Minus Manning, Colts will draw less nickel

Nickel defenses are played more than ever in the NFL.

But the AFC South may be moving the other direction in games against each other.

The Texans are comfortable lining up with three wide receivers or splitting tight end Owen Daniels out into spread formations. The Jaguars and Titans figured to remain running back-centric. If the Titans get a bounce-back from Chris Johnson, they will likely run more. Of course those two teams can spread things out with the intent to run, of course.

But two games when AFC South teams loaded up with nickel packages are likely to change.

The departure of Peyton Manning from the Colts means one team that dictated constant nickel defenses is being altered. New coach Chuck Pagano has talked about running and stopping the run and GM Ryan Grigson said Monday he expects the Colts to be a fullback team.

A linebacker is typically going to stay on the field against a two-back set. The lack of a precision passing offense and weapons like Dallas Clark and Pierre Garcon will make it tougher for the Colts to dictate a team's defensive personnel, or to take advantage of it.

"The third linebacker or the nickel corner?” Texans coach Gary Kubiak said at the owners meetings, repeating a question about what’s more important. “You look at your schedule and say, 'OK, what are we going to play this year? Are we going to be in nickel all year, or are we going to be trying to stop the run?' I think that's what things will come down to.

“One year you might be out there in nickel defense 60 or 70 percent of the time. The next year it could be 50. It all starts with your division. When Peyton was at Indy, if we didn't have three good corners we were in trouble every time we played them. So I think you've kind of got to build your roster to compete in your division, No. 1, and make that decision."

This means the Jaguars will have two more games where they can play more with their great linebacking trio of Paul Posluszny, Daryl Smith and Clint Session on the field together.

This means the Titans' new nickelback -- whether he's an outsider or Ryan Mouton, Chris Hawkins or Tommie Campbell -- isn't going to be as important against Indy as recent ones have been.

This means DeMeco Ryans' replacement in the Texans base defense, Darryl Sharpton, will get additional snaps.

Is that better or worse? As good as Andrew Luck will be coming out of Stanford, defenses are going to want to play the rebuilding Colts in 2012.