The AFC South continued it's anticipated path toward the regular season this week after the most critical third preseason game. The Texans continue to be the class of the division despite a loss to New Orleans while the Titans and Jaguars battle it out for cellar honors. The Colts looked solid but have offensive line woes following a dismal performance and a key injury.
Let's take a look at the entire division before this week's final tune-up.
The Texans had a good first half with their starters against an improved New Orleans team. New punter Shane Lechler saw his first action of the year and had a couple of solid punts. Andre Johnson had a stellar first half along with the rest of the young receiving crew. Ben Tate, subbing for Arians Foster, had 74 yards on the ground as part of a very effective ground assault. The Texans starting defense did a great job of forcing Drew Brees into the short game for the most part. Only a few mistakes defensively marred an otherwise solid effort against a very effective offense.
This week the Texans head to Arlington to face the in-state rival Cowboys for the Governor's Cup. As we don't expect to see either team play the starters much this battle is about the end of the roster. In both cases the teams hope to get off the field healthy and prepare for the regular season. Houston's injury situation is pretty solid with Gary Kubiak having largely protected his team through this preseason. After Tate's solid performance in lieu of Foster the Texans should feel pretty good heading into the regular season.
The Colts had a great week against the Browns save one critical injury to left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Not only is Castonzo the best lineman but possibly the only consistent lineman the Colts can deploy. As a whole the team was ineffective in the run game and while Luck didn't scramble as much as he did in 2012 his feet never had enough time to set on most plays. The offensive line is clearly still a work in progress. Defensively th starters were very solid against the Browns. The secondary, playing together for the first time, were surprisingly good which should relieve some who felt the team didn't do enough in the offseason to address that deficiency. The defense was opportunistic--something they lacked in 2012.
This week the team will likely rest veterans and only give the remaining starters a series or two. They hope to get a good look at the guys battling for the final 15-20 roster spots. This week guys need to tackle well and play well in special teams if they want to make the roster. Caesar Rayford's made his case but we still have many more question marks that should be answered this week.
They face the Bengals this week. Were the Bengals playing their starters much this would be a great matchup of two teams with deep playoff aspirations. The Bengals hope to give the Ravens all they can handle in their division and have the personnel to do so. Unfortunately we won't see the starters much as both teams look to the back end of their roster.
The Titans are a confounding lot this year and it's all on Jake Locker. Without a major step forward the Titans will finish last in the AFC South. If Locker takes that step they may push the Colts for a wild card spot. Ryan Fitzpatrick is looking decent behind Locker but the team needs more production from the quarterbacks to help Chris Johnson move the offense forward.
The Titans posted a solid win over the Falcons in the third week of the preseason and Atlanta's starters looked bewildered as were 20-6 before yielding to the backups. It wasn't a bad victory for the Titans but they hardly forced the issue. They did a nice job taking advantage of their opportunities but this certainly doesn't signal a major shift toward contending. Locker looked efficient and held his own while the defense looked very good. The pressure on Matt Ryan was consistent but doesn't alleviate concerns over their lackluster rush defense from the first two weeks.
This week the Titans host the Vikings in their final warm-up for the regular season. Their run defense should get a stout test from the Vikings who hope to get their stable of backs behind Adrian Peterson lots of work.
The Jaguars continued to look like a team in transition against the Philadelphia Eagles. Michael Vick stymied the Jaguars whose pass rush has not improved much. Offensively Chad Henne directed a fairly efficient offense that saw receivers Cecil Shorts and Justin Blackmon get solid work. Sadly the quarterbacks had little protection which is a horrible sign given their quarterback situation today. Given the fact that Eagles struggled equally with Chip Kelly's new offense this ended up being a pretty sad matchup.
The Jaguars are certainly improving but the roster is simply not strong enough to support new head coach Gus Bradley's vision in 2013. Their stock is falling a bit as they've yet to come together and play as a team. This week they face Mike Smith and the Falcons. Smith, whose time in Jacksonville was solid, hopes to shore up his roster in this final preseason matchup.
Either way Jacksonville has more work to do than Tennessee at this point. Unless Maurice Jones-Drew has a cape to go with his Superman Underroos this team is in trouble.
I think you're right on in your assessments. The Titans are a pretty good team, but it still comes down to Locker. It's going to be interesting to see how he does when teams start game planning. Can the Jags really be that bad two years in a row? It sure looks that way if they stick with Gabbert again. Henne is better but they just have too many weak areas. The Texans are the same team as the last couple years. I don't see why anyone thinks Shaub is going to magically take them any further than he has.