AFC South: Greg Jennings

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Houston Texans

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

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

To which I say: Twitter muscles amuse me.

Indianapolis Colts

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

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

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

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

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

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

Jacksonville Jaguars

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

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

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

Tennessee Titans

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

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

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

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

Running back Shonn Greene will visit Tennessee, says Wyatt.

RTC: Colts passively crash land

October, 15, 2012
10/15/12
8:17
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Houston Texans

Imagine what Aaron Rodgers and the Packers might have done to the Texans if receiver Greg Jennings didn’t miss the game hurt, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

After giving up so much to the Packers in a Sunday night loss, Brooks Reed says the Texans need to go out there and get their respect back, according to Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

Rodgers showed why he’s among the league’s elite, says Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle.

The Texans lost because they didn’t have to win, says Randy Harvey of the Chronicle.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts crash landed against the Jets after a one-week high, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star.

Indianapolis was painfully passive, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Five games into Blaine Gabbert’s second season, the Jaguars are still waiting for a payoff, says Gene Frenette of the Florida Times-Union. A look at 2010 in the series reviewing Gene Smith’s drafts so far. Gabbert gets a D-plus.

Tennessee Titans

Kenny Britt made some plays but also seemed out of sync with Matt Hasselbeck in the Titans' Thursday night win over the Steelers, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.
Andre Johnson/Matt SchaubBob Levey/Icon SMIAndre Johnson and Matt Schaub help lead a Texans team that has a clear path to the division title.
It’s a bit easy to say the AFC South should belong to the Houston Texans this season.

But I’m joining the chorus and saying it anyway: If this team can’t win this division, it’ll be time for owner Bob McNair to crumple up the plan and aim it for the closest trash can.

The Texans have a championship-caliber quarterback, receiver, tight end and running back (maybe two or three of those) all working with a smart and skilled offensive line that understands how it needs to work.

Mindset is the only question mark on offense, starting with Matt Schaub’s ability to rise to big moments. Even if he’s only average in that category, with Peyton Manning out for at least the bulk of the season, Schaub is the best signal-caller in the division by a wide margin.

The Schaub-Andre Johnson-Arian Foster combination is among the league’s best. Who has a better trio?

Philadelphia perhaps, with Michael Vick-LeSean McCoy-DeSean Jackson. Maybe Matt Ryan-Roddy White-Michael Turner in Atlanta. If we sub tight ends for running backs, San Diego with Philip Rivers, Antonio Gates and Vincent Jackson is in the conversation as is Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers, Greg Jennings and Jermichael Finley.

[+] EnlargeWade Phillips
Troy Taormina/US PresswireThe Texans' defense had an outstanding performance in its first game under coordinator Wade Phillips.
The revamped Houston defense was outstanding in the opener. Sure, much of that had to do with the Colts' offense in its first game with Kerry Collins playing in place of Manning. But we saw all the elements of a defense that can win games -- stout run defense, consistent pressure on the quarterback, quality coverage, the ability to cope with sudden-change situations.

One can see swagger and confidence in the body language of guys thrilled to be working under defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. I think he’s too low key, but it can clearly work for him as a coordinator. He has a way of keeping things simple and keeping the mood light, and players have bought in. I never sensed a similar feeling when Richard Smith or Frank Bush manned the post, though they obviously didn’t have the same quality of personnel Phillips will enjoy.

On special teams, Neil Rackers has a big leg that will make a lot of touchbacks and long field goals. Jacoby Jones and Danieal Manning can provide a jolt in the return game. Rookie punter Brett Hartmann isn’t proven yet but has a big leg.

The schedule is hardly a breeze, but look at the quarterbacks they could face: Collins twice, Chad Henne, Matt Hasselbeck twice (or maybe rookie Jake Locker), Luke McCown twice (or maybe rookie Blaine Gabbert), Colt McCoy, Andy Dalton and Cam Newton.

Houston’s been called a soft team, a finesse franchise. Not too many soft teams produce the NFL rushing champion the way this team produced Foster last season.

If the Texans' offensive blocking scheme amounts to a finesse one, so be it. The Colts have won the division eight times in nine seasons with a lot of finesse. They’re fine with you insulting them over it while admiring their success.

The Texans can show their toughness this season in how they stand up to Pittsburgh on Oct. 2 and at Baltimore on Oct. 16 and in how they fare in their games with the Jaguars.

The Colts' issues should be a huge assist for the Texans, as will the fact that the Titans and Jaguars are trying to stay afloat with temporary quarterbacks while developing top-10 draft picks in Locker and Gabbert. Although both teams may be ascending, their talent doesn’t match Houston’s.

If the Texans can make it through the first three-fourths of the season with a good record and in good health, they should be golden with a home stretch against Cincinnati (away), Carolina, Indianapolis (away) and Tennessee.

It sets up for success.

If this team folds under the expectations, if it cannot go get what’s so attainable, it’s going to have to be dismantled. It will require no more Mr. Nice Guy from McNair, who will have to part ways with a lot of nice guys he truly admires, starting with GM Rick Smith and coach Gary Kubiak. McNair will have no choice but to look for a different tone after a house cleaning.

I don’t think that’s how things will play out. I think Manning’s injury is a big break that opens the door, a door the Jaguars and Titans are not ready to approach. The Texans are more than talented enough to storm through it if they don’t complicate things. Run the ball. Work the play-action and bootleg game off of it. Rush the passer. Build from there as the season goes on and finish strong.

Watch pundits pick you to be a team that can do damage in the playoffs, and respond to it.

It sounds simple.

It just might be.
Power Rankings Illustration ESPN.com IllustrationChris Johnson (center) and Adrian Peterson (center-right) share the top honors in our Offensive Player Power Rankings.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 offensive players (non-quarterbacks) in the league today.
Next week: Toughest venues to play in.


We’ve evaluated running backs, assessed receivers, tackled tight ends and critiqued quarterbacks.

Our next assignment for ESPN.com’s Power Rankings: Rate the top 10 offensive players in the NFL, taking signal-callers out of the equation.

It’s a difficult task, considering we’ve not addressed the offensive line. (I believe that left tackles are on the long-term agenda, but that is not my department.)

Nobody else took my route. I simply put a giant premium on explosiveness and passed on O-linemen entirely. I didn’t do it because I downgraded their importance. Backs, receivers and tight ends couldn’t qualify for consideration here, obviously, without quality line-blocking.

I did it for three reasons.

  • Like virtually every football writer, I am least good at evaluating offensive linemen with my own eyes.
  • Although conventional wisdom says to build inside-out, if I could select 10 offensive football players with whom to start a team, I’d load up on playmakers and feel good about the potential to build a good line starting with my 11th choice. (I’d have an excellent offensive line coach.)
  • We’re not in the prime of Jonathan Ogden or Walter Jones or Alan Faneca. And although some great linemen got votes here, none is so good he HAD to be here. Right now, we might be more about units than superior individuals.

But my logic is easily disputed by someone who took a completely different tack. NFC North blogger Kevin Seifert voted linemen fifth and sixth with Joe Thomas and Jake Long, respectively.

“It's definitely harder to measure the impact of a singular offensive lineman versus skill players, but to me you're fooling yourself if you either subordinate their role or don't consider the best linemen to be just as important as the best running backs or receivers,” Seifert said in an email laced with compliments of the AFC South blog’s content. “Linemen don't touch the ball, so their impact on any given play is more limited than, say, when Adrian Peterson gets a handoff.

“But over the course of a game, an elite offensive lineman can contribute to a victory just as much. And, more obviously to most people, a sub-par performance from an offensive lineman can lead to defeat. I made sure to rank my top running backs and receivers ahead of any offensive lineman in this ranking, but I thought the two best guys in the league -- Joe Thomas and Jake Long -- deserved to be ranked over the second tier at the other positions. So that's how I went about it.”

And so here’s the buried lead:



Tennessee’s Chris Johnson edged Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson in our Running Back Power Rankings, but the two finished dead even here, sharing the No. 1 slot.

They are ahead of Houston receiver Andre Johnson by six points, while two more receivers rounded out the top five: Arizona’s Larry Fitzgerald and Detroit’s Calvin Johnson.

AFC West blogger Bill Williamson cost Peterson the outright No. 1 spot by voting him seventh, just as he cost Peterson a tie in the running backs poll by putting him third.

“I think Chris Johnson is the best running back and I think Jamaal Charles is right behind him,” Williamson said. “I see Charles often. The guy is the goods. So, that leaves Peterson just a tad below. I stuck to my running back power rankings, which cost Peterson. Seems like it happened again. But I'm comfortable with it.”

Atlanta receiver Roddy White is sixth, Jacksonville running back Maurice Jones-Drew seventh, Long eighth, Thomas ninth and Charles tied for 10th with San Diego tight end Antonio Gates.

Jones-Drew caused a bit of a divide. He wasn’t named on five of our eight ballots, but NFC East newbie Dan Graziano and NFC South maven Pat Yasinskas had MJD in their top four.

“He's the every-down back, he's the goal-line back, he catches the ball,” Graziano said. “I just think his overall contributions to the offense set him apart. He may not be as good or skilled a back as Peterson or Johnson, which is why I ranked those guys higher.

"But for me he has more to do with how his team's offense runs and succeeds than does a receiver like a Fitzgerald or White. And while I think Jamaal Charles has more talent, the fact that he doesn't play as much as Jones-Drew plays moves him further down the list for me.”

Said Yasinskas: “I look at Maurice Jones-Drew as more than just a running back. He's an all-around weapon.”

As usual, the reasoning of my colleagues makes me secretly second-guess some of my decision-making. Wait, did I say that out loud? Then not so secretly.

It’s hard to go wrong, obviously, with an entire pool of offensive players (minus quarterbacks) to choose from.

Guys who got votes and finished 12th through 19th -- Reggie Wayne, Jason Witten, Michael Turner, Arian Foster, DeSean Jackson (thanks to my vote, talk about big plays), Nick Mangold, Greg Jennings and Steven Jackson -- qualify as an All-Star team on their own merits.

Here’s hoping the lockout doesn’t leave us writing columns off imaginary games between teams featuring our first- and second-strings.

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