NFL Nation: D.J. Swearinger

Day one of free agency didn't feature any big moves by the Houston Texans, but it was an active day nonetheless. I'm still expecting changes through free agency, but more so after the initial craziness subsides.

Let's relive it, shall we?
  1. Johnson
    Johnson
    At some point in the day, former Texans receiver Andre Johnson (wow, that was weird to type) got on a plane and flew to Indianapolis with Frank Gore. Gore has already reached an agreement with the Colts. Johnson could follow soon, replacing his old friend Reggie Wayne, who was released by the Colts not long ago. Remember, Chuck Pagano recruited Johnson to Miami. Remember, too, that Johnson might say out loud that he has no ill will toward the Texans, but I'd bet he'd love the opportunity to see the Texans twice a year. The news sent some Texans fans into various states of panic.
  2. D.J. Swearinger's pit bull bit Jadeveon Clowney on the arm last week. The news came to light from Sports Radio 610 this morning, and I put in a couple of calls to see how big a deal this was. According to the Pearland Police Department, the injuries to Clowney were minor. A source close to Clowney corroborated that. Because it was a dog bite, though, Clowney did go to the hospital and per state law, the hospital had to call authorities to report the bite. Swearinger's dog's rabies shot is up to date until April, so Clowney is in the clear there, but they recommended a home quarantine of the dog. Would this be a story if these weren't the two players involved? Probably not. It'll have no impact on Clowney's football playing, and is far less important than updates on his knee recovery, which we last got at the combine.
  3. Ryan Mallett addressed the prospect of a quarterback competition. He's ready. And he has no doubt he can be the Texans' starter.
  4. Inside linebacker Bruce Carter is set to visit the Texans this week. He got to Tampa on Tuesday for a visit with the Buccaneers, so there's always a possibility he remains there. Carter has been a 4-3 outside linebacker recently, but before that played in a 3-4 system for the Cowboys in his first two seasons.
  5. The Brian Hoyer saga continued, with our Adams -- Caplan and Schefter -- reporting that after communicating with the Jets, Hoyer had decided to sign with the Texans. Hoyer's camp has insisted since then that his decision has not yet been made, but I'm willing to bet that has a lot to do with the league scolding teams not to complete deals before Tuesday at 3 p.m. CT, when the new league year opened. Hoyer came to Houston Tuesday night and a deal should be signed soon.
  6. The Texans extended inside linebacker Jeff Tarpinian, who was acquired during the 2013 season. He's made three starts for the Texans, tallying 31 tackles, one batted pass and half a sack. Tarpinian was a restricted free agent.
  7. The Texans tendered Case Keenum and then traded him to the St. Louis Rams for a 2016 seventh-round pick, Schefter reported. Incidentally, because of Mallett's injury, a 2016 seventh-rounder was all the Texans had to give up to the Patriots for Mallett. Now they get it back, and likely at a higher spot. I'm impressed the Texans got a return for Keenum, who they signed off the Rams' practice squad last season. The Texans do have a history lately of getting more than one might expect for quarterbacks.
  8. And, the Texans have interest in Vince Wilfork. He'd be a big solution for their need for a nose tackle.

PITTSBURGH -- When did the 21-point deluge at the end of the first half start?

Depends whom you ask, but the result was three touchdowns in just over a minute and a half, which sparked the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans.

Some thought it started with the short pass Ben Roethlisberger threw to Le'Veon Bell, which went for 43 yards on third-and-10 with 5:42 remaining in the second quarter.

"That sort of sparked it," Houston safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They ran a little play to the running back. We just didn't capitalize."

You could say it started with the two-play, 19-second drive -- a 28-yard pass and a 35-yard pass -- that led to Pittsburgh's first touchdown.

"Anytime you give up a score that quickly, the offense is going to take that momentum and run with it," linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "We didn't do a good job of staying the course. It was just one thing after another, play after play."

Danieal Manning thought it started on the ensuing kickoff, when he bobbled the ball and landed on it deep in his own territory.

"I just muffed the ball," Manning said. "Trying to return and run before I caught the ball. Every time you have the opportunity, you're going to want to make a play. But you can't run without the ball. You just can't do it."

In the span of 92 seconds, the Texans allowed three touchdowns, two of which were fueled by turnovers inside their own 10-yard line. It was the first time since 2012 (when the Texans did it to the Dolphins) that a team has scored three touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half. Prior to 2012, it hadn't happened since 2002.

The first touchdown -- Roethlisberger's 35-yard pass to Martavis Bryant, on which Bryant beat fellow rookie Andre Hal -- was on the defense. Kareem Jackson reminded Hal afterward that he needed to let that one go.

Then, the Texans' offense imploded.

"Just self-inflicted wounds," running back Arian Foster said. "We give the ball up twice in our own territory. Anytime you do that, teams are going to capitalize. [We] gotta be better."

After Manning's fumble pinned them deep, the Texans opted to pass the ball to Foster and gained only 1 yard. Next, they handed it to him, and after a lengthy review, the officials determined he had fumbled.

"I dropped it," Foster said when asked what happened.

Gaining confidence, the Steelers ran a play in which Roethlisberger flipped the ball back to receiver Antonio Brown, who threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore.

With that pass, a 13-point lead had turned into a four-point deficit. But the bad stretch wasn't over yet, though the Texans believed they were going to recover some momentum and head into halftime with some positivity.

"We were very confident going into that drive [at the end of the first half]," left tackle Duane Brown said.

But like everything else in this horrific stretch, the pass play the Texans called at their own 20-yard line with 1:08 left didn't work.

"We had the turnover on the possession before and went out there really just trying to get three points out of that drive," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "We had a decent play with Arian matched up, and it's not a good feeling to see the ball get tipped like that."

After the game, Fitzpatrick talked about the pass that hit Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, caromed off another player and bounced back to Keisel for an interception, one he returned 16 yards. With the ball at the Houston 8-yard line, the Steelers took two plays to score this time, as Bell caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger.

"Do stuff like that, [and] you don't win," receiver Andre Johnson said. "That's pretty much it."

Fitzpatrick called it miserable.

Jackson called it frustrating.

Swearinger chose a more active word.

"Crushed," he said.

It was just too much.

"We couldn't come back from it," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "Just too many turnovers. We had a hard time overcoming all those things."

Joseph, Fiedorowicz practice fully

September, 18, 2014
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HOUSTON -- Two Houston Texans moved from the limited participation list to the Texans' lengthy full participation list on today's injury report -- cornerback Johnathan Joseph (foot) and tight end C.J. Fiedorowicz (foot).

Fiedorowicz missed last week's game in Oakland. Earlier this week, Texans coach Bill O'Brien said it looked like Fiedorowicz would probably be ok to play, but they haven't made any final determinations yet.

Running back Arian Foster (hamstring), guard Ben Jones (ankle/knee) and safety D.J. Swearinger (elbow) were limited today, as they were yesterday.

Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney (knee), receiver DeAndre Hopkins (illness) and safety Shiloh Keo (calf) did not practice. Clowney actually made a brief appearance in the locker room during the open period today. He had a sleeve on his surgically repaired knee, but no brace, and didn't appear to have a limp. Clowney had arthroscopic knee surgery two weeks ago. Hopkins caught a bug, but is expected to play Sunday.

For the New York Giants, punter Steve Weatherford, who didn't practice yesterday, returned to practice on a limited basis. Linebacker Jon Beason (foot/ankle), receiver Odell Beckham (hamstring) and linebacker Devon Kennard (hamstring) did not practice. In addition to Weatherford, offensive tackles James Brewer (back) and Charles Brown (shoulder) were limited.

D.J. Swearinger remains himself

August, 24, 2014
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DENVER -- The target of Peyton Manning's taunting penalty was perhaps the least surprising thing about Saturday night's game.

"I get a lot of people mad at me," Texans safety D.J. Swearinger said. "That’s how I’ve been all my life. That’s why I am the way I am."

Swearinger
Broncos receiver Wes Welker made a nine-yard catch at the Texans' 38-yard line, halted by a big hit from Swearinger. The safety's shoulder collided with Welker's head, doling another concussion to the receiver, who had two last season. It angered Welker's quarterback, who let Swearinger know immediately.

One play later Manning threw a touchdown pass, then ran over to Swearinger again to offer what Swearinger called "choice words." The quarterback considered the ensuing 15-yard penalty well worth it.

Forget the discussion about that hit in particular, because that is a much broader one to have. Swearinger says he led with his shoulder and that's all he could do. The Broncos thought it was dirty. That's generally how these things go.

But Manning's focus on Swearinger was about more than just one hit.

"The week had something to do with it," Swearinger said. "Practice during the week and the hit had something to do with it."

These teams spent three days facing each other. Swearinger, who as a kid sought to be as smart of a football player as Manning, made sure Manning felt his presence with his words and his play. He picked off Manning in a drill on Wednesday, and shortly thereafter a mild fracas ensued.

"He's been a competitor all week at practice," Broncos receiver Emmanuel Sanders said. "We've been competing against him, and sometimes he lets his attitude get the most of him."

That attitude is something Swearinger considers an asset. It certainly can be. He uses it to rattle opponents; he wants them to be thinking about him rather than about what they're supposed to be doing.

That's where the tricky part comes.

Swearinger's edge makes him a better football player -- safeties have to be a little nuts sometimes -- and often a really fun one to watch. But that edge and enthusiasm can get him in trouble with the way game are officiated. He's been flagged for penalties enough to know that and has said he's working on figuring out ways to keep his swagger, only hidden from officials.

Will it work? Is it even possible? That's a major challenge for his career.

Camp Confidential: Houston Texans

August, 6, 2014
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HOUSTON -- Gone are the days off for veterans just because they're veterans.

Gone are the nights when only rookies are forced to stay in the team hotel throughout training camp.

No Texans are spared from coach Bill O'Brien's sharp tongue. None are spared from running a lap for a mental error.

And you know what? The players like it.

"I love it; it's great," 12-year veteran Andre Johnson said when asked about O'Brien's demeanor. "The one thing that I like about him, and I think that’s the thing when I first met him, he’s straight up with you. He will let you know what needs to be heard. He’s not just going to tell you what you want to hear. I love his demeanor; it’s fun. I think just his whole attitude and everything he brings is a lot of fun."

Accountability has taken precedence during this first Texans training camp of the O'Brien era. What it means for the season is yet unknown, but after a 2-14 campaign in 2013, it was clear things had to change in Houston.

It's the basis from which the team that won consecutive division championships not too long ago will crawl out of the league's cellar.

[+] EnlargeDeAndre Hopkins
AP Photo/David J. PhillipTexans receiver DeAndre Hopkins has shown soft hands throughout training camp.
THREE REASONS FOR OPTIMISM
  1. In his second season since being drafted in the first round, receiver DeAndre Hopkins' development seems to have taken a major step. The sure-handed leaping catches he made so often in college are becoming a staple of training camp. (Aside: It's crazy to think about those Clemson teams that had both Hopkins and Bills rookie Sammy Watkins. What an embarrassment of riches.) Hopkins' issues last season weren't based so much on ability as they were on precision. He seems on the right track this season. Johnson said it's clear Hopkins is playing with a lot of confidence, something that's critical for a receiver. What's even better is that his chemistry with quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick is improving regularly.
  2. Outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney has been working through the rehab process from his sports hernia surgery in June, which has limited what he can do during practices. When the staff has let Clowney loose, though, he is a lot of fun to watch. He's quick, powerful and fast. He will absolutely be a player for whom offenses have to account. When an offense is thinking about one player, that's a big advantage for a defense. Not to mention, opposing offenses were already having to keep an eye on defensive end J.J. Watt, who hasn't missed a beat.
  3. Two young players have made significant progress this offseason: right tackle Derek Newton and inside linebacker Justin Tuggle. Newton, the declared starter at the position, struggled last season, but based on what I've seen and heard during training camp this year, he'll be much better in pass protection this season. Tuggle was a quarterback four years ago (the successor to Cam Newton at Blinn College). The fact that he's played linebacker for such a short amount of time means even though he's improved tremendously in the past year, he still has a lot of room to grow. He's competing to be the Texans' starter next to Brian Cushing.
THREE REASONS FOR PESSIMISM
  1. The fact that Brandon Brooks is still on the Texans' non-football injury list is concerning. Brooks began training camp on the list for what appears to be a back injury. Brooks really came into his own at right guard last season. He's a player who had very high expectations because of that growth, and one the Texans need. Without him, the guard position starts to thin a bit.
  2. The Texans' quarterback situation is tenuous right now. I like the improvement I've seen from Fitzpatrick, but what we're watching right now does not quite simulate game conditions for quarterbacks since they can't be touched during practice. Fitzpatrick's issues in the past have had a lot to do with turnovers, and the decision-making process that leads to or prevents turnovers is hard to simulate in practice. Beyond Fitzpatrick, the depth at the position is concerning. Neither Case Keenum nor Tom Savage has shown during practice that they could be viable starters in case of an injury during the season. For Savage, it's part of the learning process. Nobody expects the raw but talented rookie to be ready just yet.
  3. Beyond a wily group of veterans, the Texans have a lot of unproven players they'll depend on defensively. When looking past Watt on the defensive line, there are more questions than answers. Who will play nose tackle? How will defensive end Jared Crick do in a starting role? Questions remain on the back end, too. This could be a big year for a lot of young players. But it's hard to know how they'll fare without any proof yet.
[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/David J. PhillipJ.J. Watt has taken the time to help his teammates with technique during camp.
OBSERVATION DECK

  • Whether it's linebackers coach Mike Vrabel running with his group after practice or defensive backs coach John Butler facing his players during drills to compensate for an odd number of cornerbacks, this Texans staff is particularly hands-on. It starts at the top with O'Brien, a coach who makes sure to be involved with every position on his team.
  • Safety D.J. Swearinger's goal this season is to create at least one game-changing play in each game, whether that's an interception, a forced fumble or even a pass breakup that leads to a turnover. Swearinger is getting started in practice, regularly intercepting the ball. And each time he does it, he runs it back to the opposite end zone, finishing with an ad-libbed celebratory flair.
  • Player-to-player coaching happens a lot, and Watt is embracing his growing role as a team leader in that fashion. During a recent practice, he stopped Jeoffrey Pagan during a drill to offer tips on moves to use.
  • A pair of receivers from Texas A&M are doing their best to make it difficult for the coaching staff to cut them. EZ Nwachukwu and Travis Labhart make very few mistakes. Nwachukwu's speed is apparent. His work on route-running has shown during this year's camp.
  • Undrafted rookie Chris Boswell and third-year kicker Randy Bullock are competing to be the Texans' kicker. That battle will be decided during the preseason. They've so far alternated kicking days, and both have made their fair share.

Texans Camp Report: Day 8

August, 2, 2014
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HOUSTON -- A daily review of the hot topics coming out of Houston Texans' training camp.


  • On the field it was DeAndre Hopkins day at Texans' training camp this morning. Every time I looked up, Hopkins was making another leaping catch. One particularly impressive one came during a red-zone drill in which quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick found Hopkins in the end zone. Hopkins caught the ball with cornerback Brandon Harris draped on him, then held onto it as Harris tried to wrestle it out of Hopkins' gigantic hands as the two of them fell to the ground.
  • And by the way, that red-zone drill was great to watch. Actual hitting! In training camp! "That's how it's supposed to be every day," Kareem Jackson said. "We're supposed to be out here competing as a team. The more we can go full speed and live and compete against each other in game-type situations, it'll only make us better when game time comes."
  • The winner for most entertaining moment of practice goes to an interception by D.J. Swearinger (swag with three g's). He picked off Fitzpatrick during a drill where a line of offensive players stood just behind watching. Swearinger went forward full speed, moved aside the onlookers in his way and ran toward the end zone, high-stepping into it once he got there. By the time he got back to the drill, the offense was already well on its way to its next play.
  • The winner for biggest cheer of the day goes to a Shane Lechler punt that Jadeveon Clowney blocked.
  • Backup quarterback Case Keenum has had good moments during camp, but one thing that's obvious is his first instinct is still to run out of trouble. That's something the Texans' current staff and previous staff tried to fix in his game.
  • Sunday morning's practice will be open to the media but closed to the public. The Texans will start at 8:30 a.m. and wrap up around 11 a.m. They'll do their usual afternoon walk-through, too, and that will be closed to fans and media.
We've done our best to track the increase in ACL injuries this season, most recently noting that the majority have occurred on grass. Our friends at ESPN Stats & Information expanded the research this week to include all knee injuries -- tendons, other ligaments, knee caps, etc. -- that have resulted in a player being placed on injured reserve.

The study produced larger numbers, of course, but supported the same basic conclusion: Knee injuries have increased in 2013 relative to this point over the past two seasons. I don't know that we're any closer to understanding the reason -- the data doesn't reflect the popular opinion blaming rules that encourage low hits -- but we will continue tracking nonetheless.

The chart is updated through Monday night's game. Among other things, it shows that knee injuries have sent more players to the IR than all of the 2011 season, based on ESPN research. The NFL would exceed its 2012 mark if 12 more players suffer the same fate over the next three weeks' worth of games.

As we've pointed out a few times, there is no golden metric for injuries. IR accounts only for the most serious of injuries, and sometimes players are waived off IR once their injury settlements expire. After the season, the NFL's competition committee will compile a collection of data that includes IR numbers, missed starts, missed practice time and other metrics to form an overall picture of the league's health situation.

The issue is in the news this week, and has been for much of the season, because of several high-profile injuries caused by intentionally low hits. The most recent victim is New England Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, who tore two knee ligaments last Sunday because of a low hit from Cleveland Browns safety T.J. Ward.

Ward mirrored comments made in August by Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger, whose low hit on Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller resulted in a traumatic knee injury. Both safeties said that stiff penalties and fines for hits to the head and neck area left them no choice but to tackle low.

Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb was injured on a similar hit by Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam, but the resulting broken leg isn't part of this study. Regardless, a review of the full list provided by ESPN Stats & Information doesn't reveal many more instances.

Several alternative theories have floated this season. Commissioner Roger Goodell said at a fan forum in London that some players might be choosing shoes that emphasize speed but sacrifice stability and thus protection from knee injuries. Meanwhile, Dr. Mark Adickes -- a former NFL player who is now an orthopedic surgeon -- said last month that reduced football training time in the spring and summer could make players more susceptible to ACL injuries.

We'll monitor these numbers during the next three weeks and into the offseason.

Double Coverage: Patriots at Texans

November, 29, 2013
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Andre Johnson and Chandler JonesUSA Today SportsAndre Johnson, left, and the Texans hope to surprise Chandler Jones and the Patriots.
HOUSTON -- The last time the Houston Texans faced the New England Patriots during the regular season, Houston was 11-1 and the hottest team in the league. To celebrate their youthful camaraderie, they ordered letterman jackets, the kind high school teams wear, and the jackets happened to come in right before the Patriots game.

That game marked a turning point for the Texans.

The timing of the jackets had nothing to do with the opponent; former Texans Connor Barwin and Shaun Cody were simply trying to create a tradition. That they lost so badly just after unveiling them turned the jackets into a punch line.

The Patriots won 42-14, and the Texans finished their season having lost three of their last four games. That meant losing the home-field advantage that seemed theirs before that game and led to another meeting with the Patriots in the divisional round of the playoffs. New England won again, 41-28.

It was a lesson for the Texans in what it takes to be a great team.

Heading into this season, many thought the Texans were positioned to be one of the top teams in the NFL. The Patriots seemed poised for a down year, by their standards, but here we are in Week 13 and they sit in their usual spot atop the AFC East.

ESPN.com Texans reporter Tania Ganguli and Patriots reporter Mike Reiss discuss the matchup.

Ganguli: Mike, how has the loss of so many of his top targets from last season impacted Patriots quarterback Tom Brady?

Reiss: We saw it impact Brady more significantly through the first eight games. But things have started to click the past two games, and it’s no coincidence that it coincides with tight end Rob Gronkowski's reaching a new level of comfort since his return Oct. 20, and running back Shane Vereen's coming off the injured reserve list. With those two joining receivers Aaron Dobson, Julian Edelman, Danny Amendola and Kenbrell Thompkins, the pass-catching corps has been as stocked as we’ve seen all season.

I know it’s been a down year for the Texans, but is J.J. Watt still creating havoc? Is that defense still tough?

Ganguli: Watt is still creating havoc. He has 9.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and four passes defensed. He is someone opposing offenses must track on every play. The Texans' defense has played well, but it has holes. On Sunday, the Jaguars had success with the matchup of receiver Cecil Shorts against cornerback Brandon Harris in the slot. Injuries to middle linebacker Brian Cushing and strong safety Danieal Manning have been particularly damaging. The Texans have statistically been much better with Cushing than without him since he was drafted. Their attempt to add some mental toughness with Ed Reed didn’t work as they had hoped, so two young players are starting at safety -- Shiloh Keo at free safety and D.J. Swearinger at strong safety. Swearinger is the Texans’ rookie second-round pick. He will be really good, but right now he’s learning a lot about playing at this level. They haven’t allowed a lot of yards, but have allowed too many points and not created enough turnovers.

Speaking of turnovers, as I watched Sunday night’s Patriots game against the Broncos, it seemed every time I looked up the Patriots had either committed or forced a turnover. What did you make of that? Was it an aberration?

Reiss: The forced turnovers were the norm, as the Patriots recently ended a streak of 36 games with at least one forced turnover (Nov. 18 vs. Carolina). The Patriots' committing turnovers was a little more out of character, although one of the pressing issues facing the club is what to do with lead running back Stevan Ridley (3 lost fumbles in the past three games). The Patriots are traditionally strong in turnover differential, and this season is no different, as they are plus-8 with 23 takeaways and 15 giveaways.

I know this probably comes out of left field, but how is the playing surface at Reliant Stadium? Patriots followers remember the last visit, in 2009, when Wes Welker tore his ACL. I saw a recent game, and it looks like there are patches of grass on the field with noticeable seams in certain parts.

Ganguli: Not out of left field at all. If the game you saw was the Texans’ Nov. 3 Sunday night game against the Indianapolis Colts, this was a major topic of conversation that night. The field looked pretty bad, mostly because there was a college game played on the same grass that week. They replaced the center of the field, but the outer grass was a mess. The University of Houston has played five games at Reliant Stadium this season while its stadium is being renovated. It has played most of them on field turf. The Cougars will play again on Friday morning, and none of the grass will be replaced between that game and the Texans-Patriots game Sunday. I believe the thinking is that will give it enough time to recover. Something to watch, though.

Let’s talk more about defense to wrap up here. Will Aqib Talib be assigned to Andre Johnson on Sunday? How do you think he’ll fare?

Reiss: That would make a lot of sense, as Talib has often been assigned the opponent’s top receiver. After a rocky game Nov. 18 against Carolina and Steve Smith, he was very good this past Sunday night against Demaryius Thomas in the 34-31 win against the Broncos. Talib has been key for the pass defense. Meanwhile, the loss of key players to season-ending injuries (defensive tackles Vince Wilfork and Tommy Kelly, and linebacker Jerod Mayo) has hurt the run defense at times, such as in the Broncos game. But they played a 4-2-5 nickel for most of the game, and I don’t think that will be as much of a factor against the Texans. The Patriots will probably be in their base defense more often, and they played well against the Panthers’ tough running attack in that package.

One thing I think Patriots followers would be interested to hear is what has happened to the Texans? How could a team go so quickly from the AFC divisional round of the playoffs and talking about “letterman” jackets to vying for the No. 1 pick in the draft?

Ganguli: Even with some of the missteps in the offseason, it would have been difficult to foresee this. There are a lot of issues, but I'll focus on the quarterback situation. The biggest mystery is what happened to quarterback Matt Schaub. He was never on the level of Brady, but he gave the Texans what they needed. He was consistent and productive. He actually played really well in leading comebacks against the San Diego Chargers and Tennessee Titans this season. That seems so long ago. The Texans' turnover margin has been among the worst in the league all season, and Schaub was part of that. He became the first quarterback in NFL history to throw pick-sixes in four consecutive games. He threw one on the first pass of the game against the San Francisco 49ers, and that game marked the only time this season Schaub played poorly from start to finish. There were myriad other problems, but Schaub lost his starting spot when he suffered a foot and ankle injury in Week 6. First-year quarterback Case Keenum took over, but his play hasn't meant victories. In his first three starts, he played well in the first half and not so well in the second half. His most recent game, against Jacksonville, was his worst of the season. Keenum threw for 169 yards, no touchdowns and one interception.

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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.
After a staggering weekend of injuries, @JTERIOS sent this question to the our Daily Rap chat: "It seems like a lot of acl's are being torn this year. Am I just now noticing, or is there an increase?"

At the time I was still seeking out documentation, but I have it now and it's as staggering as you might imagine. The bottom line: 30 players have already been placed on injured reserve this season because of confirmed torn ACLs, a pace that has already exceeded the total for all of 2011 and has nearly done the same for 2012.

That's right. In all of 2011, according to StatsPass.com via ESPN Stats & Information, confirmed ACL injuries sent 25 players to injured reserve. The figure was 32 in 2012. Those numbers do not include players who suffered a torn ACL but were waived/injured rather than placed on injured reserve.

(Special thanks to ESPN researcher Rachel Eldridge for researching and cross-checking this information.)

Even if this year's pace slows, which everyone hopes it does, the 2013 season is well on its way to producing the highest frequency of confirmed torn ACL injuries in recent memory. Those numbers are indisputable. The more difficult question is understanding why.

Two theories jump to mind, but neither are perfect by any means.

First, the continuing focus on eliminating helmet-to-helmet contact has in at least some cases prompted defenders to direct their contact to the lower legs. In the most high-profile incident, Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller tore his ACL and two other ligaments when Houston Texans defensive back D.J. Swearinger hit him low in a preseason game.

League officials have said they will monitor the frequency of leg injuries in conjunction with their efforts to discourage head shots. The ACL figures, of course, don't include injuries such as the one Green Bay Packers receiver Randall Cobb suffered in Week 6, when he broke his leg on a low hit from Baltimore Ravens safety Matt Elam.

But any close observer would also note the frequency of non-contact ACL injuries this year, starting in training camp and bringing us to a second theory making its rounds among NFL teams. Have new limitations on offseason football work left players less conditioned for it when training camp arrives? Cardiovascular and muscle strength are important, but some traditionalists have suggested that football activities place unique trauma on the body, leaving ligaments more vulnerable to injury when not exposed to football movements over extended periods of time.

If that's the case, we'll see a drop-off in torn ACLs, at least in non-contact instances, as the season progresses and ligaments are re-conditioned to football movements. I'm sure there are other potential explanations as well. But there is no disputing the facts. Your eyes have not deceived you: ACL injuries are in fact occurring at a high rate this season.

D.J. Swearinger gets his chance

October, 18, 2013
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HOUSTON -- Safety D.J. Swearinger doubled over with laughter when I reminded him of one of the best stories about his high school days.

Swearinger
There was a sophomore goofing off in the locker room before a big game during Swearinger's senior year. Two of his Greenwood High School teammates, including Texans defensive end Sam Montgomery, told Swearinger what was happening. Swearinger walked over to the kid and told him to calm down. He told him three times and then the kid piped up to tell Swearinger he couldn't talk to him like that.

"My reflex, I just hit him with a little smack," Swearinger said. "That’s all she wrote. He played good."

The Texans rookie has been a leader in every step of his football career. Now he'll get a chance to become one on the highest level of the sport. Swearinger will make his first NFL start this week in Kansas City in place of Danieal Manning, who suffered a knee injury and is having surgery today. Manning went on injured reserve this week.

When the Texans waited for free safety Ed Reed to be ready to play, they started Shiloh Keo in his place. The assumption then was that Swearinger, the Texans' second-round draft pick, wasn't ready yet. On Thursday Texans defensive coordinator Wade Phillips said the actual reason was that Swearinger's natural position is strong safety, not free safety.

"He plays fast," Phillips said. "He’s a quick learner. He makes mistakes but he corrects them. Whenever it is, in the game or practice, whenever, he’s really gotten better and better as he’s gone along. I think he’s ready to play so that’s a good thing for us."

Since he arrived in Houston, Swearinger's confidence has impressed his teammates and coaches. He practiced like a veteran.

But he's learning one thing about leadership at this level. It takes actions, not words.

"It’s like starting over again," Swearinger said. "Having to earn your stripes, earn your respect. Making plays to be the leader. You gotta do stuff to be a leader in this locker room."

Hoping players can police low hits

August, 27, 2013
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There is a fundamental difference between the two high-profile low hits we've seen this preseason, and together they illustrate the NFL's complicated path in overhauling legal contact between opposing players.

Earlier this month, Miami Dolphins tight end Dustin Keller suffered a career-threatening knee injury after a low hit by Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. Afterward, Swearinger said he struck Keller's knee because of the NFL's updated rules on hits to the head.

Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Kevin Williams hyperextended his knee Sunday night when San Francisco 49ers offensive lineman Joe Looney went low on a peel-back block. The NFL has not commented on the play, and as colleague Mike Sando wrote, it didn't appear to violate league rules as currently written.

The NFL's competition committee could propose next winter to ban all direct hits to the knee, as NFL operations chief Ray Anderson told The Associated Press. But typically such changes are based on data that suggest a growing trend, and only one of these two hits would apply.

Head-to-head contact is not a problem in blocks, so Looney's hit can't be viewed as a reaction to the league's updated rules. Perhaps it was uncalled for, but it will be an outlier in any study on low hits this season.

In order for the NFL to take measures against low hits, it will need to see a sizable uptick in plays like the one Swearinger made. Frankly, the devastating nature of Keller's injury -- he tore three ligaments and dislocated his kneecap -- likely has built an unofficial boundary around direct knee shots. At least I hope it has.

Otherwise, the league will be left to further limit legal contact, a tricky task to say the least. Chicago Bears linebacker Lance Briggs recently joked that the legal contact area for a ball carrier is now the navel and below. If the league takes action on direct hits to the knee, it'll be much smaller. In this case, you hope players can police themselves.
IRVING, Texas – As a big-hitting safety, Barry Church can empathize with Texans rookie D.J. Swearinger.

Swearinger, a second-round pick out of South Carolina, has become somewhat infamous because of a controversial hit that wrecked Dustin Keller’s knee, putting the Dolphins tight end out for the season. Swearinger’s explanation was that safeties have no choice but to aim low when receivers come across the middle because of NFL rules that strictly penalize shots to the head.

“It’s definitely a tough situation that they put us in,” Church said. “If you hit up high, you’re getting fined about $20,000. Nobody wants to lose that. If you hit too low, you’re jeopardizing somebody getting injured, so you’ve got to aim between the chest and the knee.

“But that’s hard. When you’re coming flying 100 miles per hour and they’re ducking their head as well, you don’t want to hit helmet to helmet with them, so you try to go even lower and you risk the injury. At the end of the day, it’s part of the game. If you’re playing inside the rules and you can’t hit high and you’re going low, I see no problem with it.”

The worst thing a safety can do is approach such collisions with hesitation. As Church said, that’s a good way to miss a tackle and get cussed out by your coaches.

Church, like former Cowboys greats such as Cliff Harris and Darren Woodson, takes great pride in punishing receivers who come across the middle. That intimidation factor is a critical element of playing the position, particularly for a safety like Church who wasn’t gifted with great speed.

“You’ve just got to shoot your gun and hope injury doesn’t get involved with it,” Church said. “Once you get a big hit on them, they’re looking. They get alligator arms. When the ball goes up in the air, they short-arm it because they don’t want to get it.

“Making them feel your presence around the middle is huge. It’s huge.”

It’s become a lot harder to do legally with today’s NFL rules.

Briggs: Bostic fined $21K for hit

August, 21, 2013
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CHICAGO – Chicago Bears rookie middle linebacker Jon Bostic is apparently lighter in the wallet after the crushing preseason hit he put on San Diego Chargers wide receiver Mike Willie last week at Soldier Field.

Bears' starting weakside linebacker Lance Briggs tweeted on Wednesday morning from his Twitter account (@LanceBriggs), “Shaking my head moment. NFL fines Jon Bostic 21K for his clean hit against the Chargers.”

Briggs went on to Tweet, “Bostic's s hit illegal. Hit on Dustin Keller. Legal.”

Keller, a tight end for the Miami Dolphins, suffered a season-ending knee injury in the preseason on a low tackle by Houston Texans safety D.J. Swearinger. The hit is legal by NFL standards.

Bostic’s targeted Willie’s chest region on a short pass to the right on the third play of the third quarter that was ruled incomplete last week in the Bears’ 33-28 victory over the Chargers. Bostic was not flagged on the play.

The rookie out of Florida is scheduled to earn a $405,000 base salary in 2013 in addition to a $1,246,036 signing bonus. He can appeal the fine.

Bostic has been working as the Bears’ No. 1 middle linebacker since veteran D.J. Williams suffered a calf injury at the beginning of training camp.

Brian Hartline's anger is misguided

August, 20, 2013
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MIAMI -- Miami Dolphins receiver Brian Hartline lashed out at Houston Texans rookie safety D.J. Swearinger on Tuesday after Swearinger delivered a low blow that ended the season of Miami tight end Dustin Keller.

Hartline
Hartline called Swearinger’s explanation for diving at Keller's knee in a preseason game “crap.” As a result of Swearinger's hit, Keller reportedly suffered a torn ACL, MCL, PCL and a dislocated kneecap. He was put on injured reserve by the Dolphins on Tuesday.

“It’s crap,” Hartline said on the “Joe Rose Show” on WQAM in South Florida. “I think that, me personally, if you’re sitting there telling me ‘I’m worried about going high and for the head,’ [that] you consciously went low, then [that] is what you’re trying to tell me.”

But Hartline’s anger toward Swearinger is misguided. Hartline and other offensive players should be more concerned with the NFL's potential to create a growing “low-hit culture” in the league.

The NFL and commissioner Roger Goodell are taking a stance that reducing head injuries is the league’s biggest priority. Large fines and suspensions loom for defenders who risk tackling high. The natural by-product is more NFL defenders will hit low to avoid penalties and fines. Swearinger’s hit on Keller is one example -- and it was within the rules.

There is no perfect answer on this low-hit debate. Preventing concussions and head injuries are important, but season-ending leg injuries also are hard to bounce back from. This is another tough dilemma facing the NFL.

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