AFC South Preview

Posted: September 3, 2011 by Kodi in NFL

Who is going to win the AFC South?

Are the Colts going to be OK if Peyton Manning doesn’t start the season?

Is Arian Foster really that good?

How is MJD’s knee going to hold up?

Can Chris Johnson become CJ2K²?

Houston Texans

The Texans were an expansion team that joined the NFL in 2002 and under HC Dom Capers Houston won just 18 games and a in 2005 had a franchise low record of 2-14. Houston brought in Gary Kubiak who won 13 more games than Capers during the same amount of time. Houston was coming off of a 9-7 record in 2009 and were hoping for big things but the Texans defense let them down and they finished 6-10 after going 4-2 into their week 7 bye week. The Texans came out slow and went 2-8 in their final 10 games losing all hopes of going to the Playoffs for the first time in franchise history. There really isn’t much blame anywhere else but on the defensive side of the ball and Houston knew what they had to improve in the off-season and faced there problems head on.

The Texans opened 2010 against the Indianapolis Colts and the good people in Indiana decided to have a coming out party for Arian Foster. Foster rushed the ball 33 times for 231 yards and 3 TDs catching the porous Colts rush defense off-guard. Foster didn’t slow down too much after his opening game finishing the year with 1873 rushing yards 19 rush TDs and another 697 receiving yards and additional 2 TDs. With Foster in the backfield the Texans had the 7th most rush yards and the most rushing TDs in the league. This is all on top of an offense that has one of the best WRs in the game, Andre Johnson, and a very reliable QB in Matt Schaub. The Texans ranked 4th in passing yards after Schaub threw for over 4300 yards and 24+ TDs for the second straight season. Overall the Texans had the 9th most points scored in the league and 3rd most yards but even with their powerful offense they couldn’t win more than 6 games because their defense was just that bad.

Three of the top 4 tacklers in Houston last year were DBs and that may have been because they ranked dead last in passing yards allowed and 31st in passing TDs allowed. The Texans made some big moves after the lock-out ended signing CB Johnathan Joseph and S Danieal Manning to pretty big contracts in hopes of improving their pass defense. The Texans went into the NFL Draft knowing what they had to do with their 11th overall pick, find somebody to make a big difference on defense. They spent that pick on Wisconsin DE J.J. Watt a 6’6” 292 pound man who had 106 tackles, 36.5 for loss and 11.5 Sacks in 2 seasons for the Badgers earning co-MVP honors in 2010. The Texans shocked everyone a couple of years ago when they drafted DE Mario Williams with the first overall pick in 2006 but with the addition of Defensive Coordinator Wade Philips and the transition of Williams from a DE to an OLB the Texans needed another pass rusher.

The Texans have caught the eyes of a lot of NFL analysts throughout the off-season, especially with the prolonged neck problems with Colts QB Peyton Manning, but the Texans have problems of their own. Arian Foster has been battling through a hamstring injury all pre-season and with the start of the NFL season around the corner the Texans RB’s availability is still up in the air. I like the moves that the Texans made and know that with their revamped defense they will be a force in the AFC South but a 9-7 record will not give this team their first Playoff appearance and will still be looking up on another team in their division.

Key Arrivals: FB Lawrence Vickers, P Brad Maynard, CB Johnathan Joseph, SS Danieal Manning.

Key Re-Signings: OG Kasey Studdard, OG Mike Brisiel, DT Tim Bulman, OT Rashad Butler, WR Jacoby Jones, DT Damione Lewis, QB Matt Leinart.

Key Departures: ILB Kevin Bentley, DE Mark Anderson, S Bernard Pollard,  FB Vonta Leach, WR David Anderson, DT Amobi Okoye, QB Dan Orlovsky, OLB Zac Diles, P Matt Turk.

Indianapolis Colts

Since the Colts Drafted Peyton Manning out of Tennessee in 1998 they have missed the Playoffs just twice, the first during Mannings Rookie year and in 2001 Jim Mora’s last year as HC. In 2002 Tony Dungy brought the Colts back to the Playoffs with a 10-6 record and the Colts haven’t won less than 12 games for 7 years straight until last season when they posted another 10 win season. The Colts had a disappointing season getting ousted in the Wild Card round of the Playoffs to the New York Jets. The Colts have a winning formula and there has been a steady game-plan that calls for more of the same. The only problem is that the Colts are not even a fraction of the team they have been without Peyton and their franchise is dependent on the health of their QB, which is exactly why they gave him a $90 million contract extension.

Peyton Manning led the Colts to being rated the best passing attack overall although he finished just behind Chargers QB Philip Rivers in individual statistics. Manning threw for 4700 yards 33 TDs and 17 INTs the most picks he has thrown since 2002 when he had 19. Manning did all of this without one of his favorite targets in the passing game, TE Dallas Clark, who was injured and placed on the IR after just 6 games. His replacement TE Jacob Tamme had a big season considering he started just 8 games he had 631 receiving yards. Reggie Wayne was Mr. Consistent going for more than 1000 yards for the 7th straight season. The rest of the Colts offense was battered by injury with players like WRs Austin Collie, Pierre Garcon and RBs Donald Brown and Joseph Addai all missed time last year to some injury not to mention WR Anthony Gonzalez’s hasn’t seen the field in what seems like years. The Colts are worried about Manning’s neck but they did bring in Veteran QB Kerry Collins just in case, but even if Manning does lose his 208 career start streak when he does come back he will have a great offense around him.

The Colts have never been known for their defense but DE Dwight Freeney has always been a beast on the field and now the Colts have DE Robert Mathis to play with him. The two DE’s both had more than 10 Sacks, Mathis with a team high 11 and Freeney with 10. The Colts ranked 23rd in points allowed and 20th in yards allowed. Indianapolis was a much better pass defense than they were against the run and that definitely has to do with Mathis and Freeney’s pass rush. The Colts Drafted LSU DT Drake Nevis with the 87th pick in the 3rd round hoping he can plug the middle and improve their 25th ranked rush defense. The Colts were decimated by Arian Foster in the first week for over 200 yards and 3 rushing TDs and gave up 200 yards again when they played the Cowboys and allowed over 100 yards rushing in 10 total games. They are hoping that former Eagles and Lions LB Ernie Sims can do a better job at stopping the run than departing LB Clint Sessions could.

The Colts have been a force in the AFC South but all of that success has come through the arm of Peyton Manning and the entire state of Indiana knows how important he is to the franchise. Realistically it doesn’t matter if Peyton misses the first game of the year and ends his precious streak, what matters is that he is able to come back and be at 100 percent before week 6. The Colts are not in the strongest division and if they can stop the run Foster, MJD and CJ2K are all in danger and Indianapolis will stroll into another AFC South division title with a 10-6 record.

Key Arrivals: QB Kerry Collins, DE Tyler Brayton, LB Ernie Sims, DE Jamaal Anderson, QB Dan Orlovsky.

Key Re-Signings: DT Antonio Johnson, DT Eric Foster, QB Peyton Manning, RB Joseph Addai, July 30; UFA S Melvin Bullitt.

Key Departures: S Aaron Francisco, DE Keyunta Dawson, OT Charlie Johnson, DT Daniel Muir, CB Kelvin Hayden, OLB Clint Session.

Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jaguars haven’t been to the Playoffs since 2007 and like most teams that are struggling Jacksonville has their defense to blame. The Jaguars made the Playoffs in 2005 and allowed 269 points, the following year they just missed the Playoffs and allowed 274 points, in ’07 304, ’08 367, ’09 380 and in ’10 they allowed a franchise record 419 points. Their offense is focused around RB Maurice Jones-Drew who is one of the best RBs in the league but QB David Garrard has been given every opportunity to flourish and has found himself fluttering, unable to get the passing game going more often than not. MJD had surgery to remove his Meniscus tendon behind his knee and the Jags drafted a QB just in case Garrard can’t hang.

The Jaguars have no hope of returning to the Playoffs without a healthy MJD and the fact is that it may take him some time to recoup to full health. In 2010 MJD missed 2 games but still had 299 rushes for 1324 yards and a career low 5 TDs. There are concerns about his burst but MJD played most of last season with the pain caused from his injury and still was able to help the Jaguars have the 3rd most rush attempts, 3rd best rushing yards total and 3rd most rushing TDs. Back-up RBs Rashad Jennings and Deji Karim were admirable in their roles after MJD was taken from the game and Jennings will likely have his role increased this year to keep some wear and tear from Jones-Drew. The Jags lost Mike Sims-Walker and will rely on WR Mike Thomas and TE Mercedes Lewis in the passing game, hoping that if Garrard can’t improve that Rookie QB from Missouri Blaine Gabbert can transition to the NFL quickly. UPDATE: It seems that back-up RB Rashad Jennings has been put on the IR list and will miss the entire 2011 season meaning all back-up RB duties are left to Deji Karim.

The Jags defense has year after year gotten worse rather than improving and Jacksonville knew that they needed to bring in some new pieces. The Jags ranked 27th in points allowed, 28th in total yards, 28th in pass defense and 22nd in rush defense, there really wasn’t anything that the Jacksonville defense could do well. The Jaguars didn’t choose to improve their defense through the Draft, selecting offensive players with their first 3 picks and eventually picking up a S and CB in the 4th and 5th rounds. The Jaguars however did bring in LBs Clint Session and Paul Posluszny as well as CB Drew Coleman and S Dawan Landry. The Jaguars know that they need to improve their defense now and that likely won’t happen by bringing in a bunch of inexperienced Rookies. The Jags did lose their most effective defensive player in LB Kirk Morrison but hope that the fans will embrace Session and Posluszny with the same enthusiasm.

It seems very unlikely that the Jaguars are going to finish near the top of the AFC South especially if their offense will have to be based around a Rookie QB and back-up RBs. MJD is the Jacksonville Jaguars and the fact that his health is still a huge question just days before the season starts should cause fans to worry. The Jags could end up being one of the most disappointing teams in the NFL this year and may finish in the basement of the division. It is hard for me to have the Jaguars competing with very many teams since their defense is extremely suspect and their offense is now in under skepticism. I believe that the Jaguars will win go 5-11 and will be the worst team in the AFC South and may begin rebuilding through the Draft like most teams should, they could also be on their way to Los Angeles soon. . . .

Key Arrivals: LS Jake Ingram, RB Albert Young, TE Joey Haynos, OLB Matt Roth, OG Tony Moll, P Durant Brooks, CB Drew Coleman, S Dawan Landry, OLB Clint Session, LB Paul Posluszny, OG Jason Spitz.

Key Re-Signings: QB Todd Bouman, TE Marcedes Lewis.

Key Departures: LB Kirk Morrison, P Durant Brooks, S Sean Considine, WR Mike Sims-Walker, DE Derrick Harvey, OG Vince Manuwai, P Adam Podlesh, OLB Justin Durant, QB Trent Edwards.

Tennessee Titans

The Titans were off to another fast start winning 5 of their first 7 games but went on to lose 6 straight games and win just 1 of their last 9 finishing the season 6-10 tied for worst in the division. Last season there was debate whether QB Vince Young should start or not and there was a fiery debate between Titans Owner Bud Adams and the winningest Coach in franchise history Jeff Fisher. Surprisingly the Titans and Adams decided to release VY and to get rid of Jeff Fisher who had the longest tenure of any current NFL Coach at the time. The franchise is now in the hands of Mike Munchak who will become the 16th Head Coach in Titans franchise history. The new face of the franchise will be Chris Johnson and CJ2K held out until just a few days ago to get paid like the other highest paid players in the league, not just RBs.

The Titans offense lost both QBs who started games for Tennessee last year and will put the responsibility on Veteran QB and former Seahawk Matt Hasselbeck. Hasselbeck is not the answer for the future but is a QB who learned under HoF QB Brett Favre and hopefully Hasselbeck can mentor 1st round Draft pick Washington QB Jake Locker like Favre did him. Tennessee had a breakout year from Kenny Britt who had a team leading 775 receiving yards and team high 9 receiving TDs although he started just 7 games and appeared in only 12. Britt had many off-season issues with law enforcement and Titans fans felt that the a suspension was looming but NFL Commissioner Roger Goodel decided against it. The Titans ranked 17th in points, 27th in total yards 25th in passing yards and 17th in rushing yards. There hasn’t been a bunch of moves that drastically improve the Titans offense this season but they do still have one of the most explosive weapons in the game and CJ2K could still win them 5 games by himself.

The Titans defense is just as suspect as their offense but they did have some strong role players like S Michael Griffin and DE Jason Babin and MLB Stephen Tulloch. Tulloch led the team with 111 tackles, while Babin led the team with 12.5 Sacks and Griffin was an all-around playmaker recording 86 tackles, 4 INTs, 2 Forced Fumbles and recovering 2 Fumble Recoveries. The problem is that Babin and Tulloch decided to sign elsewhere in the off-season. As a team the Titans ranked 15th in points allowed, 26th in total yards, 29th in passing yards allowed and 20th in rushing yards allowed. Tennessee didn’t make many moves on the defensive side in free-agency signing  S Jordan Babineaux and a bunch of other back-ups but did spring on UCLA LB Akeem Ayers in the 2nd round of the NFL Draft and hope that he will become the face of the defense in the next couple of years.

I don’t buy the Tennessee Titans and am highly skeptical of a team that has a RB and not much else around him. Hasselbeck may still have something in the tank and Britt may become a threat in the passing game but realistically the Titans are trying to get their younger players some experience and are looking towards the future. I said before that CJ2K could win the Titans 5 games and I also think those are the only games the Titans win and finish the season 5-11 and just points ahead of the Jaguars to stay out of the basement of the AFC South, but realistically this is a weak division that is top heavy and those top two teams aren’t sure things.

Key Arrivals: WR Kevin Curtis, S Anthony Smith, OG Pat McQuistan, S Jordan Babineaux, CB Frank Walker, TE Daniel Graham, LB Barrett Ruud, DT Shaun Smith, QB Matt Hasselbeck.

Key Re-Signings: FB Ahmard Hall, DE Dave Ball, DE Jacob Ford, OG Leroy Harris, LB Patrick Bailey, OT Michael Otto, LB Tim Shaw.

Key Departures: QB Kerry Collins, TE Bo Scaife, LB David Thornton retired, Aug. 5; UFA MLB Stephen Tulloch, DE Jason Babin, QB Vince Young, DT Tony Brown.

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