Archive for August, 2009

AFC South Preview- Tennessee Titans

The Tennessee Titans dethroned the Indianapolis Colts a year ago in 2008, posting a NFL-best 13-3 regular season record and going to the playoffs before losing to Baltimore in the divisional round of the playoffs, leaving a very bitter taste in the players, coaches, and fans alike.

This year, they are hungry for more.

Tennessee had a huge loss in free agency in regards to Albert Haynesworth, who departed Music City for the Nation’s Capital, and the Washington Redskins. Despite his loss, the defense is still strong, and offense has made strides to improve. It’s no reason to say that Tennessee could and should repeat as division champs. Only this time, this team is thinking Super Bowl.

Offensively, as of right now, the best QB option for the team is Kerry Collins over Vince Young. Collins has had a history of struggling the season after the playoffs though, and if Young’s mind is clear and he’s focused on football, he will definitely be waiting in the wings. Head coach Jeff Fisher has always made decisions in the best interest of the team, and until Collins does so poorly that a change is warranted, expect him to be the starting QB. Chris Johnson and LenDale White (the artists formerly known as Smash & Dash) are back and White has lost a lot of weight and combine that weight loss for his faster speed with his already bruising power, he’s going to dominate on the inside and Johnson on the outside. One good pick up the Titans made in free agency was Nate Washington, who is looking for a starting job at WR after being the #3 guy for the defending champion Steelers. Expect him to start opposite Justin Gage, but don’t be surprised if first round pick Kenny Britt gets the starting job as well.

Defensively, the Titans have a new coordinator, Chuck Cecil, who replaces the departed Jim Schawrtz, who left to take over as head coach of the Detroit Lions. The in-house move has been received well by the players and not much will change on defense. Despite the loss of Haynesworth, this defense is still going to be hard to score on, they have Keith Bulluck, Kyle Vandenbosch, Cortland Finnegan, they signed Jovan Haye from Tampa Bay to replace Haynesworth. The defense is still in good shape.

The Titans definitely have the tools to repeat as AFC South champions, and go deeper in the playoffs than last year. If Collins doesn’t have a slump, or if Vince Young does not have another breakdown, this team is in good shape to exceed expectations like they always have been known to do.

Advertisements

AFC South Preview- Jacksonville Jaguars

The Jacksonville Jaguars had high expectations in 2008 after a very good 2007 season. Those expectations were dashed with injuries, and bad personnel moves. With an overhaul of the roster in the offseason, it looks as if the tides are going to be a little rough in the River City, as Jacksonville is sort of in a rebuilding stage. However, if the team does seem to put together some positive team chemistry and can gel from the first week, this could be a team that contends for the wild card. Head coach Jack Del Rio will have to make sure these guys are on the right page.

Offensively, the Jaguars overhauled the roster, long-time running back Fred Taylor was released, along with the often-troubled WR Matt Jones, and Jerry Porter was released after a season that was a big time bust. The Jaguars are now putting the running game in the hands of Maurice Jones-Drew, and he is definitely ready to have a much bigger impact now that he is the feature back of the team. The Jags also signed Torry Holt in the offseason, and he has plenty of game left in him to make a great possession receiver for quarterback David Garrard. If Garrard can move out the pocket and use his mobility to his advantage like he did in 2007, the Jaguars on offense can be tough to beat. The offensive line will have to give him as much protection as they can for Garrard to maximize the special things he does.

The defense received just as much of an overhaul as the offense. Gregg Williams is out of Jacksonville, and the new defensive coordinator Mel Tucker brings a new approach to the team. They will still run a 4-3 defense, but the long-time captain of the team, Mike Peterson, will not be in a Jaguars uniform as the team opted to not re-sign him in the offseason. Tucker emphasizes quicker reaction on defense, and can relate to the players and motivate them to do better. Another leader gone from the defense is Paul Spicer, and they got rid of Drayton Florence, who was supposed to compliment Rashean Mathis at cornerback, but things did not work out as the Jaguars hoped. If Tucker can get the defense to play with passion again, the Jaguars just may have enough to make it to the playoffs.

The Jaguars are renovating, not completely rebuilding. However, Del Rio will have to have a good season of coaching, otherwise his job will be gone and his fate will be sealed. The Jaguars are not as complete of a team anymore like the Titans, Colts, and even the Texans. It will be a long season in the River City.

AFC South Preview- Indianapolis Colts

The AFC South goes to the Circle City, Indianapolis, IN, where many changes have surrounded the Indianapolis Colts. Tony Dungy is out as head coach after announcing his retirement and Jim Caldwell is no longer the head coach-in-waiting, and is now the new head coach. The Colts are looking to reclaim their throne as the AFC South champions and make the playoffs for the 10th time in 11 years.

Not much has changed on offense for Indianapolis, as Peyton Manning is healthy and will be working with a new offensive coordinator for the first time in his career, along with the man he has been most familiar with departing. Tom Moore and Marvin Harrison, respectively, have left due to retirement and free agency, respectively. The receiving corps is still solid, as Manning has Reggie Wayne as his new #1 target and Anthony Gonzalez starting opposite of him. Don’t forget the reliable hands of tight end Dallas Clark to compliment these two receivers, and Manning will use every tool and receiver that is available. The Colts drafted Donald Brown in the NFL Draft to complement Joseph Addai after Dominic Rhodes departed Indy due to free agency. New offensive coordinator Clyde Christensen has some good things to work with on offense. Let’s see if he can utilize it well and can mesh with Manning, who was unhappy with Moore’s retirement.

On defense, Ron Meeks departed after last season, and the new man in charge of the unit, Larry Coyer, is going to have a bit of a challenge as the Colts defense is undersized, and the schemes he is devising are not really a hit with the players. That lack of size on defense kills them when they play the run, and then it puts more pressure on star defensive endDwight Freeney and his fellow defensive end Robert Mathis to get to the quarterback. The guys up the middle have to find ways to plug holes and stop the run.

The Colts should not have too much changed from last season, except with the coaches, and they are all part of the Dungy coaching tree. Most of the players are returning and Peyton is healthy. The Colts will be back in the playoffs as long as the team is healthy and quite possibly they can dominate their way to the AFC South and maybe even all the way to the Super Bowl. Good things areto come in the Caldwell era and Indianapolis.

AFC South Preview- Houston Texans

The AFC South is the next division on deck, and with a pretty good and strong lineup. The Titans, defending AFC South champions will look to repeat, and the Colts, who has Peyton Manning, remain perennial contenders, despite the changes at head coach and offensive coordinator. The Texans have been mired in mediocrity since they entered the NFL in 2002, are looking to break through and have their first winning season in franchise history. And the Jacksonville Jaguars are looking to turnaround a disappointing 5-11 season when they were supposed to be a contender.

The AFC South will be as follows this season:

1. Tennessee
2. Indianapolis
3. Houston
4. Jacksonville

We start of the AFC South preview in the Lone Star State and take a look at the Houston Texans:

The Houston Texans are one dynamic team and a fun team to watch. Had it not been for two teams known as Tennessee and Indianapolis, this team would be on its way to its first playoff berth in franchise history. The Texans finished at 8-8, which ties a franchise record. This time around, Gary Kubiak and company are looking to improve upon that and have its first winning season ever. The Texans have the tools, but do they have what it takes to get by the Titans and the Colts?

The offense is one of the best in the NFL, along with the most underrated. They have a good QB in Matt Schaub, who when healthy, can do some pretty special things. He has the game’s best receiver in Andre Johnson, and a very special running back in Steve Slaton. The offensive line is one of the more improved lines in the league, and with Kyle Shanahan calling the plays again for the Texans, and if this unit is healthy, they can do some damage.

The defense has been heavily invested in, as many people are very happy that the the draft pick from a few years ago, Mario Williams, has worked out very well. He leads a very strong and very young defensive line which will be the leaders of the unit for years to come. One thing to be aware of is that Houston’s new defensive coordinator, Frank Bush will put some more aggressive blitz calls and mix it with the things that have worked to make this defense more effective. If the Texans want to go places, this side of the ball has to do their part and do it very well.

The Texans are looking to improve, but the Titans and Colts are still in the way. Had this team been in a different division, they might have a more remote shot at the playoffs, but unless Tennessee and Indianapolis falter, the Texans will be stuck in 3rd place in the AFC South due the superiority of the two teams ahead of them.

The Schism in ‘Sota

Well, Brett Favre is at it again.

The new term “schism” is basically a divide that is more than two ways. As Favre arrived to Minnesota a mere 10 days ago, skipping training camp and then starting against the Kansas City Chiefs. The main question was: what about the current battle for the starting position between Sage Rosenfels and Tavaris Jackson?

Favre is a legend, his toughness, and his blue collar image endeared himself to many different people during his time in Green Bay. But the last two years of back and forth and in and out of retirement has really put a tarnish on this legacy. He made a great impact with the New York Jets, and got them to an 8-3 start until they lost four of five that caused them to miss the playoffs. The treatment that Favre received preferential came after the Jets sputtered out at the end of the season. The Vikings knew this risk they were taking, and took it anyway. One good thing from Favre was that Adrian Peterson, the teams’ best player, was lobbying very hard for Favre to come to Minnesota, and when you are the star of the team, and you have the support of that star, that can really be some pull since he has the biggest voice of the team.

But… did they forget that they brought in a quarterback, Sage Rosenfels, from the Houston Texans? Rosenfels has started in NFL games before, and felt that Minnesota was the best opportunity for him to start and he had the chance to obtain the starting job. All of the sudden, just like in Houston, Washington, and Miami, he’s back to being the backup upon Favre’s arrival. Sure you have to be professional about it, but he was gaining respect from his teammates very quickly, which was a huge plus for him.

And what about Tavaris Jackson? He has been the starter for the past couple of seasons, but had he been what Brad Childress envisioned, a kid with the similar talents and skills of Donovan McNabb, but he has struggled mightily over the past two seasons he has been in Minnesota. Had he been performing better, he could be in a better position where nobody would even be trying to take his job. The good thing for Jackson is that he has a good support system among his teammates, and that’s where possibly the biggest dissension among the team. Jackson really showed brilliance against the Chiefs in the preseason game.

One thing that has been learned from Favre’s season with the Jets a year ago is that when the Jets were winning and were 8-3, there was no negativity, but as they sputtered out and missed the playoffs, the grumbles came. The Vikings were already a contender WITHOUT Favre, and he could possibly get them over the top. As long as the there is no divide, and the Vikings win, things will be fine. If this season is another Jets’ repeat, expect the grumbles and groans to get louder.

And prepare for future “schisms” in ‘Sota next year.

NFC East Preview- Washington Redskins

The Washington Redskins finished a respectable 8-8 in the tough NFC East. You would think that being able to hang with the top teams in the division would make them want to take steps to improve on the team. As many teams in the NFC East are improving in different ways, the Redskins look as if they are still stuck in neutral, as they made little to no improvement in the offseason.

On offense, the line is a little iffy, as they are getting older and have been often injured in recent years. Clinton Portis seems as if he is declining, but one off year does not determine the rest of his career. If he is to get back to the dominant running back he was before, the line has to make holes for him, and he has to get that speed that made him so dominant. The QB, Jason Campbell, needs to take chances as he does not throw the ball down the field often, and does not have many receivers to throw it to, so it could be a trust issue in that area. That issue could also be the reason why the Redskins tried to acquire Jay Cutler and Mark Sanchez in the offseason and NFL Draft, respectively. To make matters worse for Campbell, the Redskins have no even offered him a contract extension, a clear sign that they are ready possibly to move on from him. It will be up to him to respond with passion and take chances and prove to management that he is worthy of being a starting QB, or just being angry and upset and play with no kind of passion and quit.

Defensively, the Redskins made a huge splash by signing former Tennessee Titans DT Albert Haynesworth, and he should fit into the Redskins defensive scheme perfectly as Haynesworth is a big time run-stopper, and knows how to plug in the gaps that the offensive line makes. The Redskins are already good at stopping the run, but expect their first round pick, DE Brian Orakpo from Texas to have an impact on defense as he is quick and knows how to get to the QB for sacks. Not much was put into the defense aside from Haynesworth’s big payday, but he and Orakpo are going to have to be the anchors for this team.

The Skins are facing a long season, and it’s going to be up to Campbell to take chances and trust his receivers. While the rest of the NFC East looks like they are getting better, the Redskins are fading. .500 does not look like a possibility this season.

NFC East Preview- Philadelphia Eagles

The Philadelphia Eagles got into the playoffs and surprised many in the football world, especially beating the New York Giants at the Meadowlands before falling to Arizona in the NFC Championship game. The amazing thing is how the Eagles get the job done with a less than heralded cast of players. Aside from Donovan McNabb and Brian Westbrook, and a very good defense, and a great coach.

The Eagles though are not going to just settle for a late surge and getting into the playoffs when in reality, they really should have been out. They made improvements to go further and replace and off-set the losses that did occur during free agency.

On offense, the Eagles beefed up their offensive line for Brian Westbrook to run holes through, and protect Donovan McNabb in the pocket, despite losing Correll Buckhalter, they drafted LaShawn McCoy at RB in the second round, and he will make a good RB tandem with Westbrook. One thing Westbrook can do better is catch the ball, and speaking of wide receivers, they got a gift in the form of Missouri WR Jeremy Maclin. Maclin has speed, which will not only be used on the routes, but in special teams on kick and punt returns. He will form quite a duo with DeSean Jackson. McNabb also has tight end Brent Celek for a good security blanket. Don’t forget the huge signing in training camp in the form of Michael Vick. The Eagles are a perfect fit since they have a disciplined coach, a leader at quarterback that can help him get ready, and with the support of McNabb, why would this not work. It will be very interesting to see what trickery the Eagles have planned with these two.

The defense is still full of talent and intact, the only things missing are Brian Dawkins, who left the nest for Denver in free agency, and the unfortunate passing of defensive coordinator Jim Johnson from cancer. New coordinator Sean McDermott takes over from the secondary position, albeit the circumstances. The Eagles give offenses so many different looks on defense that it is difficult for opponents to guess what is happening next. McDermott is going to have to keep that going from what Johnson did.

Overall, if the Eagles can get a lot from their rookies and keep McNabb healthy, they will be very tough to beat and can quite possibly be the team to beat in the NFC East. The offensive line is beefed up, and if a true playmaker can emerge from this squad, they will soar far in the NFC playoffs, perhaps a Super Bowl.