AFC South Preview: Indianapolis Colts Still Cream of the Crop

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AFC South Preview: Indianapolis Colts Still Cream of the Crop
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I'm going to try a new format today and see how it works. Instead of going by team I'm going to analyze every team by unit ...

1. Indianapolis Colts: 10-13 Ws

2. Houston Texans: 7-8 Ws

3. Jacksonville Jaguars: 6-8 Ws

4. Tennessee Titans: 4-6 Ws

I think the Jags might surprise a few people and be average if their two rookie tackles from 2009 improve.

The Titans could be a surprise dissapoint with their 8-0 finish, deceiving people into beliving their problems are sorted even though Chris Johnson is holding out for a new contract.

The Texans have talent at some positions but Cushing's suspension will hurt them and I'm still not sure they're ready for a playoff push.

Quarterback

Peyton Manning is still the best QB in the NFL. Drew Brees thrust himself into the equation but if I had a choice over who to have under center next year I'm taking Manning.

If I had to choose between Schaub and Garrard, however, this would be a far more difficult decision. Schaub has more talent and upside but his injury history can't be ignored.

Don't let Garrard's average numbers from last year fool you. Without very many receiving options and playing with two rookie OTs he was solid, tossing 18 TDs and 10 INTs.

Schaub on the other had a breakout year playing in all 16 games, putting up 4,800 yards and 29 TDs against 15 INTs. He also had the luxury of the best receiver in the game with Andre Johnson. Questions still remain as to whether he can remain healthy for another full eason.

Titans QB Vince Young benefited from his situation. He was  a better passer than he was before his time on the bench but is still a greater threat running the football. It seems like Young will never be a pocket passer but he's certainly not upgradeable.

1. Manning

2. Schaub

3. Garrard

4. Young

Running Back

Chris Johnson and Maurice Jones-Drew are the studs of the AFC South backfields. Different styles of backs, MJD offers the versatility you don't get with Johnson but the latter certainly offers more big plays rushing for over 2000 yards. Jones-Drew scored more TDs (15) than Johnson (14) in 2009 and offers a little more in the passing game.

It is interesting that Jones-Drew accumulated a ridiculous 930 yards after contact out of the 1390 yards. He gained a higher percentage than Johnson's 1070 out of 2000 although that might be more a reflection of CJ's speed than anything else. Either way you can't go wrong with either of these backs.

The Colts' and Texans' backfields are almost the polar opposite. The Colts have the underwhelming Addai and rookie Brown in the backfield. Both failed to gain 4 yards per game. The promising Steve Slatton was also benched in Houston for fumbling issues and only Arian Foster displayed any prowess on the ground. Texans fans hope rookie Ben Tate can start right away.

1. MJD

2. Chris Johnson

3. Texans

4. Colts

Receivers and Tight ends

The Texans win this on the back of Andre Johnson. There's no doubt in my mind he is the best receiver in the game. He lacks the postseason success with sprung Larry Fitzgerald into the limelight. Houston lack a true number 2 with no other receiving gaining more than 600 yards. Jacoby Jones and David Anderson offer good options out the slot. Owen Daniels looked poised for a career year before injury ended his season. If he comes back healthy he should offer another dynamic option.

The Colts have a savvy veteran in Reggie Wayne who almost put up as good numbers as Johnson. The problem is Wayne seemed to decline in the last few weeks of the season and now has injury concerns. Austin Collie, Piere Garcon and Anthony Gonzalez are solid players, but they wouldn't appear nearly as impressive if they didn't have Manning putting it on a platter for them. Dallas Clark is the star of the Colts offense hauling in double digit TDs and over 1000 yards, elevating the overall group.

Jacksonville and Tennessee both find themselves at the bottom of the pile. Each team has a promising number 1 in Mike Sims-Walker and Kenny Britt respectively, but depth is non-existent. Mike Thomas for the Jags possesses more upside than either Nate Washington or Justin Gage. Jacksonville's Mercedes Lewis blocked well in 09 but was average as a receiver while the Titans lost valuable blocking TE Alge Crumpler to the Patriots. Bo Scaife also offers little.

1. Texans

2. Colts

3. Jags

4. Texans

O-line

The AFC South likely possesses the worst group of offensive linemen in the NFL - none stand out. There are good players including Winston and Myers for the Texans, Saturday and Diem for the Colts, Scott and Stewart for the Titans, and Manuwai and Nwaneri for the Jaguars. Overall, they are few and far between.

Former pro bowl left tackle Michael Roos was poor in Tennessee as was Charlie Johnson (and Tony Ugoh), Duane Brown and Eugene Monroe. Monroe showed potential in the run game but was consistently beaten in pass pro while the Colts left tackles were just plain bad. The Titans win this group by default.

1. Titans

2. Jags

3. Colts

4. Texans

D-line

The Colts have the greatest pair of defensive ends in the league in Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. They combined for an obscene 25 sacks, 28 hits and 91 pressures even though they were often rotated to keep them fresh.

If things could get any worse for their NFL opponents it did with the addition of dynamic pass rusher Jerry Hughes who I considered the best pure rusher in the draft. The defensive tackles were fairly horrendous in 2009 including 2009 2nd round pick Fili Maola (although he only played 200 snaps) but the Colts are usually leading early and able to negate the running game by other means.

The Titans line struggled a little without Albert Haynesworth. Kyle Vanden Bosch wore down. He seems to be on his last legs now in Detroit and starting DT Jovan Haye was downright awful. Tony Brown and Kevin Vickerson rushed the passer well in the nickel but weren't especially good against the run. William Hayes was solid a DE and Jacob Ford is a nice situational player. They lacked a third-down guy and were glad when Derrick Morgan fell to them in the draft. Although he lacks a top end ceiling he should contribute immediately.

The Texans have stud DE Mario Williams leading the way. They also have pass rusher Antonio Smith, even though he failed to transition from the 3-4 to the 4-3 in his first year as a starter. DT remains a huge problem for the Texans however. They added Earl Mitchell in the 3rd round to try rectify that to go with the incredibly underwhelming Amobi Okoye and Shaun Cody.

The case for the Jags is almost the opposite. Impressive space eater Terrance Knighton mans the middle and much maligned first round pick Tyson Alualu can hopefully penetrate from the other spot. Derrick Harvey was ok against the run for the Jags but couldn't generate enough pass rush and Quentin Groves couldn't seem to do anything right. The addition of Aaron Kampman should help in that department if he fully returns from his season ending injury. 

1. Colts

2. Titans

3. Texans

4. Jags

LBs

The Texans had the best group of LBs in the NFL in 2009, problem is they'll be without the best SLB in the leafue for 4 games. Fellow LBs Zack Diles and Demeco Ryans are impressive in their own right but they don't come close to the DROTY.

The Jags group isn't far behind the Jags though. Daryl Smith is one of the most underrated players in the entire league and Justin Durant and Clint Ingram are nice compliments. The addition of Kirk Morrison will only help against the run where he is dominant.

The Colts have an average group of LBs who fit their undersized Tampa 2 style. Gary Brackett has never been the best player but he is a vocal leader who is impressive in coverage. Clint Session is solid and the return of Tyjuan Hagler should improve the group as a whole. Overall its not bad.

The Titans picked up veteran linebacker Will Witherspoon to complement Stephen Tulloch's impressive skills. They lack a 3rd guy however and may miss the vocal presence of long time starter Keith Bullock.

1. Texans

2. Jags

3. Colts

4. Titans

Secondary

All the teams seem to have significant issues in the secondary. The Texans have the edge despite the loss of Dunta Robinson. They added Kareem Jackson in the draft as the 20th overall pick. He should be ready to start. I think Jackson can be a solid player but Kyle Wilson would have been my pick there. I believe he's a better prospect. Jacques Reeves and Glover Quin aren't ideal at the other CB spots. They aren't liabilites, though. Bernard Pollard and Eugene Wilson should be solid at the safety positions.

The Colts had two undrafted CBs in Jerraud Powers and Jacob Lacey starting and they were about as good as you can expect doing an ok job. Kelvin Hayden and Tim Jennings will also be in the mix too. At safety Bob Sanders can't be relied upon and Melvin Bullitt was poor in 09, especially against the pass. Antoine Bethea, however, did well in the other safety spot.

Michael Griffin's decision to forget how to play football remains a mystery. Cortland Finnegan and Chris Hope are still talented but Nick Harper struggled in coverage in 2009 and I would be surprised if he didn't do so again.

The Jags tried William and Mary CB Derek Cox as the starter in 2009 but it didn't work out well with him being beaten on numerous occasions. More worrying is Rashean Mathis's poor play, which may indicate age is taking its toll. Tyron Brackenridge is a solid backup but may not be much more. The safety tandem of Reggie Nelson and Gerald Alexander both struggled in 2009 and will look for bounce-back years.

1. Texans

2. Colts

3. Titans

4. Jags

 

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