NFL Nation: Bryan Braman

Eagles offseason wrap-up

May, 22, 2014
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» NFC Wrap: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South » Grades

With free agency and the draft in the rearview mirror and training camp just a couple of months away, we assess the Philadelphia Eagles' offseason moves.

Best move: The Eagles have lacked a hard-hitting safety since Brian Dawkins left via free agency after the 2008 season. They went out and signed free agent Malcolm Jenkins from the New Orleans Saints. Jairus Byrd and T.J. Ward were available, but Jenkins looks to be a perfect fit in the Eagles’ defensive scheme. Jenkins can cover speedy wide receivers, intercept passes and make the big hit. Jenkins’ skills will allow the cornerbacks more freedom, and the entire defense will reap the benefits.

[+] EnlargeMarcus Smith
Matt Slocum/AP PhotoTeam president Don Smolenski (left) and coach Chip Kelly present the Eagles' newest LB, Marcus Smith.
Riskiest move: Drafting Louisville linebacker Marcus Smith with the No. 26 pick in the first round has to be questioned. The Eagles easily could have gotten Smith in the second round and possibly later. Smith is a quality pass-rusher who registered 14.5 sacks and 18.5 tackles for loss as a senior. Can he become a dangerous player in the NFL? Was he worth a first-round pick? Those questions will soon be answered. This much is known: The Eagles needed another quality pass-rusher.

Most surprising move: It has to be the release of three-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeSean Jackson. The Eagles must find a way to replace Jackson’s 82 receptions, 1,332 yards and nine touchdowns, not to mention his downfield speed. While the Eagles selected Vanderbilt’s Jordan Matthews in the second round and Oregon’s Josh Huff in the third round, they’re not at Jackson’s level. If the Eagles get off to a slow start, the decision to cut Jackson will become even more magnified.

Under-the-radar move: Special teams was a problem area last season, but the Eagles recognized it with a number of moves in the offseason. Adding cornerback Nolan Carroll, safety Chris Maragos and linebacker Bryan Braman didn’t light up the headlines, but they’re all quality special-teams players who will automatically enhance that unit. The Eagles’ draft class is unique because the players all have special-teams skills. Look for the Eagles to be much-improved on special teams in 2014.
During the past week seven former Houston Texans -- six on defense -- became unrestricted free agents and signed with other teams. Defensive tackle Earl Mitchell signed with the Dolphins, defensive end Antonio Smith signed with the Raiders, inside linebackers Darryl Sharpton signed with Washington and Joe Mays signed with the Chiefs, outside linebacker Bryan Braman with the Eagles, and backup nose tackle Terrell McClain signed with the Cowboys. There was also Ben Tate's defection to the Cleveland Browns, a move rumored for several months.

But the Texans haven't been losing players so much as they've been letting them go.

Smith
Tate
Tate
The clearest example of this came with Smith, a starter for all five seasons he spent with Houston.

"The feel I got from the Texans was a feel of a third-down rusher coming off the bench," Smith told Mark Berman of Fox 26. Smith received an affordable two-year deal worth $9 million.

Tate wasn't a guy the Texans wanted to bring back, preferring to go with Arian Foster, a draft pick and a young player from the gaggle of them they have now. He only received $6.2 million over three years from the Browns to be their starter, according to reports of the NFLPA's records. By comparison, the Texans are paying their starting running back $6.25 million this year, including his roster bonus, on a contract that averages $8.7 million per year.

The high number of defensive departures might have a lot to do with a changing system, but it makes clear that there will be a degree of rebuilding for the Texans next season.

The Texans' plan is yet unfolding, and a lot of it will involve toughening up the current roster. But you can't let go of four starters (we'll count both Mays and Sharpton as starters since they did for most of the season) without admitting that. Add to it the Texans' likelihood to have a new starter at quarterback in September, and possibly a new right tackle and left guard, and you have quite a bit of change.
IRVING, Texas -- About three days into free agency and the Dallas Cowboys are not a better team today than they were on Monday.

They cut DeMarcus Ware. They cut Miles Austin. They have signed two defensive linemen in Jeremy Mincey and Terrell McClain that figure to be rotation parts, not cornerstone pieces.

Meanwhile elsewhere in the NFC East …

The Philadelphia Eagles have added Malcom Jenkins and Noland Carroll and traded for Darren Sproles. The Eagles also did some nice special teams' shopping with Chris Maragos and Bryan Braman and also re-signed their punter, Donnie Jones.

The New York Giants added a piece to their offensive line in Geoff Schwartz and brought in running back Rashad Jennings. The key move, however, was re-signing linebacker Jon Beason. They backed out of a deal with O'Brien Schofield.

The Washington Redskins have added wide receiver Andre Roberts, guard Shawn Lauvao and linebacker/special teamer Adam Hayward. Bruce Campbell is a low-risk help to the offensive line.

Too often we get caught up in the splashes in free agency only to see them not live up to the billing down the road.

Before free agency started Stephen Jones said the Cowboys would be efficient with their spending in free agency. To see them sit back and wait should not be surprising, but that doesn't mean fans can't be aggravated.

There are good players still to be had. The Cowboys could still re-sign Jason Hatcher or add Henry Melton. While they can afford both, I don't think signing both would make sense. They could keep Anthony Spencer and hope his repaired knee comes around. They could take fliers on some of the bigger names you want if those prices come down as free agency rolls along.

As maddening as the 8-8 finishes have been, the Cowboys have been the only team in the NFC East to compete for a division title the last three years. It's a hollow accomplishment for sure, especially when stacked up against the franchise's history, but spending for spending sake is not the best solution.

There is a plan and it has to be more than Mincey and McClain, right?

Roughing the punter reviewable after all

November, 5, 2013
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INDIANAPOLIS -- It's a good thing the no call on what should have been a roughing the kicker penalty in the first half of their game against the Houston Texans didn't cost the Indianapolis Colts the game Sunday night.

Colts punter Pat McAfee managed to get a punt off despite Texans linebacker Bryan Braman running him over and never touching the ball. Pagano said he was told the play was not reviewable Sunday night. It turns out the play is actually reviewable Pagano and a league official said Monday. The Colts coach was made aware of that just minutes prior to meeting with the media Monday evening.

“You never want to jump the gun with those things,” Pagano said. “That's why you ask. I was told that it's not challengeable. I guess they came back and talking to our people and looking back on it, there is something in the rule book there that says you can apparently. We're going to investigate it further and make sure I don't miss that (again).”

Upon Further Review: Colts Week 9

November, 4, 2013
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HOUSTON -- An examination of five topics from the Indianapolis Colts' 27-24 victory over the Houston Texans:

[+] EnlargeAndrew Luck
Thomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesAndrew Luck and the Colts had a much better second half Sunday night.
Adjusting to the rush: Colts quarterback Andrew Luck had a difficult time when the Texans rushed four or fewer players in the first half. He was only 2-of-8 and was pressured on 56 percent of his dropbacks (5-of-9) in the half. Luck handled the pressure better in the second half. He was 10-of-16 for two touchdowns and averaged 10.4 yards an attempt. “Tale of two halves,” Luck said. “They were beating our butts fair and square. We made some mistakes, but they’re the No. 1 defense from our perspective.”

Finally slowing Johnson: Texans receiver Andre Johnson looked like he was going to challenge Detroit receiver Calvin Johnson’s 329 yards when he had his way against Indianapolis' secondary during a seven-catch, 190-yard performance in the first half. The Colts held Johnson to only two catches for 39 yards in the second half. “We switched it up some in the second half,” Colts cornerback Vontae Davis said. “It’s a 60-minute game. We’re a bunch of guys who have been in the league for a number of years. We know it’s not over until it’s over. It’s about making adjustments.”

No rushing: To no surprise, the Colts finished with a season-low 69 yards rushing. Donald Brown picked up 24 of those yards on a run in the first half. The Colts went away from their ground game in the second half. They rushed the ball only one time prior to their final offensive series, when they ran it on three consecutive plays to try to eat up some clock. "We didn’t want to totally abandon the run game but we felt like the offensive guys did a great job, [offensive coordinator] Pep [Hamilton] did a great job changing the tempo a little bit,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano said. “Did a little bit more up-tempo and give our guys a chance to make some plays.”

More Luck and Hilton: Second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton found a rhythm with Luck in the second half after letting his quarterback down in the first half. Hilton had 115 of his 121 yards in the second. Luck was 3-of-3 for 78 yards and two touchdowns when targeting Hilton under standard pressure in the second half. There’s only one Reggie Wayne, but Hilton proved Sunday night that he plans to do his best to try to fill the void left behind by the veteran receiver because of his season-ending knee injury.

Barely got it off: Not even Colts punter Pat McAfee could explain how he got a punt off with Bryan Braman of the Texans flying at him. The officials did not call a penalty on Braman despite the fact he ran into McAfee and didn't touch the ball on his block attempt. “I seriously don’t know,” McAfee said. “I couldn’t see the ball, I do know that. I think I was just swinging for whatever was there and I just happened to hit the ball. Obviously it’s much better than getting it blocked to the house. But we have to clean up some stuff.” McAfee dropped the ball on a punt attempt on the play prior to his collision with Braman. The Colts punter picked the ball up and eluded a defender to get off a 55-yard punt. That play was called back because of an illegal player downfield. “I was going to run for it but I saw too many humans that are way more athletic than me,” McAfee said.

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

November, 3, 2013
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HOUSTON -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 27-24 victory against the Houston Texans at Reliant Stadium:

What it means: Reggie Wayne or not, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck simply knows how to win. Luck shook off a brutal first half that saw him constantly pressured, and his receivers didn’t do him any favors by dropping passes, but he rebounded to pick up his 10th come-from-behind victory in just 24 NFL games. All three of Luck’s touchdown passes were to second-year receiver T.Y. Hilton, who said he had to step up in Wayne’s absence. Luck was only 3-of-12 for 56 yards in the first half. He responded by going 15-of-28 for 215 yards and three touchdowns in the second half. Hilton finished with seven catches for 121 yards.

Stock watch: Texans receiver Andre Johnson had his way against the Colts' secondary in the first half. Vontae Davis, Cassius Vaughn, Antoine Bethea and Darrius Butler all were burned by Johnson at one point in the half. Johnson had seven catches for 190 yards and three touchdowns in the first half. The Colts did a better job on Johnson in the second half, when he had two catches for 25 yards.

Special teams experience: It was interesting first half on special teams for the Colts. Texans defensive lineman J.J. Watt blocked Adam Vinatieri's 42-yard field. D.J. Swearinger picked up the loose ball and ran it back 37 yards before Pat McAfee made the touchdown-saving tackle. McAfee dropped the snap on a punt two series later, gathered the ball, eluded the defender and got the ball off for a 55-yard punt. The play ended up not counting because the Colts had an ineligible player down field. It’s not over yet. McAfee managed to get the punt off on the next play despite Bryan Braman running into him. Replays showed the officials missed a roughing the kicker penalty on the play, because Braman didn’t touch the ball on the play. The Colts thought they recovered a Keshawn Martin fumble on a kickoff, but the play was reversed because the officials ruled that LaVon Brazill was out of bounds.

What’s next: The Colts return home to host the St. Louis Rams at Lucas Oil Stadium on Nov. 10.
Personality-wise, Connor Barwin was one of the most affable, likeable guys in all of the AFC South.

Production-wise, after a big drop-off from 2011 to 2012, we’re going to have to wait and see.

Tania Ganguli of the Houston Chronicle reports that Barwin's six-year deal with the Eagles is worth $36 million, with incentives that can lift the value to $40 million. That’s close to what the Texans offered him before the 2012 season, she adds.

That’s a great payday for a guy who will have plenty of chances to rush the passer in Philadelphia’s new 3-4 defense.

The team he left behind had the foresight to draft a first-round outside linebacker last year. Whitney Mercilus didn’t force the Texans to play him as much as the team and player would have liked, but he did get to show off some pass-rushing skill. He will have to fare better against the run.

And Houston will need to draft another outside linebacker, a spot that is a regular restock position for plenty of 3-4 teams. Bryan Braman is a fan favorite for his work on special teams but has not looked comfortable or ready when given a chance on defense.

The Texans got insufficient pass rush from everyone on defense except J.J. Watt last season. Brooks Reed, Mercilus and whoever else lines up on the edge will find plenty of one-on-one matchups they have to win.

It’s unfortunate that the Texans are in a position in which free-agent defections affect what they do in the draft. But losing Glover Quin and Barwin means they have to restock with a safety and an outside linebacker, even if veteran safety Ed Reed joins the team.

They have to have contingency plans for an aging veteran and develop someone for when he’s done.

How the Texans stack up to the Ravens

February, 4, 2013
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In the AFC South, only the Houston Texans faced the eventual Super Bowl champion Baltimore Ravens in 2012.

On Oct. 21, 2012, the Texans crushed the Ravens 43-13 at Reliant Stadium.

It qualifies as ancient history in a league where things can change dramatically week to week.

The Texans peaked early, and the win over the Ravens was big for the Houston franchise, which was less than a year removed from a playoff loss in Baltimore.

That regular-season win was every bit as dominant as the score indicates. Houston outgained the Ravens 420 yards to 176, held the ball for 38:16 and played great on third down on both sides of the ball.

Matt Schaub outplayed Joe Flacco and Arian Foster outplayed Ray Rice. The Texans also got big plays from cornerback Johnathan Joseph (a 52-yard interception return for a touchdown), defensive end Antonio Smith (back-to-back sacks) and special-teamer Bryan Braman (who recovered a surprise onside kick).

It’s nice to be able to say you beat the eventual Super Bowl champs, but ultimately the season isn’t about Week 7. So how do the Texans really stand up to the Ravens?

Some areas to consider ...

Peak timing: The Texans bolted to an 11-1 record but faltered big time from there and didn’t recover from late struggles in the regular season to play at a high level in a divisional round playoff game in New England. The Ravens, meanwhile, had a worse regular-season finish than the Texans. Baltimore lost four of its last five games down the stretch. But they recovered starting with a home win over Indianapolis in the wild-card round and took flight from there.

Taking on top quarterbacks: During the regular season, the Ravens beat Tom Brady and Eli Manning. Their playoff run saw them beat Peyton Manning and Brady in consecutive weeks. The Texans did beat Peyton Manning, but they generally struggled against top quarterbacks -- losing regular-season games to Aaron Rodgers and Brady, then seeing their season end in the playoffs against Brady again.

Quarterback play: Both Schaub and Flacco went into training camp with contracts set to expire after the season. The Texans got a four-year extension done with Schaub just before the season started. It’s worth $62 million, with $24.75 million guaranteed. Flacco played out the year, knowing at worst he’d wind up with a franchise tag and at best he’d wind up having the sort of year that prompted his team to give him a giant deal. Schaub petered out late in the season and didn’t raise his game when things got more important. Flacco, meanwhile, went head to head with some future Hall of Famers. As a Super Bowl winner, he’s now in line for a monster deal.

Injuries: While the Ravens lost an excellent cornerback in Lardarius Webb, they got key defensive starters Terrell Suggs and Ray Lewis back from injuries along the way. Houston ultimately missed Brian Cushing badly and Joseph’s play dropped off in a season where he was hampered by leg injuries.

Options: The Texans' offense is different than Baltimore’s. But the Ravens got giant plays from their two top receivers in the playoffs, with Torrey Smith getting behind defenders for huge plays and Anquan Boldin consistently fighting for, and winning, balls in the air. Beyond Andre Johnson, the Texans simply didn’t have a second receiver who was threatening in a similar fashion.

Big adjustments: It took a while for the move to pay off, but Baltimore boldly made a late-season change at offensive coordinator, firing Cam Cameron and replacing him with Jim Caldwell. Caldwell found an excellent play-calling rhythm in the postseason. With that change came a late shuffle of the offensive line, and moving people around up front paid big dividends. The Texans didn’t require any firings or big shuffling. But the Ravens were willing to take some risks and got big payoffs. It’s hard to look at Houston’s season and find any big risk-reward decisions.

AFC South wrap: The division in 2012

December, 27, 2012
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NFC Season Wraps: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five things to know and my all-division team.

Division MVP: J.J. Watt, defensive end, Houston Texans. I’ve never seen someone so disruptive up front. The guy’s got the complete package. He’s incredibly instinctive, knowing when to stop rushing and pull up, looking to bat down a pass. He also understands the lane into which a quarterback might be looking to throw. He simply manhandles some blockers -- swimming past them, bowling them backward, speeding around them or knifing between two guys. Some blockers have had absolutely no answer for him, and even if a team tried to take plays as far away from him as possible, he often tracked those plays and got involved in stopping them.

[+] EnlargeJJ Watt
Brett Davis/US PresswireJ.J. Watt needs two more sacks to tie Michael Strahan's record of 22.5 sacks in a season.
Early in the season he talked about wanting to redefine the 3-4 end position, which hasn’t traditionally been a stat position. Later Antonio Smith pointed out how often Watt is really lining up at tackle. He’s not likely to win MVP based on what the league’s best quarterbacks and Adrian Peterson (despite my thinking that the running back is not worthy of the award) are doing. But his ability to push an offense backward so often has been a tremendous factor in an excellent season for the Texans. The other three teams would be wise to reinforce their offensive lines, because it’s reasonable to expect Watt will be a handful for protections and run blocking for years to come.

Biggest disappointment: The pass rushes of the Jaguars and the Titans required offseason attention. Neither team did enough to find a way to disrupt opposing quarterbacks consistently. The Jaguars go into the final game of the season with the worst sacks-per-play average in the NFL and a total of only 18 sacks. Jacksonville’s big addition was second-round pick Andre Branch, who couldn’t hold onto a starting job and finished with one sack in 12 games and is on IR. The Jags played nine games in which they produced either one sack or no sacks. Tennessee has 32 sacks and is close to the middle of the pack. But it’s not enough for a defense with a lot of kids in the back seven and bad safety play. Tennessee got better results than Jacksonville from its newcomer, free-agent signee Kamerion Wimbley (five sacks), but he didn’t offer the game-to-game and play-to-play threat Tennessee so desperately needed.

Joe Cullen’s been in place for three seasons as Jacksonville’s defensive line coach. He’s a good coach and motivator, but he did not get the production the defense had to have. His counterpart in Nashville, Tracy Rocker, came from Auburn in 2011 and hasn’t proved to be an effective NFL position coach. Pass-rush coach Keith Millard was brought in to help the rush and the blitz, but it’s hard to see a major difference as a result of his presence. The Titans got shredded by the best quarterbacks they faced, from Tom Brady on opening day to Aaron Rodgers last week.

Offensive player of the year, rookie of the year, fourth-quarter player of the year: Andrew Luck has thrown too many interceptions in his rookie season. His stat line is hardly cause for a parade. He dug himself some holes. But leading his team to 10 wins, seven of them in comeback fashion, and getting into the playoffs does a lot to reduce the importance of those turnovers. He showed a great talent for climbing out of those holes. He was capable of digesting everything the first time around, handling Bruce Arians’ very vertical offense, the absence of coach Chuck Pagano, an often ineffective defense and a less-than-watertight offensive line with aplomb.

Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson have strong cases for the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year award, which may never have been so hotly contested. We may see all three rookie quarterbacks in the playoffs. In the AFC South, Luck is the quarterback who was asked to do the most from the start, and he was the quarterback who did the most. Rookie receiver T.Y. Hilton is already a good player for the Colts. If you took Hilton and put him on the Titans or the Jaguars, how would he fare? Nowhere near as well as he fared playing with Luck in their first years in the NFL, I feel certain.

Worst injuries: The Jaguars really suffered because Daryl Smith and Clint Session were absent from the linebacking corps. Smith just returned last week from a groin injury and Session never made it back from multiple concussions suffered in 2011, his first season in Jacksonville. The corners all took turns missing time, and safety Dwight Lowery played only nine games. The loss of playmakers really dented a defense that plummeted in the rankings from 2011 to 2012.

Tennessee’s offensive line was not good enough, and revamping the interior needs to be a major offseason priority. The Titans lost starting center Eugene Amano in the preseason and right guard Leroy Harris halfway through the year. For the last quarter of the season, they were also down left guard Steve Hutchinson and right tackle David Stewart. It’s hard for them to give Jake Locker a real chance playing behind a line with four reserves. Still, he could have shown far more in his chances when he was healthy.

The division’s two worst teams lost a lot of time with their young quarterbacks, too. Locker missed five games with a shoulder injury, and Blaine Gabbert played through a shoulder injury before adding a forearm issue that ended his season after 10 games. Looking ahead to 2013, the status of each as a long-term answer is not what it once was.

[+] EnlargeBruce Arians
Greg M. Cooper/USA TODAY Sports Bruce Arians stepped in for coach Chuck Pagano and led a team coming off a two-win season to the playoffs.
Coaches of the year: Pagano and Arians of the Colts. It's been a storybook season for Indianapolis, which rallied around Pagano. He learned he had leukemia after just three games and handed the team to Arians while he underwent treatment. His fight gave the team a purpose, and it responded by playing better than the sum of its parts. Behind the scenes, Pagano was more involved than many might imagine.

But it was Arians conveying the messages, overseeing the game-planning, leading and, as offensive coordinator, calling the plays. He did a masterful job in overseeing the team, the offense and the rookie quarterback. Now, with Pagano back in place, he’ll drift into the background. He’s 60, which will work against his getting a head-coaching job. His work, however, should earn him consideration for some of the jobs that are about to open. That was quite an audition. And just about every team hiring a coach will need a quarterback developer.

ALL-DIVISION TEAM

I want to emphasize one thing about this All-AFC South Team. Wade Smith is measured against the division’s left guards, not against the rest of the selections. There are miles between Smith as a player and Watt as a player, and if we measure a guard against a defensive end who’s the division MVP, things look askew.

One I’ll get crushed for: Many of you argued with me on Twitter when I wrote that I would take Luck over Matt Schaub as the third Pro Bowl quarterback, so I am sure you won’t like the choice of quarterback here. Luck struggled more than Schaub, for sure. But he was asked to do far more than Schaub and produced seven comeback wins, leading a team that’s really lacking in talent to an improbable playoff spot. There were no expectations for the Colts, and Luck and the team delivered. There were huge expectations on the Texans, and Schaub and the team delivered. My gut continues to prefer Luck’s year. That doesn’t mean I dislike what Schaub’s done.

Just misses: Titans defensive end Derrick Morgan, Texans outside linebacker Brooks Reed, Jaguars cornerback Derek Cox, Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.

J.J. Watt AP Photo/Eric GayTexans defensive end J.J. Watt sacks Colts QB Andrew Luck in the first quarter of Sunday's game.
HOUSTON -- While eight-year veteran linebacker Barrett Ruud was out of the league, he caught the Texans’ Week 5 win against the Jets on "Monday Night Football."

On the telecast he heard his old coach from Tampa Bay, ESPN commentator Jon Gruden, assess J.J. Watt.

“He said he thought [Watt] was the best player at any position in the NFL,” Ruud said. “You could maybe put Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, but I don’t think anybody else is even in the same category.

“Gruden is pretty sharp. I played for the guy. He’ll say some weird things. But when it comes to football he doesn’t exaggerate too much."

The Texans signed Ruud just a few days after that game, and Sunday he joined Watt in celebrating a 29-17 win over the Colts that gave Houston its second consecutive AFC South title.

“I’ve watched [Watt] since I’ve been here,” Ruud said. “His bad games are better than anybody else’s good games. It’s pretty impressive. ...It’s almost comical how much he took over this game.”

Leading into Sunday's game, Watt was like the rest of America: A sad citizen trying to come to grips with the elementary school massacre that took place Friday in Newtown, Conn.

He scribbled Newtown on his cleats to do a little bit to honor victims, families and first-responders, then had perhaps his best game of a stellar season.

Watt had 10 tackles, six of them for a loss, including three sacks. He also forced a Mewelde Moore fumble at the Texans’ 1-yard line.

He had fun, he said. While he’s thrilled to have the division wrapped up, bigger things await, he hopes. He declined to classify Sunday’s work as his best of the year.

“There were a couple plays I left on the field,” he said. “I know I missed two sacks.”

If that wasn’t his best, what was?

“Probably the first Jacksonville game,” he said. “I only played 37 plays but I went out there and had a couple good ones.”

The Colts don’t have a very good offensive line. It’s not a position they had many resources to address as they reshaped their roster. As they bid unsuccessfully for their 10th win in a surprising season, they were down two starters, center Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice.

Watt did much of his damage against the interior of Joe Reitz, A.Q. Shipley and Mike McGlynn.

On a third-and-20 from the Indianapolis 34 in the third quarter, Watt moved McGlynn aside and blew past him so quickly it appear he surprised himself -- overrunning quarterback Andrew Luck, who threw incomplete.

“He’s a good player, obviously,” McGlynn said. “Got to look at the film. We play them again in a couple weeks and we’ve got to neutralize him. They do some good things schematically that lets their D-line go ahead and pass rush."

“He’s one of the premier D-tackles in the league and we just didn’t do a good enough job executing on our blocks,” Reitz said. “Obviously we let him get loose a couple times. ...He’s got a lot of different moves, power and speed and quickness. He’s a big guy in there. They have as good of a front as there is in the league.”

Praise of Watt has been effusive this season, and leading into last week’s loss to the Patriots, Bill Belichick added Antonio Smith to the conversation. But minus inside linebacker Brian Cushing for the season and outside linebacker Brooks Reed for a stretch, it’s been some time since the front seven made such an impression and earned such a rave.

Out of the series where Watt had a tackle for a loss, the Colts scored one field goal and the Texans got a blocked punt from Bryan Braman, who returned it 8 yards for a score. The home team was actually plus-4.

On the 10 plays where Watt was credited with a tackle or sack by game statisticians, the Colts had just two positive plays: A 1-yard run by Vick Ballard and a 3-yard scramble by Luck.

For years, AFC South teams looked at how the Colts operated with Peyton Manning and drafted with an emphasis on running backs who could help them play keep-away and defensive backs who increased their chances of slowing one of the NFL's best quarterbacks.

Luck may wind up dictating some of the same things.

But the three teams of the AFC South looking to end a two-year reign by the Texans would be wise to raise the value they put on interior offensive linemen going forward.

"You need elite offensive line play to block elite defensive linemen like Watt with any consistency," Colts general manager Ryan Grigson said. "If you don't play near-perfect from a technique standpoint, he will eat you alive. Six-foot-six, 290 with motor and instincts. A true game wrecker."

“I’ve been preparing my whole life for this stuff and it’s just starting to come to fruition,” Watt said. “One thing I’m excited about is that it’s not over. I have a lot of football left and there is so much better I can get. I can get those two sacks. I can go out there and play better and the fun is just beginning.”

Smith plays opposite Watt on the Texans’ three-man line. I wrote early in the year about Watt’s goals for redefining the position of 3-4 end.

But when the Texans go into nickel, Watt is really playing tackle.

Reitz called Watt a tackle. So does Smith.

“We’ve got him labeled as a defensive end, so everybody is judging him on the measuring stick as an end, but he’s beating two guys every play to get to 20 sacks,” Smith said. “He’s not out on the edge free on one guy every time. ...He might end up ending the season with the most tackles out of a defensive lineman and the most sacks. Where have you heard of that before? I’ve never heard of it.”

Before the season Watt shared some goals with Smith, who told him, “I hope you get them.”

“I turned around and I was like, ‘He’s never going to get that,’” Smith said. “A tackle has never gotten those kind of numbers. But he put the numbers down. He believed in them. And I think he’s going to make them.”

HOUSTON -- Bryan Braman bailed Quintin Demps out of his first mistake.

After the Texans' third safety dropped a sure pick, Braman blocked a Pat McAfee punt, eventually spotted the ball, pulled it in and slid into the end zone before he was touched.

But the Colts got the ball back with 1:39 remaining, which was enough time for Demps to make another crucial error. T.Y. Hilton ran a deep route right at him, then cut inside and ran on by, pulling in a 61-yard touchdown pass lofted up by Andrew Luck.

That made it 20-10 in favor of the Texans at the end of an eventful first half.

J.J. Watt was absolutely electric, with two sacks and a couple of tackles for loss against the Colts' overmatched offensive line.

The Colts have come back from plenty of second-half deficits before.

Not many of those comebacks have come against a defense with a stud like Watt wreaking havoc up front.

Indianapolis will get the ball to start the second half with a chance to make it a one-score game.

Has Barwin cost himself a lot of money?

November, 28, 2012
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The Texans have said over and over this season that while Connor Barwin’s sack production is down from last year, the outside linebacker is playing well.

On Thanksgiving, he jumped from his weakside linebacker spot to the strong side when Brooks Reed went down with a groin injury, and he’ll stay there while Reed is out for a while recovering from the injury.

I hardly think Barwin’s been terrible. But one big theme with the Texans right now is that they need more pressure, more consistently from places other than J.J. Watt. Barwin should be leading that charge. Instead, he’s got only two sacks. His 10 tackles for a loss and 13 quarterback hits rank behind only Watt on the Texans.

Barwin is a smart guy and I am sure he’s able to compartmentalize.

Still, somewhere in the back of his head it has to crop up that he’s costing himself a lot of money this season. The Texans had a contract offer on the table for him before the season and he decided not to sign it.

Pro Football Focus, which rates players on every snap, has Barwin 27th in its ratings of outside linebackers in 3-4 schemes. Last year he was 19th. But his rating was minus-4.6 in 2011 and is minus-5.8 now, not a gigantic difference.

After the season, as he approaches free agency, the deal the Texans present is unlikely to be as good as that last one. He was coming off a team-leading 11.5-sack season then.

His agent is sure to pull out comments like this one from Gary Kubiak, from his conference call with Nashville reporters this morning.

“I think he has played well,” Kubiak said. “I do know that the numbers aren’t there like they were last year. But his effort and his consistency as a player and the way he grades out every week it’s been every bit as good as last year.

“We’re asking him to do something new, he played like 70-plus at the Sam position, switched positions right in the middle of the game last week. A lot of that’s on us and what he’s had to do. What we get from him every week has been consistent and I think the other things will take care of themselves.”

Rookie first-round draft pick Whitney Mercilus will be playing in Barwin’s regular weakside spot while Reed is out, probably about three weeks. Bryan Braman will see action as the third outside linebacker.

If those two fare well, it’ll show the Texans how expendable Barwin may be in the harsh realities of the NFL. General manager Rick Smith has shown he’s not afraid to let key people walk.

And Barwin’s best chance to cash in may wind up coming elsewhere.

Neither side is thinking much about that now, since the Texans are nearing the home stretch of what might turn into a dream season.

All-AFC South midseason team

November, 7, 2012
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NFC Midseason Teams: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Don’t look down.

First let me explain. The 2012 All-AFC South midseason team is built on an undulating foundation. Over on the left of the offense, for example, left tackle Duane Brown is on super solid footing even though the division’s three other left tackles -- Michael Roos, Eugene Monroe and Anthony Castonzo -- are all quite good.

Reggie Wayne, Arian Foster, J.J. Watt, Paul Posluszny and Danieal Manning all made it here without much debate from this panel of one.

Barring two awful games clearly impacted by a groin injury, Johnathan Joseph would be a no-brainer, too.

Others position were much tougher.

Winston Justice has pass-protected well, but the Colts' right tackle wins by default because David Stewart has had penalty problems, the Texans are playing two guys and Cameron Bradfield in Jacksonville has not impressed me.

The ground beneath some other spots is significantly lower. Overall four teams provide a small pool and ours includes one very bad and one pretty bad team.

I expect the quarterback choice will produce objections from Texans. Matt Schaub is having a fine and efficient season. But Andrew Luck has been extraordinary, leading a much less talented offense and team to improbable playoff contention.

Executive decisions:

I was tempted to run a three-wide offense, but I went two-tight. I’m not a big fullback guy. Craig Stevens is a legitimate blocking tight end who’s helped sparked the Titans’ run-game revival.

I like to use a 12-man defense to account for two 4-3s and two 3-4s, but finding it thin at defensive tackle, I went where the talent took me. Jurrell Casey is a good player who's been stunted by injuries.

Rapid Reaction: Packers 42, Texans 24

October, 14, 2012
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HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Houston Texans' 42-24 blowout loss to the Green Bay Packers at Reliant Stadium Sunday night:

What it means: The Texans can be susceptible to a talented and desperate team with a top-flight quarterback. Houston didn’t adjust well in its first game without inside linebacker Brian Cushing, lost for the season to a torn ACL suffered Monday night against the Jets. Star cornerback Johnathan Joseph didn’t look like himself for the second week in a row. The Texans are still three wins up on Indianapolis and Tennessee in the AFC South.

What I didn’t like: The defensive effort was atrocious. Yes, Rodgers was back to the form that won him MVP last season. But he threw for 338 yards and six touchdowns, three to Jordy Nelson, two to James Jones and one to Tom Crabtree. (Graham Harrell replaced Rodgers late in the fourth quarter.) Houston rushed OK in spurts, but generally did little to throw Rodgers off his game. Texans fans got out of Reliant Stadium in a hurry, leaving Packers fans to send a “Go Pack, Go” chant around the venue.

What I liked: The Texans managed to get Andre Johnson back in the flow with eight catches for 75 yards. He’s been under-utilized lately, so it was nice to see him back. In the fourth quarter, Johnson topped 10,000 career receiving yards. He did it in his 128th game, the sixth-fastest player to the mark in NFL history.

Injury concerns: Right guard Antoine Caldwell, who yields time some to rookie Ben Jones as part of a rotation, was knocked out of the game with a concussion.

Special teams: Penalties were an issue for the Texans on special teams. They did get a late blocked punt by Bryan Braman, which DeVier Posey recovered for a touchdown.

What’s next: The Texans host another giant game as the Baltimore Ravens come to town. The Texans were knocked out of last season’s playoffs a game short of the AFC title game by the Ravens in Baltimore and the two figure to be prime candidates for home field advantage through the playoffs.
The Texans' first unofficial depth chart, released in advance of their preseason opener at Carolina on Saturday, contains no huge surprises.

Teams generally defer, at this stage, to the veteran over the rookie -- if not in the rotation or play time, at least on paper.

Here are a few items of note:

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