Pressuring Houston's Matt Schaub early in the game will be a key for Tennessee on Sunday.
Hit him:Matt Schaub is banged up. He’s been sacked seven times over the past two games and has 48 pass attempts this season when either hit or under duress, fifth-most in the NFL. The Titans have to hit him to get Houston’s offense out of sync. Houston’s been starting off games pretty well, so Tennessee’s focus should be the old Al Davis mantra about hitting the quarterback early and hard to set a tone. The Texans' big-play potential is down significantly when they are without Andre Johnson. Without him, ESPN Stats and Information says the Texans are averaging 15 receptions per game on passes thrown 10 or fewer yards. Tennessee has to make them string together long drives, as the Texans can fall out of rhythm quickly.
How things change: The Colts started a season 6-0 four times in a five-season span from 2005-2009, including three straight from 2005-07. This season, they’ve started 0-6, their worst start to a season since 1997, when they began the year 0-10 and finished 3-13. That earned them the first overall pick in the 1998 NFL Draft, when they selected Peyton Manning. The past two regular-season Colts-Saints matchups have gone to Indy by a cumulative score of 96-31. But the Saints won 31-17 in the last head-to-head matchup in Super Bowl XLIV and are heavily favored Sunday night. Look for Drew Brees to find cornerbacks to pick on. Brees has thrown eight interceptions this season, but none on passes thrown at least 21 yards downfield. Surprisingly, the Colts have allowed only five completions on such throws, tied for seventh-fewest in the NFL. People are catching and running against Indianapolis, which has not tackled well.
Potentially bad ending: If the Jaguars find a way to hang with the Ravens into the fourth quarter Monday night, the way the teams are playing suggests Baltimore will pull away. The Ravens have outscored opponents 26-6 in the fourth quarter, and the Jaguars have been outscored 38-13 in the final quarter. Baltimore is averaging 29.6 points a game. The Jaguars have topped out at 20 points in a game this season.
One to watch: Titans cornerback Cortland Finnegan won’t line up across from Johnson in a rematch of last season’s slugfest, but he’ll likely still be an irritant. Finnegan and Derrick Mason share feisty personas and will surely match up in the slot when the Texans go three-wide. And Finnegan, who blitzes well as an outside cornerback, now lines up a lot closer to the quarterback on third down and is sure to get some runs at Schaub on Sunday at LP Field.
Overrating how bad things are: The Jaguars and Colts are not good teams, that’s obvious. After Texans-Titans, the division will still have only one winning team. Still, it’s way too early to declare the AFC South the worst division in the NFL. The Texans and Titans are both capable of contending for the division crown and are each capable of winning nine or 10 games. This is not going to wind up a 2011 version of the 2010 NFC West.