AFC South: Matthew Stafford

Rolling Texans have causes for concern

November, 22, 2012
11/22/12
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J.J. WattAP Photo/Rick OsentoskiDefensive end J.J. Watt recorded three sacks on Thursday as the Texans improved to 10-1.
DETROIT -- They dragged their drained bodies around the visitor’s locker room at Ford Field, the cumulative effect of nearly 10 quarters of NFL football in five days showing itself.

The Houston Texans were smiling after their second consecutive overtime win, this one a 34-31 Thanksgiving Day thriller over the Lions.

Fortunately, they’re a nice group of guys.

Because they could have easily listened to some questions about their defensive struggles and gotten severely ticked off: “We just got to 10-1, we’re exhausted and you’re asking about struggles?!?”

They know, however, that while a championship-caliber team finds ways to win when it doesn’t play its best, it also can’t yield 458 yards like it did against Jacksonville or 525 yards like it did in Detroit and get where it’s planning to go.

“There are always going to be things to clean up,” said defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who sacked Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford three times and knocked down two of his passes. “Obviously we haven’t played our best football these last two games. But like a great team, you find a way to win no matter the circumstances.”

Said cornerback Kareem Jackson: “Everybody on this team is relentless. We finish by any means necessary.”

The Texans’ pass defense has allowed the Jaguars’ Chad Henne 354 passing yards and four touchdowns and Stafford 441 yards and two touchdowns. Against 96 combined pass attempts, Houston recorded five sacks.

Halfway through the season, the Texans had one sack for every 11.4 pass attempts.

In their last three games, the Texans have one sack for every 28.5 pass attempts.

Watt boosted his season total to 14.5 sacks, but he said not to leave him off the list of guys who need to do more. That’s a new franchise record for quarterback takedowns.

“Hopefully I’ll keep breaking it and breaking it and breaking and breaking it,” he said. “Hopefully I’m not done.”

“We need to get to the quarterback more often,” said outside linebacker Brooks Reed, who left the game in the first half with a groin injury that his coach rated as a big concern and that will require an MRI on Friday. “Make the quarterback feel more pressure and it’ll help him throw bad balls, help out our secondary that way. That’s the best cure for pass defense, I think.

“The stats show it. We haven’t been getting to the quarterback enough.”

Making things worse against the Lions and their No. 1 pass offense was the hamstring injury to Johnathan Joseph.

The cornerback who would have followed receiver Calvin Johnson around didn’t play, and his replacement, Alan Ball, should never have drawn the job. After Johnson pulled in five catches for 103 yards and a touchdown against Ball, the Texans switched to Jackson as the primary defender for Johnson after intermission.

Jackson fared better, limiting Johnson to three receptions for 37 yards in the second half plus a long overtime.

“We knew we were going to give up some plays,” coach Gary Kubiak said. “Hopefully we don’t give up the real, real big plays. ... Everybody got a chance to figure out a way to help us win.”

Injuries beyond Joseph’s have contributed to the Texans' issues.

Nose tackle Shaun Cody and inside linebacker Tim Dobbins were also out. Reed and inside linebacker Bradie James (hamstring) didn’t finish.

That’s five starters missing by the end of the game, not counting linebacker Brian Cushing, who was lost for the season Oct. 8.

“Getting Shaun back [at Tennessee on Dec. 2], that should help us,” Kubiak said, referring to low numbers on the defensive line. “Now we’ve got a couple other issues we’ve got to work through. But we’ve got to keep plugging. Obviously we’ve got a lot of things to fix. But it’s nice to find a way to win.”

The other concern I can see with the Texans is their play against top-flight quarterbacks.

They beat Peyton Manning and the Broncos at Denver in Week 3 and they got creamed by Aaron Rodgers and the Packers in Week 6. Stafford is not in that class, but he's the third-best signal-caller they’ve faced.

Against that trio, Houston’s defense has allowed 10 touchdown passes and a passer rating of 100.1 while not managing a single interception.

Against the 11 other quarterbacks the Texans have faced in their eight other games, they’ve allowed nine touchdown passes and a passer rating of 42.5 while grabbing 11 interceptions.

Most teams are going to fare worse against the league’s better quarterbacks. But that much worse?

Unless things fall in a really fortuitous way for them, they’re bound to cross paths with Manning or Tom Brady -- or both -- in the AFC playoffs.

They’ll need to be better than they've been the past two weeks or against those top QBs.

“We understand we can always get better,” said left tackle Duane Brown, whose side of the ball has been picking up the slack. “But it’s not easy to get a win in this league. We’ve got 10 of them right now. We’ve very proud of that. We still have a lot of football to play, a lot of progress to make.”

Final Word: Texans at Lions

November, 21, 2012
11/21/12
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Final Word: Texans-Lions | Redskins-Cowboys | Patriots-Jets

Three things to watch Thursday in the Texans' game at Detroit:

Covering Megatron: Calvin Johnson averages 16.2 yards per catch and is as threatening as anyone in the NFL. Typically, the Texans would feel good about matching up with a player such as Johnson, because cornerback Johnathan Joseph tracks a team’s top receiver all over the field. But Joseph is a game-time decision with a hamstring injury. He played through a groin injury earlier in the season but had a couple of poor performances. If he plays with this injury, how will he fare? If he’s a scratch, Alan Ball will start in his place, but the Texans won’t put just one defender on Johnson. A week after a terrible coverage game against Jacksonville, corners Kareem Jackson, Ball and Brice McCain and safeties Danieal Manning and Glover Quin will have to collectively hold down Johnson and the NFL’s No. 1 passing offense.

Riley Reiff: The Lions’ first-round draft pick likely will start at left tackle in place of stalwart Jeff Backus, who’s dealing with a hamstring injury. Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips will surely scheme and move people around to challenge and attack Reiff. The best way to do that in the base defense is to get end J.J. Watt going against Reiff. The Defensive Player of the Year candidate’s effort hasn’t changed, but he has been limited to two sacks in his past four games. Weakside linebacker Connor Barwin also can be expected to get chances to rush against Reiff. Odds are the rookie blocker will get help from tight ends and running backs chipping and trying to help slow pursuit of Matthew Stafford.

Special teams: Rookie returner Keshawn Martin made some big plays last week against the Jaguars, with a 71-yard punt return and a 54-yard kickoff return. The Texans have been better overall on special teams since their Oct. 28 bye, when they emphasized getting things cleaned up. Detroit has had some miserable special-teams performances this season, and the Lions are 28th in defending punt returns. Houston should be able to ensure the Lions have to drive a long field, as Detroit is the NFL’s worst team in the league on kickoff returns. And the Texans could get some good starting field position as the Lions have the worst punting average in the NFL.

Wrap-up: Lions 31, Jaguars 14

November, 4, 2012
11/04/12
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video
Thoughts on the Jaguars’ 31-14 loss to the Lions at EverBank Field:

What it means: The Jaguars fell to 1-7 halfway through their season with an anemic offensive effort that allowed the Lions to run out to a 24-0 lead and never fear a negative result. The question now is whether the Jaguars will be able to help complicate things for four teams they play in the second half that look to be on their way to the playoffs.

What I didn’t like: The Lions controlled the clock for 35:30 thanks to a giant rushing day with 34 carries for 142 yards, a 4.4-yard average and four touchdowns, three from Mikel Leshoure. Meanwhile, the Jaguars managed only 20 carries for 64 yards and a 3.2-yard average. In the second quarter, Detroit ran 30 plays, got 14 first downs and scored 21 points.

What I also didn’t like: Jacksonville added two prominent receivers in the offseason to address the deficiencies of its passing offense. Veteran Laurent Robinson and rookie Justin Blackmon combined to average 6.6 yards on 11 catches in this game with a long play of 12 yards. This team is desperate for big chunks, and it isn’t getting them. In all, the Jaguars and Blaine Gabbert got 8.1 yards per completion, while Detroit got 13.0, 18.4 from its star receiver, Calvin Johnson.

Way too late: The Jaguars didn’t score until the fourth quarter. Before finding touchdowns on their final two possessions, their drives ended like this: punt, punt, punt, punt, end of the half, interception, interception. The offense hadn’t gotten closer to the goal line than Detroit’s 26 until scoring touchdowns the final two times it got the ball.

Fizzled: A healthier and deeper defensive line had shown signs of life in recent weeks. But the pass pressure against Matthew Stafford was insufficient, with one sack from George Selvie and just two more hits.

What’s next: The Jaguars host Thursday night football in a rematch against the only team they’ve beaten this season, the Indianapolis Colts.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 2, 2012
11/02/12
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 9:

Third down after halftime: The Jacksonville Jaguars have struggled on third down on both sides of the ball, particularly in the second half. Per ESPN Stats and Information, Jacksonville’s offense is the worst in the NFL after intermission, converting only 20 percent. The defense ranks 26th in the second half at 43.1 percent. Third-down efficiency obviously keys time of possession. The Jaguars are expected to be without both starting corners Sunday against the Lions, so they need to keep the ball out of the hands of Matthew Stafford and Calvin Johnson. They can do so by extending drives on offense -- converting more third downs and by getting the Lions off the field with third-down stops.

[+] EnlargeArian Foster
Bob Levey/Getty ImagesArian Foster faces the league's worst rushing defense when the Texans play the Bills on Sunday.
Rookie quarterbacks: According to the Elias Sports Bureau, Dolphins-Colts is the second game since the merger in which both teams enter with winning records and rookie starting quarterbacks, the Colts' Andrew Luck and Miami's Ryan Tannehill. The first such matchup was last year, when the Texans and T.J. Yates beat the Bengals and Andy Dalton in Week 14. To beat Tannehill, the Colts will have to diagnose play-action well. He ranks second in completion percentage (72.7) and yards per attempt (11.8) on play-action.

Arian Foster versus the Bills' run defense: Buffalo is allowing an NFL-worst 6.0 yards per rush this season. The only team in NFL history to allow more than 5.6 yards per rush in a season is the 1934 Cincinnati Reds (6.4). The Bills have allowed 5.8 yards per rush between the tackles this season, with an average of 4.1 yards coming before first contact, both worst in the NFL. The Bills have allowed league highs in touchdowns (10) and 20-yard gains (10) between the tackles this season. That’s not good news for Buffalo considering nearly 75 percent of the Texans’ rushes have been between the tackles.

Watch throws outside the numbers: The Bears' pass defense and Titans quarterback Matt Hasselbeck will be an interesting matchup based on what they’ve done so far this season. Chicago has intercepted 10 passes on throws outside the painted numbers this season and has allowed only one touchdown on such throws. It’s a breakneck pace -- last season the Packers led the NFL in such interceptions with 13. Hasselbeck has the most attempts (71) without an interception on throws outside the numbers this season.

Also: Johnson has exactly the same number of receptions through seven games as he did last year, but nine fewer touchdowns for Detroit. ... The Jaguars have lost each of their three home games by at least 17 points, and each of their four road games has been decided by single digits. … Jacksonville’s opponents have dropped back 50 times in the first quarter without being sacked. … Indianapolis has three takeaways this season, four fewer than any other team. The only other team in the Super Bowl era to have three or fewer takeaways through seven games is the 2011 Steelers (three). … The Titans have scored 14 points or fewer in all five of their losses and have scored at least 26 points in all three wins.
The Jaguars have plenty of cap room and don’t need to save money.

But that’s the biggest benefit to their dealing receiver and return man Mike Thomas to the Detroit Lions. I confirmed a bit ago the Jaguars got a draft pick for him, though I don’t know what yet. It’s safe presuming it’s not high.

Thomas has become a non-entity for the Jags, with all of 13 catches for 80 yards this season.

I wouldn’t be entirely surprised to see a resurgence for him playing with an upgrade at quarterback, and moving from Blaine Gabbert to Matthew Stafford is a nice improvement for a receiver.

The Jaguars drafted Thomas with a fourth-round pick out of Arizona in 2009, then fell in love with him and rewarded him too quickly.

Early during the 2011 season they signed him to a five-year, $19 million extension with $9 million guaranteed, including a $6 million signing bonus. The contract amounted to a bigger annual average than Jordy Nelson got from Green Bay at roughly the same time. Thomas’ production hasn’t approached Nelson’s.

The Lions aren’t absorbing a lot of the number -- as Thomas’ remaining base salaries total roughly $8.6 million for 2013-15.

The Jaguars like Cecil Shorts and have Justin Blackmon, Laurent Robinson and Shorts as their top three receivers going forward. Robinson was a pricey free agent addition who’s contributed nothing so far and has dealt with multiple concussions.

They recently signed veteran return specialist and receiver Michael Spurlock and he is now working as their primary return man, though coach Mike Mularkey wasn’t happy with Spurlock’s decision-making in the loss at Green Bay.

Jacksonville hosts Detroit this weekend, so if Thomas plays he’ll be going against some familiar defenders.

AFC South links: Injuries limit Jags' offense

September, 19, 2012
9/19/12
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Houston Texans

A preview of the Texans' upcoming matchup with the Broncos from the Denver Post.

The Texans look even more dangerous this season than they did last year, writes SI.com's Kerry J. Byrne, who provides stats showing just how dominant the Texans have been on defense.

The Texans, at No. 4, are the highest-rated AFC team in John McClain's NFL power rankings.

Indianapolis Colts

Where do the Colts fall in media rankings of NFL teams? The Indianapolis Star has compiled the info.

Andrew Luck was a "two-minute master" in the Colts' win over the Vikings, writes Bleacher Report's Nate Dunlevy.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Injuries have tied offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski's hands when it comes to creative use of formations, writes Ryan O'Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

As the Jaguars and Colts prepare to square off Sunday, O'Halloran provides some notes on both teams. Blaine Gabbert had an 82.3 rating in two games against the Colts last season.

Tennessee Titans

The Tennessean's Jim Wyatt has five noteworthy numbers for the Titans heading into Week 3.

The Titans-Lions game is now officially a sellout, writes Wyatt.

Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford was asked about the Titans during an interview with WXYT in Detroit. Stafford: “[The Titans] are a talented young team, they’re a talented young defense, they have some good players at the back end, a couple of guys that can rush the passer so we will have our work cut out for us. This is a team that is going back home and has the potential to really go off. They have skill position guys on offense that are among the best in the NFL at their position so we have our work cut out for us.”
AFC Scenarios: East | West | North | South NFC: East | West | North | South

Yes, the start of training camps is two months away, but it’s never too early to consider the coming season. A look at the best-case and worst-case scenarios for the Colts in 2012.

Dream scenario (8-8): I consider this a pretty optimistic dream, but since we’re dreaming …

This one would require exemplary rookie seasons from quarterback Andrew Luck, tight ends Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen and at least a few others from the new regime’s first class.

But beyond that, they’ll need several guys from the old regime to play far better in a new system than they did in the old one for which they were better suited.

Donald Brown or Delone Carter will have to run effectively, for example. From a pool of returning cornerbacks, including Chris Rucker, Kevin Thomas, Terrence Johnson and Brandon King, they need to find at least a nickel, and that presumes the guy they just traded for, Cassius Vaughn, will be the second starter. (If I am playing against the Colts, with that collection of defensive backs, I’m trying to get them in dime.)

Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis prove to be pass-rushing demons as outside linebackers in a 3-4 base set in which they are coming from less predictable spots and forcing quarterbacks into all kind of mistakes. Their play offsets the questions at other spots for the defense and helps set up Luck and the offense with good field position.

Nightmare scenario (2-14): Yes, it’s possible the first year of the Ryan Grigson-Chuck Pagano regime matches the last year of the Bill Polian-Jim Caldwell one.

The Colts will face Aaron Rodgers, Tom Brady, Matthew Stafford and Jay Cutler in 2012. But if things go badly, plenty of second- and third-tier quarterbacks will also shred a patchwork secondary that added only safety Tom Zbikowski in free agency and Vaughn in a trade and got no help in the draft.

The defense can prove to have too few quality pieces to run a 3-4 or a 4-3 effectively, and if it’s giving up a lot of points, Luck will be dropping back a lot to try to lead comebacks. If a line of leftovers and castoffs can’t consistently fend off rushers, there will be trouble.

Should Luck get hurt and miss any time, the team will look to Drew Stanton or seventh-round pick Chandler Harnish. Either one is likely to leave fans pining for the halcyon days of Dan Orlovsky.

Also damaging would be the Texans' ability to stay good and improvements from Tennessee and Jacksonville. The Colts got their two wins last season against the Titans and Texans late in the year.
Andrew LuckAP Photo/Aaron M. SprecherAndrew Luck developed as a high school quarterback playing seven-on-seven ball in Texas.

It amounted to fast-break basketball on grass: a summer tournament seven-on-seven football game.

Stratford High School coach Eliot Allen watched it unfold from his usual spot in the back of an end zone, not interacting with the kids representing his school against Dez Bryant and Lufkin High.

Over two 20-minute halves with a running clock, at a furious pace at which he had to throw the ball within four seconds of the snap against coverages that had no concern for the run, Andrew Luck didn’t throw an incomplete pass.

“He’s accuracy was unbelievable,” Allen said. “That one game he didn’t have an incomplete pass. I’ve never see it before or since. He throws such a catchable ball.”

When the Indianapolis Colts inevitably make Luck the first pick in the draft on April 26, the Stanford quarterback will enter the league rated by many scouts and evaluators as the most pro-ready quarterback since John Elway.

While Luck’s refined his remarkable touch as the leader of the Cardinal, he honed it early on in Texas seven-on-seven summer ball. He participated even as a rising ninth-grader, and Allen says Luck easily played 75 such games before moving onto college, contests that were crucial to the early development of good habits and exquisite ball placement.

As coach of Cypress Falls High, David Raffield regularly saw Luck play during the summer, then coached against Stratford in regular season and playoff football during Luck’s junior and senior years.

“Watching Andrew grow and develop into a quarterback was nothing short of amazing,” said Raffield, who now coaches A&M Consolidated High School in College Station. “The seven-on-seven allowed him to really develop his game. When you are out there as a quarterback running the offense, it’s not plays being called by a coach. You’re the guy doing it. You’re becoming your own offensive coordinator. …

“His junior and senior year he had an amazing ability to place the football. The accuracy was phenomenal. He understood pass coverages. It gave him such advantages. I didn’t know he’s wind up being an NFL first-round draft pick, but I knew he was special.”

The summer before Luck’s senior year in 2007, his team finished second in Texas and played in a national tournament in Los Angeles. There, football staffs of high schools from California and Florida coached their players, Allen recalled.

It doesn’t work that way in Texas, where a state organization runs the leagues and tournaments. A high school’s coaches might help arrange leagues, tournaments and officials, but players work under the watch of others. Stratford uses former players from its team as summer ball coaches.

Texans coach Gary Kubiak was a St. Pius X High School (Houston) and Texas A&M quarterback well before seven-on-seven summers started. He joked if he had a chance to play that much, people would have discovered he wasn’t any good.

Klein Kubiak, a former Strake Jesuit High School receiver who graduated in 2009 and now plays at Rice, played in the same district and overlapped with Luck. So as Gary Kubiak followed his son, he saw Luck play in tournaments. He’s also seen just how much the competition and setting have done for Texas signal-callers.

“He was very impressive,” Gary Kubiak said. “I think there is a lot of growth going on in those leagues right now. On a Saturday afternoon, those kids might play six of those games.

“I just think you can’t get enough of those repetitions. It’s almost like having two spring balls. It’s almost gotten a little bit year-round, kind of like baseball.”

Such summer-league play takes place in a lot of states now. But Texas was a pioneer.

So it’s no coincidence that the three top quarterbacks in this draft -- Luck, Robert Griffin III and Ryan Tannehill -- are all from Texas.

“Think about these names,” said Tennessee Titans quarterback coach Dowell Loggains, who started at quarterback for Cooper High School in Abilene, Texas, in 1997 and 1998 in both summer seven-on-seven and regular fall football. “Ryan Mallett, Andy Dalton, Colt McCoy, Christian Ponder, Andrew Luck, Matthew Stafford, Kevin Kolb, Robert Griffin, Case Keenum.

[+] EnlargeDowell Loggains
Danny Murphy/Icon SMITitans QB coach Dowell Loggains attributes the recent influx of quarterbacks from Texas into the NFL to all the extra reps they get.
“I mean it’s huge. That’s why all these Texas high school quarterbacks are coming out and doing really well. They are so much further along than the rest of the states, plus they get 15 dates for spring practice just like a college. They are getting so many more reps than the rest of the country.”

Other states may be taking note and trying to copy, Loggains said. But it’ll be tough for many to match or top Texas because of the facilities and money high school football has in the Lone Star State.

Added ESPN analyst Jon Gruden when asked about Texas’ production of quarterbacks: “Obviously if you go to Texas, you can probably find passing tournaments going on right now, and if they're not going on right now, they'll be going on later this afternoon and for sure tomorrow and the next day. They throw the ball and have organized passing camps more than any place I've ever been.”

Allen said seven-on-seven forces quarterbacks to figure out ways to beat man-to-man coverage with two-deep safeties and that doing so at an early stage of their football careers is invaluable. Against such a look from the secondary in an actual high school game, a quarterback would hand off most of the time.

“You don’t win those games playing defense,” Allen said. “It reveals a quarterback’s accuracy and I don’t think you can simulate stiff coverage in a better way. Andrew was very good at it. He can throw the deep ball. A lot of people give him a hard time about not being able to throw the deep ball. He was great at it. But his deal is, he just wants to get first downs.”

As a high-schooler, Loggains said he thought the summer opportunity was “awesome.”

And it made it a heck of a lot easier to get time and work with receivers, who might not show up for an informal session on a Tuesday night but wouldn’t miss a chance to play in a game with a score and a title on the line.

The proliferation of seven-on-seven play actually influenced the game at all levels.

Coaches found they had quarterbacks equipped to run spread offenses in high school and moved away from traditional run-heavy, defense-centric schemes. They then fed those quarterbacks to colleges, where the spread continued to spread.

And when those quarterbacks landed in the NFL, teams had no choice but to employ some spread concepts, willingly or unwillingly, to try to take advantage of their quarterbacks’ strengths.

“When we had Vince Young, we had to mix in a lot of that with [offensive coordinators] Norm Chow and Mike Heimerdinger,” Loggains said.

Rather than an NFL idea trickling down, a byproduct of a high school idea trickled up.

And one scout I spoke with said he sees no end to it.

“That’s the new craze, the seven-on-seven stuff,” he said. “Texas has been doing it longer and it’s the most organized state. How many good quarterbacks have come out of Texas the last 10 years? A ton. The more reps you get at anything, the better you’ll be at it.

“It’s why I stink so bad at golf.”
If Peyton Manning signs with the Titans, Tennessee will be all over national TV and feature one of the most attractive schedules in the NFL.

People soak up games matching up high-quality quarterbacks.

How might these play?

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If he signs, the battle for the roughly 2,500 game-by-game tickets that typically go on sale in July will be incredible.

And business will perk up in a major way for those scalpers who’ve not fared particularly well in recent years.

Presuming Manning is healthy, we could see some of the best quarterback battles LP Field has ever seen.

For Titans, worst need at worst time

February, 26, 2011
2/26/11
10:28
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Jake Locker declared it a great time to be a quarterback coming out of college and he’s right.

At least 11 teams need one.

[+] EnlargeJake Locker
Kirby Lee/Image of Sport/US PresswireJake Locker is among the QB prospects the Titans will be evaluating as they look for a new starter.
No one’s need is bigger than the Tennessee Titans. They have blanks at No. 1 and No. 2 and intend to find a veteran and a rookie.

As there is no better time to be a quarterback coming out, there is no worse time to have holes at the spot. A prolonged lockout would mean it’ll be a long time before new coordinator Chris Palmer gets to work with the additions. And whatever sort of player-organized work may go on won’t be organized by a quarterback for the Titans, unless second-year man Rusty Smith -- he of one failed start -- takes on an incredible leadership burden for a guy of his stature.

“We all know it’s a quarterback league, and that’s the No. 1 spot to have,” Titans coach Mike Munchak said. “We feel we have some great support staff around our quarterback who are very strong on our team, but there is no doubt we have uncertainty there. There are so many ways you can go. And you just have to wait until you find that person. Unfortunately, there is more than one team in that situation going into this season. That’s probably the toughest position to have to find.”

It’s so bad for the Titans that a perennially quarterback-starved team like Detroit that had the same 6-10 record is in a considerably better position than Tennessee -- though Matthew Stafford’s health remains a big question.

"[Drafting Stafford] allowed us to select personnel," Schwartz said. "You're not spinning your wheels. If you don't have a quarterback, you're drafting maybe a different kind of running back, maybe a different kind of offensive lineman, than if you have somebody. We had Calvin Johnson. But our ability to get Jahvid Best, Nate Burleson in free agency, to draft Brandon Pettigrew -- those pieces were because of the quarterback that we have. You're probably not going to run the ball 45 times per game when you have a quarterback that you want the ball in his hands.

"So in order to make progress, in order to fit guys to where they're going to be, in order to fit guys to a job description, you need to know what that job description is going to be. Having a quarterback settles a lot of that, knowing what that quarterback can do, knowing his ability to make throws, knowing his ability to process things, those kinds of things, it's all very important.

"The quarterback is the most important position on the team, and if you're strong at that position, you can overcome weaknesses at other positions."

Right now, it’s hard to envision the Titans being strong at the position, though they could hit a home run when they do bring guys in. That puts more strain on everyone else on offense -- a line that needs to return to form, an explosive back in Chris Johnson and an intriguing wide receiver in Kenny Britt who could be premier, a young tight end in Jared Cook who’s due to produce.

Schwartz, once a Titans assistant and then defensive coordinator, sounded sympathetic to his old colleague, Munchak.

“I’m sure that would be difficult,” he said. “I’m glad we’re not in that position.”
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

I’ve talked to people who think David Garrard is the quarterback the Jaguars can build around and win with. I’ve talked to people who don’t believe he is.

Through the offseason and the preseason, I said I thought he deserved this year -- with upgraded protection and better weapons -- to show if he is or he isn’t.

At halfway in…

I still don’t know.

Stats don’t tell the whole story, but they are a fair means for comparison. With an 81.8 passer rating, he’s 22nd of 34 quarterbacks who’ve seen significant playing time.

And here are the guys he rates above: Shaun Hill, Chad Henne, Matt Cassel, Trent Edwards, Marc Bulger, Mark Sanchez, Kerry Collins, Jake Delhomme, Matthew Stafford, Josh Johnson, JaMarcus Russell and Derek Anderson.

A couple of those guys are on their way up (Henne, Sanchez, Stafford), a couple are on their way down (Bulger, Collins, Delhomme) and a couple are just plain bad (Russell, Anderson). But is there anyone on that list you’d want starting for your team right now if you had a broader choice?

Garrard ranks behind Jason Campbell, who’s largely regarded as having a horrible year. But Garrard’s also barely off the pace of Matt Ryan and Jay Cutler, two of the league’s well-regarded young quarterbacks.

He’s 30th in the fourth quarter (66.2 passer rating), 19th on third down (74.5), 14th in passes of 30+ yards (seven) and 12th in pass plays of 20+ yards (23).

That “upgraded” protection is on pace to give up 40 sacks after 42 last year. The upgraded weapons have last year’s 15th rated passing offense at 16th.

All very middling.

Like the Jaguars, I think Garrard’s been inconsistent. He’s on pace for fewer touchdowns than last year, but also fewer picks.

I think he’s led pretty well. I think he’s helped young receivers. I think he’s formed a great connection with Mike Sims-Walker. I think he’s running what’s still going to be a run-driven team. I think the effort is there.

And I think I’m going to need those remaining eight games to make the call as to whether I think he can be the Jaguars' answer going forward or if the next stage of retooling is going to need to include another quarterback.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Jason La Canfora of NFL.com likes the Colts to win the division and is down on the Texans.


Houston Texans

The Texans have not-so-fond memories of Jared Allen's hit on Matt Schaub, writes John McClain.
Shaun Cody will get more work in the last two games, says McClain.
McClain considers position battles that are still ongoing.
A report says cornerback Cletis Gordon has been signed by Houston, says Alan Burge.


Indianapolis Colts

Marlin Jackson is ready for his preseason debut, says Mike Chappell.
Ryan Lilja will miss the game in Detroit, says John Oehser.
Five things to watch when the Colts play defense, from Oehser.
The Colts get a look at Matthew Stafford Saturday, writes Chappell.
Some background on Jim Caldwell via Phillip B. Wilson.


Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jags built a big lead in Philly, then couldn't hold it, writes Vito Stellino.
A heady play by Brian Iwuh got the linebacker a touchdown, says Michael C. Wright.
Third down on offense remains a major issue, says Wright.
It's more about revenue than ticket sales, says Vic Ketchman.
A report card from Gene Frenette.
A nice breakdown of the game from Terry O'Brien.
Jacksonville should only contemplate drafting Tim Tebow if they believe he can help them win games, not to sell tickets, opines Frenette.


Tennessee Titans

Saturday at Cleveland could amount to the offense's last real preseason chance to get things moving, write Jim Wyatt and Gary Estwick.
David Climer wonders when it is time to panic about the offense.
An injury update from Wyatt.
Patrick Ramsey is dealing with sore ribs, says Terry McCormick.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

Mike Silver's annual ultimate mock draft allows teams to pick anybody.

Houston Texans

  • The top two running backs in the draft are hardly flawless, writes McClain.
  • A look at a local: John McClain on Brandon Pettigrew.
  • The case for Matthew Stafford as the No. 1 pick, from McClain.
  • Teams get drug test results from the combine Monday, says McClain.
  • Natalie Meisler looks at Gary Kubiak's participation at a clinic at Colorado State, where two of his sons play. (Thanks for Alan Burge for pointing out the link.)
  • Alan Burge doesn't want to hear pleas for patience from the Texans' defense.
  • What tender did Owen Daniels get? Burge ponders conflicting reports.

Indianapolis Colts

Jacksonville Jaguars

Tennessee Titans

 
  Scott Boehm/Getty Images
  The Jaguars traded up for the No. 8 pick in the 2008 draft to select Derrick Harvey. This year, they may be looking to trade out of that same spot.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

A dip into the Jaguars' section of the mailbag:

Jeff from Jacksonville writes: Paul I have a two part question regarding the jaguars and the draft. First I believe that the Jags have put a smoke screen regarding drafting a QB in the first round, (although I do believe that they would do so if things did not work out the way they plan) I think that there main plan is to trade down and accumulate extra pics. Gene Smith has been preaching this since his first press conference and I dont believe it has changed. With the rise of Mark Sanchez from his workout, what are the chances that he might not even be there with the 8th pick for the Jaguars to try and trade, could it be that the Jags smoke screen was to big and now teams will try to trade in front of them to get Sanchez. Secondly, if Sanchez is avaliable what teams would probably be in the running for 8th pick from the Jags and what would be the compensation. The Jags are in a interested situation, they basically set the trade value for the 8th pick last year (which at the time looked like a steal since they didnt have to give up next year's first or a second) but now they are probably going to be looking for more than they paid last year for the same pic, I would love to hear your opinion on these two questions, like many, I check your blog everyday, I hope you have some new info for the team next week since they start off-season workouts. Thanks Paul, keep up the great work.

I'm not convinced the Jaguars will take Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez if one of them is available at No. 8 and agree with the idea that they'd like to trade down to accumulate picks. If Michael Crabtree, B.J. Raji, Jeremy Maclin or an offensive tackle they are in love with -- maybe Michael Oher -- remains available, they could be happy to stay put and address a need.

As for potential suitors: Teams that draft after the Jaguars who could want a quarterback include San Francisco (10), the Jets (17), Tampa Bay (19), Detroit (20, if the Lions don't use No. 1 on a quarterback) and Minnesota (22).

I really like Jeff's point that by trading into the eighth spot last year for defensive end Derrick Harvey, the Jaguars set the value for the very pick they may try to trade out of a year later.

Revisiting 2008: The Jaguars got the eighth pick in the draft from Baltimore in exchange for:

  • No. 26 overall -- Ultimately used by Houston on left tackle Duane Brown out of Virginia Tech
  • No. 71 overall (third round) -- Used by Baltimore on linebacker Tavares Gooden out of Miami
  • No. 89 overall (third round) -- Ultimately used by Houston on running back Steve Slaton
  • No. 125 overall (fourth round) -- Ultimately used by Oakland on receiver Arman Shields out of Richmond

(Quick aside: The Texans did pretty well with picks that first belonged to the Jaguars, didn't they? Duane Brown may be a long-term starter and Steve Slaton had a fantastic rookie season.)

Based on the numbers on the draft value chart we have up at ESPN.com, the Jaguars "won" the trade with Baltimore -- No. 8 is worth 1,400 points and the four picks Jacksonville gave up were worth 1,127 points. (The Ravens wound up trading back up to No. 18 for Joe Flacco.)

A trade partner for Jacksonville later this month has a blueprint for what it will cost to get to No. 8.

A similar deal out of the spot this year would leave the Jags with 13 picks, including three third-rounders and two fourth-rounders.

Here's what they have right now:

Round and Overall pick
1: 8
2: 39
3: 72
4: 107
5: 144
6: 180
7: 232*
7: 250**
7: 253**

* -- from Miami
** -- Compensatory selection.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

For all who keep seeing the Jaguars linked to Matthew Stafford or Mark Sanchez with the No. 8 pick in the draft, SIRIUS NFL Radio brings a different angle.

Tuesday on "The SIRIUS Blitz" David Garrard told Adam Schein and Solomon Wilcots he's been told not to expect the Jaguars to draft a quarterback.

The significant excerpts, along with some talk about receivers:

Wilcots: "There's been some scuttlebutt, people saying that the Jaguars could take Matthew Stafford or could draft a QB in the first round."

Garrard: "I've heard the same things but I got a call a couple of days ago from a pretty close source, meaning a coach, saying, 'Please stop worrying about anything that you see on the TV because I haven't heard anything. Nobody around here has talked about anything, so don't lose any sleep over it.'"

Schein: "So the Jags have basically told you that they are not drafting a quarterback?"

Garrard: "I think so, but you know what, this is still the NFL and I told him the same thing. I said, 'I appreciate that but this is still the NFL. Anything can happen but I do appreciate you giving me a call because you know that I hadn't been thinking about it, not thinking about it in a way that I am worried about it.' Because I have always had to deal with competition but just thinking about it that I just signed last year and you would think that I would get a couple more years than just one. But that is just how it is and you have to be ready for everything."

Wilcots: "What would David Garrard like to see in order for this team to continue to improve?"

Garrard: "I see us having a big need for a receiver. Of course, we don't really have very many on the roster right now, especially when you lose your top three guys. You would hope that they would go out and get somebody to come in and be able to make those plays for you. The plays where you can put the ball in somebody's hands five yards down the field and they turn it into 60. Those are the kind of explosive plays that we need to bring in here and I have been told by another close source, which would be another coach, that we are definitely seeking to bring in some big time weapons. So that is exciting for me. I think that I am definitely the most excited I have been in a while going into a season just because we are coming off a tough season and I feel like I will be going into the season with almost like a clean slate, a fresh crop of guys. And being able to bring in somebody like Tra Thomas, somebody that is proven, and then adding some depth with some younger guys and some guys in the draft who kind of solidify the depth and the abilities of our offensive line. I think that's going to be a big key as well. I see nothing but great things for us because once we start bringing in some of those key components, some of those guys that are proven receivers, guys that maybe have somewhat of a big name or a name that you know what they can do, I think that is going to big for this franchise, for this team, for this offense. That is definitely something that has been needed here."

Schein: "Are we talking specifically about Torry Holt?"

Garrard: "Well, you know what? We did a little courting last week. I would love to have Torry Holt here. He is definitely a great mind for this game. He plays the game, just talking to him, all week long so that he can go out and have fun on Sunday. You know that is something that a lot of guys kind of lose sight of or have never been taught that. Win the game during the week. Win it with your preparation after practice with the quarterbacks. Those kinds of things, your study time, so that when game time gets here, you are just reacting. You are just out there having fun, playing ball, doing what God has blessed you with and you are able to play so much more free and just sitting down talking with him just really showed me the level of a receiver. We haven't had somebody on that level, just knowledge-wise of the game since Jimmy Smith has been here and we've had some pretty good receivers but you can tell the difference from just an average receiver to a guy that has been to seven Pro Bowls like Torry Holt. Just a classy guy and he got me excited and hopefully we can do something to lure him in."

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