NFL Nation: Justin Miller
Let's review some relevant pregame news from the Lions' perspective:
- The Lions gave themselves some last-second breathing room at cornerback, singing veteran Justin Miller and releasing linebacker Doug Hogue. That gives the Lions four cornerbacks for this game, two of which were signed in the past week. Chris Houston and rookie Jonte Green will start. They'll be backed up by Miller and Alphonso Smith. As expected, Jacob Lacey (concussion) and Bill Bentley (shoulder) are inactive.
- Defensive tackle Corey Williams (knee) is active but won't start, according to the Lions. Nick Fairley will make his second consecutive start.
- Finally, the Lions will once again go with Joique Bell as Mikel Leshoure's backup at running back. Kevin Smith is inactive.
- I will spend most of the evening in our Monday Night Live ingame chat. Please join me here, or just scroll down the blog for the chat module.
Action should be plenty heated when the rivals kick off at 4:15 p.m. The Patriots want to avenge that Week 2 loss at the Meadowlands and are coming off a foul-tasting defeat to the Indianapolis Colts. The Jets need a victory to salvage their drain-circling season.
The Patriots have some interesting inactives. Left tackle Matt Light remains out, but right guard Stephen Neal will join him because of the head injury he suffered in Indy. Running back Sammy Morris will be held out again after speculation he would play.
Most notably scratched for the Jets is outside linebacker Vernon Gholston, the sixth overall pick in last year's draft. Gholston has been benched for two straight games.
All of Sunday's inactives are below:
New York Jets
- Quarterback Kevin O'Connell (third quarterback)
- Quarterback Erik Ainge
- Guard Matt Slauson
- Defensive end Ropati Pitoitua
- Linebacker Vernon Gholston
- Linebacker Ryan Fowler
- Linebacker Kenwin Cummings
- Cornerback Justin Miller
New York Jets all-purpose weapon Leon Washington can do it all. He's the Sammy Davis Jr. of the gridiron.
For you youngsters out there who don't know who Sammy was, just think Justin Timberlake but with a scotch and soda cradled in the same fingers as a lit cigarette. Sammy could sing, dance, act and bring the funny.
Washington was the Jets' most diversified star performer. As Newsday columnist Bob Glauber pointed out in Tuesday's column, Washington's loss will hurt the Jets in so many ways. He ran, caught, returned punts, returned kickoffs, operated the direct-snap Seminole package and probably could do a mean rendition of "Mr. Bojangles." But not with a busted leg.
"Maybe three or four guys have to replace him because he's so versatile," Jets coach Rex Ryan said.
The Jets on Tuesday signed one of those stand-ins, welcoming back old friend Justin Miller to return kicks and add some depth at defensive back.
The Jets placed Washington on season-ending injured reserve and used the roster spot for Miller, a 2005 second-round pick and 2006 Pro Bowler they released last year after he was hobbled by a bum toe. Miller joined the Oakland Raiders, and in seven games returned two punts for touchdowns.
Miller played one game for the Raiders this year, but was let go.
The loss is a blow to the Titans, who now have to find kick and punt returners.
Among the players they've looked at while Carr has been on a free agent tour is Justin Miller, a corner who is an experienced kick returner.
The first wave of free agency has come and gone. While Round 2 hasn't played out yet -- the draft is still six weeks away and offseason programs are in the offing -- the AFC South blog pauses to assess our four teams.
What's the overriding issue that remains to be addressed for each team? How might the franchises take them on?
|Rob Tringali/Sportschrome/Getty Images|
|Defensive end Antonio Smith gives the Texans some help on their defensive line.|
The team's 2006 draft was the last with Charley Casserly as GM and coach Gary Kubiak signed off on all seven picks. Three of them -- Mario Williams, DeMeco Ryans and Owen Daniels -- already have been to the Pro Bowl, and a fourth -- Eric Winston -- is a very solid starter.
If the Texans can come close to matching that with a defense-heavy draft, they could position themselves to challenge Tennessee and Indianapolis atop the division.
They need an infusion of defensive playmakers for new coordinator Frank Bush to work with: A sturdy linebacker, a stout defensive tackle, a safety or corner to challenge for a big role.
Never mind their standing as the league's 22nd-ranked defense in 2008. If the Texans can improve in scoring defense (24.6 points, 27th) and third-down defense (39.4 percent, 16th), that can make a huge difference. Defensive stinginess would help a team that's got an offensive head coach in Kubiak and an attack that should be able to score with a quality skill trio of Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson and Steve Slaton.
They believe they answered the question at defensive end by signing free agent Antonio Smith to play opposite Williams. But more additions to the front seven are needed, as they have to produce more pressure on quarterbacks. Only five teams had fewer than the Texans' 25 sacks last year, 12 of which came from Williams. Each of the 12 playoff teams last season recorded more sacks than it allowed. Houston was minus-seven.
Above all else, the pass rush needs to remain the focus. The Texans need a pocket-collapsing tackle, a linebacker who could contribute to the rush and/or a defensive back who can help keep the ball in a QB's hand for an extra beat. A running back to go with Slaton will be tempting, but the Texans should wait to grab one until after they've spent at least a couple of value picks on defense.
The Colts like Roy Hall and Pierre Garcon, but they are unproven and it would be asking for and expecting a lot for one of them to emerge as the third receiver on a team that needs dependable pass catchers for Peyton Manning. That's why it won't be a surprise at all if the Colts use the 27th pick in the draft on a wideout if there is one they believe fits what they do and can contribute right away.
But even if they go that direction early, their bigger issue is on defense, where the front seven needs restocking. The Colts need at least one big, run-stuffing defensive tackle and they need a new weakside linebacker with Freddy Keiaho (not given a qualifying offer when he could have been a restricted free agent) and Tyjuan Hagler (unrestricted) apparently out of the picture.
New defensive coordinator Larry Coyer is expected to be more complex, and Polian needs to give him more pieces to work with. The Colts like to choose "the best player available" in at least the first two rounds. It would be great for them if those players happened to be interior linemen or outside linebackers. Without boosts there, we'll be discussing a lot of the same issues in 2009 we covered in 2008.
The Jaguars have sent the message loud and clear: They are looking to rebuild by improving their foundation first, and they are big believers that the offensive and defensive lines are that foundation.
|Howard Smith/US Presswire|
|While providing stability on the offensive line, Tra Thomas knows he needs work on his run blocking.|
The addition of veteran left tackle Tra Thomas alleviates the pressure on the team to find a left tackle at No. 8 in the
draft, but Thomas himself said he needs work as a run blocker. With a team looking to spring Maurice Jones-Drew, that's the big priority.
At their peak, Jack Del Rio's Jaguars were known as one of the league's most physical teams. For a long time, the interior defensive line tandem of John Henderson and Marcus Stroud were primary reasons for that reputation.
The 2008 Jaguars never really replaced Stroud effectively after he was traded to Buffalo, and finding someone like him who could eat space and blockers and help boost Henderson back to his old form is important.
As usual, Jacksonville needs a playmaker outside. Their failures with receivers are well documented, but if David Garrard has insufficient protection and the defense can't get off the field on third down better, the next Jerry Rice won't win them too many games.
Re-establishing a physical identity remains priority No. 1, and will be a big focus in the draft.
Beyond Haynesworth, the Titans have lost little and should be in position to be a contender again. The big issue is the lack of playmakers.
When Chris Johnson left the Baltimore playoff game hurt, Tennessee didn't have an alternative and became far less threatening. Adding a field-stretching receiver can improve the Titans' quick-strike ability. A burner would help keep defenses honest so they can't focus on Johnson as much.
Is free-agent acquisition Nate Washington that guy? Perhaps.
If the Titans can bring back Chris Carr or sign one of the veteran corners they've looked at -- Justin Miller, Eric Green or Jarrett Bush -- they won't be in dire need of anything in the draft. That's a liberating idea for a team that needs to line up heirs at some spots like outside linebacker and corner.
But it also gives the Titans the option of grabbing a receiver they think can help add a dynamic like Johnson did a year ago. The question is, will they finally do it?
The Texans matched Denver's offer sheet for David Anderson who said it's a win-win situation, while C.C. Brown signed with the Giants, says John McClain.
More from AP on Brown to the Giants.
LaDainian Tomlinson was one of seven inducted into the Texas Sports Hall of Fame, writes McClain.
John Oehser ponders Marvin Harrison's future.
Oehser tracks some other former Colts.
The contract defensive end James Wyche, who hadn't received a qualifying offer from the Jaguars, agreed to earlier this week is one year for $460,000, I was told. The minimum, as you'd expect.
A chance at a bigger role lured Chris Simms to Denver, and the money wasn't bad either, writes Jim Wyatt.
Vince Young's agent said the quarterback wasn't unhappy about Kerry Collins re-signing and is "just trying to get himself together," reports Wyatt.
The Titans will have a lot more tough decisions on expiring contracts after 2009, writes Terry McCormick.
As the Titans visited with Justin Miller, Chris Carr's tour took him to New England, says Wyatt.
Three developments in the AFC South this afternoon:
- The Texans matched Denver's offer sheet to restricted free agent receiver David Anderson, reports John McClain. Good move, I think.
- Free agent cornerback and returner Justin Miller visited the Titans, reports Jim Wyatt. Miller could help the Titans patch their return games if they lose Chris Carr in free agency.
- In Indianapolis, the Colts announced they re-signed defensive tackle Daniel Muir. He was an exclusive rights free agent who joined Indy just before the 2008 regular season as a waiver claim from the Green Bay Packers.
Pittsburgh Steelers (11-3) at Tennessee Titans (12-2), 1 p.m. ET
The Titans have drifted away from their run-at-all-cost mindset while losing two of their last four. A game can unfold in a way that forces them out of it, but they are usually pretty stubborn, even if a good share of the carries are for minimal gains.
Much has been made about how the offensive line will handle Pittsburgh's zone blitzing 3-4 front. Tennessee's is a cerebral line keyed by left tackle Michael Roos and center Kevin Mawae, and how they sort through the unexpected to block for Chris Johnson and LenDale White and to buy time for Kerry Collins will be crucial.
Collins has been starting especially slow and while the Titans don't panic, they don't want a bad first quarter to leave them with a hole to climb out of. Tight end Bo Scaife hasn't been as involved in recent weeks as he was earlier in the season. It would seem the Titans could look to find some short Collins-to-Scaife connections early to create rhythm and get the offense started.
Pittsburgh is the league's top scoring defense (13.7 a game) and the Titans are second (14.1). If it's a field-goal-at-the-end kind of game both teams have a clutch guy who's only missed three -- Jeff Reed is 26 of 29, with misses from 40, 45 and 51 yards while Rob Bironas is 28 of 31 having missed from 43, 47 and 49 yards.
I feel like the Titans will need a big play on defense or special teams that flips the field to help the offense get to the end zone.
Houston Texans (7-7) at Oakland Raiders (3-11), 4:05 p.m. ET
Once again the question is whether the Texans can sustain their quality play after an emotional win, and this time with a trip to the West Coast.
If Oakland's stellar cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha shadows Andre Johnson, I suspect the Texans will be willing to look elsewhere and Kevin Walter and Owen Daniels could be in line for big days against the 26th pass defense in the NFL. Johnson, though, has averaged 17.7 yards against the Raiders in two games.
Still, Steve Slaton may be the key -- he has three 100-yard games in a row during which he's averaging almost 5 yards a carry. That could fit nicely against the Raiders run defense, which is used to allowing 4.7.
Houston cannot afford to be undone on special teams, where it has had its share of gaffes this season and has not been a very good kick coverage unit. They will be on high alert with Justin Miller fielding kickoffs, as he has returns for touchdowns in consecutive games.
Posted by ESPN.com's Bill Williamson
Here are some observations from the action thus far in the AFC West:
* Raiders kick returner Johnnie Lee Higgins acquitted himself with a 93-yard kickoff return. It could keep him in business in Oakland, Higgins struggled and he lost a fumble last week Oakland's claimed Justin Miller from the Jets on waivers this week. And he will do some returning as well. That could help keep him employed in Oakland.
* Raiders quarterback JaMarcus Russell finally seems to realize that he needs get the ball to tight end Zach Miller. He had four catches for 67 yards Miller is one of the Raiders' best offensive players and he needs to get the ball more.
* Denver rookie running back Peyton Hillis scored two touchdowns in his first game as the starting tailback.
* After handling Michael Turner for much of the game, Denver's battered defense allowed Turner to score on a 28-yard run in the fourth quarter. The Falcons star running back was a Denver killer as LaDainian Tomlinson's backup in San Diego.
* Late in the fourth quarter, Larry Johnson has 18 rushes with Kansas City. It's more than what was expected after he sat out the last four games on the bench. It is interesting that Kansas City is working Johnson in this new spread offense as much as it has.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
New York Jets
- Steve Serby of the New York Post sees reasons for alarm with the Jets offense, calling it "Favre from perfect" in Saturday night's victory over the Giants.
- New York Times reporter Judy Battista writes about the Jets' lack of discipline on offense.
- Rich Cimini writes for the New York Daily News that "In 24 plays, the Favre-led offense managed only 116 net yards."
- Newsday writer Bob Glauber tackles a series of subjects stemming from Saturday night.
- Newark Star-Ledger reporter Dave Hutchinson writes about CB Justin Miller's foot injury among other notes.
- Buffalo News writer Mark Gaughan previews tonight's matchup between the Bills' defense and the Colts' offense.
- Buffalo News columnist Larry Felser writes the Bills caught a break when they couldn't trade QB J.P. Losman.
- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle columnist Bob Matthews looks ahead to the Bills' season opener and sees a vulnerable opponent.
- The Fort Wayne Journal Gazette checks in with how rookie WR James Hardy's adjusting to the NFL.
- Miami Herald reporter Barry Jackson talks to QB Chad Pennington about that noodle-arm reputation.
- Palm Beach Post columnist Greg Stoda would've liked to see a more dynamic Dolphins offense despite Saturday night's 24-0 preseason victory over the Chiefs.
- Ethan J. Skolnick of the Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel was encouraged by which players made a difference Saturday night.
- Palm Beach Post reporter Ben Volin leads off his game notebook with Ted Ginn's 59-yard punt return for a TD.
- Mike Phillips of the Miami Herald writes about how TE Anthony Fasano is fitting in with his new team.
New England Patriots
- Karen Guregian of the Boston Herald reviews the winners and losers from Friday night's loss that dropped the Patriots to 0-3.
- Boston Globe reporter Michael Vega broaches the possibility QB Tom Brady might not play a down in the preseason.
- Vega also takes a second look at how well QB Matt Gutierrez performed Friday night.
Posted by ESPN.com's Tim Graham
New England Patriots
- LB Tedy Bruschi explains to Boston Herald columnist Tony Massarotti why Brett Favre should stay retired. "When you say you're going to hang it up, that's got to be your (final) decision," Bruschi said.
- Providence Journal reporter Shalise Manza Young checks in on the Tank Williams experiment. Is he a LB? He claims he's not sure.
- He wasn't exactly Steve Tasker for the Bills, but the Patriots saw enough out of WR Sam Aiken to sign him up for their special teams.
- K Stephen Gostkowski said his lack of long field-goal attempts last year was because the offense was so good it rarely left him too far away.
- Rochester Democrat & Chronicle reporter Sal Maiorana writes WR Lee Evans was staunchly behind J.P. Losman in last year's QB controversy, but Trent Edwards has won him over. Good thing because Edwards will be the one throwing him the ball.
- Losman missed Tuesday night's sloppy practice under the lights with a swollen passing thumb.
- The Bills pray DT John McCargo can overcome his faulty foot to make an impact. "We are hoping like hell that he can take that next step and play like we hoped," D-line coach Bill Kollar told the Buffalo News.
- Miami Herald columnist Greg Cote writes about RB Ricky Williams' self-reclamation project. Not many outside South Florida have addressed what, at the moment, seems a tired tale, but Williams' return will become the team's biggest storyline of '08.
- The Miami Herald headline says WR Derek Hagan is "getting rave reviews." But if he were really standing out, then they probably wouldn't be going after Terry Glenn.
- Carlos Frias of the Palm Beach Post catches up with young ILB Channing Crowder, who has the unenviable task of replacing the beloved Zach Thomas.
New York Jets
- At a time when most everybody else has been wishy-washy about the Jets' quarterback situation, Chad Pennington is refreshingly blunt. New York Times columnist William C. Rhoden is convinced Pennington should be the starter.
- Newsday beat reporter Eric Boland writes CB/KR Justin Miller is happy to be on his feet after missing much of last year's camp with a bum hammy and blowing out his right knee in Week 2.
- J.P. Pelzman of the Bergen Daily Record takes a look at G Alan Faneca's role in anchoring the Jets offensive line.
- Another big-ticket free agent, OLB Calvin Pace, is trying to overcome perceptions in Arizona he was a bust.
1:00 PM ET Indianapolis Cincinnati 1:00 PM ET Atlanta Green Bay 1:00 PM ET Cleveland New England 1:00 PM ET Oakland New York 1:00 PM ET Detroit Philadelphia 1:00 PM ET Miami Pittsburgh 1:00 PM ET Buffalo Tampa Bay 1:00 PM ET Kansas City Washington 1:00 PM ET Minnesota Baltimore 4:05 PM ET Tennessee Denver 4:25 PM ET St. Louis Arizona 4:25 PM ET New York San Diego 4:25 PM ET Seattle San Francisco 8:30 PM ET Carolina New Orleans