Wednesday, March 9, 2016

AFC South: The Titans and Jaguars get better, the Texans and Colts get worse

News broke over the past week that the Tennessee Titans signed former Dallas Cowboy and Philadelphia Eagle RB DeMarco Murray, Former Texans Center Ben Jones and are seriously considering drafting Ole Miss DE Laremy Tunsil, who is widely considered to be the top prospect in the NFL draft.

This means that new head coach Mike Mularkey is serious about running the football.

In other news, the Jacksonville Jaguars have signed former Saints and Jets RB Chris Ivory, one of the more underrated RB's in the NFL, who is expected to pair with current RB T.J. Yeldon to provide QB Blake Bortles with a fairly potent 1-2 punch.

The Colts have remained fairly quiet while the Houston Texans are stepping back.

First, the team announced that starting RB Arian Foster has played his last down as a Texan.  This is not much of a surprise since he has had a run of injuries of late, is coming off of a horrific tear of the Achilles tendon and appears to be running out of tread on the tires.

A larger problem for the team is the continued exodus of talent from the offensive line.

With Ben Jones leaving for Tennessee the Texans now don't have a NFL caliber starting center on their roster, and they have recently re-signed former Bronco Chris Clark and 7th round draft pick Derick Newton as their first-string tackles.

To give you an idea of the problems at the position, most NFL teams were looking to sign Clark as a back-up swing tackle. The Texans have signed him to start.

So far the only "name" free agent that the Texans are pursuing (publicly at least) is former Broncos QB Brock Osweiler.  For a team that's chock-full of talent holes on the roster I think it is fair to start questioning what plan, if any, GM Rick Smith is operating under?

Now, it could be that batty owner Bob McNair has tightened the purse strings on Smith, which would reinforce the growing belief that he doesn't really want to win, but is content in profit-taking while taking advantage of being blessed with a fan base whose loyalty is seemingly blind. Or, it could be that head coach Bill O'Brien is calling the shots and is operating without much of a plan.

Neither the O'Brien-in-charge scenario or the lack-of-a-plan option makes Smith appear to be all that necessary to the most mediocre team in football. Although, if McNair really has tightened the purse then he should only receive blame for not advocating harder to build a winner.

I said last year that making the playoffs for the Texans might be the worst possible scenario for the team long-term.  Doddering McNair probably viewed that as a success, and (wrongly) thinks that the team is "just a quarterback away" from title contention. If that is the case the Texans might be placing all of their eggs into the Osweiler basket.

If the Osweiler strategy fails then disaster!  And even if they are successful and overpay for a quarterback with middling results in limited starts the team still has so many positions with talent deficiencies that gaining ground on an improving division feels like a pipe-dream.

Last year the Colts backslid greatly and, by keeping sub-par coach Chuck Pagano, have provided little evidence, so-far, that a return to divisional prominence is a given. The Colts still have serious offensive line deficiencies, a running game that's a whole bunch of nothing and a defense that struggles to stop a stiff Junior High marching band. A return of Andrew Luck to good health will help, but he can't run the ball much or stop opposing offenses, and there's still going to be the issue that the Colts will likely be out-coached in most games.

The Titans are putting together an interesting offense. Yes, they still need some more talent at O-line and receiver but, at the least, their running game should be able to take some pressure off of Mariota, who showed promise. Defensively they still have a way to go. I also question their head coach and their overall talent, but they're undoubtedly on the correct track now after years of floundering.

The Jaguars might be the team that surprises most people, they were already a trendy dark-horse pick last year and, depending on how they draft and the progression of QB Blake Bortles (The guy needs to turn the ball over less for one) they could be an even more prominent pick next year. They do need some more help on defense, but I would argue they have less holes right now than the Texans.

Speaking of the Texans, they're backsliding, and getting perilously close to looking like a team on TILT.  If John McClain is to be believed (and that's iffy) then the team is targeting former Dolphins RB Lamar Miller or Tampa RB Doug Martin to replace Foster IMO both targets would be a downgrade from a healthy Arian. Although I tend to like the Miller option better and seems to support that the Texans are in heavy negotiations.  Almost everyone admits that the team has plenty of holes to fill besides RB and QB however.

Last year the Texans (9-7) won the Division title over the Colts (8-8) the Jaguars (5-11) and the Titans (3-13) given the state of free agency right now I'd say both the Jaguars and Titans are gaining ground, but it will be after the draft before we know just how much ground they make-up.

Amazingly, the window of opportunity for this Texans team might be closing already.

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