Gridiron Gab Breakdown: AFC South

Houston Texans:

Offense: The Texans seem to be everyone’s sleeper pick to come out of this division, but I just don’t see it. They play in one of the toughest divisions in football, and just don’t have the depth on both sides of the ball to compete with Indy or Tennessee. Their offense, however, will be explosive if Matt Schaub can stay healthy, although that is a very big if. Their skill positions are solid with Andre Johnson, maybe the league’s best wide receiver, up and coming tight end, Owen Daniels, and Steve Slaton, who rushed for over 1,000 yards in his rookie campaign. Their offensive line is excellent at executing their zone-blocking scheme, and boasts a very nice tackle duo in Duane Brown and Eric Winston. The key for the offense will be staying healthy, because as mentioned earlier, there isn’t much depth behind the starters.

Defense: The defense hasn’t looked very good in the preseason, especially against the run. This is not a good sign considering how many draft picks have been invested in the front seven. Defensive end Mario Williams and middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans are the stars of the unit, while youngsters Amobi Okoye, Brian Cushing, and Xavier Adibi all have lofty expectations to fulfill. Cushing has not played in preseason because of injury, so it is hard to gauge what kind of impact he will have. In the secondary, Dunta Robinson finally signed his franchise tender, reporting to the team. He is really the only recognizable name in the Texans secondary that will need a good pass rush in order to be effective.

Indianapolis Colts:

Offense: As long as Peyton Manning is under center, the offense should be one of the top units in the league. Manning shook off a slow start to lead his team to eight straight wins down the stretch, and collected another MVP trophy for the mantle. Manning, however, will be without Marvin Harrison this year, and will have to operate behind a revamped offensive line. Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark return, though, while Anthony Gonzalez takes over for Harrison, along with Austin Collie and Pierre Garcon splitting time in the slot. Running back Joseph Addai was ineffective last year, mostly due to lingering injuries, so the team drafted Donald Brown with its first round pick in the draft to help share the load. Brown has looked very impressive in the preseason, which should help motivate Addai to get back on track as well. New head coach Jim Caldwell is a Tony Dungy clone, which should make the transition a little easier.

Defense: The Colts boast one of the league’s top pass rushing duos in Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, both of whom posted double digit sacks a season ago. One problem for the Colts last year was their inability to stop the run. This was in part due to the scheme they run, which requires small, quicker defensive tackles. They scrapped this idea in the offseason, bringing in 300+ lbs linemen Fili Moala and Terrance Taylor through the draft. The rest of the defense is the same as a year ago, with Gary Brackett leading the linebacking corps, and Bob Sanders, who should be healthy by week 6, patrolling the secondary. Melvin Bullitt will start in Sanders’ safety position until he returns to health. He actually played very well after Sanders got hurt last season, and is in no way a liability.

Jacksonville Jaguars:

Offense: The Jaguars were one of last season’s biggest let downs. Most of their problems stemmed from a rash of injuries to their offensive line. This year, the whole unit is healthy, and they went out and signed Tra Thomas to a big free agent deal, as well as drafted offensive linemen with their first two draft picks. The new additions should give David Garrard more time to get rid of the ball, and open up holes for Maurice Jones-Drew, who will no longer share carries with Fred Taylor. The Jags also revamped the receiving corps, bringing in Torry Holt, as well as drafting Mike Thomas and Jarrett Dilliard. Look for tight end Marcedes Lewis to contribute more this season as well.

Defense: Once one of the better units in the league, the Jaguars defense did not play very well last season. There is talent on this side of the ball, however, and I expect to see a bounce back year from them. Defensive end Derrick Harvey has the makings of a future star, and he started playing well as the season progressed after missing training camp and some of the preseason because of contract issues. The Jaguars also boast a young, feisty linebacking group, who I believe will start gaining more recognition as the year goes on. In the secondary, Reggie Nelson had an injury marred season after looking impressive in his rookie year. Rashean Mathis is still one of the best corners in the NFL, but had a down year and should have something to prove this year.

Tennessee Titans:

Offense: The Titans are a run-first team, and really don’t ask Kerry Collins to do much other than manage the offense and not turn the ball over. However, they may look to throw down the field a little more this season after bringing in some weapons for Collins to work with. The Titans started by signing Nate Washington to a free agent deal, and then took Kenny Britt out of Rutgers with their first round pick. Britt has looked good in the preseason along with fellow rookie, Jared Cook, who is a freakishly athletic tight end. The rushing duo of ‘Smash and Dash,’ was one of the most productive in the league last season. Chris Johnson (Dash), is the feature back, rushing for over 1,000 yards as a rookie last year, while Lendale White (Smash), is more of a short yardage and goal line specialist, who also happens to be in a contract year. The offensive line is one of the best in the league at moving the pile, but is equally good in pass protection.

Defense: Albert Haynesworth will be missed, but maybe Jeff Fisher knew something we didn’t when he let him walk away in the offseason. The Titans have done a good job of trying to replace him, though, adding players through the draft and free agency. This team is great at stopping the run, but it will need Kyle Vanden-Bosch to have a big year rushing the passer if they are again going to rank among the top units in the league. Keith Bullock returns at weak side linebacker, and is one of the more unheralded superstars in the league. The secondary fields three Pro Bowlers in shutdown corner, Cortland Finnegan, and safeties Michael Griffin and Chris Hope.

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