Who Am I?

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I served in the US Navy from 2002-08; four of those years were as a Nuclear Propulsion Operator aboard an aircraft carrier. I engage in political activism in various Democratic circles when I am able to. I have a cat, and I am an uncle.

All opinions that I express are my own and do not reflect the views of any organization that I represent.

Thursday, September 8, 2011

NFL 2011 SEASON PREVIEW AFC SOUTH



AFC SOUTH PROJECTED ORDER OF FINISH

1.      Texans
2.      Colts
3.      Titans
4.      Jaguars



HOUSTON: THE PIECES ARE IN PLACE

Going into last season, there was talk that the Texans would FINALLY make their first playoff appearance ever.

The Texans have playmakers on both sides of the ball. Quarterback Matt Schaub posted his second consecutive 4,000-yard passing season, threw for 24 TDs, and posted a quarterback rating of 92.0. Schaub’s 15,457 passing yards for his career ranks him in the top 20 among active players.

Running back Arian Foster led the league in rushing yards with 1,616 yards, rushing touchdowns with 16, and led the league in yards from scrimmage with 2,220 yards.

Wide receiver Andre Johnson was short of setting his third consecutive 100-reception, 1,500-yard receiving season, but still caught 86 passes for 1,216 yards to rank him in the Top 10 in those respective categories.



Defensive end Mario Williams once again proved why the Texans were wise in selecting him with the first overall pick in the 2006 draft as he recorded 8.5 sacks in 2011 placing him in the top 30 among active players. Williams will continue to climb up the list.

Commentators criticized Houston for taking Williams over quarterbacks Vince Young and Matt Leinart and running back Reggie Bush each of them made big plays in the 2005 college football season that resulted in USC, led by Leinart and Bush, to play Young’s Texas Longhorns in the National Championship Game. Vince Young led a game-winning drive that culminated in Texas winning their first consensus National Championship since 1969.

Those players are no longer with the original teams that drafted him. In a twist of irony, the Texans signed Matt Leinart to backup Matt Schaub.



Things were looking good after their dramatic 35-31 win over Kansas City in Week 6 that put the Texans at 4-2 going into their bye week.

After the bye week the Texans went 2-8 to finish at 6-10. Despite the dismal record in their final ten games, wide receiver Andre Johnson kept the Texans in the fight for the playoffs…






But, the Ravens eliminated the Texans from playoff contention with this play:



The defining moment that sums up the Texans 2010 season was when they played in Jacksonville in Week 10.

Going into that game, Houston dropped back-to-back games and were 4-4 going into their matchup against the Jacksonville Jaguars who were also 4-4.

In this upcoming recap from the NFL Network Gameday crew, this was a back-and-forth game. Pay close attention to when they recap the final 1:40 of the game.



SIDENOTE: The Wife hated this game. This game aired here in the Dallas area. When that last play happened, I went nuts just like the announcer did. I was playing it over and over again on the DVR. Every so often I find it on youtube and play it just for her.

That last play was bound to happen. Not only because you had a missed field goal by Jacksonville, followed by the Texans fumble, and an offside penalty… but The Law of Gus Johnson.

As defined by Bill Simmons in Texans-Jaguars from his Week 10 Picks from last season:

I keep mentioning the Law of Gus without ever really defining it, so let's do it right now. If Gus Johnson is calling an NFL game, the odds quintuple that:

(A) the lead will change hands in the fourth quarter;
(B) someone will complete a long pass in a big moment that will make Gus' voice hit an octave only dogs can hear;
and (C) the game will go into overtime or at least come damned close.

It seems impossible that the mere presence of an announcer would alter the course of the game, but here's my theory: I think God sits in his Man Cave on Sundays and says, "Which game is that Gus Johnson calling? I get a kick out of that guy. I think I'll make his game exciting and see if he completely loses his mind."

That one play sums up the Houston Texans 2010 season.

Which play…?

I’ll show it again.



The Texans’ final ten games highlighted that their weakness was defense, and they still had the inability to deliver that knockout blow. I mentioned earlier that Mario Williams is one of their defensive playmakers. The man can only do so much.

Houston gave up the third most yards in the NFL. None of the teams that ranked in the bottom five in yards given up made the playoffs. Houston had the worst passing defense as opponents averaged 267.5 yards/game. Among the bottom five teams in that category, New England made the playoffs but did not advance. The Texans were tied with their counterparts up I-45 in Dallas for giving up the most passing touchdowns in the league with 33. Philadelphia made the playoffs among teams ranked in the bottom five of that category, but like the Patriots, failed to advance.

To remedy their defensive woes, the Texans made some changes.

First, they hired Wade Phillips as their defensive coordinator. Prior to his recent stint as the coach of the Dallas Cowboys, Phillips served as the defensive coordinator for the San Diego Chargers from 2004-06. Other defensive coordinator jobs included the Falcons (2002-03), Buffalo (1995-96), the Eagles (1986-88), and the New Orleans Saints (1981-85).

Wade Phillips has a Houston connection. He played linebacker for the University of Houston from 1966-68 and still holds the school record for career assisted tackles. After various defensive jobs at West Orange-Stark High, Oklahoma State, and University of Kansas, the Houston Oilers hired him to be their defensive line coach in 1976.

The coach of the Oilers at the time…



He is the Son of the Bum.

In fact, Wade Phillips was hired as the new defensive coordinator almost thirty years to the date that his father was fired by Oilers on 28 December 1980.

In addition to hiring Wade Phillips and installing his 3-4 defensive strategy, the Texans went defensive in the draft. They did not draft an offensive player until the 152nd pick, well into the fifth round. Their first two picks, J.J. Watt defensive end from Wisconsin and linebacker Brooks Reed from Arizona are expected to make an impact. Also, Mario Williams is making the transition from defensive end to outside linebacker. This could turn Mario Williams into one of the more versatile pass rushers in the NFL like Dallas’s DeMarcus Ware or Jason Taylor during his prime in Miami. In the free agency period, the Texans signed cornerback Johnathan Joseph from Cincinnati.

The Texans schedule is not forgiving when the season starts. Three of their first four games are against 2010 playoff teams. They host the Colts in Week 1. Given that quarterback Peyton Manning is not expected to play in that game, it might be the opportunity they need to build a lead in the division. In consecutive weeks, Houston plays at the Saints following to hosting the Steelers. Points will be expected to be at a premium when Houston plays at Baltimore in Week 6. The Texans are one of four teams to have a bye week in Week 11. The stretch run begins where the Texans signature moment of 2010 took place, at Jacksonville in Week 12. Another offensive matchup takes place in Week 13 when the Falcons come to town.

Peyton Manning should be back for the Colts in Week 16 as the Texans travel to Indianapolis for a Thursday Night contest. That game will have ramifications on the AFC South division race and could see the Colts run of 9 consecutive seasons in the playoffs end.

While the Texans are talented on offense and made some changes on the defensive side of the ball, this season could be their best shot at making the playoffs. Outside of the Colts, the Texans are the most talented team in the division. While I am not ready to completely write Indianapolis off, the Texans have the pieces in place to make the playoffs as a division champion.


INDIANAPOLIS: IT WOULD BE A VERY BAD IDEA TO WRITE THEM OFF



It is hard to imagine the Indianapolis Colts without their quarterback Peyton Manning.



At the time that I began writing this piece, I originally had the Colts slated as finishing first in their division. Then the report that Peyton Manning had not fully recovered from off-season neck surgery and did not play in pre-season drove my prediction down to a finish of 1.5…

Don’t ask me how a team can finish with a place of 1.5, there’s a lot of math involved. Calculus, vector math, some statistics…

Now there are reports that Manning will be unable to start the Colts opener at Houston.

Even though one player does not make a team, without Peyton Manning the Colts are at best an average team.

In addition, this team is getting older at the skilled positions but when that is pointed out the Colts have found ways to beat that.

Besides the offense that will suffer, the loss of safety Bob Sanders will have an impact on the Colts ability to stop the run. If you recall during the Colts 2006 Super Bowl season, Bob Sanders was injured during that year. The Colts had the worst rushing defense in the league giving up an average of 173 yards/game.



The low point was during a 44-17 blowout loss at Jacksonville in Week 14, where the Jaguars ran for 375 yards.

That was their offense the entire game.

To put that into perspective, quarterback David Garrard threw for 79 yards. Peyton Manning’s three longest passes of 42 to Marvin Harrison, 31 yards to Reggie Wayne, and 14 yards to Joseph Addai was greater than Garrard’s passing yard total in that game. Jacksonville’s rushing total was greater than Manning’s passing total of 313 yards for that game. Also, the Colts 339 offensive yards was less than the Jaguars rushing total for that game.

Two Jaguars running backs went over 125 yards rushing. Veteran running back Fred Taylor had 9 carries for 131 yards, a longest rush of 76 yards (was not a TD) and a touchdown while rookie running back Maurice Jones-Drew was the game’s leading rusher with 166 yards on 15 carries and scored two touchdowns.

When Bob Sanders returned for the playoffs, they gave up 331 yards… in four playoff games. The average was 83 rushing yards/game, less than half of what they gave up in the regular season.

The Manning injury is great concern for the Colts. While they do have Kerry Collins, who led the Panthers to their first NFC Championship game in 1996, followed by a stint with the Giants by taking them to the playoffs in 2000 and 2002, and the Titans to the #1 seed in the 2008 season, as their insurance policy, chances of keeping their playoff streak intact is not looking good.

In 10,000 computer simulations run by ESPN, if Manning were to miss 2 games (return vs. Pittsburgh in Week 3), the Colts’ chances of making the playoffs are at 61.4%. Missing 4 games (returns against the Chiefs in Week 5) and it is a 54.1% chance. 10 games (returns after the Week 11 bye week to play the Panthers) and the odds are slightly less than 1-in-3. If the injury causes Manning to miss the entire season, then the Colts chances of making the playoffs are 20.1%.

Let’s say Manning misses four games. If the Colts can manage a 2-2 or 1-3 start, they may contend for a Wild Card spot with Manning. Opening against the Texans on the road will not be easy. Week 3 and 4 are back-to-back Prime Time games against the Steelers on Sunday Night followed by a Monday Night encounter at Tampa…



A Super Bowl XLIV rematch takes place in New Orleans in Week 7 as part of three game stretch on the road that includes games at Cincinnati and Tennessee. In Week 9, the Falcons visit Indianapolis.

And once again, the Colts play the Patriots… instead of a mid-season matchup as in previous seasons; this one has been moved into December where there will be instant playoff ramifications.

Following the game at New England, the Colts travel to Baltimore, and wrap their season with three consecutive games against their AFC South opponents. The home finale is against the Texans in Week 16 followed by closing the season out in Jacksonville.

It may sound like I am ready to bury the Colts, but remember in 2008 when Peyton Manning had off-season knee surgery and there were concerns that he rushed too soon to come back and the Colts struggled from the start. The Colts finished the season 12-4 and in the playoffs.

I can foresee the Colts getting off to a 1-3 start but rebound after Manning returns to get to .500 at the bye week in Week 10.

Then they suffer a horrible loss to a one-win Panther team at home in Week 12. There is always that one game in the NFL that you say, “Whiskey-Tango-Foxtrot…? How in the hell did a team led by Peyton Manning lose to Carolina…?”

They are 5-6 about to play road games in New England and Baltimore. ESPN’s Jon Clayton writes a piece about how the Colts are finished. Rodney Harrison and Tony Dungy nod in agreement on NBC’s Sunday Night Football after discussing the Carolina-Indianapolis that the Colts are finished and echo the same sentiment going into the Colts at Patriots game.

Then… the Colts win. And it starts a winning streak where they finish 10-6 and become the team THAT NO ONE WANTS TO PLAY!!

I think a lot of people are going to flock to the Texans and other teams in the AFC South to finally dethrone the Colts.

Ever seen horror films and the characters think that Freddie, Jason, etc. is dead, but then all of sudden… another dead body shows up.

Those are the Colts. They aren’t dead yet.


JACKSONVILLE: SEE TENNESSEE…


TENNESSEE: NEW BEGINNINGS

I am combining these two entries because both these teams appear to have similar traits.



Both have exciting running backs; the Titans with Chris Johnson and the Jaguars with Maurice Jones-Drew.


Both teams decided that it was time to go in different directions concerning their quarterbacks. The Titans parted ways with Vince Young because despite his winning record at the early part of his career, he was unable to live up to expectations and clashed with head coach Jeff Fisher.

On the Titans, Jeff Fisher and Vince Young are no longer part of this team. The Titans hired Coach Mike Munchak and drafted Jake Locker in the first round from Washington. In addition to help Locker out, the Titans signed veteran quarterback from Seattle, Matthew Hasselbeck.

In Jacksonville, Coach Jack Del Rio is still with the team but he is under increased scrutiny. The Jaguars used their first round selection on a quarterback as well, Mizzou’s Blaine Gabbert. While it looked like David Garrard was going to be the starter in Week 1 for Jacksonville, Garrard was released two days before the start of the regular season. The starter’s role now lands on Luke McCown…

Yeah, that inspires confidence in the team.

Garrard made plays for the Jaguars… like this one, specifically…



The Wife is going to hate me…

All is not gloom for Jacksonville though… They made some significant improvements in their defense, which was ranked 28th in the league last season, by adding from free agency linebackers Paul Posluszny and Clint Session, safety Dawan Landry, defensive end Matt Roth and nickelback Drew Coleman.

While all the focus is on the Texans with their star powered lineup and the Colts with Manning’s neck injury, these teams are not going to be pushovers like other third and fourth place teams. These teams have rookie first round quarterbacks on their respective rosters, but they are not going anytime soon. After mid-season, Gabbert might be under center in Jacksonville, while Hasselbeck will still be quarterbacking the Titans.

The AFC South has drawn the NFC South and AFC North for their schedules in 2011 so both the Jaguars and Titans will have difficult games against the Saints, Falcons, Steelers, and Ravens.

I think the Titans have a better chance of finishing third in the division than Jacksonville because of their quarterbacking situation with a veteran under center. Both these teams should finish within the 6 to 8 win range. They will be in the race for the division title until around Week 14 unlike their counterparts in Buffalo, Cincinnati, Washington, and Carolina.


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