AFC South: Tony Romo

Projecting possible Jaguars picks

February, 13, 2014
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JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Jaguars fans, would you be happy if you came out of the upcoming draft with Mario Williams?

What about Clay Matthews? Or Tony Romo?

It's possible, sort of. NFL.com's Daniel Jeremiah took five of the top prospects in the NFL draft and compared their potential careers with NFL veterans. Among the five were three players the Jaguars could take with the No. 3 overall pick: Jadeveon Clowney, Khalil Mack and Johnny Manziel.

Or, as Jeremiah compared them to: Williams, Matthews and Romo.

Jeremiah writes that the 6-foot-6, 258-pound Clowney compares to the 6-6, 290-pound Williams because of their size, length power and explosiveness. Houston bypassed several big-time offensive players, including quarterback Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush, and took Williams with the No. 1 overall pick in 2006. The Jaguars could do the same thing and take Clowney instead of the top quarterbacks in the draft, including Manziel.

If Clowney could mirror Williams' career, that would turn out to be a sound decision. Williams has 76.5 sacks in eight seasons, including 23.5 in his last two seasons in Buffalo.

The 6-3, 245-pound Mack compares to the 6-3, 258-pound Matthews because of his violent hands, explosion off the line of scrimmage and his relentlessness, Jeremiah writes. Matthews has 50 sacks in his first five seasons, including 23.5 in his first two years with Green Bay.

Jeremiah's Manziel-to-Romo comparison is based on the fact that both have strong enough arms to make any throw, are able to throw on the run and from unorthodox positions, have good pocket awareness and are able to escape pressure. The 6-1, 210-pound Manziel is a much better runner than the 6-2, 219-pound Romo, but it'd be hard to be disappointed if Manziel put up the same kind of passing stats that Romo has in 10 seasons: 64.6 completion percentage, 29,565 yards, 208 touchdowns and 101 interceptions.

My take: The Clowney-Williams comparison makes the most sense because both players have freakish athletic ability to go along with size and speed. If Clowney runs at next week's combine, he's going to generate amazing buzz because he's capable of running in the 4.4s. That seems absurd considering his size, but Jaguars receiver Ace Sanders, who played with Clowney at South Carolina, told me he witnessed Clowney run a sub-4.5 40.

The concern with Mack is the level of competition against which he played while at Buffalo, but he is quick, athletic and has good pass-rush skills. He also holds the NCAA career record for forced fumbles (16) and tied the career mark for tackles for loss (75). The previous record for forced fumbles in a career was 14 and it was held by several players, including Terrell Suggs and Ryan Kerrigan.

Comparing Manziel to any NFL quarterback is tough because he doesn't really completely match anyone. He's a better passer than Michael Vick and Colin Kaepernick, both of whom are better runners.

Matt Schaub vs. Tony Romo again

August, 29, 2013
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Which of Texas' NFL quarterbacks is the best?

John Clayton says Tony Romo tops Matt Schaub. But not by much. Both are in the top 10 in the league. He ranks Schaub 10th and Romo ninth.

Interestingly, Clayton says the arrow is up on Schaub while it's flat on Romo. He notes the Texans quarterback's new contract must mean his team has faith in him.

It is true that Schaub's $15.5 million per year ranks seventh among NFL quarterbacks. He trails Aaron Rodgers, Joe Flacco, Drew Brees, Peyton Manning, Romo and Eli Manning in average per year. (They all trail Tom Brady in guarantees per year.)

A look inside numbers for CJ, VY

October, 11, 2010
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Monday always means a great chance to digest some quality information from ESPN Stats & Info.

Chris Johnson and the Titans offensive line had been inconsistent in the first four weeks of the season, and struggled rushing to the right side.

However, against the Cowboys on Sunday, right tackle David Stewart and right guard Jake Scott paved the way for more than half of Johnson’s 131 rushing yards, his second-highest total of the season.

The Titans were likely inclined to head that way as Fernando Velasco was filling in for the injured Leroy Harris at left guard.

Johnson benefited from some more threatening downfield work from Vince Young, who made strides throwing between the numbers.

While his completion percentage was down, 8-for-17, Young did take some shots further downfield between the numbers. Young completed 4 of 9 passes traveling 10 or more yards in the air for 105 yards and a touchdown. His passer rating between the numbers was 92.3, nearly 22 points better than in the Titans’ first four games.

Also of note:
  • Tony Romo threw his three touchdown passes and his interception at the end of the game from the shotgun. He also posted a 124.1 passer rating when not under center. But five of the Titans’ six sacks came on shotgun plays.
  • Romo had two picks, no touchdowns and a 22.9 passer rating against the Titans base defense and three touchdowns, one pick and a 127.5 passer rating against nickel or dime personnel.

Wrap-up: Titans 34, Cowboys 27

October, 10, 2010
10/10/10
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Wrapping up the Titans' 34-27 win against the Cowboys.

What it means: The Titans are right there at the top of the AFC South with a 3-2 record, same as the Texans, Jaguars and Colts. Tennessee’s the only team not yet to play a division game.

For comparison purposes: Vince Young’s passing yardage was far more modest, but so were his killer plays. I’ll take his line over Tony Romo’s for sure. Young: two touchdowns, no picks, 173 yards, three sacks. Romo: three touchdowns, three picks, 406 yards, six sacks (by four different players).

What I liked, Part I: Play-making from all three phases. Chris Johnson was back to himself, with 19 carries for 131 yards and two scores. Kenny Britt made some big catches, including a score that was probably intended for Bo Scaife in front of him and a very nice stretching grab for a key 52-yard gain on an excellent throw from Young. There were picks by Alterraun Verner, Stephen Tulloch and Michael Griffin to go with two sacks each for Jason Babin and Jason Jones. Marc Mariani kicked in with a big return again, taking a late kickoff 73 yards to set up good things.

What I liked, Part II: A reduced penalty day with just four for 40 yards compared to the Cowboys (12 for 133) was a good sign that Jeff Fisher and his staff preached about how flags were slowing the team down and players responded.

What I didn’t like: There are a lot of big plays in 406 passing yards, including nine catches for 166 yards and a touchdown for Miles Austin. But giving up big yards is a lot less of a concern in a win.

What’s next: The Titans finally get an AFC South game with a trip to Jacksonville for "Monday Night Football."

Final Word: AFC South

October, 1, 2010
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 4:

[+] EnlargeAaron Kampman
Scott Cunningham/Getty ImagesAaron Kampman has 1.5 sacks in his first season in Jacksonville and could cause the Colts some problems.
Containing Kampman: I believe the Colts loved what they got from offensive tackle Jeff Linkenbach in Denver last week. But I am not sure if they are ready to go with an undrafted rookie against crafty and explosive veteran defensive end Aaron Kampman or if they want to get Charlie Johnson (foot) back in the lineup to deal with Kampman. If it’s Johnson, we know they are bringing the rookie along slowly and allowing Johnson more time to heal. If it’s Linkenbach, it says they love him and he’s better than a banged-up Johnson, or has better upside than Johnson, or both.

Deep speed: Titans cornerback Alterraun Verner had a wonderful training camp and preseason, making a ton of plays. The question about him is his deep speed. And so I’d expect the Broncos to work quickly to test his deep speed in his first start in place of Jason McCourty, and to find out how well Verner and the Titans’ scheme can cover for it. The Titans are one corner injury from trouble now. The next guy up, Ryan Mouton, struggled as a rookie in 2009 and watched McCourty and Verner sprint past him in the preseason when the open job was supposed to be a three-way battle.

Survivable: The Texans aren’t getting sufficient pass rush and their defensive backfield isn’t making plays. They shouldn’t be relaxing because Bruce Gradkowski isn’t Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb or Tony Romo. But you’d think they’d be able to survive their deficiencies a bit better against Oakland than against their three previous opponents. If Troy Nolan can make the most of his work at free safety -- he and Dominique Barber are expected to split time -- he could stake a claim to the fulltime job.

Back or benched? Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox lost the team’s faith after what the coaches lauded as a great rookie season. Surely they can play better pass defense against Manning with Cox involved than without him. Cox picked off Manning to end the Colts’ first drive in the season opener in Indy last year. Jacksonville has the sort of secondary issues that would suggest a quarterback who has been practically perfect so far can carve things up.

Quick out of the gate: The Texans' defense has played OK in the first quarter, and then far worse after that, according to Aaron Schatz and Football Outsiders. To give the defense the best chance, a hot start by the offense would really be big. Get Matt Schaub in a rhythm, get Arian Foster going and get multiple scores on the board and the Raiders will have to chuck it. Given that scenario, Houston could pick off its first pass of the season just by accident.

RTC: New low for Jack Del Rio era

September, 27, 2010
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Houston was outplayed in every phase, writes John McClain.

Gary Kubiak may have seen this one coming, says Richard Justice.

The Texans allowed too much pressure on Matt Schaub, says Jeffrey Martin.

Andre Johnson said he re-aggravated his ankle sprain, say McClain and Jenny Dial.

McClain’s report card.

The Texans should have been as desperate as the Cowboys, says Jerome Solomon.

It takes the worst to bring out the best in the Cowboys, says Alex Marvez.

The Cowboys exposed the Texans’ flaws, says John P. Lopez.

Tony Romo is in a higher class than Matt Schaub, says Andrew Perloff.

Battle Red Blog is unhappy with Eugene Wilson and Frank Bush.

Indianapolis Colts

They gave up yards in bunches, but the Colts won anyway, says Phil Richards.

The Colts showed off their depth at receiver with a huge day from Austin Collie and a nice contribution from Blair White, says Mike Chappell.

Peyton Manning continues to raise the bar, writes Bob Kravitz.

Preparation paid off in a big interception for Jacob Lacey, says Chappell.

Despite a patchwork line, Kyle Orton had huge numbers against the Colts, says Richards.

Kravitz’s report card.

The Colts showed they are more experienced and more savvy, says John Oehser.

Mike Silver details how Manning took Blair White up on a suggestion.

Observations on a well-coached team, from Nate Dunlevy.

He was wrong about Collie, says Nate Dunlevy.

Smart and efficient football won it, says Stampede Blue.

Jacksonville Jaguars

It’s a 1-2 start for the third consecutive season after a blowout loss to the Eagles, says Vito Stellino.

Gene Frenette declares this a new low for the Jack Del Rio era.

The Eagles abused Jacksonville’s beleaguered offensive line, says Tania Ganguli.

David Garrard can’t explain a horrible game, says Jeff Elliott.

The Jaguars are allowing far too many deep balls, says Ganguli.

Garrard played with trepidation and didn’t look athletic, says Vic Ketchman.

The notion that an upgraded pass rush would fix it all was off, says Ketchman.

Considering the possibilities with Terry O’Brien.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans rebounded with a big win against the Giants, say Jim Wyatt.

Take-aways keyed the Titans’ win, says John Glennon.

A chop-block penalty against the Giants that gave the Titans a safety turned the momentum, says Glennon.

Kenny Britt had a big touchdown catch in a homecoming, says Wyatt and Glennon.

Vince Young bounced back nicely, says David Climer. (My take on new stuff about Young’s Pittsburgh week is here.)

That was beyond humiliating for the Giants, says Mike Freeman.

The Titans are still a defensive team, says Bob McClellan.

Cortland Finnegan thinks he’s targeted by officials, says Terry McCormick.

The Titans enjoyed a reunion with Keith Bulluck, says McCormick.

Alterraun Verner filled in for Jason McCourty after he suffered an arm injury, says Darren McFarland.

Romo outplays Schaub as Texans fall

September, 26, 2010
9/26/10
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Matt SchaubBrett Davis/US PresswireMatt Schaub and the Houston offense struggled to put points on the board against Dallas.

HOUSTON -- When the Houston Texans move the ball, their offensive rhythm can rival anybody’s.

Sunday’s herky-jerky performance hardly suggested as much, and a team with a wonderful story of a 2-0 start leveled off in an ugly 27-13 loss to the Dallas Cowboys.

Just one of nine Texans' offensive drives did not include a sack or a penalty or end with a turnover, and that drive was the only one that produced a touchdown. It came far too late, after it was clear the Reliant Stadium guests would win for the first time this season.

An offense of the Texans’ caliber can’t go more than 58 minutes without a touchdown, particularly when Arian Foster is able to rush 106 yards on just 17 carries. And the defense is not equipped to keep the team in such a game.

“If we’re going to do what we want to do this year, we can’t go 58 minutes without a touchdown and settle for six points,” Matt Schaub said. “We’ve got too many playmakers. We were moving the football but wound up hurting ourselves.”

Schaub is a smooth and efficient quarterback. When the offense is clicking his work can be something to behold. In an impressive comeback from a 17-point deficit to win in overtime in Washington last week, he threw for a remarkable 497 yards.

This day was far different. I thought on all three of Dallas’ four sacks that Schaub was the primary culprit, simply wanting so badly to make a play that he held the ball for too long on drive killers. He couldn’t find a play bigger than 26 yards. Schaub couldn’t string together the longer chain of singles needed for points where there aren’t any home runs.

In the pocket presence/pocket awareness category, he was outplayed in a big way by Tony Romo. The Cowboys quarterback wasn’t sacked and outscored Schaub on the passer rating card, 127.6 to 77.7.

While Dallas collected 14 points in two red zone visits, Houston twice settled for field goals in goal-to-go situations.

“We’ve just got to play more physical,” said Houston's Rashad Butler, who played his first game at left tackle for the suspended Duane Brown. “They were just more physical than us. I hate to say it, but that’s what it comes down to in the red zone especially when you run the ball down there.

“It comes down to the trenches and they won the battle in the red zone. It definitely hurts me to say it. I know the five guys we’ve got are a lot tougher than those guys. But today they proved us wrong.”

Said Owen Daniels: "Being good in this league is about being good on the red zone. Those are some things we’ve been trying to clean up since the offseason.”

Against Romo, the Texans finally suffered the consequences of an ineffective defense. With no sacks and no takeaways, the Texans didn’t have to give up a third consecutive 400-yard passing day to lose.

The locker room talk was of how it’s in the Texans’ power to fix things, but that’s an ingrained, automatic reaction. Rarely in the NFL does anyone proclaim ownership of an unfixable problem. If you just work harder, play smarter and execute assignments, everything is cured.

The coping mechanism is too neat an explanation, of course, and it doesn’t include enough credit for the other side except for the obligatory “Not to take anything away from them” that comes before the “but ...”

“We can't spot teams 27 points and expect to win,” linebacker DeMeco Ryans said, acknowledging that the Week 2 comeback over Washington is a rarity. “Let’s be real about that.”

The Texans' pass defense allowed Roy Williams 117 receiving yards, his best yardage in 39 regular season games dating back to Sept. 23, 2007 when he was with Detroit.

Safety Bernard Pollard emphasized that the run defense was bad early last season, got fixed and became quite effective. But part of what fixed it was his arrival as a late free-agent addition. There is no personnel addition the Texans will bring in for this one. They’ve decided to go young at corner. They will have to endure growing pains from Kareem Jackson, Glover Quin and Brice McCain and errors like a dropped chance at a pick-6 by veteran safety Eugene Wilson.

Pollard was involved in a mix-up that sprang Williams on a 63-yard TD pass that put the game out of reach with just under 10 minutes left on the game clock. Pollard said everything is about Houston’s “MAs” -- missed assignments.

“We have to get sound as a defensive unit,” he said. “You’ve got to put pride aside, sometimes you get embarrassed because you don’t want that on film. There are going to be some lessons tomorrow, we’re going to have to man up, understand that we’ve got to take coaching, that we’ve got to be accountable to every other guy on this team.”

Just like we couldn’t put too much stock into Week 1 and Week 2 success stories, we can’t put too much into a Week 3 failure.

I think the Texans are a good team with a good chance at a big season.

I think they are the sort of team that should go to Oakland in Week 4 and make it quickly clear that they are more talented than the Raiders.

It was a tough game to take for the Texans. But quick perspective is something good teams need, too.

“There’s a lot worse places to be after three games than 2-1,” Schaub said.

RTC: Babin and Witherspoon paying off

September, 24, 2010
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Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

When the Texans need a big play, they’re going to turn to Andre Johnson, says Jeffrey Martin.

Jerome Solomon looks back at the best Dallas-Houston game.

A 400-yard day by Tony Romo would put the Texans in the record book, says John McClain.

The Texans are working to beat the blitz, says McClain.

Houston is just better than the Cowboys, says Richard Justice.

This battle of Texans actually matters, says Mike Silver.

Indianapolis Colts

Jeff Saturday loves protecting Peyton Manning, says Mike Chappell.

Bob Kravitz dreams of a son who’s a long snapper, and gets words of wisdom from Justin Snow.

Phillip B. Wilson talks matchups.

Dwight Freeney has an issue with Sports Illustrated, writes Wilson.

Brian Dawkins plays young, says Curt Cavin.

Kavell Conner did good work filling in for Clint Session and could be needed again, says Phil Richards.

Banged up Broncos’ cover guys are hoping to play.

Adjusted line yards correlate to success, says Nate Dunlevy.

A look at all sorts of Colts' numbers from Jacob Crocker.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Derek Cox may be thinking too much, says Vito Stellino.

Stellino and Tania Ganguli analyze Eagles-Jaguars. (Video.)

Maurice Jones-Drew was limited but is OK, says Ganguli.

The defensive backfield is in a hard transition, says Vice Ketchman.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans are getting big production out of inexpensive additions Jason Babin and Will Witherspoon, says John Glennon.

Cortland Finnegan will appeal a $5,000 fine for his role in a fight in the Steelers game, says Jim Wyatt.

Jeff Fisher’s looking to extend his recent mastery over Tom Coughlin, says David Boclair.

Mike Heimerdinger had a big hand in the stuff that got Vince Young benched, says Mike Tanier.

Phil Simms says playing the Titans is a slamfest, writes Glennon.

Rate the Titans.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

Bob McNair talks about camp and the season with Anna-Megan Raley.

John McClain wants to know if you’d take Matt Schaub or Tony Romo.

Stephanie Stradley talks to Bill Barnwell about Football Outsiders’ six-win expectation for the Texans.

The pass rushers the Texans will face could make things tough on Schaub and create the possibility of a six-win season, says Alan Burge.

Houston Diehards runs through the defensive linemen.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts signed fifth-round tight end Brody Eldridge, says Mike Chappell.

Phillip B. Wilson wonders if defensive tackle Mitch King could be the Colts’ next big find,

What can we expect from Jerry Hughes? John Oehser considers.

Dallas Clark waved the green flag at the Brickyard 400, says Jeremiah Johnson.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Why an Everbank naming rights deal for the Jaguars stadium makes sense, from Abel Harding.

The 10 worst free agent signings in Jaguars’ history, from Vito Stellino.

Five storylines for camp from Vic Ketchman of jaguars.com.

Tennessee Titans

Chris Johnson has set lofty goals, says John Glennon.

Clay Travis looks at the Titans’ lawsuit against Lane Kiffin and USC.

Late to this one: Doug Farrar looks at whether Keith Bulluck can handle a role in a Giants’ Tampa-2 scheme.

Bulluck might make payback hurt the Titans, says Joe Biddle.

Will Witherspoon uses a family farm to get ready for the season, writes Phil Brame.

A look at the tight ends from Andrew Strickert.
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Falling

Gijon Robinson, Colts tight end: Short yardage rushing has been an issue for the Colts, and while they didn’t spend a lot on the offensive line -- just fourth-rounder on Tennessee guard Jacques McClendon -- they did look to upgrade their blocking tight end.

Fifth-rounder Brody Eldridge out of Oklahoma is a stronger point-of-attack blocker than Robinson and could make a big difference for Joseph Addai or Donald Brown on plays aimed to get around the corner. Robinson's blown block that resulted in a Peyton Manning sack late in a 2008 season playoff loss at San Diego still stings.

Eldridge could prove a big help to incumbent tackles Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem or whoever replaces them, and his ability to help against pass rushers won’t make things any harder on Manning either.

Rising

Eugene Wilson, Texans free safety: The Texans feel better about Wilson, who was on IR with a foot injury for the last six games last year, than I do. Paired with the physical Bernard Pollard, Wilson needs to prove he can be a consistent and rangy free safety, and show better ball skills as he looks to set a tone for a group of young corners.

With nine draft picks, the Texans steered clear of selecting a safety, hitting cornerback in the first and fifth rounds. The Texans apparently are content with what they’ve got to cover the deep middle of the field against the likes of Peyton Manning (twice), Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Philip Rivers.

The alternative at this point is Dominique Barber and perhaps Troy Nolan, who missed his rookie year with hand injury.

Houston Texans schedule analysis

April, 20, 2010
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Breakdown: The Houston Texans lost out on their bid to be the training camp team HBO visited with for Hard Knocks. They also didn’t get a Thanksgiving game as they hoped. But three prime time games for a team that finally broke through the .500 barrier last season means the Texans will get some quality exposure. They’ll be at Indianapolis for a Monday night game, at Philadelphia for a Thursday night game and host Baltimore for a Monday night game. The games against the Eagles and Ravens come back to back in early December. If the Texans are a contender, they’ll have a sufficient chance to make a national impression.

Complaint department: The start is a pretty big challenge, with three of the Texans’ four games against the NFC East in the first five weeks. The first five presents a potential quarterback gauntlet for Houston’s defense, which can’t start slow against Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo and Eli Manning.

Rested, but ready? After opening the season with the Colts at home, the Texans come off their bye week at the end of October for the rematch at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 1. Eight games into their schedule, the Texans will be finished playing the team they are trying to knock out of the top spot in the AFC South.

Texans Regular Season Schedule (All times Eastern)
Week 1: Sunday, Sep. 12, Indianapolis, 1:00 PM
Week 2: Sunday, Sep. 19, at Washington, 4:15 PM
Week 3: Sunday, Sep. 26, Dallas, 1:00 PM
Week 4: Sunday, Oct. 3, at Oakland, 4:05 PM
Week 5: Sunday, Oct. 10, NY Giants, 1:00 PM
Week 6: Sunday, Oct. 17, Kansas City, 1:00 PM
Week 7: BYE
Week 8: Monday, Nov. 1, at Indianapolis, 8:30 PM
Week 9: Sunday, Nov. 7, San Diego, 1:00 PM
Week 10: Sunday, Nov. 14, at Jacksonville, 1:00 PM
Week 11: Sunday, Nov. 21, at NY Jets, 1:00 PM
Week 12: Sunday, Nov. 28, Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 13: Thursday, Dec. 2, at Philadelphia, 8:20 PM
Week 14: Monday, Dec. 13, Baltimore, 8:30 PM
Week 15: Sunday, Dec. 19, at Tennessee, 1:00 PM
Week 16: Sunday, Dec. 26, at Denver, 4:05 PM
Week 17: Sunday, Jan. 2, Jacksonville, 1:00 PM

The champs have been crowned. Thirty-one other teams now head toward March 5 when free agency begins and the 2010 league year begins.

In the copycat NFL, everyone is already wondering how they match up to the New Orleans Saints.

Not everyone will toss their formulas and look to install the Saints' systems. But it makes sense to look at how the Saints got where they are and set off "Lombardi Gras."

And so here’s a look at the AFC South and how its teams stack up against New Orleans. (AFC South teams won't be playing the Saints during the 2010 regular season; they've drawn the NFC East for next season.)

Houston Texans

[+] EnlargeDarren Sharper
AP Photo/Gerald HerbertThe Texans don't have a playmaker in the defensive backfield who compares to Darren Sharper.
The Saints are built around quarterback Drew Brees and the Texans feel they’ve got a Super Bowl-caliber signal-caller of a similar ilk in Matt Schaub. Like Brees, Schaub is accurate and capable of posting some serious numbers -- he actually threw for 382 more yards than Brees did in the regular season. But Schaub had to throw more because he didn’t have a run game to match the one Brees worked with.

The Texans didn’t need to see the Saints' path to the title to know their run game is insufficient. Coach Gary Kubiak re-emphasized Wednesday that his team will be committed to the run. That means finding a guy who can take a good share of the carries and work in some sort of tandem with Steve Slaton is priority one on offense.

A defense that can make big plays can supplement that sort of offense. The Texans have defensive playmakers in Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans, Brian Cushing and Bernard Pollard. But they don’t have a guy like Darren Sharper, and free safety is clearly a spot Houston needs to improve to be championship-ready.

The big stat: The Saints averaged 39.4 yards per game and a full yard per carry more on the ground than the Texans in 2009.

Indianapolis Colts

We don’t need to say much here, as we just saw how the Colts measure up to the Saints in Super Bowl XLIV. Their offensive line and special teams didn’t match up well. They’ve allowed special teams to be an issue for too long, and need to look to upgrade those units. They can win with a less-that-fantastic run game. But when the Colts need that vital rushing yard, the line needs to deliver the blocking more consistently.

The big stat: While New Orleans led the league in average total yards per game (403.8) and Indianapolis ranked ninth (363.1) in that stat, the Saints were far more balanced (sixth in rush yards a game, fourth in pass yards) than the Colts (32nd and second).

Jacksonville Jaguars

[+] EnlargeDerrick Harvey
Scott A. Miller/US PresswireDespite investing their first-round pick in DE Derrick Harvey in 2008, the Jaguars are still searching for pass-rushers.
It wasn’t only the Saints. Three out of the NFL’s final four teams got there largely because an elite quarterback led them there. David Garrard doesn’t fit the bill. I’m one of any number of commentators or analysts who don’t believe he does, and his coach Jack Del Rio has said it as well. I expect the Jaguars will be looking to upgrade the spot in the draft.

Jacksonville is not going to be built in the Saints’ mold, as it looks to prove a defensive, run-oriented team can grind away and knock off teams like New Orleans. But to be that sort of team at a playoff level, the Jaguars need to find a way to beat division-rival Indianapolis with some regularity. That means winning without an elite quarterback against an elite quarterback.

While we can debate the way to throw Peyton Manning off his game -- blitz and look for ways to hurry him or complicate the coverages -- we know the Jaguars don’t yet have the personnel to do either well enough. The pass rush will be as big an offseason issue for the Jaguars as anything.

The big stat: No matter how much the Jags want to run the ball, they need to score more. New Orleans outscored Jacksonville by a 510-290 margin over the regular season. That’s nearly two touchdowns a game.

Tennessee Titans

[+] EnlargeVince Young
Andy Lyons/Getty ImagesIf Vince Young emerges as an elite QB, it will be in a different mold than Drew Brees.
Stylistically, the Titans are going to be more like the Jaguars than the Texans or Colts, though Chris Johnson gives them a dynamic player who can match anyone’s most explosive option on offense. They won’t build to try to mirror the Saints’ mold; they will build intending to be ready to shatter the Saints’ mold.

To do so, they’ll need to rush the passer better and play stickier coverage -- keys to beating elite quarterbacks. The Saints beat Eli Manning and Tom Brady and lost to Tony Romo in the regular season before knocking off Kurt Warner, Brett Favre and Peyton Manning in the playoffs. Tennessee lost to Ben Roethlisberger, Tom Brady and Philip Rivers, lost twice to Peyton Manning and split against Matt Schaub.

If Vince Young emerges as an elite quarterback, he’ll still be of a vastly different style than Brees. He had one receiver who averaged better than 13.7 yards a catch in 2009 while the Saints had three who were at 15.3 yards a catch or better.

The big stat: The 2009 Titans surrendered 31 passing touchdowns compared to the Saints’ 15.
Since joining the Texans in 2007, Matt Schaub is second in the NFL in yard per attempt at 7.98.

His YPA with the Texans would tie him with Steve Young for fifth-highest in league history, and his 66.6 completion percentage would be the highest among the top 10 in the category.


I asked Schaub what a big number in the category says about a quarterback, and here’s his reply:

“I think as an offense it means guys are making plays down the field and they’re getting open. Obviously, the offensive line is doing a heck of a job and the backs in protection, and allowing us to get down field and make some plays. It ties 11 guys together that are executing their job at a high level and guys are making plays.”

The numbers come from the Texans.

I thought it a little narrow to keep of his statistics from three years as a backup in Atlanta, but he was in a different system with the Falcons that serves to reduce the number. His yards per attempt in the 38 games he played for them was 6.42, and combining from there and Houston his career number is 7.75 -- still quite strong.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

ARLINGTON, Texas -- The biggest story out of the Cowboys' 30-10 preseason win over the Titans in the football debut for Cowboys Stadium was the enormous video board factoring into play. NFC East guru Matt Mosley and I showed the preseason teamwork capabilities of the blog network by combining on this news story about it.

The short version: The Titans think the scoreboard is a huge issue for punters; Jerry Jones thinks of it more like a windmill on a miniature golf course. [Full disclosure, I borrowed that line from Matt.]

One additional quote from Craig Hentrich on the issue: "It's a bad situation when you've got guys that can hit it four or five times in a row, you've got your guys covering down the field four or five times in a row and you're having to redo it and redo it. It's a serious issue. It's pretty cool to see [the giant video board], but you hit a great punt and you hit the scoreboard, then what if you shank one? It's penalizing a great punt and that's not the way it's supposed to be."

Other than A.J. Trapasso's punt that dinged the TV, the stadium scored very highly. Keith Bulluck, who visited the new Yankee Stadium earlier this year, tweeted that Jones had outdone George Steinbrenner.

"It's pretty magnificent, pretty impressive definitely," he said after the game.

Setting aside that fantastic development, the Titans were pretty awful with 191 net yards, 10 first downs and fewer than 20 minutes of possession. Defensively, they allowed 466 yards, 27 first downs and two fourth-down conversions.

They didn't have their starters on the field as long as Dallas did, as the Cowboys stayed on the field through the first half.

But spin as they might, it's hard to find much to like about the work of second quarterback Vince Young or Patrick Ramsey, who is third in line. Jeff Fisher said while Young won't necessarily start, he will get time with the starters in one of the final two preseason games.

Rookie running back Javon Ringer qualified as the primary bright spot.

He finished with the best rushing average in the game thanks to five carries for 33 yards. The Titans fifth-round pick out of Michigan State also had an impressive 51-yard kickoff return and worked on kick and punt coverage teams.

(Read full post)

 
  Getty Images
  Titans quarterback Kerry Collins has led three teams to the playoffs, but has yet to do so in consecutive years.
Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- A year after finding a dynamic running back as fast as any in the league, the Titans set out to upgrade their passing offense.

Out went Justin McCareins and Brandon Jones and in came free agent Nate Washington and first-round pick Kenny Britt. The Titans' receiving corps, always a subject of discontent among their faithful, stands to be more explosive.

Can the veteran quarterback who led last year's 13-3 campaign be more productive with those additional targets?

Kerry Collins: By the Numbers
Quarterback Kerry Collins' playoff seasons and follow-ups, with his overall record in games that he started and his passer ratings:
Playoff season Follow-up season
'96 Panthers 9-3 79.4 '97 Panthers 6-7 55.7
'00 NY Giants 12-4 83.1 '01 NY Giants 7-9 77.1
'02 NY Giants 10-6 85.4 '03 NY Giants 4-9 70.7
It's June, optimism rules in all 32 NFL cities, so the Titans certainly believe so.

Those looking to punch holes in Kerry Collins as he prepares for 2009 point to this: He's never led a team to the playoffs in back-to-back seasons.

In Collins' follow-ups to three playoff appearances, he has a 17-25 record. Coincidence or trend?

"I really don't know what to say to that," Collins said. "I'm not going to sit here and act like I know the reasons for it. I don't. Trying to think back, I'll just try to avoid it this year. I don't know what the causes were or if there were any causes. It just kind of happened."

The 1997 Panthers were led by Collins, who at the time was entering a troubled personal phase in his life. Collins remembered a lot of injuries to the 2001 Giants and said he thought the 2003 Giants suffered a letdown after the Super Bowl year. His passer rating declined in each of those follow-up seasons.

With the 2008 Titans he's got a chance to prove himself again.

Now, he looks to join 10 starters across the league who've taken their team to the playoffs two years in a row or more. Twenty-three others who are in line to start or who are competing for the job have not. In terms of doing it over two or more seasons, is Collins going to wind up categorized with the likes of Tony Romo (2006-07) and Philip Rivers (2006-08), or will he be on the same list as Jake Delhomme (who can make it two in a row this season) and Carson Palmer?

After taking over for Vince Young during the season opener in 2008, Collins was cast as a game manager. Toss out the finale where he played only a little, and in 14 starts he attempted 23 or fewer passes five times. A lot of his critics focus a lot more on that than on the three games with more than one touchdown pass or the four games with a passer rating over 100.

When Chicago shut down the Titans' run game in Week 10, Collins produced his best game completing 30 of 41 passes for 289 yards and three touchdowns.

Back To Back
A look at NFL starting quarterbacks and whether they've taken teams to the playoffs in consecutive years:

AFC East
Bills -- Trent Edwards: No
Dolphins -- Chad Pennington: No
Patriots -- Tom Brady: 2003-07 (5 straight)
Jets -- Kellen Clemens/Mark Sanchez: No

AFC North
Ravens -- Joe Flacco: No
Bengals -- Carson Palmer: No
Browns -- Brady Quinn/Derek Anderson: No
Steelers: Ben Roethlisberger: 2004-05, 2007-08 (2 straight, 2 straight)

AFC South
Texans -- Matt Schaub: No
Colts -- Peyton Manning: 1999-2000, 2002-08 (2 straight, 7 straight)
Jaguars -- David Garrard: No
Titans -- Kerry Collins: No

AFC West
Broncos -- Kyle Orton: No
Chiefs -- Matt Cassel: No
Raiders -- JaMarcus Russell: No
Chargers -- Phillip Rivers: 2006-08 (3 straight)

NFC East
Cowboys -- Tony Romo: 2006-07 (2 straight)
Giants -- Eli Manning: 2005-08 (4 straight)
Eagles -- Donovan McNabb: 2000-04 (5 straight)
Redskins -- Jason Campbell: No

NFC North
Bears -- Jay Cutler: No
Lions -- Daunte Culpepper: No
Packers -- Aaron Rodgers: No
Vikings -- Tarvaris Jackson/Sage Rosenfels: No

NFC South
Falcons -- Matt Ryan: No
Panthers -- Jake Delhomme: No
Saints -- Drew Brees: No
Buccaneers -- Luke McCown: No

NFC West
Cardinals -- Kurt Warner: 1999-2001 (3 straight)
49ers -- Shaun Hill: No
Seahawks -- Matt Hasselbeck: 2003-07 (5 straight)
Rams -- Marc Bulger: 2003-04 (2 straight)

-- Matthew Willis, ESPN Stats & Information

Now, the expectation is for more like that and more over the course of the season -- more than 12 touchdowns, more than 2,676 yards, more than an 80.2 passer rating, more than one and done in the playoffs.

"I think offensively our expectations in the passing game should be higher from what we did last year," Collins said. "We were productive when we needed to be, but if you look at the breadth of work during the season, it's not like we lit it up or anything. We were effective. We didn't need to throw it all of the time -- we ran the ball so well and we got up in games.

"I'm sure we're going to be committed to running the ball again this year, but I think we can get more out of the passing game this year with the people we brought in and the experience we've all had in [Mike] Heimerdinger's offense."

Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. expects the Titans to slide this season, largely because he doesn't have great faith in Collins.

"Overall, I have a hard time completely buying into the fact that he is a totally changed guy all of a sudden," Williamson said. "His TD/INT ratio and overall decision making has been a real problem in the past. He certainly can throw the rock, but he can't get out of the way of the rush or create when things break down. The Titans' OL is excellent, but his movement skills really worry me overall. I would say that his accuracy is just average at best as well."

And this from back in May: "Remember, this is a quarterback with a lifetime passer rating of 73.8 and who has only thrown seven more touchdowns than interceptions over his long career."

Valid points in the con column for Collins.

But those are stat trends the Titans can handle if they are healthy, run well and play good defense like they did last year and like they are built to do. Jeff Fisher wants a quarterback who can lead, fight through adversity, take advantage of the solid run game, protection and defense, and Collins fits.

I took details of Collins' poor follow-up years to center Kevin Mawae and receiver Justin Gage to get their takes.

Mawae:

"You don't ever judge a guy on what he did last year. Every year it's about what can you do for us now. Whatever the history is that he had a great season and then didn't have a great season, I don't know, but it's a tough sport for anybody to have big years back to back. It happens. But it's few and far between...."

"For our situation the receiving corps was a question mark and we bring in Nate and we go draft Britt and we hope that they make a mark for us. If they do, it makes Kerry's job easier, it makes the offensive line's job easier and in return hopefully we have more success than we did last year."

Gage:

"I definitely think Kerry is going to be able to get us the ball. He has the playmakers that he's been looking for. Nate's an
experienced receiver, it's not like he's coming into something blind. Kenny is a young guy but he learns fast and he works hard. I definitely feel like this might definitely be one of Kerry's best seasons since he's been in the league.

"If everybody else knows [about the back-to-back stuff], I'm sure Kerry knows it and it's something Kerry is looking forward to and will take advantage of this year. He's a competitor, and his competitive nature rubs off on the rest of us."

"So here's comes. You've never had two good years back to back? Then you're looking forward to this year. This is the year when I usually set it back, but I am going forward this time."

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