- Paul Kuharsky, ESPN Tennessee Titans reporter
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1. Deji Karim, Jacksonville Jaguars running back: He’s playing as the second back rather than the third because Rashad Jennings was lost for the year before the season. Still, Karim has been a big disappointment as the changeup from Maurice Jones-Drew. He seems to stumble a lot, and he’s averaging 2.0 yards per carry. He’s hardly bringing a dynamic element to the kick return game, either. Jones-Drew’s workload is heavy, and the Jaguars need to have a functional alternative. They currently do not.
2. Barrett Ruud, Tennessee Titans middle linebacker: He missed his second game in the Titans’ last three with a groin injury, and once he’s healthy the Titans are going to have a hard time reinstalling him. He has brought the team the leadership and understanding of the defense it needed when it signed him. But rookie Colin McCarthy is simply a more rugged player at the spot. McCarthy has done just fine calling the defense and is making a lot of the sort of plays the Titans weren’t getting from Ruud. Maybe the Titans will slide Ruud to the IR.
3. The chances for Indianapolis to compete over the next two weeks: The expectation is that the New England Patriots will happily pile on to add to their rivals' misery on Sunday at Gillette Stadium. What has been the league’s marquee matchup may wind up the league’s marquee mismatch this time around. And then the Colts will recover with a trip to Baltimore, where the Ravens will surely be thinking they can shut out Indianapolis.
1. Connor Barwin, Houston Texans outside linebacker: He set a franchise record with four sacks against the Jaguars and was phenomenally disruptive, torturing Jaguars right tackle Guy Whimper. We’ve paid a lot of attention to Brian Cushing, Antonio Smith, J.J. Watt and even Brooks Reed on the team’s defensive front. But Barwin has been a steady force and contributor. He’s the guy the team thought it was drafting in 2009 in the second round. He's a key piece to a defense that’s the primary hope of the Texans going forward now with a third-string quarterback.
2. Chris Johnson, Tennessee Titans running back: He exploded for 190 rushing yards in the win over Tampa Bay. Great blocking sprung him into space, and he looked like the guy we expected to be the centerpiece of Tennessee's offense when he got his big contract before the season. The question now is whether it can carry over and be a big element in what Tennessee hopes is a big five-game run to a playoff berth. Expectations that he was “back” rose after he got to 100 yards in Cleveland and Carolina, but his work against the Buccaneers looked and felt different.
3. The potential for meaningful change in Jacksonville: Wayne Weaver is selling the team to Shahid Khan. Weaver wasn’t about to hire a high-priced coach after the interim five-game stint of Mel Tucker wound down. Could new ownership be more willing to look at a broader pool of candidates and to pay a name? Despite what Weaver said, Khan certainly had to have a voice in the move to dump Jack Del Rio, since the announcements of the coaching change and the sale come on the same day. GM Gene Smith, who got a new contract, will have a big hand in the choice. What kind of budget will there be?
FALLING1. Deji Karim, Jacksonville Jaguars running back: He’s playing as the second back rather than the third because Rashad Jennings was lost for the year before the season.