AFC South: Quinn Johnson

Upon Further Review: Titans Week 15

December, 16, 2013
12/16/13
11:41
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A review of four hot issues from the Tennessee Titans' 37-34 overtime loss to the Arizona Cardinals:

[+] EnlargeKendall Wright
Jim Brown/USA TODAY SportsAgainst Arizona in Week 15, Titans receiver Kendall Wright has 12 receptions for 150 yards, his second 100-plus game this season.
Overcomplicated: Even minus Justin Hunter and Damian Williams, scratched for violating team rules, the Titans have a pretty good group of threatening pass catchers. I understand an occasional pass to someone like fullback Quinn Johnson may keep a defense honest, but the Titans can't spare snaps for such things. Johnson dropped the one pass thrown to him. Running back Jackie Battle was on the field in some passing situations and may have some pass protection skills, but I don't understand him playing 14 snaps on offense when Shonn Greene played only 12.

Hearing from Smith: We know very little about new Titans president and CEO Tommy Smith, but Sunday before the game he had his first meeting with the press. He was reasonable on every level, appearing a little nervous but providing a good deal of insight into the way he will operate. He's got no intention to sell the team, wants to have smart people in place and let them do their jobs, feels the fans' pain and sounds determined to get things on track. Fans and followers of the franchise should be encouraged by the glimpse of Smith he shared Sunday.

The stars shined: The Titans do not have as much talent as they believe, but the best guy on each side of the ball excelled Sunday. Defensive tackle Jurrell Casey led the Titans with nine tackles and recorded 1.5 sacks, boosting his season total to 10.5. On offense, receiver Kendall Wright keyed the late comeback with several big catches. He was targeted on 34 percent of Ryan Fitzpatrick's 58 passes, catching 12 for 150 yards. Wright's receptions included gains of 26, 23, 20 and 20 yards. He's a really good player who stands to be a foundational piece of this team no matter who's making decisions and calling plays going forward.

Home-field disadvantage: The Titans lost their fifth straight at LP Field and are now 2-5 in Nashville this season. Under Mike Munchak, the team is 11-12 at home. Safety Bernard Pollard has preached about the idea of establishing a clear home-field advantage. After this loss, he said even if guys didn't really feel some sort of edge when playing in Nashville, they should "fake" like they do. No one in the league worries about a trip to Music City these days. It's a far cry from what the Titans had on the East Bank of the Cumberland River in the building's early years.

Titans restock at tight end, fullback

December, 3, 2013
12/03/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The banged-up Tennessee Titans jiggled their roster Tuesday to restock for Sunday’s game at Denver and the remainder of the season, adding veteran tight end Visanthe Shiancoe.

Shiancoe will join Taylor Thompson as the two healthy players at the position. Craig Stevens missed the Titans' game at Indianapolis because of a concussion. Delanie Walker was knocked out of the game against the Colts in the first half with a concussion of his own.

The Titans also have a new fullback who’s really not new. Collin Mooney is on injured reserve with a knee injury suffered at Lucas Oil Stadium, and the Titans replaced him with Quinn Johnson, who was the team’s fullback in 2012. Johnson went on injured reserve just before this season, and the Titans reached an injury settlement with him and went forward with Mooney.

Putting Mooney on IR created one open roster spot, and the Titans created two more by waiving linebacker Zac Diles and safety Shann Schillinger. Shiancoe and Johnson fill two spots, and Michael Griffin returns from a one-week suspension that came with a roster exemption.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Quinn Johnson is doubtful for Sunday's game in Pittsburgh because of a quad injury. If he can’t go, the Tennessee Titans need to sort out a fullback for Sunday.

GM Ruston Webster told us on Nashville radio that the team has to have one.

“It would be tough for us in our offense and the way that we are playing to go without a fullback,” he said. “Some teams do, some teams use tight ends, But offensively, the fullback is part of our running game especially. So Quinn is banged up and we’re in the process of making a decision there on what to do.”

The options:
  • Tennessee worked out free agents Michael Robinson (formerly of Seattle) and John Conner (formerly of Cincinnati) on Friday. But Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean said the team wasn't immediately intending to sign one of them. Playing a guy who has not practiced with the team would be tough. And vested veterans on the team in Week 1 are assured of their full base salary no matter if they are with the team all season.
  • Collin Mooney is on the practice squad and could be promoted. But to make room for him the Titans would have to cut someone. I see Keyunta Dawson, a defensive end who can play special teams, as a candidate here. They like him and could re-sign him next week presuming Johnson is back healthy. But if someone scooped him up it wouldn’t be tragic.

Coach Mike Munchak on Mooney: “Well, he’s someone we have confidence in if that’s what we need to do. That’s the one good thing about having someone here that knows what we’re doing. So, that’ll be one of our options, but we’ll just wait and see how this thing works out.”
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- What’s the most important step you take on any given play.

I recently toured the Titans locker room asking that question. A lot of guys said it’s the first step, and that didn’t surprise me. But in getting the same answer from guys at different positions, I got different rationale.

Let’s run through the replies.

Running back Chris Johnson: “The step is once you see the hole, you’ve got to hit it. You can’t really hesitate. In the whole game you might have two maybe three big home run plays where it’s going to open up for you and you can’t hesitate, you have to hit it. Once you see the hole, that step, you’ve got to hit it. Your mind is making a decision with your feet.”

[+] EnlargeCraig Stevens
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesTight End Craig Stevens says he has to be set by his second step to be ready to make contact.
Cornerback Coty Sensabaugh: “Your eyes tell you which step to take, the first step. It’s having your eyes on the receiver and going off of the right thing. It really just depends on what the receiver does. I mean we’re basing everything on the receiver. Your eyes tell you everything.”

Receiver Kenny Britt: “It depends on what route it is. Most of it is being precise all the time with the quarterback. Depending on whether they are blitzing and what the coverage is, you’ve to be in the right place at the right time. You’re starting point is everything to your route, you have to get off the line of scrimmage. You’ve got to know if he’s going to press you, if he’s going to ball on you. It’s about getting off the line clean.”

Safety George Wilson: “A lot of time it’s that first one. You’re trying to get that run-pass key. If it’s pass and you step up in the hard play action sometime that’ll take you out of position for where you are supposed to be to defend the pass. It’s important that you have your eyes in the right place every place so that your first step is the right step.”

Defensive tackle Sammie Hill: “The first step. Get off the ball first. If I beat my man, nine times out of 10 I’ll cause disruption in the backfield. …Now my man is back to defense and I’m on offense, he’s got to figure out what we’re doing. If he’s first, you’ve got to work like hell to get back in position.”

Left tackle Michael Roos: “The first one. It’s the one that starts all your other steps. If your first one is too wide, you’re going to compensate, try to make up for it. It might be wider, you might cross over. On a pass set if your foot’s not square, perpendicular to the line of scrimmage, that means your body is turned, now you get an inside move, you can’t turn, correct yourself as fast. You’ve got to gain the right amount of ground otherwise everything falls apart after that.”

Fullback Quinn Johnson: “It’s pretty much the same thing as the offensive line, it’s the first step. It’s like Coach [Sylvester] Croom tells me, if I take the wrong first step, everything else moves downhill. I’m off course and everything goes off timing. I watch it on film. When I take the wrong first step, everything else goes bad. When I take the right step, everything else goes good.”

Middle linebacker Colin McCarthy: “First step. Obviously, downhill. As a linebacker you’re playing run first, pass second. Getting your run-pass key and reacting as fast as you can off of that.”

Tight end Craig Stevens: “You’ve got to get off the ball as quick as you can and make that first play-side step. But then really my most important step is my second step, because it brings your whole body with it and that’s where your power is. Whenever I’m run blocking, I’m always making contact on my second step. Short, quick step. Get your two feet on the ground as quick as you can.”

Kicker Rob Bironas: “Has to be the first step, yeah. If the first step’s wrong, the next step’s wrong, the whole thing’s wrong. If you step off the wrong direction or over-stride, then you are trying to make up for that the whole way. In my case, it’s a jab step and then two steps to the ball. I just roll into or fall into my jab step. It’s just five, six inches with my left foot.”

My 53-man Tennessee Titans roster

August, 30, 2013
8/30/13
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NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Rather than tell you this is what’s going to happen, I’ll tell you this is what would happen if I had influence in the Tennessee Titans meeting room when final cuts will be decided.

Some cuts are already trickling out from Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean, so check his Twitter feed.

Quarterbacks: Jake Locker, Ryan Fitzpatrick

There just is no room for Rusty Smith and there isn’t a need for a third quarterback unless things go incredibly wrong. The difference between a random third guy and Smith isn’t giant.

Running backs: Chris Johnson, Shonn Greene, Jackie Battle, Quinn Johnson (FB)

Battle has to contribute on special teams, but he was better than Jalen Parmele through the preseason. Wyatt says Parmele is already gone. Johnson’s been hurt and could lose out to Collin Mooney.

Wide receivers: Kenny Britt, Nate Washington, Kendall Wright, Damian Williams, Justin Hunter, Michael Preston, Marc Mariani (return specialist)

Preston is one of the best 53 players on the team. Even though he won’t be active on Sundays if everyone’s healthy, you keep extra quality depth at one spot if it’s better than weaker depth at another spot. Once he’s healthy, Mariani isn’t as explosive as a punt returner as Darius Reynaud, but will more regularly get 10 yards.

Tight ends: Delanie Walker, Craig Stevens, Taylor Thompson

No need for a fourth on the 53. Sign Jack Doyle to the practice squad

Offensive linemen: Tackles Michael Roos, David Stewart, Mike Otto, Byron Stingily. Interior: Andy Levitre, Chance Warmack, Rob Turner, Brian Schwenke, Fernando Velasco

Velasco is guaranteed $2.02 million under his tender contract out of restricted free agency. I’m not sure he should stick over Scott Solomon at linebacker or Stefan Charles at defensive tackle. But the big push for revamping the line and the desire for depth after last year’s slew of injuries makes me feel like they will stay loaded.

Defensive ends: Derrick Morgan, Ropati Pitoitua, Kamerion Wimbley, Lavar Edwards, Keyunta Dawson.

Dawson is a good guy to have. I can see him staying and the Titans going five ends as opposed to six tackles. But linebacker Akeem Ayers is a nickel end so he factors in here as well.

Defensive tackles: Jurrell Casey, Sammie Hill, Mike Martin, Antonio Johnson, Karl Klug (swing)

I’ve got Stefan Charles over DaJohn Harris but neither making it. If one of them sticks, it’s the last defensive line spot probably over Dawson. I see Charles on the practice squad.

Linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Moise Fokou, Zach Brown, Zaviar Gooden, Colin McCarthy, Patrick Bailey

Scott Solomon is one of my last two cuts. I want to keep seven 'backers. The seventh guy would be a trade-off for Velasco, I think. Solomon is versatile, seems to be catching on to the position change and can still play end if needed. He’s not practice squad eligible. I just can’t fit him here. I might keep him over Bailey but I don’t think they rank him that way.

Safeties: Michael Griffin, Bernard Pollard, George Wilson, Daimion Stafford

The fourth spot isn’t strong and Stafford could probably go to the practice squad. But if they choose a veteran -- Al Afalava or Corey Lynch -- as the fourth I could see them trying to upgrade it with an outsider.

Cornerbacks: Jason McCourty, Alterraun Verner, Tommie Campbell, Coty Sensabaugh, Blidi Wreh-Wilson

I’d expect Khalid Wooten on the practice squad.

Kicker: Rob Bironas

Punter: Brett Kern

Long-snapper: Beau Brinkley
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The game book from Week 3 told us quite a bit.

While the "did not play" list isn’t ironclad -- even professional stat crews miss guys when there are 90 a side -- it tends to be pretty telling.

Of healthy guys who didn’t play, four of the six were part of the cuts that got the Titans from 90 to 75. Defensive end Nigel Nicholas was listed a not having played, but he actually played five snaps.

The Tennessee-Minnesota game book doesn’t offer such hints, though plenty of the coming cuts to get the Titans down to 53 are obvious.

The Titans sat a slew of veterans, both dinged and healthy. The team granted preseason action to plenty of guys who won’t be on their team, and a number who won’t be on any team.

Here’s the list of guys who didn't play:

WR Kendall Wright
WR Kenny Britt
RB Shonn Greene
RB Chris Johnson
CB Jason McCourty
S Bernard Pollard
FB Quinn Johnson
LB Zaviar Gooden
LB Zach Brown
LB Akeem Ayers
TE Brandon Barden
WR Marc Mariani
WR Nate Washington
DE Derrick Morgan
DE Ropati Pitoitua
DT Sammie Lee Hill
DT Jurrell Casey

Barden is the only guy on that list who is a likely cut, and he tweaked a knee during the preparation week. The injured Johnson could lose out to Collin Mooney. Mariani (shoulder) is in a fight for the return job.

Otherwise, everyone on that list is on the team. Ten of them will be starters. Wright is the third receiver. Greene is the second running back.

So we get no hints.

One more game book note: It’s preseason for the stat guys, too. They gave credit for Daimion Stafford's third interception to Al Afalava.
A rebuilding team is going to churn its roster and cut more players than a stable franchise. That’s been the case for Seattle as the Seahawks have posted a 25-23 record over the past three seasons.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But here are a couple other factors at play:
  • Six of the top seven teams have changed coaches in the past three years, and a new coach usually means a lot of turnover. (Though the Titans are an obvious outlier there.)
  • The Seahawks, Patriots and Eagles don’t hesitate to bring in guys, and they don’t hesitate to let go of them if things don't work out. With more transactions come more opportunity to have guys picked up. Contrast that with the Titans. Granted it was an abnormal season, but in 2011, they waived just one player after Week 2, and had him picked up. Johnson, a fullback, ultimately returned to the Titans and is now their starter.
UPDATE, Tuesday evening: The Titans' number is now up to four. Defensive end Thaddeus Gibson was claimed by the Cowboys Tuesday.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Some of what I noticed at Tennessee Titans practice Sunday night:

The Oklahoma Drill -- I cringe when I see it because I think of how Jacksonville defensive lineman Tyson Alualu suffered an unnecessary knee injury as part of Jack Del Rio's version. What the Titans did here wasn't nearly as extensive and Mike Munchak emphasized how he doesn't believe it's risky.

They did some work with linebackers and offensive linemen Saturday and then looked for coaches to request matchups today. They intend to do something like that, something competitive in practice, on the nights they are in pads.

"It's a safe thing, there not a whole lot that can go wrong there," Munchak said. "There are only a couple bodies in the way, it's low impact."

I'm not sure about the low impact part.

Michael Roos won against Kamerion Wimbley, Fernando Velasco beat Colin McCarthy, Taylor Thompson got the decision over Michael Griffin, and the timing on a Quinn Johnson-Bernard Pollard snap was messed up so it was hard to judge fairly.

Jake Locker -- The quarterback performed better than he did during Friday's practice. The offense as a whole, which got beaten pretty badly Saturday afternoon, bounced back nicely.

I saw him throw a dart in red zone work to Damian Williams in the back left of the end zone, a ball Williams caught with Tommie Campbell practically draped over him.

One sequence was particularly good.

Locker hit Kendall Wright on a midrange pass at the right sideline. Wright dove, pulled it in, and his shoulder landed in bounds. The next play Locker found Nate Washington in stride well down the right sideline for a big play on Jason McCourty.

Locker also took off a couple times on plays that would have produced real headaches for a defense in live action.

Drops or fumbles -- Offensive coordinator Dowell Loggains isn't standing for them.

When Darius Reynaud fumbled, it might have been the result of a botched handoff, but it didn't matter. "Give me a new running back," Loggains shouted, motioning to the rest of the offense. "That can't happen."

Craig Stevens and receiver Roberto Wallace got similar requests to leave the offense after drops.

Fitzpatrick's block -- On a play where Reynaud started to run right but then cut back, backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick joined the blocking caravan and kept Alterraun Verner out of the play.

The crowd ate it up.

"I think he knew that, that he's wearing the red jersey and no one was going to hurt him," Munchak said. "You can see the energy it brings, I think quarterbacks realize that. They can get involved in a play like that when someone reverses fields, they can maybe get a cheap block and not get hurt on it. It brought a lot of energy to the practice for sure."
Reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

The Texans now have a need at fullback, with James Casey gone to Philadelphia. They also cut receiver Kevin Walter, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. I think Casey will do a lot for the Eagles and leave people wondering why Gary Kubiak didn't manage to do more with him.

J.J. Watt has a snappy answer to a Twitter follower who wanted to fight him.

To which I say: Twitter muscles amuse me.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts felt like Day 1 all came together for them, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

The addition of cornerback Greg Toler signals the end for Jerraud Powers, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Star.

Toler’s deal is three years, $15 million according to Aaron Wilson of the Baltimore Sun.

Exploring the idea of Greg Jennings to the Colts, with Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

The Colts' roster is still in need of some dynamic talent, says Greg Cowan of Colts Authority. He also looks at the somewhat controversial big dollars for Erik Walden.

To which I say: Odds now suggest the dynamic talent additions of the offseason are going to show up in the draft.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Quiet as free agency started, the Jaguars are asking fans to trust their plan, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

To which I say: They did well to make it clear in advance they weren't going to be free-agency front-runners, so the reaction has been tempered.

David Caldwell and Gus Bradley were both at Florida’s pro day on Tuesday, says Hays Carlyon of the Times-Union.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were sprinters at the start of free agency, adding guard Andy Levitre and tight end Delanie Walker, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean. They are expected to add defensive tackle Sammie Lee Hill Wednesday.

Shopping Nate Washington is risky, at least for now, says Wyatt.

To which I say: I’m not sure I understand the Titans' interest in St., Louis free agent Danny Amendola or their interest in moving away from Washington.

The Titans re-signed fullback Quinn Johnson, says Wyatt.

Running back Shonn Greene will visit Tennessee, says Wyatt.

Priority one: Tennessee Titans

January, 23, 2013
1/23/13
5:41
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Today we look at the biggest issues facing each team in the AFC South and give you an opportunity to assess priority one:

Pending free agents of note: Tight end Jared Cook, kicker Rob Bironas, return man Darius Reynaud, fullback Quinn Johnson, guard Leroy Harris, defensive tackle Sen'Derrick Marks.

Weaknesses: Defense. The Titans couldn’t stop good teams from moving the ball and scoring points. They need a better pass rush to hurry quarterbacks up and better safeties/ safety play to bolster the secondary. Jake Locker was inaccurate and inefficient in his first year as the quarterback, plus he got hurt.

SportsNation

What should be priority one for the Titans?

  •  
    7%
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    31%
  •  
    20%
  •  
    39%
  •  
    3%

Discuss (Total votes: 1,203)

Unsettled starting jobs: All three interior offensive line positions require attention. Steve Hutchinson could retire, but isn’t the answer at left guard if he doesn’t unless the other two spots get big upgrades. Fernando Velasco was the center after a camp injury to Eugene Amano, and Harris was the right guard until an injury ended his year. Strong safety is up in the air too, where Jordan Babineaux and Al Afalava don't cut it.

Depth issues: Critics will be quick to say the offensive line depth is a question, but the Titans needed starts from six backups, and no one can be 11 deep on the line. Upgrade starters and the backups may be fine. They aren’t deep enough at end or safety. They need a better option for if/when middle linebacker Colin McCarthy is hurt. I’m OK with the top three corners, but one injury and they’re in trouble.

Health concerns: Locker had postseason surgery on his left, non-throwing shoulder. On the offensive line, Hutchinson had right knee surgery after he was injured with four games left and right tackle David Stewart is coming off a broken leg. Returner Marc Mariani suffered a compound broken left leg, tibia and fibula, in the preseason. Kenny Britt was back from knee issues, but was determined to get to the bottom of swelling and soreness this offseason.

Unseen issue: Coach Mike Munchak fired four assistants (including offensive coordinator Chris Palmer during the season) and brought in three outsiders while moving some others around. Will we see improved play on special teams and from linebackers, tight ends, receivers and running backs?
Greetings from Boston where we are reading the coverage ...

Houston Texans

Five questions heading into the Texans' game against the Jaguars from John McClain of the Houston Chronicle. Will Houston have a letdown and how can Jacksonville match up?

Ben Tate is out for a third consecutive game with a hamstring injury, but Owen Daniels is optimistic he will play, says Tania Ganguli of the Chronicle.

The Texans will come out flat against the Jaguars, predicts Lance Zierlein of The Sideline View.

To which I say: Pit flat Texans against sharp Jaguars and I still think Houston would be a big favorite.

Indianapolis Colts

Even without Peyton Manning, the Colts-Patriots game features plenty of quarterback intrigue, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star.

Former Patriot Darius Butler is finding a home in Indianapolis, says Richards.

To which I say: He was great in his first game as a Colts starter and they desperately need him. But a lot of fans are getting a bit carried away too early. Let’s see what he does today.

Bruce Arians shares three keys to the game with the team's website. (Video.)

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars simply don’t find may big pass plays, says Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union, who illustrates with a Blaine Gabbert-to-Cecil Shorts play gone bad. It also includes a list of every 20-yard Jaguars pass this season.

“Mentally, Blaine has made strides,” quarterback coach Greg Olson told O’Halloran. “Not as big of a stride as we would like to see. … Consistency [has to improve], no question. As an offense, period. But it all starts with the quarterback. We all know that.”

Since the Jaguars pulled off a Hail Mary pass to beat the Texans, the teams have gone in different directions, says Gene Frenette of the T-U.

Jaguars fans passed along this graphic with details on EverBank Field’s size and providing context for the unfamiliar.

To which I say: As badly as the Jaguars have played at home, there is not a big reason to show up. But people have. And Shad Khan’s done well to do whatever he’s had to in order to quash the ticket issue.

Tennessee Titans

Quinn Johnson has earned increasing playing time as the Titans' fullback because he’s helped things get better, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

To which I say: I’m not a big fullback guy, but Johnson’s definitely had a good effect on Chris Johnson, because he’s done some things that the offensive line hasn’t been able to do.

The turnaround from one week to the next for the Titans was the 16th biggest swing in NFL history, according to Football Geography.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 9, 2012
11/09/12
1:30
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 10:

Rare matchup: The 7-1 Texans pay a visit to Soldier Field for a date with the 7-1 Bears on Sunday night. According to the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s just the fifth time since the merger that two teams with one or no losses are meeting in Week 10 or later. The only other such matchup that happened within the past 20 years was a 2007 clash between the Cowboys and Packers. Good news for Bears fans: The home team has won each of the four previous such meetings.

[+] EnlargeBrandon Marshall
Wesley Hitt/Getty ImagesThe Texans will try to contain Brandon Marshall, who has been targeted on 38 percent of the Bears' passes this season.
Tough coverage: While he may get help, Johnathan Joseph should cover the Bears' most dangerous receiver, Brandon Marshall. Marshall accounts for 37.9 percent of the Bears’ targets this season -- the league high by 7.6 percent -- and 58.3 percent of the Bears’ receiving touchdowns. In 2011 and 2012, Marshall’s quarterbacks have thrown to him 37 times in the end zone. He’s faring far better catching those balls with Jay Cutler throwing them -- snaring five of 12 chances. Joseph had a couple of bad games when he was dealing with a groin injury, but he seems to be back to form. Houston defensive coordinator Wade Phillips talked about how Marshall is the only guy the Bears throw to. Houston’s pass defense will certainly be centered on him.

Finding his footing: After struggling in four of his first five games, Titans running back Chris Johnson has found his groove. Over the past four games, Johnson has averaged 131.5 rush yards per game. His 7.1 yards per carry average since Week 6 ranks second in the NFL behind Adrian Peterson among players with at least 30 carries. Tampa Bay’s Doug Martin is third at 6.6. Watch how Johnson’s offensive linemen try to sustain their initial blocks while allowing either fullback Quinn Johnson or tight end Craig Stevens to lead Johnson and make the key initial block at the second level. That approach has been making a big difference.

Third-down D: Houston and Chicago have topflight third-down defenses, which have had a direct impact on how quarterbacks fare against them. Houston has allowed the lowest QBR in the league (17.4), and Chicago has allowed the second lowest (20.6). The third lowest is the Eagles, and quarterbacks do far better against them with a 38.3 QBR. The Texans have the lowest conversion rate allowed (26.5 percent) on third down, with the Bears ranking third (33.0 percent). If some of this holds true in this matchup, the more poised quarterback should have the better chance of leading his team to the win.

Also: Matt Schaub and Jay Cutler have each won 11 of their past 12 starts dating back to Week 7 of 2011. That is tied for the best record by any starting quarterback in the NFL over that span. ... Schaub has yet to throw an interception on a play-action pass this season. ... The Dolphins have been terrible against the AFC South over the past seven seasons. Miami has lost three straight and 11 of its past 13 against the division. The Dolphins' last win in such a matchup, however, was over the Titans -- in Week 10 of 2010 season. ... Houston has yet to allow a rushing touchdown. ... The Colts beat the Jaguars 27-10 in Jacksonville on Thursday night. Indianapolis plays Week 11 at New England, while the Jaguars head to Houston.

The long-awaited return of the mailbag

September, 29, 2012
9/29/12
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Stanley from Texas writes: I do know that Chris Johnson's running has been tumultuous through the first 3 weeks (except last week, which I think was severely skewed by his final three rushing attempts) but do you think because of the respect (from coaches and defenses, not columnists and reporters) that teams have for CJ, that this may be the reason for our continued success with things such as pass blocking and passing yards. If Jake Locker is continuously getting one-on-ones in the passing game and hardly getting sacked could some of this be attributed to the defense keying on CJ and not having an extra guy to send or double in the secondary?

Paul Kuharsky: Teams are not stacking the box to stop Johnson. They don’t need to. A player isn’t leaving coverage to help with the run.

Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips just said the Titans are a passing team, which is what they are and is stating the obvious.

People can talk about how dangerous CJ is over and over. But the way you show how you respect a running back is the defensive attention you give him. I’d say he’s lost significant respect from the people who matter the most when we look at their actions rather than their words.




Chad Edwards from Nashville, Tenn., writes: How long do you think it will be before a "real" ref stinks up a call like the one Monday night? You don't have to look very far in the past to find several iffy calls and no-calls made by guys we know by name. I contend that 1) The replacement refs weren't as bad as all the complaining players and coaches claim and 2) The players and coaches made this situation worse by pushing the boundaries of what's allowed more than usual and, basically, not acting very professionally. As bad as the black eye the lockout gave the NFL, I feel the players should be just as accountable in all of this.

Paul Kuharsky: They were bad. No need to debate the degree of it at this point.

The regulars will blow a call and people will complain and sensible observers will say they are the best at what they do and it could be worse and we’ve seen for ourselves.

If the rules are only enforced to a certain degree, it’s unreasonable to ask players to police themselves. In fact, it runs against their competitive natures.




Jim in Greenville, S.C., writes: Paul, Enjoy listening to you and the chiefs on 104.5 which I listen to in South Carolina on my iPhone. Impressive! I have to call you out. Last year, I wrote in that I'd take a sign-and-trade for Chris Johnson for two first-round draft picks which you balked at. You'll have to admit, I was right. My reasoning at the time was he wasn't a leader like a Keith Bulluck or Steve McNair. Running backs are largely less important than their O-lines and he didn't push to get extra yardage. As always, I enjoy the blog.

Paul Kuharsky: I’m guessing what I balked at was the sign-and-trade concept and the idea that Tennessee could have gotten two ones for him.

Two ones is part of the package for a No. 1 pick in the draft when he’s a QB, not for a running back with a big contract.

But if I balked at it and not at those things, my apologies. Your crystal ball in a completely unpredictable league is remarkable.




Leon Truss Balderas III from Houston writes: I really hope the Texans have a shot this year, but do you think with regular refs back high-flying AFC passing offenses, like the Patriots and Ravens, even the Steelers and Broncos, will be more successful because they will be getting the pass-interference calls that they were not getting, or worse the cornerbacks don’t play with a little bit of aggressiveness that makes them good?

Paul Kuharsky: Let’s not overrate what happened. The Patriots haven’t been losing because they were getting fewer pass-interference calls.




Brad from Houston writes: I am a huge Texans fan and am very excited about the team. But I must say two things: First, there's no way they should be ranked #1 right now on the Power Rankings. They have the talent, depth, and system to succeed and can go all the way if they stay healthy (I say CAN, not will). However, Atlanta has had a more impressive start and should be #1, especially given the uncertainty on the right side of the Houston OL.

Paul Kuharsky: I think Atlanta is a notch better right now. (I picked them before the season to win the Super Bowl.) But the Texans are awfully good.




Rick from Houston writes: ESPN's stats have the Texans giving up 42 points this season and ranking them 3rd in points allowed, however, the special teams have given up 7 points and the offense 2 points on a safety which, if my math is correct, means the Texan's D has given up only 33 points, the fewest allowed by any team so far.

Paul Kuharsky: Points given up are points given up. Given up by the team, for the purposes of stat keeping, are given up by the defense. There is no special place to put points scored against the offense or special teams.




Bobby from Buffalo, N.Y., writes: As bad as Chris Johnson has been running the ball for the Titans, there is at least one bright spot: he doesn't fumble too much. Looking at his stats from last year, he only had 3 fumbles out of 319 touches (runs and passes). even though he isn't gaining yards, at least he doesn't give the ball away. We don't know what we would get from a constant dose of Javon Ringer or Jamie Harper, so it's a small silver lining in Johnson's game for now.

Paul Kuharsky: So we presume the alternatives would have ball-security issues and we presume they wouldn’t run more effectively than CJ?

Johnson’s lack of production is growing tiresome. It’s time to see, at least on occasion, what the alternatives can do.




Cameron Wharton from Georgetown, Texas, writes: Can we talk about the impact of the loss of Ahmard Hall for the Titans?

Paul Kuharsky: Sure we can.

Hall was a nice leader for them for sure, and had a ton of respect. But his play had dropped off. They ran poorly last year with him on the team. They are running poorly without him this year.

Quinn Johnson subbed for him for the first four games last season and there was no giant difference. So I have no real beef with the decision to have Quinn Johnson in that role now. And Quinn Johnson is bigger, which is the type of fullback Chris Palmer likes.


A FB who doesn't play special teams?

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
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Perhaps the Titans will run far more two-back sets than I expect.

Q. Johnson
Q. Johnson
Offensive coordinator Chris Palmer wants to use run-and-shoot concepts with more conventional offensive personnel. But fullback Quinn Johnson seems the least-good fit for such things. If the Titans target him with a pass, they waste an opportunity for a far more explosive player. And Chris Johnson hasn’t proven to run any better behind a fullback than he does out of two tight end formations.

Quinn Johnson’s a nice enough fellow, so it’s nothing personal at all from me that I’ve become increasingly anti-fullback -- not just for the Titans, but for everyone.

Perhaps you need one for short-yardage and goal-line carries. But I think Tennessee could more than make due with their blocking tight end Craig Stevens assuming the lead blocker role when needed.

The Titans like Quinn Johnson, though. He and Mike Munchak both indicated he will be one of the 46 who dress on Sunday for the Titans' game against the Patriots.

A fullback who dresses on a Sunday has to play special teams.

Johnson, however, said this week that he’s not on the first team on any Titans special-team unit. He's just a reserve on most of them. That dents his game-day value in a big way. Depending on how the game pans out, he could play the fewest snaps of anyone in uniform.

That won’t amount to a crime.

But I’ll have to see the list of scratches to see how I feel about an active fullback who doesn’t play special teams.

Tennessee Titans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
8/31/12
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Click here for the complete list of Tennessee Titans' roster moves.
Most significant move: Al Afalava didn’t stick with the Colts when they were thinned out in the secondary, but he’s the Titans' fourth safety at the start. Another former member of the Indianapolis secondary, Aaron Francisco, had done some great special teams work and I thought he would win that job. Afalava may be sturdier, which could have helped his case. With end Dave Ball (concussion) and Leger Douzable (shoulder) put on IR, there was room for an additional tackle. But the Titans cut Zach Clayton in favor of DaJohn Harris on the inside rather than keeping both.

Onward and upward: Running back and returner Darius Reynaud was a big story in camp, and may have been destined to stick even before return man Marc Mariani suffered a terrible broken leg. The running back can do nice work in the screen game and should be a pretty good returner. On defense, Pannel Egboh, has floated around the practice squad circuit. Now he gets the big payoff and should get some work as the third end who takes some snaps on clear run downs while giving Derrick Morgan or Kamerion Wimbley a rest.

What’s next: The Titans third corner, Tommie Campbell, is in his second season. And beyond him cornerback depth is very inexperienced, with rookie Coty Sensabaugh and Ryan Mouton (who missed his second season hurt). A veteran corner could be a quality addition. The team is heavy at running back with Chris Johnson, Javon Ringer, Jamie Harper and Reynaud plus fullback Quinn Johnson. I’m skeptical of the need for a fullback who’s not an ace special teamer, and Quinn Johnson is not one.

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