Four Downs: AFC South

by Ned Macey

Did you miss the first 2006 edition of Four Downs: AFC South? You'll find it here.

Houston Texans

Free Agency Review

Extreme Makeover: Houston Texans Edition has been in full effect this off-season. A new coaching staff with plans to use a 4-3 defense and revamp a mediocre offense has led to as active a free agency as anyone in football.

The Texans aggressively targeted their areas of need and filled nearly all of the seemingly gaping holes they faced just a month ago. The switch to the 4-3 seemed to leave Houston short on defensive ends and middle linebackers. To remedy this problem, they brought in Anthony Weaver and Sam Cowart.

These signings are polar opposites in style. Weaver is an up-and-coming defensive end whose best days are in front of him. Cowart is an aging linebacker who will likely prove to be a disappointment.

Weaver is a physical specimen who has played inside in the past or as a defensive end in the 3-4. Given the plethora of pass-rushing ends the Texans have, including newly signed N.D. Kalu, he is an excellent addition. The Texans ranked 30th in DVOA against the run. With the Weaver signing, that will not be the case this year. (DVOA and all of Football Outsiders' other advanced statistics are explained here.)

Cowart, however, is a low-impact move. He was phased out in New York two years ago, and the idea that he will be productive at age 31 is a little far-fetched. Still, he provides at least an adequate middle linebacker, and if Kailee Wong proves he is better in the middle, the Texans have simply bought an insurance policy.

Offensively, the Texans have been just as active. They signed Mike Flanagan to shore up their offensive line. He will slide in at center pushing Steve McKinney to guard. Incumbent Milford Brown has moved on to the Cardinals. Flanagan is getting $9 million over three years, pretty big money for a 32-year old center. The Texans have now added four of their five starting offensive linemen through free agency. For perspective, New England and Indianapolis have offensive lines exclusively filled with people who never played for another team.

The Texans have also revamped their offensive skill position players. Gone are Corey Bradford and Jabar Gaffney. Now arriving are Eric Moulds, Kevin Walter, and Jeb Putzier. Putzier is the most intriguing signing. David Carr has never had a decent receiving option at tight end in his career. Obviously head coach Gary Kubiak is familiar with Putzier from their time in Denver, and Kubiak should be able to use Putzier effectively.

But it is hard to see how the wide receiver moves substantially improve the Texans. Walter is an unproven commodity with 30 career catches. Eric Moulds may be a big name, but his best days are well behind him. Moulds last posted a positive DVOA in 2000. He will be 33 this season, and he has a total of 10 touchdowns in the past three seasons.

Draft Preview

The Texans' off-season has made it abundantly clear that they are interested in winning sooner rather than later. Cowart, Flanagan, and Moulds are all players past their prime brought in for the immediate future. This win-now strategy makes it clear that any Vince Young talk is just bluster, and they are drafting Reggie Bush with the first overall pick.

The first overall pick is sometimes considered a curse because of the massive bonus paid out to an unproven player. Recent history questions this assumption. From 1996-2004, all but one of the teams with the first overall pick have made the playoffs within four years. That one team, of course, is the Texans.

All of this is my way of saying that I am not a big proponent of trading the first overall pick. Still, the Texans have huge offensive line problems, and the possibility of getting D'Brickashaw Ferguson or Winston Justice plus additional picks has to be intriguing. Unfortunately, the signing of Drew Brees by New Orleans means that teams interested in Matt Leinart or Young can trade up to the second spot. So, while trading down would be a sound move for a team with multiple needs, they are unlikely to get fair value.

So, Bush it is. Comparisons to Marshall Faulk, Barry Sanders, and Gale Sayers seem to be coming from everywhere. Bush is a special talent, but those are some of the greatest players of all-time. The Texans cannot practically think that Bush offers more than those players.

As an interesting exercise, I took a look at how the those players' teams fared in their first five years after the NFL draft. Those three players were the second, third, and fourth overall selection of the draft, meaning they came to equally un-talented teams.

Faulk: 32-48
Sanders: 40-40
Sayers: 29-38-3

These numbers are somewhat shocking and should make Texans' fans keep their expectations in check. During these five-year periods, these three great backs made a combined 12 Pro Bowls, so their production was clearly not the problem. The simple truth is that a running back is only so valuable.

Those running backs were replacing Roosevelt Potts, Garry James, and Jon Arnett respectively. Bush will be replacing Domanick Davis, who has averaged over 1000 yards a season in his three years. He also is similar in size and style to Bush, making Davis, one of the Texans' better players, completely extraneous next season. Is Bush going to be better than Davis? Certainly, but even if Bush is historically good, the improvement will only be worth so much.

After the first round, the Texans have the first pick of the second round and the first two picks of the third round. They should be praying that Eric Winston falls to the second round which would allow them to finally draft a talented offensive tackle, but it isn't likely to happen. In the third round, they should look to upgrade a secondary that is short on quality players besides Dunta Robinson.

Indianapolis Colts

Free Agency Review

This time last year, the Colts were only parting with players whose immediate replacements were better than the players let go. This off-season, the Colts have lost two starters who will be replaced by inferior players in 2006.

We will get to the more high profile departure in a minute, but first, the Colts have lost David Thornton to the Titans. Clearly, linebacker is not a position valued by the Colts. Over the past four seasons, they have let Mike Peterson and Marcus Washington leave without much of an effort to retain them. Those two have gone on to play at a Pro Bowl level, but the Colts defense has continued to improve without them. Losing Thornton and replacing him with Gilbert Gardner is a definite downgrade, but the Colts Cover-2 system places little emphasis on linebackers in general.

Obviously, the biggest story for the Colts this off-season has been the departure of Edgerrin James. Nobody can say what the effect of James' departure will be on the Colts. Even team president Bill Polian -- who never seemed particularly interested in re-signing James – would admit that James will be missed this season. The decision not to sign him was made with a prediction of declining production from James in year three or four of his new contract.

To see what impact an Edge-less backfield will have on the Colts, the best an analyst can do is to look back at 2001, the year James blew out his ACL. In that season, Dominic Rhodes, an undrafted free agent, stepped in and had an exceptional year. Rhodes racked up a DPAR of 17.6, good for ninth in the league. That performance gives credence to the notion that James' production can be reasonably replaced.

Several factors make that a questionable assumption. First, Rhodes was unable to approach James' production as a receiver, and no player picked up at the end of the first round is likely able to match that production either. According to DPAR, James was the third most effective receiver among running backs a season ago. Second, Peyton Manning's worst season since his rookie year coincided with James' injury. Third, the Colts in 2001 did not play exclusively the no-huddle offense that they have employed the last several seasons. One can easily imagine early struggles as a rookie tries to adjust to the system.

The Colts should remain one of the best offenses in the NFL, but they will definitely miss Edgerrin James. Their offense the past three seasons has been a well-oiled machine, and James has been a major reason for the success. This year's offense may look more like the Colts pre-2003, very good but not the best in the league.

The Colts rarely shop in the veteran free agent market, but this year, they decided to venture out and replace their idiot kicker with the greatest kicker who ever lived, Adam Vinatieri. Vinatieri has been known to turn water into wine, part the Red Sea, and on his death bed will achieve total consciousness.

The Patriots would certainly not have won the 2001 Super Bowl without Vinatieri, but then again, the Atlanta Braves would not have won the 1992 NLCS if it were not for Francisco Cabrera. In the 2003 Super Bowl, Vinatieri went 1-for-3 on field goals. His contribution against Philadelphia a year later was a 22-yard chip shot that stretched the lead to ten points.

The Colts certainly could have used Vinatieri circa 2001 when Mike Vanderjagt came out and choked on his final play as a Colt. Would the current Vinatieri have hit that field goal? Hard to say, given the fact that Mr. Clutch himself missed his only attempt over 40 yards in the playoff loss to Denver this year. The Colts will certainly feel more confident if a playoff game comes down to a game-winning kick, but the odds of such a kick arising from a distance where Vinatieri is likely to hit what Vanderjagt would miss are long.

None of this means that Vinatieri is not a great kicker. He has been one of the best in the business for a number of years, and he has rightly earned his place in the pantheon of Boston heroes. The problem is that a kicker just really is not that important, and Vinatieri's field-goal prowess is unlikely to lead to any additional wins for the Colts.

Where Vinatieri provides a noticeable upgrade is in his ability to kick off. The Colts still have kickoff specialist Jose Cortez on the roster, but Vinatieri should be able to handle those duties himself. Adjusted for weather conditions, Vinatieri's kickoffs were worth an estimated 4.9 points in field position to New England last year. The Colts, with Vanderjagt and a string of kickoff specialists, have never done better than -7.2 points over the past three seasons. Not only will the Colts get that advantage, but they will have an extra roster spot on game day that has been wasted on a kickoff specialist.

Draft Preview

Rule number one when projecting the Colts draft strategy is to see what their needs are and find an appropriate Big Ten player to fill the hole. Their first two picks each of the last three years have come from Big Ten schools.

This year's hole is obviously at running back where Rhodes is atop the depth chart. Based on their predilection for Big Ten players, the Colts must be praying that Laurence Maroney falls to them. Some mock drafts show Maroney fall all the way to the Colts at the 30th pick while others have him going in the mid-teens. The Colts have no power to decide whether they get Maroney.

Assuming that Maroney, DeAngelo Williams, and Lendale White are gone by the time the Colts pick, they will likely be left choosing between Joseph Addai, Maurice Drew, and Brian Calhoun. Calhoun gets the early edge as a Wisconsin alum. His poor showing at the combine could lead the Colts to gamble and hope they come away with him at the end of the second round. Addai provides the versatility that will be lost without James and is the more likely pick should Maroney be off the board.

Later in the draft, the Colts will likely add a linebacker, a cornerback, and an offensive linemen. Gardner may need support in replacing Thornton, plus Cato June will be a free agent after next season. Tony Dungy seems intrigued with the possibility of moving Marlin Jackson (last year's first-round pick from Michigan) to safety, which would leave the team thin at cornerback. Finally, the Colts always spend a mid-round pick on an offensive lineman.

Jacksonville Jaguars

Williams, It Was Really Nothing

The Jaguars entered the free agent period with oodles of cash to spend. They were coming off their first playoff season since 1999. They moved quickly to sign Brian Williams to fill a hole at cornerback. Since then, owner Wayne Weaver has seemed intent on counting his own money.

The move for Williams was a good one, as he will fill in nicely as the number two cornerback beside Rashean Mathis. Last year, Williams moved between nickel cornerback and starter and was consistently productive. The Vikings ranked in the top ten in DVOA defending first, second, and third receivers, and the team's turnaround coincided, in part, to Williams getting more playing time due to an injury to Fred Smoot. The Williams signing was one of the best by any team this off-season.

After Williams, however, the Jaguars did nothing. Technically, they added Mike Williams and Stockar McDougle to shore up their offensive line and signed Tony Williams, the former Cincinnati defensive tackle. The two offensive tackles will compete with incumbent Maurice Williams at right tackle.

The rumor mill says that the Jaguars are still considering adding tight end Roland Williams, defensive tackle Josh Williams, and long-time Football Outsiders favorite Moe Williams. The national anthem on opening day will be sung by Vanessa Williams, after which comedian Robin Williams will recite the new poem "Ode to the Jaguars" by poet William Carlos Williams:

So much depends upon
an aging receiver
and two large tackles

Despite having ample salary cap space, the Jaguars let starters Kenny Wright and Akin Ayodele flee to Washington and Dallas respectively. Wright has been adequately replaced by Brian Williams, but the Jaguars have nobody on the roster to replace the workmanlike Ayodele. The Jaguars showed interest in Will Witherspoon but lost him to the Rams. As it currently stands, 2005 fifth round pick Pat Thomas is on top of the depth chart at outside linebacker.

Draft Preview

The gaping hole at outside linebacker makes it easy to imagine what direction the Jaguars will go in this draft. They have taken an offensive player with their first pick and two of their first three picks in each of the past three drafts.

Picking 28th, the Jaguars are likely hoping that Chad Greenway falls all the way into their laps. Greenway's stock has slipped as the draft approaches, but he is someone who should be able to fill in competently as a rookie. Also in the mix could be Thomas Howard or Ernie Sims if they want to emphasize athleticism or DeMeco Ryans if they want an intelligent player sure to contribute immediately. Do not rule out the possibility of Jacksonville going after Miami linebacker Leon Williams.

The mock draft has Greenway going before the Jaguars pick and projects them taking Nick Mangold, a center out of Ohio St. While I agree that a talented center would be a great addition to the Jaguars, their propensity to draft linemen in the second and third rounds leads me to believe they will follow that model again this year.

No mock draft or published report indicates the Jaguars are interested in upgrading their mediocre running game. Knowing the Jaguars, they will insert another mid-round talent to add to the glut of Greg Jones, Alvin Pearman, and LaBrandon Toefield. However, don't rule out a trade to get the rights to DeAngelo Williams.

Tennessee Titans

Free Agency Review

When the Titans waved goodbye to Derrick Mason, Samari Rolle, Joe Nedney, Fred Miller, Robert Holcomb, Carlos Hall, Andre Dyson, and Kevin Carter a season ago, it was with the intention of permanently solving their long-term cap problems. The higher salary cap that accompanied the new collective bargaining agreement suddenly left the Titans in a position to add to a team only one season removed from facing salary cap hell.

The Titans' newfound money was spent as successfully as any team in the early free agent period. They moved quickly and picked up David Givens, David Thornton, Chris Hope, and Kevin Mawae. The beautiful part of these signings was that, with the exception of Mawae, all are four-year veterans who are still in their prime.

Givens is the most high-profile of the signings, but he is probably the worst value. Hope and Thornton fulfill two major needs. The Titans were awful defending starting receivers. Although much of this was a result of poor cornerback play, their safeties were often caught out of position. Hope excels in coverage and will be a boon to their pass defense.

Thornton will shift over to strong-side linebacker, pairing with Keith Bulluck to provide Tennesse with a tandem of linebackers as athletic as any in the league. A year ago, the Titans ranked second in defending runs over left tackle where Bulluck stands. On runs behind right tackle, they ranked 26th.

Mawae is coming off a season lost to injury and is 35 years old. Only two seasons ago, he was considered among the best centers in the game. Incumbent starter Justin Hartwig signed with the Panthers, leaving a hole at center with no adequate in-house replacements. Signing Mawae to a contract with little guaranteed money is a decent gamble, although maybe one better made by a team closer to contending.

Givens was widely considered the second best receiving option on the free market and was actually a safer option than the more heralded Antwaan Randle El. The Titans also had a glaring hole at wide receiver opposite Drew Bennett. Thus, signing Givens was probably a wise move, even if it did cost $24 million.

Still, Givens has benefited from playing with Tom Brady, and he is probably not as good as his stats. His DPAR and DVOA a year ago were very good. Compared with the Patriots' number one and number three receivers – Deion Branch and Troy Brown – Givens' production was noticeably lower. In 2004, Givens' DVOA roughly matched David Patten's, and Redskins fans saw how he did away from Brady. Fortunately, Givens will be a co-number one with Bennett and will not pull an Alvin Harper or Peerless Price.

Draft Preview

The signing of Drew Brees by the Saints thrilled two organizations, New Orleans and Tennessee. Houston plans on taking Reggie Bush, and New Orleans no longer desires a quarterback. That leaves Tennessee sitting in prime position to take the quarterback of their choosing. All of this could be complicated by a potential trade into the top two by the Jets or some other team looking to snag Matt Leinart.

For fun, let us assume that the Titans do get their choice of quarterbacks. They have compelling reasons to draft all three of the top prospects, Leinart, Vince Young, and Jay Cutler. Leinart worked with offensive Norm Chow while at USC, and Leinart is certainly the safest bet to be a quality NFL quarterback.

Young is interesting because of the similarities to Steve McNair, who is already serving as a mentor to Young from afar. Both have excellent physical skills but played in shotgun heavy formations in college. Young is the more impressive runner but less developed as a passer than “Air McNair.� The Titans' success with bringing McNair along slowly and the opportunity to have him mentor Young have to intrigue the Titans.

Finally, Cutler played his college ball at Vanderbilt in Tennessee. He also starred at the Senior Bowl where the Titans coaching staff was running practices. All accounts say that Chow was impressed with Cutler, and many mock drafts had the Titans taking Cutler when Leinart was assumed to be going to the Saints.

The current buzz is that the Titans are leaning towards Young. While this is not unreasonable, it seems more likely that this is a smokescreen to prevent the Jets from trading up to the second spot and taking Leinart.

Complicating all of this, however, is McNair's unhappiness with his contract situation. He saw the fate of Jon Kitna, Kurt Warner, and Drew Brees in recent years. He fears being used as the “mentor� before being cast away. At that point, he would enter the free market a year older and potentially less healthy. A two-to-three-year commitment by the Titans would make sense for the short term future of the team. Leinart, however, is likely ready to play in the NFL next season or certainly the year after. The Titans are not likely to want to have McNair under contract at his market value if they are going to have Leinart under contract as well.

In recent days, the Titans have excluded McNair from the practice facility if he will not give them cap relief. He counts over $23 million against the cap because of all of the cap relief he has provided in previous seasons. McNair has no incentive to sign for multiple years if the Titans plan on using him only as a short-term solution. Since the Titans are already under the cap, they should just keep McNair and let him become a free agent after the season.

After their first pick, the Titans have two obvious holes to fill. First, they desperately need an upgrade at cornerback. Early in the second round, they may have a shot at Ashton Youboty or Richard Marshall. The other need is offensive tackle, where the Titans said goodbye to Brad Hopkins. They are shifting Michael Roos to left tackle and counting on Jacob Bell to move from back-up guard to starting right tackle. Houston picks ahead of Tennessee in the second round, and their need for offensive linemen could hurt the Titans.

Next week: NFC West and AFC East by guest columnists Doug Farrar and Bill Barnwell


72 comments, Last at 28 Apr 2006, 5:27pm

1 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

'. . . the Atlanta Braves would not have won the 1991 NLCS if it were not for Francisco Cabrera.'

And thus, Ned takes revenge on Pittsburgh.

Knife + twist = ow.

2 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE 1

Actually it was more like

Hey you!
You turn around
Stab, twist

3 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Surely the Jags will trade up and draft DeAngelo Williams?

4 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Cutler... also starred at the Senior Bowl where the Titans coaching staff was running practices.

By all accounts, he starred in the practices. But he actually sucked in the Senior Bowl itself: 6-19-1, 69 yds, with 1 td and one sack. See link (comment #17) for my earlier post on Senior Bowl practices vs. game performance.

5 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Yeah Vince young is an idiot remember that test thing, and i dont think that a team located in Tenesesee is ready for a black quaterback

6 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

'Since the Titans are already under the cap, they should just keep McNair and let him become a free agent after the season.'

I was under the impression that while the Titans were under the cap, it was to the tune of $400k - not a lot of room to sign a no3 overall pick with. I don't think they can afford to keep McNair on his current cap number, and I don't think he has any interest in re-working it. I also can't see why they'd exclude him from the training facility if they were planning on keeping him on his current contract. Cutting him would save $9m.

'[Davis] also is similar in size and style to Bush'

Huh? Davis is 5'9, 216lbs. Bush is 6'0, 200lbs. That's three inches taller and a stone lighter. Fairly different build. Davis is a tough runner who's effective in the redzone. He has good quickness, but indifferent open-field speed, as evidenced by the team's rankings of 27th, 31st and 29th in his three years as a starter. Bush is known for his astonishing quickness, agility and breakaway speed; he is a home-run threat from anywhere on the field, but he comes out in the red-zone and in short yardage situations. Davis is a workhorse back; Kubiak is on the record as saying that he expects Bush to average between 10 and 15 touches a game, but that he can be effective enough in those touches to justify a first overall selection. Both are good receivers, but Davis is unlikely ever to be motioned out into the slot a la Faulk/Westbrook, which Bush will be. Davis is a good check-down option; Bush is a genuine receiving threat. Admittedly, Davis is not as good a complement for Bush as Jonathan Wells would have been - it is the contract situation that has dictated Davis' stay and Wells' expected departure. Nevertheless, I'd expect to see them both get quite a lot of playing time.

As for Moulds, however much he may have declined, he has the substantial advantage, from a Texans viewpoint, of not being Corey Bradford. He was still able to catch 62% of the balls thrown in his vague general area by, for the most part, J.P. Losman, for over 800 yards last season, and Bills fans claim he faced regular double coverage.

Walter, meanwhile, was stuck behind a superb receiving group in Cincinnati, and his 19 grabs on 29 regular season targets last year were good for 5.6 DPAR - 6th among receivers with 49 targets or less. He also had a superb game in the wild-card round against Pittsburgh, when Chris Henry went down early, making 5 catches for 73 yards. The man he will replace, Jabar Gaffney, took fully 90 targets to produce a DPAR of 1.1 last season. He is supposedly a stand-out blocker to boot, and has drawn comparisons to Joe Jurevicius and Ed McCaffrey.

As for the offensive line, this is where the biggest upgrade of all has taken place, not in the addition of Flanagan, but in the subtraction of Joe Pendry. We all saw the difference Houck made to Miami's OL last year. I honestly believe that if there is such a thing as a replacement level offensive line coach, Pendry is as far below it as Houck or Alex Gibbs is above it. Kubiak and Mike Sherman, meanwhile, have a history of being associated with some pretty good offensive lines. I'd expect substantial improvement on that front.

I think, in the grand scheme of things, the Texans will struggle next year, through the combination of many new players bedding into a new system under a first time head coach, with a schedule that includes the nightmarish NFC East and tougher than average fourth placed opponents in the Raiders and Browns. A team that might have had a winning record against last year's schedule may well go 6-10 against this year's. But I think the Texans are very likely to be one of the most improved teams in football in 2006.

7 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Sorry, in early part of the discussion of Davis vs. Bush above, for 'rankings' read '10+ rankings'.

8 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Re 5: If that's true, I would be very interested to know what color you think Steve McNair's skin is.

10 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

re 5 'Yeah Vince young is an idiot remember that test thing, and i dont think that a team located in Tenesesee is ready for a black quaterback' interesting....... i'm not even sure how to approach this one... I just had to copy and paste though so someone else gets to read this comment. Amazing. What does it even mean? Ponder this comment for too long and your brain is likely to explode in your skull...... has he even watched football in the past decade?

11 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Re 5: If that’s true, I would be very interested to know what color you think Steve McNair’s skin is.

That's different. Steve McNair is clearly an Oompa Loompah.

12 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

re #8 thru 10: I assumed #5 was sarcasm. I'm not sure what prompted it though, so perhaps a literal reading is correct.

13 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

It was the 92 NLCS sorry braves fan here had to point that out.Slide SID SLIDE.

14 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

McNair is a Scottish name. He is just a compulsive tanner.

15 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Is there any chance the Colts would start using the huddle again until a new RB gets comfortable, or is that completely out of the question?

And looking at a hypothetical for a second, would the Texans have been better off using their second round pick on a WR and the fifth they traded for Moulds on an O-lineman?

16 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE 12 (MRH)

I took it to be sacrasm too.

RE 11 (PAT)

an Oompa Loompah? Well OK.... I think ...

17 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE 15

What and make Peyton feel uncomfortable?

19 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

David, come on can't you do a little better than bad stereotypes about the South?

By my reckoning, there are nine football teams located in the southeast(The teams in Texas and Florida and Tennesee, New Orleans, and Carolina). Of those, four(New Orleans, Atlanta, Tennesee, and Jacksonville)had black starting quarterbacks last year. Miami should have one this year, and Dallas and Carolina have one recently.

21 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

No, I think #5 was actually the lost verse to 'Ode to the Titans,' the second part of William Carlos Williams' 'AFC South Cycle.' But everyone knows Williams was a Neil O'Donnell fan, so he was just grasping at straws there.

22 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Re 5: Perhaps FO should create a new acronym for this sort of post. I would like to put forth

23 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

BASS, which stands for Brilliantly Accidental Sarcastic Stupidity.

24 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE: 23

Suddenly, 'I caught you a delicious bass' comes to mind from Napoleon Dynamite. (Apparently, this article caught one, too.)

25 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Everyone knows
Carr has the tools,
And the heart,
To succeed, but for coaching.

I hear Neil O'Donnell is avaliable.

26 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I think the Vinatieri nab is more of the Colts trying to improve themselves when they invariably visit bad weather stadiums. I have no clue how Vanderjagt did in bad weather, but I'm just going to assume he usually was not at the top of his game. Vinatieri has a ton and a half of bad weather experience, meaning when the Colts visit Denver and New England this year, Vinatieri might actually help make the difference. I also think it's another attempt at getting someone who can help them beat the Patriots and Vinatieri's bad weather experience and history with the Pats can offer a bit of a physical and psychological edge the Colts didn't have before. That said, scrapping for everything they can to beat the Pats, which I think the Colts have a definite pre-occupation with, kind of ignores that at least for the moment the Steelers have passed them both by.

27 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I was also under the impression that the Titans did not have the room under the cap to sign any impending rookie pool, and therefore will not have the space to even think about keeping, McNair, especially at $23 to $24 million, isn't it?

Re 14: Actually, I think McNair is an Irish version of the Scottish name. It's also a lot more likely to be Irish since there was a huge influx of black immigrants into Ireland. Anyone familiar with the history of the ''Black Irish''? I say black and not African because I don't know it they largely came straight from Africa or through other European countries. I know the movement happened, but I don't really know when or why Ireland of all places.

It would be interesting to see David Givens comparison chart. I.E. Not just players who had a similar career start and what they did later, but players who had a similar career start before switching teams and what they did later.

The lack of grammar or proper capitalization seems unplanned and if it was a joke I think more things would be mis-spelled and it would be...I don't know...different somehow. Feels like a serious post to me. I think we just caught ourselves a delicious BASS.

28 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Actually, Vanderjagt was just as good in bad weather as in good weather. Vanderjagt's a very accurate kicker. Just not a consistent one. He knows where he wants to kick it - whether or not he can consistently do that is another thing.

In any case, them firing Vanderjagt has made me a happy person - the Fire Mike Vanderjagt petition can finally rest. The Cowboys signing Vanderjagt has made me even happier.

29 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Vinatieri has been known to turn water into wine, part the Red Sea, and on his death bed will achieve total consciousness. he's go that going for him, which is nice.

30 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

To answer your question, Basilicus, the 'Black Irish' are by legend descendants of survivors of the Spanish Armada, which was finished off by a hurricane off the Irish coast. Being all good Catholics, the local women married the dark-haired and darker-skinned Spaniards.

In more likely terms, the 'Black Irish' are the purest remainders of the original Celtic people of Ireland -- the stereotype fair hair and skin is the result of Viking invasions and rule.

31 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The Smiths are in my head now. Nice.

Heaven knows you're miserable now.

I thought I'd be the only one that got the

32 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The Smiths are in my head now. Nice.

Quote bug strikes again.

I'd be the only one that got the 'Williams it was really nothing' joke. Kudos, Ned- where else can we talk Morrissey and NFL Football at the same time?

33 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Re 30:

Hmm...the things I learn while talking football. Wikipedia describes that the Spanish Armada theory would not have had a significant enough genetic impact to have formed a significant group. It suggests, ''The myth of the Black Irish was coined in America to explain the existence of Irish people whose appearance did not conform to stereotypical images of what Irish people look like.''

Also: ''The term has also been used to refer to the offspring of Irish and African slaves in the Caribbean, and many Irish surnames can still be found in the region. Montserrat is the Caribbean island with the greatest levels of Irish heritage as it was forcibly settled by the English crown using Irish slaves. These Irish slaves were eventually replaced by West African slaves who took on the names and surnames of the prior inhabitants, much as African slaves in the United States took on the names of their owners.''

So that could be another explanation. Interesting. I'd always thought it had been some sort of mass immigration thing into Ireland, which now that I think of it doesn't make a ton of reasonable sense.

34 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

There was also a fair amount of Irish, and more to the point, Scottish migration, forced and otherwise, to the American South. The English had a vested interest in getting rid of as many local landowners as possible, so they could hand out estates to their unlanded nobility. The Appalchians in particular are full of Macs and Mcs.

35 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Tut tut, FO, not up to your usual brilliant standards. You completely ignored the fact that the Jags re-signed John Henderson (probably the best DT in the game). More importantly, they are one of the favourites, if not the favourite to land Lavar Arrington.

36 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE 34

I thought that was because they were all bother/sister or something like that. ;-)

37 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

So, what you're saying is the rain will fall hard on the humdrum town of Jacksonville? Judging by the Super Bowl reviews from Jacksonville, maybe it really is a humdrum town.

38 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Tony Dungy seems intrigued with the possibility of moving Marlin Jackson (last year’s first-round pick from Michigan) to safety,

Lloyd Carr, in his infinite wisdom (snicker), tried this my Junior year...and Marlin went from All-America to earning a PhD in suckology.

Granted, he was playing behind

39 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

''Burnt Toast'' Curry, but nevertheless, this has bad idea written all over it...

40 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Has no one else picked up on the fact that thornton played strongside linebacker last year? Cato June played weakside (a more important position on the tampa 2 scheme). Brian Williams may well be a solid starter for the Jags but they overpaid for him.
re: 29 very, very funny
re: 11 aren't oompa loompas short and orange?
re: 30 the term Celtic is mistakenly applied to the Scots, Welsh and Irish. The first use of the term was by Heroditus and he was talking about a tribe in Gaul, he'd never been to the British isles. There is no evidence supporting tribal linkages between Gauls and the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland.
general appeal, how do you start a new paragraph on this thrice blasted website?

41 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

wow. i'm irish and this black irish thing is completely new to me. up until about ten years ago ireland was the most homogenous culture going. we were all catholic potato loving white people. this supposed immigration never happened although these days ireland is quite multicultural and much the better for it.

42 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

With the marquee backs likely gone by the time the Colts pick why not a trade for D Davis? I know thy are division opponents but I cant imagine a large role for Davis with the Texans and they could use certainly the extra picks, meanwhile the Colts will end up with a better back then they could have selected otherwise, heck he'd probably be thrilled to be starting for Indy.

43 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Thanks... so ... much... Ned, my fellow Colt fan, for doubly sticking a knife in my ribs by mentioning how great Vinatieri was for the Pats in the same sentence you remind me of career-scrub Francisco Cabrera beating my Pirates in their best chance to win the World Series since Willie Stargell wore size 32 trousers! Oh the pain the pain of a Pirate/Colt fan in the 80's and 90's! We had the talent for a while, got close, but... gasp... can't... quite... make... it... all... the... way.

And five years into a new milennium... will my torment never end?

Stevie, nice thought on D Davis for Indy, but can you have two Domanic(k)s in the backfield? Weird. I don't see them doing it, but he generally ran real well against them and he's still young enough, and if he can run for 1,000+ yards for Houston, he may well be a 1,400+ yard man in Indy. Can he pick up the blitz and be a serious receiving threat? I dunno. But I think it's a great idea. Anybody got Polian's number?

44 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

So the Llama hauls off and whacks one, big hitter, the Llama, into a 10,000 foot crevasse...

45 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Davis was lambasted on this site many times for his atrocious blitz-pickup non-ability. I've never seen a Texans game, but there were so many posts that were so adamant about it, that I can't imagine he's very good at blocking. Certainly way out of James' league.

46 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I’ve never seen a Texans game, but there were so many posts that were so adamant about it, that I can’t imagine he’s very good at blocking. Certainly way out of James’ league.

It may be a little confusing to try and pick up the blitz from behind the Texan's O-Line. I mean which guy running untouched toward the QB do I step in front of? There's just so many of them.

DD can receive well: I was 5th in Receiving DPAR 2004 and 8th in 2005.

47 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE 44

Why are you bringing caddyshack up into this post....

Oh yeah Brett Favre started his Charity Golf tournament today so....

Or are you a Golf fan as well PDBIP?

48 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

When you say it’s gonna happen now
Well, when exactly do you mean ?
See, I’ve already waited too long
And all my hope is gone

49 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

the term Celtic is mistakenly applied to the Scots, Welsh and Irish. The first use of the term was by Heroditus and he was talking about a tribe in Gaul, he’d never been to the British isles.

While technically correct, the application of the term

50 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Stupid quotes...

the term Celtic is mistakenly applied to the Scots, Welsh and Irish. The first use of the term was by Heroditus and he was talking about a tribe in Gaul, he’d never been to the British isles.

While technically correct, the application of the term 'Celtic' to the language group comprised of the Gaelic and Brythonic language branches (and their associated cultures) is of great age and well-entrenched among modern scholarship. So it is perfectly acceptable.

There is no evidence supporting tribal linkages between Gauls and the inhabitants of Britain or Ireland.

Untrue. There are groups with the same name in both Britain and Gaul (i.e. the Atrebates), there are similiarities in material culture (the Arras culture) and there are the linguistic connections. This is not to say that the Britons and the Gauls were the same. It's true that there is no monolithic 'Celtic' culture, but there are enough commonalities to justify talking about these peoples together.

51 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

35, If John Henderson is the best DT in the game, I must've been drunk for the last few years.

52 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

DD can receive well: I was 5th in Receiving DPAR 2004 and 8th in 2005.

You're Domanick Davis?!?!?!?

53 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

You've unmasked me. I've been trying to use these unconventional stats to get a bigger contract with a team that's not actively seeking to kill its QB.

54 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Matthew C-
You are correct about Thornton's actual position, and the article has been adjusted accordingly. Also of note, Thornton used to play weakside before Marcus Washington left and Thornton moved to strongside. Thornton had 145 tackles when he played the higher-impact weakside, and had he still been there this year when the Colts finally had a defense, he would have been a Pro Bowl player.

55 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

51: Have you SEEN what he's done the last two years? Just last year he had 16 more tackles than any interior lineman in the game.

56 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The Titans started to tank from the year they sank huge money into Eddie George and Steve McNair. The great defense which took them to the Super Bowl and kept them in the playoffs has lost a bunch of talented players to free agency because of money wasted on those two.

McNair is an inconsistent passer who cannot read defenses and has never hit a hot read in his life. He can no longer scramble and his protection has degraded since the 2003 season when it was stellar. Because he holds the ball too long and cannot scramble, he is a slam dunk to get injured every season.

(BTW -does Vegas give odds on a player getting injured?)

Since McNair's problems will only get worse with age, why would they want to hold on to him?

The Titans won't get better until Fisher goes back to emphasizing his bread and butter -- defense and kicking game.

The Jags' biggest problem is QB. They have had solid defense and an effective running game in the past and Leftwich has lacked the consistency needed to get it into the end zone from the red zone. He's not horrible. He just doesn't produce the results that quality pass pro and a running game should provide. Especially with a good defense.

57 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

re: John Henderson

I think he is better than Stroud and should have gone to the Pro Bowl instead. Stroud is great. Henderson is better.

58 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

56. Leftwich was 9th in DVOA last year, and 18th in 2004. He was on pace for a good statistical season before his injury.

I haven't heard that JAX had quality pass protection before. Perhaps you and I were watching different games...

He has produced value for the #7 pick in 2003 - only Palmer (#1) is really comparable that year. In fact, looking at 2002, 2003 and 2004, only the top picks plus Roethlisberger are difinatively better. You can make the argument that JAX should have picked Roethlisberger in 2004 (obviously the Best Available Player at JAX's position), but PIT successfully played chicken.

59 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

I'm not saying Moulds isn't overrated, but for a 5th-round pick I think he's a worthwhile pickup. True, his stats have dropped since 2000, but who's been throwing to him in that time? JP Losman was a disaster last year, Drew Bledsoe had the worst years of his career in Buffalo, and Rob Johnson was the East Coast's answer to Ryan Leaf. Considering the number, and low-quality of QBs Moulds has had throwing to him, I think his numbers are pretty impressive.

Now, that's not to say he isn't past his prime. He most likely is. But I still think he's an asset to the Texans, who have never had two good receivers at the same time.

60 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

They didn't get Moulds for a 5th round pick. I hate that terminology...

They got Moulds for a 5th round pick and a $5M signing bonus (plus his salary, so probably like $5.5M total).

So they basically got Moulds for a 5th round pick and the price of Keyshawn Johnson. That's the part that makes it a pretty good deal.

61 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Great article and I think it's a great idea. A lot of thought was put into this and it is a tremendous and genuine attempt to really put each football play (and thus staticics themselves) into a true perspective, rather than the sometimes illusional persective created by traditional statics.

Potential problems are:

Complexities will leave the average fan ignoring the system.

Most team sports, and especially football, cannot be statistically broken down into a true indicator of individual skill level. How good is the baseball player who is great at hitting slow ground balls to the right side on hit-and-runs? How good is the left Guard who isn't a steam-roller so he gets few pancake blocks, but is always cutting his man off from the ball carrier?
The back who is always in the right place to pick up a block on the blitz? Is this a Martz offense or a Shottenheimer one? Who is playing on the defense THIS week - The DVOA can't account for every change in the D from injuries and trades to changing talent starter changes. How did the death of Dungy's son affect the Colts? How did having the number one spot PO wrapped up affect those last few games for the Colts? Statistics will always be just statistics, no matter how complicated the system. Scouts, fans, coaches and players will always have their opinions on who the 'best' is at each position. But the great thing about team sports IS 'The Hidden Game' within them.

MHO - I hope I didn't offend with the negative part. I really feel it is a great idea despite my feelings on the potential problems with it, and my feelings on ANY statistic.

Even runners have them - Was it inside? What material was the track made of? Temperature? Humidity? Did I take a crap today? A timed solo run over a measured distance is a relatively pure statistic, but even those create elemental differences.

62 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Nice comment Rick. Many of these problems you address have been discussed, so Aaron and the boys are aware of some of the shortcoming.

One thing to remember, the stats are not supposed to be predictive, but rather simply analyse what has happened on the field in the past.

Also, most of the stats are not meant to measure individual ability either, but rather individual success, as a great player in the wrong system will be less successful overall than an average player in the correct system (at least I think so).

63 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Two questions regarding the Colts kickoffs:

1) You can't find a kickoff specialist that is better than -7.2 pts/season?

2) On average, how many points is a roster spot worth? (This would effect many personnel decisions.)

64 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

kuato, I dont think anyone would read this site(or bother with stats in general) if they thought it didn't have any predictive value.

65 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

As far as Davis is concerned, there is virtually no possibility of him being traded this off-season, as the bonus acceleration would be such that it is actually cheaper to keep him. In a year's time, his base salary jumps considerably, and he may be cut or traded at that point. This year, he is likely to get more carries than any other member of a backfield committee of Bush, Davis and Morency.

If a 2005 Texan running back is playing for Indy next season, it will be Jonathan Wells, who is an unrestricted free agent. Wells performed more than adequately when he deputised for Davis last season, and is a solid all-around back who can run, catch and block (he is something of an HB-FB tweener). No way of knowing whether he can take the workload required of a featured back, but I think he'd be an excellent and affordable pick-up for the Colts.

66 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Vanderjagt: I was as tired of his antics as anyone. Sure he missed the field goal that would have beat the steelers, (a field goal that a supposedly superior team shouldn't have needed.) But he missed two kicks in 2005, and is currently the all time most accurate kicker in the history of the NFL. So even Adam

67 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

Re: Bob

I agree that the stats do have predictive value to us. We look at DVOA and try to extrapolate likely future scenarios. For example, we might believe the team with the best DVOA in the past we be the team with the best DVOA in the future. Or we might think a highly ranked team will beat a lowly ranked team. I personally feel DVOA is a great tool to help me understand the game.

However, the stats themselves are not predictive; they are reactive. They tell us how a particular team has done in the past in a variety of situations. As humans, we can use this information to try and predict future outcomes, but each of us will always come away with varying assumptions and accuracy. I think it is just a matter of semantics: the stats don't predict, they react; it is the humans that predict while reacting to the stats.

In short. Keep up the good work FO!

68 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

RE 67

So that is why they have they phrase ''any given Sunday''. Wow I thought with all this talk about stats and everything I should just give up my subscription to NFL Sunday Ticket and give the TiVo to my brother. No sense in watching a game when a 'statisticly' better team is playing a worse team huh?

69 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

The first overall pick is sometimes considered a curse because of the massive bonus paid out to an unproven player. Recent history questions this assumption. From 1996-2004, all but one of the teams with the first overall pick have made the playoffs within four years. That one team, of course, is the Texans.

That's silly logic. A team making the playoffs within 4 seasons makes it worthwhile? 12 teams make the playoffs every year. If you don't make the playoffs once in a 4-year stretch, you have to wonder what's going on with the franchise.

Having the 1st overall pick in the other rounds is usually valuable. Drafting 1st overall often isn't, because of the prohibitive cost.

Unfortunately, the signing of Drew Brees by New Orleans means that teams interested in Matt Leinart or Young can trade up to the second spot.

The signing of Drew Brees doesn't mean a whole heck of a lot, because it's essentially a one year deal. However, New Orleans probably wants to see if he has what it takes before they draft a QB in the 1st, so they may wait for next season. And heck, maybe Adrian McPherson will get a shot eventually.

About Vinatieri:

There is no doubt that the Colts overpaid (they play in a dome. Giving big money to a kicker is silly) for what Vinatieri is, but he's been great in the RCA Dome in his career.

Those three players were the second, third, and fourth overall selection of the draft, meaning they came to equally un-talented teams.

Wrong. That's a foolish generalization. One of the teams could have been talented, but had a bad year due to injuries (or bad luck, etc.). Just because a team drafts high does not automatically been the team is bereft of talent.

70 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

About your last point, Sid, that just because certain teams were 2, 3, 4 overall doesn't mean they were untalented. You might technically be right not to infer talent from draft position, but in this specific case the fact that the three teams then went 32-48, 40-40, and 29-38-3, despite having three of the most gifted players ever, shows that they were pretty crap-tastic.

71 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

You must be adopted. Your real name has to be William Billy Williams

72 Re: Four Downs: AFC South

What ever happened to Volek? Weren't there a few teams interested in him? Could he at least be a short term solution for the Titans? I find it a little interesting that he is being completely overlooked.