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AFC South Spin cycle: Week Five

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Posted Oct. 09, 2012 @ 2:28 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

Updated Tuesday, Oct. 9 at 2:28 p.m. ET

Sunday’s slate of AFC South games included a Colts club honoring their head coach, Chuck Pagano, who was hospitalized last week with leukemia, by erasing a 21-3 halftime deficit against the Packers to earn an emotional 30-27 victory and a game ball for their leader. Meanwhile, the Titans and Jaguars were completely outclassed, again, this time by the Vikings and Bears, respectively, and the Texans fought off the Jets on Monday night to remain undefeated.

TEXANS

What we learned: The Texans are good enough to grind out wins, even when they’re not at their best. Houston’s special teams was mostly poor Monday night, allowing a 100-yard Joe McKnight kickoff return for a TD and failing to stop Tim Tebow on a fake punt attempt on 4th-and-inches. Further, the red-zone offense struggled, with the Texans coming away with just 13 points in three trips. Houston’s secondary played its worst game of the season against a no-name cast of WRs for Gang Green, with Johnathan Joseph having arguably his worst game as a Texan. And despite all of the hiccups, Houston remains undefeated, holding off a pesky Jets club for a 23-17 victory, thanks in large part to another ridiculous performance by the frontrunner for Defensive Player of the Year honors, DLE J.J. Watt.

What’s in store next: The common belief nationally was that the Texans would rout the Jets, with their first real tests coming in Weeks Six and Seven against the Packers and Ravens, respectively. As it turned out, Houston received all it could handle from Gang Green, and it won’t get easier against a Packers squad that has a bad taste in its mouth after blowing a big halftime lead against the Colts last week. Given Houston’s sudden and surprising struggles in the secondary, that will likely be the focus as it gears up to try and slow down Aaron Rodgers and Co., who looked quite discombobulated in the final 30 minutes Sunday. Special-teams coordinator Joe Marciano will also spend extra time with his group this week, as Packers RS Randall Cobb is as dangerous as they come, and Houston’s coverage and return teams were brutal Monday night. After turning heads in the preseason, Texans RS Trindon Holliday continues to make poor decisions and look indecisive.

What the heck? If ever there were a game when one would expect Texans CB Johnathan Joseph to be at his best, it would be against an inept Jets passing offense missing its two biggest weapons, Santonio Holmes and Dustin Keller. But something was off with Joseph Monday night, as he was beaten early and often by everyone from journeymen (Clyde Gates) to cornerbacks moonlighting as receivers (Antonio Cromartie). Jets QB Mark Sanchez was actually challenging Joseph instead of Kareem Jackson, which is something we have yet to see since he arrived in Houston. Even a Pro Bowler like Joseph is bound to have a bad game every now and again, though the circumstances make it curious. The Texans undoubtedly need him at his best moving forward, particularly after losing defensive captain Brian Cushing to a season-ending knee injury.

COLTS

What we learned: This team has an unbelievable amount of fight. After it appeared the rout was on in the first 30 minutes, the Colts never panicked, instead cutting down on mistakes, ratcheting up the intensity on “D” and taking the fight to the Packers in the second half. QB Andrew Luck (31-of-55 for 362 yards, two TDs, one interception) was hardly perfect, but he was again masterful with the game on the line, marching his team, which trailed 27-22 with 4:30 remaining, 80 yards on 13 plays, capped by a four-yard game-winning TD to Reggie Wayne with 35 seconds remaining. Wayne’s superhuman effort — 13 receptions for a career-high 212 receiving yards and a score — was a stirring tribute to his head coach and close friend, Pagano.

What’s in store next: The Colts travel to MetLife Stadium to face a reeling Jets squad that will be on short rest coming off an appearance against the Texans on “Monday Night Football.” This could be an opportunity for the Colts to build some momentum, as New York has suffered as many key injuries as any team in the league and has had little success on either side of the ball in recent weeks. The Colts could finally welcome back ILB Pat Angerer (foot), who has yet to play this season, and OLG Joe Reitz, who would provide a major upgrade over the M.A.S.H. unit the Colts have rolled out at guard lately. The club is holding its breath on the injury status of OLB Robert Mathis, who suffered an apparent knee injury late against the Packers and was unable to return.

What the heck? It’s hard to knock interim head coach Bruce Arians after such a monumental win, but it must be noted that he made a questionable decision and one that could have come back to haunt his team. Conventional wisdom suggests waiting until at least the fourth quarter to attempt a two-point conversion. But Arians, after his club drew within two points, 21-19, with 18 seconds remaining in the third quarter, decided that momentum was on his side and elected to go for two. Luck’s pass fell incomplete, leaving Indianapolis down two points. Of course, it didn’t end up making a difference, but Packers PK Mason Crosby had an opportunity with eight seconds remaining to attempt a game-tying 51-yard field goal. If Arians kicks the extra point, the Packers would have had to try to score a touchdown, as they would have been trailing by four.

JAGUARS

What we learned: This isn’t exactly an epiphany, but the Jaguars simply can’t hang with really good football teams for 60 minutes — particularly not when they shoot themselves in the foot with mistakes. Jacksonville and Chicago were knotted 3-3 at halftime, before the Bears blew the doors off the Jaguars in the final 30 minutes, scoring 38 unanswered points. Jacksonville surrendered a 17-play, 76-yard scoring drive spanning 9:18 to begin the second half. The Bears converted a fourth down on the drive, and were awarded an extra 15 yards on DE Jeremy Mincey’s roughing-the-passer penalty. Combine that with a pair of second-half pick-sixes from QB Blaine Gabbert, including one on the ensuing drive, and that’s all she wrote.

What’s in store next: The Jaguars limp into the bye week at 1-4, with very little to hang their hats on. The struggles of the offense are somewhat expected; the way the “D” has been continuously shredded is what is especially concerning. The main area GM Gene Smith centered his rebuilding effort around — the trenches — has been arguably the most disappointing facet of the club in the first five weeks. Head coach Mike Mularkey, his entire staff and club have some serious soul searching to do during the bye week, but for those calling for Chad Henne to replace Gabbert at QB, Mularkey indicated Sunday that is not in the cards.

What the heck? Mularkey made some changes to the starting lineup, inserting DT C.J. Mosley in place of Terrance Knighton and DE Austen Lane in place of rookie Andre Branch. The results were painfully ineffective. The Bears ran roughshod to the tune of 214 yards on 33 carries (6.5 yards per carry) and, while Lane did register a sack — astonishingly the first sack by a Jaguars defensive end this season, and third by any Jaguar — he was hardly stout at the point of attack. Mularkey’s decision to mirror Brandon Marshall with his top cornerbnack, Derek Cox, also failed to pan out, as Marshall went off in a major way (12-144-1 receiving).

TITANS

What we learned: It’s hard to fathom, given that the Titans entered Week Five dead last in scoring “D,” but this unit appears to be regressing even further. The tackling was embarrassing. There were at least three missed tackles on Percy Harvin’s video-game-like 10-yard TD catch, and the run defense was gashed by the combination of Adrian Peterson and Toby Gerhart. There were at least two times where Gerhart ran right over FS Michael Griffin. Worse yet, this poor showing was on the heels of defensive coordinator Jerry Gray publicly calling out the toughness of his defense last week.

What’s in store next: The Titans will have to shake off their latest demoralizing defeat quickly, as they have a short week of preparation before hosting the Steelers on “Thursday Night Football.” There are so many problems with this team that it is hard to pinpoint one area, but third-down defense continues to plague Tennessee, and Ben Roethlisberger’s Steelers are as good as any team in the league at moving the chains on third downs. After the Titans’ inability to slow down Harvin last week, extra emphasis will be placed on containing explosive WR Antonio Brown, a favorite target of Roethlisberger’s on third down.

What the heck? Following another dud performance, RB Chris Johnson (15 carries, 24 yards) appeared to skate responsibility in postgame interviews, pointing out that the entire offense was to blame and not just the ineptitude of the ground game. Johnson is correct — the whole offense was terrible — but it is extremely troubling to see him continually avoiding accountability after so much was made of him becoming a bigger leader amid a terrific offseason. That seems like ancient history, as Johnson is growing increasingly frustrated and, aside from the Week Four showing against Houston that is looking more and more like an aberration, continues to be a complete nonfactor for a struggling club.

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