17 Aug Stromme’s Takes: Facts and Points: AFC South
- Jacksonville Jaguars (10-6)
- Houston Texans (8-8)
- Tennessee Titans (7-9)
- Indianapolis Colts (6-10)
I’ll preface this article by saying, this division was by-far the hardest to cap. Much like the NFC East, you can really argue a case for each of the four winning the division. Yes, even the Titans. The divisional race will be neck and neck all season, but I think the Jaguars go on a second-half hot streak and take this thing.
While I’m not typically a fan of backing a team that “won the offseason”, the Jags improved in all the right places, adding to an already promising core on both sides of the ball… The Texans have one of the fiercest pass-rushes in the NFL, but there’s some questions on offense in my opinion… The Titans are moving in the right direction offensively and I’m curious to see what a Dick LeBeau defense can do in year number two… The Colts have Andrew Luck, they have T.Y. Hilton, they have Vontae Davis, but they also have plenty of ageing players at key positions and an absolutely porous run defense that went unaddressed in the offseason.
I wanted soo badly not to buy into jumping on that bandwagon en route to Duval County. But alas, I’m here and much like Florida’s Atlantic coast, things are bright for the Jaguars.
We fantasy players are well-aware of this Jaguar passing attack. Lead by third-year signal caller Blake Bortles, who took a giant cat-like leap forward in 2015, this team will be looking forward to pick up where they left off.
Bortles is not only surrounded by talent, we all know Allen Robinson and Allen Hurns are as dangerous as they come, but they also have some depth around/behind them. Rashad Green and Marquise Lee might be WR2s on some other teams, Julius Thomas is still a talented TE and veteran Marcedes Lewis is behind him if he ever goes
Not only are they deep in the passing game, but they added depth in the run game with the addition of Chris Ivory. Now on the surface, the name Chris Ivory isn’t necessarily a name that grabs the eye. However, the addition of Ivory for the Jags is a significant one on many levels.
In his rookie season, T.J. Yeldon failed to deliver as a workhorse back. Despite taking the majority of the snaps away from Toby Gerhart and Denard Robinson, he failed to impress those in the front office; finishing the season with 182/740/2.
Chris Ivory, despite finishing the season with 247/1,070/7, proved that he couldn’t exactly be a bellcow back either. Last season, he went through a five-game stretch of 2.70 yards per carry on 81 carries, reaching the end zone just twice. He hit a wall. A 50/50, 60/40 type of carry-split between Yeldon and Ivory could prove to be a productive duo given that Ivory’s best games seem to come in spurts.
Fewer teams were one-dimensional in the red zone than the Jaguars. Bortles threw the ball 90 times within the 20, 49 times within the ten-yard line. 35 of those 90 targets inside the 20 went to either Robinson and Hurns, 23 of 49 inside the ten went to the duo. Opposing defenses pretty much knew what was coming when the Jags made their prowl into enemy territory. The addition of Ivory adds another red zone option for the Jags. In New York, Ivory ran the ball 38 times in the red zone. This should lead to an increase in red zone efficiency, which is good news for a team that despite finishing inside the top ten in passing yards, finished just 18th overall in scoring percentage.
In 2015, the Jaguars had Pro Football Reference’s second-worst DSRS (defensive simple rating system). They were 29th in pass yards against (4,291), 26th in scoring percentage allowed (38.1%), 26th in defensive turnover percentage (8.8%), 24th in sack percentage (5.6%) and 24th in completion percentage against (64.8%).
Just downright dreadful, especially from a head coach in Gus Bradley; a coach who played a major role in the emergence of Seattle’s Legion of Boom.
So, what did the Jaguars do over the offseason? They added defensive talent, and lots of it both in the draft and through free agency. Six of the seven Jaguar draftees were defensive players, two of which were –in many expert opinions- two of the most talented defensive players in the draft in CB Jalen Ramsay and LB Myles Jack. Jack managed to slip to the second round due to a knee injury, had he not gone through said injury, he more than likely would have been drafted inside the top ten.
The defensive line is made up of nothing but talent. The third overall pick in the 2015 NFL draft Dante Fowler is primed and read
y to go after tearing an ACL last spring during rookie workouts. DT Sen’Derrick Marks comes back after tearing a bicep last Nov., he had 8.5 sacks in 2015. The team also signed Malik Jackson to play DT from the Super Bowl Champion Denver Broncos and veteran DE Jared Odrick rounds out a pretty formidable D-Line.
The linebackers are just as impressive. LBs Telvin Smith and veteran Paul Posluszny combined for over 200 solo tackles last season. Posluszney is entering his 10th season and has had 100+ solo tackles in four of the last six seasons, Smith is entering his third season and is one of the more talented up-and-coming LBs in the league. The third LB in this core will more than likely be the aforementioned Myles Jack. Not a bad bunch.
The secondary is filled with talent as well! Which is encouraging given Coach Bradley’s history in Seattle. The team
took Jalen Ramsey, the most talented defensive player in the draft, at pick number five to be that shut-down corner. Davon House returns after a career year (4 INT, 23 PD) and the team signed Prince Amukamara from the Giants and Tashaun Gipson from the Browns (6 INT in 2014) to go along with a talented, young safety in Johnathan Cyprien.
Gus now has the defensive talent, now he just needs to work his magic. Even if this defensive unit turns out to be middle-of-the-pack, the results will show up in the win column.
Many people will look at the Texans’ record in 2015, look at the teams in their division and their circumstances surrounding them and maybe suggest that they won the division by default. Not me, I think there’s some real talent on this team.
This is a good team, a team that’s well-coached with talent on both sides of the ball. However, I have my concerns.
The Texans paid Brock Osweiler a boat-load of cash last March (four-year, $72 million. Which is a TON of cash, especially for a QB who had four seasons to learn everything he could from two of the best of all time in Peyton Manning and John Elway and still lost his job to the ghost of Peyton Manning late last season. Over the offseason, John Elway targeted Robert Griffin III and Colin Kaepernick before settling on a three-headed monster of Mark Sanchez, Trevor Siemian and Paxton Lynch. It could be a money thing, it could be how the team is structured in Denver (running/defense-first), but it also could be that Denver didn’t believe in Brock Osweiler. If they did, I’m sure
they would have tried to lock him up prior to 2015. This contract just screams “red flag”.
I also have my doubts about another free agent signing the Texans made this spring, Lamar Miller. Miller has some physical talent in terms of speed and agility. His 14/175/1 rushing totals in addition to 3/61/1 against these same Texans in Week 6 might be a major factor into the reason why he was pursued by Houston this offseason. Not only did this performance come against his future employer, it showed that he can have flashes of brilliance.
As essentially the main back in Miami, Miller had three games of 100+ rushing yards. He also had six games last year where he had 10+ carries and failed to amass 60 rushing yards. He’ll have his moments, but I firmly believe that the Dolphins went after C.J. Anderson before inevitably settling for Jay Ajayi and an aging Arian Foster. He had three chances in the last three season in Miami to be the lead dog in that backfield and the organisation still decided to go another way. Much like Brock Osweiler, I think Miller ended up in free agency for a reason.
As far as offseason direction of a front office is concerned, the Texans were the the anti-Jaguars. In addition to the additions of the aforementioned Miller and Osweiler, the Texans spent their first four draft picks on offense. Taking WRs Will Fuller, Braxton Miller, RB Tyler Ervin and C Nick Martin. Expect Fuller and Martin to make an impact from the get-go, Ervin and Miller could make an impact in the not-so-distant future.
The Texans as an offense threw the ball 619 times last season, that’s a jump of 134 passing attempts from the season before. Despite the major uptick in throws, scoring percentage dropped 4.1% last season. Sure, everyone says “it’s a passing league, it’s a passing league,” but the key to making the Texans great again might be in a more balanced approach. And like I said, I have my doubts in the run game.
Where I don’t have doubts is in this pass rush. The team sacked the QB on 7.5% of dropbacks (3rd) and tallied 45 total sacks (5th). J.J. Watt and Whitney Mercilus had 29.5 sacks alone. That’s more than the TEAM totals of the Browns, Bills, F
alcons, 49ers and Giants last season. Factor in the potential emergence of the first pick of the 2014 draft, Jadeveon Clowney and this defense could be absolutely lethal. The Texans were also a top ten run defense.
As lethal as the pass rush was, the secondary was more than willing to capitalise on QBs who had a tendency to land on their backsides. Third in the league in passing yards allowed, fifth in opposing completion percentage. CBs Johnathan Joesph and Kareem Jackson are as steady as they come, 2015 first round pick Kevin Jackson is right behind them.
Where the defense needs to improve is in forcing turnovers. While 25 turnovers is nice, they only came on 11.1% of snaps (21st in the NFL). An uptick in timely turnovers could turn this defense from a good one, in to a great one. And that could be the key to the team potentially repeating as AFC South Champs.
This team will be a beast against the spread this season, you watch.
Nobody trusts the league’s worst team from 2015. Not too many think they will improve too much in 2016 either, but I do, and here’s why.
After a combination of Dexter McCluster, Bishop Sankey and Antonio Andrews did anything but impress out of the backfield last season, the Titans went out and traded for DeMarco Murray and drafted Derrick Henry in the second round.
The Titans wanted to be a run-first team last season. They only ran 976 total plays last season despite being down in the game more often than not. The lack of success came with the lack of talented personnel out of the backfield. With the improved backfield, they finally have the opportunity to transition to a true run-first offense.
What makes any run-first offense even better is pass catchers who do… well just that, catch the ball. This group of pass catchers can do that and then some. Rishard Matthews and TE Delanie Walker both are coming off seasons of 70% catch percentage, Kendall Wright has a modest 63% catch percentage for his career and rookie slot receiver Tajae Sharpe out of UMASS, who projects as the third WR with Dorial Green-Beckham now in Philadelphia, dropped
just THREE passes on 114 targets last season. The reason why DGB was shipped out of town was his “inconsistencies” in his play, according to titansonline.com’s Jim Wyatt. Run-first and playing it safe in the passing game might be their game plan, it’s tough to fall behind when you won’t give up the ball. Something they did on 16.2% of drives (30th) last season.
Now, this defense may not have many stars. Even though they finished 3-13, their defense didn’t exactly suck. They were seventh in pass yards allowed (3,678), sixth in sack percentage (7.2) and 12th in total yards allowed (5,475). Offensive turnovers were what buried this team last season, not their defense. I’m excited to see what Dick LeBeau can do in his second season with the Titans.
They have some talent in the secondary, even though it’s a little unheralded. Jason McCourty is one of the better cover corners in the league, Parrish Cox is another solid corner. Newly acquired FS Rashad Johnson might be the must underrated DB in football (5 INT and 7 PD with the Cardinals last season) and Da’Norris Searcy isn’t bad either.
LB Brian Orakpo is a talented veteran linebacker that fits this zone blitz scheme like a glove. Avery Williamson is a strong up-and-coming LB entering his third season. Wesley Woodyard is another dependable veteran option and second round pick Kevin Dodd had nothing but rave reviews through training camp, he could push Derrick Morgan for a full-time gig, he’s an excellent situational pass rusher at worst.
Where this defense may struggle is the defensive front, but there’s hope for improvement. DE Jurrell Casey had 7 sacks last season, the team’s third second round pick, Austin Johnson could be a force at NT and DE Karl Klug had 7 sacks in his rookie season of 2011, but hasn’t reached that level of production since.
It will be interesting to see what Dick LeBeau can do with this unit filled with underrated talent. I’m a believer in one of the best defensive minds this game has to offer. Pair a defense that looks to be scrappy, with an offense that looks to turn down the turnovers and this team can be in a lot more games than people will think.
Football is the consummate team game and outside of the passing side of the offense, I don’t think the Colts are a very good team.
Luck, Hilton and Moncrief make for fun fantasy options; the team did throw the ball 619 times last season even with Luck injured. They will put up passing numbers, there’s no question about that.
Where my concerns on offense come are in the running game. Frank Gore is entering his 12th season
in the league, he’s played 164 NFL games over 11 years and has carried a football 3,078 times (including catches) in those 11 years. That’s a ton of mileage! Can he really take on another 250 carries? The Colts are leaning on him to, the only RBs behind him are retreads Robert Turbin, Jordan Todman and rookie UDFA Josh Ferguson.
This team will get one-dimensional really quickly, defenses will key-in on that.
The defense is another major concern. Vontae Davis is one of the premier Cbs in the league, but he’s their lone bright spot.
The defense was 24th in pass yards allowed (4,114), 26th in rush yards allowed (1,962), 21st in scoring percentage allowed (36.6%), 22nd in sack percentage (5.6) and allowed 408 points (25th). The team did nothing in terms of addressing personnel, instead they made a change in defensive coordinator. Out goes Greg Manusky, in comes former Ravens’ LB coach Ted Monachino.
While the change in DC is a step in the right direction, I don’t think it will be enough. The team has many defensive players that are long in the tooth; LBs D’Qwell Jackson, Trent Cole, Robert Mathis and Erik Walden have a combined 44 years of NFL experience (all at an average age of 33 years old). FS Mike Adams is 35, and DE Kendall Langford is 30. Just way too many ageing players on this defense that really didn’t perform well a season ago.
This passing attack give this team a chance to contend. But that’s it, just a chance.