AFC South: Joel Dreessen

John Clayton’s recent list of the NFL’s top 10 tight ends didn’t include anyone from the AFC South.

If he does a similar list in a year, will that change?

There are a lot of quality tight ends in the division, but they all carry questions. I don’t know if any can match the production of New England’s Rob Gronkowski or New Orleans’ Jimmy Graham, who are setting the standard for the new breed of players at the position.


Who will be regarded as the AFC South's best tight end after the 2012 season?


Discuss (Total votes: 3,839)

Tennessee’s Jared Cook can be an extremely dangerous receiver. But through three seasons he’s been quite inconsistent. He finished with three very good games last year. That’s great and hopefully something to build on, but it’s hard not to wonder about why he wasn’t more effective in the rest of the games. Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer seemed reluctant to really plan a game with a lot in it for Cook, who could fare better if Jake Locker is at quarterback rather than Matt Hasselbeck.

Houston’s Owen Daniels is an excellent pass catcher who can be a vital piece of the team’s offense. But he carries health questions. He played in every game last year but didn’t seem like the same guy he was before he missed five games in 2010 with a hamstring issue. He broke his hand in the Texans' first playoff game, but played with the injury in the second game. With the versatile Joel Dreessen gone, and the right side of the line being rebuilt, Daniels could be called on to block more.

Indianapolis will build a lot of its offense around Andrew Luck-to-Coby Fleener. Fleener, the team’s second-round pick, should be a primary target for his college teammate and could quickly earn a high ranking among the league’s tight ends.

Jacksonville’s Marcedes Lewis suffered a terrible drop-off in 2011 after a super-productive 2010 and a new contract. He was dealing with some difficult off-the-field issues, but needed to compartmentalize better to perform on Sundays. As part of a new offense, can he bounce back as a weapon or will the team be left to talk of his blocking?

Who will be regarded as the best after 16 games this fall and winter? Please chime in on our poll.

Stat to solve: Texans' WR YAC

April, 24, 2012
Without Andre Johnson for a good share of the season, the Texans' receivers were exposed in 2011.

While Arian Foster and other non-receivers may have been making plays, the Texans were one of just two teams in the NFL that didn’t have any 30-yard receptions from their receivers on throws that traveled fewer than 15 yards, according to ESPN Stats and Information.

On average, Houston receivers got 3.1 yards after the catch. That ranked 31st in the NFL. But that was offset in a big way by four non-wide receiver pass-catchers.

Foster averaged a league-best 12.0 per catch among players with at least 50 catches. Owen Daniels (5.6), Joel Dreessen (5.5) and Ben Tate (6.2) also did solid work after the catch.

Largely because of those four, the Texans ranked second overall in average YAC per reception, with 6.3 yards. New England was first at 6.5.

A healthy Johnson will help boost the receiver numbers in a big way.

The team’s next two best wideouts are Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones.

Walter (3.5) is not a big YAC guy; he’s a reliable guy who will be in the right spot and do the right things. Jones (4.8) is explosive and should do quite a bit more in this department.

Whether the Texans add a receiver in the first round or wait until later, the guy who’s added to the group needs to be able to take passes from Matt Schaub and get some additional yards.
The Texans called on a lot of their depth last season, when they won the division and a playoff game despite losing a bunch of key guys for long stretches or the season.

Now, as a playoff team with salary-cap constraints and free-agent departures, they will call on that depth again.

One guy who moves up a line on the depth chart, at least as of now, is tight end Garrett Graham, who will be the second tight end behind Owen Daniels after Joel Dreessen left for Denver.

“You guys know Joel did everything around here; became one of the leaders of our team,” Daniels told Houston reporters Monday. “You can’t say enough about what he did. He gets to go home and play for another good franchise. I know he was torn up about the decision he had to make. I think he did what’s best for him. Obviously, a guy’s got to do that.

“Garrett, I think he’s really chomping at the bit to get a real opportunity and get out there and play a lot. We use multiple tight ends a whole bunch. Garrett’s going to get his chance to get out there and show what he’s about and show that he can be a contributor more than he has been. I think he’s excited about that opportunity.”

Daniels said Graham is more athletic and faster than many people think.

Said Graham about Dreessen’s departure: “I felt like it was an opportunity to step up and show what I can do [and] compete for the spot…”

“I’d say so, definitely. Joel did a lot for our team. He’s a great tight end, so I’m expecting to work my hardest and contribute and show what I can do in camp.”

We don’t know for sure the Texans will be using Graham as the second tight end.

Coby Fleener of Stanford could be a consideration at No. 26 in the first round, though I think it’s more likely they go with a receiver barring an early run that depletes the first group.

AFC South free-agency assessment

March, 29, 2012
AFC Assessments: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Houston Texans

Key additions: None.

Key losses: OLB Mario Williams, RG Mike Brisiel, CB Jason Allen, TE Joel Dreessen, RT Eric Winston (cut), ILB DeMeco Ryans (traded), FB Lawrence Vickers (cut), QB Matt Leinart (cut).

Keepers and finance: Not everyone got away. The Texans managed to keep two very important players. They re-signed running back Arian Foster before he reached restricted free agency. And after he'd explored the market some, they struck a deal with unrestricted-free-agent center Chris Myers, a vital piece to a line that lost the two starters on the right side when Winston was cut and Brisiel bolted to Oakland.

Ryans was not a full-time player in the 3-4 defense, and his price tag was high. While Houston takes a $750,000 hit this season, he’s cleared from the books in the future. That will help the team as it tries to make sure players like outside linebacker Connor Barwin and left tackle Duane Brown don’t get away like Williams did.

What’s next: Depth paid off in a big way in 2011 as the Texans managed to win the division and a playoff game despite major personnel losses. At several spots, like on the offensive line and at corner, the draft will serve to replenish the roster with the same kind of insurance.

But the Texans are not without need.

While they are likely to stick with Jacoby Jones as part of the team and like Kevin Walter, a more reliable and dynamic weapon to go with Andre Johnson at receiver is something they acknowledge wanting. A third outside linebacker can reduce the high-snap strain on Barwin and Brooks Reed. While they hope Rashad Butler will replace Winston and Antoine Caldwell will take Brisiel’s spot, adding a guy who can compete for one or both of those spots would be healthy.

Indianapolis Colts

Key additions: DE Cory Redding, WR Donnie Avery, C Samson Satele, S Tom Zbikowski, G Mike McGlynn, RT Winston Justice (trade), QB Drew Stanton (trade).

Key losses: QB Peyton Manning (cut), WR Pierre Garcon, TE Jacob Tamme, C Jeff Saturday, TE Dallas Clark (cut), LB Gary Brackett (cut), S Melvin Bullitt (cut), RT Ryan Diem (retired), WR Anthony Gonzalez, QB Dan Orlovsky, CB Jacob Lacey (not tendered), QB Curtis Painter (cut), DE Jamaal Anderson, G Mike Pollak.

So much we don’t know: We know background on coach Chuck Pagano and his coordinators and we know what Pagano and general manager Ryan Grigson have said. But there will be a degree of mystery well into the season about what they intend to run and with whom. It’s unlikely to be a sweeping transition to a 3-4 defense, as it takes time to overhaul the personnel. But as they play a hybrid defense and move toward a conversion, they’ll need more than they’ve got -- starting with a nose tackle.

On offense, they’ve said they’ll use a fullback. That’s a major departure from the previous regime. And we don’t know if a Donald Brown-Delone Carter duo at fullback will be sufficient to run behind. They need help virtually everywhere after the cap purge and free-agency turnover. Not everything will get addressed as much as they’d like in their first offseason.

What’s next: I expect more role players like Zbikowski and McGlynn, more castoffs like Justice and Stanton and more guys who are presumed finished by a lot of teams, like Avery.

They are all guys who didn’t cost much but who have upside and can help, at least as role players. And if they don’t pan out, it’s hardly a death blow to Indianapolis' major, long-term plans. Money is limited with big dead-money charges and a $19 million cap hit for defensive end Dwight Freeney the team has indicated it's willing to carry.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Key additions: WR Laurent Robinson, CB Aaron Ross, QB Chad Henne.

Key losses: DT Leger Douzable (did not tender).

Keeping their own: The Jaguars did well to hold on to players who have been valuable to them. The top of that list belongs to safety Dwight Lowery. They traded with the Jets for him before last season, shifted him full time to safety and got good work from him before he was hurt. It was crucial for the team to stay fixed at the position where it was horrific in 2010 before signing Dawan Landry and adding Lowery.

They also re-signed defensive end Jeremy Mincey, a great effort defensive end who was overextended in terms of playing time last year. He’s no sack-master, but he’s going to bust it on every play, break through sometimes and make the opponent work hard to stay in his way. And with the lack of quality defensive ends who hit the market, the Jaguars did well to keep him from jumping to Chicago.

What’s next: Receiver has to be addressed beyond a change in position coach and the addition of Robinson. If it’s not in the first round, it needs to be early. The franchise is trying to maximize Blaine Gabbert’s chances to be a franchise quarterback, and few would be able to establish themselves with the current cast of wideouts.

The Jaguars are a top pass-rushing end away from being a top-flight defense. Can they find him seventh overall in the draft? They could tab someone like South Carolina’s Melvin Ingram, though it’s hard to say he or any rookie would be an immediate solution. Most ends need some time to become impact guys in the league.

The Jaguars could certainly look to add in the secondary free-agent market and when players are set free late in training camp.

Tennessee Titans

Key additions: DE Kamerion Wimbley, RG Steve Hutchinson.

Key losses: CB Cortland Finnegan, DL Jason Jones, WR Donnie Avery.

Sidetracked: Did the Titans miss out on real chances to sign either Scott Wells, who went to St. Louis, or Chris Myers, who stayed in Houston, as their new center because they were focused on chasing quarterback Peyton Manning? Perhaps. But when the owner declares that his executives and coaches need to put the hard sell on an all-time great QB with roots in the team’s state, that’s what you do.

Ideally, the team will still find an alternative to Eugene Amano. If the Titans find a new center to go with Hutchinson, who replaces free agent Jake Scott in the starting lineup, the interior offensive line could see a big improvement. That could have a big bearing on running back Chris Johnson, provided he takes care of his own business.

What’s next: The Titans think Wimbley will excel as a full-time defensive end, but they can’t afford for him to be too full time. He’s a smaller guy who’s played mostly as a 3-4 outside linebacker, and shouldn’t be asked to play every down of every game. That means they still need more help at end, where the only other guys they have right now are Derrick Morgan and Malcolm Sheppard.

Look for them to address depth at corner -- where they feel fine about Jason McCourty and Alterraun Verner as the starters, if that’s how it falls -- as well as at receiver. One wild-card spot could be running back. Are they content with Javon Ringer and Jamie Harper as changeups to Johnson, or would they like to add a big back?
Recapping the wild day that culminated in the trade of Tim Tebow not to the Jaguars, but to the Jets, with Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union. The issue I had was that while Tebow said he didn't have input into where he landed, he said his agent was in regular communication with the Broncos. Hey Tim, the agent is speaking on your behalf.

Matt Hasselbeck was completely reasonable and measured as he discussed his feelings about the Titans' chase of Peyton Manning. He said you "... don’t flinch, don’t blink, you just do your job better.” Pitch perfect. That could be on the next sign Mike Munchak posts on a wall at team headquarters. Jim Wyatt's story from The Tennessean.

Pat Robertson says if Manning gets hurt and misses the season the Broncos would be paying the price for their treatment of Tebow. Give me a break. Another overly emotional Tebow fan feeling he's mistreated. Teams are allowed to upgrade. Even encouraged to do so. Reid Cherner's story from USA Today.

Tight end Joel Dreessen is deciding between offers from Denver and Houston this morning, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Gary Kubiak says the free agency period's been tough on the Texans, but they have to forge ahead.
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

The Houston Texans are more likely to win the Super Bowl than the Broncos with Peyton Manning says Jerome Solomon of the Houston Chronicle.

The Texans will face the Manning-led Broncos in 2012 in Denver, says John McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

Manning’s choice of the Broncos is a perfect one for making a Super Bowl run, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star, who covered the John Elway Broncos once upon a time. “I'm happy for him. Thrilled. Overjoyed that Manning, who you hope has something left after all those neck procedures, will get a chance to win some more Super Bowls before his Pro Football Hall of Fame career ends. This is the perfect fit."

The Colts won’t have a chance to play Manning this season, says Phil Richards of the Star.

The Star collected reaction to the Manning move.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars aren’t commenting or offering indications about their interest or lack of it in Tim Tebow. “Their front office did not have interest in Tebow then, and indications are that they still do not have interest in him. So far, Jaguars owner Shahid Khan has taken a hands-off approach with the team’s football operations,” writes Tania Ganguli of the Florida Times-Union.

Don’t add Tebow just to sell tickets, advised Gene Frenette. That would be a foolish move, I agree.

Tennessee Titans

I absolutely was going to pay him,” Bud Adams told Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. “And I was going to pay him to be with us until he was ready to be buried. And I was going to take care of him. I was going to spend a lot of money on him. But he didn’t want that. He wanted to be somewhere else, and I can’t do anything about that.”

”As disappointing as the news may be, at least this franchise finally sat down at the adult table and tried to pull off a major deal,” writes David Climer of The Tennessean. “For all the people that have criticized Bud Adams over the years for being cheap or out of touch, give it a rest. He’s the one that insisted the Titans enter the Manning sweepstakes. For all we know, they were a close second.”

The team has visits scheduled with center Jeff Saturday, tight end Joel Dreessen, and cornerbacks Tracy Porter and William Gay, says Wyatt.

Manning is no longer a great deep-ball thrower, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.
Kevin in Houston writes: Why is it taking so long to sign Chris Meyers, Mike Brisiel, Joel Dreessen and Neil Rackers? It's fairly clear the Texans were not going to be able to sign/afford Mario Williams. Did this not clear up enough room to get some of these key players back? It just feels like the Texans just don't care.

Paul Kuharsky: Teams don’t operate on fans’ timetables.

The Texans have re-signed Arian Foster and Chris Myers now. Brisiel, Dreessen and Rackers are nice pieces, but hardly urgent. So you let them see the market. If they hit the lottery, you say congrats. If they don’t, you wind up in a favorable position to get them back.

Why make the jump to “they don’t care?” Why wouldn’t they care?

Chris in Washington, D.C., writes: Your Tennessee bias has been on astounding display over the past week. Could you make it any clearer that you hope Peyton goes there? Last I checked, this is an AFC South blog, not a Titans blog. You should write accordingly. As a journalist, I don't have a whole lot of respect for your coverage right now. Or maybe ESPN "bloggers" should be held to a lesser standard?

Paul Kuharsky: Peyton Manning is the biggest story in sports right now. He’s not considering playing for Jacksonville or Houston. The Colts cut him, so any post about his potential landing spot is of interest to Indianapolis. I’d be writing a great deal about him even if one of his primary suitors was not in the division. But it is.

I’ve written about the goings on with other teams.

None, right now, have nearly as much going on as the Titans do.

That’s how it works -- the biggest story and most active team gets the most attention. When the Texans were in the playoffs, it was them. When the Colts were deciding on Manning, it was them. As the Titans court Manning, it’s them.

Bo from Spearfish writes: With Jax signing a decent WR (Robinson) and Mincey to stay at DE, what’s their first-round priority? CB? Or do they protect Gabbert with an OL pick. I personally would still prefer another set of hands opposite Robinson.

Paul Kuharsky: You can’t force a priority on a first-round pick, but they still need a big time pass-rusher and a corner. But wide receiver trumps all in my eyes, especially if Laurent Robinson is all they do in free agency.

Scott in Missoula, Mont., writes: Winston Justice? Really? Why in the world would the Colts take an overpaid, backup OT and give up their position in the sixth round, disregarding for a moment the fact they have Anthony Castonzo and Ben Ijalana, instead of trying to court Evan Mathis, Ben Grubbs and/or Chris Myers, who are proven upper-echelon offensive linemen? Seems like the only positive move Ryan Grigson has had thus far is keeping Reggie Wayne to be Andrew Luck's #1 WR. Your thoughts?

Paul Kuharsky: I think we give Winston a chance, just like we give Grigson and all the newcomers a chance. Ijalana’s hardly a sure thing himself. Grubbs and Myers were pretty costly and the Colts don’t have much money. And swapping sixth-rounders with Philly for Justice was hardly any cost at all.

Barry in Indy writes: I see where some teams offered a 1st or 2nd round tender offer to their FAs. Do you know if the Colts did this with Pierre Garcon? At this point, the Colts need all the draft picks they can get. Thanks in advance!

Paul Kuharsky: Tender offers are for restricted free agents. Teams are able to retain them with a tender offer, which gives them the right to match any offer sheet they might sign or get the draft pick attached to the tender as payback for not matching.

Teams have no power to attach anything to unrestricted free agents. The only thing they stand to get back later is a compensatory draft pick, third round or later, if the sum of their free-agent losses outweighs the sum of their gains. And those come in the draft the following year.

Michael from Cypress, Texas writes: No disrespect to Manning, but I think he'd be a great QB coach at Houston. Can you imagine TJ Yates and Matt Schaub getting tips from Peyton?

Paul Kuharsky: Actually I can’t imagine it at all. Why would he want to do that? He’s going to make a ton of money playing and has a chance to try to win another Super Bowl.
Reading the coverage …

Houston Texans

The Texans hope to avoid the worst-case defection scenario, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. (News in here: Tight end Joel Dreessen is headed to New Orleans for a visit. Right guard Mike Brisiel is visiting Oakland.)

Recently cut fullback Lawrence Vickers was not out of work long, quickly signing with Dallas, says McClain.

Indianapolis Colts

It’s a three-year, $10.5 million contract for defensive end Cory Redding, a building block for the Colts, says Phil Richards. Says Redding: “I believe we can get this thing turned right back around and just keep winning."

Reggie Wayne: Colt for life. Phillip B. Wilson on Reggie Wayne’s decision to re-sign with Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars landed their first two outside additions in Laurent Robinson and Chad Henne, says Tania Ganguli.

Why a multi-year deal for reserve linebacker Russell Allen makes sense for Jacksonville, from Ganguli.

Tennessee Titans

Was it a long hello, or will Peyton Manning be putting down roots again in Tennessee? John Glennon of The Tennessean reports on Manning’s visit to the Titans headquarters.

Manning’s gut could push him to decide on the Titans, says David Climer of The Tennessean.

The Titans are also working on their offensive line, and hosted free-agent Scott Wells, says Glennon.
Early thoughts on the Texans scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

Running back Derrick Ward -- A third-stringer who has good experience and could be important if Arian Foster is lured away with an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

Tight end Joel Dreessen -- Though largely underrated from the outside, he’s been a nice contributor and certainly has value for the Texans.

OG Mike Brisiel -- A solid starter they’d surely like to keep in order for their very good offensive line to remain intact.

C Chris Myers -- A very valuable cog in the machine and a great system fit, he may have been the best center in the NFL in 2011.

Wide receiver Bryant Johnson -- He was a non-factor as the team’s fourth receiver and they need to upgrade the spot.

Linebacker Tim Dobbins -- Played well when he got on the field, but may find better opportunity elsewhere.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams -- If the Texans can’t lock him up before March 13, he will become the biggest prize of the free-agent class. It would be a huge accomplishment to find a way to re-sign him.

Cornerback Jason Allen -- He’s been a virtual “co-starter” with Kareem Jackson and has typically outplayed him. But based on this list, he’s not close to a priority.

Kicker Neil Rackers -- Rackers has been a steady guy for the Texans, who surely would like to keep him rather than shopping for a replacement.

Also UFAs:

Texans sitting two Pro Bowlers

January, 1, 2012
HOUSTON -- Locked in as the AFC South’s No. 3 seed, the Texans are looking to regain some momentum.

But they are also playing it safe. While Andre Johnson returns from a hamstring injury and will get some work, Pro Bowlers Arian Foster and Johnathan Joseph are getting the day off, as is tight end Owen Daniels.

Ben Tate will start for Foster at running back, Jason Allen will start for Joseph at corner, and Joel Dreessen will start at tight end for Daniels.

The game has far more meaning for Tennessee, which needs a win and several other results to earn the No. 6 seed. If they get it, they’d return to Reliant Stadium for a rematch next week.

Tennessee is without defensive end Jason Jones, who's out with an ankle injury.

The full inactive lists:

Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

T.J. Yates held his own on a day Reliant Stadium might have been as loud as ever and the Texans boosted their record to 9-3, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Arian Foster was at the center of a giant drive that rested the defense and provided the winning points, says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

There is now officially a storybook quality to the Texans who are even with the Ravens, Steelers and Patriots for the best record in the AFC, says Richard Justice of the Chronicle.

Gary Kubiak motivated his guys by telling them about how they were an underdog and how it was an insult to the league’s top-ranked defense, says Jeffrey Martin of the Chronicle.

Kareem Jackson was among the defensive stars, say McClain and Martin.

Joel Dreessen added to his tremendous TD-to-catch ratio, says McClain.

At the scouting combine at Indianapolis, Yates was a low-ranking quarterback. Which meant he arrived early, stayed late and threw a ton as a combine arm who provided the passes for all the other prospects to catch, says Mike Silver of Yahoo.

Gary Kubiak made it clear he isn’t scaling anything back for Yates, says Jeff Darlington of

Eric Winston said if the Texans could win with Yates and what they have against Atlanta, they can win with it any time, says Clark Judge of

Indianapolis Colts

Dan Orlovsky led some late scoring drives and gave the Colts a shot to win, but it was too little, too late, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.

Orlovsky wasn’t interested in his good stat line since it came with a loss, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Linebacker Pat Angerer and corners Terrence Johnson and Jerraud Powers were all lost to first-half injuries, says Chappell.

When the Patriots rolled early, the pace killed the Colts, writes Phillip B. Wilson.

Rob Gronkowski had a field day for the Patriots, says Wilson.

Peyton Manning’s interview with James Brown on CBS. (Video.)

Don’t take Orlovsky’s performance seriously, he’s horrible, says Nate Dunlevy of

Jacksonville Jaguars

After a big week of change, the Jaguars and coach Mel Tucker turn their attention to Monday Night Football against the Chargers, writes Vito Stellino of the Times-Union.

Stellino traces Tucker’s path to his spot as coach of the Jaguars.

The Jaguars’ future in Jacksonville is in the hands of the fans, says Stellino. The only way to quiet speculation about a move is to sell more tickets.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans surpassed their win total from last year and stayed very much in the mix for a playoff berth, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Chris Johnson was sick all week, but it didn’t stop him from another giant game in another big win, says Wyatt.

It says a lot about the Titans’ resilience that they head into the final quarter of the season with a real crack at a playoff spot, says David Climer.

Injuries meant the Titans used a piecemeal secondary, says Climer.

Michael Griffin’s big play wound up with a favorable bounce for the Bills, say Wyatt and Climer.

Lewis drop kills Jaguars in first half

November, 27, 2011
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Jaguars blew a great chance to take control of their game against the Texans in the first half, but perhaps an injury to Matt Leinart creates the possibility of a rare comeback.

Houston’s top-ranked defense hardly looks worthy of the standing.

At the half, it’s 20-10 Texans.

Jacksonville put together an excellent second-quarter drive with consecutive plays of 31 yards, 25 yards and 14 yards. But a wide open Marcedes Lewis dropped a touchdown pass from Blaine Gabbert and the Jaguars had to settle for a 10-7 lead off a field goal.

Things went south from there.
  • A 42-yard punt return from Jacoby Jones put the Texans in great field position and set up a 2-yard Leinart to Joel Dreessen touchdown pass.
  • Gabbert forced a deep ball up the right side where three defenders were around Jason Hill. Johnathan Joseph’s 29-yard return set up a Neil Rackers 53-yard field goal.
  • Josh Scobee missed a 55-yard field goal wide right with 1:45 left in the first half.
  • Jeremy Mincey knocked Leinart out of the game, at least temporarily. The Texans have not officially disclosed what the injury is, but it looked to be his throwing shoulder. T.J. Yates took over for the remainder of the final drive, which produced a 33-yard Rackers field goal and the 10-point halftime lead.

AFC South Stock Watch

November, 1, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Blaine Gabbert, Jacksonville Jaguars quarterback: It’s baby steps for the rookie quarterback, who isn’t the root cause of the team's losing but isn’t doing nearly enough for the team to win with any regularity. I don’t like to read too much into body language, but it’s hard for a guy who’s not productive to give a team much moxie. And more than moxie, the team needs a couple touchdown passes from its quarterback. In the same game. No, he doesn’t have great weapons or protection, but we need to see him elevate his game, at least at times. It may not be fair to measure him against Andy Dalton, Cam Newton and Christian Ponder, but he's not off to the same caliber of start to his career.

2. Confidence in the Titans’ ability to solve problems: Never mind a debate about Chris Johnson versus Javon Ringer. Johnson’s going to start, but Ringer will continue to get work if he’s the hotter hand when he gets his chances. We’re seven games into the season, and two Hall of Fame offensive linemen -- Mike Munchak and Bruce Matthews -- clearly don’t have the horses to get effective run-blocking consistently. That’s a big problem for a team that’s supposed to have a run-based offense. The head coach and his offensive line coach wanted these guys, now they are on the hook for fixing things with what they have.

3. Jim Caldwell, Indianapolis Colts coach: A second consecutive appearance! Congrats. Bill Polian keeps talking about the great job Caldwell’s doing, and he has done well to keep things from fracturing. But there is only so much value in that when there are no wins. Caldwell and his staff don’t have enough talent to work with, but they also haven't adjusted their plan and approach enough to reflect what they are working with. It shouldn’t be a surprise that they can’t block up a great return. Points are tough to get so they have to be more aggressive at chances to get them. Caldwell looks like things are wearing on him.

[+] EnlargeJoel Dreessen
Ronald Martinez/Getty ImagesHouston's Joel Dreessen has had a nose for the end zone recently.

1. Joel Dreessen, Houston Texans tight end: He’s got a touchdown catch in two consecutive games and three in the last four. Even without Andre Johnson playing, defenses don’t put a priority on covering the Texans’ second tight end. Owen Daniels, Arian Foster, Jacoby Jones, Kevin Walter and even a healthy James Casey all probably qualify as more threatening. But Dreessen’s got the confidence of Matt Schaub and has a knack for taking advantage of what a defense allows him to do. Gary Kubiak said Monday you can be sure Dreessen’s not undervalued in Texans headquarters.

2. Karl Klug, Tennessee Titans defensive tackle: The high-motor rookie’s been an impact guy for the Titans so far and put together a very nice game against the Colts. He had a sack of Curtis Painter, a tackle for a loss and a deflected pass. He’s a key guy in Tennessee’s defensive line rotation and looks to be a real find as a fifth-round draft pick out of Iowa. The team made a push to get bigger on the defensive front. Klug is the tallest tackle at 6-foot-3, but the lightest at 275 pounds. Light is just fine if he produces like this.

3. Optimism in Houston: It’s always a bit dangerous to get excited about the Texans because they’ve been so consistent at suffering letdowns right when it appears they are ready to make a big step. But they’ve found their balance in a lot of ways over the past two weeks. The division is bad. The schedule is favorable. It’s there for the taking and it’s understandable if, no matter how careful history suggests we need to be, big expectations are building.

Wrap-up: Texans 24, Jaguars 14

October, 30, 2011
Thoughts on the Houston Texans’ 24-14 win against the Jacksonville Jaguars at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: The Texans maintained their lead in the AFC South, improving to 5-3. They had some poor stretches but did what a good team should do against a division opponent who is not as well-rounded. The Jaguars fell to 2-6, which is two games better than the last-place Colts, but well behind both the Titans (4-3) and Texans.

What I liked, Texans: The Texans knew that a solid defensive day against a limited offense led by rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert would set the stage for a win, and they got it. They held Maurice Jones-Drew to 18 carries for 63 yards, allowed Gabbert to complete just 33 percent of his passes, surrendered one play of more than 12 yards and allowed the Jaguars to cross midfield on only three series.

What I didn’t like, Jaguars: Other than the anemic offense we just covered in the previous section? The defense took away two fumbles, which is good, but allowed Arian Foster to take 33 carries for 112 yards and a score. And when your quarterback is hitting on only a third of his passes, holding Matt Schaub to 53 percent doesn’t wind up being something you can celebrate.

Major contributor: Texans tight end Joel Dreessen has done his share to help the Texans be OK without Andre Johnson. He caught a touchdown pass for the second consecutive week.

Stat to compare: Jacksonville was 5-for-14 (36 percent) on third down. Houston was 10-for-17 (59 percent).

What’s next: The Texans get a visit from the Cleveland Browns, which would figure to be an easier AFC North draw than the two they’ve had so far. The Jaguars have reached their bye week.
We are overdue to check in on penalties in the AFC South, so here’s an account from ESPN Stats and Info on the primary offenders:

  • Lacey has three pass interferences, an offensive holding, a face mask and a running into the kicker. If a cornerback is beat, it’s usually better for him to draw a flag then let a guy go. But I’d like him not to be in that position very often.
  • All five of Meester’s penalties are holding, but four have been declined. Declined penalties get guys off the hook in a lot of ways but shouldn’t. They are still committing the foul, it’s just the context that is helping them.
  • Smith had two offside, a face mask, an illegal use of hands and an unnecessary roughness penalties. A nice smorgasbord of infractions.



Sunday, 1/25