AFC South: Mister Alexander

When Bob McNair bemoaned the Texans linebacking depth on Jan. 13, it came across as silly.

Houston used 11 different linebackers last year.

Brian Cushing, Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, Daryl Sharpton, Barrett Ruud and Mister Alexander all played inside last year and Brooks Reed, Connor Barwin, Whitney Mercilus, Bryan Braman and Jesse Nading saw time outside.

No team, 3-4 or not, is going to field quality players when it turns to its ninth, 10th or 11th player at the position.

Yet after the season ended, McNair offered this:

“As we develop more depth, when those things happen it’ll hurt us less and less. In this particular case, we got hit at one position with a lot of injuries. It made it very difficult. We’ll work on adding more depth and playing better.”

If they need 11 linebackers, they will struggle again.

But, per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, they’ve added an additional veteran who can help, signing Joe Mays, the former Denver Bronco. He buried Matt Schaub on Sept. 23, 2012 during a 31-25 Texans’ win in Denver last year, a hit that drew a $50,000 fine.

The Texans lost Barwin in free agency and Ruud, James, Alexander and Nading are also gone.

They’ve now added third-rounder Sam Montgomery and fourth-rounder Trevardo Williams as well as Mays, a sixth-round pick by Philadelphia in 2008. The Eagles swapped him to Denver in 2010 in exchange for running back J.J. Arrington.

As long as Cushing can stay on the field a year after he tore an ACL, the Texans should be fine if they are assured of Sharpton, Dobbins or Mays as a second inside guy. Sharpton is on the NFI list. He and Dobbins don’t have good records of staying healthy.

Mays has played in only 47 of a possible 80 games over five seasons. He was suspended for one game last season then missed the final nine games of the regular season with a broken leg and ankle.
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Houston Texans

The Texans have a bad draw in the streaking Bengals, says Dale Robertson of the Houston Chronicle. Andre Johnson said Cincinnati’s defense is “probably the most talented we’ve faced this season.”

The defense has been allowing deadly, long touchdown passes, says John McClain of the Chronicle.

J.J. Watt says the Texans have boxed up all the negativity and trashed it, writes Brian T. Smith of the Chronicle.

To which I say: It’s one thing to talk about forgetting the past. But on some psychological level I think doubt has crept in. Will that undo the Texans?

Daryl Sharpton’s hip landed him on IR and Mister Alexander is back on the roster, says Robertson.

What you need to know about Bengals-Texans, from ESPN Stats & Information.

Early returns say the Texans’ 2012 draft was average, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Indianapolis Colts

There are storylines galore for Colts-Ravens. Phillip B. Wilson runs through several, including: Chuck Pagano against his old team, the sputtering Ravens and the hot Colts and Jim Caldwell as Baltimore’s offensive coordinator.

Little rookie T.Y. Hilton continually came up big for the Colts, says Phil Richards of the Star.

How did the Colts keep Watt from sacking Andrew Luck? More effective double teams, Luck keeping plays alive and better play from Mike McGlynn, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Jaguars owner Shad Khan appears to be leaning young instead of the retread route as he pursues general manager candidates, writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Times-Union.

To which I say: A good point in here about the pace. Khan needs to get the new guy in place so he can decide on Mike Mularkey, and if he makes a move away from Mularkey the new guy can’t be behind the rest of the teams hiring coaches and staffs.

Khan’s done a great deal of flying since the Jaguars' loss in Nashville Sunday, says O’Halloran.

The Jaguars' 2012 season by the numbers, from O’Halloran. Opponents sacked Blaine Gabbert and Chad Henne 50 times. It’s the highest total since 2001 and the third-most in the league this year.

The Jaguars “simply did not have the talent to compete on a regular basis with other NFL teams,” says Dunlevy. “They were outscored by 189 points on the year, the second-largest disparity in the league.”

Tennessee Titans

Kenny Britt has an offseason to get his knees healthy, work with his quarterback and get back to form after a tough season, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

To which I say: Britt will also be playing for a contract, which should serve as extra motivation. I suspect it will be his last year with the Titans.

Jared Cook and Rob Bironas are heading to free agency and don’t know what will happen, says John Glennon of The Tennessean. Also, Jake Locker has shoulder surgery scheduled and Steve Hutchinson could consider retirement.

Heading into Monday night’s game at the New York Jets, we examined ways teams can try to attack the Houston Texans.

One of them was to try to run up the middle, to go after the combination of Shaun Cody or Earl Mitchell at nose tackle and Bradie James at inside linebacker.

Now that Brian Cushing is lost for the year with a torn ACL in his left knee, it looks like a strategy opposing offenses will try even more.

Cushing covers a lot of ground and has a knack for getting to the ballcarrier. Even with him in the lineup, the Texans gave up 140 rushing yards up the middle to Chris Johnson in Week 4 against the Titans. With Cushing out of the mix, other teams equipped to do so will spend time and effort trying to get a running back to the second level right up the gut, where James will be paired with Tim Dobbins for now. Mister Alexander and Jesse Nading are also options.

In a few weeks, Darryl Sharpton could be ready to come off the PUP list and make a contribution.

None of the three inside backers, of course, have Cushing’s skill set or instincts.

And as I wrote coming out of the game, he’s hardly one-dimensional -- offenses fear him as a rush threat and know he can run and cover.

The Texans have vulnerabilities they didn’t have 24 hours ago.

"Next man up" worked for them multiple times last season. Replacing Cushing is a different challenge still.
HOUSTON -- Kendall Wright and Damian Williams will see increased time as targets for Jake Locker today as the Titans visit the Texans.

Kenny Britt is out with an ankle injury, putting a dent into Tennessee’s pass game, which will likely have to play well in order for the Titans to pull an upset.

The Texans remain healthy, and the only inactive of note is receiver Lestar Jean. His absence means DeVier Posey could get some chances, especially if they are ahead big.

The complete list of inactives:

Among the questions about the Houston Texans' defense as the NFL season kicks off is this: After a great gain last year, will there be some regression?

Football Outsiders expects a drop off. They predict the Texans will be 15th in their defensive ratings.

The Texans begin to show us how they’ll be Sunday against Miami, and they will be at full strength.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
Jerome Miron/US PresswireHouston coach Gary Kubiak said J.J. Watt has been "excellent" in practice heading into Sunday's season opener.
Three key players -- end J.J. Watt (elbow), inside linebacker Brian Cushing (ribs) and nose tackle Shaun Cody (back) -- played sparingly or not at all in the preseason.

They are good to go now, but may be kicking some rust off this week in preparations.

Watt was injured early and didn’t suit up for any of the four games. The Texans will monitor how much he plays.

“Well, I don’t want to say a play count, but there’s no reason for him to go out there and play 70 plays,” coach Gary Kubiak told Houston reporters Wednesday. “I think we know that. That’s on me and Wade [Phillips] and [defensive line coach] Bill [Kollar] to make sure. But watching practice, he’s been excellent. I watched one-on-ones today, he was excellent. He looks like J.J. I know he’s going to be battling us to take every play but I think it’s smart of us to make sure that we bring him along the right way.”

Cody and Cushing won’t necessarily have the same limitations. Cody missed three preseason games, Cushing two.

“Well they’re a little different; they did play some in the preseason, so I would say they’re a little further ahead from that standpoint,” Kubiak said. “We’re going to rotate Shaun anyway. Earl [Mitchell] has had a great preseason. Mister [Alexander] has had a great preseason; he’ll have to spell Cush some. I think we’re going to play a lot of people, regardless.

“This is the week where every team goes past a point they haven’t been to yet, as far as how many plays you play and the first team and that type of thing. We’re going to rotate players. We’re going to keep fresh guys on the field. We’ve got confidence in all of them.”

Said Watt: “It feels good. It feels good to have the defense at full strength, have the guys you’re familiar with, the guys you’re used to. We all know each other so well it’s fun and the defense really jells well.”

The expectation is that a defense that regularly swarmed quarterbacks last year will have a big day against rookie quarterback Ryan Tannehill.

He’s certainly not expecting a team that’s regressing to the mean defensively.

“They don’t have as many exotic pressures and zone blitzes as you will see from other teams, but they’re really good at what they do,” Tannehill said in a conference call. “They believe [in] what they do and they’re crisp at it.

“So, it’s not a situation where they have so much in that they’re not good at it, or you’re going to catch them at something that they're not really comfortable with and do a whole lot. So they really trust, like I said earlier, in their players and they believe in their one-on-one matchups.”

Texans practice squad, moves

September, 5, 2011
The Texans have added guard Thomas Austin and punter Brett Hartmann to their 53-man roster, cutting outside linebacker Jesse Nading.

They've also put together their initial practice squad.