Robert Mathis is the best pass-rusher in the South.
For the past week or so, I've been ranking position groups in the AFC South. As I switch to the defensive side of the ball, the task gets more complicated.
It's difficult—and ultimately irrelevant—to rank defensive lines and linebackers without taking the scheme differences into account. Because of that, I'm going to rank the teams based on their pass rush and their run defense, rather than on their lines and linebackers.
Up first, I'll rank the pass rush of each team in the division.
1. Houston Texans
Wade Phillips managed to dial up more heat on opposing quarterbacks than just about anyone.
The Texans ranked third in adjusted-sack rate in 2011, and despite the loss of Mario Williams to injury, continued to bring the heat all season.
The Texans have suffered losses in free agency, including Williams, but I expect them to continue to pressure passers all season.
2. Indianapolis Colts
I don't believe Dwight Freeney will actually play for the Colts in 2012, but if he does, no team in the South can boast the pedigree of pass-rushers the Colts can. Freeney and Robert Mathis are on the wrong side of 30, but defensive ends tend to age well, and there's no reason they can't be productive for several seasons.
The biggest question is if they can adjust to a new scheme change. I have my doubts. I expect a decrease in productivity from them, but think the Colts will find new pass-rushers in the draft.
3. Jacksonville Jaguars
The Jags were a shade above mediocre rushing the passer last year, and their final ranking will depend heavily on the first round of the draft.
Jeremy Mincey had a solid year last year, but the Jaguars lack dynamic talent from their pass-rushers.
They had a very solid season, but not an outstanding one. If they wind up with an elite pass-rusher in the first round, they could move up these rankings quickly.
4. Tennessee Titans
The Titans are a mess at pass-rusher thanks in part to injuries to former first-round pick Derrick Morgan.
They signed Kamerion Wimbley to bolster the line, but missing out on Mario Williams was a disappointment.
The draft may bring help, but the Titans were not good at rushing the passer last year, and they still have a long way to go.