NFL Nation: Edgerrin James

Rapid Reaction: Indianapolis Colts

December, 15, 2013
12/15/13
4:07
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INDIANAPOLIS -- A few thoughts on the Indianapolis Colts' 25-3 victory over the Houston Texans:

What it means: The Colts didn't wait until the second half to get going offensively. They started on their first offensive series of the game. The Colts mixed up the run with the pass to go 80 yards on 11 plays on their opening drive. The drive ended with quarterback Andrew Luck finding receiver Griff Whalen for a 14-yard touchdown. That was the first time the Colts scored a touchdown in the first quarter since doing it against Denver on Oct. 20. Slow starts have been a problem the past seven weeks for the Colts, but they went into the half with a 20-3 lead. They were 5-of-8 on third down in the first half after going 0-for-6 in the first half against Cincinnati on Dec. 8. The one downside about the Colts on offense is that they started the game 5-for-5 on third down but failed to convert on their final 10 attempts.

Whalen steps up: Whalen has been an afterthought this season after having a strong training camp. He was elevated from the practice squad Saturday because of the injury to fellow receiver LaVon Brazill (foot). He took advantage of the opportunity. Whalen, a college teammate of Luck's at Stanford, caught four passes for 45 yards, returned three punts for 67 yards and a kickoff for 22 yards.

Being honored: Former Colts running backs Eric Dickerson and Marshall Faulk were inducted into the team's Ring of Honor at halftime. Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards and 32 touchdowns during his five seasons with the Colts. He won the league's rushing title in 1988, when he gained 1,659 yards to go with 14 touchdowns. The Colts traded Dickerson to the Los Angeles Raiders following the 1991 season. Faulk rushed for 5,320 yards and 42 touchdowns to go with 297 receptions and 2,804 yards in his five seasons with the Colts. He was traded to the St. Louis Rams after the 1998 season because he thought he deserved a raise. Dickerson and Faulk join Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Chris Hinton, Ted Marchibroda, Jim Harbaugh, the 12th Man, Tony Dungy, Marvin Harrison and Edgerrin James in the team's Ring of Honor.

Injuries: Colts guard Joe Reitz left the game in first half after being tested for a concussion. Starting running back Donald Brown sat out the second half with a stinger. He ran for 38 yards on five carries. Linebacker Daniel Adongo (hamstring) and safety Sergio Brown (groin) also left the game.

What's next: The Colts go on the road to take on the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday. The Colts and Chiefs have a chance to face each other in the playoffs in Indianapolis.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts put on extra layers, shook off the frigid air and spent the week practicing outside to prepare for Sunday’s game against the Cincinnati Bengals.

There’s a chance Mother Nature won’t be too kind to either team at Paul Brown Stadium. The forecast calls for temperatures to be in the 30’s with a chance of snow on Sunday. The Colts haven’t played a game in the snow since the 2009 season.

[+] EnlargeTrent Richardson
AP Photo/AJ MastTrent Richardson and the Colts' running backs might get a lot of work on Sunday in Cincinnati.
“You know what, the elements, it is what it is,” Colts coach Chuck Pagano. “From a ball-security standpoint, that’s what we stressed all week long. That’s why we got outside all week long. If it’s sleeting sideways and 30 degrees, 20 degrees, it really comes down to ball security, taking care of it. Makes throwing the ball a little bit difficult, too, so better pack a good run game.”

Limiting quarterback Andrew Luck's throwing ability and relying on the run game could cause some uneasiness since Luck is the Colts’ best offensive weapon, and the running game has been inconsistent this season.

But that’s what it might take for the Colts to have a chance to beat the Bengals, who are 5-0 at home, and get a game lead on them for the No. 3 seed in the AFC playoff standings.

“I probably haven’t played in snow since I was throwing a football around as a kid, so very excited about it,” Luck said. “I love playing outside. I think there’s something about it that’s fun, so we’re looking forward to it.”

The Colts rushed for 104 yards -- only the second time in the past five games that they rushed for at least 100 yards -- against the Tennessee Titans last weekend.

“I can play in snow, as a kid,” running back Trent Richardson said laughing. “But it’s just something, you just got to go out there and fight it. You got to man up. This is what the big playmakers have done their whole life. You look at the Jim Browns, the Emmitt Smiths, the Fred Taylors, the Ricky Williams' and the Edgerrin James'. Look at those type of guys. Those guys fought through it, and they stuck it through the whole time in the snow. It didn’t matter to them.”

Indianapolis has to hope it can get something out of its running game, and with some Luck-being-Luck sprinkled in there, too, because the Bengals have the offensive weapons to put points on the board.

Cincinnati averages more than 363 yards a game and has won six of its past eight. Bengals receiver A.J. Green has 72 catches for 1,103 yards, which is only 71 yards less than what T.Y. Hilton, Darrius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill and Da’Rick Rogers gave combined for this season.

Indianapolis' defense forced four turnovers against Tennessee last weekend, and the unit might get cornerback Greg Toler (groin) back in the lineup for the first time in five games.

“It’s a talented team,” Colts defensive coordinator Greg Manusky said. “They got good receivers, a good quarterback ... they got some players in the backfield with (Benjarvus Green-Ellis) and (Giovani Bernard). Talented guys that can see the hole and break long runs. We got to make sure we bottle them up as best we can.”
Eric Decker, Jason McCourty AP Photo Jason McCourty, right, and the Titans' secondary face a formidable challenge in defending Eric Decker and the Broncos' passing attack.
It seemed a little out of place, but as the Denver Broncos were about to get to work on the Tennessee Titans this week, quarterback Peyton Manning said he was going to prepare for an "unfamiliar opponent."

Granted, Manning hasn't faced a Titans team with Mike Munchak as its head coach, but he has faced Tennessee 19 times previously in his career (including a playoff game in the 1999 season), all with the Indianapolis Colts. So, while this is the Titans' first look at Manning in a Broncos uniform, the quarterback is a familiar face as Denver tries to keep its grip on home-field advantage in the postseason.

Here, ESPN.com Titans reporter Paul Kuharsky and Broncos reporter Jeff Legwold discuss Sunday's game.

Legwold: Paul, you've been around the team since it arrived in Tennessee and, before we get to the on-field matchup, how would you say the team has dealt with franchise founder Bud Adams' death earlier this season? Who is making the decisions now and who will make them in the coming offseason, both on and off the field?

Kuharsky: It was a big loss, of course, for Munchak and general manager Ruston Webster and team employees who worked for Adams for a long time. Most of the players hardly knew him, as he was not around much in his final couple of years, when his health began to fail. So there is a lot of uncertainty now. Three branches of Adams' family share control of the franchise, and Bud's son-in-law, Tommy Smith, is the team president and CEO. He's apparently been paying close attention to things in anticipation of taking over. But we know very little about how he will operate going forward. That means there is some tension, because not every team employee knows if he's secure. That starts with the struggling head coach, Munchak.

Leadership in Denver appeared to remain strong as Jack Del Rio stepped in for John Fox. How much of a boost will Fox's return give the team?

Legwold: Del Rio, the team's defensive coordinator, earned praise from everyone in the organization, including Fox and the players, for how things were handled in the head coach's absence following open-heart surgery. His return has given the team an emotional boost, because after a month away, Fox came back feeling better than he had in some time and enthusiastic to see where this season can go. It should help the Broncos avoid a late-season stumble as they try to get home-field advantage for the playoffs again. Tactically speaking, not much will change. Coordinator Adam Gase is still calling the plays on offense -- Del Rio has said that, other than being a sounding board from time to time, he left the offense solely in Gase's hands during Fox's absence. Del Rio will continue to call the defense on game day as he has all season. Overall, though, it's likely Fox's return will keep the Broncos from hitting an emotional lull over the final month of the regular season.

On the field, the Titans have seen Manning plenty over the years. How do you think Tennessee will approach things on defense and does it see some differences in the Broncos' offense compared to what it saw from the Manning-led Colts?

Kuharsky: Well, it's a relief the Titans don't see Edgerrin James, I am sure. And while Denver's pass-catchers are a remarkable bunch, I'm not sure there is a Marvin Harrison in it yet. They know blitzing Manning can be fruitless no matter what matchups they like against offensive linemen. They'll try to be unpredictable and force him to throw to a certain spot a few times. But plenty of teams have that idea and fail with it. Under Gregg Williams' influence, the Titans have used an ever-shifting front, and we know that's a popular way to play against Manning in an attempt to minimize his ability to make pre-snap reads. The front is pretty good, especially Jurrell Casey, though there is no dominant edge rusher. The secondary has been quite good. It's the linebackers, particularly in pass coverage, who seem vulnerable to me, and I don't know what the Titans will do there to prevent abuse. Bernard Pollard's been a leader whose play has matched his talk, but the Titans have kept him out of tough coverage situations and I wonder whether Manning will find ways to try to go at him.

The Titans are rooting for freezing temperatures even though they've been awful themselves in their past two frigid games. I know some all-time great quarterbacks have excelled in the cold even if they haven't loved it. How much of an issue is it for Manning at this stage of his career?

Legwold: That is the elephant in the room with the Broncos given their playoff loss to the Baltimore Ravens last January. Manning threw for 290 yards and three touchdowns in that game, even though the temperature at kickoff was 13 degrees. But folks seem to remember a wobbly incompletion here and there to go with an interception to close out the Broncos' final possession. Until Manning simply cranks it up on a cold day and the Broncos get a key victory, people are going to ask him about it. He had spots in the overtime loss to New England two weeks ago -- in frigid, windy conditions -- in which he threw as well as he ever has, particularly on a sideline pass to Demaryius Thomas and a touchdown throw to tight end Jacob Tamme. It's not so much his arm that has been an issue post-surgery, it's his grip when he throws. Overall, though, the Broncos push the pace more on offense at home. Manning has terrorized defenses that have played a lot of man coverages against the Broncos' offense, including his five-touchdown game last weekend in Kansas City. The Broncos like that matchup in any weather.

Denver has some injuries on defense that have affected how it plays, especially with the run defense. Where does Chris Johnson fit in the Titans' offense these days?

Kuharsky: He's really had one big game all season. Even when he seems to get going, the Titans can't find a rhythm or a way to stick with him. This was supposed to be a run-reliant, run-dominant team. It isn't. With Ryan Fitzpatrick now the quarterback, the Titans like to put him in an empty set and let him do his thing. It's been good at times, but it doesn't do much to enhance the chances of the running game. Johnson doesn't get yards after contact. So if he doesn't find a big hole, he's not going to do a lot of damage. Watch out on a screen or little flip pass -- that's where Johnson has been more threatening.

Denver's defense has dealt with quite a few injuries and Von Miller's suspension. How's his health and how is that group playing together?

Legwold: The Broncos have yet to play the 11 starters on defense in any game this season they expected to have coming out of training camp. They never will now that defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson has been moved to injured reserve. Vickerson was a big part of the plan on early downs -- and the Chiefs tested the middle of the defense plenty this past Sunday, so the Broncos are working through some adjustments there. Champ Bailey (left foot) has played in just three games this season -- just one from start to finish -- and safety Rahim Moore is on injured reserve/designated to return. (The Broncos hope Moore will be back for the postseason.) Toss in Derek Wolfe and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie not being in the lineup against the Chiefs and the Broncos are not nearly as consistent as they were last season, when they were a top-five defense. Miller has had moments of top-shelf play since his return, but hasn't been a consistent force like he was last season.

Colts will honor Faulk and Dickerson

October, 9, 2013
10/09/13
8:00
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INDIANAPOLIS – Lost in the news of running back Ahmad Bradshaw deciding to have season-ending knee surgery Tuesday was that the Indianapolis Colts plan to add former running backs Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson to the Ring of Honor together during the Dec. 15 game against Houston.

They will be the 10th and 11th members of the Ring of Honor, joining Robert Irsay, Bill Brooks, Edgerrin James, Marvin Harrison, Tony Dungy, Jim Harbaugh, Chris Hinton and Ted Marchibroda and the 12th Man.

Faulk, the No. 2 overall pick in the 1994 draft, rushed for 5,320 yards during his five-year career with the Colts. Dickerson rushed for 5,194 yards during his time with Indianapolis.

The city of Indianapolis also received some good news Tuesday, as it joins Minneapolis and New Orleans as finalists for the 2018 Super Bowl. Indianapolis hosted a successful Super Bowl in 2012.

#NFLRank Nos. 51-60

August, 23, 2013
8/23/13
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The latest installment of #NFLRank (Nos. 51-60) is out and the NFC South has one player on the offense and two players on the defense. Let’s take a look.

Offense

Martin
51. Tampa Bay running back Doug Martin

Stats & Info: Martin had 1,926 yards from scrimmage last season, the third-most by a rookie in NFL history behind Eric Dickerson and Edgerrin James. In Week 9, Martin became the first player in NFL history with three rushing TDs of 45-plus yards in single game

Yasinskas comment: This ranking might be a little too low for Martin. He had a great rookie season and is only going to get better.

Defense

McCoy
McCoy
51. Tampa Bay defensive tackle Gerald McCoy

Stats & Info: Since drafting McCoy in 2010, the Buccaneers defense has allowed 4 yards per rush with him on the field and 5 yards per rush when he is off the field.

Yasinskas comment: McCoy stayed healthy last year and ended up making the Pro Bowl. As long as he stays healthy, McCoy is one of the league’s best defensive tackles.

Johnson
55. Carolina defensive end Charles Johnson

Stats & Info: Johnson led all defensive linemen in the league with seven forced fumbles last season. He also had 12.5 sacks, third among defensive linemen behind J.J. Watt (20.5) and Cameron Wake (15.0).

Yasinskas comment: Johnson has made Carolina fans forget all about Julius Peppers.

NFC South showing to date:

Offense

51. Martin

65. New Orleans wide receiver Marques Colston

70. Carolina center Ryan Kalil

71. Carolina wide receiver Steve Smith

86. New Orleans guard Ben Grubbs

87. Atlanta running back Steven Jackson

98. Carolina offensive tackle Jordan Gross

100. Carolina quarterback Cam Newton

Defense

51. McCoy

55. Johnson

80. Atlanta cornerback Asante Samuel

86. Atlanta linebacker Sean Weatherspoon

93. Atlanta safety William Moore

96. Atlanta defensive end Osi Umenyiora

97. Tampa Bay safety Mark Barron

98. Tampa Bay linebacker Lavonte David
SEATTLE -- The Seattle Seahawks hold a 20-17 lead over the Minnesota Viking at halftime thanks to three touchdown passes from rookie quarterback Russell Wilson.

Adrian Peterson's rushing for Minnesota has stood out the most to this point in the game. Peterson has 144 yards and two touchdowns in the first half. The score is close, so he should get plenty of opportunities after halftime.

The 144 yards are tied for the 32nd-highest single-game total against Seattle in the Seahawks' franchise history, which dates to 1976. Peterson needs 40 yards to move into the top 10.

The chart shows the five highest single-game totals against Seattle.

The Seahawks' previously stout run defense has struggled against Frank Gore and Peterson in recent weeks. Some of the runs Peterson has made appear nearly impossible to stop. He has beaten good initial run defense on a couple occasions. Peterson has broken through arm tackles in other cases. His 74-yard run on the Vikings' first possession accounts for more than half his yardage.

Final Word: AFC South

September, 21, 2012
9/21/12
1:29
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NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 3:

Defending Manning: As quarterback of the Colts, Peyton Manning owned the Texans. He’s with a different franchise now, so that past success doesn’t mean a lot, and he has not played against the Texans with Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. (Here’s how he has done against Phillips-coached defenses.) Against Houston, ESPN Stats and Info tells us Manning is 16-2 with 42 touchdowns against eight interceptions. Since the 1970 merger, Manning’s 16-2 record is the third-best by any starting quarterback against a single team, with a minimum of 15 games played against that team. Ben Roethlisberger against the Browns and Tom Brady against the Bills are better. More of note on Manning: He has not been great bouncing back from three-interception games, with an 8-7 record and 26 TDs versus 23 picks. He has not been great in the middle of the field so far, so he could really look to test the Texans’ second outside cornerback, Kareem Jackson.

[+] EnlargeDerek Cox
Fernando Medina/US PesswirerJacksonville's Derek Cox could cause headaches for Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.
Better coverage: Derek Cox is the Jaguars' best guy in coverage, but he has been out so far with a hamstring injury from the preseason. It looks like he could return in at least a limited role. Jacksonville needs him. After three picks in Week 1 against the Bears, Indy’s rookie quarterback Andrew Luck didn’t throw one against the Vikings. He has done well to establish connections with Reggie Wayne and Donnie Avery. Cox could help mess with that, while alleviating some pressure on the other cornerbacks who would face less pressure in big situations. Cox healthy and contributing can be a difference-maker for the pass defense.

Interior space: The Texans don’t necessarily have to run well between the tackles to win, but it certainly helps their offense. ESPN Stats and Info says that with a change at right guard and right tackle from last season, Houston isn’t finding the interior space it did last season. The Broncos are allowing 2.8 yards per rush between the tackles this season, the fifth-best defense of that area in the NFL. The Texans are down 1.2 yards per rush, and nearly 1 yard after contact per rush on runs between the tackles so far this season. And in 2011 they had 11 runs of 20 yards or better in the middle of the field. So far this season they have none.

Pushed around: There are all kinds of stats and analysis floating around about how much penetration the Patriots and Chargers got from their defensive fronts in their routs of the Titans. Tennessee’s offensive line is clearly having issues, particularly with run-blocking. And it will be hard to solve those against a tough Detroit front built around Ndamukong Suh. “We are what we are, and we’re doing a good job in the pass-pro and the protection,” offensive coordinator Chris Palmer said. “Everybody has a trait that is either a strength or a weakness. You try to play to those strengths.” That’s as close as anyone not named Chris Johnson has come to talking about the offensive line as an issue.

Also: If the Titans stick with their preoccupation with minimizing big plays, Calvin Johnson will catch passes in front of them and then run over, through or around them … A touchdown for Maurice Jones-Drew would be the 63rd of his career, and move him ahead of Fred Taylor for the franchise’s all-time lead … A touchdown for Wayne would pull him into a tie for third in Colts’ history. Edgerrin James is third with 75, and will have his name added to the team’s ring of honor in a pregame ceremony … Of the six 2-0 teams in the NFL, the Texans have beaten the teams who were worst in 2011. While the 49ers beat two teams that were a combined 25-7 in 2011, Houston’s two wins have come against teams that were 11-21.

NFL32: Ricky Williams' legacy

February, 7, 2012
2/07/12
11:13
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Wendi and Mort discuss the legacy Ricky Williams leaves behind, Darren wonders if the Eagles can follow the Giants' path, and in Did You Hear That?, Gronk puts on his dancing shoes.
INDIANAPOLIS -- Thirteen modern-era NFL players were finalists for enshrinement Saturday in the Pro Football Hall of Fame.

Only one was named offensive or defensive player of the year during his career.

That was the Seattle Seahawks' Cortez Kennedy. His eight Pro Bowls, all-1990s selection and overall dominance made my job as his presenter quite simple. State the facts and let Kennedy's career do the talking. Picking the final five out of 15 modern-era finalists is always tough, however, because it usually requires leaving off worthy candidates.

[+] EnlargeCortez Kennedy
US PresswireNo doubt, Seattle's Cortez Kennedy was one of the most dominant defensive players of his era.
The 43 other selectors and I met for more than seven hours before identifying Kennedy, Chris Doleman, Dermontti Dawson, Curtis Martin and Willie Roaf as the class of 2012. Jack Butler made it as a seniors candidate.

A few thoughts on the process and the results:

  • This class made it through at a good time. Larry Allen, Michael Strahan, Jonathan Ogden, Warren Sapp, Bryant Young, John Lynch and Steve McNair become eligible for the first time in 2013. Shaun Alexander, Derrick Brooks, Marvin Harrison, Rodney Harrison, Tony Dungy and Mike Holmgren join the list in 2014. Isaac Bruce, Edgerrin James, Walter Jones, Junior Seau, Chris Samuels, Kurt Warner, Ty Law and Orlando Pace are among those eligible beginning in 2015.
  • Former St. Louis Rams
    and Arizona Cardinals
    cornerback Aeneas Williams should feel great about cracking the final 10 in his first year as a finalist. Williams had 55 career interceptions and scored nine touchdowns. He was a big-time playmaker for bad and good teams alike.
  • The situation at receiver remains a mess and it's not going to get easier with Harrison becoming eligible in a couple years. Voters are having a tough time deciding between Cris Carter and Andre Reed. Both made the final 10 this year. Reed made the final 10 last year as well. Having both crack the final 10 this year made it harder for one of them to break through. Voters were more likely to choose one wideout when forced to pick only five players.
  • Former San Francisco 49ers owner Eddie DeBartolo Jr. did not make the reduction from 15 to 10. I think it's tougher for voters to quantify how owners and even coaches -- think Bill Parcells, who missed the cut from 10 to five -- contributed to their teams' success. The discussions for Parcells (55-plus minutes) and DeBartolo (42-plus minutes) were more than twice as long as the discussions for other candidates. Hall bylaws prevented voters from considering the legal troubles and suspension that preceded DeBartolo's exit from the game.
  • DeBartolo was a finalist in part because he hired Bill Walsh, promoted a winning culture, cared tremendously for his players and helped win five Super Bowls. He spent this weekend with former 49ers player Freddie Solomon, who is in the final days of a battle with cancer. The 49ers' renewed success this past season also reflected well on DeBartolo, who has become a tremendous resource for current team president Jed York, his nephew.
  • Electing one pass-rusher (Doleman, who spent part of his career with the 49ers) to the Hall could give former 49ers and Dallas Cowboys pass-rusher Charles Haley an easier time in the future. But with Strahan joining the conversation in 2013, Haley faces stiff competition again. Former Rams pass-rusher Kevin Greene did not make the final 10 despite 160 career sacks.

It's been a whirlwind day. Hall bylaws prevent me from sharing specifics about what was said in the room during the proceedings. The Hall also asked voters not to reveal their votes outright. I voted for five of the six players enshrined on the final cut and supported others. As always, however, reducing to only five in the end required leaving off candidates I hope will make it in the future.
Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Robert MathisUS Presswire, Getty Images, Getty ImagesThursday could be the last home game for Colts Reggie Wayne, Jeff Saturday and Robert Mathis.

INDIANAPOLIS -- There’ll be no ceremony at Lucas Oil Stadium tonight. No formal passing of the torch from the Colts to the Texans as kings of the AFC South, and no official commemoration of the careers of three huge contributors who may be wearing horse shoes on their helmets for a final home game.

But the knowledgeable fans of the Indianapolis Colts will find a moment to focus on receiver Reggie Wayne, center Jeff Saturday and defensive end Robert Mathis, knowing that the team staples with expiring contracts may soon depart.

Quarterback Peyton Manning defined the era more than anyone, and he might also be on the sideline for the final time, but he’s not playing. Neither is linebacker Gary Brackett, who could be a cap casualty. It could be a swan song, too, for often-injured tight end Dallas Clark, who’s doubtful against the Texans.

However, the focus during a Thursday night game that figured to have larger consequences when the schedule was drawn up should be on Wayne, Saturday and Mathis.

“We’re like three steel poles in the Colts’ foundation,” Mathis said. “We helped get this team to where it is. Our heart is here. But it’s a business, and we can’t take it personally, whatever they decide.”

Said Wayne: “I’ll just keep playing. Whatever happens is going to happen anyway, it’s already written, I can’t control that, I don’t have a magic eraser. It’s a big prime-time game. If it’s going to be my last one here, then let’s go out with a bang.”

“I’ve been here 11 years. Anything you put that much time or effort into, you would think there would be some sort of sentimental value to. You don’t want to lose anything that means something to you. This city has shown me nothing but love.”

Whether they admit it or not, the other three teams in the division have been built to challenge the Colts. The Texans drafted outside linebacker Mario Williams first overall in 2006 in large part to threaten Manning. As the league has become more pass-happy, the Colts' divisional challengers have been largely run-based, to try to keep their offenses on the field and the ball out of Manning’s hand.

“They’ve been the standard of the division obviously, with the success they’ve had over multiple years,” said Houston general manager Rick Smith, who assumed his post in 2006, after Williams had been drafted. “But you can’t stand in awe of anybody and we feel like we’ve played some solid games against them in the past.

“Our thing hasn’t really been focused on Indianapolis, it’s been about what we’re doing. You’ve got to respect what they’ve done and the job that they’ve done for the number of years that they’ve done it. But what we’ve been doing is focused on trying to get our program up to speed and put ourselves into position where we could have that sustained success for a number of years.”

And like the Colts, the new AFC South champs have a similar trio in the same positions as Wayne, Saturday and Mathis in Andre Johnson, Chris Myers and Williams.

Like their Indianapolis counterparts, they are regarded as premier players at their position. Houston hopes they will be steel poles of a Texans’ foundation for years to come.

Johnson, Myers and Williams reflected on the Colts in recent days.

Here’s some insight into what the three guys who might be playing for Indy for the final time have meant to the division and to guys who aim to follow a similar path.

Johnson on Wayne: “He’s a route technician. I sat and watched and learned from him at Miami. He took me under his wing. He works hard at everything he does, everything. He’s committed. His numbers speak for themselves. In every conversation about the best receivers in the league, his name comes up.

“I can’t imagine him in another uniform, and for it to end like this. After 11, 12, 13, 14 wins every year, it’s crazy.

Myers on Saturday: “He has real good technique. Obviously it’s a different team with a different offense. But he’s a tremendous pass blocker, and they’ve had success running the ball as well with Edgerrin James and Joseph Addai for years. He’s a little bit shorter, he’s got that leverage on guys. In his prime, he’s been able to get a hand on guys and just lock guys out, that’s what he’s been known for.

“When you’re watching defenses, you watch the other center. And I’ve tried to get pointers from each guy. For a long time I’ve been watching how he pass protects.”

Williams on Mathis: “Not taking anything away from Dwight Freeney, but I think Mathis has been a key to their defense. Watching him play and how his motor goes every play, it’s not just the pass, but he’s phenomenal against the run. I guess you could say he’s undersized, but he holds his own against the run as well as the pass. I think he doesn’t get enough credit for his play against the run.”

I have trouble picturing Saturday playing elsewhere, but he certainly could. Wayne and Mathis would be attractive free agents if they hit the market.

And they could conceivably land within the division.

Mathis could be the edge rusher Jacksonville needs to round out its defense. And Wayne could be an excellent complement to Johnson in Houston.

“We joke about it all the time,” Johnson said. “If Reggie’s on the market, I’ll be a big recruiter. I’m pretty sure my coaches know that.”

Talk of a possible future life as a Texan made Wayne laugh.

“I’m sure he’s got some hammies he needs to worry about first,” he said, referring to hamstring injuries that have cost Johnson much of the season and will keep him out against the Colts. “And I am sure their team is ecstatic about their first playoff opportunity…

“If Dre is going to politic for me, he’s got enough time to do it.”

Four 1,100-yard rushers in one division?

December, 7, 2011
12/07/11
12:15
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Passing is generally the key to victory in the NFL.

This helps explain why quarterbacks earn the most money, why teams often draft pass-blocking tackles over top runners and why fullbacks have become endangered.

Teams still value running the ball, of course. Defenses would have an easier time defending quarterbacks if they knew with certainty a run was not coming. And every team seeking support for young or average quarterbacks would be better off with a strong ground game.

NFC West teams fall into this group. Each team in the division is on pace to produce a 1,000-yard runner.

One division has produced four 1,000-yard rushers in a season five times since divisional realignment in 2002. Each NFC West team's leading rusher is on pace for at least 1,100 yards. Only one division, the AFC North in 2010, has produced four players with at least 1,100 yards since realignment.

Frank Gore's yardage production for the 49ers has leveled off in recent weeks. Continued strong defense and increased production from quarterback Alex Smith have helped the team keep winning. Facing two backup quarterbacks -- Arizona's John Skelton and St. Louis' A.J. Feeley -- simultaneously lowered the bar for the 49ers in recent weeks.

I would expect the Seattle Seahawks' Marshawn Lynch to gain the most rushing yardage in Week 14 among NFC West backs. Seattle wants to field a run-first offense, which makes sense this week.

The Rams rank second in most sacks per pass attempt, a threat now that Seattle's best pass protector, Russell Okung, has landed on injured reserve. The Rams are averaging fewer than one offensive touchdown per game. That gives Seattle a good chance to win without taking as many chances through the air. The Rams have allowed more rushing yards than any team in the NFL.

Note: With an assist from Anicra in the comments, I updated the projected totals for Jackson, Lynch and Wells to reflect their participation in only 11 games this season. I had previously divided their rushing totals by total team games (12 apiece), using the average to project totals for the remaining four games.

Final Word: AFC South

October, 14, 2011
10/14/11
1:30
PM ET
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 6:

Blitzing Joe Flacco: The Texans generally get good pass pressure without extra rushers. A lot of that has been because of end-turned-linebacker Mario Williams. According to ESPN Stats & Info, the Texans have 21 sacks when rushing four or fewer players since the start of 2010. Williams recorded 10 of them, and no other player has more than 4.5. Williams is out for the season with a torn pectoral muscle. Can Houston get to Flacco with a standard rush? If it can’t, will defensive coordinator Wade Phillips call for more blitzing? How the Texans try to disrupt Baltimore’s quarterback will be a big story line in Texans-Ravens.

[+] EnlargeMaurice-Jones Drew
Grant Halverson/Getty ImagesThrough five weeks, Jaguars RB Maurice Jones-Drew has 476 rush yards and two touchdowns.
Get MJD cranking: The Steelers have given up some big run yards this season, including 150 yards to Houston’s Arian Foster. To win at Pittsburgh, the Jaguars will need Maurice Jones-Drew to carry a big share of the load. He’s gained more than 80 yards in every game so far. That’s a rare feat; only Edgerrin James (2005), Priest Holmes (2003) and Robert Smith (1996) have done it over the last 15 years, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jacksonville’s offensive line has been inconsistent and injuries have caused them to change things up. Tackles Eugene Monroe and Guy Whimper have been limited at practice this week.

Defensive backfield in doubt: Cincinnati rookie quarterback Andy Dalton and rookie receiver A.J. Green have developed a pretty good connection so far. The Colts will have to rely on their pass rush to throw Dalton out of rhythm, because their struggling secondary is a mess. Their best cornerback, Jerraud Powers, is probably out with a hamstring injury. That means Green will be working against the likes of Jacob Lacey, Terrence Johnson and Chris Rucker. It’s a group that did not have much success at all against Dwayne Bowe and the Kansas City Chiefs receivers a week ago.

Tight end- and running back-reliant: Matt Schaub threw for 416 yards in Sunday’s loss to the Raiders, but only 99 of those yards went to wide receivers. Schaub is the only quarterback since 2001 to throw for 300 yards in a single game to just tight ends and running backs. Although the team added Derrick Mason, Gary Kubiak and Schaub probably will continue to lean on Arian Foster, Owen Daniels and Joel Dreessen. They can win featuring those guys in the passing game, provided they get plays after intermission as well as before. Houston has outscored the competition 90-25 in the first half and been outscored 70-37 in the second half. They have scored 6 points in the third quarter. It doesn't say much about their ability to make any adjustments.

Mindset: While the Titans enjoy a weekend off, everyone involved in the run game should be preparing to return to action absolutely determined to get things cranking. They simply cannot be the worst run team in the league and remain an AFC playoff contender. Chris Johnson has to show far more determination and get back to running downhill. All his blockers and play-caller Chris Palmer have to get to the root of the issue and solve it. Five games is plenty for them to understand what is happening, what is not happening, and why.
Kevin KolbChristian Petersen/Getty ImagesSigning Kevin Kolb signals that the Cardinals are ready to bounce back after a transition season.

Kevin Kolb's arrival from Philadelphia gives the Arizona Cardinals renewed hope at quarterback and clear direction following Kurt Warner's retirement.

It provides a fresh start after a forgettable 2010 transition season for Arizona.

So much has changed for the Cardinals since their Super Bowl appearance following the 2008 season. Other rosters around the league have turned over since then, of course, but not every team was coming off a Super Bowl appearance.

Quite a few teams have sought change. For the Cardinals, it just happened.

Warner's departure, while easily the biggest change, was far from the only one. Between five and eight starters from that Super Bowl game project as starters in 2011, depending upon how many of the team's unrestricted free agents re-sign.

When Steve Breaston left the Cardinals for Kansas City this week, drawing attention to the cumulative effect of Arizona's roster upheaval, a Seahawks fan drew parallels between Seattle's post-Super Bowl decline and the Cardinals' plight last season.

"Don't misunderstand," Ricky Frey wrote on my Facebook wall, "I'm a Hawks fan, but it seems eerily familiar to watch this happen and know what happened to Holmgren/Mora. Writing on the wall?"

Not if Kolb has anything to say about it. Acquiring a relatively young, potentially ascending quarterback puts Arizona in position to avoid the decline Seattle experienced as a Matt Hasselbeck struggled with injuries while the roster around him withered away. The NFC West remains in transition overall, and the Cardinals know it.

"It’s obviously winnable, but it’s funny to think that everybody thinks you can just step in and win it," Kolb told reporters Friday. "You’re talking about NFL football teams here. I know last year 7-9 is what won it, but it doesn’t matter. ... The door is open, we know, and we’ll be ready to kick it in when it’s time, but it’s not going to be an easy task."

Larry Fitzgerald, Levi Brown, Darnell Dockett, Adrian Wilson and the recently re-signed Lyle Sendlein started for Arizona in the Super Bowl and remain starters in 2011. Another starter from that Super Bowl game, Gerald Hayes, was released this week. Three more are becoming unrestricted free agents: Deuce Lutui, Bryan Robinson and Gabe Watson.

Six Arizona starters from that game are retired or did not play last season: Mike Gandy, Warner, Edgerrin James, Terrelle Smith, Chike Okeafor and Monty Beisel. Seven more play for other teams: Reggie Wells, Leonard Pope, Anquan Boldin, Antonio Smith, Karlos Dansby, Antrel Rolle and the recently traded Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie.

Some were role players. Others were tougher to replace.

Breaston was a backup on that team, but he played extensively as the third receiver and finished the season with more than 1,000 yards.

Kolb's addition headlined a flurry of transactions the Cardinals announced Thursday and Friday.

Sendlein, safety Hamza Abdullah, cornerback Michael Adams, tackle D'Anthony Batiste, center Ben Claxton, punter Ben Graham, fullback Reagan Maui'a and tight end Stephen Spach re-signed.

Five draft choices have signed. Guard Daryn Colledge, defensive end Nick Eason, tight end Jeff King, receiver Chansi Stuckey and linebacker Stewart Bradley have signed as free agents from other teams.

Re-signing Sendlein while adding Kolb, Colledge and Bradley suggests the 2011 team is still coming together, not necessarily falling apart.
The St. Louis Rams were the only NFC West team without a quarterback need in the 2011 NFL draft.

They held the 14th overall choice, but with four quarterbacks taken among the first 12 picks, St. Louis got more value from the selection. How much more value?

If we exclude quarterbacks from the drafting equation, as the Rams did in this draft, the team got No. 10 overall value from the 14th pick. The difference in value between the 10th and 14th picks -- 200 points on the widely circulated draft-value chart -- equates to the 78th overall choice.

The Rams happened to hold the 78th pick this year. They used it for Boise State receiver Austin Pettis.

This draft featured more quarterbacks selected among the 12 choices than any since 1999, when there were five. The Rams were already set at quarterback that year. They held the sixth overall choice and got heightened value when Cleveland, Philadelphia and Cincinnati selected quarterbacks with the first three picks. The Rams selected receiver Torry Holt -- the sixth overall choice, but only the third non-quarterback.

After quarterbacks went 1-2-3 in 1999, the teams drafting next "settled" for Edgerrin James, Ricky Williams, Holt and Champ Bailey. The next two players taken, David Boston and Chris Claiborne, never met expectations. Overall, however, teams searching for non-quarterbacks stood to benefit.

The Rams are hoping first-round choice Robert Quinn fits into that group with James, Williams, Holt and Bailey.
QB Power Rankings IllustrationESPN.com IllustrationNew England's Tom Brady received six of the eight first-place votes to edge out Peyton Manning.
ESPN.com’s NFL writers rank the top 10 quarterbacks in the league today.
Next week: Top 10 safeties.


Take eight football writers scattered from Seattle to Tampa and ask them to come up with a list of the top 10 quarterbacks in the National Football League.

Sounds easy enough, in theory. You take the golden gunslingers, Tom Brady and Peyton Manning, and let everyone else fall naturally into order after that. Well, it didn’t quite work out that simply in ESPN.com’s Power Rankings for quarterbacks.

Heck, we couldn’t even come up with a top 10. We’re going with a top 11 because Baltimore’s Joe Flacco and Dallas’ Tony Romo tied for No. 10 with five points each in our voting system.

Even at the top, there was more disagreement than you might expect. Brady emerged as No. 1, but it wasn’t unanimous and, although Manning finished a strong second, two ballots had a man some consider the best quarterback ever at No. 3.

But let’s start analyzing the rankings by focusing on just Brady and Manning. Six voters put Brady at No. 1, but Paul Kuharsky and Mike Sando put Manning in the top spot. Let’s hear them out.

“Brady's fantastic, let's start with that,’’ said Kuharsky, who covers the AFC South, also known as “The Division Manning Built and Owns." “But no one is asked to do more or does more as a quarterback than Peyton Manning. He almost plays a different position. And while Brady's got three rings to Manning's one and is the reigning MVP, look at their touchdown and interception numbers in their last four playoff games. Manning's are better.’’

Sando has no horse in this race, because voters unanimously agreed the NFC West is the division that forgot quarterbacks, at least until Sam Bradford gets another season under his belt.

“Brady has the better stats over the last couple seasons, but the Colts would undoubtedly be far worse off than the Patriots if both teams had backups under center,’’ Sando said. “Once that was established, Brady's recent postseason struggles became a deciding factor. These quarterbacks have, to an extent, switched roles recently. Manning has won a championship more recently than Brady has won one. Brady has seven touchdowns, seven picks and one victory in his last four playoff games. Manning has seven touchdowns, two picks and two victories in his last four.’’

For rebuttal, let’s head up to the AFC East, to the man who covers Brady and the New England Patriots.

“I'm not sure why everybody needs to consider career achievements when filling out a Power Rankings ballot,’’ Tim Graham said. “Power Rankings are a snapshot of the moment and are expected to change regularly, not encompass years of work. But if the reason for selecting Manning ahead of Brady is recent playoff performances that go back a few years, then Ben Roethlisberger should be ahead of Manning with that logic. Roethlisberger has been to a pair of Super Bowls and won his second title more recently than Manning's only championship.’’

We’ll come to Roethlisberger in just a moment, but nobody put him ahead of Manning on his ballot. Kevin Seifert and I each put a quarterback ahead of Manning.

Seifert put Green Bay’s Aaron Rodgers at No. 2.

“Mostly, I didn't think I could face NFC North blog readers if I voted any other way,’’ Seifert said. “Seriously, I think the big advantage Manning and Drew Brees have over Rodgers is time. They've been playing longer and therefore have mostly better career numbers and a bigger frame of reference for knowing how they will perform in the long term. But when you take out longevity, Rodgers is right there with them. All three have one Super Bowl victory. Rodgers has a higher career passer rating than any quarterback in the history of the NFL with qualified attempts, better than Manning and Brees and Brady for that matter. So to break the tie, I think you can look at what they did most recently. I think Rodgers had a better 2010 season than Manning or Brees, and that's how I would justify this order.’’

I put Brees at No. 2 and don’t really want to write a story in which I quote myself, so I’ll just say Brees and Manning each have one Super Bowl ring and Brees’ numbers over the last four years are just as good or better in most categories. Plus, Brees hasn’t spent most of his career surrounded by the likes of Marvin Harrison, Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark and Edgerrin James.

In the final analysis, Brees finished third and Rodgers fourth. Roethlisberger, who has two Super Bowl rings, came in at No. 5. San Diego’s Philip Rivers, who has zero Super Bowl rings and some gaudy statistics, is No. 6. Relatively speaking, the order from Brees to Rivers, the guy who took his place with the Chargers, was pretty clear-cut.

After that, we had some close calls, strong differences of opinion and one very big coincidence. At No. 7, we’ve got a tie between Philadelphia’s Michael Vick and Atlanta’s Matt Ryan, who each finished with 26 points. For those who don’t see the irony in that, Vick was the face of Atlanta’s franchise for a long time and Ryan now holds that role.

Eli Manning of the New York Giants came in at No. 9, and Flacco and Romo tied for the final spot. Only three other quarterbacks received votes. They were Tampa Bay’s Josh Freeman, who I think could be near the top of this list in another year or two, Houston’s Matt Schaub and Kansas City’s Matt Cassel.

On to some other notes about the Power Rankings.

Michael Vick
Michael DeHoog/Sports Imagery/Getty ImagesOne recent year of success wasn't enough to put Eagles quarterback Michael Vick on John Clayton's ballot.
The Vick factor. Despite a hugely productive season last year, Vick was left off one very important ballot. John Clayton, the dean of all of us, didn’t have the Philadelphia quarterback on his ballot and was the only one of us who didn't.

“The only reason Michael Vick didn’t make my top 10 is because I, after an offseason of thinking, have Michael Vick as my No. 11 quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “That still makes him elite. I have 12 elite quarterbacks. Vick moved into the elite category with his performance last year, but it’s just one year. He can clearly move up the list this season, but he’s in the mix and knocking on the door of the top 10. A year ago, he wasn’t a consideration.’’

Fighting the Eli fight. Speaking of Clayton, let’s continue to ride that train as we discuss Eli Manning. Seifert, Sando, Graham and I didn’t even include Manning in our top 10, but he still made the list.

“I will continue to fight the argument Eli Manning is an elite quarterback,’’ Clayton said. “I moved him to No. 8 above Tony Romo, but if Romo had a full season last year, he might have been ahead of Eli. Remember that Carson Palmer, Brett Favre and Donovan McNabb dropped from my elite quarterback categories, which moved guys like Eli up in the mix. Eli has a Super Bowl ring. He’s a 4,000-yard quarterback. He wins.’’

No tiebreaking here. Speaking of Romo: Clayton and Sando each had him at No. 9. AFC North blogger James Walker had Romo at No. 10. That was good enough to get Romo five points and a tie with Flacco. One interesting note here: Flacco wasn’t on Walker’s ballot. I respect James for not doing the easy thing and being a "homer," although I’m sure some Baltimore fans might have different opinions.

"Joe Flacco is a good quarterback, but I don’t consider him an elite, top-10 quarterback just yet,’’ Walker said. “I need to see more consistency, especially in the playoffs and other big games against the Steelers. Flacco has a lot of natural ability, and I believe he’s ready to break through. But, in my book, Flacco needs to first prove it on the field in the biggest games to be elite.”

The final analysis. If you look at this list from a distance, you could say the Atlanta Falcons, San Diego Chargers and New England Patriots are the big winners. The Patriots, of course, have Brady, but they also drafted Cassel, whom they later traded to Kansas City. If you want to get really technical, the Chargers drafted Brees and Eli Manning and worked a draft-day trade with the Giants to end up with Rivers. If you count the few minutes Manning and Rivers were crossing paths, you could say the Chargers, at one time or another, had three guys on this list. You also could say the Falcons drafted Vick, Ryan and Schaub, who finished in a tie with Freeman for No. 12.

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