AFC South: Julio Jones

A large portion of the 320 players that participated in an NFL Nation confidential survey about which non-teammate they’d like to see play in a Super Bowl didn’t get their wish.

Three Jaguars players did, though.

Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson topped the survey with 59 votes, narrowly edging out Atlanta’s Tony Gonzalez (56 votes), who retired last month after 17 years in the NFL.

Obviously neither was able to make to the Super Bowl this year, but three of the players named by the 10 Jaguars players polled did: Denver’s Terrance Knighton and Demaryius Thomas and Seattle’s Marshawn Lynch. It’s not a surprise that someone named Knighton because he was the Jaguars’ third-round pick in 2009 and one of the most well-liked players in the locker room during his four seasons in Jacksonville.

The interesting thing about the Jaguars’ responses was that no player was named more than once. In addition to Knighton, Thomas and Lynch, seven other players were named: Jake Long, Brandon Carr, Julio Jones, Matt Ryan, Andrew Luck, Peterson and Michael Vick.
HOUSTON -- After a perplexing loss to the Jacksonville Jaguars in which he gained only one yard on just seven carries, running back Ben Tate was asked if anyone knows why his Houston Texans season has gone as it has.

"Maybe God?" Tate said.

Certainly not anybody in the Texans' locker room. He was asked if "embarrassing" was the right word for where the Texans are right now and he agreed.

Perhaps there's solace for the Texans in the fact they aren't alone in their dramatic tumble.

On Nov. 25, 2012 the leaders of the AFC and NFC were the Texans and the Falcons, both at 10-1. Today is Nov. 25, 2013 and they are both at the bottom of their conferences, both at 2-9.

The Texans are on a nine-game losing streak and the Falcons are on a five-game losing streak. The Texans had to come from behind to win their first two games of the season against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans. Then the luck ran out. The return of Ed Reed, who missed those games recovering from hip surgery, coincided with the beginning of the longest losing streak in franchise history.

Their quarterback, Matt Schaub, faltered, setting an NFL record for consecutive games with a pick-six with four, and Case Keenum, his successor hasn't been able to play well enough to change things. And while dealing with that, a significant injury avalanche began. One after another, tight end Owen Daniels, strong safety Danieal Manning, inside linebacker Brian Cushing and running back Arian Foster are all on injured reserve. Daniels could come back next week, but in his absence this season was lost.

What happened to the Falcons? I checked in with our Falcons reporter Vaughn McClure:

"I believe injuries are the main reason -- but not the only reason -- for the Falcons' decline this season. Losing top offensive threat Julio Jones (foot surgery) sucked the life out of the offense and allowed opposing defenses to play more honest. And with No. 2 receiver Roddy White battling ankle and hamstring injuries for most of the season, the high-powered Falcons lost that much more steam. Left tackle Sam Baker wasn’t the same player before going on injured reserve with a knee injury, while linebacker Sean Weatherspoon's presence was missed as the defensive leader when he was sidelined seven games due to a Lisfranc foot sprain.

"Throw in losing defensive end/linebacker Kroy Biermann (Achilles) for the season after Week 2 and the Falcons really never had a chance to get going on either side of the ball. Struggles by the offensive line to keep pressure off Matt Ryan and open holes in the running game have hurt, too. So has the inability for the defensive line to put pressure on opposing quarterbacks, which has contributed to the 18 plays of 40-plus yards surrendered by the Falcons."

Now they're two of three teams with a league-worst 2-9 records, all jockeying for draft position. It's possible that adding a high draft pick to their already-talented rosters puts them in strong positions going forward. But that turnaround will require making the right decisions in the draft and filling the holes this season exposed properly.

Observation deck: Titans-Falcons

August, 25, 2013

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- If you’re going to post two duds and a stellar game in the preseason, it’s best if the stellar game comes in Week 3, the traditional dress-rehearsal week.

That’s what the Tennessee Titans got Saturday night at LP Field in a 27-16 victory over the Atlanta Falcons.

The defense gave up too much on the Falcons’ first three drives but held strong in the red zone and surrendered a total of six points. The run defense still has room to improve, allowing 4.5 yards per carry to Steven Jackson in the first half.

But things got better overall as the game went on, with five sacks of Matt Ryan and much better shedding of blocks, hitting and tackling.

The headline, however, was provided by young quarterback Jake Locker.

He finished up the first half plus one series with a very solid line: 11-for-13 for 133 yards and a touchdown with a 134.9 passer rating. He was sacked three times and lost a fumble. He threw the ball well and had people catching the ball better for him but for a drive-killing Taylor Thompson drop of a pass thrown a touch behind the tight end.

The mandatory preseason disclaimer: It was a meaningless game against a team that went deep into the playoffs last season but was only 24th in overall defense and 23rd against the pass. Now, two of the Falcons’ top three cornerbacks are rookies -- Desmond Trufant and Robert Alford.

Locker’s bad moments came on the move or under pressure.

On a third-and-7 from the Titans' 35, he didn’t seem quite aware enough and should have been sacked but shrugged out of a blitz. He rolled right and turned to run for a pretty easy first down. But linebacker Joplo Bartu hit him -- and the ball -- as he went down and jarred it loose; safety Thomas DeCoud recovered it.

Beside the fumble, Locker was helpless on two sacks -- one that came from super-quick pressure past right tackle David Stewart, one on which he was pinned in on both sides and taken down as the middle closed in.

In the third quarter, the first-team offense’s lone drive stalled when Locker saw pressure and put his head down rather than feeling the pressure and trying to do something against it.

The positive far outweighed the fumble and the sacks, however.

“This is the first week that we’ve actually put in a game plan. We’d been running base stuff the first two weeks,” offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains said. “So I think that probably helped a little bit. It helped open up the play-action a little bit and helped Jake.

“I was probably too conservative early on, and once I let him go, he played really well.”

It was a very encouraging night for the quarterback. If the Titans could freeze him right here and put him in practice on Wednesday, Sept. 4, in preparation for the season opener at Pittsburgh, I think they might.

I’ve done some reporting and I’ve learned, exclusively, that such freezing is not an available option.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
AP Photo/John RussellTitans QB Jake Locker ran three times for 22 yards in addition to his 133 yards through the air.
Some other thoughts:

Run defense still an issue: Jackson took 10 first-half carries 45 yards.

Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey, who’s healthy and playing very well, didn’t like learning those numbers.

“We want to hold guys to 2 yards a carry. One or 2 yards a carry,” Casey said. “We don’t want to give up nothing more than that because then it makes it too hard, a game where they can just pound it down your throat. In order to get to the quarterback, you’ve got to stop them on the run on first and second downs.”

See more about the run defense in this video.

Even having allowed more rushing yards than they’d like, the Titans' pass rush was excellent, with five sacks of Ryan and six overall. Casey had 1½; Derrick Morgan, Mike Martin and Kadarron Anderson had one each. Moise Fokou, Karl Klug and Kamerion Wimbley each had half a sack. Nice distribution.

Double barrel: Chris Johnson looked solid in gaining 65 yards on 11 carries with a nice 20-yard sprint to the right sideline on the Titans' first touchdown drive.

Earlier, on the Titans' second possession, Johnson got the ball on first and second down, gaining 7 yards and then 2. Tennessee sent Shonn Greene on to replace Johnson, and Greene did just what the Titans brought him in to do: find 3 yards to convert the third-and-1.

I asked Johnson if he envisioned that being the way things are going to work.

“I don’t know,” he said.

Another not-smart hit by Bernard Pollard: In the Titans’ first preseason game, Pollard put his head down and hit a Redskin heading out of bounds. That got him a $10,000 fine. In the Titans' second preseason game, he twice got beat on third-and-long, failing to make tackles in situations when he should have. Against Atlanta, on the Falcons' very first drive, he unnecessarily jumped in late on a tackle of Julio Jones and drew another personal foul penalty.

Ankle sprains: The Titans announced that both receiver Nate Washington and running back Greene didn’t finish with the first team because of ankle sprains. Washington said his was actually a right foot injury that wouldn’t cost him time unless the Titans were super cautious; Greene said his was really existing ankle soreness and not serious.

Good red zone defense after allowing the Falcons to get there too easily: The Falcons marched into the red zone on their first three drives but wound up with three field goal attempts and only six points.

“They got down there way too easy,” Casey said. “We let them get explosive plays -- big passes, things like that. We can’t allow that. When they got down there, we did our job by not letting them get in the end zone. That was one of our goals this week -- stopping them in the red zone, and we did that.”

Making a case: Receiver Michael Preston is not going to outrank any of the five receivers ahead of him, but he could be making himself a guy the Titans have to keep as a sixth, and I am hard-pressed to believe he is not one of the team’s 53 best football players.

Preston had three catches for 68 yards from Ryan Fitzpatrick, with a 56-yard bomb setting up Justin Hunter's short TD catch before he hauled in a 6-yard touchdown catch of his own later on.

I wrote about Preston at work on Friday.

“He’s a really good player. He’s been doing that day in, day out at practice,” Loggains said. “He made a big statement for his case to be on this football team again tonight.”

Verner and Turner: Cornerback Alterraun Verner and center Rob Turner started and did nothing that should dent them as the favorites to be named the starters at their respective spots.

Verner was flagged for two penalties against Jones -- a pass interference on a short pass into the middle and an illegal contact on a longer throw. I thought the first one was a good play on a ball Ryan threw a bit behind Jones. Later, Jones beat Verner, who didn’t touch him near the line, on a 42-yard play up the right side. Jones is going to make plays against a lot of corners.

And while Tommie Campbell came in early enough to have a couple chances against Jones and wasn’t victimized in a similar way, he didn’t do anything that should change the Titans' leanings.

Battle vs. Parmele: I thought Jackie Battle was getting a bit too much hype heading into the game. He was running better than Jalen Parmele, but special teams will be a huge factor in one of them winning the No. 3 running back job. I was told before the game, however, that he's close to Parmele on special teams. Battle got a game-high 13 carries for 41 yards. Parmele didn’t get one. Advantage Battle.

Referee change: Ed Hochuli was the ref in the first half, but by design, the game turned over to Wayne Mackie in the second half. He’s typically a field judge. The league is looking for opportunities to get people experience. Mackie communicated well when he had to use his microphone.

But Mackie was buzzed to review Alford’s interception of Fitzpatrick on a throw intended for Hunter. There was absolutely no reason for replay assistant Roger Ruth to buzz Mackie to review that play except to give him practice at it.

And whether the league needs to get a guy game experience or not, two teams, a crowd and a TV audience should not be subject to an unneeded challenge for such purposes.

Pending cuts? The first round of cuts come Tuesday, when the Titans have to get from 90 to 75. Healthy guys who don’t play in the third preseason game are typically being kept from getting hurt, because a team can’t cut an injured player.

Healthy Titans who didn’t play in this game were receiver Justin Hilton, defensive end Nigel Nicholas, guard Oscar Johnson, tackle Barry Richardson, tight end Martell Webb and receiver Rashad Ross. It'll be a surprise if any of them are on the roster Tuesday evening.
Did Reggie Wayne get a fair shake from the Associated Press panel of 50 voters who pick the NFL All-Pro Team?

It’s easy to rant and rave and say no.

Detroit’s Calvin Johnson and Chicago’s Brandon Marshall are the first-teamers, with Cincinnati’s A.J. Green and Andre Johnson on the second team.

Calvin Johnson got 49 votes, one short of being unanimous. Marshall got 23, Green 16.5 and Andre Johnson 8.5. Having anything less than that and having zero amount to the same thing, really.

Demaryius Thomas of Denver, Wes Welker of New England and Julio Jones of Atlanta each got one vote.

Calvin Johnson is an automatic here, with a new single-season receiving yardage record of 1,964. Andre Johnson and Brandon Marshall have strong numbers though I think Johnson’s were more meaningful as they came in an offense that was ranked much higher than Chicago’s. (I know you can flip that, it’s a matter of perspective I suppose.)

Wayne had both a “low” yards per catch and a “low” touchdown total. I’m sure that’s what hurt him even as he was third in the league to Marshall and Calvin Johnson on third down with 31 catches and his third-down average (14.5) was well up from his overall average.

He was uncanny in the leadership department for a young team that has no business winning 11 games and going to the playoffs. He was a fantastic target for Andrew Luck in his rookie season. He led the way for a team that lost its head coach to a fight against leukemia for most of the year.

But most of that qualifies as intangible. Looking at the voting, panelists didn’t seem to score those sorts of things very highly.

Nothing screams unreasonable in the way things came out, though I can understand the disappointment in Indianapolis as different results would have been fair, too.

While Andre Johnson wound up a second-team choice here, two of his teammates are on the first team: J.J. Watt was a unanimous choice at defensive end while Duane Brown is one of the tackles.
Back in August we considered the Jaguars’ philosophical commitment to isolation routes in the passing scheme.

Andy Benoit if the New York Times Fifth Down wrote back then:
The questionable talent at wide receiver could be extra debilitating given that (Mike) Mularkey’s scheme uses, almost exclusively, isolation routes. In other words, none of the receivers’ routes will combine to work off one another. Everything is separate and easy for defenses to identify. New offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski (who will actually be the one calling plays) had a similar type of passing game in Cincinnati. This rudimentary approach can work when you have high-powered receivers (Mularkey had Roddy White and Julio Jones in Atlanta; Bratkowski had Chad Ochocinco and Terrell Owens a few years ago in Cincy), but can be constricting when you don’t.

I thought maybe that would simplify things for Blaine Gabbert and rookie receiver Justin Blackmon.

But it clearly didn’t do much to boost what was a terribly anemic Jaguars’ offense until Sunday.

Monday, I found a very smart comment on this post about Mularkey deciding to go with Henne even if Gabbert was healthy.

Wrote Blackjacks1:
I think the Jags changed their offense in this last game. One of the link[s] you posted to a Jags preview early in the year talked about how Mularkey's offense used isolation routes exclusively. As you know isolation route are WR routes that do not work off of each other (ie. pick plays, moving the safety off his spot, etc). Isolation routes put more pressure on the WR to get open, because they don't get any help from the routes working together. I believe you made a comment about how that's not a good idea for this weak WR corp.

I've got great seats at the Jag home games. I can see the WR routes develop really well from my seat. And I'm telling you that the Jags were running isolation routes pretty exclusively in every home game this year. The WR were having all kinds of issues getting open and were getting no help from the offensive scheme.

But yesterday's game was different. The WR were definitely not running as many isolation routes. They were running pick plays. They were sending a man deep to clear up room for mid-range throws. And the WR (especially Blackmon) excelled in this gameplan because the pressure of getting open wasn't all on them. I also think this is why Houston's defense struggled to adapt. They hadn't seen any of this out of the Jags offense on film this year.

I took that to both Henne and Mularkey in conference calls just before lunch on Wednesday.

Mularkey said the offense is pretty much the same as it has been since his days running it in Pittsburgh, with some things from new assistants sprinkled in.

But Henne offered more, and enough to confirm that Blackjacks1 is a smart football observer.

“I think we’re definitely making combo reads with our receivers and a little bit more progression reading,” he said. “We’re just trying to find ways of how we can attack a defense and get our playmakers the ball. And whether that’s one-on-one matchups or combination routes, we’re going to try to add them all and see what they do best.”

Sunday, the Titans will be more prepared for some of the new stuff that may have been used for the first time in Houston. The Jaguars should continue to try stuff that extends beyond the core isolation routes philosophy.
Justin Blackmon was the best receiver available in the draft for a Jaguars team with a desperate need at the spot.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It probably depends on your definition of impactful.

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

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

If I was making a bet, it wouldn’t be on yes.

Seven takeaways from the combine

February, 27, 2012
LuckBrian Spurlock/US PresswireOne thing that didn't change after this year's NFL combine -- Andrew Luck is still going to the Indianapolis Colts at No. 1.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Let's hop around to seven things I took away from the NFL scouting combine with an AFC South takeaway on each:

1. There are a lot of intriguing receivers, but some insiders don’t expect even Justin Blackmon to be a quick, high-impact guy like A.J. Green and Julio Jones were last year. It’s the beginning of hole-punching season and scouts and analysts will pick people apart. But while there are a lot of talented receivers coming out, if you are a team that needs immediate impact, one strong opinion says you’d be wise to shop in a pretty good free-agent market.

What it means to the division: The Jaguars have to land at least one big-time guy in free agency. I nominate Vincent Jackson. The Colts need to hold onto Reggie Wayne or Pierre Garcon.

2. The top guys seem like sure things: Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck, Baylor quarterback Robert Griffin III and USC left tackle Matt Kalil could go 1-2-3 if someone trades into St. Louis’ No. 2 pick. I’ve not heard anyone raising any real issues with any of the three or with LSU cornerback Morris Claiborne. The quarterbacks are expected to be franchise guys, the tackle can protect a franchise guy and the corner can take away the franchise guy’s top target.

What it means to the division: There is no suspense at all about what the Colts are going to do and Luck’s combine visit to Lucas Oil Stadium was the first of many. Claiborne could be irresistible if he is there at No. 7 for the Jags.

3. Position values can be overrated. Historically, guards and safeties are not regarded as early first-round values. But this draft may feature singular guys at each spot, and it makes little sense to pass on Stanford guard David DeCastro or Alabama safety Mark Barron if you have a hole at the position. They are both drawing raves.

What it means for the division: Both probably disappear after the Colts and Jaguars have picked first and seventh but before the Titans pick 20th.

4. Quinton Coples is going to be a scary pick. The North Carolina defensive end gets some people talking about Julius Peppers. But his effort in his final year with the Tar Heels was questionable at best. ESPN draft analyst Todd McShay said it looked like Coples “had a union deal” the way he went through the motions. The team that takes him won’t have a guarantee joining its roster, it'll have a guy a defensive line coach will need to figure out.

What it means for the division: The Jaguars could go into the draft still needing a rush end, but the knocks on Coples don’t make him seem like a match with GM Gene Smith at all.

5. There is a flurry of new information teams will be gathering for a couple more days. But when scouts and personnel executives get back to their offices Wednesday, the film will once again be the prevalent measure they put to work as they stack their boards. Forty times, bench press numbers, Wonderlic scores and interview notes will all factor into grades. But the most significant information gained in Indianapolis is typically the hands-on medical information training staffs gather. Details of issues there may also be the biggest secrets.

What it means for the division: Nothing different than for anyone else. We don’t know what we don’t know, and the intrigue is a big part of why this whole process is so insanely popular.

6. News nuggets from coaches and GMs are more and more difficult to pry loose at this stage of the year. We learned Jaguars defensive tackle Tyson Alualu had knee surgery, the Colts have made a contract offer to Pierre Garcon he didn’t accept, the Texans still see Matt Leinart and T.J. Yates competing for the No. 2 quarterback job and the Titans might overpay for a veteran edge rusher. Beyond that? Not much. A lot of generalities as secrecy ruled the day.

What it means for the division: Run through the AFC South coaches and GMs. Who’s the most dynamic, chatty guy of the bunch? I think it’ll be Colts coach Chuck Pagano in time. Five of the eight guys are in their first or second season in the job. Everyone is pretty reserved at this point, even the veterans of the group, Rick Smith and Gary Kubiak of the Texans.

7. We need to go find the specifics of a different rule every year. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and Pagano both said they had not seen Peyton Manning throw. They didn’t say they aren’t allowed to see Manning throw. As it turns out, though, NFL rules don’t allow for executives beyond medical staff to watch even a rehabilitating player work at this point. While I don’t believe there is a decision still to be made, it’s interesting that the Colts' new duo at the top will only be able to hear reports from medical people and not see for themselves by the March 8th bonus deadline for Manning.

What it means for the division: Every team in the division will have a question at quarterback heading into camp: Is Matt Schaub’s foot healed? Can Matt Hasselbeck hold off Jake Locker? Does Blaine Gabbert get better? And how effective can Luck be from the start?

Wrap-up: Falcons 41, Jaguars 14

December, 15, 2011

Thoughts on the Jaguars’ 41-14 loss to the Falcons at the Georgia Dome:

What it means:The Jaguars fell to 4-10 as they were completely handled in Atlanta. Sunday they’d broken through with a 41-14 home win over the Buccaneers. Four days later they lost by the same score to a team that looks to be heading into the NFC playoff field. In receivers Roddy White (10 catches, 135 yards, two touchdowns) and Julio Jones (five, 85, one) the Falcons and quarterback Matt Ryan have just the sort of weapons the Jaguars need but lack. Shahid Khan, just approved by NFL owners to purchase the Jaguars and take over Jan. 4, was in attendance and saw in person just how far off his new team is.

What I didn’t like: The Jaguars plan and play-calling looked to have no confidence in Blaine Gabbert and he showed why. Five sacks were partly on him and partly on his pass protection. But the pocket presence that’s been an issue all season wasn’t any better, and he lost two fumbles while throwing a pick (on a ball bobbled by Marcedes Lewis) and a touchdown (to Chastin West well after the game was out of reach).

Knocked out: Right tackle Guy Whimper struggled again, this time with defensive end John Abraham. Abraham knocked Whimper from the game with a knee sprain when he sacked Gabbert and forced a fumble that defensive tackle Corey Peters recovered and returned 13 yards for a third-quarter touchdown that made it 34-0. Abraham finished with 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles. I don't know why the Jags wouldn't try Cameron Bradfield the rest of the season even if Whimper is healthy.

What I want to know: How Maurice Jones-Drew can gain yards when a defense has no fear of getting beat by the pass. He carried 17 times for 112 yards.

Something on special teams: For the second game in a row, special teams provided something big. Kassim Osgood blocked a punt that Zach Potter recovered and returned for a 46-yard touchdown that ensured Jacksonville wouldn’t be shutout. It was one of a handful of good moments on an ugly night.

What’s next: The Jaguars have a long break before they return to action with a trip to Nashville for a rematch with the Titans. Jacksonville beat the Titans 16-14 at EverBank Field on opening day.
Cornerback Kareem Jackson got a game ball for his efforts in the Texans’ Sunday win over Atlanta.

[+] EnlargeKareem Jackson
Brett Davis/US PresswireSunday against Atlanta, Houston cornerback Kareem Jackson 'probably had his best game as a pro' according to Texans coach Gary Kubiak.
“Kareem probably had his best game as a pro,” coach Gary Kubiak told Houston media Monday afternoon.

Kubiak credited the development of Jackson, the team’s top pick in the 2010 draft who struggled mightily in a starting role as a rookie, to defensive backs coach Vance Joseph.

“Vance has come in and done a great job with him,” Kubiak said. “He’s playing with a lot of confidence, he’s had a lot of ups and downs, he had the expectations of a first round pick and then there was what we went through last year. His toughness has shown, mentally and physically. Johnathan coming here has helped him, he’s kind of got a little bit of a mentor back there.

“…We’re very excited to see him playing well.”

Atlanta receiver Julio Jones actually had a chance to catch Matt Ryan’s desperation pass on the last play of the game into the left side of the end zone. My read of the replay is unclear. It could count as another drop for Atlanta on a day when they had a lot of trouble hauling passes in. Or, as Kubiak said, Jackson could get credit for making it impossible for Jones to grip it. (Either way, it was a scarier play than it should have been and overtime was closer than we might have thought.)

Jackson had an early interception of Ryan on a flea flicker the Falcons botched. Michael Turner’s pitch back to Ryan was high and threw off the timing and Ryan was unwise to make the throw intended for Roddy White deep down the middle in the first quarter.

The Texans' applause for Jackson is unsurprising. They anoint first-rounders as starters the moment they arrive and do their best to defend them even if things don’t go well. Jackson’s certainly been a beneficiary of that.

Earlier this season, when Jackson wasn’t playing as well and there was clamoring for more of Jason Allen, Kubiak repeatedly said the team counts both players as starting-caliber and it used both opposite Johnathan Joseph.

Against the Falcons, when Jackson was having the game of his career, he was still rotating with Allen and he was still not part of some of the defensive packages with five- and six- defensive backs.

I felt like the team was over-substituting in the defensive backfield, but it’s hard to complain with the results in this game or to change what’s been working.

Still, I’d say this is a completely fair assessment:

If Jackson’s work in this win was a corner-turning performance, we’d better know it if he’s on the field more going forward. And if he’s not on the field more going forward, I’m not sure I’m buying that the coaches believe it was a corner-turning performance.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 4, 2011
» NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Over in the first? The Texans have scored 57 points in the first quarter, third most in the league. The Browns have scored three, the fewest in the league. If the patterns hold, could we have a snoozer by the time the teams switch ends? ESPN Stats & Information says no quarterback has been less threatening downfield this season than Cleveland’s Colt McCoy. He has three 30-yard pass plays in 163 completions. That’s 1.8 percent, the lowest percentage of 30-yard plays of anyone this season. I don’t expect the Texans to have receiver Andre Johnson (hamstring), but Houston should still be more threatening downfield than the Browns.

[+] EnlargeJulio Jones
Joshua Weisberg/Icon SMIIn Julio Jones' last full game, he caught 11 passes for 127 yards.
Bad timing: The Colts seem to be catching the Falcons at the wrong time. If Julio Jones returns from a hamstring injury that cost him the last two games, he will have wide eyes looking at the Indianapolis secondary. In his last full game, Jones was targeted 15 times, the fourth most for any player this season. He wound up with a franchise-rookie record 11 catches for 127 yards. On defense, the Falcons have broken out of a sack slump with eight in their last three games, not good news for Curtis Painter, though he should be behind a better line as some guys are healing up.

Watch the deep stuff: Cincinnati rookie receiver A.J. Green is giving the Bengals something the Titans lack without the injured Kenny Britt -- a serious deep threat. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Green has six receptions on throws more than 20 air yards downfield this season, tied for fourth most in the NFL. Only four rookies have had more than six such receptions since the start of 2008. The Titans have covered reasonably well this season. Odds are we’ll see both Cortland Finnegan and Alterraun Verner working against Green. They’ll need a pass rush to help make it work.

Never ahead: The Colts have run 77 plays when leading this season, the fourth fewest in the NFL behind the Broncos, Seahawks and Rams. Just 16.6 percent of the Colts’ offensive plays have come when leading this season compared to 41.9 percent the three seasons before with Peyton Manning. Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have been quiet in recent weeks, and they obviously thrive when a quarterback has to throw. Indianapolis is best playing from ahead, and the Colts have rarely been in that situation this season.

Bengals in nickel: Cincinnati’s pass defense has been stronger when it has had at least five defensive backs on the field, allowing just one touchdown. The Titans are hardly a great three-wide team, considering their third receiver is Lavelle Hawkins. They would be wise to go with two tight ends more often and feature Jared Cook, a player who has been underused. The Bengals have not covered tight ends well this season. Why let Cincinnati get into its nickel package when Matt Hasselbeck has thrown five of six picks against defensive sets with at least one extra defensive back?

Three things: Falcons-Jaguars

August, 19, 2011
Three things to look for in tonight’s preseason game for the Jaguars against Atlanta at EverBank Field, where kickoff is set for 7:00 p.m. ET.

1. QB competition: David Garrard is set for his first preseason action, and it’s become clear that he is in a competition for the starting job with rookie Blaine Gabbert. The Falcons have an established cornerback in Dunta Robinson, but he will be out with a knee injury. Atlanta will deploy the very good up-and-comer Brent Grimes and, probably, Chris Owens. Can Garrard make some plays to Mike Thomas and Jason Hill against them? What the veteran quarterback does here won’t make or break him, but a solid performance could go a long way toward quieting demands for Gabbert.

2. What’s the pass defense look like? Aaron Kampman won’t play, but can they get a rush on Matt Ryan without him? And can the secondary, particularly corners Rashean Mathis and Derek Cox, hold up against receivers including Roddy White and rookie Julio Jones? We’ve been wondering about Courtney Greene and Dawan Landry both being more strong safeties than free safeties. It would be good if they were challenged in coverage so we could see their skills in space.

3. Offensive line depth. It is a question mark. Right tackle Eben Britton is out. Will we see Guy Whimper or Daniel Baldridge in his place? Whoever is there may be spared going against Ray Edwards (knee) as he will be a game-time decision. Can Britton’s fill-in show himself a capable backup, or will Jacksonville come away with concerns and take a look at some veteran free agent help?
You’ve heard my draft thoughts and seen my mock draft pick for the Texans.

It’s time for me to hear yours.

Three players who would be very nice fits for the Texans as they rebuild will be gone by the time they are on the clock, I think.

That’s why Texans A&M’s Von Miller, LSU cornerback Patrick Peterson and North Carolina end/backer Robert Quinn are not in this poll. If you think Houston’s hellbent on getting one of them, there is a trade-up scenario for you.

I’ve also given you four players I think they will consider at No. 11 who I suspect will be available at No. 11.

Safety is a huge position of need, but no safeties are rated as first-round caliber. Texas cornerback Aaron Williams could convert, but this seems too early for him as well.

I'd ask you to please vote for what you think they’ll do as opposed to what you think they should do, but who are we kidding in terms of my influence on you?
Who should the Titans take?

You’ve heard my draft thoughts and seen my mock draft pick for the Titans.

It’s time for me to hear yours.

I picked four guys and a trade scenario I think will be in play for Tennessee at No. 8 and offer them to you in this poll.

I’d prefer you tell me what you think the Titans will do, rather than what you hope they will do, but you’re in control now and I know my suggestions will only carry so much influence, if any.

I believe the Titans rank Washington’s Jake Locker higher than the rest of the quarterbacks, so I offered him as an option instead of trying to sort through the next batch.

If the Titans wind up with a quarterback who’s not Auburn’s Cam Newton, Missouri’s Blaine Gabbert or Locker, I suspect he will come after a trade down from No. 8 or in a trade up from No. 39 in the second round.

NFL Blog Network mock draft

April, 25, 2011
We know you’ve been mocked and mocked. We all give you divisional takes on Todd McShay and Mel Kiper. We often link to other mocks. Maybe you’re to your breaking point. Maybe you need one more.

We spent three days last week emailing back and forth and compiling a mock put together by eight divisional bloggers. John Clayton stood in for the NFC East.

Perhaps we add some different insight to the speculation. Perhaps we echoed prevailing wisdom. (I can raise my hand on that, as you will see.)

At any rate, we know we’re mostly wrong, and we’re eager to write names in draft slots in ink instead of pencil when things kick off Thursday evening. Here’s hoping this helps tide you over.

Big Board Bar

Analysis: The Panthers are aware of upside and downside with Newton. But a team that has to compete in a division with Drew Brees, Matt Ryan and Josh Freeman for the foreseeable future realizes it has to get a franchise quarterback to have a chance in the NFC South. Time to take the big leap on Newton. (Pat Yasinskas)


Analysis: The Broncos are thrilled to see Carolina go with a quarterback, allowing them to pick from the entire defensive board. Denver goes with Dareus because he's a perfect fit and he's ready to instantly impact the NFL's worst defense. (Bill Williamson)


Analysis: The Bills have a great opportunity to land a potential franchise quarterback and don't plan on drafting in this territory again. GM Buddy Nix repeatedly has said the presence of Ryan Fitzpatrick as the starter means it's the perfect time to draft a quarterback and let him grow. (Tim Graham)


Analysis: Drafting a receiver this high is risky, especially when quarterback Carson Palmer is talking retirement. So there's nothing wrong with going safe and taking arguably the best player in this draft. (James Walker)


Analysis: It's tough to second-guess the Cardinals under this scenario with the top two quarterbacks off the board. New defensive coordinator Ray Horton needs outside pass-rush help and fresh legs at linebacker. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: I think the Browns should go defense with Robert Quinn and Nick Fairley still available. But our AFC North readers voted for Green when making our mock draft board. He gives quarterback Colt McCoy a legit No. 1 receiver. (James Walker)


Analysis: The 49ers have needs in the secondary, too, so Prince Amukamara could be an option. Quinn was suspended for last season and previously returned from surgery to relieve pressure associated with a benign brain tumor. The question on Quinn is whether the 49ers' medical people would sign off on him. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: A DT with Fairley's power and feet can impact the entire defense, and the Titans need a big transformation on that side of the ball. Still, the gaping hole at quarterback means they may look to maneuver. If they love Jake Locker, it's even possible they'd take him here. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: Jerry Jones may be tempted to trade down, but the revamping of the offensive line is long overdue. Smith has the best upside of any tackle in the draft. (John Clayton)


Analysis: Even though Mike Shanahan will be looking to improve his defense with the first pick, it's going to be hard to pass on a fast wide receiver and the second-best non-quarterback offensive player available in the draft. (John Clayton)


Analysis: The Texans are out of range for Miller and Quinn, who'd be huge additions. Trading down to a team that wants a quarterback here and landing an OLB later in the first would be ideal. I think they address the front before the secondary, and Smith can rush from the outside, helping the whole D. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: A team desperate for a quarterback can't wait for one to fall to them in the second round. Without a third-round pick, trade-up options are limited. Sometimes you just have to jump. (Kevin Seifert)

Analysis: A speedy playmaker in the back end would enhance the Lions' defensive rebuild. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: With the top two receivers gone, the Rams get arguably the highest-rated defensive lineman available at this point. Watt has the versatility to play more than one position. He would give Steve Spagnuolo welcome depth on the line, upgrading and diversifying the rotation instantly. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: The Dolphins' interior line has been chaotic for the past three years, and Pouncey is a versatile player who can line up at center or guard. If the Dolphins truly are sold on Ryan Mallett, they might make a splash by taking him here because they don't have a second-round pick to use on a quarterback. (Tim Graham)


Analysis: GM Gene Smith made it clear recently that Kerrigan is hardly the only "Gene Smith guy" who could be available here. But Kerrigan's résumé, college captaincy and work ethic make him a fit considering an edge pass-rusher should complete the defensive line reconstruction. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: If he's still on the board here, the Patriots likely won't be deterred by Bowers' knee injury. Bill Belichick always is searching for value and isn't afraid to draft injured players and give them time to heal. The Patriots drafted Brandon Tate in the third round in 2009 even though he was healing from reconstructive knee surgery. (Tim Graham)


Analysis: The Chargers are thrilled the Cal pass-rusher is on the board. The intense, high-character Jordan is one of the team's top-rated pass-rushers. He should give this team an instant spark. (Bill Williamson)

Analysis: Like the Cowboys, the Giants let their offensive line get too old. Even though Mike Pouncey would have been tempting to take at this spot if he were available, the Giants need a tackle more than they do a guard. (John Clayton)


Analysis: The Buccaneers have a huge need for a pass-rusher. Houston's the best on the board. Time for the Stylez G. White (4.5 sacks last season) era to end. (Pat Yasinskas)

Analysis: The Chiefs are relieved Tampa Bay didn't take Wilkerson. He is a versatile player who will fit in with this defensive line and should help this young defense continue to improve. (Bill Williamson)


Analysis: Yes, there are good offensive line options here and Bill Polian could pounce on Nate Solder or Gabe Carimi. But the Colts are rarely in range of a top interior defensive lineman and Liuget's penetration means he helps the rush and the run defense. (Paul Kuharsky)


Analysis: The Eagles have spent a lot of time investigating Smith's character and determined he's too talented to let pass. The Eagles need cornerback help, but if Smith is gone, they will look at a right tackle or right guard. (John Clayton)


Analysis: The Saints don't need an immediate star. But he can be the heir apparent to Will Smith and contribute in a defensive end rotation for a year or two before becoming the main piece of this defensive line. (Pat Yasinskas)


Analysis: The players taken 22nd through 24th could appeal as well. Some locals will groan if the Seahawks pass up Jake Locker, but Ingram represents the value pick. Seattle wants to trade down. GM John Schneider was with Seattle in 2000 when the team drafted another Alabama back, Shaun Alexander, in the first round. (Mike Sando)


Analysis: The Ravens love drafting monsters on their front seven, and Heyward would be a good value at No. 26. He has an NFL pedigree and adds another threat to get to the quarterback. (James Walker)

Analysis: The Falcons would really love to get a pass-rushing defensive end, but the board is pretty empty. They can fill that need whenever free agency starts. For now, they'll switch things up and look for an "explosive" player on offense. Baldwin is a huge receiver and could be the perfect complement to Roddy White. (Pat Yasinskas)


Analysis: Another value pick for the Patriots if Solder still is on the board. The Patriots must stabilize their offensive line. Left tackle Matt Light went to the Pro Bowl as an alternate last season but is a free agent and will turn 33 in June. (Tim Graham)


Analysis: Looking to trade down, the Bears are stunned to find one of the draft's top tackles still available. Carimi is an immediate starter. Thanks, fellow bloggers. (Kevin Seifert)


Analysis: The Jets' primary needs are to improve their pass rush and along the defensive line. Ayers can rush the passer and help in coverage. That kind of versatility makes it easier for Rex Ryan to deploy his tricky, aggressive defensive tactics. (Tim Graham)


Analysis: Steelers catch a break with both Williams and Miami cornerback Brandon Harris still on the board. Williams' versatility and physicality give him a slight edge, and he fills the team's biggest need at corner. (James Walker)


Analysis: With Ayers off the board, the Packers continue their succession plan at offensive tackle. It's a luxury afforded to the Super Bowl champions. (Kevin Seifert)

McShay's multiple scenarios

April, 20, 2011
While Todd McShay makes an official pick in his newest mock Insider, he also provides a three-for-one, with two alternate scenarios for each team.

Here’s what he’s got the AFC South doing.

Tennessee Titans, No. 8

Nick Fairley, DT, Auburn

Scenario 1: Fairley makes the most sense at this point and he has tremendous upside. He's worth the pick from a talent standpoint, but there are legitimate questions about his football character and if the Titans pass, that will be the reason.

Scenario 2: [Prince] Amukamara is worth the pick and would fill one of the Titans' top five needs.

Scenario 3: If [Julio] Jones were to fall this far, Tennessee would consider taking him given Kenny Britt's recent off-field issues, or if he were available it might provide an opportunity to trade back with a team like the St. Louis Rams and perhaps address need at quarterback with someone like Washington's Jake Locker.

My thoughts: I’m on board with Fairley if things unfold as expected with the top seven players. If Blaine Gabbert or Patrick Peterson somehow slip, I think they’d pounce. Among players likely available, I think Locker is second-most likely to Fairley, with Jones next.

Houston Texans, No. 11

Robert Quinn, DE/OLB, North Carolina

Scenario 1: Taking Quinn is the best-case scenario outside of [Von] Miller somehow falling this far. Quinn would be a nice complement to fellow OLB Connor Barwin, one of the best ILB tandems in the league in DeMeco Ryans and Brian Cushing, and difference-maker Mario Williams up front.

Scenario 2: If Quinn is gone, then a 5-technique like [J.J.] Watt or California's Cameron Jordan would be the pick.

Scenario 3: The Texans could be forced to weigh value against philosophy here if the players above are gone. Amukamara would be the value pick, but I tend to think they would lean toward Missouri DE Aldon Smith because new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is determined to upgrade the front seven.

My thoughts: Quinn would feel like a home run. If he’s gone, I feel like one of those more rugged ends who could play in a 3-4 would be the value, though Smith would fill the more the outright need. Amukamara would surprise me.

Jacksonville Jaguars, No. 16

Ryan Kerrigan, DE, Purdue

Scenario 1: General manager Gene Smith likes safe, high-motor, strong-character picks who can contribute right away, and Kerrigan fits that mold perfectly.

Scenario 2: If the Jaguars were to take a chance with this pick, it could be on Clemson DE Da'Quan Bowers and his knee issues.

Scenario 3: Their three other top needs are reaches here, so reaching for Locker or moving back for another quarterback might be a possibility.

My thoughts: Kerrigan is an easy match to make, but he’s not the only high-motor, hard-worked Smith is going to have a crack at here. They already have a DE with knee questions in Aaron Kampman, and I suspect they’d fear Bowers. Watt or Smith are possibilities.

Indianapolis, No. 22

Nate Solder, OT, Colorado

Scenario 1: Solder is a no-brainer. The Colts gave up the fewest sacks in the league last year, but that was mostly due to QB Peyton Manning getting the ball out quickly. But Solder has the athleticism to help in protection when he's ready to step into the lineup. More importantly, he's already a monster at 6-foot-8 and 319 pounds and would help upgrade a running game that finished 29th in the league (92.7 yards per game) last season.

Scenario 2: Liuget is the higher-ranked prospect and is a strong possibility as the kind of quick, penetrating defensive lineman the Colts like.

Scenario 3: If the top four offensive tackles are off the board, Indianapolis could reach for Mississippi State OT Derek Sherrod.

My thoughts: As soon as a player or a position is deemed a no brainer for the Colts, I get scared. One of the top four offensive tackles sure looks like a match. I don’t see them looking to Sherrod as he seems a bit like Tony Ugoh. I could certainly see Liuget. Is there a receiver value here?