NFL Nation: Kerry Collins

SANTA CLARA, Calif. -- Michael Crabtree caught 85 passes for 1,105 yards and nine touchdowns with the San Francisco 49ers last season. Before that, his three-year career totals lined up with those for a player the 49ers signed amid injury concerns Friday.

Austin Collie, who missed the 2012 season following knee surgery and has a history of concussions, joins the roster along with Lavelle Hawkins. Those two prevailed over a third receiver, Laurent Robinson, during a tryout at team headquarters, according to Matt Barrows of the Sacramento Bee.

The chart at right shows 2009-2011 totals for Crabtree and Collie. Collie played a supporting role in the Indianapolis Colts' pass-oriented offense featuring Peyton Manning behind center during the first two seasons of that three-year window. He had 54 receptions for 514 yards and one touchdown in 2010, when Curtis Painter, Dan Orlovsky and Kerry Collins were the Colts' quarterbacks.

Collie had suffered four concussions since 2010 when he suffered a torn patella tendon during the 2011 season.

The 49ers have sought receiver depth after losing Crabtree to a torn Achilles' tendon. Their need at the position has grown critical during camp with five other receivers either limited or unavailable, including veteran Mario Manningham and 2012 first-round pick A.J. Jenkins.

Collie also tried out with the 49ers in June.

Randy Moss the greatest? Let's discuss

January, 29, 2013
Randy MossDerick E. Hingle/USA TODAY SportsThe 49ers' Randy Moss doesn't lack self-confidence during Tuesday's Super Bowl media day.
NEW ORLEANS -- One day after San Francisco 49ers coach Jim Harbaugh took on President Barack Obama, receiver Randy Moss challenged Jerry Rice's status as the NFL's greatest receiver.

Wait, weren't the AFC champion Baltimore Ravens supposed to be the big talkers during Super Bowl week? They're multiple-syllable underdogs at this point.

Moss stole the show at Super Bowl media day by declaring himself the greatest receiver of all time.

"I think I'm the greatest receiver to ever do it," Moss said. "Because I think back when Jerry was playing -- and no disrespect to Jerry Rice, because he's arguably the greatest -- but for me to be able to go out here and change and revolutionize the game from a single safety to a Cover 2 safety and dropping three guys deep and dropping four guys deep and still be able to make it happen? That is why I really hold my hat on that, that I really feel in my heart and in my mind that I am the greatest receiver to ever play this game."

If Rice had the greatest career of any receiver in NFL history, which seems indisputable based on longevity and raw numbers, Moss at his best was arguably the most feared.

Moss was faster. I think he was more athletic. If both receivers were to line up on opposite sides of the formation while in their prime, defenses would face a dilemma. I think they would fear Rice more on shorter and intermediate routes. I think they would fear Moss more on deeper routes.

Rice benefited from beginning his career under Bill Walsh and spending most of it with either Joe Montana or Steve Young throwing passes to him. That doesn't diminish his achievements, in my view.

Rice dominated. He reached 1,000 yards receiving 14 times. Moss did it 10 times. Rice scored at least nine touchdowns in a season 12 times. Moss did it nine times. Each had nine seasons with at least 10 touchdowns. Rice had four seasons with at least 1,500 yards. Moss had one. Rice had six seasons with at least 1,400 yards. Moss had four.

Moss also played with a couple of Hall of Fame-caliber quarterbacks in Tom Brady and Brett Favre, but the years he spent with them were exceptions, not the norm. Brad Johnson, Randall Cunningham, Jeff George, Daunte Culpepper, Todd Bouman, Spergon Wynn, Gus Frerotte, Kerry Collins, Andrew Walter, Aaron Brooks, Matt Cassel, Vince Young, Alex Smith and Colin Kaepernick have also thrown passes his way.

To this point, Rice's status as the greatest has been pretty much assumed. Those with a strong grasp of league history might acknowledge Don Hutson's achievements as unique. However, Rice is an overwhelming choice as the best receiver in NFL history.

An panel featuring Raymond Berry, Boyd Dowler, Mike Holmgren, Ken Houston, Warren Moon, Keyshawn Johnson and Ted Thompson voted Rice first and Moss second in anonymous voting five years ago.

"Jerry Rice, he's so obvious, it scares me," Dowler said at the time.

How gap between Titans, Ravens grew

January, 28, 2013
The Tennessee Titans and Baltimore Ravens used to be bitter rivals, closely matched.

Then Tennessee collapsed in a playoff game after the 2000 season at what now is LP Field, losing 24-10 despite dominating the game in a lot of ways.

Since that fork in the road, the teams have gone in very different directions.

Writes Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean: “The Ravens went on to win the Super Bowl, and they will play for a second championship on Sunday in New Orleans against the San Francisco 49ers. The Titans, meanwhile, haven’t won a playoff game in nine years and are coming off a 6-10 season.”

But that’s not the line of demarcation I’ll use.

The 2008 Titans were the No. 1 seed in the AFC playoffs. The sixth-seeded Ravens won in Miami to earn another playoff trip to Nashville. And Tennessee lost that divisional round game in a similar fashion to the game in 2000, even though the score was a lot closer, 13-10.

Since then:
  • The Titans are 29-35 (.453) with no playoff appearances.
  • The Ravens are 43-21 (.672) with a 6-3 playoff record.

That playoff meeting in Nashville was Joe Flacco’s second playoff game, and while he’s had his ups and downs, he’s now a Super Bowl quarterback.

Since then, the Titans have started Kerry Collins, Vince Young, Matt Hasselbeck, Jake Locker and, in an emergency situations, Rusty Smith.

Instability at quarterback is only part of the reasons the teams have been so different.

John Harbaugh has developed into a steady coach while Jeff Fisher’s tenure fizzled out and Mike Munchak hasn’t established any solid footing after two seasons.

Led by one of the NFL’s top general managers, Ozzie Newsome, the Ravens have continued good roster building.

The Titans actually have more starters and contributors out of their last four drafts, but it’s partly because of previous failures -- think Young, Adam "Pacman" Jones, Chris Henry, Paul Williams -- that so much opportunity is available.

Baltimore’s gotten far more production out of outside veterans it’s brought in: Center Matt Birk, receiver Anquan Boldin (via trade), fullback Vonta Leach, safety Bernard Pollard, resurgent left tackle Bryant McKinnie, receiver/returner Jacoby Jones.

Compare that to Tennessee’s veteran additions: Receiver Nate Washington, linebacker Will Witherspoon, quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, safety Jordan Babineaux, guard Steve Hutchinson, end Kamerion Wimbley, returner Darius Reynaud.

The Titans fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and didn’t see much change with Dowell Loggains promoted to replace Chris Palmer.

The Ravens fired their offensive coordinator late in the 2012 season, and got a major boost from Jim Caldwell taking over for Cam Cameron.

It’s a copycat league, and the Ravens were already a model franchise in many ways.

The Titans are one of a long list of teams that need to look at how the Ravens work and borrow some ideas.

Quarterback is the key, but the gap between these two teams was a playoff field goal just four years ago. It’s a deep moat now.

Someone's still searching for that first TD

December, 22, 2012

Quarterback Ryan Lindley has played five games, made three starts and attempted 141 passes during his rookie season with the Arizona Cardinals.

One thing Lindley has not yet done: throw a touchdown pass.

The sixth-round draft choice has a chance to end the streak against the Chicago Bears on Sunday. No quarterback since at least 2001 has attempted more than 91 passes over a full season without connecting for a touchdown at least once, according to ESPN Stats & Information.

The chart shows Lindley and Pittsburgh's Byron Leftwich among 10 quarterbacks since 2001 with more than 50 attempts in a season and no touchdown passes.

Lindley has 141 attempts, including 120 in games he started. Ken Dorsey had 91 attempts for Cleveland in 2008 without a touchdown pass. Dorsey has the second-most attempts among the 10 scoreless players with more than 50 attempts in a season. Former Cardinals quarterback Matt Leinart is also on the list. He had 77 attempts and no scores in 2009.

CJ better with Hasselbeck than Locker

December, 13, 2012
Chris Johnson ran better when Vince Young was his quarterback than he did with Kerry Collins.

So when the Titans made the move in the preseason to go from Matt Hasselbeck, more of a pocket guy like Collins was, to Jake Locker, more mobile like VY, the presumption was that things would get better for Johnson.

That’s not been the case.

Locker has started eight games this year, with Hasselbeck starting five while Locker was out with an injured left shoulder.

Per ESPN Stats & Info, Johnson has actually run better with Hasselbeck running the huddle:

Johnson is averaging 6.2 yards per rush in games Hasselbeck started and 3.6 in Locker’s starts.

Johnson was hit in the backfield on 11.2 percent of his rushes with Hasselbeck at quarterback, compared to 20.1 percent of his runs with Locker at QB.

Johnson is averaging 4.8 yards before contact per rush with Hasselbeck and 2.4 with Locker.

He’s scored three TDs playing with Hasselbeck and one with Locker.

Why the differences?

“VY vs. Collins was easy, a great running QB opens up a ton of room for the running back,” said Matt Williamson of Scouts Inc. “Defensive ends were less likely to crash down on an inside run because they feared VY keeping it and going around tackle. That is just one of many examples.

“As for Hasselbeck vs. Locker, that is tougher to explain. Without REALLY digging into it heavily, my immediate thought is that Hasselbeck has much more freedom at the line of scrimmage to audible and get into the best play, whether it run or pass. I doubt Locker has that freedom. Also, the Titans’ offensive line was much healthier when Hasselbeck player (particularly with right tackle David Stewart), which could be the entire reason.”

Will Washington do more with Locker?

November, 30, 2012
In his first two seasons with the Titans, Nate Washington looked like an overpaid free agent miss. He was good for a periodic big play, but he also dropped a lot of balls and made a lot of excuses.

I remember speaking with a powerful personnel man about Washington. He said the Titans had overspent on a guy who was very good when plays broke down and got extended by a scrambling Ben Roethlisberger in Pittsburgh, but very average on a regular play that lasted a regular length of time.

Last year, with a big assist from new receivers coach Dave Ragone, Washington blossomed in a big way. He was a much more mature locker room presence, he was a quality leader on and spokesman for the offense, and he posted career highs in the big three categories with 74 catches for 1,023 yards and seven touchdowns.

Playing mostly with quarterback Matt Hasselbeck, Washington’s yards per catch were the second-lowest of his career -- 13.8.

Still, among active players with at least 300 catches, Washington’s 15.0 ranks eighth. (Vincent Jackson is first, at an outrageous 17.9. Calvin Johnson is second at 16.2, the rest are 15.6 or below.)

Washington was good at turning into a target for Roethlisberger under Pittsburgh’s scramble rules. The Titans thought he would do the same for Vince Young in a relationship that never really panned out.

Now, with Jake Locker healthy and set as the Titans' quarterback, Washington is working for another mobile quarterback with the chance to make some especially big plays when Locker can extend a play and coverage is asked to last too long.

Here’s a look, thanks to Matt Willis of ESPN Stats and Info, at Washington’s yards per catch by quarterback.

Final Word: AFC South

November, 16, 2012
NFC Final Word: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Five nuggets of knowledge about Week 11:

Big rookie test: Andrew Luck will attempt to become the first rookie starting quarterback to win at New England since Kerry Collins for the Panthers in 1995. Since then, Peyton Manning, Byron Leftwich and Mark Sanchez have all lost, while combining to throw for three touchdowns and nine interceptions. (Manning lost his first five regular-season games in New England.) If Luck picks up his seventh win of the season, he will tie Sam Bradford for the most wins by a rookie quarterback selected with the No. 1 overall pick in the common draft era.

[+] EnlargeMatt Schaub
Justin Edmonds/Getty ImagesMatt Schaub burned the Jaguars on play-actions passes in Week 2, completing 14 of 16.
Schaub’s success: Since Week 7 of last season, Matt Schaub -- with a 12-1 record as a starter -- has the best winning percentage for a quarterback in that span in the NFL, according to ESPN Stats & Info. Jay Cutler is 11-2, Matt Ryan 15-4 and Aaron Rodgers 14-4. Although Schaub is first in win-loss record in that time, he’s just eighth in touchdown-to-interception ratio (2.6 TDs for every INT). When the Texans beat the Jaguars in Jacksonville in Week 2, Schaub was 14-of-16 (87.5 percent) on play-action passes. That’s the second-highest completion percentage on play-action throws since the start of 2008 (minimum 15 attempts).

Jaguars’ woes: Jacksonville has lost six consecutive games, the team's longest losing streak since dropping six straight in 2002-03. The Jaguars have lost seven straight games only once, back in their inaugural season of 1995. Jacksonville has played the NFL’s toughest schedule thus far, with its opponents carrying a combined 50-32 record (.610). According to Elias: Since the 1970 merger, there have been 15 matchups in Week 10 or later featuring a team with one or fewer wins against a team with one or fewer losses. The team with one or fewer losses is 12-3 in those matchups. The last such underdog to pull off a win? The Jaguars in 2003 when they beat the Colts.

Reggie Wayne's reliability: Luck and Wayne have connected downfield in ways that Manning and Wayne didn’t in their final seasons together. Wayne has 37 catches of more than 10 yards downfield through nine games, according to ESPN Stats & Info. In his final four years with Manning as his quarterback, he never had more than 33 in a full season. Luck’s average pass has traveled a league-high 10.3 yards downfield, but his short passing has gotten better recently. Luck has completed at least 69 percent of his throws within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage in the Colts’ last four games. He had completed fewer than 60 percent of those throws in four of his first five games.

Also: Arian Foster has scored a touchdown in each of his past 11 games, tied for the second-longest streak in the past 10 years. LaDainian Tomlinson had an 18-game streak spanning the 2004 and 2005 seasons. ... New England and Indianapolis face each other for the 10th time in the regular season since 2002, which is when the current division format was created. Only one other pair of non-division opponents played each other as many as nine times over that same span: Carolina and Arizona. ... The Colts are getting a league-high 42.7 percent of their yards from scrimmage from rookies. Washington is No. 2 at 37.9 percent. ... The Titans have their bye this week.
Randy Moss' impressive offseason with the San Francisco 49ers continues, generating positive reviews.

"The first day, it was surreal out there throwing balls to him," quarterback Alex Smith said. "The physical skills everybody knows. The thing you appreciate a lot is the guy's a true pro. He's played a lot of football. He's incredibly smart out there."

If this sounds familiar, it should.

With Moss, it's often about impressive debuts and new beginnings. Sometimes, he sticks around and produces, as the case was with New England. Other times, the initial impressions do not foreshadow future results.

Moss impressed the Oakland Raiders when he joined them by trade from Minnesota in 2005. That situation did not work out well (the Raiders obviously deserve some of the blame).

"I thought Randy was outstanding," Norv Turner, then the Raiders' coach, said after Moss' first couple practices with the team. "He got in yesterday afternoon late and we put a lot of offense in today and we have a lot going in this weekend. He handled it extremely well. It's a whole different system than he's been around. He went out and relaxed and obviously he can run and catch and do those things. He looked very comfortable to me."

Moss impressed the New England Patriots when he joined them by trade from Oakland in 2007. Moss played very well for the Patriots before his time with the team ran its course.

"Tom Brady has heard the critics who expect Moss to bring more baggage to the Patriots than a hotel valet would," The New York Times wrote back when Moss joined New England. "But so far, Brady has been impressed, and Moss looked explosive during Wednesday’s workout. During one portion of practice, Brady and Moss stood off to the side by themselves, talking and throwing a football, part of the working bond they hope to create."

Moss impressed the Vikings when he rejoined them by trade from the Patriots in 2010. Moss wound up making little impact (the Vikings, like the Raiders, had their own issues).

"He's had a whirlwind week-and-a-half catching up on a new playbook, and the Vikings were quite pleased with his performance against the New York Jets last week despite the lack of familiarity," the Associated Press reported. "The coaches have noted progress in practice this week, believing he'll be able to be more comfortable with his routes without having to stop and think too much about his assignment."

Moss impressed the Tennessee Titans when he joined their team off waivers in 2011. He made almost no impact with the team on the field, however.

"When Randy Moss comes into your locker room, he brings something. Guys are seeing that and responding to it," Kerry Collins, then a Titans quarterback, told reporters. "The biggest thing is just the way he's working. You never judge a book by what you hear. You wait and see what a guy is about. He's come in here with a great attitude and ready to work. The guy just wants to win. Period. The end. He'll do whatever it takes to make that happen."

Moss impressed the New Orleans Saints during a workout in 2012. They did not sign him, however.

"Moss had an off-the-charts workout at the Saints facility this morning," reported. "The 35-year old Moss reportedly performed the 40-yard dash in the 4.39 to 4.4 range and ran routes while hauling in nearly 50 passes. One source described Moss as being more impressive than anticipated, saying that he is in great shape."

And, of course, Moss is impressing the 49ers this offseason. The situation in San Francisco appears more stable than the ones in Oakland or Minnesota (the second time). Perhaps the results will be better as well.
INDIANAPOLIS — Adam Schefter reported that Indianapolis Colts receiver Pierre Garcon, a free-agent-to-be, passed on a five-year contract offer from the team.

[+] EnlargePierre Garcon
Brian Spurlock/US PresswireThe Colts would like to retain Pierre Garcon, a four-year pro who has played his entire career in Indianapolis.
Not knowing details of the money makes it difficult for us to offer a complete interpretation of what such a development means.

But the nugget of news still tells us a few important things:

  • New GM Ryan Grigson is to the point where he’s evaluated what he’s got and made some judgments on who he’d like to retain. And Garcon is on the list.
  • Garcon expects to find something better on the open market, which could prompt the Colts to boost their offer.

Garcon will bring a receiving corps a jolt of speed, and virtually everybody seeking help at the position covets a guy who can stretch the field and impact the way defenses play.

He’s been a streaky player, and his good games and stretches have been very good. But he can put up duds, get mixed up with his quarterback and muff the sort of crucial pass that can change a game.

One thing that can’t be used as a strike against him is that he’s a product of Peyton Manning, since he led the Colts with six touchdown catches as he caught 70 passes for 947 yards with Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky at quarterback.

I’d rate him as a risk with a big money contract, but also think he’s worth a shot as a No. 2 on the right team with the right offense, the right quarterback and the right No. 1.

The Colts need him and could beef up their offer and continue to try to get a deal done before free agency opens March 13. Also, defensive end Robert Mathis is also a franchise-tag candidate. That would cost about $10.05 million. If he hits the market, he’s going to field calls from a ton of teams.

Receiver Reggie Wayne is also heading for free agency. Indianapolis can keep one with a franchise tag of around $9.4 million. Lose both and they’re down to Austin Collie — a very good player who shouldn’t be asked to be a team’s top guy — and Blair White as their wideouts under contract.

Some analysts will be tempted to rate Garcon as having more upside than the aging Wayne as the Colts prepare to draft Andrew Luck. But I’ve been chatting with colleagues about it. That deep threat is nice, but isn’t a guy who will reliably convert third-and-7 more valuable for a young quarterback?
Early thoughts on some key Colts scheduled to become unrestricted free agents come March 13.

Thanks to Mac’s Football Blog, where you can find complete team-by-team lists that include exclusive right and restricted free agents.

QB Kerry Collins – He may not have filed paperwork, but he’s retired.

QB Dan Orlovsky – Showed enough to be on a roster in the league as a third quarterback in a crowded situation or a backup somewhere with a sure-fire starter.

WR Pierre Garcon – He’s inconsistent, but this team needs a speed receiver for Andrew Luck and it’s better to keep the one they’ve been developing than going searching.

WR Anthony Gonzalez – Was completely in the doghouse at the end and could not get on the field. Probably needs to sign for a season, in Indy or elsewhere, and prove he can be healthy and contribute.

WR Reggie Wayne – Has said he’d stay and be honored to be part of a rebuild, but they’d have to be fair. Other teams will court him and somebody will pay him better than the Colts would if they pursued him, I suspect.

TE Jacob Tamme – Was quite a good receiving option for Peyton Manning in 2010, but how much of that was Manning? I think Tamme is a valuable piece they should want back and can certainly afford.

OT Ryan Diem – Did well to serve as a veteran example for a young line and was flexible, playing some guard. But his time is going to be up.

OG Mike Pollak – Has played a lot and not gotten a lot better. They got new tackles last year; it’s time for a new guard or two.

OC Jeff Saturday – If Manning is gone, it would make sense to turn the page with Saturday, too. Reportedly the Colts and at least one other team would like him in their front offices.

DE Robert Mathis – Will be a commodity, for sure. Never mind his age. He can help you rush the passer for the next three years. Colts should want to keep him, but will they pay what he costs?

LB Philip Wheeler – If the Colts are getting bigger on defense, they’ll probably move on here. He’s consistently failed to get in or stay in the lineup for extended stretches in a defense for which he’s better suited.

Other UFAs:

Colts regular-season wrap-up

January, 4, 2012
NFC Wrap-ups: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South

Arrow indicates direction team is trending.

Final Power Ranking: 32
Preseason Power Ranking: 9

[+] EnlargePeyton Manning
Rob Carr/Getty ImagesWithout Peyton Manning the Colts went from playoff contender to the worst team in the NFL.
Biggest surprise: Even without rehabilitating Peyton Manning (neck), few figured the the Colts could go 0-13 and wind up 2-14 with the No. 1 overall pick in the draft. We can’t say how much better these Colts could have been with their four-time NFL MVP in the huddle, but he clearly masked a lot more issues than many knew. The offense tried to be more run-based but didn’t make it work well enough. Typically allergic to fullbacks, they used three different ones but ran worse with a fullback on the field than without one. The secondary was poorly constructed and couldn’t endure injuries and it became clear how bad a fit Jim Caldwell’s hand-picked coordinator, Larry Coyer, had become for the Cover 2 scheme the Colts like to run.

Biggest disappointment: Quarterback play was awful. Kerry Collins, Curtis Painter and Dan Orlovsky were terrible as the alternatives to Manning at quarterback. They combined to average 6.04 yards per attempt with 14 touchdowns and 14 interceptions, while absorbing 35 sacks. A lot of the good numbers were compiled late in blowouts. The Colts' 26.9 combined QBR was better than only the Jaguars and Rams. The team tied an NFL record by going eight full games without ever holding a lead.

Biggest need: The Colts need help at all sorts of positions, starting in the secondary. Before team vice chairman Bill Polian was dismissed he was saying the team needed an infusion of youth that could contribute to converting third downs on offense and stopping them on defense. But until a new general manager is in place and we know the coaching staff and scheme, we won’t know which veterans they should aim to keep and which ones they should let go. So new leadership at the management level is the top need following the dismissal of Polian and GM Chris Polian. From there, a verdict on Manning’s health and future and a decision on whether to keep the No. 1 pick and what to do with it will hang over the franchise.

Team MVP: Pat Angerer slid to middle linebacker from the strong side after Gary Brackett suffered a season-ending shoulder injury in the season opener in Houston. Angerer proved to be a tackling machine who consistently shed blockers and covered ground despite the fact that the defensive line in front of him and the secondary behind him often didn’t play reliably enough. He made a team-high 148 tackles. Brackett now appears dispensable.

System status: For the Polian-Manning era the Colts built a Manning-centric, fast-moving, no-huddle offense that caught defenses in bad personnel groups and regularly scored in the final two minutes of the first half of the game. It was paired with a bend-don’t-break Cover 2 defense that aimed to limit big plays and produce situations that allowed a duo of premier pass-rushers to tee off on quarterbacks who had to drop back. With regime change coming, will system change come too? The odds seem low that Bill Polian’s successor will put a similar premium on smaller, speedier defenders.

Call on Polians about the future

January, 2, 2012
There are two ways to look at Bill and Chris Polian as we learn that Jim Irsay is parting ways with the Colts' vice chairman and general manager.
    [+] EnlargeBill Polian
    AP Photo/Michael ConroyVice chairman Bill Polian, left, and GM Chris Polian will not return to the Indianapolis Colts next season.

  1. They suffered for one terrible season that was largely about the absence of one player, their Hall of Fame quarterback.
  2. The stitching was coming apart on their team and it was time to make a change.

Irsay apparently lines up more with the latter thinking than the former, and will now restart his franchise with a new management team and the No. 1 draft pick. Coach Jim Caldwell’s fate remains undetermined, but it’s hard to imagine he wouldn’t be part of such a large sweep.

Bill Polian is a fine football architect. He’s a smart man, who knows he’s a smart man and who tends to talk down to people he doesn’t respect or doesn't believe are as smart. Those qualities could make him somewhat of a tyrant -- especially to some branches of the media, but not to them exclusively -- which is hardly the worst thing you can say about a football executive.

Still, as the season frayed, Polian flailed in defending some moves rather than admitting errors. If a couple of decent showings by Curtis Painter vindicated the franchise’s belief in him, then why exactly did said franchise run out to sign Kerry Collins? Couldn't he find someone more deserving of arrows on his weekly radio show than high-quality punter Pat McAfee?

There were more rifts in the franchise and less unity. A bigger split between the front office and the coaches. An incredibly awkward, low-power spot for Caldwell with regard to speaking for the team. The Polians' circle was a smaller and smaller one.

All that combined to give the organization a little bit of Al Davis Raiders flavor -- super secrecy, odd decisions and revelations, insistence on the rationale being used being unquestionable. Maybe you could make the case for borderline dysfunction once you added the nepotism issue.

Watching Bill Polian throw post-practice passes to a grandson was as good a snapshot memory as I have of training camp 2011. I don’t know Chris Polian well. He seemed like a fine guy when I spent time with him at training camp. But the younger Polian brings questions about just how equipped he is to run a franchise beyond having been brought up under a father who was very good at it.

If Bill Polian decides to retire, what sort of job will Chris Polian land? Some have told me he'd be a candidate to be a scout, not a GM.

I suspect his next post won’t be especially high-ranking, unless Bill Polian is tied in at least as a consultant.

So here is the end. It was an impressive era. While some fans might be relieved, it should qualify as a sad day.

Beyond Jerome Bettis and Tony Dungy, beyond Ernie Accorsi and Ron Wolf, not a lot of people in the league go out on their terms.

Jeff Fisher’s long stint as coach in Tennessee came to an awkward ending last year. It had just run its course and both sides decided a divorce was in order.

This would appear more one-sided -- but it feels the same in a lot of ways. It's been judged to be time for a fresh start. With a decision on Peyton Manning and the first pick and a bunch of aging veterans ahead, it might be the right time for it.

The Colts have a news conference scheduled for 5 p.m. ET. We’ll find out more then.

AFC South Stock Watch

November, 15, 2011
NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South AFC: East | West | North | South


1. Marcedes Lewis, Jacksonville Jaguars tight end: This offseason MMA training was supposed to transform him and take his game to another level. That’s great if his hips are opening up better, but does it matter if he’s not catching the ball and if he hasn’t earned the confidence of the team’s rookie quarterback, Blaine Gabbert? If Tennessee’s Chris Johnson wasn’t getting all the attention, there would have been far more attention on Lewis’ poor production and we’d be asking the same question: Did he get happy and relax after landing a big contract at the start of training camp? Blocking well is not enough. This team expected and deserves more.

2. The Colts' decision to IR Kerry Collins: Look, the veteran quarterback wouldn’t automatically be fixing all that’s wrong with the Colts. But if his concussion has cleared up he’d sure provide a better alternative right now to Curtis Painter than Dan Orlovsky does. And if Collins were available and could put together one steady game with some big pass plays mixed in, the Colts would have their chance to win a game. Instead, they’re choosing between two bad options and are going to be hard-pressed to find a victory.

3. The Texans’ confidence, potentially: They’re coming off a fourth straight win and feeling great and, bam, bad news about their quarterback. Matt Schaub’s done with a foot injury. The Texans are saying all the right things and I believe they do believe in Matt Leinart. But take a team heading for the playoffs and maybe even a first-round bye and tell it the quarterback who got it there is out, and it’s got to have a psychological effect. We’ve questioned the mental makeup of this team in this space before. The Texans seem to be making big strides in that department, and they’ve overcome the loss of significant guys in Mario Williams, Andre Johnson and Danieal Manning. But Schaub is a different deal. The quarterback is the centerpiece and he’s been steering things very well. Doubt can creep in.


[+] EnlargeMatt Leinart
AP Photo/Gail BurtonMatt Leinart won't be the only one under pressure when he starts Nov. 27; his offensive line will face a big adjustment as well.
1. The importance of everyone surrounding the quarterback for Houston: Leinart could do just fine as he steps in for the injured Schaub the rest of the way. But when the Texans start out with him in the huddle on Nov. 27 in Jacksonville, everyone else needs to make him as comfortable as possible. That means a continued excellent run game, behind continued great blocking from a line that also needs to protect well. It means reliable routes and catches from everyone in the Texans’ big stable of pass targets. The more they can do to ease him in, the better.

2. Tennessee Titans linebackers: Akeem Ayers, Will Witherspoon and rookie fill-in Colin McCarthy were active and effective for the Titans in Carolina in a very good collective effort. There was better work going on in front of them as the pass rush had its best day of the season. The Titans dragged Cam Newton down five times. McCarthy was solid in the middle playing for the injured veteran Barrett Ruud. Mike Munchak said Ruud (groin) will be back in when he’s ready, but McCarthy could get additional work in some packages.

3. Jeremy Mincey, Jacksonville Jaguars defensive end: He continues to get better, and on a defense with some veterans who were brought in with big contracts, he’s providing valuable energy as an edge rusher. In Indianapolis, he made a great spin move to get inside on Anthony Castonzo for the first sack, he helped Daryl Smith put Painter down to share a sack and got around the corner and swiped a fumble free from Orlovsky in the fourth quarter.
The Colts thought about placing Peyton Manning on injured reserve recently as injuries stacked up, but found a way to stick with their plan. Team president-turned-vice chairman Bill Polian said the team’s intention is to keep the quarterback on the roster all season in the hope that he will be able to practice with the team late in the season.

From Polian’s Monday night radio show:
"I think it's important for [Manning] to feel like, 'Hey, I'm back, I can do the things that are necessary to say I can play like I want to.’ The bottom line is he needs to feel good about being back and doing the things he wants to do."

But an appearance by Manning in a game sounds unlikely.

"I'm not sure we would necessarily play him in ballgames with our offensive line as beaten up as it is right now,” Polian said.

Those offensive line injuries made the Colts consider putting Manning on the shelf. But they made roster moves instead last week, including putting quarterback Kerry Collins (concussion) on IR.

Why Manning is not on IR has been a hugely popular question.

I’ve argued that it’s not a big deal to keep a roster spot for him so long as the team doesn’t have eight players with injuries that keep them out of action on a given Sunday. The Colts have to deactivate seven players for every game anyway, and if they don’t need Manning’s spot for someone else, then they aren’t giving up anything on game day.

But in the loss to the Titans on Sunday, both running back Joseph Addai (hamstring) and guard Mike Pollak (hamstring) were in uniform but did not play.

That means the Colts played a 44-man roster as opposed to 46, a decision that could put the team at a disadvantage.

Polian’s weighed that and decided being a bit thin on a Sunday is worth the trade off to keep alive the chance for Manning to practice down the line.
Josh Freeman and Mike WilliamsMike Ehrmann/Getty ImagesTampa Bay's Josh Freeman and Mike Williams have not been in sync this season.

TAMPA, Fla. -- If you’ve watched Josh Freeman and Mike Williams this season, you might be wondering if the key members of Tampa Bay’s passing game have lost their confidence.

If you talk to the quarterback and wide receiver, you’ll quickly find out that’s not the case. In fact, the problem might be just the opposite.

“This week, you’re going to see the old Mike Williams back,’’ Williams said Wednesday.

No one who talks in the third person can be accused of having a lack of confidence. Freeman’s not the type to go third person on you, but he’ll flat out tell you that having too much confidence has been part of the reason he’s already thrown as many interceptions (six) as he did all last season.

“I have a lot of confidence back there,’’ Freeman said. “It’s maybe just a matter of me pulling back on some of these shots downfield that I want to take and looking to play another down, rather than making some mistakes.’’

That confidence is getting in the way of Freeman and Williams clicking the way they did last season and it has disrupted Tampa Bay’s entire offense. Although the Bucs are off to a 3-2 start, the offense has yet to put together a consistently good game. That’s largely because Freeman and Williams haven’t had the smooth connection they did a year ago.

In 2010, when Williams was a rookie and Freeman was a first-year starter, there was an instant chemistry. Williams stepped up immediately as the No. 1 receiver and finished the season with 65 catches for 964 yards (a 14.8-yard average) and 11 touchdowns. This season, Williams has 19 catches for 183 yards (a 9.6-yard average and just one touchdown). Williams also is tied for No. 4 in the league with three drops on 37 targets.

There also have been some bad routes and an inability to get open against double teams.

“(Double teams are) nothing new to me,’’ Williams said. “It’s just I’ve got to step up. I’m playing terrible. From my aspect, I’m playing terrible. I should be doing a lot more to make my team win. I should be getting into the end zone. That’s something I did last year, was getting in the end zone and put up points for this team. That’s something I should be doing and that’s something I’m not doing right now. I’ve got to get it together.’’

Maybe Williams got a bit overconfident with how easy everything seemed as a rookie.

[+] EnlargeTampa Bay's Raheem Morris
Jason O. Watson/US PRESSWIRE"I don't think he's playing terrible," Bucs coach Raheem Morris said of Mike Williams. "He's just not playing to the caliber he played last year and, for him, that's terrible."
“I think Mike Williams forgets he’s a second-year player and 24 and all those things that we know as writers and coaches, he’s going to make mistakes,’’ coach Raheem Morris said. “He made mistakes last year, but he made plays that masked his mistakes. I don’t think he’s playing terrible. He’s just not playing to the caliber he played last year and, for him, that’s terrible.’’

Freeman’s going through some growing pains that also might seem terrible after his performance in a 10-6 season last year raised expectations for the quarterback and others. On the surface, Freeman simply looks like he’s not quite in rhythm.

Under the surface, there’s more going on. Part of it is his No. 1 receiver isn’t getting open. Part of it may be the play selection. Freeman’s got one of the league’s strongest arms, yet the Bucs haven’t been throwing down the field very often. According to ESPN Stats & Information, Freeman’s attempted just eight passes of 21 or more yards and he's completed only two of them. The only other regular starter to have thrown fewer deep passes is Indianapolis’ Kerry Collins (seven), and he’s missed two games due to injury.

On passes of 10 to 20 yards, Freeman ranks No. 31 in the league with a 36.4-percent completion rate (16-of-44 with three interceptions). It’s shocking to see that Freeman’s been at his best on short passes. On throws of less than 10 yards, his completion percentage is 76.2, which ranks No. 2 in the league. He's 96-of-126 for 813 yards on those plays.

Any scout will tell you that a quarterback with Freeman’s arm strength shouldn’t be dinking and dunking. He should be throwing for yards in big chunks. But Freeman said his inability to complete the long- and mid-range passes are the reason the passing game is out of sync.

“It’s a fine line,’’ Freeman said. “You’ve got this confidence. You have a good offseason. You study your opponent and you know what you’re going to see. And, then, whether it’s not making the throw or getting a little too geeked up and you try to force some things.’’

Having a young quarterback and a young wide receiver with too much confidence isn’t the worst problem in the world. The Bucs know that and they’re trying to work through it.

“With the confidence, you still have to have more responsibility,’’ Freeman said. “If you’re going to be taking shots down the field, you have to know when to take your chances and when not to. It’s something I’m working on. The good thing is it’s not like I’m just throwing blind into coverage. I see everything that I throw and it’s something that’s easily fixable.’’

Freeman and Williams both know what has to be fixed.

“I’ve got to get open,’’ Williams said. “I’ve got to forget the double teams. I’ve got to forget the frustration and catch the ball. Do what I do and that’s make some plays for this offense. That’s on me. I’m going to get that together.’’

Williams’ confidence is shining through, despite describing his play as "terrible." Freeman knows he has to keep his confidence under wraps when he’s deciding whether or not to go for the big play.

Neither of them needs to totally lose that confidence. It’s a good thing. But maybe Freeman and Williams need to remember how they got that confidence in the first place. Maybe they just need to think back to last year when confidence wasn’t even talked about.

Back then, Freeman and Williams just went out, had fun, didn't worry so much about making mistakes and the big plays flowed naturally. It can happen again.