AFC South: Sherrick McManis

Fraying Titans overmatched by Bears

November, 4, 2012
Mike MunchakAP Photo/Wade PayneMike Munchak and the Titans have a lot of work to do after Sunday's blowout loss to the Bears.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- Titans coaches warned players all week about how Charles Tillman strips the ball, offering specifics of his techniques.

Then four Titans went out and got stripped by the Bears cornerback, including Kenny Britt on the game’s first play from scrimmage.

What does that say about the quality of players on Tennessee’s roster and their ability to absorb and execute a coaching message?

Not anything good.

Tennessee unraveled quickly and thoroughly en route to its 51-20 loss to the Bears on Sunday at LP Field. It would have been hard to play a worse first quarter had the Titans prepared a game plan for it. And some of their gaffes made it hard to see anything but an undisciplined, unprepared and ineffective cast of characters that isn’t the nucleus for a resurgence but a core lacking the sort of central DNA necessary to create a contender.

It also created more questions in my mind than I’ve ever had before about the job security of coach Mike Munchak and his staff.

“If a team underperforms, I’m the first guy you should look at for that, not anybody else, not assistant coaches, it starts with me,” Munchak said. “If we don’t finish the season the way it should, then what needs to happen will happen. ...

“We’ve got seven games to play. If we win all seven, all of a sudden this would be kind of a wasted argument.”

Yes, on the heels of this debacle, let’s dream of seven-game winning streaks.

But first, how about cleaning up things like illegal-formation penalties on consecutive first-quarter plays, where a receiver covered up the tight end?

“We had those plays in our hands days ago and had a meeting about it [Saturday] night and had a meeting about it [Sunday] morning,” quarterback Matt Hasselbeck said. “I don’t know what to say. That’s not good.”

Rookie receiver Kendall Wright said he thought he was responsible for at least one of the calls.

“It hurt the team a lot,” he said. “But what I did at practice all week, I thought I was on the ball. I screwed it up. It’s my fault all the way.”

He thought he was on the ball all week, but he was supposed to be off the ball and no one spotted it or corrected it until the officiating crew got a look on Sunday? Sorry, but that is some major evidence in a case against the people running things for this team right now.

“We just have to pay attention more and know the right things to do, know where to line up,” Chris Johnson said. “These coaches all week gave us the right formula and we had a good week of practice. It makes it even worse when you have a good week of practice and do everything right during the week, get to the game and mess up.”

The Titans were out of this game in a flash, trailing 28-2 at the end of an atrocious first quarter.

“We screwed up from the get-go,” guard Steve Hutchinson said.

[+] EnlargeCharles Tillman
Frederick Breedon/Getty ImagesChicago's Charles Tillman made an impact right from the start of Sunday's game.
The log for the first 15 minutes:
“That first quarter is horrible,” Wright said. “We can’t spot anybody 28 points and expect to come back and win.”

Jordan Babineaux was the one Titans player I talked to who didn’t offer an immediate defense of the coaches and the plan.

“You got any questions, you’ve got to ask the defensive coordinator,” he said, referring to Jerry Gray.

I asked about the blocked punt, where he was lined up as the personal protector, but where he didn’t offer protection, running to the right and cutting out of the backfield entirely. He said I’d need to ask the special-teams coach, Alan Lowry.

The Titans’ margin for error is obviously small against a good team. They didn’t have room for this brand of clunker.

“Sometimes what is said is that wasn’t us and we’ll just sweep it under the rug and get back to being us,” Hasselbeck said. “But those are good teams that built a cushion for themselves that are up front in their division and playoffs are probably on the way anyway. ... We can’t have a stinker. We can’t just lay an egg like that. So that’s what’s disappointing. It’s hard to say that just wasn’t us.”

“It’s a bad loss,” McCourty said. “When you go out and it’s as embarrassing as that is, it just sucks to be a part of it.”

Where do they go from here?

A year ago, they were 9-7, narrowly missing the playoffs. This year it looks like that record could earn a spot in the postseason field. There are a couple of teams every year that weren’t looking good at the halfway point and finish big.

Munchak will sell the Titans that they can be that team.

What degree of belief will he get back? What degree of belief does he deserve back?

Down 31-5 at the half, he challenged his team to go out and do something special, something unexpected.

That didn’t happen.

After it was over, he preached about how everyone is in this together, how they’ve got to stick together, that they can’t split.

Munchak may be able to glue players together and the roster may be composed of guys who will stay unified. The sad truth is such solidarity may ultimately not mean a thing when it comes to altering the Titans’ fortunes.


Houston Texans cut-down analysis

August, 31, 2012
Click here for the complete list of Houston Texans' roster moves.

Most significant move: Backup free safety Troy Nolan was a surprising cut, and won’t be on the market for very long. Shiloh Keo stuck. While he’s a willing special-teamer and can hit, he strikes me as too slow and I certainly wouldn’t want him on the field on defense. The Texans traded cornerback Sherrick McManis to the Chicago Bears for fullback Tyler Clutts, who’s expected to back up James Casey. The Texans are a tricky team at fullback, as the lead blocker is important in the zone-run scheme, but they use Casey, who’s more of an H-back with excellent hands. Clutts looks to be an upgrade from Moran Norris, who was cut. Clutts has pro experience, playing in the UFL, AFL and CFL.

Onward and upward: Nose tackle Hebron Fangupo was released, but he is surely a guy the Texans would like to sign to the practice squad, where they could nurture and develop him. Houston doesn't have great depth at the spot, which is generally shared by Shaun Cody and Earl Mitchell. Antonio Smith shifts inside in the nickel package, when the outside linebackers creep forward and it’s basically a four- or five-man line. Undrafted out of BYU, Hebron is listed as 6-feet and 324 pounds -- more than 20 pounds more than the Texans’ heaviest lineman. While Wade Phillips is fine with smaller nose tackles, having a big one who can develop is a welcome change.

What’s next: John Beck is on the roster as a third quarterback a year after the Texans got a real feel for the importance of depth when they lost Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart inside two games. They like undrafted rookie Case Keenum, who was cut, as well; he could head for the practice squad. But how many snaps can the Texans get him during the week if he’s fourth in line? Generally, the backup and/or a veteran runs the scout team, so that work will be done by T.J. Yates or Beck. Whatever snaps Schaub doesn’t take in a practice week will go to Yates. Perhaps they feel OK about Andrew Gardner as their swing tackle now that Rashad Butler is lost for the season with a torn triceps, but they could be looking for a guy to provide tackle depth.

Thoughts on Saints 34, Texans 27

August, 25, 2012
There isn’t a coach in the league who’s OK with fumbling. There may not be a coach in the league who’s less OK with it than Gary Kubiak.

So while Keshawn Martin is assuredly part of the Texans, the rookie receiver might have hurt his chances to be on the field early in the season with two lost fumbles over the course of the Houston’s 34-27 loss in New Orleans on Saturday night.

Return man Trindon Holliday was having a great preseason. But he comes out of Week 3 of the preseason as no sure thing after losing one fumble that was scooped for a touchdown return and dropping another return chance which he managed to recover as he went out of bounds. Those will be measured against an electric 64-yard kickoff return later in the game.

A few other notes out of the game:
  • Quarterback Matt Schaub was great (15-of-18, 194 yards and a TD) and the Texans rolled to touchdowns on their first two drives with efficient and effective play. The offense would appear ready to roll.
  • Tight end Garrett Graham looks fully capable of replacing departed free agent Joel Dreessen as the No. 2 tight end in a way that won’t leave much of a hole. (He certainly was the lesser of the two TE Grahams in this game, however. Jimmy Graham is simply something to behold.)
  • Cornerback Kareem Jackson was right with Devery Henderson on a deep completion from Drew Brees up the left side and was right with Lance Moore on a touchdown catch, even without the pass interference that was declined. Jackson will probably be getting ripped in Houston, but I was actually encouraged by the good position against top receivers taking throws from a top quarterback.
  • Right tackle Derek Newton did well at steering some pressure real wide and past Schaub. I know the Texans were seeking to get all four of the guys in competition for the two open spots on the line equal quantities of work. And Rashad Butler was mixed in early, too. But seeing him on the field late in the fourth quarter of the third preseason game didn’t leave me feeling great about his chances to claim the spot as his and his alone for opening day.
  • Sherrick McManis made a great special-teams play, stopping at the goal line to field the ball and tossing Donnie Jones’ punt back into the field, where Roc Carmichael downed it.
Johnathan JosephAP Photo/Steve RuarThe Texans say that CB Johnathan Joseph's work ethic has been as important as his cover skills.
Make a case for New Orleans running back Darren Sproles if you'd like. Philadelphia defensive end Jason Babin has been a sack machine. Matt Hasselbeck could get some votes for his work as a culture changer and quarterback in Tennessee.

But my vote for the best free-agent addition in 2011 goes to Johnathan Joseph, the Houston cornerback who’s been the key component in a transformation of the Texans’ secondary.

A miserable pass defense that ranked dead last in the NFL last season now stands tied for second, a ridiculous jump that could only happen with multiple ingredients:

New coordinator Wade Phillips and his new 3-4 scheme.

A consistent rush from a swarming defensive front, bolstered by the team’s top two rookies, end J.J. Watt and outside linebacker Brooks Reed.

And the addition of Joseph and safety Danieal Manning to a young secondary.

“Joseph has been exactly what they needed,” a scout told me this week. “After a horrible first-round draft pick in 2010 in Kareem Jackson, they made up for it with Joseph. He is fast, athletic and can match up with most receivers in the AFC. He plays bigger than his size (5-foot-11, 191 pounds), because he has good functional strength.

“The added pass rush has helped him, but he is a good player versus run and pass. He was added to the top of the group which allowed players like Jackson and others to play more of a role instead of trying to get things out of them that they were not capable of doing.”

Joseph has regularly matched up with the opponent’s best wide receiver, and his work earned him a Pro Bowl spot.

Sunday, when the Titans are in their base offense and Nate Washington lines up outside, Joseph will track him. In his first two years in the league after he was the 24th pick out of South Carolina in the 2006 draft, Joseph played on the right. The three years after that he was on the left.

Flipping around hasn’t been a problem and he’s happy to be looked at to slow an opponent’s best guy.

“It was something new that I had to adjust to,” Joseph said. “If that gives us our best chance to win, that’s what I am up for. Covering the top guy, you’ve got to go out each week and try to win your battle. We have a saying here about going out and being 1-0, whether it’s one play at a time or one game at a time. If you’re on the top guy, you’re going to get some balls thrown your way.”

The Colts’ Reggie Wayne, the Raiders’ Darrius Heyward-Bey and the Ravens’ Anquan Boldin had big games against the Texans. (Joseph covered Pierre Garcon in both games against Indianapolis.) But in their past nine games, no receiver has accounted for more than 82 yards against them. That was Carolina’s Steve Smith.

The Texans have played 75 percent man coverage, according to defensive backs coach Vance Joseph. He said his top corner has been a fantastic example for the Texans' stable of young, contributing defensive backs: safeties Glover Quin, who’s been excellent as a starter converted from corner, and Troy Nolan, and corners Jackson, Brice McCain and Sherrick McManis.

“He’s practiced every day,” Vance Joseph said. “That was important for our young secondary to see. Every day he was out there working whether he was sore from the game, sore from previous injuries. He worked every day. Those guys take his lead. Every day was game mode, every ball was contested, every ball they could pick off they picked off.

“So that’s the foundation of what we’ve been here on the back end. Johnathan wants to be the best and he’s worked to be the best every day. That’s been amazing for a veteran player of his caliber to come in and practice every day.”

Houston grabbed Joseph from the Bengals with a five-year, $48.75 million contract with $23.5 guaranteed. The Texans were players for Nnamdi Asomugha, the cornerback who was viewed as a singular prize player in free agency. But Asomugha moved slowly, and the Texans feared winding up without either Asomugha or Joseph. Plus, Joseph’s price meant the team could also add Manning at safety.

They were lauded for the strategy and it panned out perfectly.

Pro Football Focus rates Joseph as just the 10th best cornerback in the league at this point. The website can’t always know coverage assignments, but it says he’s given up three touchdowns, catches against him have averaged 12.3 yards, the passer rating on throws into his coverage is 71.3 and quarterbacks have completed 57.9 percent of balls thrown against him.

Those numbers aren’t worthy of being posted in neon lights. But in the context of the Texans’ defense and the Texans’ season, his play has been excellent.

The team and a lot of NFL people agree with Joseph that, so far, things could not have turned out any better. He’s got four interceptions, 15 passes defensed, a forced fumble and rave reviews.

“On a scale of 1 to 10, I would say it’s been a 10,” Joseph said. “It’s been an awesome experience coming in here, being with the guys, adjusting to the different way things are done here. It’s been tremendous all together. There is not one bad thing I can say about the experience that I’ve had.”
T.J. YatesJerome Miron/US PresswireThird-string quarterback T.J. Yates will likely take the reins in Houston after an injury to Matt Leinart.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- The Houston Texans' third-string quarterback felt compelled to take some snaps from center Chris Myers during intermission on Sunday.

Tight end Owen Daniels sure hoped he wasn’t needed, but with Matt Leinart out and rookie T.J. Yates the only other active quarterback dressed for the game, he knew he was one play away from potential action.

“I was just trying to stay focused on my job at the current time,” Daniels said after the Texans beat the Jacksonville Jaguars 20-13 at EverBank Stadium. “But if the worst-case scenario came along, our coaches make sure we know the game plan pretty well. I had confidence that I could go in there and hand the ball off or maybe make a simple throw.”

The Texans were conservative with Leinart in his first start in place of injured starter Matt Schaub. They were even more conservative when they had to turn to Yates, who was in uniform for his first NFL regular-season game.

The fifth-round draft pick out of North Carolina hit 8 of 15 passes for 70 yards and played well enough to help his team turn a 20-10 lead, built while Leinart was in the game, into the win.

Now they are prepared to go forward with Yates as their starter. Multiple reports quickly surfaced that Leinart was finished for the season with a left collarbone injury, one he suffered in 2007 with Arizona. ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported "all indications are it's broken."

Gary Kubiak was unwilling to share details of Leinart's injury, suffered as he was hit by Jeremy Mincey. The coach said the X-rays from EverBank Stadium were unclear, which sounded a little like a dog-ate-my-homework deal once Leinart spoke.

“I think there is a pretty strong possibility that I won’t be coming back this season,” Leinart said. “But we’ll see what the doctor says.”

So the Texans will likely move on with their third starting quarterback in three games.

“It’s why we drafted him,” offensive coordinator Rick Dennison said of Yates. “He’s a calm guy, he’s a smart guy and he knows what we do. We’ll see how it goes the next couple days, the next week. If that’s what we have, that’s what we’ll get done.”

The Texans signed Kellen Clemens to be their third quarterback after Schaub went on IR last week. Now they will shop again, and a newcomer will have a chance to challenge Clemens to be Yates’ backup. (Clemens was inactive Sunday as the Houston suited up two quarterbacks, just as it has all year.)

Barring a clean X-ray from Houston that overrides what Leinart was feeling, it will be Yates who gets the call next week against Atlanta and beyond. The Texans prefer a quarterback who’s spent time studying their system and understanding its nuances. They believe such a guy can fit in well with a team that can win by featuring the run game and strong defense. They believe that’s better than a big-name quarterback outsider who is unfamiliar with what Kubiak, Dennison and quarterback coach Gregg Knapp do.

So don’t expect any trips to Mississippi by Texans officials to talk to Brett Favre or any phone calls to check on the health of David Garrard.

Instead, expect a more open game plan for Yates.

Right tackle Eric Winston said the Texans were wary of anything against the Jaguars that could get Yates hurt because they didn’t want to test Daniels’ quarterbacking skills. It’s a mistake, Winston emphasized, to put too much in to what the rookie did, or didn’t do.

“I think next week you’ll see a much different T.J. because he can make some huge throws,” Winston said. “He’s much more athletic than Schaub or Leinart. That will work well with some of what we do. He can get out of the pocket, he can make some throws. I am not worried at all. I think that he'll meld well with what we’re doing in the play-action game.”

They Texans can’t oversimplify game plans. Those plans don’t have to be 100-plays deep, and the Texans don’t need 100 plays to win.

Yates has been a sit-and-learn, third-string guy until Sunday. He’s unlikely to be Cam Newton or Andy Dalton as a starter.

But he is surrounded by a better team. He spent a good share of the summer during the lockout working with Schaub and Dan Orlovsky in Houston. And he has run the scout team for the bulk of the season.

“T.J. man, he’s a professional NFL quarterback,” defensive back Sherrick McManis said. “He’s definitely got room for improvement and needs time to grow like most of us. But on scout team he’s done exactly what he’s supposed to do.”

Yates said while that work is intended to mimic the opponent of the week, the Texans do their best to shape it for him in a way that translates to their own scheme.

“Every week we try to get the same things from our offense into other offenses,” he said. “Kind of tie it into our offense as much as possible.”

After running eight plays at the end of the second quarter, Yates returned to the field after the half with Schaub.

Schaub, who’s wearing a protective boot on his right foot and will soon have surgery, told Yates that a lot of people will tell him how to move forward. Houston’s starting quarterback told him: Stay calm, be confident in yourself, you’re ready to play, don’t think too much.

He did well enough.

Now the expectation is he will step into the spotlight and be under far greater scrutiny.

Next week against the Falcons is a game the Texans might have lost even with Schaub. A trip to Cincinnati the week after won’t be easy either.

Then, however, the team that would be the AFC’s top seed if the playoffs started today finishes with Carolina at home, a trip to Indianapolis, and Tennessee at home.

Houston might still win 10 or 11 games with Yates at quarterback.

What it can do if it wins the AFC South and goes to the playoffs will be a much different question.

“They have a big-time offensive line and a great running game, but in our league you’ve got to be able to do both,” Jacksonville linebacker Paul Posluszny said. “They are a good team. They’ve scored a lot of points in the past.

“But a lot of that, I think, was because Schaub does a great job managing that offense. That’ll be a challenge for them for sure.”

HOUSTON -- Kareem Jackson is out with a knee injury for the Texans’ game against the Steelers, replaced in the starting lineup at left cornerback by Jason Allen.

Jackson struggled through his rookie year but held on to his starting spot through the preseason despite a strong challenge from Allen.

The Texans' secondary was picked apart in second half by Drew Brees last week in New Orleans in a loss to the Saints. Jackson was not good, but plenty of other defenders were victimized as well.

Allen will line up across from speedy receiver Mike Wallace, and should get significant safety help.

The banged up Steelers are down four starters -- defensive end Brett Keisel, left cornerback Bryant McFadden, left tackle Jonathan Scott and right guard Doug Legursky are all out.

The Texans' defensive front will be attacking an offensive line with two subs -- left tackle Trai Essex and right guard Ramon Foster.

The complete list of inactives:

NEW ORLEANS -- As expected, Arian Foster won’t play for the Texans against the Saints today.

Ben Tate will bid to become only the second running back in league history to top 100 yards in his first three games, matching Cadillac Williams.

The Texans get a break with New Orleans injuries. Jo-Lonn Dunbar will play middle linebacker in place of the injured Jonathan Vilma, and Patrick Robinson will replace Tracy Porter at right cornerback. Receiver Devery Henderson is out of the offensive lineup, with Robert Meachem.

The full list of inactives:

HOUSTON -- Arrived at Texans practice about halfway through. I thought I’d start out with some straight observational sharing.

1) I watched the offensive and defensive line one-on-ones from a tough angle.
And the highlight for me: Brooks Reed vs. Eric Winston. Reed quickly got inside Winston on the first snap. Then he did it again though he had to go wider. And against Newton, he got steered out real wide, wide enough that he probably couldn’t have recovered to make a play.

Reed’s clearly super-fast off the edge. (Sidenote: He’s got relatively skinny legs. Calves anyway.) On the second snap against Winston, I wondered if he went wide enough that even a clean run might take him too long to get to the quarterback, allowing for the ball to come out. Still, forcing a quick pass with such pressure is a victory.

2) Brian Cushing, who’s been out of action for most of camp as he recovered from knee surgery, was part of team drills. In the very first snap of 11 vs. 11 work I saw, he edged up to the line and weaved his way through the middle very quickly and cleanly, slicing through the line in a way he would have had a pretty good shot at Matt Schaub in a live situation.

3) Schaub found Kevin Walter with a bomb up the right side that fell incomplete only because Kareem Jackson had a handful of Walter’s jersey to prevent him from catching up to it. Jackson made no real effort to hide the foul or recover from it.

4) Owen Daniels slipped open against what had to be a busted coverage for a big play. Reed let him go near the line of scrimmage and Glover Quin wasn’t in range. The culprit is likely unidentified.

5) Trindon Holliday had a nice little catch-and-run, but limped back and found a trainer.

6) Sherrick McManis intercepted Matt Leinart.

7) When I talked to the sidelined Ben Tate after the practice, he indicated that Steve Slaton now has a hamstring issue as well.
The Houston Texans have a new lead defensive back. According to John McClain, when they couldn’t lock up the biggest prize in free agency, they decided they couldn’t lose out on the second-best cornerback.

So rather than continue to wait on Nnamdi Asomugha, they reached an agreement with Cincinnati free agent Johnathan Joseph on a five-year, $48.75 million contract with $23.5 million guaranteed and a $12.5 million signing bonus.

Joseph becomes the top defensive back for a team that, for a long stretch last season, had a historically bad pass defense. He will start, likely opposite last year’s No. 1 pick, Kareem Jackson, who struggled badly as a rookie. The team also has draft pick Brandon Harris and several guys who contributed to the terrible defense in 2010: Jason Allen, Brice McCain, Sherrick McManis and Antwaun Molden.

Glover Quin, the team’s best corner last season is in line to play free safety. The Texans are now in the market for a veteran strong safety to play with him. McClain said they are one of three finalists for Chicago free agent Danieal Manning who could decide on Friday.

Joseph is a good get, and surely has the endorsement of new defensive coordinator Wade Phillips. Phillips had a strong say in a defense-heavy draft class as he transforms the team to a 3-4 scheme.

Here’s Scouts Inc.’s assessment of Joseph:
“Joseph is a good combination of size, strength and athleticism for a perimeter defender. He is explosive, quick and sharp out of his breaks. Joseph gets off the ground well and has very good overall speed. He reads plays well in zone and can stay on his opponent's hip in man coverage. He is a solid run-support player and a reliable tackler in the open field. Joseph has had some durability concerns throughout his career, but when healthy, he's an excellent cornerback.”

Joseph is a big-ticket acquisition for a team that doesn’t do a lot of big-ticket free agent shopping.

But he won’t come in regarded as a savior. Maybe that’s part of the silver lining in not getting Asomugha. Had the Texans landed him, a lot of people outside the team, and perhaps some inside it, might have thought him the solution to all their problems.

Joseph is a good player who will be a good piece. But no one will expect him to fix the team on his own, so no one will be tempted to think it’s all taken care of.

Houston's Kiddie Corners plan flawed

October, 14, 2010
Kareem JacksonDerick E. Hingle/US PresswireFirst-round draft pick Kareem Jackson hasn't gotten off to the start the Texans had hoped for.
The secondary has to cover better. The pass rush has to help by hurrying quarterbacks more often or getting them off rhythm.

Certainly the personnel deserves a lion’s share of blame for what’s wrong with the Houston Texans so far.

The players are the ones who compose the league’s 32nd-ranked pass defense, after all. They are the one’s giving up an average of 329.6 passing yards a game and 8.34 yards per pass attempt. They are the ones quarterbacks are tossing it over and between while mounting a gaudy combined passer rating of 104.0.

Still, they aren’t the only culprits here.

Coach Gary Kubiak and general manager Rick Smith crafted this roster. When they trimmed it on cut day, they decided the Kiddie Corners -- starters Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin, nickel guy Brice McCain and backup Sherrick McManis -- would suffice.

The formula, however, counted on a few things that haven’t happened yet:

  • Quick and steady growth by the corners.
  • An improved pass rush that would force quarterbacks to hurry.
  • A high-scoring offense that would mean it was OK if the opponent could mount yards and points.

After two weeks, I thought it was too early to worry. Now, however, the team still doesn’t get a check-mark on any of those.

This leaves a stand-up guy like Quin saying: “If you can’t stop it, they’re going to continue to do it. That gives us a chance to make a bunch of plays in the pass game and put on film and show the league you can’t just sit there and throw the ball on us. But it’s going to take more than one game to stop the pass until we weather the storm and get out of it.”

Let’s circle back and take on those three issues one at a time.

1) The corners are struggling, with first-rounder Jackson topping the list. It seems the Texans are asking a lot of him awfully soon. Maybe it hardens him quickly and we see a growth spurt.

In the meantime, however, when they want to scale him back as they did Sunday in the home blowout at the hands of the Giants, the alternative is to use McCain as the second corner, with McManis, a fifth-round rookie, in the nickel package.

I had no problem with the team admitting Fred Bennett and Jacques Reeves were no longer useful and letting them go. But at some point after they decided to let Dunta Robinson walk (he wasn’t worth the money) and they failed to land Leigh Bodden (he may have used them to secure a deal in New England), they needed to add a veteran with the potential to be a useful reserve who can at least calm panic and be average.

Who? I don’t know. But players like Walt Harris, Ellis Hobbs, Lito Sheppard and Benny Sapp changed teams and have roles where they are. Rod Hood might have been the same sort of guy had he not gotten hurt.

One of them or someone else could have provided more than Karl Paymah, the current veteran on the bench who’s still learning the system. You need a guy who can fill in if the kids need a break and can be a resource to them -- though Quin said talking to a veteran isn’t such a huge help, that young guys simply need to learn through experience.

Barring injuries, I think it’s an architectural mistake when a team doesn’t have a reasonable mix of youth and experience at a position group. This qualifies as that.

Smith disagrees.

“I can’t tell you that I have ever really sat down and said, ‘Gosh, we’ve got all young guys in this group, we need a veteran,’” he said. “Because if all the young guys are playing well, you don’t need a veteran. It’s difficult to look at it that way. ...”

“When you make a decision to go young, particularly in the secondary, you do that with the full awareness that there are going to be some growing pains. We certainly are experiencing some of those. But you do that because you are betting on the upside. And you know once you learn those lessons and get through some of those tough experiences you’re going to have a group of players that is capable of playing together for a while at a high level. I believe they’ll answer the call and we’ll play good defense.”

Players want to prove that Smith and Kubiak did the right thing, Quin said.

[+] EnlargeGlover Quin
Jeff Fishbein/Icon SMIGlover Quin is still searching for his first career interception.
“Those guys see something or saw something that they felt like, ‘We’re going to go in this direction and it’s going to be good for us,’” Quin said. “So I don’t feel like just because we started off the season and we’re last, this was a bad decision. We’ve got to play better and make it a great decision. They stuck their necks out for us, now we have to go out and perform for them.”

2) The rush got only one addition of note, tackle Earl Mitchell, a third-round pick. Connor Barwin, a rush-specialist end, was lost for the season with an injury suffered opening day, which hurt as he was in line to be the most improved player on the team.

But the Kubiak-Smith duo doesn’t appear to have done enough here either, expecting patience would pay off with growth that we simply haven’t seen.

They hope Mark Anderson or Adewale Ogunleye can catch on to what they are doing and ultimately help replace Barwin. A second rushing force to go with Mario Williams is crucial, and a better rush would offer a lot of relief to the defensive backs.

The Texans have faced very good quarterbacks so far.

Still, according to ESPN Stats & Information, they have thrown 147 passes against the Texans when they’ve rushed just four defenders, completing 111 of them for a 75.5 percentage and 1,352 yards. Those are the highest number in the league in each of those categories.

With a four-man rush, the Texans have given up eight touchdowns, a 110.1 passer rating and recorded only four sacks.

For context: The Tennessee Titans have faced 10 fewer pass attempts against their standard pressure and have 10 more sacks than Houston in those situations.

“I think Mario Williams has been great,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “Fulfilling all of his vast and amazing potential. But the rest of the crew is letting him and their terrible pass defense down.”

3) It was reasonable to expect that the Texans, who felt they’d made great strides in balancing out the offense and running in the red zone, would improve from 10th in scoring a year ago. Overly reliant on the pass, the 2009 Texans averaged just more than 24 points a game.

Matt Schaub’s got enough on his plate with his own struggles, which include an adjustment to coordinator Rick Dennison and a balky ankle for Andre Johnson.

Now as the leader of the offense, he sees his counterparts slinging the ball all over the field and has to be feeling more pressure than he should to get some crooked numbers on his side of the scoreboard.

With no major personnel change, the team’s gotten a touch less than that while allowing nearly a touchdown more a game. It’s hit 30 points in three wins.

But in two hard-to-swallow blowouts, the Texans' offense struggled. It didn't get a touchdown against Dallas until under two minutes were left. It didn’t find the end zone against the Giants until the third quarter.

“We’ve hit a couple of rough patches, but that’s expected,” Smith said. “I’ve got total confidence in our guys and that we’ll make plays and continue to play good on offense.”

Houston’s been outscored 78-40 in the first half. The offense can do more to keep the Texans in a tough game.

How I See It: AFC South Stock Watch

October, 13, 2010
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Kareem Jackson, Texans cornerback: He got muscled by Hakeem Nicks on an early touchdown, a tough play for any corner. But Jackson looked to grow increasingly hesitant, getting blocked out of one big-gain screen and failing to stick with Nicks on a big change of direction on a 27-yarder. Ultimately, the Texans looked to minimize his role, though they lack a solid alternative and a hamstring injury to Sherrick McManis meant he wound up back with a good share of work.

2. Cortland Finnegan, Titans cornerback: He has tremendous talent, but isn’t playing up to his standards right now and admitted as much on his weekly radio show in Nashville. He gave up too many plays in Dallas and may have let the fines and discussion of whether he’s feisty or dirty get in his head some. If he’s not playing close to his best, Tennessee’s defensive backfield isn’t nearly as good as it can be.

3. Texans early special teams: Two of the team’s first three drives started too deep in Houston territory because of penalties against the kickoff return team byDarryl Sharpton and Frank Okam. And before either of those, when Darius Reynaud muffed a Matt Turk punt, the Texans could have had possession in the red zone. Instead they watched Chase Blackburn recover the ball at the 15-yard line. Antwaun Molden and McManis didn’t seem to track the play as long as they should have and Xavier Adibi lost a race to the loose ball.


[+] EnlargeStephen Tulloch
Matthew Emmons/US PresswireStephen Tulloch's career game in Week 5 helped the Titans beat the Cowboys.
1. Stephen Tulloch, Titans middle linebacker: He was all over the place for the Titans at Cowboys Stadium with a career-high 15 tackles and a game-sealing interception late. He spent the offseason away from the team because he was unhappy about having to play for a restricted tender instead of getting a long-term deal. He’s certainly doing fine work building his case for a contract.

2. Antoine Bethea, Colts free safety: In many ways, he is the glue of the Colts defense. He’s playing beside a third-string strong safety and along one corner, Kelvin Hayden, who has seemed off his game. I don’t know that the Chiefs were ever going to score a touchdown. But Bethea eliminated one opportunity with a big, fumble-causing hit on Jamaal Charles with 1:07 left in Colts’ territory.

3. Aaron Kampman, Jaguars defensive end: In the win at Buffalo, Kampman had a tone-setting defensive effort with a team-high 10 tackles, four quarterback pressures, two tackles for losses and 1.5 sacks. The Jaguars are very happy with what they are getting from their big free agent addition, who’s leading a young group.

Checking in on AFC South draft picks

September, 7, 2010
A look at AFC South draft picks heading into opening day …

Houston Texans
Indianapolis Colts
  • First-rounder Jerry Hughes is in line to work as the third or fourth defensive end.
  • Second-rounder Pat Angerer is a backup linebacker and special-teamer.
  • Third-rounder Kevin Thomas (knee), a cornerback, is on IR.
  • Fourth-rounder Jacques McClendon is the backup right guard.
  • Fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge is the starting H-back.
  • Seventh-rounder Ricardo Mathews is a backup defensive lineman.
  • Seventh-rounder Kavell Conner is a backup linebacker and special-teamer.
  • Seventh-rounder Ray Fisher, a cornerback and return man, was cut. (Not put on IR as I originally wrote.)
Jacksonville Jaguars
  • First-rounder Tyson Alualu is a starting defensive tackle.
  • Third-rounder D’Anthony Smith (Achilles), a defensive tackle, is on IR.
  • Fifth-rounder Larry Hart is the second-string right defensive end.
  • Fifth-rounder Austen Lane is the third-string left defensive end.
  • Sixth-rounder Deji Karim is the third-string running back and the top kick returner, though he could be slowed early with a thumb injury.
  • Sixth-rounder Scotty McGee is the punt returner.
Tennessee Titans
  • First-rounder Derrick Morgan is part of the rotation at defensive end.
  • Third-rounder Damian Williams is the second return man and the fifth or sixth receiver.
  • Third-rounder Rennie Curran is a backup linebacker and special-teamer.
  • Fourth-rounder Alterraun Verner could be part of a rotation at right cornerback.
  • Fifth-rounder Robert Johnson is a third-string safety.
  • Sixth-rounder Rusty Smith is the third-string quarterback.
  • Sixth-rounder Myron Rolle, a safety, was cut and is on the practice squad.
  • Seventh-rounder Marc Mariani is the return man and the fifth of sixth receiver.
  • Seventh-rounder David Howard, a defensive tackle, was cut.
Joe McGreal from Bangkok, Thailand, writes: Paul, Really respect your work and enjoy the articles but still have a tough question to ask: Why do sportswriters not get down and dirty with Manning on his big game failures? To throw a pick 6 in the Super Bowl at least warranted some additional scrutiny on his big game prowess. If you look at the tapes of the Super Bowl against the Bears, you can easily see he had serious problems in the 4th quarter and if the Colts defense did not come up big, Colts could have easily lost that game. Bottom line: I truly believe sportswriters in general are way too lenient on Manning. Piling up stats in regular season against mainly substandard defenses is not a measure for greatness. Playoff and Super Bowl runs separate the men from the boys and the good from the great and the great from the all timers.

Paul Kuharsky: So Dan Marino’s not an all-timer in your book?

If it’s so easy to pile up stats in the regular season, why haven’t more people done it? Manning is superb in the regular season in a way few of his peers can imagine. Against mostly substandard defenses? That’s a huge stretch. The league’s schedule is built by formula; you think he’s coincidentally missing the best defenses consistently? How does he manage that? And how would you propose he beat defenses he doesn’t play?

(Incidentally, he beat the Jets and their No. 1 defense in the AFC title game. He beat Baltimore, the No. 3 defense, and Denver, No. 7, in the regular season.)

He hasn’t played his best in January. Neither has his team. Neither did Marino or his team.

I disagree that the media is soft on Manning -- some bend too far the other way to label him a choker. It’s OK to appreciate great players as great.

He threw a very costly bad pass near the end of the Super Bowl -- that sure could have been more Reggie Wayne’s fault than his. Thirty other quarterbacks would have loved to have been in the spot to throw that pass, no?

You’re even going to rip him for not being great in the end against the Bears in a Super Bowl they won? (They could have easily lost it? Are we looking at what could have easily happened, or what actually happened? I always go B.)

So if they lose it’s his fault and when they won it was despite him? How can he win in that scenario?

And who is great by your standards beside Terry Bradshaw and Troy Aikman, then? John Elway lost the Super Bowl more often than he won it. Brett Favre and Kurt Warner have the same Super Bowl record as Manning. What losers.

Holman from Richardson, Texas, writes: You mentioned Kareem Jackson and Glover Quin as starting corners you watched today with Brice McCain, Fred Bennett, and rookie Sherrick McManis in the mix at nickel. Is Jacque Reeves not out there, or not in the mix? If you look at the numbers from last year, he was actually better than advertised. I just haven't heard his name much during OTAs. Is he still on the roster?

Paul Kuharsky: I said that’s who Gary Kubiak said is in the mix for the third role. McManis wasn’t practicing, he’s injured. Reeves was there. Kubiak either left him out by mistake or doesn’t rank him as competing for a spot in the package at this point.

Dana Wastjer from Bothell, Wash., writes: What exactly do you mean by less than glamorous? Less than glamorous in comparison to that eyesore they call Husky stadium here in Seattle, or less than glamorous than the Michigan program that had to impose self-inflicted sanctions against themselves? Ever been to game in Missoula, Paul?

Paul Kuharsky: Less that glamorous = people don’t know of it or watch it by comparison to “big-time” college football. It’s not a place that regularly produces NFLers.

That’s all I meant and it’s indisputably true. Personally, I’d rather see a game there than at Michigan, probably.
HOUSTON -- So I went into Wednesday’s Houston Texans OTA session with a grand plan. With a system of pluses and minuses, I was going to really hone in on the cornerbacks and come out with a sense of what they have, who’s doing well and who’s not.

It didn’t really work out and I thought about scraping it and not mentioning it to you at all. Except that maybe in how it panned out can illustrate a bit about watching a practice.

First off, I had a rough guideline. A break up or a pick was certainly going to be a plus, as was the right brand of well-covered completion. A missed chance or a receiver who had too much space as the ball arrived would be a minus. Much of it was going to be subjective, as I wasn’t going to know the precise responsibilities of coverages being played. It would be a simple eye test.

So in seven-on-seven and team periods, I focused almost exclusively on the corners and scored them this way:

Not much of a revealing scorecard, I know. I think corners in general take too much heat -- a lot of people seem to think no passes should be completed. In an OTA it’s even more common to have passes completed on you as there is no real rush and plays usually continue after a rusher would have sacked the quarterback. I expected to award more minuses than pluses, and more scoring overall.

But on this day, I thought the offense regularly threw passes that were more on safeties and linebackers than corners. Later, a good share of the team periods were 4:00 drills when runs are featured as the offense attempts to milk clock and I wasn't scoring run support.

I asked Gary Kubiak if I should read anything into the fact the corners didn’t seem to be challenged a lot. He said not really, that there was a lot of cover-2 work and if that dictated balls in the middle or check downs to the flanks it wasn’t by some grand design for the day.

So there’s that. I’m sure you’ll let me know if I should have chosen the spike the whole idea.

Here are some other observations.

  • Strong safety Bernard Pollard had a pick in a red zone drill in the back of the end zone under the goal posts. He’s a very vocal, tone-setting leader who seems to strike a nice balance between being angry and being funny.
  • Trindon Holiday had trouble catching kicks early on, regular practice reporters told me. That means he’s hardly a lock for the job or a roster spot. But he’s settled down some now. He looked a bit tentative to me, but boy can he run. Monday, when practice was inside and I was closer to the action, I took note that he really had his head in what the receivers were doing -- watching on a knee with a script in his hand. The team’s got to like that level of attention.
  • Undrafted free agent Tom Williams out of Purdue didn’t get much of a bonus to sign, I am sure. So I put very low odds that he takes another snap without his chinstrap buckled, since secondary coach David Gibbs warned him during the defensive backs period that the next time he did there would be a $200 fine attached.
  • Sidenote: Eric Winston's working for Silver Eagle Distributors, which distributes Anheuser-Busch products. He said he’s always liked Bud Light and works 1 p.m.-5 p.m. on most days when he’s in Houston. He is guest writing Peter King’s Monday Morning Quarterback at on July 5. We talked some ideas, but Winston will do just fine on his own. Note to self: Use the best stuff from that interview before the 5th.
HOUSTON -- I count four spots on the Houston Texans as still uncertain: running back, defensive tackle, free safety and cornerback.

Houston may be all right with rookie Kareem Jackson and second-year man Glover Quin as their starting corners. But what about after that?

The nickel will play a lot, and the team doesn’t know who will qualify as the third corner.

Gary Kubiak said Tuesday that Brice McCain, Fred Bennett and rookie Sherrick McManis are contenders to be the third corner on the field. The coach likes the idea of moving Quin to the slot and replacing him outside, though Kubiak said McCain can line up in there, too.

Quin said he hopes the team will ask him to show off his versatility and play two roles.

“I like to be involved,” he said. “So if it’s two receivers out there, I’d like to be on the outside. If it’s three, I like to move inside. Because I like to get involved in the run game and the run fits and the zone drops from the inside.”

I'll keep a closer eye on him the next two days to see if I can sense if he looks equally comfortable in both spots.