AFC South questions for 2016: can Andrew Luck drag the Colts to the postseason?

Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano might survive another season if Luck bides healthy, but is the right human to resulted the Texans offense?

Will Andrew Luck get hurt again ?

Chuck Pagano and Ryan Grigson survived the 2015 season. They wont survive another like it.

For too long, Pagano and Grigson have relied on Andrew Luck to cover their failings. Before last season, the Colts had been to the playoffs every year under their current regime. Last season was the first time they missed out, and it was also the first season in which Luck faltered. Luck never appeared healthy. He struggled to hurl the ball downfield, despite repeatedly constructing some of the most difficult throws a can construct to that phase of his career. He often stimulated those throws look relatively easy, too. Without Luck, Pagano and Grigsons Colts still competed in the AFC South, but that was more a reflection on the quality of the division than the quality of their team.

Surviving let Pagano and Grigson to focus on the rosters greatest flaw: its offensive line.

According to Football Outsiders, Luck resulted the league in knockdowns( hits+ sacks) in each of the 2012, 2013 and 2014 seasons. He didnt play enough to lead the league in 2015 but still ranked in the top six for knockdown percentage. As a testament to his quality, Luck has thrown more touchdown passes than interceptions on those plays. Asking your quarterback to perform under that kind of duress each season not only puts pressure on him to stay healthy, it also stimulates it extremely difficult to create an efficient passing game. Pagano and Grigson had two alternatives: they could either find better offensive linemen, or alter their philosophy to alleviate the pressure on their current linemen.

Unsurprisingly, the Colts preferred the most direct route. The Colts have had some terrible linemen in front of Luck. Gosder Cherilus, Todd Herremans and Samson Satele headline the veteran busts that the team has acquired out of desperation. That desperation has existed because they have repeatedly failed to develop the linemen they draft. Jack Mewhort and Anthony Castonzo have become competent starters but thats about it. The Colts drafted three offensive linemen that they intended to eventually insert into the line alongside Castonzo and Mewhort. Center Ryan Kelly was a first round picking, tackle LeRaven Clark was a third-round pick and guard Joe Haeg was a fifth-round picking. Haeg and Clark both definitely sounds like developmental players who need to sit at this stage.

Pagano showed no confidence in his new offense. Luck was held out of the first pre-season game and the franchise openly acknowledged that Rex Ryans pass hurry-up was the reason why. During the third preseason game, Luck was pulled from video games earlier than expected because of the teams failing pass protection. After that game, the normally upbeat Pagano seemed more defeated than ever before: When you dont have a clean pocket, you dont have time to stand in there and push the ball downfield. Weve got to be better, plainly. Im not going to make any excuses, but weve got some guys out of there right now that have been in there. You start playing musical chairs again and its tough.

Mewhorts loss combined with the developmental status of two of the rookies entails the Colts offensive line is unlikely to improve. This is where Pagano should earn his fund and adapt his offense to fit his personnels. Thats not something hes ever been willing to do when Luck has been available.

After the 2014 season, Pagano was asked about his squads doctrine. His reply featured all the hallmarks of bad coaching: Well never change[ our run-first] mindset. New England rushed 46 days. In all three other[ divisional] games, the winner( s) all rushed for 30 periods and averaged[ 144.3] yards. The losing squads averaged 88 yards rushing. So will we ever change? No.

Pagano doesnt understand that teams who play with a result are more likely to run the ball, so winning teams operate but running squads dont inevitably win. He also employed the Patriots as an example to support his philosophy the same Patriots who had abandoned the run and thrown the ball 50 days the previous week. Being stubborn as a head coach-and-four is never a good thing. Pagano is stubborn, so he wont alter the scheme his offense runs, irrespective of who the offensive coordinator is.

Luck will again play in a heavy-set, run-first, power scheme that asks him to hold the ball and take deep dropbacks on every other snap. That they are able to emphasized the offensive line as much as possible. If Pagano didnt work under a misguided thought process, he would set Luck in a shotgun-heavy offense that would allow the quarterback to get rid of the ball speedily to short and intermediate roads. That would both protect Luck and ask the offensive line to block for a shorter time. Pagano will blame his offensive linemen or Luck, like he has previously, without realizing he is the biggest problem in Indianapolis.

Because Luck is still the greatest equalizer in the league when healthy, the Colts could still win the AFC South. History shows us that he can drag bad teams to the playoffs even while being interred with burdens few quarterbacks in history could carry. If that happens again, Pagano and Grigson might even survive another season.

Has Bill OBrien put the right pieces in place in Houston ?

Bill OBrien has an 18 -1 4 record as the Houston Texans head coach. He built the playoffs for the first time last year after his second successive win season. On the surface, the Texans appear to be an ascending squad entering the offseason. Yet the roster had more problems than most entering the offseason.

Despite his success over his first two years in Houston, OBrien hadnt tied himself to a quarterback. He hadnt even made a real effort to find a quarterback, instead swapping out different sets from the sale stand of subpar starters. Ryan Fitzpatrick, Brandon Weeden, Ryan Mallett and Brian Hoyer have all started for the Texans over the past two years. Tom Savage was the only quarterback Rick Smith drafted since OBrien was hired. Savage only cost a fourth-round picking and has thrown 19 passes in total during his two-year career. That changed this offseason. After Hoyers disastrous playoff performance at the end of last season, OBrien set about overhauling his whole offense.

Osweiler
Osweiler should be allowed to be more of a game administrator than a gamebreaker. Photo: Wesley Hitt/ Getty Images

First, he found his quarterback. Brock Osweiler was signed to a $72 m deal in free bureau. The former Denver Broncos second-round pick only has eight career starts, and had never even spoken with OBrien before the Texans tied themselves to him. Osweiler is tall and has a strong arm, but he didnt stand out as superior to the old, broken-down version of that was on the field in 2015. Thats why he was benched for the playoffs. The Texans arent expecting Osweiler to be Aaron Rodgers or Tom Brady. Theyve built a supporting cast around him that should allow him to be more of a game administrator than gamebreaker.

Lamar Miller will join DeAndre Hopkins as a foundational piece of the offense. Miller is one of the most talented backs in the NFL but was criminally underused by Joe Philbin and his staff in Miami over recent years. Philbins usage of Miller was a big reason for his firing. OBrien has proven over the past two years that he will feed his running backs, especially the more talented ones. Hopkins is less of a receiver and more of a planet. He has a gravitational pulling that sucks the ball into his comprehend whenever it is thrown in his general direction. With Miller breaking off big runs and Hopkins turning heaves into easy catches, Osweiler has two crutches to lean on.

The Texans expended their first four picks in the 2016 draft on offensive pieces to complement Osweiler, Miller and Hopkins.

Will Fuller was picked to add velocity outside. The Notre Dame receiver was a polarizing prospect in the draft because he combined big plays with big fells. Fuller will hope to take advantage of any extra attention that is pushed Hopkins way. In the third round, the Texans added Braxton Miller, a converted quarterback who will play in the slot. Miller is a great athlete who needs to develop his route operate. He should be valuable to Osweiler because of his YAC ability on short throws and/ or screens. Nick Martin, the teams second round pick and projected starting center, was lost for the season during training camp.

Even with JJ Watts back injury linger over the start of the season, the Texans should have a very good defense. This means their season will be defined by how the offense comes together.

Can the Jaguars new-look defense match their offense ?

If the Jaguars line up as expected in week one, they will have five new defensive starters. When you add in players who are likely to rotate on and off the field regularly, that number will jump to seven or eight. The Jaguars defense gave up 375 yards per game last year, ninth most in the NFL, and conceded 28 points per game, the second most in the NFL. While the offense has to take some of the responsibility for the amount of phases the defense gave up because Blake Bortles hurled 18 interceptions, the defense on its own was disastrous. Football Outsiders DVOA, an advanced metric that measures efficiency on a snap-by-snap basis, ranked the Jaguars defense as the seventh-worst unit in the league. They ranked 31 st against the pass and 17 th against the run.

Getting better against the pass was a focal point for head coach-and-four Gus Bradley and general manager David Caldwell during the offseason.

Malik Jackson was an integral piece of the Denver Broncos defense that dragged Peyton Manning to the Super Bowl last year. As a defensive tackle, Jackson isnt a big sack-getter, but the disruption he consistently offer from the interior is just as valuable. Jackson and SenDerrick Marks, whose past two seasons have been disrupted by an ACL tear he suffered during the 2014 season, could create one of the best defensive tackle pairings in the NFL. Marks is unlikely to play every down, though, so the combining will likely be limited to more obvious passing downs. With Jackson and Marks pushing the pocket from the inside, the pressure will be on Dante Fowler to made off the edge.

Can
Can the Jaguars fulfil their potential and make the playoffs? Photo: Rob Foldy/ Getty Images

Fowler was a top-five pick in the 2015 draft but tore his ACL during his first professional practice. His absence contributed to the Jaguars finishing 20 th in the league in sacks. Early provides information on Fowler in training camp were overwhelmingly positive, but the Jaguars are concerned about him mentally ahead of what is essentially his first season. Bradley said ahead of the third preseason game: Its been challenging as far as the movie examine and every day practise and things like that. Hes actually expended extra day with[ defensive coordinator Todd Wash] watching film.

Fowler and Yannick Ngakoue are expected to be the Jaguars primary edge rushers. The rookie Ngakoue wont start ahead of Jared Odrick, but his flexibility and athleticism should be more useful on passing downs.

Improving the pass rushed alone isnt enough for the Jaguars. When you rank 31 st against the pass by DVOA, it usually means youre failing to get to the passer and youre failing to cover his receivers every week.

Prince Amukamara and Tashaun Gipson were excellent value signings for the Jaguars in free agency. Gipson in particular will be a key starter in an area free security where the Jaguars have struggled massively for as long as Bradley has been the head coach. Neither Amukamara or Gipson offered the star power that came from the draft though. The Jaguars picked Jalen Ramsey fifth overall. Since 1970, only 18 defensive backs have been selected in the top five of the draft.

Ramsey is only the sixth defensive back to go that high since 2000. He was a combine hotshot who repeatedly shut down receivers at the college level while playing for FSU. He is so talented that the discussion about where Ramsey would play in the NFL safety or cornerback didnt argue between success and failing: it argued between All-Pro and Hall of Fame. The Jaguars decided that Ramsey would play cornerback. He has described early comparisons to Patrick Peterson with his duration and athleticism.

The Jaguars only had one pick in the top five of the draft but they wound up with two top-five players. Myles Jack fell to them in the second round because of a knee problem that will eventually necessitate surgery. In the short term, Jack is expected to be a key defender in coverage over the middle of the field. NBCs Josh Norris ranked Jack as the best player in the draft. Despite Telvin Smith being athletic, he is not good in coverage, Norris said. Paul Posluszny has difficulty covering ground. So, at a minimum, Jack should impact in nickel and dime sets, in both zone and man situations.

Jack and Ramsey are impact players. So are Jackson, Amukamara and Gipson. Fowler and Ngakoue could be, too. The real question for the Jaguars is if Bradley is the right coach-and-four to mold this new class of talent into a quality defense. If he is, the Jaguars could fulfill some of their potential and induce the playoffs. If hes not, the next coach will be inheriting a very talented roster in 2017.

Will Mularkeyball work for the Titans ?

The Tennessee Titan operated for 288 yards in their first preseason game this year. Two hundred and eighty-eight yards! It was quite the introduction for Mike Mularkeys exotic smashmouth offense. It was also a somewhat contrived introduction. Mularkey utilized his whole playbook during a game when teams typically utilize basic strategies, and he also left his first-teamers in to go against the Chargers second-teamers. That generated some exhilaration and optimism around a squad that has had very little reason for exhilaration and optimism lately.

Mularkey was hired in the offseason after serving as the interim coach-and-four for the departed Ken Whisenhunt. Whisenhunt was fired because he had a 3-20 record, yet Mularkey was hired in spite of his 18 -3 9 career record as a head coach and 4-21 record over his previous 25 games. Mularkey was no different from Whisenhunt, or at the very least he was no better. What constructed the hire even more frustrate was the apparent sham interview process that the Titans used to hire him.

CEO Steve Underwood didnt help matters when the topic was broached at Mularkeys introductory press conference, saying that[ proprietor Amy Adams Strunk] largely knew that she wanted to keep Mularkey.

Titans
Titans quarterback Marcus Mariota. Photo: Jim Brown/ USA Today Sports

With fans already frustrated, Mularkey and new general manager Jon Robinson set about building a team that could dominate the 1970 s.

Exotic smashmouth is designed to be a run-heavy, run-based offense. The Titans want to focus their offense around DeMarco Murray and Derrick Henry, stimulating Marcus Mariota more of a complementary piece. Think Kordell Stewart or Colin Kaepernick, as opposed to Tom Brady or Drew Brees. Mariota can run, but hes not a athlete like Mularkeys former quarterback Stewart. He presented during his rookie season that he is an excellent pocket passer, someone who can diagnose coverages, mitigate pressure in the pocket with his footwork and fling receivers open with his accuracy. Mariotas only restriction was/ is his inability to hurl deep downfield. Yet Mularkey wants to run an offense that will attain him more of a athlete and shot-play passer. Itll construct Mariota incapable of elevating his teammates because he will have less flexible in his assignments.

Mularkeys impact on Mariota will be more important than any record the Titans can achieve this year. If he destroys the former Oregon prospects developing, it will impact the direction of the team for the next decade. Mariota is the second best quarterback in the AFC South, the Titan shouldnt need to be great around him to argue. Mularkeys track record, his antiquated doctrine and his limited roster suggests they will be far from great.

They will be lucky to escape the basement of the AFC South.

Predictions

Colts 11 -5

Texans 8-8

Jaguars 8-8

Titans 4-12

Read more: www.theguardian.com

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