With a potential settlement to the NFL lockout looming, analyst Elliot Harrison takes a quick glance at where each division left off following the 2010 season. This is a look at the AFC South.
Where we left off: Houston's promising start to the 2010 campaign (4-2) quickly withered away after their bye week, losing eight of their next nine games. Once again, the offense was awesome, even with some injury issues. Matt Schaub and the passing game were uber-productive (again), but the shocker was Arian Foster's league-high 1,616-yard performance. The defense made up for the offensive assault by not stopping anybody. The front seven couldn't generate enough pressure to compensate for a shaky back four. Linebacker DeMeco Ryans missing the last 10 games to injury also didn't help.
Areas of concern: Wade Phillips was brought in to rectify the league's 30th-ranked defense. Only problem, his Cowboys team let receivers run whimsically through the secondary in 2010, much like the Texans' back four. The conversion to the 3-4 defense might help but will not come without growing pains, the J.J. Watt draft pick notwithstanding. Mario Williams is being moved to outside linebacker at 290 pounds. The first key to Phillips' scheme is the success of that transition.
Two things to hang your hat on, Texans fans:
1. Schaub is so underrated. Every player we brought in as guests for "The Top 100: Players of 2011" said he should've been on the list. Schaub has "Tecmo Bowl" numbers: 9,000-plus yards passing and 53 touchdowns over the last two seasons.
2. Andre Johnson has to be mentioned. If the defense can improve at all, Johnson's dominance will keep the Texans in every game.
Where we left off: The Colts suffered a gut-wrenching loss to the Jets in one of last season's best games. Some fans questioned Jim Caldwell's decision-making in that game, as well as during the regular season. Either way, the Colts have gone 14-2 and 10-6 in Caldwell's two seasons, and Tony Dungy didn't win the Super Bowl every year. The backbone of this club continues to be Peyton Manning, who had a "down" year with 4,700 passing yards, 33 touchdowns and a 91.9 passer rating. Defensively, the Colts allowed 56 plays of 20-plus yards after allowing just 36 such plays in 2009.
Areas of concern: While Indy has always been steady on defense, the playmakers have mostly resided in the front four. With the oft-injured Bob Sanders officially relocated to San Diego, the back seven doesn't have a big-time player. That puts more pressure on the offense to score. That said, the front office was smart to fortify the offensive line by spending its first two picks in the draft on the offensive line. However, once again, much of this team's success will be contingent on the defensive line creating pressure.
Two things to hang your hat on, Colts fans:
1. Speaking of which, that front line includes Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Both players made The Top 100 and combined for 21 sacks last season.
2. Austin Collie and Dallas Clark are both coming back healthy. Their presence would have made a difference in the playoff loss to the Jets.
Where we left off: Per the usual, the Jaguars faltered down the stretch and remained in the clutches of mediocrity. Jacksonville followed up its 7-9 campaign in 2009 with an 8-8 record last season, and out of the playoffs for the third straight season. David Garrard repeated his career M.O. of one step forward, one step back. While he finished with a 90.8 passer rating, the five-year starter had a 70 rating or lower six times. Maurice Jones-Drew provided the majority of the offense, but often it wasn't enough for a defense that gave up big plays -- particularly the safeties.
Areas of concern: The 58 big passing plays allowed (20-plus yards) represent the first issue, as Jack Del Rio's offense just doesn't have the firepower to compensate. The Jaguars need a big-play guy on the outside, especially with the expected departure of free-agent wideout Mike Sims-Walker. Del Rios' chances to retain his job could ultimately rest on the development of rookie quarterback Blaine Gabbert. However, until the Jaguars get a pass and the safeties to stop somebody, the chances of them getting 10 wins is very slim, even in a weak division. Linebacker Kirk Morrison is also a free agent.
Two things to hang your hat on, Jaguars fans:
1. Marcedes Lewis is a very good tight end and, paired with MJD, would give Gabbert two key components to being more effective as a rookie QB.
2. Defensive tackle Tyson Alualu looks to be the real thing. Linebacker Daryl Smith can also play, albeit in obscurity, giving this club two defensive building blocks.
Where we left off: If there was any club that had a tumultuous 2010 season, it was definitely the Tennessee Titans. It's hard to believe that this team was 5-2, with Vince Young playing pretty well. That's before Young called out coach Jeff Fisher, the Rusty Smith experiment, losing eight of nine games, or Chris Johnson facing eight in the box the entire back half of the schedule. Ultimately, Fisher would call it quits, tired of having VY forced down his throat, tired of owner Bud Adams' public commentary and, perhaps, tired of coaching after 17 seasons on the job.
Areas of concern: Enter Mike Munchak, the first non-Fisher to be coach of Adams' franchise since Jack Pardee in 1994. Needless to say, the new boss won't be implementing Pardee's run-and-shoot offense and might have trouble in the passing game with rookie quarterback Jake Locker expected to start. Kerry Collins is retired, and as of yet, the Titans don't have a solid veteran QB on their roster. Defensively, Tennessee often fought admirably (15th in points allowed), considering what little help it got from the offense, but had trouble getting off the field. Cornerback Chris Hope will be 30 in September, and the back four as a unit struggled.
Two things to hang your hat on, Titans fans:
1. CJ2K Johnson didn't have an off year; it's just hard to run with eight in the box all the time. The man still rushed for 1,364 hard-earned yards.
2. If I'm a Titans fan, I'm excited about VY's departure. The old addition by subtraction. For as exciting as he could be, Young was a distraction for this franchise.
Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.