AFC South: Pressure point

Pressure point: Titans

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
12:00
PM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Titans and why.

Running back Chris Johnson could get away with one off season. He was a tentative runner in 2011 no matter what he or the team says about it. He got sick of early contact. He gave up too often. He went down too easily.

The Titans have made some changes that should help.

Whether Eugene Amano remains at center or is replaced, the pivot man will be next to veteran guard Steve Hutchinson. The team expects him to have a big, positive influence on the guy next to him. Fullback Ahmard Hall won’t be re-signed, so the Titans will go with Quinn Johnson or undrafted rookie Collin Mooney as the lead blocker if the Titans stick with a fullback. First-round draft pick Kendall Wright bolsters the receiving corps and should be able to threaten deep, as will a healthy Kenny Britt. An increasingly threatening passing game should help the Titans back defenses off. Take a defender out of the box, and Johnson should be more effective.

He’s also spending extensive offseason time with the team for the first time, and coaches are convinced picking apart last season and making corrections together through the spring and summer will make a difference.

Another piece of Johnson’s contract becomes guaranteed after this season. If he comes up with another dud, the team will have cause to bail.

Pressure point: Jaguars

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
11:15
AM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Jaguars and why.

Blaine Gabbert can deliver some big-time passes.

In a rookie season when he was on the field sooner than the Jaguars initially intended, the offensive framework a young quarterback needed was not in place. Injuries on the offensive line meant less-than-stellar pass protection. The receivers were a motley crew. Mike Thomas’ play dropped off after he got a new contract. Tight end Marcedes Lewis' play dropped off after he got a fat new contract.

Gabbert played poorly, drawing criticism for being panicky and, worse, scared. It’s too early to brand him. But the Jaguars' efforts now center on maximizing his chances to succeed.

He needs to pull his game up to at least average to justify the faith of Jaguars management and coaches. The Jaguars added Justin Blackmon and Laurent Robinson to the receiving corps. They’ll get Eben Britton back on the offensive line. A healed-up defense will do a better job at getting Gabbert and the offense the ball back and in better field position.

Coach Mike Mularkey, offensive coordinator Bob Bratkowski and quarterback coach Greg Olson are spending the offseason working with Gabbert. Come the season, they will craft game plans that give him the best chance at success.

The issues that contributed to holding him back have all been addressed. It’s time for us to see some of those big-time passes.

Pressure point: Colts

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
10:30
AM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Colts and why.

The Colts are changing in a big way on defense -- they aim to be bigger, more physical and better against the run. Although they talk of being a hybrid, they want to be a base 3-4 front.

To me, the pressure point will be split between two guys: Coach Chuck Pagano, the architect of the scheme, who will have to answer for its progress. His coordinator, Greg Manusky, will help spread the message, install the system and draw up game plans. The coach and his coordinator share the pressure for a unit that is converting high-quality 4-3 ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis into outside linebackers.

The two are excellent rushers, and there is risk in asking them to stand up and change. But they’ll be charging quarterbacks from a variety of spots, and offenses probably prefer to know where exactly they’ll be lining up.

Pagano helped Indianapolis land three players he coached in Baltimore: nose tackle Brandon McKinney, end Cory Redding and safety Tom Zbikowski. The draft added only fifth-round nose tackle Josh Chapman and seventh-round end Tim Fugger.

How much of the personnel deficiencies, especially in the secondary, can Pagano and Manusky cover up with scheme?

Pressure point: Texans

May, 17, 2012
5/17/12
9:45
AM ET
NFC pressure points: West | North | South | East
AFC pressure points: West | North | South | East

Examining who faces the most challenging season for the Texans and why.

Matt Schaub has been Houston’s starting quarterback for five seasons, and he’s played all 16 games only twice. You can’t blame him for a bad-luck injury like last year’s right foot Lisfranc issue that required serious surgery. Still, to be a big-time quarterback, you need to be on the field.

Schaub has yet to play in a postseason game. Although the Texans weren’t able to hold everything together from their first playoff team, they still have a strong roster. In 2012, this should be a playoff team that can challenge for the AFC South crown. But it won’t get to the postseason or do well in it if Schaub doesn’t have a solid, consistent and healthy season.

His contract situation complicates things. This is the final year of his deal, so he has a lot at stake. I think the Texans will look to keep Schaub in place no matter what happens. If he’s banged up and they don’t impress with a deep playoff run, Schaub will get less of a jackpot than he would if they run away with the division and go to the Super Bowl.

Schaub can be excellent running coach Gary Kubiak’s offense, and the quarterback and coach are probably married for the long term. Kubiak was last year’s pressure point and he performed. This year it’s on Schaub.

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