often-injured tight end Dallas Clark, who’s doubtful against the Texans.

However, the focus during a Thursday night game that figured to have larger consequences when the schedule was drawn up should be on Wayne, Saturday and Mathis.

“We’re like three steel poles in the Colts’ foundation,” Mathis said. “We helped get this team to where it is. Our heart is here. But it’s a business, and we can’t take it personally, whatever they decide.”

Said Wayne: “I’ll just keep playing. Whatever happens is going to happen anyway, it’s already written, I can’t control that, I don’t have a magic eraser. It’s a big prime-time game. If it’s going to be my last one here, then let’s go out with a bang.”

“I’ve been here 11 years. Anything you put that much time or effort into, you would think there would be some sort of sentimental value to. You don’t want to lose anything that means something to you. This city has shown me nothing but love.”

Whether they admit it or not, the other three teams in the division have been built to challenge the Colts. The Texans drafted outside linebacker Mario Williams first overall in 2006 in large part to threaten Manning. As the league has become more pass-happy, the Colts' divisional challengers have been largely run-based, to try to keep their offenses on the field and the ball out of Manning’s hand.

“They’ve been the standard of the division obviously, with the success they’ve had over multiple years,” said Houston general manager Rick Smith, who assumed his post in 2006, after Williams had been drafted. “But you can’t stand in awe of anybody and we feel like we’ve played some solid games against them in the past.

“Our thing hasn’t really been focused on Indianapolis, it’s been about what we’re doing. You’ve got to respect what they’ve done and the job that they’ve done for the number of years that they’ve done it. But what we’ve been doing is focused on trying to get our program up to speed and put ourselves into position where we could have that sustained success for a number of years.”

And like the Colts, the new AFC South champs have a similar trio in the same positions as Wayne, Saturday and Mathis in Andre Johnson, Chris Myers and Williams.

Like their Indianapolis counterparts, they are regarded as premier players at their position. Houston hopes they will be steel poles of a Texans’ foundation for years to come.

Johnson, Myers and Williams reflected on the Colts in recent days.

Here’s some insight into what the three guys who might be playing for Indy for the final time have meant to the division and to guys who aim to follow a similar path.

Johnson on Wayne: “He’s a route technician. I sat and watched and learned from him at Miami. He took me under his wing. He works hard at everything he does, everything. He’s committed. His numbers speak for themselves. In every conversation about the best receivers in the league, his name comes up.

“I can’t imagine him in another uniform, and for it to end like this. After 11, 12, 13, 14 wins every year, it’s crazy.

Myers on Saturday: “He has real good technique. Obviously it’s a different team with a different offense. But he’s a tremendous pass blocker, and they’ve had success running the ball as well with Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai for years. He’s a little bit shorter, he’s got that leverage on guys. In his prime, he’s been able to get a hand on guys and just lock guys out, that’s what he’s been known for.

“When you’re watching defenses, you watch the other center. And I’ve tried to get pointers from each guy. For a long time I’ve been watching how he pass protects.”

Williams on Mathis: “Not taking anything away from Dwight Freeney, but I think Mathis has been a key to their defense. Watching him play and how his motor goes every play, it’s not just the pass, but he’s phenomenal against the run. I guess you could say he’s undersized, but he holds his own against the run as well as the pass. I think he doesn’t get enough credit for his play against the run.”

I have trouble picturing Saturday playing elsewhere, but he certainly could. Wayne and Mathis would be attractive free agents if they hit the market.

And they could conceivably land within the division.

Mathis could be the edge rusher Jacksonville needs to round out its defense. And Wayne could be an excellent complement to Johnson in Houston.

“We joke about it all the time,” Johnson said. “If Reggie’s on the market, I’ll be a big recruiter. I’m pretty sure my coaches know that.”

Talk of a possible future life as a Texan made Wayne laugh.

“I’m sure he’s got some hammies he needs to worry about first,” he said, referring to hamstring injuries that have cost Johnson much of the season and will keep him out against the Colts. “And I am sure their team is ecstatic about their first playoff opportunity…

“If Dre is going to politic for me, he’s got enough time to do it.”

Final Word: AFC South

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
1:30
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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.
Reggie Wayne and Dallas ClarkMark J. Rebilas/US PresswireThe Colts did well drafting the best player in taking Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark over reaching for needs.
Rarely is there a discussion of draft philosophy with an NFL decision-maker in which best-player-available isn’t a key component.

Rarely is there a first round of the NFL draft in which teams stay exclusively true to that thinking.

“I think everybody says that,” Titans general manager Mike Reinfeldt said. “But at some point need enters into the equation, too. Earlier for some people than for others.”

If you are truly a BPA drafter, you cast needs aside early on and stock your team with high-quality players. Over the course of time, you hope things balance out naturally or you allow what’s available to sort of steer what you’re built to do.

But if you have three drafts in a row when a defensive lineman is identified as the best player available, can you take him all three times when you go on the clock in the first round? Are you willing to be a defensive-line heavy team? Do you have the patience and resolve to wait on addressing the quarterback and cornerback positions that are gaping holes on your depth chart?

Indianapolis Colts vice chairman Bill Polian hit best-player-available home runs with receiver Reggie Wayne in 2001 (when there were defensive needs) and tight end Dallas Clark in 2003 (defense was the issue again). But he’s also seen quality and need coincide and made the right call with running back Edgerrin James in 1999, when he needed to replace Marshall Faulk, who had been traded.

Polian strives to be a BPA drafter.

Why do people who say they abide from that thinking stray from it?

“I think you face three temptations,” Polian said. “The first is that you overvalue positions, i.e. quarterback, and so you try to create someone. Secondly, and it ties together, if you have a need you tend to overvalue players at that need position. It’s just human nature. And then third, you may try to reach, which is the same as overvaluing a player, because you’re trying to hit a home run. You say, ‘Well, if we hit on this player, boy does he have upside.’ And many times the upside doesn’t pan out.

“This is where draft management comes in. You’ve got manage the process much more than you manage the board. The thought is that there is some magic that goes into managing the board on draft day. There isn’t. The real hard work is managing the process and getting the board up. Once the board is up, you should stay with it.”

Whether they spell out how they operate or not, not everyone believes in an all-out best-player-available strategy.

Staying true to a draft board that was set through weeks of intense discussions is important. But teams take different approaches when setting those boards.

Those approaches don’t fit in tidy little boxes, of course. But as I’ve tried to classify draft strategy, I’ve locked in on three that a smart scout outlined.

  1. This is the best player in the draft, this is the second-best player in the draft, this is the third-best player in the draft all the way through every player they deem worth a draft pick. When it’s your turn, you pick the best player still there.
  2. These are guys who fit our team, guys whom we want when our picks come up. They fit our system and culture. Regardless of talent they are the guys who best suit our football team. These 110 or 101 or 96 players, as we order them, are best for our football team.
  3. We’re going to put these guys at this position, because the position is more valuable, above these guys, who are at a less valuable position. Examples: We want left tackles as opposed to strictly guards. Cornerbacks who can flex into safety or play the slot have more value than a strong safety. We want the pass-rushing outside linebacker who can play inside in a pinch over strictly a downhill inside guy.

This scout said he thinks the Bears typically operate off a board ordered strictly by talent. The Packers have very specific traits they want in their players -- they want corners who are at least 6-feet tall, they might take one who’s 5-11 -- so they often follow the second style. The Patriots often lean to position value.

Any of it can work. The best-player-available mindset is often spoken of in sacred tones, but it’s hard to argue against the track records of the Packers and Patriots if they don’t stick to it.

“You can argue that a position need becomes so great that it might negate or overwhelm drafting just the best player at a position that doesn’t impact the game as much,” Reinfeldt said.

All four talk about best player available, but how have AFC South teams worked?

[+] EnlargeBill Polian
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireBill Polian seeks to draft the best player available."If you pass a blue[-chip] player to take a need, then you've made a mistake," Polian said.
Polian’s gone against the grain with perceived needs pretty regularly. But overall he has been able to devalue some positions in the draft -- offensive line, linebacker -- where the Colts are willing to be smaller than most teams and feel they have position coaches who can help mold effective players.

Reinfeldt’s top picks, Michael Griffin, Chris Johnson, Kenny Britt and Derrick Morgan, have filled need pretty effectively. He allows for a lot of input from assistant coaches and traded up for a second-round pick to get a guy in tight end Jared Cook whom the team loved.

Jacksonville GM Gene Smith’s first two drafts have been top-heavy with offensive and defensive linemen, as he clearly wanted to start with foundation building. It certainly appears that he’s taken the best available players at an area the team is prioritizing and he got four quality starters in Eugene Monroe, Eben Britton, Terrance Knighton and Tyson Alualu.

Gary Kubiak has the strongest voice among coaches as he works with GM Rick Smith in Houston. The Texans' draft strategy is tough to peg. The top of the last three drafts have certainly addressed needs. The most recent first-rounder, corner Kareem Jackson, struggled badly in his first season.

I think BPA tends to be everyone’s dream. But as with so many dreams, things go off script when it’s time to execute in reality.

Ideally, if the best player available isn’t a guy you need, you can trade back with someone who does need him, and draft in a position where BPA and need line up better. But that presumes two things -- that another team sees the value of the player in question the same way you do, and that it wants him enough to deal up to get him.

If you trade down out of this scenario and do so for less than trade-chart value, I pledge that I will not write that you didn’t get enough in exchange for the pick.

Reinfeldt said it’s important to be conscious of noise.

External pressure in the form of media consensus or a concerted push for a player or position can sway some decision-makers, but shouldn’t. A coach or scout making a super strong case for a guy can’t be given more weight just because he’s pressing the issue.

“You’ve got to be true to the scouts and your own evaluation,” Reinfeldt said, echoing a popular maxim. “Then in the long run you’re going to have success. But it can be a hard thing to do.”

Said Polian: “I’ve always believed that if you pass a blue[-chip] player to take a need, then you’ve made a mistake. We’ve tried not to do that. On occasion we may have. But we work very hard to try to avoid it. It is a temptation, but you need to work hard to try to avoid it.”

However you do it, it’s about your ability to judge and project.

Ultimately, it doesn’t matter if you deem him best available, if you decide his position is more valuable or if you see him as an ideal fit for your operation.

The questions that need to be answered are simple ones.

Does he turn into a productive player for you? And is the method you used for selecting him one you can repeat with success?

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