AFC South: Trindon Holliday

McAfee delivers a hard hit on Holliday

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts punter Pat McAfee was standing at his locker when veteran kicker Adam Vinatieri walked by and yelled out, “boom stick.”

Vinatieri could have been referring to McAfee’s ability to use his foot to pin the opposition deep in its own territory on punts or his hit on kick returner Trindon Holliday right before the end of the first quarter.

For the sake of this argument, we’ll say Vinatieri was talking about the hit McAfee put on Holliday along Denver’s sideline.

“The hit was something that snapped me back into it a little bit,” said McAfee. “He is very fast and I just closed my eyes and ran my hardest and things happened."

It was also a hit that could get McAfee fined by the NFL because it was a helmet-to-helmet hit.

“I wish I could say I knew my helmet might hit his helmet, but I was just running over there full speed hoping to make a play. I got lucky,” McAfee said.

The hit was so vicious it was the talk of Twitter.

Detroit Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh, who the NFL has fined a number of times, spoke up about the play.

McAfee read Suh’s tweet in the locker room after the game.

“The fact that Ndamukong Suh has any idea who I am is pretty sweet; that’s pretty awesome,” McAfee said. “If I can get credit from him, that’s pretty cool. It’s all about getting respect of your teammates and that’s what plays like that do.”

Owner Jim Irsay earned this game ball

October, 21, 2013
10/21/13
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Indianapolis Colts Ron Chenoy/USA TODAY SportsAndrew Luck and the Colts spoiled Peyton Manning's return to Indianapolis.

INDIANAPOLIS -- It was only fitting that the owner, you know the one whose comments were supposed to motivate Peyton Manning to put up astronomical numbers in his return trip to Indianapolis, walked out of the Indianapolis Colts' locker room holding a football shortly after his team beat the Denver Broncos 39-33 on Sunday.

This wasn't just any football Jim Irsay had a firm grip of.

It was the game ball.

Irsay earned the right to take the ball home -- and stick his nose up at the critics -- after being the center of attention during what was supposed to be a special week for the Colts and Manning.

Irsay was heavily criticized about comments he says were taken out of context when talking about how he believes the team should be built -- a balanced offense, defense and special teams -- now that Manning calls Denver home.

You know what?

It was the balanced team that beat Manning's "Star Wars" numbers in front of a sold out Lucas Oil Stadium crowd.

That's why coach Chuck Pagano gave his owner an emotional postgame speech inside the locker room.

These Colts (5-2) aren't the flashiest team, but they find a way to get it done. Game balls could have been given out to the entire offense, defense and special teams.

"We all knew what we were up against and the players were just hanging tough," Pagano said. "This is the grittiest football team that I've ever been around my entire life."

The Colts spent the week leading up to the game not listening to people say they weren't good enough to hang with the high-scoring Broncos. Veteran receiver Reggie Wayne referred to last week as a circus because of the attention the game got.

"We were willing to work and prove everybody wrong," Colts defensive tackle Ricky Jean Francois said. "I knew everybody in the media world was banking on Peyton Manning coming in here and putting on a show. I tip my hat to him, he's a first-ballot Hall of Famer. But this team -- all three aspects of it -- was excellent. We fought for 60 minutes. We knew it wasn't a game that would be won in a half."

The list of Super Bowl contenders the Colts have beaten this season has now grown to three teams in just seven games. San Francisco and Seattle are the other two teams the Colts have knocked off.

Pagano has excelled at not getting caught up in the moment of who they're playing, even if this time it was the player responsible for leading the Colts to a Super Bowl at the end of the 2006 season.

"It's a long season and you can't afford to do that," Pagano said late last week. "You get yourself in trouble when that happens."

Like all good teams do, the players follow their coach's lead. Quarterback Andrew Luck did his part by throwing for 228 yards and three touchdowns. But the game changed when the defense stepped up.

[+] EnlargeIndianapolis coach Chuck Pagano
Andy Lyons/Getty Images"This is the grittiest football team that I've ever been around my entire life," Chuck Pagano said.
Until Sunday night, Robert Mathis hadn't been able to come close to Manning. He remembered being chewed out for coming too close to him in a practice a decade ago when the two were teammates.

Mathis blew by Broncos left tackle Chris Clark and sacked Manning, causing him to fumble. The Colts earned a safety after linebacker Erik Walden couldn't gather the ball before going out of bounds.

The Colts forced the Broncos into five straight punts after the safety. Manning threw for 386 yards, but the Colts sacked him four times, intercepted a pass and forced Denver into three turnovers total.

"We heard how we couldn't stop people before,” Colts defensive back Darrius Butler said. "We heard the same thing going into San Francisco week and Seattle week. As long as guys in this locker believe in each other, we can accomplish anything. We stuck to our keys and did our thing. Guys had to win their matchups and that's what happened for the most part.”

Colts punter Pat McAfee used his 6-foot-1, 233-pound frame to deliver a hard hit -- and possible fine -- on Trindon Holliday along Denver's sideline on a return. Fullback Stanley Havili stripped Holliday on a punt return, setting up a touchdown from Luck to Darrius Heyward-Bey on the next play.

It was just how Irsay envisioned. All three areas contributing to Denver's first loss of the season.

"We could care less what anybody says outside of Colts Nation,” linebacker Jerrell Freeman said. "We don't listen to the outside noise. You can say what you want to say, pick who you want to pick. We always know we have a chance. It's all about us.”

On the Texans, Holliday and Jones

January, 13, 2013
1/13/13
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It’s awfully easy to look at the plays made by Trindon Holliday and Jacoby Jones in Saturday’s great Baltimore Ravens-Denver Broncos game and say the Houston Texans blew it.

Holliday
Both those guys belonged to Houston. Both those guys were cut by the Texans.

Holliday was the first player in NFL history to return both a punt and a kick for touchdown in a playoff game. It was a spectacular performance and it had Twitter buzzing with talk that the Texans were fools for letting him go.

“Never cut a game changer,” said Tony Boselli, the former Jacksonville left tackle who now serves as a NFL color analyst on radio and TV broadcasts.

It’s a valid principle.

But it’s not like the Texans made a rash decision on Holliday. They were very patient with him, and while he had a big preseason in 2012, the overall picture he drew was of a guy who had a tendency to get hurt and to fumble.

The Texans wanted more roster flexibility and Holliday can’t do anything but return. In five games with Houston this year he averaged 9.2 yards on 16 punt returns and 19.4 yards on 10 kickoff returns. Rookie receiver Keshawn Martin, who replaced him, has better numbers.

After five games of his third year, they let him go.

It’s an easy second guess today. If the Texans cover punts and kicks the way the Ravens did yesterday, I bet Martin could score a couple TDs, too.

Jones
As for Jones, the All-Pro kick returner who ran under the 70-yard touchdown pass from Joe Flacco that forced overtime ...

He had become a liability in Houston. He couldn’t handle punts in last year’s divisional-round playoff loss in Baltimore, really damaging his team’s chances.

He never became a consistently reliable player for the Texans as a receiver or a returner, and it was completely reasonable for Houston to part ways with him and draft some receivers to develop in the roles Jones had. Martin and DeVier Posey haven’t done a great deal so far, but it doesn’t mean Houston made the wrong choice.

Sometimes a change of scenery changes things for a guy, and what he does in the second place wouldn’t have happened in the first.

Martin will get tackled quickly on a return today and people watching Texans-Patriots will say, “It sure would have been nice to have Trindon Holliday there.”

To which I’ll say it’s a super-easy second guess.

And if Holliday was there he would have been just as likely to cough it up or get crunched as he would have been to break off a touchdown return.
Joe Flacco, JJ WattUS Presswire, AP ImagesHow Baltimore's Joe Flacco, left, fares against Houston's explosive J.J. Watt could be key Sunday.


The last time we saw the Texans and Ravens square off, we were watching a divisional-round playoff game at M&T Bank Stadium in Baltimore.

Terrell Suggs had six tackles and a pass defended as the Ravens' rush linebacker. Houston featured third-string rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback, and his three interceptions -- paired with multiple special-teams gaffes by Texans returner Jacoby Jones -- were big factors in a 20-13 Baltimore victory.

The Texans returned home to rave reviews for their first playoff season but also couldn’t help wonder what might have been if they'd had injured starting quarterback Matt Schaub and played a cleaner game. Baltimore advanced to the AFC Championship Game in New England, where it lost to the Patriots, but a near-catch for a touchdown by Lee Evans could have won it with 27 seconds left and a missed 32-yard field goal by Billy Cundiff could have forced overtime.

This rematch doesn’t carry the same stakes but could have big implications. The winner will have the AFC’s best record at 6-1.

AFC North blogger Jamison Hensley and AFC South blogger Paul Kuharsky will be watching closely.

HENSLEY: I think it's easy to say this is a battle of the two best teams in the AFC. Not really going out on a limb here because the Ravens and Texans are the only teams with winning records in this mediocre conference. I know there are going to be nine games after this one, but this is shaping up to be the Ravens' most important game of the regular season.

The result of this game could become a tiebreaker for home-field advantage or a first-round bye at the end of the season. The Ravens, who have won a league-best 14 consecutive games at home, don't want to go on the road in the playoffs. The Ravens' mindset is that they won't have to come back to Houston this year if they win there Sunday. What's the mindset of the Texans after what happened in Houston last Sunday night?

KUHARSKY: Because the Texans are so young, they've played a lot of "biggest games in franchise history." This is certainly the newest one to top the list. Their critics look at the 5-1 record and see wins over mostly softies and a pasting by the Packers on Sunday night. A victory over the Ravens validates everything they've done and regains a firm hold on Best in the AFC. A loss would create some serious concerns. They do have the cushion of playing in a terrible division they simply can't lose. But Baltimore has been an obstacle and ended the Texans' last season in the playoffs. If they meet again with such high stakes, they don't want to be traveling.

It might be a good time to draw the Ravens, too, right? I know Ray Lewis wasn't what he has been, but their first game without a leader like that and without an underrated, great corner like Lardarius Webb may make them a bit more susceptible, no?

HENSLEY: This is the most vulnerable I've seen the Ravens' defense in 13 seasons. Lewis wasn't playing like the Lewis from 10 years ago, but he was still an above-average linebacker in this league. The Ravens have given up more than 200 yards rushing in each of the past two games, and losing Lewis only makes that run defense shakier. Dannell Ellerbe, who has made seven starts since entering the league as an undrafted free agent in 2009, will take Lewis' spot.

Though the Ravens will miss Lewis' leadership, the bigger loss is Webb. He was emerging as one of the top cornerbacks in the league. His nine interceptions since the start of the 2011 season was tied for the league lead. So, the Ravens have taken shots to both their run and pass defenses this week. How do you see the Texans attacking the Ravens' defense Sunday?

KUHARSKY: Although they might not run first chronologically Sunday, the Texans are a run-first team. Everything they do offensively is keyed on the one-cut-and-go running of Arian Foster, who did great work running for 132 yards in that playoff game on Jan. 15. They send him left most often now, because Duane Brown and Wade Smith are steadier blockers than the guys on the right side, where they have two new starters who aren't even full time.

Spinning off that run game, we'll see play-action heavy with bootlegs and rollouts. It's always remarkable to see Owen Daniels out in space awaiting a Matt Schaub pass. Andre Johnson is certainly dangerous too, though they've not been able to feed him the ball as much as usual. He hates the talk that he's getting older and slowing down, but he hasn't looked like the same player so far this season. Two weeks ago, Jets cornerback Antonio Cromartie really smothered Johnson. I figured Webb would be a guy who could do similar work. If AJ sees someone like Cary Williams instead, it could be a different story.

Speaking of Schaub, let's turn to quarterbacks. He has been quite efficient this year, doing what Houston needs and not getting caught up at all in his numbers. I came into the season not sold on Joe Flacco and thinking the Ravens didn't have the right guy under center to become an offensive team. But he has done some very good work in the games I've seen and started to change my opinion. Even minus Brian Cushing, the Texans' front throws a lot at a quarterback. Green Bay might have exposed some coverage deficiencies. How's Flacco at assessing such things on the fly and taking advantage?

HENSLEY: Flacco's biggest improvement this season has been his ability to audible at the line. The Ravens are using the no-huddle more than any other time in Flacco's five seasons. It's not to the point of being Peyton Manning, but Flacco is constantly changing the play at the line. Flacco, who ran the no-huddle during his college days, is comfortable with this. He has wanted to have more control of the offense and he's now getting it.

A lot of credit goes to quarterbacks coach Jim Caldwell, who is familiar with this style from his days with the Colts. Flacco makes his mistakes when he gets pressured. His pocket awareness has improved and he can scramble for yards. But Flacco will rush and make poor throws when a defender is in his face. Left tackle Michael Oher (four sacks) and rookie right tackle Kelechi Osemele (three sacks) have struggled at times keeping rushers away from Flacco. Is there any chance the Ravens slow down J.J. Watt and Houston's pass rush?

KUHARSKY: It sure seems like the key to the game for me. Watt is going to get his at some point, and it's not just sacks. Watch how he'll stop rushing when he knows he's not getting there and time his jump to bat down, or even pick off, a pass.

And although the numbers of the other guys aren't in his stratosphere, Brooks Reed, Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin are very effective rushers who will have a bearing on Flacco's pocket comfort. Force some mistakes with that rush, and I like Houston's chances. Get stonewalled and fall victim to the ball coming out super-fast, and I feel differently.

One note about the quicker Ravens offense: With Cushing out, Brice McCain, the nickelback, will have a bigger role in covering players such as Ray Rice and Dennis Pitta on routes. If the Ravens run hurry-up or no-huddle, they can potentially trap the Texans in base if they want McCain off the field. I am eager to see whether they try that. The Texans are obviously are familiar with Jim Caldwell's no-huddling.

How about special teams? Tell me how Jacoby Jones is now reliably explosive? The Texans have some serious special-teams issues.

HENSLEY: Jacoby Jones has been one of the bigger surprises this season for Baltimore. The Ravens were looking to upgrade the return game this offseason and failed to sign Eddie Royal or Ted Ginn in free agency. That's why they jumped on Jones when he was cut by the Texans. He has been average as a punt returner (9 yards per return), but he really keyed the win over the Cowboys on Sunday. His 108-yard kickoff return for a touchdown, which tied an NFL record, was the big play in that game.

The only reason the Ravens turned to Jones on kickoffs was because rookie Deonte Thompson fumbled a kickoff the week before. If you think about it, it's kind of funny that Jones got his chance to be explosive because another player couldn't hold onto the ball, especially after Jones' problems fielding kicks in the past. But that really hasn't surfaced so far with the Ravens.

Baltimore's coverage teams are both ranked in the top half of the league, which is a big improvement from last year. In 2012, the Ravens allowed three touchdowns on returns. Another improvement is at kicker. Rookie Justin Tucker has made 12 of 13 field goals this season and has hit both attempts beyond 50 yards. If this game is close, the Ravens have a lot of confidence in Tucker to make a pressure kick. So, what are the issues with the Texans' special teams?

KUHARSKY: Well, Trindon Holliday was absolutely electric as their returner in the preseason. But it didn’t carry over and they gave up on him. You saw Holliday playing for the Broncos on Monday night. Keshawn Martin is the man now. The team averages only 9.8 yards a punt return and 18.5 yards a kick return.

Their average start after a kickoff is the league’s worst -- the 17.7-yard line. Their coverage isn’t that bad -- it’s 31st in the league instead of 32nd. Opponents start at the 26.9-yard line.

Donnie Jones is a middle-of-the-pack punter in net average. Shayne Graham has been good on field goals, hitting 11 of 12, but is tied for 24th in touchbacks playing at home in what amounts to a domed stadium.

It’s gambler’s logic that the Texans are due to break through against the Ravens. Maybe they will, maybe they won’t. If they don’t and Jacoby Jones has something to do with it, it’ll hurt a little bit extra.

It’s certainly no stretch to predict we’ll see these teams facing off again in the playoffs. In what round and where is the question, and Sunday’s winner will lead the race to be in position to host.
Trindon Holliday had a great preseason.

It didn’t translate to the regular season.

The Texans have been bad on special teams, and it will take more than a new return man for them to improve. But it’s one place they’ll start. Receiver Keshawn Martin will be the primary return man now, as the Texans cut Holliday to make room to help at inside linebacker, where they signed veteran Barrett Ruud.

But it wasn’t a straight swap. With Brian Cushing moved to injured-reserve, the team had room for Ruud. It also promoted guard Cody White from the practice squad, a move that required the need for a second opening on the 53-man roster.

“By no means is it a statement to what we thought of Trindon,” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said, per the Houston Chronicle.

That’s a bit far-fetched. If you love him, you cut someone else. Cutting anyone makes at least some degree of a statement about him.

Ruud played last year for the Titans, but was ineffective. A shoulder injury ended his season and rookie Colin McCarthy starred once he took over the job. Ruud was traded from Seattle to New Orleans this year, then recently released by the Saints.

Holliday told the Chronicle he didn’t think he underperformed.

He was averaging 19.4 yards per kick return, 27th in the NFL, and 9.2 yards per punt return, 16th in the NFL.

He certainly wasn’t overperforming.

Texans spending time on Tebow

October, 5, 2012
10/05/12
11:20
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The Jets are coming off a bad effort with a terrible result and the Texans are expecting a big bounce-back effort out of their hosts Monday night at MetLife Stadium.

Tebow
They had a rough week last week. Everybody in this business goes through something like that. I expect them to bounce back and play very well. That’s what I’m telling our team, that they’re going to bounce back and play well. The key is how are we going to play?

And Gary Kubiak said his team is preparing for both Mark Sanchez and Tim Tebow.

“We have to,” Kubiak told Houston reporters. “This is very difficult to prepare for. You could face, obviously, the form of offense that they have run some with Tim and some of things Tim’s done in the past. You got to go way back and look at all that. Obviously, Mark, he’s played extremely well against us. It’s double duty from that standpoint.

“It’s probably the most difficult team we’ve had to prepare for, really across the board. They do a lot defensively. Rex (Ryan) has got a ton of stuff and make you work on. Special teams-wise, they do a lot of formations. They’re doing a lot of things with Tim, so a lot of issues for us to get ready to play from a rep standpoint.”

Houston is using practice-squad quarterback Case Keenum to mimic Tebow, as well as return man Trindon Holliday, who doesn’t have anything close to Tebow’s size but can prepare a defense for speed and mobility beyond what’s normal.

Kubiak’s added some more reps in practices and extended the walk-through parts of their preparation.

Players are doing well to echo their coach’s thinking.

“We’re not going based off what they’ve done in previous games,” left tackle Duane Brown. “We’re going off of what we’re expecting to get, which is their best effort.”
It’s always best to be correcting things out of a win than off of a loss.

Only the Houston Texans in the AFC South got to do that today.

“We didn’t come out of this game feeling very good about how we played but we make the corrections today and hopefully we’re a lot better next week,” coach Gary Kubiak told Houston media a day after Houston opened with a 30-10 win over Miami. “…Good teams, when they win, they’re able to be hard on themselves. So we have to start today with that.”

His two primary areas of concern were the run game and special teams.

“The biggest thing I was disappointed in offensively was how we ran the ball, which wasn’t very good at all and how we finished on the 1-yard line and how we finished the game the last couple drives,” Kubiak said. “I think that’s a mark of a good team. Everybody knows you got to run it to finish a game you still line up and run it. We didn’t do that yesterday.”

Early in the fourth quarter the Texans had a second-and-goal from Miami’s 1-yard line, and tried a run and a pass before kicking a field goal.

Then they had two possessions where they tried to run out the clock. But before Matt Schaub kneeled to end the game, the fourth quarter rushing totals were nine carries for 8 yards.

“I think it’s across the board, it starts up front,” Kubiak said when asked what the problem was. “It always starts up front. We got to do all things better, coach it better, call it better, do it better, backs, wide receivers, tight ends. You know what I mean, it’s not one thing.”

Special teams produced on 61 yards on four returns by Trindon Holliday, while yielding a 72-yard punt return touchdown to Marcus Thigpen and a 25.8-yard average on six kickoff returns.

“We did not play well on special teams,” Kubiak said. “We didn’t cover well. We didn’t return well; something that we had been doing pretty consistent during the preseason. We had some guys playing some special teams getting going again that need to be big special teams players for us. Whitney Mercilus needs to play well for us; Mister Alexander.

“Throughout the course of the preseason, we did protect some of those guys, when we’re looking at young players, and it showed yesterday. I don’t think some of the key guys on special teams were on top of their games.”

RTC: On Holliday, Luck and more

September, 9, 2012
9/09/12
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Reading the coverage ...

Jake Locker, Eugene Monroe and Dwight Freeney are involved in matchups to watch today, according to Pete Prisco of CBSSports.com.

Houston Texans

Trindon Holliday’s speed got him noticed, but his toughness and lack of fear turned him into a football player, writes Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle. She visited Holliday’s family in Baton Rouge, La.

Cal McNair has always wanted to work with his dad, the Texans owner. Now Cal is the team’s chief operating officer and lining up to eventually own the team, though he’s in no hurry, writes Ganguli.

Houston’s native son, Gary Kubiak, has reason to smile entering a season of hope, says Jerome Solomon of the Chronicle.

Ninety-nine things you need to know about the Texans, from Dale Robertson of the Chron.

Indianapolis Colts

Time as a child in Europe helped shape Andrew Luck, says Phil Richards of the Indianapolis Star. "I wish I could compare it to a life where I've never spent any time overseas," Luck said. "But I think I do appreciate different cultures a little more. It opened my eyes to different cultures, different ways of going about things that are OK, that aren't taboo."

For Reggie Wayne, the Bears game will be a 146th consecutive start, says Mike Chappell.

The Star spoke with owner Jim Irsay on the eve of the season. “I could not be happier in all aspects and the way things have moved forward. We had major salary-cap problems and we worked to fill some of the holes we had through poor drafting in the last three or four years and injuries and those sort of things. That's gone very well.”

Jacksonville Jaguars

“The NFL is League Turnaround and the Jaguars want to join the list. They think it’s possible,” writes Ryan O’Halloran of the Florida Times-Union.

“[T]he good thing about the Jaguars finally opening their 2012 season at Minnesota is we get a hint if the promise of a different era under new coach Mike Mularkey actually has merit,” writes Gene Frenette of the Times-Union. “One game doesn’t provide a definitive answer, but it provides a better clue than anything we’ve tried to glean from a preseason of mixed-bag results and Maurice Jones-Drew’s lengthy holdout.”

Statistical projections on Jaguars-Vikings from O’Halloran.

Tennessee Titans

Matchups, predictions, a heat index and five questions with Akeem Ayers from Jim Wyatt and the Tennessean NFL writers.

Three keys to a Titans win, from John Glennon of The Tennessean.

The Patriots need left guard Logan Mankins more than ever.

NFL Network’s playbook feature on Patriots-Titans, from the team’s website.

Your Preseason All-AFC South team

September, 7, 2012
9/07/12
11:22
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Been pondering doing this for some time, and hit a now-or-never point today.

I decided to move forward for two reasons – it forced me to crystallize some preseason opinions, and I feel certain it will generate some debate.

So here’s our first preseason All-AFC South team.

Let’s be clear on criteria: I’ve combined past performance and my expectations for 2012 to create this team. In some spots, I relied more on one than the other.

Defensively, I picked 12 guys, with four linemen and four linebackers. It’s the only way to be fair considering we have two 4-3s and two 3-4s. And as we’ve got teams that start two tight ends and teams that start two backs, but I went with my favored two-tight end set. (Going three wide would have been pushing it, right?)

Also let’s acknowledge it’s an uneven playing field.

Titans right tackle David Stewart, for example, has minimal competition in my eyes considering the three other guys who will start at the position on Sunday: inexperienced Cameron Bradfield for Jacksonville and Derek Newton for Houston, and shaky veteran Winston Justice in Indianapolis.

Meanwhile, cornerbacks like Jerraud Powers of the Colts, Jason McCourty of the Titans and Derek Cox of the Jaguars couldn’t find their way in because the pool at the position is pretty good.

So here’s the team. Blast away.

RTC: Are Texans a Super Bowl team?

September, 2, 2012
9/02/12
9:16
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Reading the coverage…

Can you fare better than a coin flip picking games against the spread? Prove it in a weekly pool with me and other AFC South blog readers. Create an entry and join us here.

Houston Texans

Houston Chronicle columnist Jerome Solomon has the Texans winning the Super Bowl.

Chronicle columnist Randy Harvey takes the other side and tells us why the Texans will not win it all.

Says the Chronicle’s Dale Robertson: “Since 1999, when the franchise formerly known as the Houston Oilers finally, and improbably, landed in the Super Bowl as the Tennessee Titans, a head coach has led his team into the playoffs for the first time on nearly 40 occasions. Yet only six of those teams took the next step the following year -- and just one of them, Pittsburgh in 2008, went on to win a title.”

John McClain of the Chronicle assesses the final 53.

A look at the Texans’ competition in the AFC South from McClain.

Trindon Holliday gives the Texans a special spark, says Nick Scurfield of the team’s website.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts used their No. 1 spot in the waiver claim order to add three players, says Phillip B. Wilson of the Indianapolis Star.

Cornerback Vontae Davis now has a second chance to get it right, says Michael Pointer of the Star.

Long snapper Justin Snow, the team’s longest tenured player, wasn’t surprised when he didn’t make the team, says Mike Chappell of the Star.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Coach Mike Mularkey’s heard rumors that Maurice Jones-Drew will show up, but he hasn’t heard directly from MJD, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times Union.

What’s ahead for the Jaguars? Links to all the Florida Times-Union’s preview section stories.

In Gene Frenette’s piece on Blaine Gabbert, guard Uche Nwaneri said this of the quarterback: “That’s the difference in Blaine from last year. He’s gained tons of composure in the pocket. It’s been very noticeable that he hasn’t gotten jittery. He’s not worried about what’s going on around him. He’s worried about doing his job. You can’t put a price tag on that.”

From Vito Stellino’s story on Mularkey in that section: “His knack of getting the players on board with his program without alienating them is a key component of his coaching style”

Jaguars scout Marty Miller shares his story of living with Parkinson's disease, from Ryan Robinson of Jaguars.com.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans are comfortable with just four wide receivers until Kenny Britt’s suspension is over, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

The Titans decided not to use the recall option on defensive lineman Leger Douzable when they put him on injured reserve, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Dan Koppen isn’t a guy the Titans are considering now that the Patriots have cut the center, says Glennon.

Reviewing the final 53 with Tom Gower of Total Titans.
Quick storylines and thoughts from the three preseason games I didn’t attend Thursday night.



Houston beat Minnesota 28-24


  • Trindon Holliday had his third return touchdown in four preseason games. He’s surely locked up a spot by now. If the Texans were to let him go, he’d get snatched up in a second by someone looking for a big boost to the return game. Maybe he’s finally got it all together.
  • Rashad Butler, who lost out on the starting right tackle job, is done for the year with a torn triceps, which could mean the Texans are in the market for a backup swing tackle in case something happens to left tackle Duane Brown or right tackle Derek Newton.
  • DeVier Posey impressively bounced off a couple tackles on his impressive 80-yard catch and run touchdown, a nice play from the guy who had the quietest preseason of the team’s three young receivers.

 

Indianapolis beat Cincinnati 20-16


  • Per Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star: They are 2-2 in preseason for first time since 2004. “Since 2005, they are 7-27 in games that don't count and are hard on the eyes.”
  • The leading passer, rusher and receiver for the Colts from this game will all likely be cut Friday. Chandler Harnish would have to prompt the Colts to keep a third quarterback. Deji Karim is the fifth running back. And Kris Adams seems more like a practice squad candidate.
  • Semi-alarming stats if it was a meaningful game: Ten penalties for 80 yards, something the Colts won’t be able to afford very often. Three fumbles, which are too many. A total of 36:47 on defense, which is too much. Eight punts in 14 possessions, also too many.
  • Will the two guys who missed tackles for the Bengals on the 42-yard TD by Dominique Jones that provided the winning margin even be in the league this year? Who know? Jones is going to be the Colts third tight end, at least at the start.

 

Jacksonville beat Atlanta 24-14


  • The Jaguars ran 45 times for 225 yards and got especially big nights from Keith Toston and Jalen Parmele accounted for 127 of the yards. How much credit they get for their yards against lower ranking Falcons defenders is hard to know. That helped the Jaguars hold the ball for 35:30, a great possession advantage.
  • Blaine Gabbert finished the preseason 36-for-59 for 355 yards, three touchdowns, no interceptions and two sacks. That adds up to a 95.0 passer rating. He had a clumsy fumble in the first game and a toss off the fullback at the start of this one. But the killer mistakes were way down.
  • Why did Laurent Robinson slow down when he was open and Gabbert put a good deep ball on him early? The two still have timing to work out. But that looked to be more about the receiver than thrower to me.

Previewing the preseason finales

August, 30, 2012
8/30/12
3:41
PM ET
Houston Texans

One big question: Can Trindon Holliday play mistake-free and complete a preseason resume good enough to force the team to keep him as a return specialist?

Gary Kubiak’s strategy: Play as few starters for as little as possible. Get out of Dodge, even if Dodge is Reliant Stadium.

The local take: While Kubiak would prefer to keep three quarterbacks, will questions at other positions allow for it? John McClain of the Houston Chronicle discusses it.

Indianapolis Colts

One big question: Can the offensive line provide better pass protection for Andrew Luck and bigger holes for the running backs?

Chuck Pagano’s strategy: After a poor showing last week, he’d really like to see his top people show the Colts can run and stop the run. He still has things he needs to gauge about his young team.

The local take: The Colts could keep four running backs and three safeties on their initial 53-man roster, says Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star in his projection.

Jacksonville Jaguars

One big question: Can Blaine Gabbert, the second-year quarterback who’s had a quality preseason, finish strong and keep the vibe upbeat as the Jaguars head toward their opener?

Mike Mularkey’s strategy: He’d like one long drive for the offense, but could send the starters out more than once if they don’t sustain much early. The starting defense will be on the field a couple times.

The local take: Five rookies on the bubble who can help themselves, from Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union. Linebacker Julian Stanford and receiver Kevin Elliott were two of the best undrafted rookies I saw during my camp tour.

Tennessee Titans

One big question: Can Jake Locker show at least a little more progress, and continue to build his confidence and the team’s confidence in him?

Mike Munchak’s strategy: While the Saints will sit plenty of people, the Titans are still looking for some work for their primary people who are healthy.

The local take: Running back/returner Darius Reynaud, defensive tackle Zach Clayton, receiver Michael Preston and tight end Brandon Barden are among the players who know they can help themselves with one last good impression, says Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Thoughts on Saints 34, Texans 27

August, 25, 2012
8/25/12
11:18
PM ET
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.
Reading the coverage…

Houston Texans

One takeaway from the Texans’ win over the 49ers: It’s looking more and more like wide receiver depth won’t be a problem, says John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Another big night for Trindon Holliday didn’t seem to get his coach too excited, writes Randy Harvey of the Chronicle. But steady Gary Kubiak doesn’t get too excited about anything.

Lestar Jean had a solid game and remains in the mix to be the team’s third wide receiver, says Tania Ganguli of the Chron.

Brian Cushing finished the game with sore ribs, says the Chronicle staff.

Matt Schaub was sharp in the Texans’ win, says Nate Dunlevy of Bleacher Report.

Derek Newton pass protected well, but his lack of agility as a run blocker was also on display, says Huy Nguyen of Toro Times in his game review.

Indianapolis Colts

The Colts got off to a great preseason start with their rout of the Rams. The challenge now is to produce a suitable encore Sunday night in Pittsburgh, which will be more difficult, writes Mike Chappell of the Indianapolis Star.

What to watch for when the Colts face the Steelers, from Conrad Brunner of 1070 The Fan.

There is nothing wrong with Andrew Luck’s arm strength and he’s dispelled the myth, says George Bremer of the Herald Bulletin.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Maurice Jones-Drew’s absence is “not a great concern” to Shah Khan, he told Michael Silver of Yahoo.

The Jaguars are making progress on the field at the same time they’ve got the stalemate with Jones-Drew, says Vito Stellino of the Florida Times-Union.

“The longer this holdout goes on, especially if the offense keeps looking respectable, the more awkward it becomes to redevelop that chemistry,” says Gene Frenette of the T-U about MJD.

Fred Taylor reached out to Tank Blank, whose crimes cost the former Jaguars running back millions, and forgave him, writes Eric Adelson of Yahoo.

Tennessee Titans

The timetable for a decision on the starting quarterback appears to have been pushed back, writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

David Climer of the Tennessean on Jake Locker against Tampa Bay: “It wasn’t that Locker just had a bad game. You can overcome that. But in his biggest career test thus far, he simply looked like he didn’t belong. He was badly off target in the passing game. He threw into traffic. He appeared completely rattled.”

Darius Reynaud may force the Titans to keep four running backs, says John Glennon of The Tennessean.

Thoughts on Texans 20, 49ers 9

August, 18, 2012
8/18/12
11:22
PM ET
Some brief, quick thoughts on the Texans following their 20-9 preseason win over the 49ers on Saturday night.


  • While we always do our best to emphasize how little we should read into what plays out in the preseason, the Texans hosted a talented team and had to like what they did. Houston looked like we now expect Houston to look. The Texans swarmed the quarterback, hitting Alex Smith far more than the 49ers would have liked. They stuffed a Kendall Hunter run on a fourth-and-1 that might have got the 49ers going. And the offense provided more than enough to make it feel like the result was never going to be in question. The three key players on offense all made nice contributions, as Matt Schaub hit on 11 of 14 passes for 128 yards and a touchdown, Andre Johnson caught a 43-yard pass from Schaub and Arian Foster made a very nice 24-yard run that showed his vision and skill.
  • We’re all going to start to run out of new ways to describe the Texans' pass rush, which was very good again while the top players on defense were in the game. They had first-half sacks by Tim Jamison and a Connor Barwin/Antonio Smith combo deal. But they did far more than that in terms of making Alex Smith aware of their presence and uncomfortable. One example: Antonio Smith beat quality guard Mike Iupati with a super-quick swim move inside and was up the middle on Alex Smith in no time. Antonio Smith was flagged for roughing -- and appeared to hit the quarterback in the head. Antonio Smith will surely seek to do the same thing in the future, just with a lower target.
  • The 49ers, meanwhile, were without two of their best pass-rushers, Aldon Smith and Ahmad Brooks. And a share of Schaub’s good play came with San Francisco’s backups in the game.
  • Johnson made a nice play on his deep reception. Schaub rolled right and threw back to the left where Johnson was with defenders Tramaine Brock and Trenton Robinson. Brock wasn’t badly positioned, but Johnson had a far better feel for what was unfolding, and crossed under the cornerback to haul in the reception.
  • Fullback James Casey did well on a short pass from Schaub on a third down. Casey had to come back to the ball and go to the ground. But no defender was in range, and he got up and scrambled for a conversion.
  • I wrote last week about Lestar Jean practice drops that concerned me. But he showed why the Texans remain high on him with a team-high four catches for 42 yards including a 9-yard TD on a shallow crossing route where he was granted far too much space by the defense.
  • Trindon Holliday didn’t have to do much but get to the right sideline and go for his 87-yard punt return touchdown. And it came against low-ranking 49ers who might not be in the league come opening day. But it’s the second return TD for Holliday in two weeks and certainly adds to his chances to make the team as a blazing return specialist.

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