Where AFC South teams need to strengthen in the NFL off-season

Richard Moore takes a look at the decisions which lie ahead for the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars and Tennessee Titans.

Needs Must!!....part 2

AFC South

Houston Texans

Through the first three months of 2012 the current AFC South champions were looked upon as possibly the best team in the NFL, and there is no reason to suggest they can’t be a force once again come September; especially as they boast the league’s best defensive player, and premier pass rushers in JJ Watt (20.5 sacks) and an assortment of other Pro Bowl calibre personnel in the form of running back Arian Foster (Finished as the 7th best rusher in the league with 1,424 yards from 351 attempts, although he was the most prolific in terms of finding the end zone, outscoring the league’s leading rusher Adrian Peterson by three touchdowns) quarterback Matt Schaub and cornerback Jonathan Joseph.

Two very important questions remain however. Firstly, can Houston peak at the right time, preferably at the business end of the season? Secondly, and perhaps more importantly, can they truly convince against elite opposition? Because let’s not forget, in both weeks 6 and 14 respectively, Houston shipped a combined 84 points against the Packers and Patriots, putting up a paltry 38 of their own over the two games…

Contractual concerns: The most pressing concerns affect the area where Houston were most dominant in 2012 - defense. Linebackers Conner Barwin, Bradie James, Tim Dobbins, and Barrett Ruud, tackle Shaun Cody and safety Glover Quinn are set to become free agents. With many of stars tied up to long term deals, the Texans have very little in reserve for the open market.

Draft selection: The Texans open their account with the 27th pick and would be well advised to use it on a wide out, one that could take the heat off Andre Johnson, who despite racking up the most yards of his career (1,598), only found the end zone four times.

That being said, Houston may want to consider bolstering the secondary, especially with the prospect of possibly losing one, or more of the aforementioned defensive players to free agency.

Indianapolis Colts

With the specter of that infamous 2 - 14 debacle little more than a speck in the rear view mirror, the first year of the post Payton era motored to an impressive and highly improbable 11 - 5 finish under debutante quarterback and first round pick Andrew Luck.

All the more astounding when achieved against the backdrop of head coach Chuck Pagano’s diagnosis for acute promyelocytic leukemia in September.

Despite the devastating revelation, the fight and endeavor shown by Pagano galvanized his men and the team rode his inspiration all the way to the play offs. Whilst they were to lose to eventual Super Bowl champions, the Baltimore Ravens, Pagano’s return to health has coincided with the re - emergence of a franchise that became a national laughing stock (a particular highlight, or should that be low light, being the 62 -7 annihilation in New Orleans) in 2012.

Though the nature of the challenge pales in significance, especially from a humanitarian standpoint, Pagano and his Colts face another challenge; finding a replacement for outgoing offensive coordinator Bruce Arians, who did such a stellar job in Pagano’s absence. Arians was recently appointed head coach of the Arizona Cardinals. However, the loss of Arians has been offset somewhat by the acquisition of Luck’s offensive coordinator at Stanford, Pep Hamilton, thus at the very least ensuring continuity going into 2013.

Contractual Issues: With the Colts having severed ties with long serving defensive end Dwight Freeney, who prior to leaving was the Colts most high profile free agent, Indianapolis has plenty of money to spend in free agency and could well be one of the most actively aggressive teams come March.

Draft selection: To ensure progress from an offensive standpoint, it’s vitally important Indianapolis provides Luck with the time needed to dissect opposition defenses, which means significant upgrades to the offensive line; an offensive line that allowed 41 sacks and 116 hits on Luck.

The phrase often used is ‘how’s your luck?’, so I guess we’ll find out how Lucky Luck is come 2013…

The Colts also need to make serious improvements on the defensive side of the ball, by upgrading a defense line and secondary that led to the Colts defense ranked 21st against the pass (236.8 yards per game), and an even more worrying 29th against the run (137.5 yards per game). The Colts are on the board with the 24th selection.

Jacksonville Jaguars

With the Jaguars ranking 30th on both sides of the ball, the requirement for change is an understatement, and owner Shad Khan wasted no time in ushering in the broom of change. Out went general manager Gene Smith, and head coach Mike Malarkey, (despite the latter being in charge for only a year). In comes new general manager David Caldwell, and former Seattle defensive coach Gus Bradley, the mastermind behind the Seahawks much feared ‘Legion of Boom’ defense, a defense that ranked 4th in yards allowed (306.2 yards per game), 6th against the pass (203.1 yards per game) and 10th against the run (103.1 yards per game).

With the Jags defense more ‘Legion of Room’ than ‘Legion of Boom’, Bradley has much to pontificate from a defensive standpoint come draft time, as well as the conundrum that is second year quarterback Blaine Gabbert.

Despite improvements (an improved completion percentage from 50.8 to 58.3 being one), there are question marks over whether or not the Jags 10th overall pick of the 2011 draft is the answer to the dilemma under center, despite impressive arm strength.

With newly appointed quarterbacks coach Frank Scelfo declaring himself a firm believer in the former Missouri Tiger, “If you graded (Gabbert) out right now, this is his draft class. If he were coming out and the quarterback draft class the way it is, would he be the top guy taken? I think the answer is yes”, it will intriguing to see how new offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch goes about molding him into the number one pick Scelfo clearly believes he can be. Shad Khan, and newly installed Gus Bradley will hope so, or else the broom of change may be out for more spring cleaning…

Star running back Maurice Jones-Drew also remains a concern, as he’ll spend a significant proportion of the off-season rehabbing the injured foot that robbed the Jags of his services for much of the season.

Contractual issues: Don’t expect the Jaguars to be too active, especially in free agency. The teams most high profile free agents include defensive tackle Terrance Knighton, cornerback Rasheen Mathis and center Brad Meester. One thing’s for certain, you can categorically rule out a move for the hugely polarizing Tim Tebow, something general manager David Caldwell certainly did when pressed on the issue during his introductory press conference “I can’t imagine a scenario where he could be a Jacksonville Jaguar”. "Even if he's released".

Draft selection: The Jaguars are in possession of the second overall pick and as a result could have their pick of offensive tackles, or a dominant pass rusher. Despite 2013 representing a pretty week quarterback class, it’s worth noting that there is every possibility Jacksonville may take another quarterback, regardless of Scelfo’s assertion regarding Gabbert.

New logo, new hope? Time will tell…

Tennessee Titans

Head coach Mike Munchak clung to his job, despite Tennessee’s 6 - 10 finish, but it’s fairly safe to assume his coaching staff will take on a markedly different look in 2013. Munchak dismissed four assistant coaches, including his offensive coordinator during the season, and long-time special team’s coordinator Alan Lowry after the season.

With a full seasons worth of experience now under his belt, one would naturally assume quarterback Jake Locker has all that he needs to kick on in 2013, only few seem to think he’s done anything in 2012 to suggest he’s the long term solution under center.

Contractual issues: The list of impending free agents are headed by kicker Rob Bironas and tight end Jared Cook, so it will be interesting to see what the Titans do with the aforementioned considering they have less than $20 million on cap space. The Titans finished joint 9th in sacks, but lacked consistency in rushing the pass, so they like division rivals Jacksonville, are in need of a dominant pass rusher. Therefore expect Tennessee to upgrade in free agency or the draft.

Draft selection: Tennessee get things underway with the No.10th spot, at which the team would most likely target a cornerback, or as suggested, an effective presence to disrupt the opponents passing game.


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