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AFC South Spin cycle: Colts' win about more than Luck

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Recent posts by Arthur Arkush

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Posted Nov. 05, 2012 @ 1:56 p.m. ET
By Arthur Arkush

On a day when Andrew Luck set the NFL rookie QB record for passing yards in a game, ironically, it wasn’t his most impressive statistic on the day; Luck completed 13-of-17 for 204 yards (15.7 yards per completion) and a TD on third downs, with 11 of those completions moving the sticks en route to an emotional victory over the Dolphins. Simply magical. Elsewhere in the AFC South, the Texans rolled over the Bills, the Titans were embarrassed at home by the Bears, before being put on notice by owner Bud Adams, and the Jaguars’ woes continued.

TEXANS

What we learned: The Texans needed an extra half following their bye to shake off the rust. After a sloppy first 30 minutes, in which they were outgained 189-174, converted just 1-of-5 third down opportunities and were penalized six times for 32 yards, the Texans put their foot down after the intermission. They did so by doing what they do best: feeding Arian Foster and ramping up the pressure on “D.” The Texans’ stars shined brightly, with Foster and WR Andre Johnson both eclipsing 100 yards and QB Matt Schaub connecting with TEs Owen Daniels and Garrett Graham on scoring strikes. Perhaps the best lesson learned from this game is that the Texans’ kick-coverage teams showed improvement against a dangerous stable of Buffalo return specialists, and Gary Kubiak’s crew took care of business when it counted and avoided looking ahead.

What’s in store next: A “Sunday Night Football” heavyweight title bout at Soldier Field against the NFL’s other 7-1 team, the Bears. Chicago had its most prolific scoring day on the road in 50 years, blasting the Titans, 51-20 — a thoroughly dominating performance in all three phases. The common denominator between these two clubs — other than aggressive, opportunistic defenses and explosive, well-balanced offenses — is an embarrassing prime-time loss against the Packers. The name of the game for the Texans will be trying to exploit Chicago’s leaky offensive line, with defensive player of the year front-runner J.J. Watt appearing to have an extremely lopsided matchup against Bears second-year ORT Gabe Carimi.

What the heck? With 4:38 remaining and a 21-9 lead, Kubiak faced a 4th-and-6 at the Buffalo 30. Instead of attempting a 47-yard Shayne Graham field goal, Kubiak elected to go for it, with Matt Schaub’s pass attempt for Andre Johnson falling incomplete. Kubiak said after the game Graham’s blocked field goal in the first half weighed into his decision, as well as Houston’s dominant defensive showing giving him the confidence to put coordinator Wade Phillips’ group in a tough spot if the call failed. No harm, no foul, but this was an interesting decision from Kubiak, who tends to be on the conservative side as a play-caller.

COLTS

What we learned: Andrew Luck’s record-breaking performance was something to behold, above and beyond his third-down precision. Yet, interim head coach Bruce Arians was right when he emphasized the team effort that was required in victory. The Colts showed remarkable perseverance with players dropping like flies throughout the game. What’s more, they beat up a more physical football team on both sides of the ball. The Colts found ways to generate pressure against one of the league’s better offensive lines, while keeping Luck just clean enough with two starting linemen leaving because of injuries. Luck took care of the rest, continuing to prove that he is a rookie only in name.

What’s in store next: Indianapolis will have a short week of preparation before traveling to Jacksonville to face the reeling Jaguars on “Thursday Night Football.” The Jaguars earned their only victory over the Colts, a 22-17 Week Three triumph that was the result of Cecil Shorts turning a short slant into an 80-yard TD in the final minute. But little else has gone right for the Jags, who fell to 1-7 after another lopsided loss at home. The Colts face the Jaguars at the right time, as RB Maurice Jones-Drew, who shredded Indy for 193 total yards and a score in the first meeting, is likely to miss his third consecutive game because of a foot injury.

What the heck? Luck barely resembles a rookie, yet Arians declined to take off his kid gloves late in the first half, with his club trailing by a TD with a 1st-and-10 at the Miami 29-yard line. Luck had driven the offense 58 yards in a little more than a minute, but Arians, who still had a timeout in his pocket, played it conservatively, sending out Adam Vinatieri, who had two missed FG attempts already, for a 47-yard try. Vinatieri drilled the field goal, cutting the deficit to 17-13, but it was a bit surprising that Luck wasn’t given the opportunity to take a shot in the endzone — or at least try to make Vinatieri’s job a little easier.

JAGUARS

What we learned: The Jaguars just can’t seem to get out of their own way. Far less talented than the Lions, Jacksonville simply couldn’t afford self-inflicted mistakes like missed blocking assignments and dropped passes, yet those same problems were on full display Sunday. Whether it was Rashad Jennings batting a catchable ball into the air for an interception or rookie WR Justin Blackmon failing to get his feet inbounds on a critical third-down conversion for the second week in a row, the Jaguars haven’t played 60 solid minutes yet this season and the result is just the second 1-7 start in franchise history.

What’s in store next: A Thursday-night home game against the Colts had to look like a winnable game before the season. Is it still, what with the surprising 5-3 Colts coming off an emotional victory over the Dolphins in which Andrew Luck was the best player on the field? Not if the Jaguars’ woes at EverBank Field continue, as they have been outscored 126-34 in four home games (all losses) this season. Mike Mularkey’s team is truly desperate at this point, and with RB Maurice Jones-Drew again expected out because of a foot injury, what better time than this for the defense to take over a football game, or for Blaine Gabbert and the rest of the offense to finally get on the same page?

What the heck? Yes, the Jaguars are shorthanded at cornerback. Sure, Derek Cox is clearly their best option when he’s healthy. But was Mularkey’s decision to shadow Calvin Johnson with Cox, who was not at 100 percent, the prudent move? Even Cox’s own teammates weren’t so sure, after Megatron went off for 129 receiving yards on seven receptions (eight targets). Cox put forth a gutsy performance, but it sure would have been nice to see Mularkey and defensive coordinator Mel Tucker give Cox a little more help after the corner missed the game against the Packers and almost a full week of practice last week.

TITANS

What we learned: Tennessee’s margin for error — especially against really good teams like the Bears — is tiny, thus having a fumble, interception and blocked punt all result in TDs in the first 15 minutes is just inexcusable. The Titans dug themselves an early hole they never had a chance to get out of, and the defense continued to show its true colors after that. The Titans had no answers for Bears WR Brandon Marshall and RB Matt Forté, and owner Bud Adams said after the game what was painfully evident on the field — the Titans got their tails kicked, both coaches and players. Our sources indicate head coach Mike Munchak’s hand would have been forced to make a change heading into the bye week had his club not pulled off the upset over the Steelers, which will make it interesting to see if any fallout occurs now that Adams has expressed his dissatisfaction publicly. Defensive coordinator Jerry Gray has been in way over his head.

What’s in store next: The Titans visit the Dolphins, a club that will be seething after letting one it thinks it should have won get away against the Colts Sunday. Is this the opening for Munchak to go back to Jake Locker, though QB Matt Hasselbeck was hardly the team’s biggest problem against Chicago? Whoever is under center will need a great deal more help in all three phases if the Titans are to get back in the win column. As far as changes on the field, Munchak’s hands are tied outside of the QB position. The good news is that the “D” will have a chance to build some confidence against a rookie QB that hit a cold spell in the second half in Indianapolis — if, of course, it can avoid being embarrassed by the always-dangerous Reggie Bush, who had a video game-like TD run against the Colts.

What the heck? One week after offensive pass interference penalties plagued the Titans, the offensive skill-position players again killed their club with a lack of discipline. The Titans were penalized nine times for 68 yards, including two illegal formations and two false starts. That falls on Munchak and offensive coordinator Chris Palmer. Are the Titans’ receivers pressing? It would appear so, but the result is even more damage being done.

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