|TheInsiders.com 2004 NFL Football Preview|
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|2004 HOUSTON TEXANS|
Doug Farrar, Texans.TheInsiders.Com
Last Season's Record: 5-11 overall, 1-5 in the AFC South, Last place in the AFC South
Last Playoff Appearance: No playoff appearances to date.
Key matchup(s): October 17 - at Tennessee, October 31 - at Jacksonville, November 14 - at Indianapolis, November 28 - Tennessee, December 12 - Indianapolis, December 26 - Jacksonville.
Star Power: David Carr (QB, 3rd year, 6'3", 230 lbs.), Domanick Davis (RB, 2nd year, 5'9", 216 lbs.), Andre Johnson (WR, 2nd year, 6'2", 221 lbs.), Jamie Sharper (LB, 8th year, 6'3", 240 lbs.), Jay Foreman (LB, 6th year, 6'1", 240 lbs.)
Notable Additions: Robaire Smith (DE/DT, 5th year, 6'4", 310 lbs.), Todd Wade (OT, 5th year, 6'8", 315 lbs.)
Notable Subtractions: Charlie Clemons (LB, 8th year, 6'2", 250 lbs.), Drew Henson (QB, 6'4", 223 lbs.)
Notable Returnees: Jabar Gaffney (WR, 3nd year, 6'1', 193 lbs.), Seth Payne (DT, 8th year, 6'4", 303 lbs.), Marcus Coleman (CB/S, 9th year, 6'2", 210 lbs.).
Offensive Overview: The Texans are a team still looking to gel on both sides of the ball. Offensively, QB David Carr has found himself on the ground more than any quarterback should be in his short career…and when his linemen allow him to stay upright, it's only recently that Carr has had real weapons in his arsenal. In 2003, Carr was 27th in the NFL in passer rating (69.5), but there are reasons for optimism. Carr's main target, second-year receiver Andre Johnson, has the potential to become one of the top wideouts in the league with more experience, The supporting cast at WR includes vertical speedster Corey Bradford and cagey technician Jabar Gaffney. Running back Domanick Davis surprised many in 2003 by gaining 1031 yards in his rookie year as a fourth-round draft choice. At 5' 9" and 216 pounds, Davis has the size, speed and elusiveness to succeed - what he must prove over time is that he can carry this young offense to some degree and stay healthy. Davis has been sidelined through much of the preseason with a sore ankle. Backup Tony Hollings has struggled with knee injuries, and former starter Jonathan Wells is more the "immovable object" player than he is the overall back the Texans need. The offensive line, still famous for giving up a harrowing 76 sacks in the Texans' debut season, has improved more than they're given credit for, allowing 36 sacks in 2003. And while depth is an overall issue, the Texans are well-coached and have some key youngsters who could develop into something special…in time.
Defensive Overview: Here's where the overhaul needs to happen. The Texans' defense finished 31st in the NFL in yards allowed and 27th in points allowed. While there have been improvements, this unit will have some serious hills to climb. On the defensive line, Houston picked up Robaire Smith from the Titans. Smith will be moving to DE in the Texans' 3-4 scheme from his DT position in Tennessee. The position change shouldn't prove to be too much of an obstacle - he'll still be in charge of delaying multiple blockers for the pass-rush specialists, and he'll be making some rushes of his own. It is crucial for Smith that DT Seth Payne (who is expected to be ready for the season opener) returns healthy. Payne missed all but two games in 2003 with a torn ACL, and there isn't a 3-4 in the world than can operate without an effective nose tackle. When healthy, Payne's a fine "middle-clogger" who will add much to a line that only sacked opposing QBs 19 times last season. DE Gary Walker (who missed all but four games in 2003 himself) is a quality lineman more suited to run-stuffing than anything else. The pass rush will come from the linebackers to a great extent. Jamie Sharper lead the NFL in tackles with 166 in 2003, and first-round pick (one of two for the team) Jason Babin, a converted DE from Western Michigan, will start from day one on the left side. Babin will play the role of situational pass rusher, but he also has the size (260 lbs.) to stop the run. Kailee Wong will move to the right side as the team makes use of his specific pass-rushing abilities. Third-year man Antwan Peek, who excites the coaches with his athletic potential, will be given room to roam, and Jay Foreman calls the plays and provides veteran leadership. There's a lot of youth here, but some upside as well. As for the secondary…well, when you spend four of your picks on DBs as the Texans did this year...there are some openings back there. The team's overall first-round pick, C Dunta Robinson from South Carolina, could be a shutdown corner in the years to come. Marcus Coleman, the team's best DB last year, will move to safety to make room for Robinson.
Special Teams Overview: Punter Chad Stanley lacks power, but he does possess great directional and "coffin-corner" skills. Kicker Kris Brown has a rocket for a foot (he was 5 for 6 from 40-49 yards last year) and excels in every aspect of his position. The Texans' return men have great speed but suffer from lack of experience - Vontez Duff and J.J. Moses may be part of a "return committee" when all is said and done.
The Houston Texans will finally hit the .500 mark if:.... Coach Dom Capers pulls the same rabbit out of his hat he did in Carolina, Carr takes the next step, the offense puts it together, and the youth on defense is mitigated by speed and smart aggressiveness. It's not impossible, but sharing a division with the Titans, Colts and Jaguars doesn't help.
|2004 INDIANAPOLIS COLTS|
Brent Foshee, ColtsInsider.Com
Last Season's Record: 12-4, AFC South Champions
Last Play Off Appearance: 2003 AFC Conference Championship. Lost 24-14 to the New England Patriots
Key matchup(s): September 9, at New England (ABC), September 19, at Tennessee (CBS), October 31 at Kansas City (CBS), December 5, versus Tennessee (CBS).
Star Power: Dwight Freeney, DE, 6-1 268, 3rd season, Marvin Harrison, WR, 6-0 175, 9th season, Edgerrin James, RB, 6-0 214, 6th season, Peyton Manning, QB 6-5 230, 7th season.
Notable Additions: n/a
Notable Subtractions: Chad Bratzke DE 6-5 270(released), Marcus Washington SLB 6-3 247 (signed with Washington), Walt Harris CB 5-11 192 (signed with Washington), David Macklin CB 5-9 195 (signed with Arizona), Adam Meadows 6-5 290 (signed with Carolina, then retired)
Notable Returnees: Peyton Manning
Offensive Overview: This year could prove to be the biggest year for the Colts offense since Manning joined the team. Though "The Big Three" will continue to dominate the opportunities, Tom Moore will also make use of Dallas Clark, Marcus Pollard, and Brandon Stokley more often this season. With talented players like Troy Walters and Brad Pyatt also on the roster look for the Colts to use many different sets in the passing game to keep opposing defenses on their toes. Reggie Wayne has shown signs of growth during the preseason and could be ready to explode onto the scene. By adding extra receivers to the playing field Moore is likely to use Wayne as a primary target in single coverage more often, something that he will see more often than his counterpart, Marvin Harrison. The leagues new emphasis on the illegal contact rule also stands to benefit the Colts. With aggressive cornerbacks being neutralized by the amount of contact they can make excellent route runners like Harrison and Wayne become even more dangerous as weapons. With Edgerrin James heading into a contract year, and also potentially his last year as a Colt, look for both the player and the team to benefit. The Colts will need to run the ball effectively to keep their inexperienced secondary and undersized defensive line fresh and off the field. Despite massive turnover during the off season Indianapolis only lost a single significant offensive lineman in Adam Meadows. Look for the team to utilize two tight end sets as well as the spread formation to give James opportunities to get across the line of scrimmage untouched, where he can do serious damage.
Defensive Overview: The team hopes that the best defense truly is a good offense. While the team spent big money to resign Manning it's defensive talent was eroded during the off season. With inexperienced starters at both cornerback spots and new starters at six defensive positions the Colts are also hoping that the teams defensive scheme will be more familiar to the players in their third year with the system. Historically Tony Dungy's defenses have had great players at safety, Joey Browner and John Lynch come to mind. The Colts hope that tradition continues with Mike Doss, last years second round pick, starting at strong safety. Doss must have a breakout year covering both the run and the pass, especially with the Bob Sanders holdout likely to keep Idrees Bashir in the starting lineup for the first half of the season. Nick Harper played well at cornerback last year and both Donald Strickland and Joseph Jefferson have some upside potential. Likely though the cornerbacks have looked good because Dungy minimizes their responsibilities in his cover two defense. Dwight Freeney will always be able to rush the passer but his run defense is a liability that must be compensated for. The defensive front seven has appeared to be problematic for the Colts this preseason. The team is small along the defensive line, which is trendy at the moment in the league, but they hope athleticism will overcome their size limitations. John Thornton, the teams best linebacker, must adjust to playing on the strong side where he is less likely to get to the ball carrier uninhibited. Cato June, a converted safety, brings solid pass defense and speed to the weak side linebacker position. Rob Morris must become the force in the middle the team expected him to be when they drafted him after finally showing signs last season.
Special Teams Overview: Mike Vanderjagt continues to be one of the best kickers in the league. The Colts drafted a kicker in April to give Vanderjagt some competition but he held onto the job with ease. Hunter Smith has struggled at times during the preseason but is still a reliable punter. Where the Colts should excel is in the return and coverage game. Jason David, Bob Sanders, and Gilbert Gardner add youth and talent to the Colts coverage units while Brad Pyatt and Troy Walters give the team a tandem of explosive return men.
Prediction: The Colts will make it to the Superbowl if their defense overcomes it's inexperience and the offense can figure out how to best the Patriots. The key to helping the Colts defense exceed expectations is going to be their running game. Should Edgerrin James run effectively behind a line that should be cohesive the Colts will be able to control the clock and put up great numbers offensively. Changes in the interpretation of pass interference and illegal contact are certain to benefit teams like the Colts that already have superior offensive talent.
|2004 JACKSONVILLE JAGUARS|
Doug Farrar, JagsInsider.Com
Last Season's Record: 5-11, 3rd AFC South
Last Play Off Appearance: 1999
Key matchup(s): @ Tennessee (September 26th); Indianapolis (October 3rd); @ Houston (October 31st); Tennessee (November 21st); @ Green Bay (December 19th)
Star Power: Byron Leftwich (QB, 2nd year, 6'5", 245 lbs); Fred Taylor (RB, 7th year, 6'1", 234 lbs); Jimmy Smith (WR, 12th year, 6'1", 213 lbs); John Henderson (DT, 3rd year, 6'7", 328 pounds); Marcus Stroud (DT, 4th year, 6'6", 315 lbs); Donovin Darius (S, 7th year, 6'1", 225 lbs)
Notable Additions: Ephriam Salaam (OT, 7th year, 6'7" 295 lbs, signed from Denver); Dwayne Washington (CB, 11th year, 5'11", 195 lbs, signed from Pittsburgh); Deon Grant (S, 5th year, 6'2", 207 lbs, signed from Carolina)
Notable Subtractions: Mark Brunell (QB, signed with Washington); Fernando Bryant (CB, signed with Detroit); Kevin Johnson (WR, signed with Baltimore)
Notable Returnees: Vince Manuwai (OG, 2nd year, 6'2", 312 lbs); Brad Meester (C, 5th year, 6'3", 300 lbs); Chris Naeole (OG, 8th year, 6'3", 315 lbs); Hugh Douglas (DE, 10th year, 6'2", 280 lbs)
Offensive Overview: With Leftwich at the helm the offense will continue to rely on Taylor to generate enough of a running game to keep defenses honest while the young QB learns the offense and how to read defenses. Leftwich has a solid go-to guy in Smith and a young stud in 2004 first-rounder Reggie Williams. Taylor has the gifts to be an elite back but because of injuries during his career he just hasn't gotten over that hump. Taylor has started every game for the last two seasons and last year he set a career high with 1,572 yards rushing. The offensive line is suspect at the tackles but the interior of the line is set with Meester at center and Naeole and Manuwai at guard. The Jags will run behind these three monsters and hope to get in third and short situations allowing Leftwich to have several options when he comes to the line.
Defensive Overview: The defense is excellent against the run allowing only 87.9 yards per game, but they were woeful against the pass allowing too many big plays. This area was the sole concentration of Del Rio during the season and the hope is an improved pass-rush will help matters. Henderson and Stroud form a brick wall in the middle of the line, but even though Stroud went to his first Pro Bowl, they still need to collapse the pocket more accounting for a combined total of eight sacks. The Jaguars registered only 24 sacks last season and a big reason was DE Hugh Douglas was a complete bust after signing a big contract. He registered only 3.5 sacks and was overweight and unhappy with the defensive schemes. Word is he has slimmed down and that he is ready to revive his career…stay tuned. The linebackers, safeties and corners will benefit greatly from a productive season out of the front four and Del Rio is hoping to get a Pro Bowl season from Darius in the deep third.
Special Teams Overview: The biggest move here was the hiring of renowned special teams guru Pete Rodriguez to coach the unit back to respectability. He has his work cut out for him as the kicking game was a shambles in 2003. They are currently letting rookie Josh Scobee and veterans Jeff Chandler and Seth Marler battle for the job. Punter Chris Hanson is still trying to recover from a locker room accident that resulted in his right leg being gashed with an axe. The punt return duties will be handled by Jermaine Lewis who is still recovering from a knee injury.
The Jaguars will finish (8-8) challenge for a wild-card playoff spot if....... Leftwich continues to progress, Williams becomes a viable option opposite Smith, and the defense improves its pass rush.
|2004 TENNESSEE TITANS|
Scott Eklund, TitansInsider.Com
Last Season's Record: 12-4, 2nd in AFC South
Last Play Off Appearance: 2003
Key matchup(s): Indianapolis (September 19th); @ Minnesota (October 24th); @ Indianapolis (December 5th); Kansas City (December 13th)
Star Power: Steve McNair (QB, 10th year, 6'2", 235 lbs); Derrick Mason (WR, 8th year, 5'10", 195 lbs); Kevin Carter (DT, 10th year, 6'5", 295 lbs); Keith Bulluck (LB, 5th, 6'3", 235 lbs); Samari Rolle (CB, 7th year, 6'0", 180 lbs)
Notable Additions: Ben Troupe (TE, Rookie, 6'4", 265 lbs); Antwan Odom (DE, Rookie, 6'4", 270 lbs); Antowain Smith (RB, 6'2", 235 lbs, signed from New England)
Notable Subtractions: Eddie George (RB, signed with Dallas); Jevon Kearse (DE, signed with Philadelphia); Justin McCariens (WR, traded to New York Jets)
Notable Returnees: Brad Hopkins (OT, 12th year, 6'3", 305 lbs); Chris Brown (RB, 2nd year, 6'3", 219 lbs); Tyrone Calico (WR, 2nd year, 6'4", 220 lbs); Albert Haynesworth (DT, 3rd year, 6'6", 320 lbs); Tank Williams (S, 3rd year, 6'3", 223 lbs); Lance Schulters (S, 7th year, 6'2", 205 lbs); Andre Dyson (CB, 4th year, 5'10"
Offensive Overview: The offense begins and ends with McNair. McNair is one of the toughest players in the league, playing with pain almost every week due to a plethora of injuries. He has a strong arm and he can read defenses well. He still has some mobility but he is slowing down due to a myriad of foot injuries. With George moving on the running load will fall on the shoulders of Brown who displayed some abilities during his rookie season. In case Brown does not get the job done, the Titans brought in Smith who is a Wiley veteran and who does not have a lot of miles on his legs. Smith and Brown could easily split carries during the season and even line up together in the backfield. The line is solid and is led by Hopkins who is good in pass protection, but great at blocking for the run. When the Titans want to go down the field Calico and Mason provide McNair with some nice options. The strength of this offense lies in the playmaking abilities of McNair and his abilities to make plays when plays break down. If McNair stays healthy this team goes a long way.
Defensive Overview: The defense lost its most productive pass-rusher when Kearse left in free agency and the only move they made to replace him was to draft two players in the second round. Kearse has missed games the last two seasons so the team never really even considered re-signing him. Carter is solid in the middle and with Haynesworth and second-year player Rien Long able to rotate in, the middle of the line should be fine. If they can find a pass-rusher who can get pressure from the edge this defense could again be a top tier unit. Bulluck is an unheralded outside linebacker and if he can remain at his current level he could be a mainstay in Hawaii. The real key for the defense will be how the secondary holds up. Rolle is solid and with Dyson a question to start the regular season, keep an eye on second-year CB Andre Woolfolk who has a chance to shine. Williams and Schulters are a solid pair of safeties but the Titans want to see more big plays from these two.
Special Teams Overview: The kicking game revolves around K Joe Nedney's ability to recover from ACL surgery. According to insiders he was able to kick 50-yarders in minicamps and all expectations are that he will be back to his usual consistent form. P Craig Hentrich went to the Pro Bowl and he is an excellent directional punter pinning teams deep in their own territory. Mason is the number one kick and punt returner but the team would like to find someone else for those duties because he is their only proven wideout. Look for rookie corner Michael Waddell to get looks during the preseason.
The Titans will finish (11-5) and play for the AFC Championship if .......... Calico steps up opposite Mason, Brown and Smith are able to fill the void at running back and if they Titan defense can get pressure on the QB.