AFC South: LeGarrette Blount

INDIANAPOLIS -- It only took two playoff games -- or a handful of plays if you really want to narrow it down -- to see an area the Indianapolis Colts needed to address in the offseason.

You had your options to choose from.

Quarterback Alex Smith and the Kansas City Chiefs offense, without running back Jamaal Charles, scoring 44 points against them in the playoffs. Then there was New England running back LeGarrette Blount running over the Colts for 166 yards the following week.

[+] EnlargeD'Qwell Jackson
Winslow Townson/USA TODAY SportsThe Colts will look to D'Qwell Jackson to bolster the middle of the defense in 2014.
Putting all the pressure on quarterback Andrew Luck's 24-year-old shoulders is the last thing the Colts want, even if his ability for the dramatic comebacks make for good television.

That’s why it’s not surprising the Colts' first free agent signing was on defense. Indianapolis agreed to a four-year, $22-million deal that includes $11 million guaranteed with former Cleveland Browns linebacker D'Qwell Jackson on Thursday.

Jackson has had at least 100 tackles in five of his seven NFL seasons.

The Colts didn’t get Jackson to come in and compete for the starting inside linebacker spot alongside Jerrell Freeman. They want Jackson to start. That should not be a problem since Pat Angerer, the starter there most of last season, won’t be back.

Jackson was rated as the NFL’s 42nd best inside linebacker by Pro Football Focus last season. He has played in a 4-3 and 3-4 scheme, but he’s viewed as a better 4-3 inside linebacker. Only time will tell if the 30-year-old Jackson can flip that thought process around since Colts coach Chuck Pagano runs a 3-4 scheme. Jackson played in a 3-4 scheme with the Browns last season when he had 141 tackles.

The Colts held their opponents to a combined 20 points, forced eight turnovers, and had 11 sacks during a three-game winning streak at the end of the regular season.

But two of those teams -- Houston and Jacksonville -- have the No. 1 and 3 picks, respectively, in the NFL draft this year. A real indication came against the Chiefs (513 total yards) and Patriots (234 rushing yards) in the playoffs.

The Colts finished 20th in the league overall and 26th against stopping the run last season, which is why Jackson’s signing is just a start.

“We certainly had times during the season where we played very, very good defense. Played smothering defense, especially down the stretch,” Pagano said during the NFL scouting combine last month. “I know the playoffs didn’t turn out, obviously we didn’t play like we are capable of. We’ve just got to be more consistent. As we add pieces to the puzzle and guys get better at their craft, I think we’ll certainly one day say we play defense like [Seattle] on a consistent basis.”

Re-signing cornerback Vontae Davis still sits at the top of the Colts’ priority list for their own players. Safety Antoine Bethea is also a free agent and getting a wide body at nose tackle to help clog up the middle of the line is an option, too.

The process in improving the defense started Thursday for the Colts. Now they have to keep going.
The 2014 free agency is just days away. The Indianapolis Colts had no problem spending last year, signing players to contracts that totaled more than $100 million. First-year results weren't overly impressive. Colts general manager Ryan Grigson and coach Chuck Pagano talked about needing consistent play during the scouting combine in Indianapolis on Feb. 21.

Some of it was because of injuries. Some of it was simply because of lack of production.

Before the Colts go out and decide how they want to spend their $41 million in salary-cap space this year, let's look back and see how the 2013 free-agent signings performed.

Safety LaRon Landry (4 years, $24 million)

2013 stats: 87 tackles, 0 interceptions

The Colts signed Landry to be their big hitter and to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he was dominating in the secondary. Landry was one of the NFL's leading tacklers after the first two weeks of the season, including two impressive chase-down tackles to save a touchdown in each of the first two games. But then an ankle injury sidelined him four games. Landry lacked consistency in his first season with the Colts. He missed on two touchdown-saving tackles late in the season. The first was on Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles' 31-yard touchdown run in Week 16. The second was against New England's LeGarrette Blount on his 73-yard touchdown run in the Colts' AFC divisional playoff loss.

Staying healthy and not always going for the big hit are key for Landry going forward.

Free-agency series: Running backs

February, 25, 2014
Feb 25
Here is the second of a 10-part series breaking down the Jaguars’ free-agency needs, position by position:

Running backs

Who’s on the roster: Delone Carter, Shaun Chapas (FB), Justin Forsett, Maurice Jones-Drew, Denard Robinson, Jordan Todman and Will Ta'ufo'ou (FB).

Analysis: Jones-Drew becomes an unrestricted free agent next month, but every other player is under contract through at least 2014. Jones-Drew fought through ankle, hamstring and knee issues to rush for 803 yards and five touchdowns. The running game, though, never really got going until the 11th game of the season. The Jaguars ran for at least 112 yards in games 11-14 but things dropped off the table after that: 105 yards in the last two games combined. Part of the yearlong issue was due to the offensive line’s struggles, but the fact that the Jaguars rarely made any explosive plays in the run game was a big factor as well. The Jaguars had just four runs of 30 or more yards all season. Todman was solid as Jones-Drew’s backup and ran for 109 yards in his only start, but he’s not a featured back. Forsett was hurt in camp and never found his fit in the offense and likely will be released. Robinson never had a defined role until settling in at running back midway through the season and he has had ball-security issues. Carter and Chapas (practice squad) were signed late in the season.

NFL free agents of interest: Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, Knowshon Moreno, James Starks, Anthony Dixon and LeGarrette Blount.

Need meter: 7. If Jones-Drew does not re-sign with the Jaguars -- and right now it appears he won’t -- the team needs to sign a replacement via free agency. There are a lot of affordable options on the market because of the number of players available. Tate tops the list and should be the Jaguars’ top target at this position, but if they’re looking for a cheaper option then Starks, who has been a featured back in spurts with Green Bay, could be an option. Robinson is an intriguing player on the roster, though, because the staff is having him bulk up a bit to handle the pounding of playing running back. If he can solve his fumbling problems, he could be a surprise. Expect the team to draft at least one back as well.

Final Exam: MJD may be gone

February, 3, 2014
Feb 3
Each day this week I'll provide an answer to a key question facing the Jaguars in the offseason.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- In mid-December I wrote that the Jaguars should re-sign running back Maurice Jones-Drew because he'd be a valuable asset in the locker room during the rebuild under general manager David Caldwell and coach Gus Bradley. I still believe that.

For that to happen, though, Jones-Drew will have to swallow some pride. He will have to accept less money and a shorter contract than he wants. For that reason, I believe Jones-Drew has played his last game in teal and black.

Jones-Drew is after the kind of money that Steven Jackson, Reggie Bush and Shonn Greene got when they signed free-agent contracts in 2013. Jackson signed a three-year deal worth $12 million ($4 million guaranteed) with Atlanta, Bush got a four-year deal worth $16 million ($4 million signing bonus) from Detroit, and Green received a three-year deal worth $10 million ($5 million guaranteed) from Tennessee.

In each case, the teams overpaid for backs past the mid-point of their careers. The Falcons signed Jackson, who turned 30 just before the 2013 season, because they felt they were a player or two away from making a Super Bowl run. Atlanta won just four games. Bush, who will turn 30 in March, did produce on the field but he also was signed with a Super Bowl run in mind and it obviously didn't help, either, because the Lions missed the playoffs. The Titans' signing of Greene, who turns 29 in August, was insurance in case Chris Johnson floundered. None of those signings worked out.

Jones-Drew will be 29 in March, but he's got significant wear-and-tear on his body: 2,233 touches (rushes, receptions, kick and punt returns) in eight seasons, and that includes the 2012 season in which he played just six games. Despite being 5-foot-7 and 210 pounds, Jones-Drew is a physical, between-the-tackles runner and has taken quite a pounding in his career.

He's also coming off back-to-back seasons in which he's battled injuries. He missed 10 games with a Lisfranc injury in 2012 and was hobbled by hamstring, ankle and knee issues in 2013.

In watching him this past season, he clearly did not look similar to the player who led the NFL in rushing in 2011. He wasn't as explosive through the hole and wasn't able to get to the edge and turn the corner as well as he has in the past. Jones-Drew said he was robbed of a full offseason of conditioning last summer because he was still recovering from the Lisfranc surgery but will be able to fully train this year.

That may be the case, but GMs will see the film from 2013 and wonder if he's capable of being a No. 1 back. Plus, the free-agent market is saturated with quality backs that are better (and younger) options than Jones-Drew: Knowshon Moreno, LeGarrette Blount, Ben Tate, Darren McFadden, and Anthony Dixon, to name a few.

Jones-Drew will draw interest, but he's going to have to deal with the fact that most teams aren't going to be willing to sign him to a three- or four-year deal, not when that means he'll be 32 or 33 years old when the contract expires. The offers won't be as lucrative as he'd like.

The Jaguars want Jones-Drew back but on their terms, which likely is a two-year deal with incentives that could be worth up to $5 million per year. Jones-Drew said it's about the money, and the Jaguars, despite having roughly $54 million in cap space in 2014, aren't going to be willing to go higher. Jones-Drew tried a hardline approach with the Jaguars once, holding out all of training camp in 2012 and most of the preseason in an effort to get a new contract, and it didn't work.

He'll likely get the same result again this spring and take the money somewhere else.

Indianapolis Colts season wrap-up

January, 15, 2014
Jan 15
Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 8
Preseason Power Ranking: 10

Biggest surprise: The questions were valid. Was linebacker Robert Mathis' production a product of having sack-machine Dwight Freeney playing on the other side? Could Mathis still be an impact player without Freeney? Mathis silenced the naysayers when he led the league in sacks with 19.5, including seven strip sacks. Mathis didn't hide the fact that he wanted to quiet the doubters. What made his season even more special is that he did it without much help elsewhere, as the Colts had only 42 sacks as a team. Mathis is one of the front-runners to be the league's defensive player of the year.

Biggest disappointment: Safety LaRon Landry was supposed to have the same kind of impact Bob Sanders had when he played for the Colts. That's why general manager Ryan Grigson signed him to four-year, $24 million contract. Landry was good when he was able to come up with the big hits or touchdown-saving tackles, but it was too often that he ended up whiffing on a play. The plays on which he missed running back Jamaal Charles on a touchdown run in the regular-season game against Kansas City and New England's LeGarrette Blount on his touchdown run last weekend are two examples that quickly come to mind. It also doesn't help that Landry missed four games because of injury this season.

Biggest need: Help on both lines -- offensive and defensive -- should be at the top of Grigson's list during the offseason. The Colts are set at offensive tackle with Anthony Castonzo and Gosder Cherilus. Donald Thomas will be back to take one of the guard spots after he missed most of the season with a quad injury, but the other guard spot and center could use upgrades. The Colts need a defensive tackle who can clog the middle of the line.

Team MVP: This is a no-brainer. Quarterback Andrew Luck was mentioned as a league MVP candidate at one point in the season. The second-year quarterback overcame injuries to five key offensive starters -- including future Hall of Fame receiver Reggie Wayne -- to cut his interceptions in half, increase his completion percentage and throw the same number of touchdown passes despite 52 fewer attempts. Take Luck out of the lineup and the Colts would have won maybe six games this season.

Andrew LuckElsa/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck could not lead another big comeback during the divisional round of the playoffs.
FOXBOROUGH, Mass. – The locker room was basically empty other than a few players dressing and equipment guys double-checking to make sure nothing was left. Indianapolis Colts quarterback Andrew Luck sat alone at his locker, slowly putting his clothes on, expressionless as if he was replaying the game, or more like his errant throws, in his head.

Luck will eventually take the throne from Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but the time's not now. It will come, you can count on it. Luck’s too good and too much of a perfectionist not to let it happen.

Through all the incredible comebacks he orchestrated, through all the times he shook off a blitzing linebacker to complete a throw downfield or tucked the ball and made something out of a broken play, Luck will likely spend the offseason thinking about the throws he didn’t make Saturday night and what it'll take to beat Bill Belichick and his New England Patriots.

Luck’s struggles against the Patriots continued when his four interceptions overshadowed the 331 yards he threw for in the Colts' season-ending 43-22 loss.

“As painful as it is, the experience is what it’s about,” Colts owner Jim Irsay said as he made his way out of Gillette Stadium. “The experience is invaluable. It hurts and it’s a hard time, but these types of moments is how you get better.”

Luck will have to figure out the defensive mind games Belichick likes to play with quarterbacks the same way Manning did with the Patriots coach.

Luck has turned the ball over eight times, including seven interceptions, in two meetings against New England. The Colts lost those games by a total of 56 points.

A sign of things to come occurred on the Colts’ third offensive play, when Luck locked in on receiver LaVon Brazill and cornerback Alfonzo Dennard picked him off.

“Mistakes from the first quarter to the last series,” Luck said. “It was indicative of how the game kind of went for us, for me. It starts on my shoulders on those picks. It stinks.”

Luck managed to shake off the constant pass rush and tight coverage on receiver T.Y. Hilton to have the Colts within seven points of the Patriots in the fourth quarter.

That set the stage for one of those feel-good moments -- you know, the kind where the young stud goes on the road and beats the future Hall of Famer in his own backyard, propelling the Colts to the AFC Championship Game.

That’s what you thought, at least.

After the real star Saturday -- New England running back LeGarrette Blount -- broke free for a 73-yard touchdown, Luck once again locked in his target and was intercepted by linebacker Jamie Collins, ending any chance of the Colts winning.

"Obviously this is not a good feeling right now," Luck said. "It’ll take a while to go away."

Luck’s interceptions weren’t just a one-game situation in the playoffs.

His heroic performance in leading the Colts back from 28 points down in the second half against the Kansas City Chiefs will always be talked about. What may be forgotten is that Luck threw three interceptions in that game, giving him seven in the playoffs.

That’s unacceptable when you consider he only had nine interceptions in the regular season.

“He had been doing a great job of managing the offense and taking care of the football,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “So in those two games, certainly you can’t turn the ball over. He knows it, we know it and I know it. I thought he did a great job the entire season. Obviously you can’t do that when the stakes are this high and when it’s one and done. We’ll work to get that corrected.”

Luck can’t be knocked for not getting the Colts past the Patriots. The fact that he led the Colts to this stage can be looked at as successful. There aren’t many quarterbacks in the NFL that could shake off the loss of their go-to receiver, a sporadic running game and an offensive line that didn't always show up and still lead their team to a division title and playoff victory.

The 24-year-old Luck did.

And just imagine how much better he’ll be when general manager Ryan Grigson puts better talent around him.

“He’s on the right track, the fast track,” Colts linebacker Robert Mathis said. “Gotta let him do his thing. This is his team. He’s our engine, just gotta let him go.”

Luck’s the engine who will spend the offseason breaking down film and being his worst critic to make sure he’ll be back even more powerful next season.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

January, 11, 2014
Jan 11

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- A few quick thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts’ 43-22 loss to the New England Patriots.

What it means: Colts coach Chuck Pagano said trying to tackle Patriots running back LeGarrette Blount was similar to attempting to take down a “greased pig at the county fair.” It turns out Blount was too slippery for the Colts. Blount set a Patriots playoff record when he rushed for 166 yards and four touchdowns on 24 attempts Saturday. The Colts were within seven in the fourth quarter, but Blount’s 73-yard touchdown essentially iced the game for New England. The Patriots ran all over the Colts, finishing with 234 yards and six touchdowns. The 234 yards rushing were the most Indianapolis gave up all season.

Poor play by Luck: It would be easy to point the finger strictly at the defense, which gave up 419 yards. But Colts quarterback Andrew Luck continued his struggles against the Patriots. Luck threw for 331 yards and two touchdowns but he also increased his turnover total to eight -- seven interceptions and a fumble -- in two games against New England. Luck’s ability to lead the Colts back from 28 points behind in the second half against the Kansas City will be talked about for some time, but his seven interceptions in two playoff games can’t go unnoticed, either, especially when he only threw nine picks in the regular season.

Hilton steps up again: The Patriots went into the game with the intention of slowing down receiver T.Y. Hilton, Luck’s primary target. It didn’t work. Hilton had four catches for 103 yards despite being defended by cornerback Aqib Talib for most of the game. Hilton, who was thrust into the go-to role once Reggie Wayne was lost for the season in Week 7, had 17 catches for 327 yards and two touchdowns in two playoff games.

Setting a record: Indianapolis kicker Adam Vinatieri set the playoff record for most PATs when he made his first one in the first quarter. The 41-year-old Vinatieri now has 60 PATs in his playoff career. Vinatieri will likely extend that total next season, but it’s uncertain where that will happen because he’ll be a free agent.

What’s next: The season is complete.

Quick Take: Colts at Patriots

January, 5, 2014
Jan 5
INDIANAPOLIS -- Three things to know about Saturday's Indianapolis Colts-New England Patriots divisional playoff game at Gillette Stadium. This will be the first playoff matchup between the two teams since the epic AFC Championship Game the Colts won 38-34 on Jan. 21, 2007.

1. Battle of receivers. Quick: Can you name a receiver on either team not named T.Y. Hilton? Andrew Luck of the Colts and Tom Brady of the Patriots are the two best quarterbacks in the league when it comes to getting the most out of their receivers. They both lost their primary receiving targets to injury this season. Colts receiver Reggie Wayne's season ended in Week 7 with a torn ACL. Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski's season ended with a torn ACL and MCL in Week 14. Receiver Julian Edelman led the Patriots in receiving this season with 1,056 yards and six touchdowns. Hilton, who set a franchise playoff record with 224 yards against Kansas City on Saturday, led the Colts with 1,083 yards and five touchdowns this season.

2. Ugly first game. Luck is making his second appearance against the Patriots at Gillette Stadium. New England beat Indianapolis 59-24 during the 2012 season. The Colts led 14-7 at the end of the first quarter and trailed only 24-17 at halftime, but the Patriots outscored them 35-7 in the second half. Luck was 27-of-50 for 334 yards, two touchdowns and three interceptions. Brady was simply better, as expected. He was 24-of-35 for 331 yards and three touchdowns without an interception. But Brady won't have Gronkowski (137 yards) or Wes Welker (80 yards) to throw the ball to this time around. Hilton had six catches for 100 yards. Colts linebacker Jerrell Freeman had 12 tackles in that game.

3. Stopping the run. Brady is obviously the focal point for the Patriots, but New England does have a decent running game, too. Running backs Stevan Ridley and LeGarrette Blount finished within a yard of each other during the regular season, with Ridley gaining 773 yards and Blount rushing for 772 yards. They also combined for 14 touchdowns. The Colts, on the other hand, had Donald Brown rush for 537 yards and Trent Richardson finished with 458 yards.
A rebuilding team is going to churn its roster and cut more players than a stable franchise. That’s been the case for Seattle as the Seahawks have posted a 25-23 record over the past three seasons.

When it lets players go, an established team that’s consistently successful is going to see them snatched up by the competition. That’s been the case for New England, as the Patriots have gone 39-9 over the same time span.

NFC West blogger Mike Sando offered this splendid post this week on the number of cut players by every team in the league who have been picked up off waivers.

Seattle is tops in the NFL with 25 players claimed, and New England is second with 23.

Here is the AFC South:
8th) Texans, 15 (28-20)
9t) Colts, 14 (23-25)
9t) Jaguars, 14 (15-33)
32nd) Titans, 3 (21-27)

The Texans have been a pretty good team over the past three seasons, and they have drafted well. It makes sense that other teams would look to bring in guys they cut, thinking, in part, that Houston’s good scouting might offer an assist.

I’m surprised where the Colts and Jaguars rank. Through 2011, Indianapolis played a system featuring small defenders and small offensive linemen -- players that won’t necessarily appeal to the bulk of the league. Jacksonville has not drafted well, but perhaps all the draft picks who have been cut have intrigued the rest of the league because they had some status.

The Titans have had just three players claimed off waivers in this span -- the league low.

The three, for trivia buffs, were running back LeGarrette Blount by Tampa Bay, fullback Quinn Johnson (who’s back) by Denver, and offensive lineman Troy Kropog by Jacksonville.

It’s too simple just to say a team with limited talent hasn’t had players passing through that are of interest to other franchises. Because Baltimore (34-14) has only had five players claimed, and Atlanta (36-12) has only had four.

We don’t know what teams have had the most roster moves and the least in that span.

But here are a couple other factors at play:
  • Six of the top seven teams have changed coaches in the past three years, and a new coach usually means a lot of turnover. (Though the Titans are an obvious outlier there.)
  • The Seahawks, Patriots and Eagles don’t hesitate to bring in guys, and they don’t hesitate to let go of them if things don't work out. With more transactions come more opportunity to have guys picked up. Contrast that with the Titans. Granted it was an abnormal season, but in 2011, they waived just one player after Week 2, and had him picked up. Johnson, a fullback, ultimately returned to the Titans and is now their starter.
UPDATE, Tuesday evening: The Titans' number is now up to four. Defensive end Thaddeus Gibson was claimed by the Cowboys Tuesday.
Ian Findlay from Miami writes: You stated that the current contract for MJD was a generous one when he signed it. You should let us know what the terms of that contract are. I am having trouble finding that info. It is information, if you have it, that should certainly be included in the MJD article.

Paul Kuharsky: Apologies.

It was a four-year extension that made it a five-year deal, worth $31 million with a $9 million signing bonus and $17 million guaranteed. He has base salaries of $4.45 million this season $4.95 million next year.

That’s a nice, front-loaded deal they gave him before he had worked as the lead back. They made a leap of faith with him, giving him that deal and cutting Fred Taylor.

Maurice Jones-Drew could have declined that deal and said, "Once I’m the lead guy, I will be worth more." He didn’t. He took a front-loaded deal. You sign a deal like that, you get security and guaranteed money sooner, but also accept some risk that if you’re really good it will fall below market in the later years.

I understand his frustrations. But he doesn’t have a lot of leverage here. It’s frequently been said and it’s true, they could probably win five games and miss the playoffs by a mile -- as they did last year while he led the league in rushing -- just as easily this season without him.

Andrew from Indianapolis writes: Will you stop using Arian Foster as an example of how teams don't need to draft running backs early? As an UFA Foster is the exception, not the rule. How many other UFA RBs have been Foster-quality backs? Foster is an outlier and is no way indicative of a trend suggesting teams relying on UFA RBs will be in great shape. Look at the other elite backs in the league- AP, Rice, McCoy, MJD, (arguably) CJ, all drafted in the first three rounds. Then look at all the UFA RBs that never work out. Every position has UFAs dominate but it's very rare, and RB is no exception.

Paul Kuharsky: I get your point. Mine is that you don’t have to take a guy in the first round.

Of the top 10 rushers in the league last season, four were first rounders, three were second rounders, one was a third-rounder and one was undrafted. So more than half of the league’s most productive backs were not first-rounders. You can argue teams have a better chance of finding a guy who can produce outside of the first round as you do in it.

And while I know injuries and playing time factor in -- undrafted Fred Jackson, undrafted LeGarrette Blount and seventh-rounder Ahmad Bradshaw were not all that different from first-rounder Rashard Mendenhall or first-rounder Donald Brown.

I stick with my overriding premise: You can find running backs later and should use your best draft slots on other, harder-to-fill positions.

Ron in San Antonio writes: What is your deal trashing the AFC South...maybe that's the way we love our division down here a little dirty a little gritty a little time consuming so what...the rest of the league is not any better. The game is as simple as you run it or you catch it either way somebody will win somebody will lose. The over analyzing of football or any other sport is beginning to suck and your leading the way my friend. Com'n Mr. Kuharsky you seem to be better than that so please let your writing reflect it sir.

Paul Kuharsky: Though I should be used to it by now, I just don’t understand why anything that’s not cartwheels and rainbows and sprinkles on ice cream amounts to “trashing,” “disrespecting” or “hating.”

I can offer reasoned critical analysis without it being any of those things.

The rest of the league is not any better than the AFC South? Except that over the last two seasons, the AFC South is one of three divisions to not get a team to at least the conference championship game. Except that they account for one Super Bowl win in the 10 seasons since realignment created the division. Except that Tom Brady, Ben Roethlisberger, Eli Manning, Aaron Rodgers, Drew Brees don't play in it and Peyton Manning no longer does.

Rick from Gulf Coast, Miss., writes: With camp opening based off the first preseason game, isn’t that unfair to the 2 teams who play the Monday night game, and give an advantage to the teams playing the Thursday night game? Two of the teams playing the first Monday night game in regular season, also play the first day of the preseason schedule, effectively giving them more practice days than the other teams. In reverse, the teams in the preseason Monday game play on Sunday week one, effectively shorting them a day compared to the rest of the teams.

Paul Kuharsky: If coaches and teams cared or thought they were being short-changed, they’d be complaining about it. They aren’t, so I have no concerns. And who’s to say extra practices are automatically good? Maybe they produce a more tired team or present extra days for a big injury. At least once I can remember, the Colts didn’t open the first day they were allowed, but a few days later.

Charliy Nash in Nashville writes: Okay Chief, you wanted some feedback: The biggest change I'd like to see is to sometimes (maybe monthly) schedule the chat at a different time - like on a Saturday. I'm sure I'm not the only one going "I'd love to participate, but I can't do that while I'm at work." Keep up the good work.

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks. I appreciate the suggestion. I don’t know if Saturdays are doable -- I think the bulk of the reader population likes to chat during work time, not free time. But I’ll consider. Hey readers, would you come to a Saturday chat?
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Andre Johnson’s ready to move from rehab back to playing, while Matt Leinart’s working on a different sort of rehab with a second act of his career, says Jeffrey Martin of the Houston Chronicle.

Danieal Manning returned to practice and could play in Jacksonville, says John McClain of the Chronicle.

The Texans worked out five quarterbacks on Monday -- Kellen Clemens, Trent Edwards, Brodie Croyle, Jeff Garcia and Chase Clement. They’ll likely sign one after they get a second opinion/verdict on Matt Schaub Wednesday, says McClain.

Football Outsiders is impressed with the Texans' balance, says Stephanie Stradley.

Indianapolis Colts

Whether it's Curtis Painter or Dan Orlovsky under center, the Colts’ offense must show life, show much better ball security and alleviate the pressure on a shaken team, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

The 2-minute drill lacks some serious punch, says Phil Richards of the Star.

A recap of Bill Polian’s radio show from Brad Wells of Stampede Blue. You’ll find all the usual contradictions.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jack Del Rio said he didn’t have any big issues with the end-of-game sequence for the Jaguars in Cleveland. Vito Stellino of the Times-Union runs through it all.

The Jaguars didn’t offer injury updates for defensive end Matt Roth or linebacker Clint Session, says Tania Ganguli of the T-U.

Tennessee Titans

Matt Hasselbeck had a sore elbow and forearm but is expected to start Sunday against the Buccaneers, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

The Titans let LeGarrette Blount go after training camp last year. Now they’ll try to stop a guy who runs angry when they face the Bucs, says Wyatt.

Stopping big Blount a key for Texans

November, 11, 2011
LeGarrette Blount is a load.

If Tampa Bay is to knock off the Texans Sunday at Raymond James Stadium, the Bucs' bruiser of a running back will likely have to be a factor.

“He’s a big guy, I played against him once in college and he’s a big, physical kid,” Texans inside linebacker Brian Cushing said. “He’s the biggest back we’ll face in a while, I know for sure all year. He’s downhill, he’s kind of old-school running back but he’s very athletic too, you see him leaping over people other every week.

“He’s been really impressive. We’re going to have to bring our A game against him.”

Blount missed a couple games with a knee injury, but is now looking for a bigger workload. He’s got a 4.4-yard per carry average.

During their three-game winning streak, the Texans have had the lead a lot, and opponents haven’t been able to find a run rhythm. Cleveland running backs got 18 carries, Jacksonville’s got 21 and Tennessee’s got 15.

If the Texans are able to keep Blount and the Bucs backs down in that range, it should mean good things.
Three areas of interest to look at after the Indianapolis Colts lost to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers on "Monday Night Football," thanks to ESPN Stats & Info:

Pressure: The Buccaneers had great results when sending at least five pass rushers against Curtis Painter, as he completed only 2 of 11 passes in those situations. Painter was also sacked and a lost fumble. When Tampa Bay sent a four-man rush, Painter capitalized with 255 of his 281 yards, and two touchdowns.

Painter hit on 57.9 percent of his 19 attempts against four or fewer rushers. He hit on 18.2 percent of his 11 attempts against five or more rushers, including six underthrown or overthrown passes.

Yards after the catch: Painter benefited from Pierre Garcon's ability to gain yards after the catch. Garcon's two catches totaled 146 yards and two touchdowns. Of the 146 yards, 129 came after the catch.

That’s the best single-game total YAC in the NFL this season.

In three games before Monday night, Garcon had 12 catches with 46 yards after the catch.

Yards after contact: The Colts defense was beaten up and worn down late in the game. The Buccaneers wound up with 39 minutes of possession.

Running back LeGarrette Blount had nine carries for 62 yards in the fourth quarter, gaining 24 yards after initial contract by defenders.

On the season, he’s averaging 2.7 yards per rush after contact in the fourth quarter, third in the league behind Peyton Hillis (3.7) and Adrian Peterson (2.8).

RTC: Arian Foster had torn meniscus in '10

July, 18, 2011
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Arian Foster says he played all of 2010 with cartilage damage in his right knee, an injury he kept secret for fear of losing his job.

Coach Gary Kubiak on what's next after the lockout ends: "The most important thing is to get our guys in here, whether it's a week or three days before we go to training camp, so we can check them out and find out where our injured players are and what kind of shape everybody's in."

Indianapolis Colts

Reggie Wayne says he'll report for training camp despite not having a contract beyond this season.

Defensive end Jerry Hughes was arrested after a skirmish early Sunday morning at a downtown Dallas club.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Signing Marcedes Lewis to new deal is "at the top" of GM Gene Smith's to-do list once the lockout ends.

Tennessee Titans

Music City Miracles looks at what the Titans' No. 1 priority should be after the lockout ends. Finding a veteran quarterback tops the list.

Music City Miracles' Daniel Reese looks at the team's decision to cut LeGarrette Blount, and he isn't losing any sleep over it.

Titans regular-season wrap-up

January, 5, 2011
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 20
Preseason Power Ranking: 16

Kenny Britt
Drew Hallowell/Getty ImagesTennessee really missed Kenny Britt when he was out of the lineup from Weeks 10-13.
Biggest surprise: A rift between coach Jeff Fisher and Vince Young wasn’t impossible to forecast, but the size of the rift was. Fisher and his staff became completely disillusioned when Young’s work ethic and commitment didn’t appear to them to meet their standards in his fifth year. Thought the quarterback showed improvement, he caused distractions by missing meetings, not showing great toughness and ultimately swearing out Fisher in front of the entire team. Fisher’s struggles, meanwhile, extended beyond his quarterback and he’s currently in limbo as owner Bud Adams decides if it’s time for a change. He should be measured beyond the head-to-head battle with Young, and those measurements are not good.

Biggest disappointment: The Titans completely overrated their roster coming into the season. They failed to see that their smallish defensive line would wear down. They thought moving Eugene Amano to center and installing Leroy Harris at left guard would strengthen an offensive line that was excellent in 2009. The line's performance declined in 2010. They believed strong safety Chris Hope had more left than he did. They thought a revamped group of linebackers would be playmakers, and it did little. Most significantly, with four successful, aging veterans gone as free agents, the Titans presumed sufficient leadership would emerge. It did not.

Biggest need: Quarterback. I’m not sold on Young as a 16-games-a-year, lead-the-team NFL quarterback. Until the Titans have one, the position tops the list for a team with plenty of other needs. Kerry Collins or Rusty Smith is not the answer. Tennessee needs some size at defensive tackle, some playmakers at linebacker and an upgrade at safety. The Titans need to sort out their interior offensive line. And a changeup running back to help make things less difficult for Chris Johnson could help as well. For all their affection for Javon Ringer, letting LeGarrette Blount go may prove to be a monster mistake.

Team MVP: Kenny Britt. The wide receiver missed four games in the third quarter of the season and the Titans lost all four. He was dynamic and difficult to cover with an 18.6 yard average per catch and eight touchdowns.

Under-adjusting: There were rumblings in the locker room about the Titans' inability to adjust in-game, particularly regarding defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil. From my vantage point, Fisher and his staff crafted game plans on Tuesdays that they fully expected to work. But when games dictated that they steer away from that plan, they too often stubbornly stuck with what was installed. Players were looking for Plan B and alterations they didn’t get often enough. If Fisher’s back, I think this is something he’s got to admit on some level and do better to address.