NFL Nation: Derrick Ward

Plenty of carries to go around in Indy

September, 24, 2013
INDIANAPOLIS -- The obvious question after Indianapolis Colts running back Ahmad Bradshaw bruised his way to 95 yards on 19 carries against the San Francisco 49ers was: How will the carries be divided up once Trent Richardson finds his rhythm?

Don’t worry, there's enough carries to go around for everybody. Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will make sure of that.

A lot of media members -- that includes me -- thought Hamilton was just being nice last week when he said nobody will get left out in the backfield. Turns out he was right. Bradshaw was on the field for 30 plays and Richardson got 28 plays against San Francisco. Those two helped the Colts rush for 179 yards in their win.

Richardson will likely end up with more carries than Bradshaw but it won't be by an overwhelming number.

[+] EnlargeAhmad Bradshaw
AP Photo/Marcio Jose SanchezAhmad Bradshaw responded to the Trent Richardson trade by having his best game of the season, gaining 95 yards.
What Bradshaw has proved so far in his short stint with the Colts is that he’s still effective. That’s good news for the Colts because they plan to pound the ball down their opponent’s throat on the ground as much as possible. They'll need multiple backs in order to do that the entire season. What also can’t be forgotten is that an established running game reduces the number of times quarterback Andrew Luck gets hit.

“You know what? That’s how he’s played ever since he’s been in the league, to be honest with you,” coach Chuck Pagano said about Bradshaw. “He runs angry, as we always talk about. He’s got a chip on his shoulder and he’s running that way. He prepares extremely hard. He just wants to win. He knows if he runs that way, he’s going to give our team the best opportunity to win. That’s just how he’s wired and that’s just in his DNA. He doesn’t know any different.”

The addition of Richardson helps a rushing attack that was already effective in its first two games prior to his arrival. The Colts are fourth in the league in rushing at 146.3 yards a game.

Bradshaw’s not in foreign territory when it comes to having to share the load in the backfield. He did it with Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward and David Wilson at different times during his six seasons with the New York Giants.

“When you’re able to run the ball like that, it does frustrate a defense,” left tackle Anthony Castonzo said. “I know it helps me out, especially on the edges. It frustrates defensive ends that they can’t just rush the passer all day. It kind of keeps us as the attacker and the fact that we’re able to be multi-dimensional and I imagine that was frustrating for the defense.”
Thoughtful piece here from Paul Schwartz, with the help of former New York Giants tackle Luke Petitgout, on the Giants' preference for parting ways with players before those players lose their effectiveness. At the end of the week in which the Giants cut two-time Super Bowl-winning running back Ahmad Bradshaw, as well as linebacker Michael Boley and defensive tackle Chris Canty, Petitgout remembers his own experience and sees it reflected in what's going on now:
“The Giants are a family,’’ Petitgout said. “It’s something tough to accept, like when a girlfriend dumps you. They know when your time is up. Some guys may buck the trend and have a good couple years after that but if you’ve been there a long time, they know your medical history, they know your aches and pains, they usually make the right decision. I basically had a time bomb in my back and when I went to Tampa it went off. The Giants knew what they were doing.’’
[+] EnlargeAhmad Bradshaw
Jim O'Connor/USA TODAY SportsThe Giants parted ways this week with Ahmad Bradshaw, who was their leading rusher the past three seasons.
It cannot have been easy for GM Jerry Reese to say goodbye to Bradshaw, who played through significant pain to help deliver the team's Super Bowl title last year. But between Bradshaw's salary and the chronic foot injuries that kept him from practicing during the week or playing at full strength on Sundays, the Giants believed it was the right thing to do. It's not the first time they've cut a player while he was still an effective producer for them, and if Bradshaw's best days are behind him, it won't be the first time the Giants cut a still-productive player just in time:
Reese is rarely wrong. As a former scout, his eye for talent isn’t confined to youngsters. Steve Smith and Kevin Boss haven’t done a thing and haven’t stayed healthy. He traded away Jeremy Shockey. He did not re-sign Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward or Amani Toomer. He cut Shaun O'Hara, Rich Seubert and Kareem McKenzie. He didn’t think Antonio Pierce's neck was sound enough to continue playing. He passed on bringing back Plaxico Burress. In the same purge that caught Petitgout, Reese also jettisoned Carlos Emmons and LaVar Arrington. Did any of these players prove Reese wrong?

Pretty amazing list. Combine this idea with what we wrote about here Thursday -- the Giants' organizational belief in developing young players in their system so they're ready to take over when it's time for the veterans to go -- and it's easy to see that Reese has a definite plan and is sticking to it. Will it work? No way to know. If the Giants are in something of a rebuild mode, they're going to need many of their young players to be as good as the team thought they'd be when it drafted them. And not even Reese, with all of his track record, can predict how players are going to play. The point is, even as things change with the Giants and people come and go, it's still easy to see the consistency with which they operate, and it has served them well.

New-age Bucs facing former coach

August, 29, 2012
It’s a meaningless final preseason game, but Wednesday night’s exhibition between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Washington Redskins at least has one good storyline.

The Bucs (or at least what’s left of last year’s team) will face their former head coach, Raheem Morris, who now is the defensive backs coach for the Redskins.

[+] EnlargeRaheem Morris
AP Photo/Ben LiebenbergRaheem Morris will coach against his former team Wednesday night.
A lot of things have changed since the Bucs lost their final 10 games of last season and hired Greg Schiano, but it doesn’t sound like Morris has changed all that much. Check out Rick Stroud’s story in which Morris does what he does best ... and worst. He talks a lot, perhaps way too much.

“We were getting fitted for coach of the year rings [in 2010],’’ Morris said. “A year later, we weren’t disciplined enough.’’

That’s vintage Morris. I don’t know too many other head coaches that would be bragging about finishing second in the voting for coach of the year after a 2010 season in which a young team obviously caught some lucky breaks and went 10-6, but didn’t make the playoffs. Morris mentioned the runner-up finish in that meaningless election several times while he still was in Tampa Bay and, even then, it was obvious that he was trying to make it sound like he had arrived before he truly had.

Back in his Tampa Bay days, Morris liked to talk about how much he liked his youthful team and its desire, coining the word “Youngry." Now, he’s coming across differently, admitting that he called Mark Dominik after the Bucs went on a spending spree in free agency in March.

“I gave him some nice choice words,’’ Morris said, adding that Dominik treated the call as playful banter.

That’s nice, but Morris is at least giving the impression that he’s a little bitter the Bucs didn’t spend big money on free agents while he was there, even though he frequently talked about the importance of building through the draft. The part about not signing free agents was true in his final year, but not the entire time. The Bucs did sign some free agents earlier in his tenure and they didn’t work out (see Derrick Ward). Maybe the fact guys like Ward didn’t work out was Morris’ fault, maybe it was Dominik’s fault or maybe it was a combination of the two. But there was plenty of evidence Morris didn’t always do his homework. Just think back to the fact that original offensive coordinator Jeff Jagodzinski didn’t make it through his first training camp and initial defensive coordinator Jim Bates didn’t make it through the first season.

Look, I like Morris. He’s a genuinely nice guy and I think he will be a good head coach someday. He has plenty of positive qualities. But he needs to be a little more introspective on his time in Tampa Bay and realize some of the mistakes he made.

The fact is, the Bucs made Morris a head coach long before he was ready. He’s 36 now and he’s in a spot where he can do what he does best -- coach defensive backs.

In the process, maybe Morris can also grow by looking back and making some small changes, like focusing more on details and learning to tone down the bravado.

If he does that, Morris can then take the next logical step and become a defensive coordinator somewhere. Do that for a few years, have some success, stay humble about that success and he might get another chance as a head coach.

Mature a little in the process and he might be ready for success the second time around.
Strong safety Adrian Wilson cast his recent contract extension as a move to finish his career with the Arizona Cardinals.

A salary reduction for 2012 was also part of the agreement.

Along similar lines, I'd like to know what the St. Louis Rams' Steven Jackson has in mind when he suggests an extension could be in the works for him as well.

Protecting the interests of all parties can be a challenge when great players are nearing the latter stages of their careers. Jackson, like Wilson, would ideally finish his career with St. Louis. He has plenty to offer in the short term, but there's no reason for the Rams to make a meaningful commitment beyond Jackson's current deal.

Jackson is scheduled to earn $7 million in 2012 and again in 2013, the final two years of his contract. He'll be 31 years old when the deal expires. How much longer than that does Jackson plan to play? How much longer than that will the Rams want to pay him? How long can Jackson remain productive?

The market for 31-year-old halfbacks barely exists. Jackson might become an exception, but the Rams should not realistically bet that will be the case.

NFL teams entered Week 1 last season with seven halfbacks age 31 or older at that time: Ricky Williams, Thomas Jones, LaDainian Tomlinson, Chester Taylor, Larry Johnson, Maurice Morris and Derrick Ward. Those players combined for 16 regular-season starts. Retirement awaits some of them now.

Jackson has plenty to offer in the shorter term. Unlike many high-profile players, he has played well enough to justify the high salaries awaiting him late in his contract. His current deal seems appropriate for what Jackson has to offer and what the future probably holds -- a couple more good seasons for the Rams' all-time rushing leader.
Early thoughts on the Texans scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13, with thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive rights and restricted free agents.

Running back Derrick Ward -- A third-stringer who has good experience and could be important if Arian Foster is lured away with an offer sheet as a restricted free agent.

Tight end Joel Dreessen -- Though largely underrated from the outside, he’s been a nice contributor and certainly has value for the Texans.

OG Mike Brisiel -- A solid starter they’d surely like to keep in order for their very good offensive line to remain intact.

C Chris Myers -- A very valuable cog in the machine and a great system fit, he may have been the best center in the NFL in 2011.

Wide receiver Bryant Johnson -- He was a non-factor as the team’s fourth receiver and they need to upgrade the spot.

Linebacker Tim Dobbins -- Played well when he got on the field, but may find better opportunity elsewhere.

Outside linebacker/defensive end Mario Williams -- If the Texans can’t lock him up before March 13, he will become the biggest prize of the free-agent class. It would be a huge accomplishment to find a way to re-sign him.

Cornerback Jason Allen -- He’s been a virtual “co-starter” with Kareem Jackson and has typically outplayed him. But based on this list, he’s not close to a priority.

Kicker Neil Rackers -- Rackers has been a steady guy for the Texans, who surely would like to keep him rather than shopping for a replacement.

Also UFAs:
James CaseyThomas B. Shea/Getty ImagesVersatile James Casey, left, and the Texans showed off their depth Sunday against the Titans.
HOUSTON -- The Texans sought to restore order and momentum in their season finale, while avoiding any more of the injury misfortune that’s beset them all season long.

Despite suffering a 23-22 loss to the Tennessee Titans at Reliant Stadium, the team seemed to achieve those goals and is now ready to turn to its first postseason. As the No. 3 seed, the Texans will host the Cincinnati Bengals.

“Nobody’s disappointed,” said receiver Andre Johnson, who estimated he played 15 snaps as he worked back from a hamstring injury. “Of course we wanted to win the game. We didn’t come out on top, but there is next week. Some teams don’t have next week. We have next week.”

“Those first couple drives, we kind of had that swagger back a little bit,” said quarterback T.J. Yates, who left the game with a bruise of his non-throwing shoulder in the first quarter. “Everybody was aggressive, flying around, very talkative on the sideline. It felt like we were back to normal out there.”

A postseason appearance is definitely not normal for the Texans. Houston has an NFL playoff game for the first time since 1993.

Here are some things we learned along the way on Week 17’s game between the division’s two best teams:

Texans fullback James Casey remains a weapon: He’s not your standard fullback. The converted tight end started the Texans' first five games, then missed a couple with a chest injury and never got back ahead of the more traditional Lawrence Vickers.

But Casey’s really more of a pass-catcher than a blocker by nature, and the Titans did poorly in figuring out how to stop him from getting free for seven receptions on seven targets for a team-high 91 yards.

Casey helped get the Texans in range for one of Neil Rackers’ field goals with a brilliant catch, keeping the ball in the air with a left-handed tip before diving to collect it.

“We were lining up in different formations with different personnel, and as a defense it’s kind of hard to understand exactly what we’re going to do,” Casey said. “Because we’re not just doing base things. We’re motioning all over the place. They don’t know if I’m fullback or tight end. It’s tough sometimes for them to set their blitzes or their coverage. Hopefully you can get guys out of spots, out of gaps in the run game and out of their zones in the pass game and try to take advantage of that.”

Next week, with Johnson playing full time and Owen Daniels and Arian Foster back in the lineup, odds are Casey qualifies as only the fourth- or fifth-best receiving option when he’s on the field.

“James has some crazy hands,” Johnson said. “He’s probably the guy I’ve seen make the most one-handed catches. His hands are very, very good, I think he has the best hands on this team. I don’t know who has the best in the league, but I think he’s right up there.”

The Texans are quite deep: Typically a team that scratches key starters like Foster, Daniels and cornerback Johnathan Joseph for a game that doesn’t have great meaning, is willing to yield some. Especially if it doesn’t jump out to a lead.

And the Texans have proven all season they have quality depth, as they’ve replaced defensive end Mario Williams, quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, punter Brett Hartmann and linebacker Daryl Sharpton, and played stretches without Johnson, safety Danieal Manning and guard Mike Brisiel.

Sunday as they rested some guys and pulled others early, they called on even more depth.

Beyond Casey, the Texans got solid contributions from a lot of role players like receiver Bryant Johnson, running back Derrick Ward and linebackers Tim Dobbins and Bryan Braman, along with quarterback Jake Delhomme.

“It says we have quality players all across this locker room,” Foster said. “We have guys that can play.”

Said Titans receiver Nate Washington: “This is a new Texans team that they take pride in. Even their backups come in there and they are playing hard. They’re going to make plays. We have to find a better way to close out those games.”

One piece of depth they were missing: a center behind Chris Myers who could make a quality shotgun snap in the clutch. The Texans could have won it with a 2-point conversion at the end, but guard Thomas Austin put the shotgun snap over Delhomme’s head at the end of the game. Kubiak said Austin had snapped enough that it shouldn’t have been an issue.

Kubiak understands a “meaningless” game: He’s never been a playoff head coach before, but he’s been part of a lot of good teams. That’s why he didn’t hesitate after Bryant Johnson’s 5-yard touchdown reception with 14 second left to keep his offense on the field for a 2-point try.

Even after Joel Dreessen’s false start, Kubiak stuck with it.

He wanted a win, sure, but he wanted overtime even less.

It was a smart call and the right call, even if Tennessee defensive end Derrick Morgan didn’t agree.

“I understand they want to get the game over with, but after they false started and they still went for 2, I was like, ‘Wow,’” he said. “That’s a slap in the face. But they botched the snap, so whatever.”
HOUSTON -- A couple halftime thoughts from Reliant Stadium, where the Titans lead the Texans 13-10.
  • The Titans smartly came out with something different, using shotgun with an empty backfield. They had great success with it early, but seemed to sag when it didn’t lead to a touchdown drive right out of the gate. An injury to receiver Damian Williams that’s knocked him from the game may force them to use it less than they’d like the rest of the way.
  • Houston’s front is great. The Texans swarmed against a good pass-protecting offensive line and produced two Antonio Smith sacks of Matt Hasselbeck. The linemen and linebackers just come from a different spot on every play. I think that pass rush is going to key them in the playoffs.
  • Jake Delhomme got away with a very bad throw late in the second quarter. Cornerback Jason McCourty would have probably gone for a touchdown if he didn’t flub the pass like a man who had casts on two broken hands.
  • Receiver Donnie Avery benefitted from Williams’ injury and caught the Titans' touchdown on a smartly designed play. Tennessee bunched three receivers right, then had Hasselbeck throw to Avery against Jason Allen on the left from the 1-yard line. It was Avery's first catch of the year.
  • The Texans should pound it with running backs Ben Tate and Derrick Ward in the second half. I think they can break the Titans' defense that way, and that the Titans could be frustrated they aren’t having an easier time considering Houston didn’t dress Arian Foster, Johnathan Joseph or Owen Daniels.
  • I thought rules dictated teams announce in-game injuries. But the Texans have not said what prompted T.J. Yates’ trip to the locker room and exit from the game. And the Titans took a long, long time before finally revealing at the half that Williams has a rib injury and his return is questionable.

Wrap-up: Texans 37, Buccaneers 9

November, 13, 2011
Thoughts on Tampa Bay Buccaneers' 37-9 loss to the Houston Texas on Sunday at Raymond James Stadium:

What it means: The Buccaneers have been searching for an identity all season. Looks like they finally found it. They are a mediocre team with problems in a lot of places on offense and defense. They’re 4-5 and have to face the Super Bowl champion Green Bay Packers next. Coach Raheem Morris has been saying all year that his team’s goal is to win the NFC South. That’s probably not going to happen, unless the Bucs suddenly get dramatically better and the Saints stumble.

Same old story: Tampa Bay’s offense started off the way it has pretty much all season -- very slowly. The Bucs didn’t score their first points until Connor Barth hit a field goal just before halftime. They didn’t score their touchdown until the fourth quarter. Maybe the Bucs should take a lesson from former coach Sam Wyche. Back in the mid-1990s, the Bucs were starting poorly after halftime. So Wyche actually had his team practice its halftime routine. Maybe the current Tampa Bay offense should practice starting a game.

Albert’s Army: The Bucs picked up defensive tackle Albert Haynesworth during the week because injuries had left them thin in the middle of the defensive line. Haynesworth was fairly active, making four tackles. But the problems on Tampa Bay’s defense go way deeper than the middle of the defensive line. Matt Schaub only had to attempt 15 passes, but he threw for 242 yards and two touchdowns and the Texans had no problem running the ball.

Insult to injury: Derrick Ward, the same guy who was a free-agent bust with the Bucs, ran for a touchdown against his former team.

What’s next: The Bucs travel to Green Bay to play the Packers next Sunday.
HOUSTON -- Kareem Jackson is out with a knee injury for the Texans’ game against the Steelers, replaced in the starting lineup at left cornerback by Jason Allen.

Jackson struggled through his rookie year but held on to his starting spot through the preseason despite a strong challenge from Allen.

The Texans' secondary was picked apart in second half by Drew Brees last week in New Orleans in a loss to the Saints. Jackson was not good, but plenty of other defenders were victimized as well.

Allen will line up across from speedy receiver Mike Wallace, and should get significant safety help.

The banged up Steelers are down four starters -- defensive end Brett Keisel, left cornerback Bryant McFadden, left tackle Jonathan Scott and right guard Doug Legursky are all out.

The Texans' defensive front will be attacking an offensive line with two subs -- left tackle Trai Essex and right guard Ramon Foster.

The complete list of inactives:

NEW ORLEANS -- As expected, Arian Foster won’t play for the Texans against the Saints today.

Ben Tate will bid to become only the second running back in league history to top 100 yards in his first three games, matching Cadillac Williams.

The Texans get a break with New Orleans injuries. Jo-Lonn Dunbar will play middle linebacker in place of the injured Jonathan Vilma, and Patrick Robinson will replace Tracy Porter at right cornerback. Receiver Devery Henderson is out of the offensive lineup, with Robert Meachem.

The full list of inactives:

TBDAP Photo/Dave EinselMatt Schaub, left, Andre Johnson and the Texans believe they're a playoff contender this season.
HOUSTON -- They don’t want to act like they’ve been here before.

Because when the Houston Texans were here before, it proved pretty meaningless. Last year’s opening-day win against the Colts at Reliant Stadium didn’t translate to a playoff berth. It turned out to do little for the team in a lost season that finished 6-10.

This time around, they have reason to believe a 34-7 pounding of the Colts and a 1-0 start will be more relevant in the big picture.

Before they were finished talking about it, the team’s reminders about its center of attention has been altered.

Signs at both ends of the locker room and outside the team auditorium that said “One Focus” and featured a Colts’ helmet and the date and time of the opening game were taken down. In their places: New versions with details about the Dolphins.

Some players cautioned fans about running out to buy Super Bowl tickets, but defensive end Antonio Smith said he didn’t want to be an obstacle to anyone’s conviction.

“It’s a big deal,” he said. “Everybody knows the best way to get to the playoffs is through your division. If we don’t play good in our division games, we can’t have dreams of the playoffs…

“We need as much belief as we can get. Faith and belief is the only way you’re going to get anywhere. So if our fans believe in us, if they have faith in us, then I think it can’t do anything but help us when you’ve got that much positive vibe. If you believe in us, buy away.”

More good perspective came from Andre Johnson, who let an early pass slip through his hands and turn into an interception, but still caught seven balls for 95 yards and a touchdown.

“No, I’m not afraid about being happy,” he said. “A win is a win. We were in this same situation last year… Our motto now is just trying to go 1-0 every week. That’s the way we approach it. We’re going to enjoy the win tonight, fix the mistakes we made tomorrow, and try to go 1-0 again next week.”

Before we move on to Texans-Dolphins, five observations out of the win against Indianapolis.

1) The defensive front will face better offensive lines and have tougher times. But the group, newly shaped into a 3-4, was dominant. It hit Kerry Collins seven times, sacked him three times, forced three fumbles (one was a dropped snap), recovered two and generally allowed Collins very few comfortable snaps.

“They are as good a front seven as we’ll play this whole year,” Collins said. “We have to do better at diagnosing it, picking it up and getting rid of the ball.”

Smith and Mario Williams were especially active and drew praise from the defense’s architect, coordinator Wade Phillips.

[+] EnlargeJ.J. Watt
AP Photo/Eric GayJ.J. Watt, 99, and the Texans' front seven made life difficult for Kerry Collins and the Colts.
“Obviously it was a good start for us,” an understated but proud Phillips said. “The effort was great, I thought, and our execution was pretty good. You have to be pleased, especially with 34-0 at the half. We felt like we had to come out strong against that team who had adversity with their quarterback.”

Smith said he often had the hard count the Colts tried to employ figured out.

“I don’t know if a veteran quarterback like that really gets rattled,” he said. “But I know he felt our pain. I know every time we hit him we tried to make him feel that.”

2) The defense was very clearly the weak element of the 2010 team.

But there is no holdover in terms of anyone on the team thinking anything but all-for-one-and-one-for-all, according to center Chris Myers.

“When they are getting great plays, the whole offense is on the field before they can even come off the field,” Myers said. “Same thing with the defense. It’s something we’ve been able to preach the whole preseason: We have each other’s backs no matter what. It’s shown this week and we’ll go from here.”

3) A year ago, the opening day win against the Colts was a big breakout game for Arian Foster, who ran for 231 yards. This year, with Foster out with a hamstring injury and Derrick Ward lost during the game to a knee injury, Ben Tate stepped up and produced 116 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries.

“The line played outstanding today, and the tight ends really did a nice job on the edge and opened up holes,” quarterback Matt Schaub said. “We have a good solid group of backs. Derrick really played well and then when Ben was in there, he’s a great guy who can read the one cut, make his move, get down hill and get yards and make a guy miss. We saw that today and it was good to see him play that way.”

4) One game does not a return-game turnaround make, but boy would a year of threatening kick and punt returns be a big addition. Jacoby Jones went 79 yards for a touchdown after Danieal Manning took the opening kickoff 46 yards.

Jones’ value on offense just went up with Kevin Walter’s serious shoulder injury. Can Gary Kubiak continue to put him at risk on special teams when the team is thin at wide receiver?

5) The Texans didn’t appear to think for a second about last year’s slow-starting offense when their second play from scrimmage was the Schaub pass that went through Johnson’s hands and wound up picked off by Melvin Bullitt.

These Texans showed resolve, as the defense stalled Indy with the first of Williams’ two sacks, and the offense marched 73 yards in 13 plays for a field goal to open the scoring.

Rapid Reaction: Texans 34, Colts 7

September, 11, 2011
HOUSTON -- Thoughts on the Texans’ 34-7 rout of the Colts at Reliant Stadium

What it means: The Texans bolted out to a 1-0 start over the Colts last season, but this one was different. We saw what a good team can do against Indianapolis minus Peyton Manning. Houston sailed and the Colts struggled. It’s hard to call any Houston game a turning point, but this is one we might look back to as a pivot point for control of the AFC South.

What I liked: Matt Schaub-to-Andre Johnson was virtually can’t miss after an early interception of a pass that slid through Johnson’s hands. Derrick Ward and Ben Tate both ran effectively. Jacoby Jones showed smarts and speed on a 79-yard punt return for a score. The Texans’ new 3-4 defense found consistent pressure that made life very tough on Kerry Collins. End Antonio Smith was especially effective.

What I didn’t like: Collins was just shaky, handing away two fumbles in a short span early on, once on a sack, once on a fumbled snap. Unless the protection was perfect, he was messy and there were only a handful of snaps where the protection was perfect. Indianapolis’ defense simply didn’t show any ability to bottle up the run, and receivers consistently found space between defenders to collect Schaub’s passes.

Who to worry about: Colts linebackers. Gary Brackett suffered a shoulder sprain when he was tackled at the end of an interception return. The Colts played bad defense with him. Without him, they’d really have a hole. Ernie Sims suffered a knee sprain early in the game, which meant undrafted rookie Adrian Moten saw time in the nickel package.

One good thing about the Colts: They didn’t quit, showing some life in the second half even though they knew it was over. Reggie Wayne was in the middle of it. Jeff Saturday fought hard to recover Collins’ third fumble at the bottom of a pile.

One bad thing about the Texans: With Arian Foster (hamstring) already hurt, Ward left the game with an ankle injury. Tate and Steve Slaton provide nice depth, but any team down its top two running backs has questions.

What’s next: The Colts try to recover when they host Cleveland. The Texans try to keep things going in Miami. The rematch between Houston and Indy is at Lucas Oil Stadium on Dec. 22.

Foster, Gonzalez, Hughes won't play

September, 11, 2011

HOUSTON -- Arian Foster's hamstring will keep him out of the Colts-Texans game today.

Derrick Ward will start in his place, with Ben Tate expected to also see significant work. Steve Slaton is also active.

The inactive lists for both teams:

If Arian Foster can’t play Sunday against the Texans, Gary Kubiak confirmed Derrick Ward will start and Ben Tate will get mixed into the backfield. Even Steve Slaton should see some action.

I’m on record saying they should be conservative, sit Foster and pound the Colts with heavy doses of Ward and Tate.

Gary Kubiak articulated the big difference between the two in a talk with Houston reporters Friday.

“Ward is very smart,” Kubiak said. “He has excellent pass protection as far as the things you’ve got to pick up in this league to be a three-down back. He’s a big guy, he’s tough to tackle. He’s always moving forward with the ball. I like guys like that with our scheme.

“Tate’s more of a big-play person, [he’s] got speed, those type of things, has the ability out in the open field to possibly have some big runs. That’s probably where they’re a little different from that standpoint.”

Ward compared the Texans’ backfield depth to the group he was part of when he was with the Giants.

“It’s almost exactly the same,” he said. “When I was in New York, we had me, Brandon Jacobs, Ahmad Bradshaw, Reuben Droughns, proven guys that have played in this league. Here you have me, Arian, Steve, all 1,000-yard rushers. Then you have the young guy, Ben Tate, coming in lighting up some things. It’s going to be a fun year to see how they use us all.”

Once Foster’s back to full strength, he’s going to get the lion’s share of the carries. If the Texans start him Sunday, I’ll be tempted to feel like the team is pressing even before kickoff.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 9, 2011
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 1:

[+] EnlargeLuke McCown
Howard Smith/US PresswireLuke McCown has completed 59.2 percent of his passes over his career.
Don’t overrate David Garrard. A lot of people seem to think that the Jaguars' cutting Garrard makes them a less dangerous team. I assure you, they are not thinking that way. They will be the same run-heavy offense. The Jaguars, who play host to Tennessee on Sunday, will look to an upgraded defense to be physical and bottle up Chris Johnson. And they expect a crisper performance from Luke McCown than they would have had from Garrard, who struggled throughout the preseason. If McCown doesn’t have a good day, let’s hold the talk that makes it sound as though Garrard would have played like Johnny Unitas.

Can the Texans' running backs help out blocking? Their underrated offensive line has its hands full against the Colts' pass rush, which features Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. But if Arian Foster is out or limited, the team could lean more on Derrick Ward for his experience than on Ben Tate for his potential. Tate ran great in the preseason, but can he take on a defender determined to bring down Matt Schaub?

Unproven pass rushes in Jacksonville. The Jaguars still haven’t solved their pass-rush issues. Aaron Kampman is back from knee surgery and Matt Roth is a solid addition. We know their middle guys can get push, but who’s going to make Matt Hasselbeck uncomfortable? Same goes for the Titans. Derrick Morgan is out, so Malcolm Sheppard will be in the mix at end behind William Hayes, Jason Jones (who's been hurt) and Dave Ball. They’re working with a more disciplined scheme to be sure they stop the run, but can those guys bother McCown working more technique than speed?

Spotlight on Kerry Collins. The whole football world is watching to see what the Colts look like without Peyton Manning. We’ve talked a lot about Collins' protection and how he’s picked up the system. But what kind of feel has he developed for his targets? Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, Austin Collie and Joseph Addai make up a very reliable quartet that knows how to be in the right spots and get open. Collins didn’t have a crew like that during his time with the Titans. Does he have a feel for the talent?

Unveiling the 3-4. Wade Phillips is a master at turning around defenses, but he’s had a shorter time frame with this new group. Surely there are elements of what the Texans will do that they did not show in the preseason. Phillips’ defenses have fared great against Collins. As the Texans look to extend that streak of success, end Antonio Smith could be a big factor. He’ll probably be working against Joe Reitz and Jeff Saturday.