Tom Gower of Football Outsiders looks at deficiencies on AFC South teams Friday in this Insider piece.
I’m able to share a bit of it and offer some comments.
FO: “Brian Cushing will be another of the starters at linebacker, but he was much less impressive after his return from a season-opening suspension. His skills are better suited for an inside linebacker position next to Ryans [in the new 3-4], as he probably doesn't have enough burst to get around even right tackles. If Cushing does indeed move to the inside, the Texans need another outside linebacker. There is no good candidate on the roster for the role, so that is a position the Texans must address in free agency or the draft.”
“Once they find enough players to run their preferred defensive scheme, the Texans also need to fix their secondary. The best place to start is by finding a good free safety, something they have lacked in the nine years of the franchise's existence. Eugene Wilson started 13 games there this year but didn't play well, and Troy Nolan also doesn't appear to be the answer.”
PK: Connor Barwin is intriguing as an outside linebacker in the 3-4, though I think offenses will try to make him prove he can sufficiently contribute to stopping the run. I’ve been on the free safety bandwagon for some time, and rank it as the single biggest position of need for the franchise.
FO: “Reggie Wayne had another good year in 2010, but is 32 years old. When Marvin Harrison was 32, Wayne was around to help him carry the load -- it's not clear who might play that role for Wayne. Anthony Gonzalez seemed like he might be that player when the Colts made him a first-round pick in 2007, but he hasn't been able to stay healthy, appearing in only three games in the past two seasons. Pierre Garcon started opposite Wayne, but put up below-average numbers and appears better suited as a complementary player (although he did give signs of hope by improving significantly in the final month of the season). Like Gonzalez, third wideout Austin Collie has serious injury issues after suffering multiple concussions in 2010.
PK: That’s why I’ve been saying after offensive tackle, I rank receiver as the Colts' biggest need. It won’t matter as much if they improve Peyton Manning's protection for the remainder of the prime of his career if he doesn’t have that lead receiver, and I’d get the next guy in the Harrison-Wayne chain on the roster ASAP. Then I’d get more even more offensive linemen.
FO: “[Cornerback David] Jones started five games and yielded an average of 12.2 yards per play when he was in coverage before being relegated to the bench. For a better idea of just how bad that was, only three other corners gave up more than 10 yards per play, and passes completed against holes in zone coverage netted only 11.6 yards per play.
“Unfortunately for the Jaguars, the starter opposite Jones, Rashean Mathis, was another member of that elite quartet of corners that gave up at least 10 yards per play. Mathis turns 31 in August, and the Jaguars shouldn't count on him to play as well in 2011 as he did in 2010 -- or to be healthy for all 16 games, as he was for the first time since 2006. Jones' replacement, Derek Cox, wasn't as bad, but Jones' insertion in the starting lineup in the first place was a sign of the Jaguars' displeasure with Cox's lack of development.
“Good safety play would undoubtedly help the Jaguars' corners perform at a higher level, but unfortunately even competent safety play was lacking for Jacksonville in 2010.”
PK: Safety is as big a concern for Jacksonville as it is for Houston. What kind of long-range planning have the two franchises done knowing they’re facing Manning twice a year and not having a single safety between them who can effectively defend the pass with any consistency? It’s worse for the Jaguars, because they also have to face Matt Schaub twice a year and he’s also able to exploit the weakness.
FO: “Moving directly from position coach to head coach, he hasn't defined his style as a coordinator and exactly what sort of offense or defense he wants to run is largely a mystery. Who he hires to fill the coordinator positions should help answer those questions -- and should help dictate what kind of personnel changes the Titans need to make this offseason.
“Whichever direction Munchak chooses to go, at offensive and defensive coordinator and in acquiring a quarterback, he must be sure to choose… wisely: wrong choices could lead him to the unemployment line, and right choices could lead to another long-tenured head coach for the Titans franchise.”
PK: We know the least about the Titans than any team in the division because of the transition at head coach and the uncertainly at quarterback and both coordinator posts. It makes it an exciting time to follow the team, because the charting of new courses and the follow through will be interesting. But the labor impasse means we’re going to have to hit the pause button on personnel questions for some time.