Each offseason NFL teams have to reload via the draft, free agency or trades. With these moves bring new issues every year, which is part of the reason fans love the build-up to the next season. In this series of blogs I’ll address an issue facing each team in the NFL. Some may be bigger than others and some teams may have more issues to deal with as well, but I’ll only focus on one for now.
The Indianapolis Colts have the biggest issue in the NFL – moving on from Peyton Manning. The Colts made a positive step in this in the NFL Draft in April as they selected the new face of the franchise --quarterback Andrew Luck. With Manning missing the entire 2011 season, the Colts struggled mightily and had no backup plan. Now Manning is in Denver and Luck becomes the successor of a future Hall of Famer, which will bring plenty of stress and pressure on Luck. Indy played its cards right in the draft though. Knowing Luck’s favorite target at Stanford was his tight end, Coby Fleener, Indy grabbed him at the beginning of the second round.
Luck found Fleener 34 times for 667 yards and 10 touchdowns in their senior season with the Cardinal. It may not be flashy, but it’s a start. Luck has big shoes to fill and the Colts are at least trying to make it a smooth transition for the rookie signal caller. And if Luck and the Colts do struggle, Indy fans have to remember Manning’s rookie season and know it won’t make or break Luck’s NFL career. Colts fans should get ready for the rebuilding process and know that Luck and company are a heck of a foundation for the future.
The Jacksonville Jaguars have had a void at the wide receiver position for years, ever since the days of Jimmy Smith and Keenan McCardell. The Jaguars made a big move on draft day by moving up to take Oklahoma State product, Justin Blackmon. Is this the only question mark for the Jags – no, but Blackmon gives them a big-play receiver. Jacksonville also went out and overpaid for Laurent Robinson, after his breakout season with the Cowboys last season.
Robinson entered the 2011 season with just four touchdowns and 1,000 yards receiving. He caught 54 passes for 858 yards and 11 scores in Dallas last season, something that will be hard to duplicate with the Jags. Just how bad were the Jaguars in 2011 in terms of passing? Jacksonville ranked 32nd in the league - averaging an awful 136 passing yards per contest -which is something that needs to change. Opponents will continue to stack the box against Maurice Jones-Drew if the Jags can’t show they can stretch the field out through the passing game. In Jacksonville’s defense, they at least made some moves to address a hole on the team; whether it will work or not is another question.
Houston is coming off a 10-6 campaign and the team’s first playoff appearance in franchise history. One has to think, does a team like this have any holes entering the 2012 season? The Texans boasted the second best rushing offense in 2011 behind Arian Foster and Ben Tate. Houston also had one of the best defenses in the league. While the Texans did loose Mario Williams to the Bills in free agency, Williams played in only five games in 2011, so the defense did well without the former No. 1 pick for most of the season. To fill to void on the D-line the Texans selected Whitney Mercilus out of Illinois in the first round of April’s draft.
With that being said the biggest issue for Houston entering the 2012 season will be the health of Andre Johnson. Houston averaged 219 passing yards per game last year, which ranked 18th in the NFL. Johnson has been plagued by injuries the last two seasons, limiting him to 20 games – seven in 2011. If Houston wants to stay at the top of the AFC South, Johnson will have to be 100 percent. With Johnson banged up the leading receiver on the team was tight end Own Daniels with 54 grabs for 677 yards and three scores. Johnson still had the fourth most yards on the team, which just goes to show how important he is. A healthy Andre Johnson should mean a repeat as AFC South Champions for the Texans.
The Titans have one of the best rushers in the NFL – in recent years – in Chris Johnson. So how did they average just 89 yards on the ground per game in 2011, which ranked 31st in the league? Some may blame it on Johnson’s holdout and not being ready for the start of the season. Others may say opposing defenses stacked the box against the Titans, which held Johnson to some subpar games. He still managed to total 1,047 yards, but found the end zone just four times. How important is CJ to the Tennessee offense? Very. The Titans totaled just 1,438 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground in 2011.
Javon Ringer was the next highest rusher on the team with 185 yards and one score. Johnson had his worst campaign of his career in terms of yards and touchdowns, but was still the best rushing option on the team. The one thing Johnson brings to the table as he’s missed just one game in his career and that came in his rookie year. If CJ can run wild on opposing defenses in 2012, the Titans should give the Texans a run for the AFC South title.
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