Updated: Jul 19, 2022
As a wise man once said, “guess who’s back, back again,” and while he was talking about slim shady, I’m talking about my NFL “biggest needs,” articles. In this third installment, I will be taking a look at the state of the AFC South as training camps get underway around the league.
Tennessee Titans: Offensive Line
Ever since Derrick Henry burst onto the scene in 2018, the backbone of the Titans offense has been the run game. I mean it, makes sense since Henry can do things like this.
Henry was also supported by one of the best offensive lines in football, especially in 2019 when the Titans went on a Cinderella run to the AFC Championship game. However, since then, the offensive line has lost more and more pieces. Only three of the five players from that starting line in 2019 are still on the team in 2022 in Ben Jones, Nate Davis, and Taylor Lewan. Jack Conklin left for the Browns in free agency after that season and Roger Saffold just left for Buffalo with a chance at a Super Bowl run. With those key losses over the years they need to build some consistency with their new players (Left Guard Jamarco Jones and 2021 2nd round pick in Right Tackle Dillon Radunz) in order for Ryan Tannehill and Henry to have a bounce back season. If the Titans can do that, they have a chance to win the division once more and make a deep playoff run.
Indianapolis Colts: Stable QB Play
Four years, four different starting QBs, that has been the story for the Indianapolis Colts since Andrew Luck unexpectedly retired in 2019. From Jacoby Brissett, the Phillip Rivers retirement tour, the Carson Wentz experience and now the 37-year-old Matt Ryan. The Colts have a damn good team when you take a deeper dive. The offensive and defensive lines are at least Top 10 in football with the likes of Quenton Nelson, Ryan Kelly and Braden Smith on the offensive line and Deforest Buckner, Yannick Ngakoue and Kwity Paye on the defensive line. Their wide receivers are an intriguing group of young guys in newly drafted Alec Pierce, Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. The Colts have a playoff caliber roster, the one issue has been stable QB play, see the 2021 season finale against Jacksonville as proof of that.
So, the Colts decided to trade away a choking QB in Carson Wentz in another one in Matt Ryan. On the real though, Matt Ryan had a solid year in 2021 with a somewhat suspect supporting cast as he threw for almost 4,000 yards and 20 touchdowns. Ryan is a substantial upgrade over Wentz and should hopefully give them a shot a not only a playoff spot, but a chance to fight for the division with Tennessee.
Houston Texans: Front Office
I am saying this not because they had a bad draft or free agency. Honestly by all accounts they found some really good players in the draft that should start day one for them in Derek Stingley, Kenyon Green, Jalen Pitre and John Metchie III. They even signed some solid players in A.J Cann, Justin Britt and Desmond King to bring some veteran leadership to a young team. The reason I am saying the Texans need a new front office is for two main reasons: the Deshaun Watson situation and how they handled their head coach. Starting with Watson, how they have handled everything in relation to him has left me feeling disgusted. First, they still paid Watson all of his 10.54 million dollars he was owed while sitting out because one he didn’t want to play there and two because of the mounting civil suits against him starting in March of 2021.
Then they gave him what he wanted and traded him out of Houston for a king’s ransom of draft picks. While it’s in their right to trade him and probably what was best for the organization, what really has me outraged is the fact that they had helped him set up and cover up the appointments with the masseuses. Everyone who was involved with covering this up should be fired if they haven’t been fired already.
I really have a bone to pick with the Texans coaching search as well. After finally firing Bill O’Brien after the 2020 season, the Texans hired former assistant head coach David Culley away from the Baltimore Ravens. Culley inherited a true mess of a team, but he had the guys giving a lot more effort as went 4-13 but still pulled off a huge upset over the Chargers 41-29 on Dec. 26. The problem is that they had such a lack of talent that they also lost 10 of those 13 games by 10 points or more including a 40-0 shutout against the Bills, being outscored by the Colts 62-3 in both games and losing 31-5 against the Cardinals. While it sucks to lose and by that much, by every account the major leaders in the Texans locker room, Rex Burkhead, Brandin Cooks and Justin Britt, called him a “great leader,” and love his positive attitude.
However, the Texans realized they couldn’t have any decent human beings in the organization and fired Culley after just one season with the team. Again, while it is within their right to fire him, only giving him one season seems harsh and I hope Culley gets another job down the road. He seems like a nice man who even said that current head coach Lovie Smith will do a “heck of a job,” with the team. More on Lovie later. What really pissed me off about this whole situation was that fact that the team seemed to be zeroing in on former journeymen QB Josh McCown as their next coach, according to Jason La Conforta of CBS Sports.
That all changed when former Miami Dolphins head coach Brian Flores brought a lawsuit to three NFL teams for bad hiring practices and violating the spirit of the Rooney Rule. As soon as this came out the Texans quickly changed course and hired Lovie Smith as the new head coach. While I’m happy for Lovie because of what he did for the Bears back in the early 2000’s, it all reeks of dishonesty. I feel like the only reason the Texans didn’t hire McCown is because it would have been bad PR to hire a white coach while this was going on, after they had just fired a black coach after one season. That’s not to say that Lovie can’t coach, he’s clearly a good NFL coach, but it’s just how all of this came about is off-putting. The Texans have been train wreck pretty much since they have existed and unless things change, it will remain that way for a long time.
Jacksonville Jaguars: A New Identity
When you think of the Jacksonville Jaguars what do you usually think of if you even think about them at all: it’s dysfunction and losing. I don’t think anything quantifies that more than the fact that they made NFL history for the sixth time by getting the number one overall pick in the NFL draft two years in a row. After taking Trevor Lawrence in 2021, the Jags potentially reached on Georgia defensive linemen Travon Walker with the first pick in 2022. Despite that, I think they are starting to get some organizational stability, with Doug Pederson at head coach and (for some reason) keeping Trent Baalke as GM. Pederson should be a big upgrade over the disaster that was Urban Meyer.
Pederson should stabilize and help the 2021 first overall pick grow in what will be a rookie year part two for Lawrence. If the Jaguars really want to shed their losing and dysfunctional ways, they need to first win some games they probably shouldn’t win and have a drama free season. For Jags fans, the players and the coaches I hope it is a quiet year in Duval.