AFC South: Mario Williams

Projecting possible Jaguars picks

February, 13, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars fans, would you be happy if you came out of the upcoming draft with Mario Williams?

What about Clay Matthews? Or Tony Romo?

It's possible, sort of. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah took five of the top prospects in the NFL draft and compared their potential careers with NFL veterans. Among the five were three players the Jaguars could take with the No. 3 overall pick: Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Johnny Manziel.

Or, as Jeremiah compared them to: Williams, Matthews and Romo.

Jeremiah writes that the 6-foot-6, 258-pound Clowney compares to the 6-6, 290-pound Williams because of their size, length power and explosiveness. Houston bypassed several big-time offensive players, including quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush, and took Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in 2006. The Jaguars could do the same thing and take Clowney instead of the top quarterbacks in the draft, including Manziel.

If Clowney could mirror Williams' career, that would turn out to be a sound decision. Williams has 76.5 sacks in eight seasons, including 23.5 in his last two seasons in Buffalo.

The 6-3, 245-pound Mack compares to the 6-3, 258-pound Matthews because of his violent hands, explosion off the line of scrimmage and his relentlessness, Jeremiah writes. Matthews has 50 sacks in his first five seasons, including 23.5 in his first two years with Green Bay.

Jeremiah's Manziel-to-Romo comparison is based on the fact that both have strong enough arms to make any throw, are able to throw on the run and from unorthodox positions, have good pocket awareness and are able to escape pressure. The 6-1, 210-pound Manziel is a much better runner than the 6-2, 219-pound Romo, but it'd be hard to be disappointed if Manziel put up the same kind of passing stats that Romo has in 10 seasons: 64.6 completion percentage, 29,565 yards, 208 touchdowns and 101 interceptions.

My take: The Clowney-Williams comparison makes the most sense because both players have freakish athletic ability to go along with size and speed. If Clowney runs at next week's combine, he's going to generate amazing buzz because he's capable of running in the 4.4s. That seems absurd considering his size, but Jaguars receiver Ace Sanders, who played with Clowney at South Carolina, told me he witnessed Clowney run a sub-4.5 40.

The concern with Mack is the level of competition against which he played while at Buffalo, but he is quick, athletic and has good pass-rush skills. He also holds the NCAA career record for forced fumbles (16) and tied the career mark for tackles for loss (75). The previous record for forced fumbles in a career was 14 and it was held by several players, including Terrell Suggs and Ryan Kerrigan.

Comparing Manziel to any NFL quarterback is tough because he doesn't really completely match anyone. He's a better passer than Michael Vick and Colin Kaepernick, both of whom are better runners.

Observation deck: Colts-Bills

August, 11, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts could have at least waited until the second half -- when the interest level would have completely faded -- before having those here-we-go-again moments with their special teams in their 44-20 preseason loss to the Buffalo Bills.

Yes, it's only preseason. But the Colts can't get a pass when they allowed Marquise Goodwin, a former track star at the University of Texas, to go virtually untouched during a 107-yard kickoff return for a touchdown in the second quarter. That made Goodwin's 53-yard kickoff return in the first quarter seem like nothing. It is something when you're trying to improve in defending that area.

The Colts were 22nd in the league in kick returns last season, with opponents averaging 24.7 yards per return against them.

"You’re not going to give yourself a chance to win any football games by giving up big plays on special teams,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “We’ve got to address that and make the necessary adjustments and corrections.”

Here are some other observations from Sunday:
  • As expected, quarterback Andrew Luck had a brief afternoon. He played the first two series, going 4-for-6 for 51 yards. Luck's passing ability isn't the concern. It's the offensive line's ability to protect him. Bills defensive end Mario Williams easily blew by Colts left tackle Anthony Castonzo and flattened Luck for a 10-yard loss. It turns out Luck, who was sacked 41 times last season, took blame on that play. He said it was a cadence mishap, and Castonzo asked him if he was trying to get himself hurt. The Colts mixed it up by running plays with three- and four-receiver sets and with a fullback during Luck's two series.
  • Tight end Coby Fleener has talked about wanting to make up for his rocky rookie season. He ended up having a rocky preseason debut after a strong start to training camp. Fleener had a nice catch and run in the first quarter only to end up having it go to waste because he fumbled the ball after taking a hard hit from Ron Brooks at Buffalo's 19-yard line. Fleener had a chance to redeem himself seven plays later, when Matt Hasselbeck threw a perfect pass to him in the end zone while matched up one-on-one against a linebacker. Fleener couldn't hold on to the ball. The Colts need Fleener to produce after Pagano announced after the game that fellow tight end Dwayne Allen will be out a couple of weeks with a foot injury. "Disappointing," Fleener said. "To turn the ball over is something that is inexcusable in any case … He broke it up. I caught it and then he basically knocked it out. I'm a little frustrated."
  • Not everything was negative for the Colts. You can thank receiver T.Y. Hilton for providing one of their few highlights. Hilton is showing that he doesn't plan on being left out the picture in the receiver mix behind Reggie Wayne and Darrius Heyward-Bey. The second-year receiver made a sprawling catch along the sideline for a 45-yard touchdown from Hasselbeck on the final play of the first quarter. Hilton, who lost part of the skin on his wrist on the diving catch, finished with three catches for 61 yards to go with a 15-yard punt return. Luck will have multiple options to go to among Wayne, Heyward-Bey, Hilton, and Fleener and Allen at tight end this season.
  • The Colts defense caused unease when Bills running back C.J. Spiller rattled off 17 and 15 yards on their first two offensive plays. The Bills ended up with 136 yards on 40 carries, with Spiller and rookie quarterback EJ Manuel accounting for 64 of those yards.
  • Third-string quarterback Chandler Harnish played part of the second quarter and the entire second half. He spent the majority of the time trying to avoid getting sacked while going 14-for-33 for 109 yards and an interception.
  • The Colts went into the game without 16 players, including first round pick Bjoern Werner (knee), starters Allen, safety LaRon Landry and linebacker Jerrell Freeman. That list was even longer by the time the game ended. Linebackers Justin Hickman (foot) and Quinton Spears (hamstring), cornerback Cassius Vaughn (wrist) and Montori Hughes (stinger) all left the game with injuries. Spears and Hickman were scheduled for MRIs on Sunday night.
As the league year started, Ryan Grigson and Ruston Webster found themselves walking through the doorway of their team's vaults.

As they signed stacks of players, the general managers of the Indianapolis Colts and Tennessee Titans, respectively, thumbed through stacks of bills.

Fans were thrilled at the action that brought guys like Gosder Cherilus, LaRon Landry and Ricky Jean Francois to the Colts and Andy Levitre, Delanie Walker and Sammie Hill to the Titans.

But as exciting as all the action was, the lessons from recent free-agent history hovered over both teams: The winners in free agency, the biggest spenders of the offseason, rarely see the anticipated improvement.

In May, John Clayton ran through teams that spent $100 million or more (the total value of deals on paper) in each offseason going back to 2007.

The average result for the last 10 teams to spend at the $100 million level: no additional wins.

No team wants to be in position where it feels it needs to add so much. Both the Colts and Titans can spell out reasons why it’ll be different for them.

“You can spend it, but there are no guarantees,” Webster said. “That’s obvious through the years. We had a rebuilding plan that we felt like we had to do. There were certain areas, like offensive line, where we felt like we had to make an effort to improve; we’d gotten older, had all the injuries.

“We had to bring in some veteran players, and what you hope is you bring in the right kind to help your team.”

Grigson and Webster made plans, targeted players and crafted deals. Both feel confident their teams will be more like the 2012 Rams (5½ more wins) and 2008 Jets (5 more, and the lone winning record on the list) than like the 2012 Saints (six fewer wins in difficult circumstances) or the 2011 Jaguars (three fewer).

The Colts and Titans spread out their spending more than many of the teams on the list, and more than this offseason's biggest spender, the Miami Dolphins, who gave receiver Mike Wallace five years and $60 million.

The 2012 Saints re-signed Drew Brees -- their own guy -- for $100 million. The 2012 Bills committed $96 million to Mario Williams. The 2012 Buccaneers spent more than $100 million on two players -- receiver Vincent Jackson and guard Carl Nicks. The 2007 49ers gave Nate Clements an $80 million deal. The 2011 Eagles negotiated a $60 million deal with Nnamdi Asomugha. The 2012 Rams gave Cortland Finnegan a $50 million contract. All of these players made far more than the other free agents added to those teams.

In the AFC South this year, the two big spenders appear to be more like the 2011 Jaguars, 2011 Seahawks, 2009 Broncos and 2009 Jets. They spread their big expenditures among a larger group of players.

The Colts signed six players to deals that, on paper, are worth between $14 million and $34.5 million apiece, with Cherilus as the top dog.

The Titans gave Levitre a $46.8 million deal, with three others getting contracts worth between $10 million and $17.5 million.

Both teams spent a lot on their offensive and defensive lines instead of acquiring flashy players. Many big-spending teams before them went for more star power: pass-rusher like Williams, corners like Asomugha and Clements or a receiver like Jackson.

“I think it’s having a plan for what you’re doing and knowing exactly what you need and what you are doing scheme-wise. Hopefully, that’s what we did and it helps us get over the hump,” Webster said.

“We’re trying to retool the roster, and it wasn’t two guys or three guys; we signed a lot of players. Many of them are not even big salaries.”

Can it work? Sure, though they’ll have to buck history to do it.

RTC: Titans look to Canada

May, 14, 2013
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans


Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger moonlights as a rapper, says John Brannen of the Houston Chronicle.

The war of words over an engagement ring that Mario Williams wants back has escalated, says David Barron of the Chronicle.

Despite the rave reviews they offered about him during his rookie camp audition, the Texans didn’t offer Collin Klein a contract, says Tania Ganguli.

Indianapolis Colts

Las Vegas thinks the Colts are going to take a step back, says the Indy Star.

At least publicly, Chuck Pagano and Pep Hamilton don’t appear to be on the same page about Andrew Luck running some read-option, says Brad Wells of Stampede Blue.

To which I say: I’ll believe they intend to use any when I see it. I think Hamilton’s getting it out there so defenses put it on their lists of things they have to consider when preparing for Indianapolis.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars found iPads in their lockers Monday when they started OTAs, writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. It’s the way the league is moving, and the team will be able to get information like film and notes about practice to players more quickly.

“(Jimmy) Smith is one of the top three players in team history, but there was plenty of legitimate suspicion that he spent his last NFL years in denial about his addictions. His post-football life certainly confirms that. What (Justin) Blackmon needs to see is a mug shot of Smith, with a stern reminder that that can be him in 10 years if he's not careful.” Gene Frenette’s column from the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have two Canadians -- offensive tackle Matt Sewell and defensive tackle Stefan Charles -- on their roster fighting for a chance, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

A familiar face is back in Nashville, and Antonio Johnson is now part of the Titans’ roster makeover, says Wyatt.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Former Texans defensive end Mario Williams is suing to get a pricey engagement ring back, says David Barron of the Houston Chronicle.

Gary Kubiak wants to see Collin Klein’s progress at quarterback, says Ganguli.

Texans first-round pick DeAndre Hopkins told Ganguli the idea of all he has overcome is blown out of proportion, but she’s not so sure he’s right about that.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts' Bjoern Werner is proof that American football isn’t just for Americans anymore, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star. Werner was one of a record 10 foreign-born players drafted.

Is there another Gary Brackett or Melvin Bullitt in the Colts' crop of 10 undrafted rookies? Mike Chappell of the Star looks at the new guys.

The Colts will return to Anderson, Ind. for training camp, writes Chappell.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Twenty-nine players from last year’s roster are already gone as part of the Jaguars’ roster reshaping, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

The Jaguars are meeting with veteran free-agent cornerback Marcus Trufant, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union.

The Jaguars signed two rookies out of their rookie tryouts. O’Halloran says running back De’Leon Eskridge of San Jose State and defensive end J.J. Griggs of Akron are now on the roster.

Tennessee Titans

Robert Johnson is still recovering from midfoot surgery, but thinks he will be back in action by mid-June, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

A deeper look at third-round linebacker Zaviar Gooden, from Tom Gower of Total Titans.

A deeper look at fourth-rounder Brian Schwenke, from Gower.

Were Texans better in 2011 or 2012?

January, 14, 2013
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Were the 2012 Texans better than the 2011 Texans?

They won a couple more games, but both seasons ended in the divisional round of the playoffs.

SportsNation

Did the Texans take a step forward in 2012?

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    50%
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Discuss (Total votes: 1,886)

“Obviously, we took a step from last year I think, with our young guys stepping up,”’ cornerback Johnathan Joseph told Houston media Monday. “I just think we have to build on that and just continue to go forward.”

Defensive end Antonio Smith said the 2011 version of the team had a tendency to fold up when things went bad, and this year’s version was better at fighting through difficulties, though some of the same problem surfaced late in the year.

Asked if this team made progress from last year, safety Danieal Manning said, “Totally, I really did.”

“We’re still young, we’re still growing, I think we experienced it all,” Manning said. “Now we just have to know how to continue to fight and get past the divisional round.

“We improved in the win category. Defensively, we’ve learned a lot about this defense. We’ve got a better grasp of it. From that standpoint we grew a lot.”

But was this season a success?

Likely defensive player of the year J.J. Watt is a member of the camp that says if you don’t win it all you haven’t succeeded.

“No, I don’t see it as a success,” Watt said. “We don’t have a trophy, so it’s not a success. And in my mind in this league if you don’t have a trophy then you’re not a success. So we work hard this offseason, put every single thing we have into it, and we’re going to come back next season with that trophy on our mind.”

That’s not anything last year’s team would have, or should have, said.

Last year’s injuries were more spread out -- with season-enders for quarterback Matt Schaub, outside linebacker Mario Williams as well as significant missed time for receiver Andre Johnson.

This year’s injuries came largely at one position, where inside linebacker Brian Cushing went down in October and guys who filled in -- Tim Dobbins, Daryl Sharpton -- also got hurt, struggled to stay in the lineup and ultimately wound up on IR.

I think this year’s team was better. As they rolled to 11-1 they were an awfully good team that could win in all different sorts of ways.

The sputter-out at the end was incredibly disappointing, though, and told us a great deal about the group as we got the full story.

I’m curious what you think, so please vote and comment.
Bill Belichick and Gary KubiakGetty ImagesBill Belichick has steered the Patriots to the top of the AFC, but Gary Kubiak and the Texans are now gunning for the conference's perennial top team.
It’s been a while since the New England Patriots won a Super Bowl, but they remain the standard-bearers in the AFC.

They’ve been to two of the past five Super Bowls, including the most recent one. They’ve been in five of the previous 11 Super Bowls and won three in four years from 2001 to 2004.

For teams looking to become consistent AFC powers, the Patriots are the target. One of those teams, the Houston Texans, is heading to New England for "Monday Night Football."

No matter the result, the Texans will still have at least a one-game lead for home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. This could be an AFC Championship Game preview.

Can the Texans overtake the Patriots?

"I think they can," one AFC executive said. "They have the talent, they have the consistency of scheme on both sides of the ball to do it. The wild card is their health, particularly on defense."

"That's going to be a tough one," said Rosevelt Colvin, who played six of his 10 NFL seasons as linebacker with the Patriots and spent a training camp with the Texans. "Patriots are the closest thing to consistency you will find in this era of NFL ball. Two big reasons: Bill Belichick and Tom Brady."

New England’s coach and quarterback have the skins on the wall and the credibility that come with them. That doesn’t mean someone new can’t break through, though only three other teams have represented the AFC in the Super Bowl since the Patriots came to prominence: Oakland once, Indianapolis twice and Pittsburgh three times.

Are the Texans poised to break through?

"Everybody would like to do what they’ve done over a long period of time," Texans coach Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters. "This league’s about consistency. I think I learned a lot about that in my time in San Francisco and Denver. Doing things right all the time.

"We’re trying to become a very consistent organization here and put a consistent product on the field week in and week out and do things the right way. We’re very young in the process, but we have a lot of respect for what they do."

One major similarity: Patriots owner Robert Kraft and Texans owner Bob McNair are widely regarded as two of the best owners in the NFL. They are willing to spend to make things first-class, and they back their coaches.

Let’s look at some other ways the Texans are similar to the Patriots and some ways they are different:

[+] EnlargeTom Brady
AP Photo/Charles KrupaTom Brady's consistent play has made the Patriots annual Super Bowl contenders.
Scheme: The Patriots morph as required, not just season to season but sometimes week to week.

They drafted two high-quality tight ends when they saw Rob Gronkowski and Aaron Hernandez available and shifted their offense to be predominantly two-tight. When both missed time because of injury -- Gronkowski won't play Monday -- they easily shifted to three-wide. They’ve been a 3-4 team. They’ve been a 4-3 team.

Belichick adapts to what he has and the circumstances.

The Texans don’t morph.

They’ve updated and improved Kubiak’s offensive system since he took over in 2006, but the principles are the same. The zone-blocking line cuts defenders down, and the back is asked to make one cut and go. They run a ton of play-action and ask quarterback Matt Schaub to roll out and run bootlegs off that. It’s not a common scheme, which makes it a bit tougher for defenses to handle.

Defensively, they struggled to find an identity until they brought in defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. As leader of the defense, he installed his brand of 3-4 and stamped the Texans with a personality they had been lacking. Now they are locked into a defensive system that same way they are locked in on offense.

They are both top-eight rushing teams, but running is less important to New England because its passing game is more straight drop-back and shotgun while the Texans rely on far more play-action.

Leadership: Belichick is the team’s authority, although while the Patriots came to prominence much was made of how he worked in tandem with Scott Pioli in the front office. If they didn’t agree on a player, they would move on to the next one.

Pioli left to become the general manager in Kansas City in 2009. Belichick remains the powerful agenda-setter, but he has resources when he wants them -- including director of player personnel Nick Caserio and senior football adviser Floyd Reese.

Although the Texans have always stayed mum publicly about who has final say, Kubiak was hired first and general manager Rick Smith joined him. League insiders see the Texans as a coach-steered franchise. Kubiak and Smith have an excellent relationship and get good input from front-office personnel, coordinators and assistants.

Kubiak and Belichick have vastly different public personalities. Belichick is gruff and controlling. Kubiak is personable and agreeable.

Belichick wields more power, but the setups for both coaches in their organizations are comparable.

Depth: Belichick once lost Brady in the Patriots opener. He plugged in Matt Cassel and won 11 games.

Overall, New England has done exceedingly well plugging reserves in when needed and getting sufficient production. The Patriots also move guys around with success. We’ve seen them play receiver Troy Brown at corner. Currently, Devin McCourty can line up at cornerback or safety.

Although veterans generally want to stay in their winning atmosphere, the Patriots have not been sentimental about keeping guys. If a player gets too old or too expensive, they’ll let him walk.

The Texans went to the playoffs for the first time in franchise history last season with rookie quarterback T.J. Yates playing because starter Schaub and backup Matt Leinart both got hurt. Outside linebacker Mario Williams was out after five games, and receiver Andre Johnson missed nine. Houston showed off its depth in overcoming the absences.

The team let Williams leave as a free agent, traded inside linebacker DeMeco Ryans and released right tackle Eric Winston in the offseason while fitting other pieces under the cap. They got Schaub and left tackle Duane Brown locked up with long-term contracts before the season kicked off.

Houston is showing off its depth again this season. Inside linebacker Brian Cushing went down after five games, and Tim Dobbins has played well in his place. Brooks Reed missed last week and will be out a few more, and the team has first-rounder Whitney Mercilus to insert into a shuffled linebacker corps.

"Keeping the talent pool full of younger guys that can run that system is key, as well as coaching consistency," Colvin said. "They have a good mix right now."

Wrap-up: Colts 20, Bills 13

November, 25, 2012
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Thoughts on the Colts’ 20-13 win over the Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium:

What it means: The Colts bounced back from the bad loss at New England to beat a lesser conference foe. At 7-4, Indianapolis maintains solid wild-card footing. Without factoring in any tiebreakers, the Colts have a one-game lead on both Pittsburgh and Cincinnati for the fifth spot in the AFC’s field of six.

What I liked: Chuck Pagano, who’s fighting leukemia, looked pretty good as he acknowledged the crowd from owner Jim Irsay’s box. T.Y. Hilton’s first-quarter, 75-yard, punt-return touchdown gave the Colts a lead they would never relinquish. He also scored the Colts' other touchdown on an 8-yard reception. Reggie Wayne continued to produce at an excellent rate with eight catches for 102 yards.

What I didn’t like: Outside of Hilton’s punt return, the Colts got nothing in very big chunks. Andrew Luck found Wayne for 25-yard completions twice. But Buffalo got a 63-yard pass completion from Ryan Fitzpatrick to Stevie Johnson and a 41-yard run from C.J. Spiller. Johnson also undid an interception by Tom Zbikowski, who stiff-armed Johnson during his return and still got stripped by the receiver, who recovered.

Solid scoring defense: The Bills' first eight possessions produced just one drive of more than six plays, resulting in six punts and two field goals.

Too many takedowns: Luck was sacked four times, three by Mario Williams.

What’s next: The Colts travel to Detroit for a matchup with the Lions. Indianapolis is 2-1 against the NFC North so far.

Mailbag: Everyone is heard

November, 17, 2012
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Shawn from Honolulu writes: We know several teams in the league (especially my Jaguars) will most likely be seeking new general managers after the season. Supposing the Jaguars do clean house, can you provide three GM candidates and three head coach candidates who you believe could make a difference in Jacksonville?

Paul Kuharsky: I hear good things about two potential first-time GMs -- George Paton from Minnesota and Omar Khan from Pittsburgh. I won’t delve into coaches, as I think they need to hire a GM and let him make the hire. But I’d certainly be curious about Chip Kelly -- he would adapt to an NFL situation, not try to shoehorn his current Oregon offense into a pro setting if he wasn’t equipped to do so. Odds are he can get a more attractive NFL job if he wants one.




LX from Chuco, TX writes: When asked if Whitney Mercilus should be started you said (in the latest chat):"You want to sit Brooks Reed or Connor Barwin? Seriously?" If Barwin and Reed have solidified the position, why draft Mercilus?...why use a high pick on him? Did Hou never intend to pay Barwin; and lose a big defensive name for the second consecutive year? Is this a season-long audition to find Barwin a new team? Yes, the salary cap is tricky and maybe they just need insurance, but why so early and why at such a high draft pick? Was Hou anticipating the #1 draft pick to "Kareem-Jackson" for three years before finally losing his Bambi legs and becoming an OK starter????

Paul Kuharsky: For the same reason they drafted Reed when they already had Barwin and Mario Williams. There is no rule against using a high pick on a good player at a position of strength that’s an important position in your scheme (and in the league). It’s how it becomes a position of strength. You are allowed to have good players as depth and role players. In fact, that’s one of the main reasons the team broke through in 2011.

Yes, if Barwin leaves, they are covered. But they didn’t determine back in April when they drafted Mercilus they wouldn’t re-sign Barwin. They were negotiating with Barwin in the preseason and were unable to strike a deal.

Ideally, Mercilus continues to get some playing time so Barwin and Reed don’t have to overextend the way they did in 2011 after Williams went down.

Should Barwin move on, they’ve got his replacement. But they’d probably wind up drafting yet another OLB. Pass rush dictates everything, and OLB in a 3-4 is a position where wise teams have good numbers.

Also, Jackson is better than OK now.




Chris Walker from Jacksonville writes: Paul, it's been great to get an in-depth take from a non-local guy, if only to convince myself that the local guys aren't overreacting (or echoing talking points from the organization). The content is great and getting better, too. For the longest time, I didn't bother with the RTC posts, but your "to which I say" portions changed that completely. My question is: if we get a new GM, will the house-cleaning extend to all the scouts? Should it?

Paul Kuharsky: Thanks for the kind words.

If the Jaguars get a new GM, he would expect to hire an entire scouting staff. He’d interview some current guys, I would expect, but holdover would be minimal, I suspect. I think a new executive needs to be surrounding himself with his own people.




Drew from Fort Bragg, NC writes: I've been a fan of the Colts since I was 7 years old, and with that I've become a fan of you and your AFC South blog. I saw the season that brought Peyton Manning to our team. Of course I missed a great portion of last season because I was deployed overseas, defending our freedoms and what-not, but was overjoyed when we drafted Luck and cleaned house at Indy. I'm having great enjoyment watching this new team breathe life into what I thought was a stagnant franchise. There is a new dawn in Indy... I couldn't really think of any Luck-based analogies that weren't hackneyed. The thing is that I don't want you to screw that up. My argument is that Bruce Arians is a great coach and one definitely worthy of being a head coach. Colts fans acknowledge this ... but you don't have to. You can sweep this under the rug, and not mention it as you have. There are going to be several head coaching positions available at the end of the season and we really don't need them looking to snag our OC away from us. If they look, they look, and Bruce has done a fantastic job. I'm just saying, you know, as a veteran of a foreign war, you might just do us a solid and calm down those coach talks from your end. You know, for the veterans. The veterans who support the Colts. Like me. I'm a veteran. I support the Colts. I don't want to see BA leave. I would never try to make an emotional appeal to jeopardize your journalistic integrity, but yeah. Seriously. Shhhh.

Paul Kuharsky: We so appreciate your service on our behalfs. Thanks.

Arians is no secret around the league. He’s doing a fantasic job filling in for Chuck Pagano.

Here are two things that might put you and Colts’ fans at ease, however.

While lots of teams will be looking for coaches who can oversee the development of young, new quarterbacks, they are generally looking for young guys. Arians is 60, so he might fall outside the area where most owners will be looking. Also, he’d done great work in Pittsburgh as Ben Roethlisberger’s coordinator and potential head coaching jobs didn’t arrive for him.

Should he leave, it would hurt Luck for sure. But Luck’s head coach at Stanford, Jim Harbaugh, left for the 49ers before Luck’s senior year, and Luck managed to survive and advance with an altered staff.




Jonathan from Kempner, TX writes: First, let me thank you for your informative writings. I read your blog daily and eagerly await another post. I was hoping you could clear up a "rules" question I have concerning the hit on Jay Cutler by Tim Dobbins. I thought that once a QB became a runner, all hits were fair game. Just as if he were a running back. If Cutler had crossed the line of scrimmage causing an illegal forward pass, then why was the hit illegal? Wouldn't he become a runner at that point? Thanks for your time, ignore the haters, and keep doing what you’re doing.

Paul Kuharsky: I have gotten several versions of this question and should have done better answering it in the blog before now.

My understanding is, if Cutler is still in the throwing motion and has not clearly passed the line of scrimmage and become a runner, he’s still afforded the protections of a quarterback. That’s certainly the way it was interpreted in this situation.

Thanks for reading and taking the time to write.




Brian S. from Clarksville, TN writes: In reading your evaluation of the Titans during the bye week you say CJ still needs to prove himself in order to be on the team next season, using his bonus due in March as justification of why the organization would release him. My thing is, even if he only ends up like 10th or so statistically, who exactly would the titans replace CJ with? I don't think Jamie Harper or Darius Reynaud are going to make the pro-bowl as full time starters. Draft a RB hoping to find the next CJ or Muscle Hampster? It seems like too much of a risk to let CJ go, who I think has proven he still has the speed and quickness when he spots a hole to be a legit threat. I'd much rather see the titans "overpay" for CJ than to risk turning the RB position to unproven guys. Unless you're telling me the titans are on the brink of Salary Cap jail, there's no reason to "save" CJ's bonus money on some lame principle that his stats don't "justify" the money. In my opinion he may not be in the top 3, but he's still most likely going to be better than anyone else they could get. Of course if they renegotiate the bonus then kudos for them, but unless he goes out and starts committing felonies, cutting CJ shouldn't even be a thought.

Paul Kuharsky: They won’t make the decision based on what else they have or don’t have, they’ll make it based on if they think he’s worth it. The CBA will require them to spend, so I can see them saying, ‘We need to spend anyway and he was good.” But if they decide that’s too pricey, they will have plenty of time to find a back/ combination of backs who can carry the load.

One issue is: He clearly let up after he got big money the first time. Do you guarantee him more and not worry about seeing that happen a second time?




Trip from Jacksonville writes: Did Shad Khan change the primary Jags color from Teal to Black so that the fans are more appropriately dressed for their home game funerals on Sunday?

Paul Kuharsky: Home games certainly have that feel now, don’t they?
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans are too talented to play down to their competition, and a slow start like the one they had against the Bills won’t cut it Sunday night in Chicago, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

To which I say: Let the hype begin. Texans-Bears has game-of-the-year potential and could even be a Super Bowl preview.

Even though he was sick, Arian Foster was Plan A, and Plan B for the Texans who rode him to the win over Buffalo, says Randy Harvey of the Chronicle.

Andre Johnson says fewer practice reps, new massage techniques and stretching exercises have him feeling strong, despite his having missed much of the offseason recovering from surgery, writes Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle.

Boos told Mario Williams that Houston fans were still thinking about him, writes Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

The Texans' red-zone defense made the difference, says Dale Robertson of the Chronicle.

Houston dispatched the Bills, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

His eyes shining, Chuck Pagano was part of the Colts’ win over Miami, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. “Something special is happening here in Indianapolis, the kind of thing they commit to celluloid. A nowhere team is going somewhere, maybe even to the playoffs."

To which I say: There is not a better story in the league and there isn’t a person who follows football who isn’t rooting for Pagano.

Andrew Luck’s storybook season continued with a record day against the Dolphins, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

A defensive stand at the end ensured the Colts’ win over the Dolphins, says Phil Richards of the Star.

T.Y. Hilton turned an early mistake into a big play for Luck later, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Big plays from Luck keyed it all, says Dunlevy.

Tony Corrente’s audible strong words took place during Dolphins-Colts.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The beat down goes on for the Jaguars, writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union. “In the first half, Detroit ran 46 plays to 18 for the Jaguars, outgained them 285-57 and outscored them 21-0 on three Mikel Leshoure touchdowns runs. Game over.”

It’s time for Shad Khan to consider a housecleaning, says Gene Frenette of the T-U. “The four-year Gene Smith rebuilding project looks bleak as can be right now. No difference-making player has surfaced yet among Smith's 26 draft picks.”

To which I say: There is no way to sell further patience to the fan base, and Khan can’t use up his good will in the wrong way as it won’t last forever.

Blaine Gabbert rarely talks negatively, but he had nowhere else to go after this one, says O’Halloran.

Mike Thomas talked with Gary Smits of the T-U about changing sides with his trade during the week.

The Jaguars have lost every home game by at least 17 points, says Dunlevy.

The weeks before provided some hope, but none of it came to fruition against the Lions, says John Oehser of the Jaguars web site.

Tennessee Titans

What’s next for the Titans after this rout by the Bears? David Climer of The Tennessean wonders. “Even the franchise’s historical comfort zone of 8-8 looks far, far out of reach.”

Either the Titans didn’t listen to their coaches’ warnings, “or they simply weren’t physically capable of holding onto the football against a band of aggressive, thieving defenders,” says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Michael Griffin would like to know where all the Bears’ fans got their tickets, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Back in the city where he played in college, Bears quarterback Jay Cutler had a big day, says Josh Cooper of The Tennessean.

It was the seventh time in nine games where the Titans gave up 30 or more points and the fifth game with a losing margin of three touchdowns or more, says David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper.

Wrap-up: Texans 21, Bills 9

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
6:56
PM ET

Thoughts on the Texans’ 21-9 win over the Buffalo Bills Reliant Stadium:

What it means: Houston boosted its record to 7-1, continuing to rank as the AFC’s best team with an efficient win over the visiting Bills.

What I liked, offense: The Texans' three stars on offense shined. Matt Schaub hit on 19 of 27 passes for 268 yards with two touchdowns and a 126.8 passer rating. Andre Johnson caught eight passes for 118 yards. And Arian Foster carried 24 times for 111 yards and a touchdown -- he’s now scored a TD in nine consecutive home games. The big three need to carry the offense at times, and they showed themselves completely capable of the task against an inferior team in this game.

What I liked, defense: No touchdowns allowed is always a very good thing. And third-down defense was big, allowing the Bills to convert just twice in 11 chances. J.J. Watt got back in the sack column and added four more quarterback hits while rookie outside linebacker Whitney Mercilus forced a fumble when he sacked Ryan Fitzpatrick.

Better: The Bills are an excellent punt- and kickoff-return team, but in eight chances against the Texans, who’ve been emphasizing improvement, they gained only 89 yards. The Texans, meanwhile, took six chances on 96 yards. Still, there was a big special-teams mistake as Shayne Graham’s 46-yard field goal attempt was blocked.

Familiar visitor: Mario Williams, who jumped to the Bills as a high-priced free agent in the offseason, had a sack of Schaub, another tackle for a loss and seven total tackles.

What’s next: The Texans head to Chicago for a "Sunday Night Football" showdown against the 7-1 Bears. The Texans have been in game-of-the-year scenarios twice before this season, and they got blown out by the Packers and blew out the Ravens.

RTC: Hasselbeck wants Cook happy

November, 1, 2012
11/01/12
7:49
AM ET
Reading the coverage…

Happy November.

Houston Texans

Writes John McClain of the Houston Chronicle: “For some reason, Mario Williams believes Houston fans do not understand why he left the Texans and signed with Buffalo.

To which I say: Seems to me he should be more focused on giving the Bills what they paid for than setting the record straight with Houston, especially when Houston understands exactly what went down.

Indianapolis Colts

“Andrew Luck has been the epicenter of the Indianapolis Colts' expedited return to relevancy,” writes Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star. But the more he throws the less success the team has. The running game is a big key to the team’s performance.

To which I say: Donald Brown and Vick Ballard have set the bar higher, and need to continue to produce if the Colts are to continue to contend. The run-blocking of the O-line is key, of course, as well.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The careers of receivers Mike Thomas and Cecil Shorts were moving in opposite directions in Jacksonville, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. So the Jaguars traded Thomas and are counting on even more from Shorts.

To which I say: The surprising element here is that Stellino says Shorts outranks veteran Laurent Robinson, who’s healthy now and really needs to begin to give the team a return on its big investment.

Tennessee Titans

Matt Hasselbeck wants to do his part to keep Jared Cook happy, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. Cook’s people requested a trade early this week, and he didn’t talk on Wednesday.

To which I say: The best Cook could hope for out of the request is to spark the coaches to play him more and call more plays for him. But as dangerous as he can be as a target, he’s not a complete tight end and won’t be on the field when blocking is at a premium.

 
So as the Bills-Texans game approaches, Mario Williams says the Texans basically forced him out of Houston.

Guess what? He’s right.

[+] EnlargeMario Williams
AP Photo/Dave EinselMario Williams claimes he was forced out of Houston.
The defensive end/outside linebacker with a history of getting dinged up had some stretches as a brilliant player for Houston after the Texans used the No. 1 overall pick in the 2006 draft.

But he played in five games last year before he tore a chest muscle and was done, and the Texans experienced unprecedented success without him.

Seeing how he would command a record contract for a defender and the Texans were going to have cap issues even without him, why would they have tried to retain him?

I understand it probably hurt his feelings.

But when he tells Houston’s KRIV-TV he didn’t want to leave but “it was a one-way door given to me by the GM to leave Houston," the most common reply should be, “Well, duh.”

Let’s see. That GM Williams doesn’t name, Rick Smith, helped put together a team that went to the playoffs last year for the first time in its history and won a game despite starting a third-string quarterback.

Up against the cap and forced to make move, he let Williams and right guard Mike Brisiel walk as free agents, traded linebacker DeMeco Ryans and cut right tackle Eric Winston. And here the Texans are, sitting at 6-1 coming off their bye.

It’s the best record in the AFC, and there are few people suggesting the Texans aren’t the best in the conference right now. Sorry, Mario, but I hardly think fans are lamenting their team let you go, or even forced you to go considering the team's been beyond fine without you.

So I’m sure the team will take the high road and say thanks for all the good you did here and congrats on the great contract you got in Buffalo. Sorry if you feel like we didn’t sufficiently embrace you on your way out. But the fact is, for the money you could get, you just didn’t fit in our plans.

Nothing personal.
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Texans defensive lineman Antonio Smith will look to get under the skin of former teammates Mario Williams as Williams comes to town with his new team, Buffalo, says Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle.

Insider linebacker Daryl Sharpton is very close to practicing, says Ganguli.

Ben Tate rehabilitated his hamstring during the Texans’ bye and they hope he’ll be ready to play against the Bills, says Ganguli.

The Texans added defensive tackle Terrell McClain to the roster, says Ganguli.

The top 10 Texans this season according to Riley Cavanagh of Toro Times.

To which I say: Duane Brown is too low at No. 8, Owen Daniels is too high at No. 3.

Indianapolis Colts

While Chuck Pagano and his wife visited Colts headquarters Monday, he wore a surgical mask and eventually got tired, writes Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

Setting aside whether Dwayne Allen’s forward progress had stopped, the question is why the Colts were throwing at that stage of the game, says Phil Richards of the Star.

To which I say: Richards calls Bruce Arians “an inveterate and unabashed gambler” in the piece. I don’t think he’s been doing much gambling at all, certainly not when it comes to making standard and conventional punting decisions.

Andrew Luck will work with Riley Hospital for Children at IU Health to design a wellness program for kids in one of Luck’s first forays into local public service, says Shari Rudavsky of the Star.

The legend of Luck took a big step forward during the Colts’ win in Nashville, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The margin for error was not big on Sunday at Lambeau Field, and the Jaguars responded by dropping nine passes, says Ryan O’Halloran. Mike Mularkey said it’s a matter of concentration.

To which I say: This is an awfully basic problem. I’m not sold that the Jaguars have talented enough receivers, but they are NFL-caliber and they didn’t do NFL-caliber work.

Mularkey defended Justin Blackmon’s effort, says O’Halloran. “He could finish blocks a little more,” Mularkey said. “He’ll peek back to see when the ball carrier is coming. Receivers have a tendency to do that.”

Maurice Jones-Drew and Dwight Lowery are out for the Detroit game, says O’Halloran.

The Jaguars made enough gains to keep the Monday conversation positive, says John Oehser of the team’s website.

How the Jaguars kept it close all afternoon against the Packers, from Dunlevy.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans have no plans to trade Jared Cook, Mike Munchak said at his Monday news conference, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Kenny Britt thinks the Titans could have taken more deep shots in the second half against the Colts since they were without starting cornerback Vontae Davis, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

To which I say: I want all the playmakers thinking they should get the ball more, so long as it’s not in a disruptive way. It’s the kind of mentality you need when you’ve got the Titans' skill position players.

Matt Hasselbeck will make his fifth straight start Sunday against Chicago, says Glennon.

A snap report for the Colts game from Tom Gower of Total Titans. Fullback Quinn Johnson played the most he has all season.

RTC: Packers blocked punt with 10 men

October, 29, 2012
10/29/12
10:24
AM ET
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans return from their bye with only the Bills on their mind, as Houston gets ready to face its former first-round pick, defensive end Mario Williams, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Ben Tate’s hamstring injury from the Baltimore game is one concern going forward.

Texans midseason awards from McClain.

Kareem Jackson is coming into his own in his third season as a Texans cornerback, says Nick Scurfield of the team’s website.

To which I say: Jackson really has made great strides. He’s done well not letting the criticism get in the way of him doing the work to catch up to a lot of the rest of the defensive personnel.

The Texans are doing just fine without Williams, says Battle Red Blog.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts' future may not be so far away, says Bob Kravitz of the Indianapolis Star. “They are growing up, something most of us figured would happen further on down the line this season, or maybe next season."

The Titans played prettier football, but the Colts were gritty and won, says Phil Richards of the Star.

Indianapolis was running in overtime, and the Titans knew it and couldn’t stop it, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Upset that the Colts weren’t winning at the half, Reggie Wayne riled up the Colts with a halftime speech, says Mike Chappell of the Star. “Sometimes you have to do more than lead by example,'' Wayne said.

To which I say: Wayne’s ability to snatch Andrew Luck’s passes had me thinking he is playing as well as he ever has. Titans nickelback Ryan Mouton was right with him several times, and Wayne caught seven passes for 91 yards with what I will call a “casual flair.”

Running through fake-toss-39-taxi-naked-right-screen-left with Wilson.

Kravitz’s report card.

Luck is as calm as a rookie can be, but the biggest clutch plays by the Colts came from the running backs, says Reggie Hayes of the Fort Wayne News-Sentinel.

Vick Ballard’s spin to win rewarded Bruce Arians’ aggressiveness, says Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars executed a game plan and looked better, but still made enough mistakes to lose, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. “(Mike) Mularkey said before the game that the Jaguars were two plays from 3-3 and one from 0-6. Now they’re four plays from 4-3 and one from 0-7.”

Blaine Gabbert took a big step forward in the eyes of Gene Frenette of the T-U. “On a day when the short-handed Jaguars put up a credible showing as a 15-point underdog, Gabbert having his first 300-yard passing output in a 24-15 defeat was the primary consolation prize.”

Frenette’s grades.

The Jaguars were too slow getting set up before the blocked punt, and Mularkey said that was his fault, writes Stellino.

Gabbert’s day may eventually be seen as a big step, says John Oehser of Jaguars.com.

The Packers blocked the punt even though they only had 10 men on the field, says Rob Demovsky of the Green Bay Press-Gazette.

Playing without three of their top four defensive backs, the Jaguars still did a pretty solid job against a dynamic passing offense, says Ryan O’Halloran of the T-U.

To which I say: A more effective four-man rush was a major key to the effective pass coverage, and it’s what the Jaguars have been in need of all season.

The passing game showed progress despite the injury to Gabbert, says O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

A questionable late call killed a chance to win it, and the Titans ultimately unraveled, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

When they lost the overtime coin toss, they lost the game, says David Climer of The Tennessean. “When you play defense like the Titans, you’re living on borrowed time. For a while, you can survive by bending but not breaking. Eventually, though, you break.”

To which I say: I actually felt like I saw progress as it felt like the Colts had to work really hard on the 80-yard drive that tied it late and the 80-yard drive that won it.

A lot looked good statistically, but mistakes ended some scoring chances and cost the Titans big, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Wyatt’s report card.

Luck flashed “a capacity to hang in against the rush, make plays with his legs and come up with the right throw at a crucial moment,” says Josh Cooper of The Tennessean.

Mike Munchak had tough decisions in this one, and sticks by them, says David Boclair of the Nashville City Paper.

The Titans should have won despite the questionable calls, says Andrew Strickert of Total Titans.

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