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AFC South Spin cycle: Week Four

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Oct. 01, 2012 @ 1:38 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

The Texans Sunday forged a seemingly insurmountable three-game lead in the division, first knocking Titans QB Jake Locker (left shoulder) out of commission, before steamrolling Tennessee in the final 30 minutes en route to a 38-14 victory. The Jaguars, despite facing a Bengals club without its top three cornerbacks, remained a mess offensively, generating a paltry 212 yards in a 27-10 defeat.

HOUSTON

What we learned: It isn't always going to be a masterpiece, but this team is beginning to develop that killer instinct that the great ones possess. After allowing the Titans to hang around in the first half, the Texans put the clamps down defensively in the final 30 minutes, returning a pair of Matt Hasselbeck interceptions for scores to put this one on ice. Matt Schaub continues to be exceptionally efficient, with a 20-for-28, two-TD passing performance, and while the running game was held in check by Tennessee, the Texans' swarming "D" allowed the Titans barely any breathing room in the final 1½ quarters. When the Texans minimize their mistakes — they were penalized only once compared to seven for the Titans and won the turnover battle 3-0 — they are extremely tough to beat.

What's in store next: The Texans get an extra day of rest before hitting the road to battle the reeling Jets on "Monday Night Football" in Houston's first opportunity of the season to showcase its skills in front of a prime-time audience. The Texans visit a Jets club that was shut out by the 49ers in Week Four, while being gashed at home for 245 rushing yards. That, paired with the fact that the Jets lost three fumbles and threw an interception last week, means the Jets are struggling in two areas in which the Texans thrive.

What the heck? Texans CB Kareem Jackson has been public enemy No. 1 in Houston since he was drafted in the first round in 2010. But Jackson, viewed as the weak link on defense heading into the season, is playing terrific ball, with the finest performance of his career coming against Tennessee. Jackson was responsible for two passes defensed and a 63-yard pick-six in the fourth quarter that sealed the Titans' fate. The knock on Jackson dating back to last season was his inability to turn and look for the football, but he worked hard with DBs coach Vance Joseph this offseason, and it appears we are starting to see the fruits of their labor. Not only did Jackson make a key pick of Hasselbeck late, but he provided textbook coverage and a breakup on a long pass intended for Titans rookie Kendall Wright late in the third quarter. With Johnathan Joseph consistently shutting down half the field, Jackson's improvement this season is a very encouraging development for the Texans.

JACKSONVILLE

What we learned: Not even a completely banged-up Cincinnati secondary — the Bengals were without their top three cornerbacks — could provide relief for Jacksonville's bumbling pass offense, which, led by QB Blaine Gabbert, mustered just 143 net passing yards, one TD and one interception. Gabbert was sacked six times, as the return of OLG Eben Britton and ORT Cameron Bradfield far from shored up the protection — in fact, Britton was benched in favor of undrafted rookie Mike Brewster in the second half. RB Maurice Jones-Drew (13 carries, 38 yards) was also completely bottled up against a Cincinnati run defense ranked 31st in the league heading into Sunday. Defensively, CB Rashean Mathis had a nightmare day trying to slow down Bengals star wideout A.J. Green (six catches, 117 yards, one TD), and the Jaguars' inept pass rush failed to generate a sack for the third consecutive week.

What's in store next: Really, the only positive looking ahead to next week is the fact that the Jaguars draw the Bears, who visit the Cowboys on "Monday Night Football," on short rest. Chicago is talented on both sides of the ball, with the personnel to apply pressure with its front four and put plenty of points on the board with a balanced and formidable offense. For the Jaguars, it's difficult to say which is bigger: finding a way to protect Gabbert, or capitalizing on a golden opportunity to generate pressure against Chicago's leaky O-linel.

What the heck? The Jaguars are not talented enough to overcome squandered opportunities, thus it was a truly bad sign when backup SLB Kyle Bosworth, filling in for injured starter Daryl Smith for the fourth consecutive week, fumbled what should have been an easy pick-six on Andy Dalton's first pass attempt. Bosworth caught the deflected pass at the Cincinnat 23 and rumbled 10 yards with daylight in front of him before coughing up the football without being touched and the Bengals fell on it to retain possession. On the Bengals' ensuing drive, CB Rashean Mathis jumped A.J. Green's route and had a clear path to the endzone, but he dropped the potential interception.

TENNESSEE

What we learned: The Titans' running game has a pulse. Tennessee's offensive line created a surprising amount of running lanes for Chris Johnson, who erupted for 141 yards on 25 carries against the Texans' stout defense. But Johnson's big day meant little in the end, as Matt Hasselbeck, filling in for injured starter Jake Locker, threw a pair of pick-sixes and lost a fumble in the second half that helped open the flood gates for the Texans. On defense, minimal improvement was made, but the Titans still are struggling to cover opposing tight ends. To wit, Texans TEs Owen Daniels and James Casey combined for 11 catches (on 11 targets), 108 yards and two TDs. 

What's in store next? The Titans were supposed to be favored for the first time this season in a visit to Minnesota. Instead, they face off against the division-leading Vikes, who, propelled by a strong special-teams showing — both a kickoff and punt returned for TDs — knocked off their second 2011 postseason team in a row. The Titans will wait and see on Locker, whose left shoulder injury is the same injury that temporarily knocked him out in Week One. If Locker can't play, and even if he is active, the Titans must attempt to figure out what worked running the football against Houston and do the same thing in Minnesota, where the 3-1 Vikings limited Detroit to 55 rushing yards on 20 carries.

What the heck? Not only did the Titans lose in another blowout in Week Four, but they lost their composure. ORT David Stewart really hurt his club when he was flagged for two personal fouls within a five-play span early in the second half. The Titans were trailing by just two scores at the time, but Stewart really hurt his team. He was hardly alone, though. The Titans were penalized seven times for 73 yards. What's more, poor tackling directly contributed to Owen Daniels' 28-yard TD reception in the third quarter and WR Kendall Wright, despite finding the endzone in mop-up time, dropped three catchable balls in the first half when the game was still within reach.

INDIANAPOLIS

On bye.

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