NFL Nation: Ryan Moats

I'm resisting the urge to place the kind of significance that I'd love to put on the Minnesota Vikings' decision to sign veteran running back Ryan Moats, a move that came days after All-Pro starter Adrian Peterson skipped veteran minicamp to attend a hometown parade in his honor.

Moats
Moats
Timing is one reason to be intrigued by this signing. Here's another: Moats played for then-Philadelphia offensive coordinator Brad Childress when both were with the Eagles in 2005. The Philadelphia connection has always been significant as it relates to player moves under Childress.

As much as Moats' arrival might bolster theories that there is more to the Peterson issue, I'm not going there yet. Here's the more likely explanation: The departure of veteran Chester Taylor left the Vikings with no experienced runners behind Peterson. Albert Young got 12 mop-up carries as a first-year player last season, Darius Reynaud is a converted receiver and Toby Gerhart is a rookie.

Moats, 27, rushed for a career-high 390 yards and four touchdowns last season for the Houston Texans, where he was a primary backup to starter Steve Slaton. Regardless of Peterson's status, it makes sense to have at least one experienced hand for depth purposes. It's not uncommon for teams to use organized team activities and minicamps to test young players and then fill in perceived roster gaps afterward.

That's my story and I'm sticking to it ... for now.

AFC South: Free-agency primer

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:12
AM ET
Houston Texans

Potential unrestricted free agents: CB Dunta Robinson, WR Kevin Walter, RB Chris Brown, DT Jeff Zgonina, G Chester Pitts, S Brian Russell, S Nick Ferguson, LS Bryan Pittman, LB Chaun Thompson, QB Rex Grossman, LB Khary Campbell, G Tutan Reyes, T Ephraim Salaam, P Matt Turk.

Potential restricted free agents: DL Tim Bulman, S John Busing, OT Rashad Butler, TE Owen Daniels, RB Ryan Moats, S Bernard Pollard, LB DeMeco Ryans, G Chris White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: I don’t think the Texans will jump out and make any monumental moves. But by deciding not to tag Robinson they created another hole and saved themselves big dollars. With needs at corner, running back, free safety, interior offensive line and defensive tackle they may have more than they can address in one draft. That means they could jump out for one significant free agent – like they did last year with defensive lineman Antonio Smith -- and maybe another less expensive one or two.

Indianapolis Colts

Potential unrestricted free agents: MLB Gary Brackett, K Matt Stover.

Potential restricted free agents: WR Hank Baskett, S Antoine Bethea, S Melvin Bullitt, OL Dan Federkeil, CB Aaron Francisco, LB Tyjuan Hagler, CB Marlin Jackson, CB Tim Jennings, DT Antonio Johnson, OT Charlie Johnson, LB Freddy Keiaho, DT Dan Muir, CBPR T.J. Rushing.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: Brackett is priority one and the team has indicated a plan to pay him as an upper-echelon guy. The restricted list includes a lot of key guys who will remain big factors next year. Indy is not a team that looks to bring in many outsiders for big roles and it won’t start now. Bill Polian’s said the Colts will sit back and see how things unfold in the new capless landscape.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Reggie Hayward, G Kynan Forney.

Potential restricted free agents: DT Atiyyah Ellison, LB Clint Ingram, DL Greg Peterson.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Jaguars are draft-reliant, but will also shop for bargains in free agency, hoping to plug a couple holes with high-character guys with upside who fit what they are doing. As for a big splash, it’s unlikely based on their recent busts with big-name free agents like Jerry Porter and Drayton Florence and the direction they’ve moved since.

Tennessee Titans

Potential unrestricted free agents: DE Kyle Vanden Bosch, C Kevin Mawae, LB Keith Bulluck, TE Alge Crumpler, CB Nick Harper, CB Rod Hood, DE Jevon Kearse, S Kevin Kaesviharn.

Potential restricted free agents: DE Dave Ball, DT Tony Brown, TE Bo Scaife, LB Stephen Tulloch, DT Kevin Vickerson, RB LenDale White.

Franchise player: None.

What to expect: The Titans will undergo a youth movement, especially on defense where Vanden Bosch and Bulluck, who’s recovering from ACL repair, are going to be allowed to walk. Mawae been told his only chance to return is as a backup at a backup price. Brown, Scaife and Tulloch are important guys they’ll want to retain. Beyond that, expect mostly bargain shopping.

RFA tender update

March, 4, 2010
3/04/10
9:08
AM ET
Restricted free-agent tenders have to be done before midnight ET. Here's what's out so far:

Houston

From John McClain of the Houston Chronicle.

Indianapolis

Bethea info from Adam Schefter.

Jacksonville

Tennessee

From Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean.

Skins' Campbell won't go quietly

February, 18, 2010
2/18/10
4:04
PM ET

US PRESSWIREWill Jason Campbell (middle) be the Redskins starting quarterback in 2010? Or might the Redskins look to draft Oklahoma's Sam Bradford (left) or Notre Dame's Jimmy Clausen?
Try as he might, there's no way Redskins quarterback Jason Campbell can tune out the talk radio or even the random folks who recognize him at the movies. He's once again involved in a familiar storyline in which his team's fanbase (and perhaps the front office) yearn for the next franchise quarterback.

Never mind the fact that Campbell somehow put up respectable numbers during a season in which he lined up behind arguably the worst offensive line in the league. Campbell was set up to fail by an administration that neglected the offensive line for the better part of a decade.

No quarterback in the league took more of a beating than Campbell, but even when given the opportunity to tap out, he kept showing up in the huddle. And given the way owner Dan Snyder and his former henchman Vinny Cerrato treated him, I'm sure Campbell thought taking a play or two off might lead to a full-time demotion. For the record, Campbell actually enjoyed his time with interim play-caller Sherman Lewis, who was plucked from a bingo-calling assignment by Cerrato.

The Redskins played themselves into the No. 4 overall pick in this April's draft, so all the speculation is that new head coach Mike Shanahan will select either Oklahoma quarterback Sam Bradford or Notre Dame quarterback Jimmy Clausen. But until further notice, Campbell remains the starting quarterback of this team. He'll be an unrestricted free agent, which means he'll likely receive the highest contract tender of roughly $3.1 million. And if the Redskins are shopping Campbell, they're doing a pretty nice job of keeping it a secret this offseason.

I caught up with Campbell via phone Thursday and asked him about his initial impressions of Shanahan. The two sat down in Shanahan's office and talked about the organization's future. But what about Campbell's future?

"The plan is that I'm going to be here," said Campbell. "[Shanahan] told me that he liked how I'd handled everything over the past couple of years and the whole conversation was real positive. But we really didn't talk much about the past. When a team goes 4-12, most of the bad publicity goes to the quarterback. But I was still able to put up one of my best seasons despite all the turmoil."

Campbell showed a lot of loyalty to former coach Jim Zorn, but he knew early on that the organization was asking Zorn to wear too many hats. Campbell, who has lost count of how many offensive coordinators he's played for dating back to his Auburn days, said that Shanahan has brought instant credibility to the Redskins.

"With Coach Shanahan and Bruce Allen, there's already a new feeling to the team," said Campbell. "Guys are going to follow [Shanahan] because he has a proven résumé. The main thing we need is discipline, and you can already see that guys are carrying themselves in a different manner."

Campbell spent part of Super Bowl week in South Florida doing some research on the Redskins' new regime. Skins wide receiver Santana Moss is close friends with Texans receiver Andre Johnson, who had great things to say about new offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan. And Campbell had a long conversation with Texans running back Ryan Moats about what it was like playing for Shanahan in Houston.

"The main thing Ryan told me is that I'll have a lot of fun playing for Kyle," said Campbell. "And he told me that Kyle was incredibly knowledgeable for such a young guy."

Campbell has handled the situation in Washington with a lot of grace, but he bristles when he hears critics talk about how he didn't throw the ball downfield enough in '09. In fact, I happened to catch him on the phone last month after he'd heard SI.com's Peter King criticizing him on a local radio station in Washington.

"I don't know how anyone can say something like that," said Campbell on Thursday. "Don't you think I wanted to throw the ball downfield? By the time I looked up, I was getting hit. I'm certainly hoping we have an opportunity to make some big plays next season."

For now, Campbell is attempting to avoid the mock draft industry. I helpfully informed him that ESPN's Mel Kiper now has the Skins selecting Clausen at No. 4 overall. In fact, here's how Kiper explained that pick on a conference call Wednesday:

"In the case of a player like Clausen or Bradford, I would take the quarterback first. I have Clausen and Bradford rated higher than [Anthony] Davis and [Russell] Okung. So I would go the quarterback first, then try to get the offensive tackle in the second round and hope that a Bruce Campbell or a [Bryan] Bulaga or somebody like that fell down to me."

Campbell didn't feel like it was his place to inquire about Shanahan's approach to the draft. He said he trusts the coach's experience in that department and will be prepared for whatever happens.

"I have to do whatever it takes to help us win," said Campbell. "All that other stuff will take care of itself. I'm certainly not going to be out campaigning for them to take other positions. They know how to do this stuff."

AFC South draft rewind

December, 23, 2009
12/23/09
3:00
PM ET
» NFC Draft Rewind: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

» Draft class lists: Indianapolis | Jacksonville | Houston | Tennessee

Houston Texans
Cushing
Cushing

Best get: Not everyone was sold on Brian Cushing coming out of USC, often because of his injury history at USC. He missed most of camp hurt and has missed a lot of practices, but none of it has gotten in the way of his being an impact player every Sunday. The Texans need more defenders and more players in his mold. He’s a legitimate defensive player of the year candidate.

Worst unaddressed spot: The Texans had plenty of reason to expect they had a feature back in Steve Slaton, but completely misread their situation after that. Interior line injuries and a second-year slump for Slaton have made a second back even more important, and Chris Brown, Ryan Moats and Arian Foster all have proved incapable of handling the pressures of the work. A second running back ranks as one of the team’s highest priorities in free agency or the 2010 draft.

Still uninvolved: Tight end James Casey came in as a versatile fifth-rounder who was going to be a unique weapon for head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to tinker with. He’s got six catches for 64 yards in 11 games. He needs to have more of an impact, given that the Texans lost top-flight tight end Owen Daniels to a season-ending knee injury.

Indianapolis Colts
Brown
Brown

Still to be determined: First-rounder Donald Brown has shown he will be a good NFL player. But he’s missed five games with injuries, including the last three. He’s more capable than Joseph Addai of breaking off a big run. The question: Does Brown understand that looking for the big gain isn’t worth risking a play resulting in second-and-12. If Brown is healthy, he could see a lot of touches in the last two games. The Colts are 14-0 with just 59 carries, 263 yards and two TDs from their top pick. (They haven’t gotten much out of second-round defensive tackle Fili Moala, either.)

A perfect fit: Fourth-round receiver Austin Collie, not Minnesota’s Percy Harvin, leads all rookie receivers in catches. Collie's nabbed 53 passes for 567 yards and seven touchdowns. He’s a perfect fit for the Colts' system, and adopted the necessary work ethic to win over and work with Peyton Manning. Whether Anthony Gonzalez re-emerges for the post season push or not, Collie’s crucial to it.

Best special teams addition: The Colts had eight touchbacks in 2008. With rookie punter Pat McAfee taking over kickoffs from Adam Vinatieri, they have 18 with two games remaining. Better kickoffs are a big factor in coverage improvements under new special teams coach Ray Rychleski. McAfee’s also got a net punting average of 38.0 yards, less than a yard off former Colts' veteran Hunter Smith’s number from last season.

Jacksonville Jaguars
Monroe
Monroe

Long-term solutions: Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton were the top two picks and have played the bulk of the season at left and right tackle, respectively. They have not been consistent, but the team loves their skill sets and upside. And early work means they’ll get to the levels the team projected when spending such high picks on them sooner rather than later.

Eighth-rounders: First-year general manager Gene Smith needed additions beyond his draft class and found a couple: Cornerback William Middleton out of Furman and linebacker Russell Allen from San Diego State are undrafted free agents who made the team and have been contributors. In the nationally televised Week 15 Thursday night loss to the Colts, Allen led the team with 12 tackles. Smith is down a second and seventh rounder in 2010 because of trades, and he hopes to hit on some undrafteds again, and annually.

Three is key: Smith did great work in the third round, landing two small school players who’ve established themselves as productive starters with upside. Cornerback Derek Cox from William & Mary has not been intimidated by anything or anyone. Defensive tackle Terrance Knighton from Temple has been a stout and reliable run stopper.

Tennessee Titans
Monroe
Britt

Biggest breakthrough: Since 1998, the Titans have spent draft picks in the top three rounds on Kevin Dyson, Tyrone Calico, Courtney Roby, Brandon Jones and Paul Williams. Dyson was involved in two of the franchise’s biggest plays in 1999 and did OK otherwise, but none of them solved the team's long-standing woes at receiver. First-rounder Kenny Britt is a great combination of size, power and speed who goes and gets the ball. Britt seems like he can be a consistently productive weapon.

Disappearing act: The Titans gave away a second-rounder to draft tight end Jared Cook in the third, and in camp he seemed like a great addition. Then he suffered an ankle injury, faded and never really re-emerged. Long-term he’s still very compelling. But the Titans sure could have used a jolt from him during their 0-6 start.

An heir: Gerald McRath seems comfortable and been effective as an outside linebacker when needed. He will start the rest of the way and, after bulking up in the offseason, stands to inherit the spot of either David Thornton (breaking down) or Keith Bulluck (free agent who tore an ACL in Week 15) next year. If both veterans are gone (a likely scenario), the second replacement needs to be a free agent or a draft pick.
» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Falling

Moats
1. Ryan Moats, Texans RB. No. 1 riser a week ago flips all the way to No. 1 faller. The one thing he couldn’t do against the Colts is the one thing he did -- lose a fumble. That it came right on the doorstep of a touchdown made it an even bigger sin.

However the Texans are coaching their running backs on ball security isn’t working and they need to find a solution during their bye week.

Pollak
2. Mike Pollak, Colts G. Pollak had been sharing time with Kyle DeVan. But it’s one thing to yield to a former afl2 player and another thing entirely to have him start in front of you, as DeVan did on Sunday against Houston.

Bill Polian said after the Colts beat San Francisco that someone on the interior had been run over a couple of times. There is little doubt who it was now.

3. Houston special teams: Yes the coverage was good. But Kevin Bentley got a flag on a Texans punt, Jesse Nading was penalized on a Houston kickoff return and Connor Barwin was whistled on a kickoff return.

Penalties on special teams have hurt the Texans this season and the problem is far from solved.

Rising

Young
1. Vince Young, Titans QB. His supporting cast has been great, making defensive plays and actually holding on to passes and paving the way for Chris Johnson to go crazy.

But Young’s done his part in the two wins since taking over for Kerry Collins, posting a 105.3 passer rating, which is 36.5 points better than his career rating coming into the season.

Session
2. Clint Session, Colts LB. In the team’s first game since losing strongside linebacker Tyjuan Hagler for the season to an injury, Session was a big presence from the weakside for Indianapolis in its win over Houston.

Game statisticians credited him with a game-high 14 tackles and he snatched a key interception when Gary Brackett’s blitz forced a bad throw by Matt Schaub.

3. Jaguars’ defensive philosophy. Give Jack Del Rio and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker credit, I suppose, for pulling out all the stops in an effort to maximize their defensive talent. But their 3-4 front wasn’t productive in the pass-rush department.

A return to the 4-3 is the right move, and while it won’t transform a group that’s far from loaded, the defense was solid for a day with three sacks that upped the season total to eight.
 
  AP Photo/Tom Strattman
 Indianapolis coach Jim Caldwell’s challenge on Texans’ running back Ryan Moats’ fumble out of the end zone was a crucial decision in the Colts win.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- The timing was exquisite. The execution flawless. The thinking airtight.

Yet another Peyton Manning pass play? Nope. Jim Caldwell’s toss of his red challenge flag late in the first half.

Waiting until just before the first play after the two-minute warning to challenge, Caldwell understood the beneficial timing and outfoxed his Houston counterparts with a slow play.
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His challenge and referee Jeff Triplette’s determination that Ryan Moats fumbled out of the end zone from the Indianapolis 1-yard line resulted in a touchback. They were pivotal moments in the Colts’ 20-17 win that kept their record spotless and kept Houston (5-4) from doing any dreaming about a scenario where it can challenge for the division title.

“That play turned out to be a perfect play for those guys, not so good for us,” said downtrodden cornerback Dunta Robinson, whose team is now 0-8 in Indy. “A lot of guys on the sideline were saying, ‘Run another play, run another play.’ Obviously our staff didn’t think it was a fumble. Those are things you’re not too sure about. I think it could have gone either way. We’re at their house, and that play went their way.”

For so much of the Manning and Bill Polian era, things have gone the Colts’ way. Good teams make their own good fortune, we hear time and time again on NFL Sundays. And here was a prime example that actually had nothing to do with the team’s stud quarterback or supremely gifted architect.

The Texans turned to Moats to minimize Steve Slaton’s opportunities to fumble and got the same result at a crucial moment.

Colts assistant offensive line coach Pete Metzelaars got a close look at the play which commenced with 2:30 on the clock and believed it could be judged differently upon review. Caldwell casually chatted with officials but ultimately waited until the two-minute break was over and the Texans were starting to line up for second-and-goal at the 1 before dropping the flag and officially getting the crew’s attention.

The Colts' coach didn’t get it all right. He thought Jerraud Powers had re-established himself in bounds and recovered the ball. But the piece of his interpretation that was wrong didn’t hurt him, while it was a different story on the other sideline.

Gary Kubiak and his people saw no cause for alarm. They could have called for Matt Schaub to run another play before the warning, either washing away the Colts’ chance to challenge or forcing Caldwell into a quicker decision than he would have liked, when he might have hesitated risking a timeout.

“We didn’t even know until the play had been stopped and it got to the two-minute warning that there was even an issue,” Kubiak said. “Then somebody in the press box said, ‘I think they’re looking at the ball right here.' We thought that Ryan was out of bounds. But the way it was explained to me was that the ball did come out, nobody argued that.

“We felt that players were out of bounds that were touching the ball. And what they said was that Ryan was on top of whoever that player was, so technically he’s not out of bounds, he’s still in the field of play.”

Now as we consider how the challenge unfolded we should note Caldwell and his staff had the luxury of time; Kubiak and his assistants did not.

After the play was over, there might have been 10 seconds until the tw0-minute warning stopped the clock. Is it reasonable to expect communication and decisiveness on such a hard-to-read situation in those 10 seconds, to expect Kubiak to know that the urgings of Robinson and others were not typical player hopefulness but an accurate read and to tell Schaub to run a play? Probably not.

But against the Colts, oftentimes things pan out that way: you get 10 seconds when they get 155. And if you don’t have the insight to make the quick interpretation in a less-than-advantageous situation, well tough luck, it all sorts out the way it so often does: in Indianapolis’ favor.

Antoine Bethea, the safety who jarred the ball free, said he knew it was a fumble and told the officials, but not Caldwell.

Players are always going to think things in a debatable situation went their way. But Bethea had a much clearer read on the situation than did Moats, and that ability to understand what did happen and what didn’t in the flash of an NFL-speed play is the sort of thing that helps make the Colts consistently good and leaves others striving to match them.

"I didn’t know it was an issue,” Moats said. “I thought I was out of bounds."

Not exactly Bill Bradley’s famous “A Sense of Where You Are.”

And developments that may well have changed the outcome of the game.

“Momentum was going their way, they were moving the ball on us and we had kind of stuttered a little bit on offense,” Indianapolis guard Ryan Lilja said. “Our defense got some big turnovers, that one included. I don’t know if that was the defining moment of the game, but that was huge. That’s seven points for them. That makes it a whole different ball game. We lucked out on that one. That’s the bottom line, we lucked out.”

Nice of him to say. But it was a whole lot more than that.
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

INDIANAPOLIS -- The Houston Texans spent a good segment of the first half reeling. But they held Indy to field goals on two scoring chances, and even losing the ball on the doorstep after a great Colts challenge, they only trail 13-3 at the half.

Some questions as we await the second-half kickoff:
  • Peyton Manning has thrown 40 passes. Is Drew Bledsoe’s NFL record of 70 attempts in danger?
  • Ryan Moats started and is playing a lot because of Steve Slaton’s fumble problems. But Moats fumbled on the play that was sorted out by the challenge. Does anything change in the Texans' approach to the run game now?
  • How might this game be different if Mario Williams’ second-quarter breakup of a Manning pass for Dallas Clark was picked? It would have taken incredible reflexes by Williams, but it almost happened, and if he collected it, he might have taken it for a TD.
  • Why are the Texans having problems understanding the neutral zone and how to stay out of it?
  • Can Houston get a handle on penalties or does it want to keep giving the Colts bonus yards?
  • Have we seen the best of Clark against Brian Cushing?
  • Does Jim Caldwell regret "icing" Kris Brown on the field goal attempt that was blocked, leaving the door open for a second-chance make from 51 yards before the half?
  • Will anyone this season be able to hold Dwight Freeney without a sack?
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Fresh off a giant rushing day in a loss to Tennessee, Maurice Jones-Drew graciously donated 20 minutes to the AFC South Blog to chat about the latest version edition of ESPN.com’s power rankings.
Fernando Medina-US PRESSWIRE
Maurice Jones-Drew weighed in with an opinion on every team in the league.

He wound up offering more of a team-by-team commentary on the league than on the rankings, which is just fine with us.

So here is a sampling of his thoughts:

"The Saints and Colts both struggled this week, I just don’t know how long those guys can last with those high-powered offenses. It seems like New Orleans, at least, has to have a shootout every week to win, you know. So I don’t know how long that’s going to last. The Colts survived a scare. So call them the Houdinis, they find a way to win."

"Minnesota I think is one of the best balanced teams with the running game, passing game, great defense and special teams. They’re firing on all cylinders right now."

"Denver at four, I don’t know how long they are going to last with just throwing the ball all the time. You’ve got to have a balanced offense in this league, and to run the ball just 10 times [actually 19] against the Ravens was not good."

"New England’s just sneaky, I haven’t heard too much about them yet. They ranked No. 5, so you all have your eye on them."

"Cincinnati is revived, new heart."

"Pittsburgh, great defense."

"Dallas was like on the bottom half of the league last week or two weeks ago, weren’t they? [They were 19 just two weeks ago, I tell him.] I just remember everyone saying Dallas is horrible, they aren’t going to be any good. Now all of a sudden they are up there. Nineteen two weeks ago, now eight? That’s a question mark how guys can jump up that far, this is not the BCS."

"I like Philadelphia. Donovan McNabb has multiple weapons, defense is playing solid right now. They are an opportunistic team."

"Baltimore is catching their stride right now which is going to be pretty dangerous for some people. They can run, they can throw, they play great defense, their special teams are starting to come on and their head coach is a special teams guy. I like them, I think they are going to be a good team and later on they’ll be higher than 10."

"Atlanta is going to be a team that sneaks up on people to. I think they should be a little bit higher. They lost their last two, but before that they were like No. 6 or something, weren’t they? They were high up there. I just don’t know how teams drop in this week-by-week deal."

"The Packers can’t beat the Vikings. They can’t win their division it seems like."

"Cardinals live by the pass die by the pass. It’s a risky way, but if that’s what you’re going to be, know who you are."

"Texans at 14, oh man. I don’t know…"

Blogger break in: Jones-Drew gets to the security gate of his neighborhood. “Hello,” he says. “Monroe, right?” the woman asks him. “No, Jones-Drew,” he says politely. “I’m sorry,” she says. Then turning back to me on the phone: “That’s crazy, my own neighborhood doesn’t even know me. I tell you what, I’ve still got a long way to go.”

"...Texans, Matt Schaub was struggling and Ryan Moats steps up big for them in that Buffalo Bills game. I have Matt Schaub on my fantasy team and he did not play well for me."

"The Giants were the No. 1 team probably three weeks ago and they lost three now, I guess they are on a skid. Now 15, they will probably be down where they Jaguars are next."

"San Diego? Slow start. They always start slow and they always pick it up towards the middle and the end of the season. So it’s kind of surprising, people have to realize that’s how they play the majority of the time. I think they will be higher."

"I don’t know about the Bears. They’re kind of inconsistent. Matt Forte, he’s on my fantasy team, I’m glad he had a big week against Cleveland. They are just inconsistent. I think now, 16, 17 on down you’re going to get to the teams that are just inconsistent."

"Injuries are what make the Jets so low at 18, to lose Kris Jenkins is a big hit for them on the defensive side. And then you lose Leon Washington, your kickoff returner and your backup running back, one of the most explosive guys in the league. That’s tough."

"I think the 49ers are catching their stride. They played Houston tough and almost beat Houston, they came back on them. They played Indy incredibly tough with the Joseph Addai touchdown. Whenever you can hold Peyton Manning with no touchdowns, it’s real big."

"Miami, I think they are undefeated in divisional play, right? You win your division you get to the playoffs. They are the head of their division but that can beat anyone else. Divisional bullies?"

"Jaguars at 21? That’s bull. We should be No. 1. [I chime in that I understand why he says so, but he knows how it sounds to people, right?] "If I didn’t say that, it wouldn’t be right. Everyone should say that about themselves. If you don’t believe in yourself, who will?"

"Buffalo, injuries. They’d be higher if they didn’t have as many injuries."

"Carolina, give the ball to Steve Smith. Give him the rock, feed him. You have a running game, but no Steve Smith. That’s why they are ranked that low."

"Seattle: listen to Houshmandzadeh."

"Washington, 25th, they’re struggling. What Haynesworth said: When they want to win, they will."

"The Titans beat the Jaguars."

"Oakland: Off the field issues."

"Kansas City: Off the field issues."

"The Lions got their first victory."

"I think St. Louis should be ranked higher than Detroit, they should flip-flop spots 29 and 30. The Rams beat them didn’t they? If two teams are evenly matched like that, usually the team that beat the other one should be right ahead of them."

"Cleveland: internal bleeding. They are firing everybody in Cleveland right now. They just traded Braylon Edwards, now you’re going to fire your GM. Who’s next?"

"Tampa Bay? [Expletive]! I know how they feel, like anything and everything you do isn’t right. You can do all the hard work in the world and it still doesn’t pay off."

"I think you guys did pretty good. Denver I understand they are high up there, they beat New England which was a big win. Other than that, most of their wins were against opponents that aren’t up there. …I obviously think we’re way too low, we beat Houston. I think Houston could be a little bit higher. At 5-3 they are a little tougher than what people think."

"Fantasy-wise, I need Antonio Gates to step up. I need Philip Rivers to throw the ball to Antonio Gates more. We play two quarterbacks, I have Matt Cassel but I hope he does bad [in Jacksonville Sunday]. I might just play one quarterback."
» NFC Stock Watch: East | West | North | South » AFC: East | West | North | South

Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Falling:

Slaton
1. Steve Slaton, Texans RB.

A lost fumble early in Buffalo was enough for Gary Kubiak, who promptly decided Slaton could have the rest of the afternoon off because his ball security issues had become too big.

Reliable as a pass protector and a route runner, those qualities won’t mean much if Slaton can’t re-win the coaches’ confidence and earn chances with the ball in his hands.

2. Titans and Jaguars tackling.

Maurice Jones-Drew and Chris Johnson are dangerous backs capable of hitting home runs that demoralize a defense. That’s even more the case when MJD chugs out of what appears a sure tackle by Kyle Vanden Bosch or Johnson bounces right off Brian Russell.

The two defenses are sure to hear a lot about sure tackling as they return to work.

Monroe
3. Eugene Monroe, Jaguars LT.

The Jaguars offensive line has been inconsistent and some players have been upset about the musical chairs feel to the lineup. Not all the changes have been dictated by injuries.

Jack Del Rio went with Tra Thomas as the starter in Nashville, and Vanden Bosch had his most productive game and first sack. The Jaguars remain high on Monroe, but shouldn’t he be far enough along at this point that they are reluctant not to play him?

Rising:

Moats
1. Ryan Moats, Texans RB.

Given 23 carries after the early benching of fumble-prone Slaton, Moats was outstanding in Buffalo. He ran for 126 yards and three fourth-quarter touchdowns.

How Gary Kubiak distributes the carries from here is to be determined, but it would be hard for him not to give Moats a significant opportunity in Indianapolis on Sunday in what qualifies as the franchise's biggest game ever.

2. Colts’ third-down defense.

Indianapolis went into the game against San Francisco allowing opponents to convert 43.5 percent of their third down opportunities, which ranked 27th in the league.

But the 49ers often wound up in third-and-long and managed only two conversions in 12 attempts. That’s 16.6 percent. An improvement they hope to build on Sunday against the team hoping to challenge them atop the AFC South, Houston.

3. Titans offensive line.

A group that had an excellent season in 2008 has not been the same in a follow-up campaign. The Titans O-line helped Vince Young make a successful start, and his mobility helped his blocker too, and punched enough holes for Johnson to set a new single-game rushing mark.

No sacks, 228 ground yards for Johnson and 305 rushing yards overall mean Michael Roos, Eugene Amano, Kevin Mawae, Jake Scott and David Stewart had a good day.

Wrap-up: Texans 31, Bills 10

November, 1, 2009
11/01/09
4:09
PM ET
Posted by ESPN.com’s Paul Kuharsky

Houston survived some ugly play early to pull out a 31-10 win at Ralph Wilson Stadium that got it to 5-3 for the first time in franchise history and will get it more involved in the chatter about the AFC playoff field.

Gary Kubiak got good results from benching fumble-prone Steve Slaton and turning to Ryan Moats, who ran for three touchdowns. The Texans had some special-teams' issues, lost super-productive tight end Owen Daniels to a knee injury and had a pass bounce off Andre Johnson for one of Matt Schaub’s two interceptions.

But good teams need to be able to go on the road, have things go wrong, endure them, recover from them and win.

The Texans did that Sunday. Credit the defense, too, for allowing only two plays over 20 yards and just 10 points.

Next up, a chance to measure themselves against the class of the AFC South and probably the AFC: a trip to Indianapolis.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky


In each of their first three games it’s fair to say the Texans didn’t do what was expected.

In Week 4 they did exactly what was expected: They rolled to a win over an inferior team, upping their record to 2-2 with a solid 29-6 throttling of the Oakland Raiders at Reliant Stadium.

Upcoming opponents will likely provide more resistance, but Houston’s big issues related to run defense and rushing offense were solved for a day, and perhaps this showing will give the team mounting confidence that it can play well in both departments.

The Texans held the Raiders to 2 yards a carry and 45 yards total on the ground and got a tremendous safety when Brian Cushing body slammed Justin Fargas on a questionable carry out of the end zone. They also fought through a slow start and a lost fumble by Steve Slaton and got a two-touchdown second quarter from their running back -- one rushing, one receiving.

They didn’t run for great yardage, but the game’s construct finally allowed them to get the carries they’ve lacked. Slaton and Ryan Moats -- who got work ahead of last week’s goat, Chris Brown -- combined for 41 carries for 120 yards.

Slaton’s fumble came after he was toppled awkwardly by one of his own linemen, Kasey Studdard. But the Texans didn’t get thrown off by that mistake or another where Matt Schaub and Slaton collided in the backfield, but Schaub maintained his balance and composure and threw a big gainer to Owen Daniels.

The Texans hoped to get to this point at 3-1. They’ll take 2-2 and second place in the AFC South as they prepare for consecutive trips to Arizona and Cincinnati, knowing they’ve hardly played their best and expecting better things ahead.
 
  Bob Levey/Getty Images
  Linebacker DeMeco Ryans and the Texans defense have a new attitude.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

HOUSTON -- React or act?

Give a group of guys who've spent a lot of time doing the former to do the latter and you'll be greeted with glee.

That's the Houston Texans' defense's feelings for first-year coordinator Frank Bush, promoted by Gary Kubiak to replace Richard Smith.

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"His leadership and the way he comes off to the players, it's a different feeling," middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans said. "It's a different attitude, a different mentality which carries over to the guys and our attitude. We're a lot more physical team. I don't want to say we were too passive.

"I think we had guys thinking too much, we had so many checks and this and that. It was too much, you're thinking so much to where you can't just line up and go tee off on someone. Now we can just line up and get it, there isn't so much too it. It's simplified to where we don't have all the checks."

The primary word being used for the team's new approach is "aggressive," and that's not a term that characterized them too often with Smith at the controls. The mild mannered Bush has the defense excited and determined not to let the Texans be known exclusively as an offensive team.

While Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson, Steve Slaton and Owen Daniels will go a long way towards determining if the Texans can build on consecutive 8-8 seasons and make the playoffs, Mario Williams, Ryans and linebacker Brian Cushing, a first-round pick, bring a good dose of star power to the defense.

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"They are getting tougher and tougher to go against every day," offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan said. "They've improved themselves with a bunch of players, they've been rushing the passer better and they are making it tough on us."

To graduate to being a playoff team, the Texans have to reverse some trends. They'll need to play better early so they aren't left to fight so hard to get back to .500. They need to fare better within the division, finding ways to finish off their primary rivals when they have the chance.

They expect the Titans and Colts to be strong again. The Texans will likely have to chase one or both of those teams down.

Anything less than double digit wins and a playoff berth won't be considered a success.

Key questions

1. Can the offense fix turnover and red-zone issues?

The Texans ranked third in total offense last year, but it didn't mean as much as it should have because they were 17th in points per game. The two big themes heading into the 2009 season are cutting turnovers and getting better production once they get inside the 20.

They were minus-10 in takeaways/giveaways last year, third worst in the NFL. They scored touchdowns on just 45.9 percent of their red zone possessions.

"I think if we can make those two adjustments, we can win at least two more games," Shanahan said. "If we can do that I think we will be a playoff team. We were a good offense last year statistically. But that was the first thing I talked about on the first day of OTAs this year, that doesn't mean anything. The top three offenses in the league last year were New Orleans, Denver and us. None of us made the playoffs. Moving the ball does not matter unless you move it across that goal line."

2. Do they have enough in the secondary?

Their top cornerback, Dunta Robinson, has not been with the team because he's upset about getting slapped with a franchise tag, but he will ultimately sign it and play for a guarantee of nearly $10 million.

Jacques Reeves will miss the start of the season with a fractured fibula, which means Fred Bennett will get some time as the second starter. Rookie Glover Quin is currently the nickel and they like his physical play.

But the safeties and the defensive backfield depth are question marks, even if the defensive front gets more of a pa
ss rush and forces the ball out quicker. Can they get steady enough play from Eugene Wilson and second-year man Dominique Barber, the presumptive starters at safety on opening day against the Jets?

 
  Defensive end Mario Williams
  Defensive end Mario Williams accounted for 12 of the Texans' 25 sacks last season.
3. Does Williams have enough pass rush help?

The Texans had just 25 sacks in 2008, fewest in the division. And Williams accounted for 12 of them. Houston made moves intended to get pressure from elsewhere -- first by signing free agent defensive lineman Antonio Smith, then by drafting Cushing and defensive end Connor Barwin with their first two picks. New defensive line coach Bill Kollar is a fiery type who preaches pocket penetration and may just be the team's biggest addition.

An effective rush from the front can help take a lot of pressure off the secondary, which ranks as the team's weak link.

Market watch

Ideally, Jacoby Jones would be in line to replace Kevin Walter as the No. 2 receiver in a year if the team doesn't or can't re-sign Walter. But Jones lacks maturity and consistency and his job security could be in jeopardy. The team is looking at kickoff return man Andre Davis, a better receiver, as a punt return possibility. If Davis succeeds there, Jones could be expendable.

Jones can be very good, but he can also put the ball on the ground too much as a punt returner. And Kubiak is not a fan of specialists. He wants football players who can fill multiple roles. That describes Davis, who can cover kicks as well as return them in addition to catching passes. It may not cover Jones much longer.

Newcomer to watch

Smith
Smith wasn't regarded as any sort of premier pass rusher when he hit free agency. But he's a versatile lineman who is very good with his hands. If things go the way the Texans hope, he can be an early down end and a third down tackle, having a positive influence and taking on a leadership role for youngsters Williams, Amobi Okoye and Barwin.

"He's a kid that can move from outside to inside, he's a big man that's a real good athlete," said Bush, who also worked with him in Arizona. "He's a 285-pound guy with good knee bend. He's extremely tough, has no problem playing over a center, guard or tackle. He takes a lot of pride in his performance and he came up through the ranks the hard way, he honed his craft and made himself what he is.

"That whole sense of a guy that came from virtually nothing to what he is right now kind of helps our team. Other guys can see it and aspire to be that way."

Observation deck

Antwaun Molden got hurt in his rookie season when the team wanted to bring him along slowly. He's a physical cornerback who could provide some great insurance or become a real alternative now if he's needed. ... Dan Orlovsky hasn't looked very good, but the team knows it will take him a while to be comfortable in the system and are convinced with coaching he can be a quality No. 2 quarterback for them. Even before a hamstring injury Rex Grossman wasn't going to challenge him for the backup quarterback job. ... Ryan Moats is like Slaton style-wise and Arian Foster is Chris Brown-like. But the undrafted rookie back may have missed his chance with a preseason injury and a too-slow return. Brown's ability to stay healthy will be a big question for the offense. ... While he's a popular fall guy with media and fans, defensive tackle Travis Johnson, who's missed camp so far recovering from hernia surgery, generally does what the team asks, taking up blockers. That it's a contract year won't hurt his motivation either. ... Undrafted free agent John Busing hits and plays good special teams, which may give him a shot at a roster spot that has belonged to Nick Ferguson or Brandon Harrison. ... The team also likes undrafted defensive end Tim Jamison, but will there be room for him? ... Frank Okam is big, quick and smart and he's been a pet project for coaches. When Kubiak complimented his offseason, Okam knew it meant something, "because it's difficult for an Aggie to give a Longhorn a compliment." ... Rookie tight end James Casey can play fullback, line up wide or throw. That's versatility that makes him Houston's Wildcat candidate. ... Want an undrafted possibility on offense? If Jones is out, there could be room for receiver Darnell Jenkins.

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky

HOUSTON -- Lightning in the area forced the Texans and Saints inside for their second practice Wednesday. Bummer, I thought. It'll be cramped in there and we'll see them do far less.

But in terms of focus and watchability, it was actually better than the morning.

Outside of some special teams work, both teams drove the ball from just over midfield against the defenses for much of the practice. There was also a section of alternating possessions where the offenses tried to string together longer drives, at least some of which were 2-minute drills.

Some highlights and thoughts:

  • Saints cornerback Randall Gay made a nice play in coverage of Jacoby Jones, prompting a fumble after a nice catch of a Dan Orlovsky pass. Side Judge Jeff Lamberth told the assistant coaches and players to in range of him on the sideline that Gay played it just right, that a hand on the back was not an issue because he wasn't clutching, twisting or pushing with it. Lamberth told me it was a catch and fumble.
  • When the teams were driving the longer field, Matt Schaub was intercepted deep while aiming for Andre Davis but New Orleans' first-rounder Malcolm Jenkins, who sprinted with it for what would have been a return touchdown. The Texans defense answered back in a hurry, as Fred Bennett got under a less than great deep ball intended for Robert Meachem from Joey Harrington. The response produced some major hoots and hollers from the Texans along the sideline.
  • Ryan Moats had a drop but got a lot of carries when the Texans handed the ball off and caught several check downs -- too many, I felt like, even some in seven-on-seven work. Chris Brown is lined up to be the primary compliment to Steve Slaton, but Moats got the bulk of that work in both practices Wednesday. He's a darter with potential, but on a team that needs a bigger back as the second guy, if the Texans have to turn to Moats I wonder if he doesn't qualify as more Slaton-Lite?
  • Mark Brunell threw a TD pass to tight end Buck Ortega that linebacker Kevin Bentley could have deflected with a small move of his outstretched arm had he seen it sooner. It's the kind of play that could have had a different outcome had Ortega had to fear or absorb a shot that was lined up for more than one defender,
  • Schaub was picked on a deep ball, but was not at fault. Owen Daniels couldn't pull it in, and when it bounced off his hands linebacker Scott Fujita snatched it.
  • In seven-on-seven red zone work, Schaub twice hit David Anderson over the middle at the goal line. A bit later, he rolled right and -- intending to pump fake or changing his mind about throwing it and attempting to pull it down -- he let the ball slip out of his hand and fall awkwardly incomplete only a few yards in front of him.

(Read full post)

Posted by ESPN.com's Paul Kuharsky
 
  Bill Baptist/Getty Images
  A healthy Chris Brown could be a big plus for Houston.

Houston Texans

Training camp site: Houston, Texas

Campfires: Weakside linebacker appears to be the biggest battle for a starting spot. Xavier Adibi has bulked up in an effort to become more rugged and withstand the 16-game pounding. Zach Diles appears to be an underdog here, as does veteran Cato June, who signed up after spending time in Indianapolis and Tampa Bay.

Finding a back to complement Steve Slaton is a big priority, but the Texans didn't spend much to increase their options. A healthy Chris Brown could do well in the role, but Houston is living on the edge if it's counting on 16 games from him. Undrafted rookies Jeremiah Johnson and Arian Foster are in the mix along with Ryan Moats and Clifton Dawson

The safety position remains an issue, with Nick Ferguson and Eugene Wilson in line to start now. But the team will allow for the possibility of Dominique Barber to nudge his way into the lineup.

Camp will be a downer if: Anything bad happens to Matt Schaub, Andre Johnson or Slaton. This is an offensive team keyed around that trio, and the loss of any of them for any extended time will be a huge setback.

Schaub's been labeled as injury prone, but it's really been more about being unlucky. It's not as if other quarterbacks would have played through some of the things he's faced. Still, Gary Kubiak's talked about how players can learn how to stay on the field, and he needs his signal-caller to do that.

Camp will be a success if: A defensive identity develops under new coordinator Frank Bush, who's pledged to be more aggressive.

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With new coaches overseeing the defensive line and the defensive backs, there is a real chance for new messages and approaches to have a  bearing on players and units.

The Texans need some preseason success on both sides of the ball to carry into the regular season, because another shaky start will be cause for concern based on the team's history. If Houston is to plot a course to its first playoff berth, it needs to avoid a poor start.

Second time around: Slaton was a revelation as a rookie, and while there is uncertainty about who else will get carries, the line should be better. It's the second year for the group under Alex Gibbs running his scheme, which should mean better and more consistent play.

Additionally, not only does the unit have Gibbs and John Benton as coaching resources, but can look to assistant Bruce Matthews, the Hall of Famer who's now part of the staff.


Indianapolis Colts

Training camp site: Terre Haute, Ind.

 
  Donald Miralle/Getty Images
  Peyton Manning's receiving corps will be without Marvin Harrison this year.
Campfires: Targets for Peyton Manning are crucial, of course, and that's why there is such a large focus on the three-way fight for the No. 3 receiver spot. Pierre Garcon, Austin Collie and Roy Hall will draw a lot of attention as that's sorted out. Garcon seemed to be getting a lot of positive reviews in OTAs and min
icamp, with Hall not generating much buzz.

Returning defensive tackles Keyunta Dawson, Eric Foster, Raheem Brock (an end on early downs) and Antonio Johnson will be fighting for roles at a position that welcomed back Ed Johnson and has two young, thick additions from the draft in Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor. Getting bigger inside while maintaining athleticism was a priority for the Colts.

The plan at linebacker is for Clint Session to play on the weakside and Philip Wheeler to replace him on the strongside. But guys with starting experience like Freddy Keiaho and Tyjuan Hagler will be looking to take the team away from that blueprint.

Camp will be a downer if: Left guard Ryan Lilja, perhaps the team's best run blocker, can't make it back after the knee injury that cost him all of 2008. Trouble on the return path for cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) would also be a bad thing.

With those injuries, the two surgeries on Manning's knee, a dinged Joseph Addai and a bunch of additional problems for the offensive line, the Colts got to show that they could survive. It's not anything they want to be in position to prove again.

Camp will be a success if: New head coach Jim Caldwell sets an early tone that gives the team no room for doubt about the transfer of power from his mentor, Tony Dungy. The players also must take to the thinking of new defensive coordinator Larry Coyer (a bit more aggressive) and new, fiery special teams coach Ray Rychleski.

It also would be great if Manning develops increased rapport with Anthony Gonzalez, who's graduated to No. 2 receiver with Marvin Harrison gone. Manning also needs to gain a real feel for the guy who wins the battle for No. 3 as well as the young tight ends, Jacob Tamme and Tom Santi.

Off the record: Even with a new coach and changes on his staff, it's unlikely there will be any different emphasis on preseason results. Indianapolis is 3-15 in the preseason over the last four years and 51-13 in the regular seasons that followed.

The Colts have a good feel for how to get ready and don't have to worry about building fan enthusiasm with preseason wins. Everyone knows to look at smaller things early in the game to gauge the team's readiness.


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