Fifth of an eight-part series
In PFW's midseason team reports, we focus on each team's biggest surprise and biggest disappointment, a fantasy football MVP, an assistant coach on the rise, and a fearless prediction for the second half of the season.
Biggest surprise: Not only is RB Arian Foster the Texans' biggest surprise, he merits team MVP consideration, too. He looked like one of the AFC's top backs in the first half. Foster fits the Texans' zone scheme well, shows potential as a pass catcher and brings consistency and playmaking ability to a position that was a liability for most of last season.
Biggest disappointment: It can't be anything but the pass defense, which has been a sieve. Teams have picked on rookie CB Kareem Jackson all season, but the Texans need better collective play out of the pass defense to have any hope of capturing a playoff spot.
Fantasy MVP: RB Arian Foster has thrilled fantasy owners since he rushed for 231 yards and three touchdowns in the season opener vs. Indianapolis. Foster plays in a strong offense, contributes in the passing game and gets the goal-line carries. What's not to like?
Assistant coach on the rise: Offensive coordinator Rick Dennison has fared well in his first season in Houston. Kubiak praised him for sticking with the run in the season-opening win vs. Indianapolis, and he's made a positive impact on the Texans' running game.
Fearless prediction: The Texans' playoff chances rest on how they play in their four division games. Houston, which was 1-5 in division games a season ago, has a pair of games each with Tennessee and Jacksonville still on the schedule. So much rides on the Texans' defensive play in these final eight games, and particularly so against opponents who know Houston so well.
Biggest surprise: After battling a number of injuries over the years, Joseph Addai returned to his rookie form in the first half. Addai has earned a reputation for being one of the best blocking and receiving backs in the league, but he was running with impressive power and elusiveness before being sidelined with a shoulder injury in Week Six. As a result, he has missed the past two games.
Biggest disappointment: After being one of the NFL's top playmaking defensive units under coordinator Larry Coyer in his first year on the job in '09, the "D" has not played to its potential. The run defense has been too inconsistent, and the unit has lacked discipline, preventing Coyer from dialing up as many blitzes as he would like.
Fantasy MVP: Although many fantasy owners opted to select Drew Brees or Aaron Rodgers as their team's centerpiece gunslinger, Peyton Manning has proven that he is still worthy of being the top QB drafted. Manning is in the top five in nearly every statistical category, and the most impressive part is that he is putting up the ridiculous numbers with far less than his full cast of characters on offense. The surefire first-ballot Hall of Famer is on pace to shatter his previous season high in pass attempts, so there is good reason to believe that his incredible production will continue in the second half.
Assistant coach on the rise: Clyde Christensen had some mighty large shoes to fill when he was named as the successor to the venerable Tom Moore. Not only was Moore the only coordinator Manning had ever worked with, but the now-senior offensive assistant consistently produced one of the league's more explosive passing offenses, and Christensen's résumé only boasts one season as an offensive coordinator. So far, there doesn't appear to be much drop-off with Christensen calling the plays.
Fearless prediction: After being decimated by injuries in the first half, the Colts will get big contributions from key players, including SS Bob Sanders and WR Austin Collie, in December, propelling them to another AFC South title and a return trip to the Super Bowl — only this time, Manning and Co. will not be denied in North Texas.
Biggest surprise: Head coach Jack Del Rio said this summer that TE Marcedes Lewis had the best offseason of any of his players. Lewis has carried the momentum into the season, becoming one of the league's more complete tight ends. The huge red-zone target had as many TDs (seven) in the first eight games as he did in his first four years in the league.
Biggest disappointment: Coming into the season, the Jaguars knew that the safety position was a weakness, but cornerback was viewed as a strength. Second-year CB Derek Cox was benched at halftime of the season opener and didn't return to the starting lineup until Week Seven. Former All-Pro Rashean Mathis, who has a tendency to jump routes, has allowed too many TDs.
Fantasy MVP: No tight end other than All-Pro Antonio Gates has matched the production of Lewis in the first half. David Garrard's favorite weapon in the red zone already has three multi-TD outings. At 6-6, 275 pounds, Lewis creates matchup nightmares for opponents, and Garrard has targeted Lewis often this season. The only knock on Lewis' first-half performance is that he doesn't have as many receiving yards as he might.
Assistant coach on the rise: Russ Purnell is regarded as one of the top special-teams coaches in the NFL, and he has made the Jaguars one of the league's elite units in only his second season with the club. PK Josh Scobee is perfect on the season, P Adam Podlesh has shown marked improvement this year, and the coverage unit, led by Pro Bowlers Kassim Osgood and Montell Owens, has been outstanding. The return game also has made major strides, with Mike Thomas and Deji Karim emerging as threats to go the distance every time they touch the ball.
Fearless prediction: In the loaded AFC, it will likely take 10 wins to make the playoffs. Looking at the Jaguars' difficult second-half schedule, it is hard to envision a scenario where they can be better than an 8-8 team this season.
Biggest surprise: DEs Jason Babin and Dave Ball share this distinction. Both seemed likely to be reserves entering training camp, but they earned starting jobs and have been two of the AFC's top pass-rush threats. Their disruptiveness has given the defense a big lift.
Biggest disappointment: The loss of DE Derrick Morgan to a season-ending knee injury in October hurt the Titans' depth at a position where the club frequently rotates players in and out of the lineup to combat fatigue and ensure top effort. Morgan still has a bright future, but he could have helped the Titans down the stretch, even if only in a reserve role.
Fantasy MVP: The top pick in many fantasy leagues, Chris Johnson has lived up to that billing, rushing for 721 yards and scoring eight TDs in eight games. Teams have tried to shut down Johnson, and he still ranks third in the AFC in rushing.
Assistant coach on the rise: Defensive coordinator Chuck Cecil's second season on the job has gone much better than his first, when injuries ravaged the secondary and the Titans' defense regressed. The defense has been much more sound and disruptive in 2010. That's a credit to the players, and it's a credit to Cecil.
Fearless prediction: WR Randy Moss will be a good fit in the Titans' scheme. His very good speed will open up space for fellow WR Nate Washington, as well as the Titans' tight ends, and his presence will help a Tennessee running game that is used to defenses stacking the line of scrimmage.
You can read more midseason team analyses in the current print edition of PFW (cover date: Nov. 14, 2010) — including categories such as team MVP, player to watch and keys to the second half — on sale now at retail outlets. You can also purchase a print or electronic (PDF) copy of the issue at PFWstore.com.