NFL Nation: What I think they're thinking

What I think they are thinking (or should be) in the four headquarters of the teams from the AFC South ...

Houston Texans

There is a big element of the fan base and the city that think we’ve got the division in the bag before training camp even starts. We can’t buy into any of that and need to remember that ever year starts from zero and we need to build into a successful team all over again. That said, we’re confident and there is nothing wrong with that. The mindset is important, and we need to keep each other in check if it starts to slide places it shouldn’t go. During this down time, it would be gigantic if we could open negotiations with left tackle Duane Brown or outside linebacker Connor Barwin. Because if we go into the season with no extension done for Brown, Barwin or quarterback Matt Schaub, we face some serious free-agent issues when the 2012 season ends.

Indianapolis Colts

Maybe we lack some building blocks, but what good does it do for us to say so out loud or spend any real time lamenting it? The predictions from the outside expecting us to be terrible set us up to surprise people. On both side of the ball we will be different than we’ve been, so there is plenty of room for us to surprise. There is only so much you can do in offseason work, and we did the biggest thing: We got players to buy into the new coaching staff, the new systems and the idea of “Building the Monster.” The cornerbacks and the offensive line are our major question marks. We could be tinkering with a lot of areas of the roster through the remainder of the offseason, camp and into the season.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Outsiders looking in think our offseason has been all about the absence of Maurice Jones-Drew and the DUI for our top pick, Justin Blackmon. While we certainly would have preferred neither of those thing to happen, it’s not as if either one had a direct impact on what we did on the field and in the meeting rooms in our offseason time. We weren’t thinking about contract issues or off-the-field problems when we were learning Mike Mularkey’s methods and offense or refining Mel Tucker’s defense. The progress Blaine Gabbert’s made is very real, and if he can show it on Sundays, we’re poised to surprise a lot of people. It will be a lot of fun to do so considering how we’re perceived.

Tennessee Titans

We spent an offseason dissecting what we did well and what we didn’t do so well last year in the first season of the Mike Munchak regime. And we got to spend the time installing a lot of stuff offensive coordinator Chris Palmer and defensive coordinator Jerry Gray didn’t even get to show us last year when everything was a post-lockout rush. We may not have added a ton to address our primary issues, but pass-rush coach Keith Millard is going to improve what we do have and Steve Hutchinson will influence the entire offensive line. The quarterback battle between Matt Hasselbeck and Jake Locker will energize the entire team and set a healthy tone for training camp. Beyond quarterback, it will be interesting to watch leadership emerge.
What I think they are thinking (or should be) in the headquarters of the four teams of the AFC South …

Houston Texans

We had played at a consistently high level for a long stretch, and against the Panthers we didn’t come close to the standard we’ve set. That was not us, that was an aberration, the kind of one-week dud that pops up for good teams from time to time. We’ll bounce back with a big finish. It’s nothing to panic over, though we have some issues to resolve like Arian Foster’s sudden propensity to fumble and our red zone production. We’re happy to be getting back on the field quickly to wash this one away, and while we respect the Colts and see they played far better in their win against the Titans, we’ll prepare and play our game and should handle them.

Indianapolis Colts

That felt good. It had been too long. The defense really set us up for success and we’ll take the Titans’ foolish approach if it benefits us as it did. It’s odd to see it floating around that one good day will save Jim Caldwell’s job. Are we really significantly different today than we were on Saturday? Why would he want to stay in this job with all it entails going forward, anyway? Even on a winning day, our dysfunction shined through. If the team had been forthcoming about what was going on with Peyton Manning during the week, Bill Polian wouldn’t have felt the need to take the podium after the game to explain it all in defensive fashion.

Jacksonville Jaguars

We’ve now met Shahid Khan and know a fresh start is coming. If we want paychecks signed by him, we better show we deserve a place with the franchise going forward. Thursday in Atlanta was an absolute embarrassment, and the conversation is constantly about what we don’t have around Blaine Gabbert. The league didn’t bar us from signing or drafting anyone threatening on offense before the season, did it? We know the Titans well, we beat them on opening day. A sweep of a familiar opponent would really be something. It won’t come easily, as they are surely ticked about that loss in Indy and still have a remote chance at a playoff spot.

Tennessee Titans

We stunk, and we really embarrassed ourselves with that massive dud. Mike Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer should be disappointed in how we performed, but they should take their share of the blame here, too. How do you watch the Colts’ season-long struggles and decide you need to be conservative on offense in order to beat them? That wasn’t very smart. We’ve got a quarterback controversy whether we want one or not, and no matter what Munchak says today, the conversation will dominate Nashville all week. We need to play well for whichever signal-caller is on the field. We’ve still got a playoff shot, and strange things happen all the time in this league, right?

What I think they should be thinking

October, 24, 2011
10/24/11
1:04
PM ET
What they should be thinking in the headquarters of the three AFC South teams who played on Sunday ...

Houston Texans

The rollercoaster has climbed the steep section of track again. There cannot be another free fall coming. Of our eight remaining opponents, three have winning records, and we should be able to hang with Tampa Bay, Atlanta and Cincinnati. The other five teams have a combined 8-23 record. The table is set for us, but we’ve heard it before. People will be high on us again now, and we need not to hear it. Danieal Manning has been very solid for us at safety, and now we’re going to miss him for a long stretch, or maybe the season. Has Troy Nolan developed enough for us to be able to survive that loss? If he’s ready to play at a solid level, we should be in good shape going forward. With Jacksonville and Cleveland coming to town, we can’t let down, but we should be 6-3 in a couple weeks.

Indianapolis Colts

What a disaster. What do we do from here? The Saints are way better than us, but our coaches have to give us a better chance than they did with that plan. Typically a team in our position would still have guys feeling like they need to bust it the rest of the way to enhance their status going forward. But our stars are safe, with reputations that can’t be ruined. And our fringe guys will get tossed aside in large quantity as we revamp after the season. So as we hear about Jim Caldwell’s uncertain future, it’s hard to know what exactly we are sticking together for beyond personal pride. And even personal pride gets worn down during a season like this. Tennessee is going to be looking for a big bounce back after its debacle against Houston. It’s probably not an ideal scenario for us to break through. But at this point what would be such a scenario?

Tennessee Titans

The time for patience is over. Under Mike Munchak, the theme’s been to know what you’re supposed to do and do it. Chris Johnson looked timid and uninterested against the Texans, and I’m sure that’s not in his job description. The interior line is a mess when it comes to run blocking. This is supposed to be a new era of accountability, and the ultimate way to make people accountable is to take away playing time. Whether it’s center Eugene Amano or left guard Leroy Harris, it’s time to pull an offensive lineman and see if things don’t get better with Fernando Velasco starting. And Johnson doesn’t need to sit entirely. How about working him as a third-down back? Against a tougher defense, I’d make that move. But Johnson should be able to get it going against the Colts, who can’t tackle at all. If CJ doesn’t make anything happen early, we need to be ready to turn to Javon Ringer.

What I think they're thinking ...

September, 26, 2011
9/26/11
2:21
PM ET
What I think they are thinking in the headquarters of the four teams of the AFC South…

Houston Texans

It was one game against a great team. We’ll hardly be the only team that Drew Brees shreds this season. We have to make sure guys like Ben Roethlisberger, Jason Campbell and Joe Flacco don’t have a chance to do anything similar. Offensively, we will work and work and work on our red zone production. People talk about our lack of killer instinct and we’re sick of hearing about it, but when we kick so many field goals when we have a chance to run away from a team, it’s a fair topic. We need to get to the root of that fourth-quarter pick and the three-and-out series, which were real killers. Fullback James Casey was great playing like the tight end we know he really is. Can we get that out of him on a regular basis?

Indianapolis Colts

No, we’re not claiming any moral victory. But we sure showed we’re invested and determined and have some pride with the way we played against Pittsburgh on Sunday. There is enough there that we can turn it into winning efforts against the teams we’re about to face -- Tampa Bay, Kansas City and Cincinnati. We have to remind ourselves as we game plan and as we play, that we’re not conceding anything by handing the ball off more. And we need to dissect our run defense against the Steelers to make sure we know what we did so we can keep doing it. We’ve got other lingering questions. Does Kerry Collins’ concussion mean he’s out next week? If he’s healthy, do we have a quarterback controversy anyway? Does it mean anything that we played against the run so well with Fili Moala out of the lineup?

Jacksonville Jaguars

Coaches need to work to hold onto players this week. How much faith can we have right now when the offense was so conservative -- never mind the rookie quarterback and the rain, let’s go win the game. Then Jack Del Rio says to blame him over clock-management trouble that cost us a play at the end. If a player makes a comparable mistake, he can earn entry into Del Rio’s dog house. So does Del Rio go in there now? These other teams with rookie QBs are energized by the fresh start. We need that, but it’s going to be hard to find against the Saints. It’s time for all these new defenders to show up with a few big plays. If we don’t get some against New Orleans, it could be ugly.

Tennessee Titans

Hate to harp on it, but boy does having a true leader at quarterback make a difference. Look how good Matt Hasselbeck is helping make guys like Nate Washington. We had some moments in the win over Denver that should carry over for us, starting with the big goal-line stand. You better believe we were making a statement with that. Talk Texans all you like, but we’re 2-1, too, and feeling good about ourselves. We ought to be able to win in Cleveland even without Kenny Britt. But without him, we’re going to be counting even more on pass protection and Hasselbeck. It would be a good time to figure out and solve our run struggles.
What I think they’re thinking, or should be, in the headquarters of the four AFC South teams on Monday…

Houston Texans

Great. Now we have to spin that scuffle between Brian Cushing and Antonio Smith and defend our effort in a miserable loss to Tennessee. We’re officially out of it. We can no longer talk about sticking with it and working through it. It’s time to admit we’ve been an architecturally flawed team from the start, and that while we can be an explosive offense we simply don’t have the talent or the mentality it takes to compete for a playoff spot. Change is coming. We don’t know on what scale, but a case could be made to tear it down and start over.

Indianapolis Colts

We’re back to where we are used to being, atop the division. But we are only assured of staying there if we win the final two. If we do, 10-6 isn’t such a dramatic slip and no one will want to come to Lucas Oil Stadium for a wild-card game. Still, we’ve got major issues. Peyton Manning can’t thrive without Dallas Clark, Joseph Addai and Austin Collie. And after another concussion for Collie, we can’t expect him back. We’re a much less threatening offense without him. But we have to feel good about the shape of that win against the Jaguars.

Jacksonville Jaguars

We blew it. We just made too many mistakes against a good team in a tough place to play. We can blame that fourth-down misplay on a bad headset, but David Garrard should recognize the front and sneak it against a line with no one over center anyway, no? Jack Del Rio said before we beat Oakland that he’s still a Raiders fan. He’ll be a giant one this week, as a Raiders home win against the Colts is a crucial piece of help we need to get back into the playoff mix. When it comes to having control of our fate, we’re not finishers. But we’re not dead yet.

Tennessee Titans

When you’ve lost six in a row, you relish a win no matter what kind of issues the other team has. Our playmakers showed up big, and we need to be a Chris Johnson and Kenny Britt-driven team. We don’t need to spend any time thinking of our slim playoff chances. A trip to Kansas City where we leave on Christmas Day is more than enough to hold our focus. The Vince Young arrival and departure as a sideline observer was silly. It really isn’t that hard to be present for the whole game in the background like every other guy in similar circumstances.

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