NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Titans cannot stop the run.

Their defense is surrendering a league-worst 145.4 yards a game.

Their schedule has done them no favors, as six of the seven backs who have eclipsed 100 yards against them rank in the NFL's top eight: DeMarco Murray (first), Le'Veon Bell (second), Justin Forsett (third), LeSean McCoy (fourth) and Arian Foster (tied-seventh).

On the flip side, each of those backs wouldn't rank quite so highy if the Titans hadn't made things so easy for them.

Foster had 20 carries for 151 yards, got another 22 yards on four catches and scored three touchdowns. He had a 43-yard run and a 34-yard touchdown run.

The Texans' running back is coming off a groin injury that kept him out of his team's last two games. He missed Week 3 with a hamstring injury and was ineffective the next game when he returned too quickly.

His 822 rushing yards this season are very impressive considering the missed chances.

"He's going to have all the confidence in the world," Titans inside linebacker Wesley Woodyard said. "Last game he hit us for a couple of long runs and got well over the 100-yard mark on us. So he's going to be building up, especially coming off an injury. Hopefully he'll get a chance to play this week.

"With us, it's another challenge, week in week out playing the best guys. We've got to rise this week. We can't continue to let guys get chunk yardage versus us. We've got to be men out there on the football field."

Giants vs. Jaguars preview

November, 27, 2014
Nov 27
video When: 1 p.m. ET Sunday Where: EverBank Field, Jacksonville, Fla. TV: Fox

Welcome back, Tom.

Former coach Tom Coughlin brings his New York Giants into EverBank Field on Sunday in a matchup of teams that have combined to lose 10 games in a row. The Giants haven’t won a game since Oct. 5 (over Atlanta) and the Jacksonville Jaguars haven’t won since beating Cleveland on Oct. 19.

One team’s streak has to end, right?

Unless -- a tie?

Giants reporter Dan Graziano and Jaguars reporter Michael DiRocco break down the matchup:

DiRocco: It seems like this topic has come up the last several years, but with the Giants on a six-game losing streak, Coughlin’s seat is as hot as it has ever been. Is this going to be his last season with the Giants and is there anything he can do to save his job?

Graziano: Yeah, last time Coughlin’s seat was this hot, he was coaching the Jaguars! But seriously, folks, the Giants and Coughlin haven’t made any decisions yet about next year, and I think the way they play in these final five games will go into the hopper along with anything and everything else they’ll consider. Their next four games are against teams with losing records. They’re 3-0 this year against teams with losing records. If they play well and get this thing back to, say, 7-9 as they did last year, it’ll be clear the team didn’t quit on Coughlin and it’ll be easier for the Giants to keep their all-time-great franchise coach around for Year 2 of this rebuilding process they’re undertaking. If they fall apart over this final month and finish 4-12 or something like that, I imagine all bets are off. But the Giants are in a dicey situation with Coughlin, because they ARE rebuilding on offense and he IS a two-time Super Bowl winner, so there are small-picture and big-picture reasons why just firing him isn’t an easy thing to do. When and if it’s time for the Giants to move on from Coughlin, I feel pretty safe guaranteeing that it’ll be presented as HIS decision, and a celebration of his time there, as opposed to an ugly firing.

They’re clearly rebuilding in Jacksonville, and I don’t think they’d be shy about admitting it. How’s that going in Year 2 of Gus Bradley and Year 1 of Blake Bortles? Do they look like the men to save the franchise?

DiRocco: It has certainly been rough. Bradley is 5-22 since he became the Jaguars’ coach and 18 of those 22 losses have been by double digits. While fans may not have understood just how bad things were going to get, general manager David Caldwell and Bradley did – but that’s not making it any easier for them to handle. The best way to describe the situation is to think of the Jaguars as a 1-year-old expansion franchise that didn’t get the benefit of an expansion draft or extra draft picks. The Jaguars and Carolina Panthers had those advantages in 1995 and were both playing in conference title games the following season. These Jaguars are still trying to piece together a roster from scratch. One of those pieces is Bortles, who seems to have everything you want in a franchise quarterback: size, athleticism, poise in the pocket, unflappable confidence, a good work ethic and intelligence. He played better earlier in the season and now seems like he’s trying to be too careful and not turn the ball over. Like all young quarterbacks, he has to learn to push through that. It’s hard to know right now if Bradley and Bortles are the right people to save the franchise. How much, if any, progress the team makes in 2015 should give us a clue.

Dan, Odell Beckham Jr.’s ridiculous catch against the Cowboys aside, what’s your projection on how good he can be? Megatron-level? Dez Bryant-level?

Graziano: Beckham was the No. 12 pick in the draft, so hopes were always high. I doubt he ends up comparable to either of those guys just because he doesn’t have their size. But obviously he can jump, and his speed and his hands are exceptional. Eli Manning and the Giants coaches have been especially impressed with the precision with which Beckham runs his routes, for a player so young. He seems driven to be great. After he missed all of training camp and the first four games of the season with a hamstring injury, he gravitated toward running back Rashad Jennings to ask him about his elaborate pre-practice and pregame warm-up routines, which are designed to limit the risk of soft-tissue injuries, and now he and Jennings do them together before practices and games. I think he can be a legitimate star receiver in the league as long as he stays healthy. He did leave Sunday night’s game briefly with a back injury, so that’s something to watch in terms of how much the Jags can expect to see him Sunday.

Which of Bortles’ young receivers do you think has the best chance to emerge as his No. 1 for the long term?

DiRocco: Marqise Lee was a big-time player at USC and has a lot of speed and big-play ability, but he struggled early in the season picking up the offense. He wasn’t always sure where he was supposed to be, didn’t completely have an understanding of the route adjustments he needed to make based on coverages, and didn’t run consistent routes. Plus, he had a hamstring injury that cost him three games. That’s why Allen Robinson, who was taken 22 picks after Lee in the second round, has had a bigger impact as a rookie. He’s still the team’s leading receiver (48 catches) despite the fact that he’ll only play in 10 games (he’s out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot). But Lee has the rare combination of speed and play-making ability. Defenses have to account for him because of that. It may take him another season to fully adjust, but I think he’ll eventually become Bortles’ No. 1 target.

The Giants rank 31st in total defense and rushing defense. What’s been their biggest issue and is it something that can be fixed over the final five games?

Graziano: Well, they’ve had a lot of injuries, but mainly in the secondary, where three of their top four cornerbacks are out for the year and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie is playing hurt. Up front, they’re without middle linebacker Jon Beason but have otherwise been fairly healthy. The guys who are supposed to dominate in the front four just haven’t. They’re not generating any pass rush at all. Before the game-winning touchdown pass Sunday night, Tony Romo had time to text his wife, “Hey, I’m gonna throw this touchdown pass as soon as Dez gets open and then I’m gonna head home. You need me to pick anything up?” Jason Pierre-Paul is playing for a contract, but he hasn’t been consistent enough to wow anyone into giving him the one he’ll want. They just don’t tend to win enough of their physical matchups, on either line, really.

Which brings me to my final question: The Jaguars are way up there among the league leaders in sacks, and Manning has faced a lot of pressure over this six-game losing streak. How tough is Jacksonville’s defensive front, and do you expect a big game from them Sunday?

DiRocco: The unit has played very well and what makes the pass rush so effective is that the production has come from across the front. Defensive end Chris Clemons, who had three sacks against Indianapolis last week, leads the group with 7.0 sacks. But 14.5 of the team’s 33 sacks have come from the interior of the defensive line. The two biggest contributors there are tackle Sen’Derrick Marks (5.0) and Ryan Davis (5.5), a part-time player who primarily lines up inside when the Jaguars go to their third-down rush package. The Jaguars got to Andrew Luck five times in the first half last week and that kept the Jaguars in the game. I think the defensive front is going to have to put the same kind of pressure on Manning to keep the game close because the offense is struggling so badly right now. Getting five sacks would be great, but it’s more important to pressure Manning into some bad decisions and hopefully get turnovers to put the offense in good field position.
HOUSTON -- Hearing the news that his friend and former teammate Eric Berry was facing a possible lymphoma diagnosis shocked Houston Texans safety Kendrick Lewis. He immediately reached out and quickly realized something about Berry.

"His mindset and his approach to how he’s going to attack it is just far beyond what you expect," Lewis said. "I know him. I know what type of person he is. If anybody could be strong about that, it’s Eric Berry."

Berry and Lewis were part of the same draft class in Kansas City. Berry was a first-round pick, and the Chiefs took Lewis in the fifth round. They grew close in their time together there through the end of the 2013 season. Lewis became a free agent and joined the Houston Texans before this season.

This week, news broke that a mass was found in Berry's chest that is suspected to be cancerous. Berry was placed on the nonfootball injury list. It was an all-too-familiar tale here in Houston. Texans offensive tackle David Quessenberry is currently battling lymphoma; he was diagnosed in June.

Quessenberry also reached out to Berry via Twitter and he's texted him every day since. When he called Berry, though, their conversation wasn't much different from normal conversations they might have. After asking how he was doing, Berry quickly turned the conversation back to football, Lewis's new team and what else was new in their lives.

"He’s a strong, very mentally tough guy," Lewis said. "It takes a lot to get Eric down and get him out of his comfort level. He’s always smiling, he’s always happy. … He’s got an obstacle that he’s facing, but he knows that with support and stuff like that, he’s going to be fine. With the grace of God, he’ll see him through."
INDIANAPOLIS -- With Hugh Thornton expected to miss Sunday's game against the Washington Redskins because of a knee injury, Joe Reitz will start at guard, according to a source.

Indianapolis Colts coach Chuck Pagano said during his media portion on Wednesday that they'll choose either Reitz or Xavier Nixon to start, but the decision has already been determined.

Thornton injured his knee against the Jaguars. Nixon initially replaced Thornton in the lineup before A.Q. Shipley, who lost his starting center position earlier this season, took over at the position.

The Colts can start Reitz at guard because right tackle Gosder Cherilus returned to practice Wednesday and is expected to play Sunday after missing last weekend's game with a shoulder injury. Reitz started at right tackle against the Jaguars.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Defensive end Andre Branch was back on the practice field on Wednesday for the first time in more than five weeks, and it appears he’s on track to make his return in Sunday’s game against the New York Giants.

Branch hasn’t practiced since he suffered a groin injury in the Jaguars’ 24-6 victory over Cleveland on Oct. 19.

"I’ve been working my tail off to be back," Branch said. "I’m pretty excited to get back out there with my brothers. I felt good, felt good sprinting. They took me through all the right protocol to get back but you can’t even correlate what it’s like going up against another person, pushing off on it."

Branch had played well before his injury (three sacks, two forced fumbles, one fumble recovery, two pass breakups), and defensive coordinator Bob Babich said he’s eager to see how Branch handles practice on Thursday and Friday because that will determine how much the Jaguars will use him against the Giants.

"We need to see where he’s going and we need to make sure that we don’t rush him," Babich said. "Hopefully he has his burst which I assume; a lot of times when a guy comes off an injury because he hasn’t been running quite as much his legs feel fresher and he does have a little different burst. So we’re excited to see that."

Branch, who practiced on a limited basis, said he’s not going to hold back when he does get on the field.

"You can't be [tentative]," he said. "I'm going to be smart, but not tentative. Concerned is way different than being tentative. You've got to be smart on it, take your time and don't rush it. But at the same time there should be no drop-off."

Defenisve ends Ryan Davis and Chris Smith got increased playing time during Branch's absence and contributed five sacks and three forced fumbles in the four games that Branch missed.

In addition to Branch, rookie linebacker Jeremiah George (ankle) practiced on a limited basis on Wednesday. Linebacker LaRoy Reynolds (neck) and receiver Cecil Shorts (illness) did not practice.

Coach Gus Bradley said Shorts was battling the flu and was seeing a doctor for treatment.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- The Tennessee Titans could have not one, not two, but three starting offensive linemen out against the Texans on Sunday.

Center Brian Schwenke (torn MCL in his left knee) is on injured reserve. Left tackle Taylor Lewan (high ankle sprain) didn’t practice Wednesday and it seems unlikely he’ll recover well enough or fast enough to play.

And right tackle Michael Oher was out Wednesday with a boot on his left foot to help a case of turf toe that’s been an issue for a couple weeks and was made worse by the Philadelphia game. Oher indicated the toe also has “something a little bit different” going on.

He hopes to play.

“I pride myself on being there and helping the team,” Oher said.

In talking about the toe, he revealed he suffered a partial tear of his upper biceps in Week 2 of the preseason when the Titans played at New Orleans.

At that point in time, with a healthy Michael Roos at left tackle, I think the Titans would have moved Lewan into the lineup if Oher’s arm injury rated as significant.

As for this week, the Titans are facing the Texans' J.J. Watt and it’s a huge threat to their immobile rookie quarterback, Zach Mettenberger.

Byron Stingily is the alternate at left tackle, Chris Spencer is now the starting center and Will Svitek is the backup to Oher.

“We don’t know for sure who’s going to line up there Sunday right now,” coach Ken Whisenhunt said. “We’ll work through the week, see how it progresses and somebody will be out there.”

Stingily has played some this year as a tackle-eligible with six linemen on the field, and he finished up for Lewan against the Eagles.

Stingily in his fourth season and started the final two games of 2012 and 2013 at right tackle. He said he’ll simply need to find a comfortable stance in order to play the left side.

“I’m a strong person, but I if I could just be more technique-sound, I’ll be good out there,” Stingily said. “I’m ready to go if he’s not up.”

Whisenhunt said it’s too simple to think the Titans can simply live in max-protect mode every snap in Houston.

“It’s an easy thing to say; everybody wants to say that,” Whisenhunt said. “But if you keep eight guys in and only have two guys out and they’re covered up, everybody wants to know why you couldn’t throw it down the field.”
INDIANAPOLIS -- What seemed like a temporary switch at the starting running back position for the Indianapolis Colts because Trent Richardson missed some practice time last week with flu-like symptoms was actually not the case.

Colts coach Chuck Pagano actually started Daniel “Boom” Herron at running back against the Jacksonville Jaguars because he outperformed Richardson in practice last week.

Pagano didn’t say who will start at running back against the Washington Redskins on Sunday, but if he goes off performance against the Jaguars, Herron will continue to start.

Herron rushed 12 times for 65 yards and had five catches for 31 yards. Richardson rushed for 42 yards and a touchdown on 13 attempts and didn’t have any catches out of the backfield. Richardson and Herron played 41 and 32 snaps, respectively, against Jacksonville.

The Colts rushed for a season-high 175 yards against Jacksonville, but they needed Andrew Luck, T.Y. Hilton and Donte Moncrief to contribute 68 yards rushing for that to happen.

“We’ll see how the week goes,” Pagano said. “They both practiced well last week. We all know Trent missed last Wednesday out sick, but they both practiced well and we’ll see how they practice this week and make a decision.”

If Herron continues to start, which appears to be the case, it’ll be the second straight season that Richardson, who the Colts gave up a first-round draft pick to acquire from Cleveland in September 2013, has lost his starting position late in the season. He lost it to Donald Brown in Week 12 last season.

Colts vs. Redskins preview

November, 26, 2014
Nov 26
video When: 1 p.m., Sunday Where: Lucas Oil Stadium, Indianapolis TV: Fox

INDIANAPOLIS -- So much for Andrew Luck vs. Robert Griffin III. Now it’s simply the Indianapolis Colts trying to move a step closer to winning their second consecutive AFC South title and the Washington Redskins seeing if quarterback Colt McCoy can improve his record to 3-0 this season when the two teams meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday.

McCoy replaces Griffin, who was benched on Wednesday.

ESPN Colts reporter Mike Wells and Redskins reporter John Keim discuss the matchup in Indianapolis.

Wells: John, why hasn’t it worked out for Griffin the way it’s worked out for Luck? Is it that he hasn’t regained his speed from the knee injury? Is he not a student of the game? And what does his benching mean for his future?

Keim: It’s a combination of reasons, and I think the injury from his rookie season definitely has played a part. It cost him an offseason of needed development and it was clear when he played last season that he did not have the same explosiveness. And then he lost more time this season with a dislocated ankle. So there’s that aspect -- and all of that did have an impact on his game. But the other part is that he did not develop at the pace they needed, something they started to get concerned about this summer. He wasn’t making the proper reads, going through his progressions at the right pace and was failing to throw to open receivers. They want him to learn that they don’t have to be wide open for him to deliver the ball. As for his future, it’s murky. He’s under contract for another season, and the organization will say they remain committed to him. But I don’t sense wild enthusiasm for what the coaches feel he can do and how long it will take him to get there.

What has jumped out at you about Luck, something you see up close that helps explain why he’s improved and why he might fulfill the lofty expectations?

Wells: Too often the media have talked to Luck after he threw for more than 300 yards and a Colts victory and usually the first thing he points out are the mistakes he made. An interception. A completion he should have made. Not converting in the red zone. While some quarterbacks enjoy the pats on the back, Luck’s determination to constantly get better has him talking about his mistakes before anything else. And it's never Luck’s teammates' fault. He’ll fall on a sword for his teammates before he throws them under the bus. The offensive line does a poor job blocking up front and Luck will say he just needs to get rid of the ball quicker. A receiver drops a pass and Luck will say he needs to make a better throw next time. That’s the type of player you want to lead your franchise for at least the next decade.

Where would the Redskins be had the Colts taken Griffin with the No. 1 pick and Luck fell in their lap at No. 2? Would Mike Shanahan still be coaching the team and would they be pushing Philadelphia for the top spot in the NFC East?

Keim: Yes, Shanahan would still be in charge. At the time the Redskins were sold on Griffin, and I don’t want to start hearing any revisionism. They considered themselves to be in a win-win situation by having the second pick, knowing they had a good option either way. But Luck would have been a perfect fit for Shanahan’s system (though they said the same about Griffin too). And because Luck was further along as a passer than Griffin, the Redskins could have developed him a lot quicker. Also, when these two entered the league, the sense was that Luck’s size would make him a lot more durable. That’s how it has played out too.

At the time, many people I spoke to considered Luck and Griffin 1 and 1A. There was a big debate over which one would be better. But do you think the Colts ever seriously considered drafting Griffin? What do you think might have happened had they done so?

Wells: There was zero consideration of the Colts selecting Griffin. I talked to former Colts general manager Bill Polian recently and he said he watched every throw Luck and Griffin made in college on video, but he watched Luck live at least six times and watched Griffin live only twice during their final seasons at Stanford and Baylor, respectively. Polian also told owner Jim Irsay they should select Luck two days before he was relieved of his duties. Punter Pat McAfee, who was on the roster back in 2012, probably put it best: “Everybody in our building knew there was only one player to take. He had been touted as the next John Elway since his sophomore year.” That’s a pretty big compliment there.

Why would they start Colt McCoy?

Keim: Because he offers them two things the other two quarterbacks do not. McCoy is a flawed quarterback and I think it’s a stretch at this point to suggest he could be the quarterback of the future. But he does have a chance to make a case for himself. What McCoy provides is someone who knows the offense and can execute it the way the coaches desire, getting rid of the ball on time and making the proper adjustments. That’s something they needed Griffin to do a better job of during his time. And Kirk Cousins' penchant for turning the ball over and being unable to shake bad plays was problematic. The coaches feel McCoy will at least respond well to adversity.

We all know the drama that has enveloped the Redskins with the Griffin saga for a while now -- some of it his own doing, but certainly not all. How has Luck managed to avoid that sort of attention and what’s he like to cover? Clearly he does not seek the spotlight, but is there something more to it? I’m curious how Griffin would have fared in a smaller media market.

Wells: We’re talking about a player who still uses a flip phone and shies away from doing national endorsement deals. The smaller market definitely helps Luck and most players who play in Indianapolis. As you know from your years of covering the Redskins, they’re a national team where every good step, and definitely every bad step, is chronicled. What has also helped Luck is that his father, Oliver, played in the NFL, so he was able to go to the kitchen table at his house and get excellent firsthand experience. I asked Andrew Luck one time how he learned to handle the media so well. He said he did an interview while in high school after he committed to Stanford and he made a reference to “when he becomes the starter” there. His father saw the quote and had a talk with him about what to say and not say when it comes to the media.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Blake Bortles agrees with what Jacksonville Jaguars coach Gus Bradley said Monday: He’s not playing well right now.

He’s also eager to show that he can fight through the adversity that all quarterbacks face at some point in their rookie season. Some, like Ryan Leaf and JaMarcus Russell, never get past it but Bortles said he’s determined to be one of the ones that does.

[+] EnlargeBlake Bortles
AP Photo/Michael ConroyBlake Bortles had a Total QBR of 2.3 against the Colts Sunday.
"It’s ruined guys careers by starting young and not doing well," Bortles said Wednesday. "I kind of take it as an opportunity to say, ‘We’re not doing well. Watch how I can handle this and bounce back and continue to grow from it.’ That’s how I look at it.

"I know that’s how Gus looks at it and it’s kind of the environment and message that we’re given."

Bortles played his worst game of the season in Sunday’s 23-3 loss to Indianapolis. He completed 15 of 27 passes for a season-low 146 yards. He completed just 4 of 10 passes for 34 yards in the first half and his third quarter was even worse: He was 2-for-5 for 5 yards, sacked twice for minus-18 yards, and fumbled once.

Sunday was the latest in a stretch of poor play. In his last five games Bortles has completed 58.0 percent of his passes for 1,063 yards and four touchdowns with eight interceptions. His Total QBR of 9.1 (50 is considered an average quarterback) is the worst in the league over that span. That’s in contrast to his first four games, three of which he started: 67.8 completion percentage, 1,004 yards, four touchdowns, seven interceptions, and a Total QBR of 48.6.

Bortles admits he was playing more freely in the first four games than he has the last five. He said, as Bradley did on Monday, that he needs to make quicker decisions and get the ball out quicker. He has gotten caught up in a bit of overthinking, he admitted.

"I think that’s part of it," Bortles said. "You want to go play and I want to and I feel like I’m playing my best when I’m playing carefree running around and not thinking a whole lot. I think just trying to get back to that, trying to eliminate some thinking and all of that comes with preparation during the week and making sure that on Sunday you can go play carefree."

Veteran tight end Marcedes Lewis spent time with Bortles on the flight from Indianapolis because he wanted to make sure Bortles understood that he had the support of everyone else as he fights through this slump.

Don’t get impatient and let us help, Lewis said he told Bortles.

"He wants it right now and I was just telling him, like, you have to just slowly get better," Lewis said. "Stop worrying about all the stuff he can’t control. The quarterback’s job is hard enough as it is in this league so just worry about your job. We have to get better around you.

"Just making sure that he knows that we’re not blaming you. You’re not the problem. It’s so many different pieces that need to come together for us to get this thing rolling in the right direction."

But Bortles knows it starts with him.

"That’s pretty obvious that I can do better and do more in my efforts to contributing to help this team be successful," he said.
INDIANAPOLIS -- The first regular-season meeting between quarterbacks Andrew Luck and Robert Griffin III officially ended before it even started when Colt McCoy was named the starter in Washington on Wednesday.

No Luck vs. RG III. No battle between the No. 1 and No. 2 picks in the 2012 draft.

While it’s easy to point to Griffin’s win-loss record and definitely his benching to say the Colts made the right decision in picking Luck, many say it was an easy decision even before commissioner Roger Goodell stood at the podium on April 26, 2012, and announced that Indianapolis had selected Luck with the No. 1 overall pick.

Wednesday’s benching of RG III just validated it.

“Everybody in our building knew there was only player to take,” Colts punter Pat McAfee said. “He had been touted as the next John Elway since his sophomore year [at Stanford]. We were all excited to see how good Andrew Luck was going to be. I think we got really lucky with a legendary quarterback coming out of college and taking the place of some of the biggest shoes ever in Peyton Manning.”

ESPN The Magazine
Bill Polian, the Colts' general manager during their 2-14 season in 2011, watched every throw Griffin and Luck made on video during their time at Baylor and Stanford, respectively. One difference, though, is that Polian watched Griffin in person only twice and he watched “at least six" of Luck’s games in person.

What separated the two?

“It was quite close because they were both outstanding quarterbacks, outstanding winners, outstanding people,” said Polian, now an ESPN analyst. “I told [owner] Jim Irsay we can’t go wrong with either guy in terms of their ability but we should take Luck, two days before I was let go. We wanted the whole template of a quarterback. We weren’t looking for one individual thing and we weren’t looking to replicate Peyton because I don’t think that could be done.”

Irsay preferred Luck too because, according to Polian, Griffin ran too much and he feared he'd get hurt. Irsay was right, because Griffin’s career changed when he injured his knee late in his rookie season when he won the NFL Offensive Rookie of the Year and led the Redskins to the NFC East title.

Irsay and Colts general manager Ryan Grigson both declined interviews.

ESPN The Magazine
Griffin lost some of his athleticism, lost some of his confidence and now he’s lost his job. He's only 4-14 as a starter since his rookie season.

“Some people say it was closer than you think; I don’t really believe it,” ESPN NFL scout Matt Williamson said. “I think RG III, eight out of 10 years is the No. 1 pick. But 10 out of 10 years, Luck is the first pick overall. He’s a special player and I think the gap was pretty wide.”

The Colts were just one victory away from sliding to the No. 2 pick and selecting Griffin, possibly putting them in the same the situation the Redskins are currently in. That possibility ended when Colts closed out the 2011 season with a 19-13 loss at Jacksonville.

Indianapolis is thankful it lost that game to Jacksonville because it got its franchise quarterback for at least the next decade in Luck. All he’s done is win 11 games in each of his first two seasons, and he is in position to lead the Colts to the playoffs for the third straight season and to a second straight AFC South title.

So just like the Colts did when they selected Manning over Ryan Leaf in 1998, they wisely made the right decision in picking Luck over Griffin.

“You have a guy like Luck who has the same attributes as Peyton Manning but can run the ball and move in the pocket,” said Colts running back Trent Richardson, who was the No. 3 pick in 2012. “There was no way [the Colts] couldn’t take him as No. 1. You have a guy like RG III, he is what he is and that’s a playmaker and he makes plays. Everybody knew Luck was that guy from the beginning. He just makes plays.”

ESPN The Magazine
INDIANAPOLIS -- Indianapolis Colts receiver Reggie Wayne won’t address the media until Friday, but he talked about his quick departure from the locker room following Sunday’s victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars on his weekly radio show on 1260-AM WNDE in Indianapolis.

And it wasn’t because he was upset over only having three catches for 10 yards.

“If I don’t speak to the media, there’s a reason why,” Wayne said on his show. “I had to leave for a personal matter. I’m hearing about how I’m [Seattle running back] Marshawn Lynch now. I love the media, but I had to jet. I had to go home.”

There were quite a few questions raised about how Wayne got his two final catches to extend his streak of consecutive games with at least three catches in a game to 81.

With less than three minutes remaining and the game already determined, coach Chuck Pagano called consecutive short pass plays that totaled two yards gained for Wayne to get his second and third catches.

"I guarantee you nowhere in there did I say I wanted two more catches to extend the streak,” Wayne said on his radio show. “I'm never going to beg for catches, especially when we're winning."

Pagano said Monday that it was strictly his decision to call those plays for Wayne.

“I don’t think there would be one person that would argue my decision on what I decided to do,” the coach said Monday. “I called the play, I made the decision and those guys go run the plays, and Reggie would never come up to me, nobody on our team would come up to me. They just want to win football games. And do I have any second thoughts about what I did? Not one bit.”
HOUSTON -- It's not an easy thing to know that your team has just used the No. 1 pick to draft someone at your position.

There might not have been a better way to handle it than Whitney Mercilus did.

"Everybody can have their worries about it, speculate about a lot of things, somebody's going to get replaced or things like that, but that's what happens year in and year out," Mercilus said. "They're always trying to find somebody better at each position. All you can do is control what you can do and just go out there and make the best of your opportunities."

That opportunity came for Mercilus as opportunities often do in the NFL -- as the result of an injury. When first overall pick Jadeveon Clowney suffered a torn meniscus in his first game, that outside linebacker spot went back to Mercilus.

According to Pro Football Focus, Mercilus's 27 quarterback pressures from the right side rank seventh among 3-4 outside linebackers, a total that includes four sacks, 10 quarterback hits and 13 quarterback hurries. He garnered all four of those sacks in two games -- two against the Pittsburgh Steelers and two against the Philadelphia Eagles.

Mercilus said the process was tough, but he started to feel comfortable in the Texans' defense around the third preseason game.

"Being introduced to the new system, definitely a different system -- especially from what I was used to, so that was interesting," he said. " ... Most important thing is to know exactly where you're supposed to fit up. Knowing that actually allows you to know whether you have help, whether it's outside or inside. Where are your bodies at on the field?"

Understanding the concept of the defense as a whole was critical for Mercilus.

"Before it was pretty much just go, go, go," he said. "That's it."

Mercilus remained the Texans' starter when Clowney returned to playing. He's been an important piece of the Texans' defense.
NASHVILLE, Tenn. -- As bad as things have been for the Titans offensive line this season, the team could say it was building some continuity.

Four-fifths of the line has started every game this season, with Taylor Lewan taking over at left tackle for the injured Michael Roos after five games.

Now the team will undergo a second lineup change. Brian Schwenke tore the MCL in his left knee Sunday in Philadelphia and has been placed on injured-reserve. Chris Spencer is in line to take over as the starting center.

The Titans signed veteran interior lineman Eric Olsen for depth. Olsen signed with Tennessee during the offseason and he was with the team through camp.

Lewan might also be out. Jim Wyatt of The Tennessean says the sprained ankle that knocked Lewan out against the Eagles is a high ankle sprain. Those usually take a while to recover from. Byron Stingily would fill in if Lewan is sidelined.

The offensive line has remained an issue for the Titans this season, though they spent a second consecutive first-round pick on a lineman (Lewan was the 11th overall pick) and gave a big free-agent deal to right tackle Michael Oher.

Schwenke wasn’t great, but he’s an inexpensive piece with promise who played between a high-pried free agent from 2012 (Andy Levitre) and an underachieving No. 1 pick from 2013 (Chance Warmack).

Levitre’s spot is in jeopardy beyond this season and the team can get out of Oher’s deal for no money beyond the $6 million it will have paid him in 2014.
JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Ridiculous. Sick. Amazing. Crazy. Phenomenal.

Those were all used to describe the one-handed (three-finger, actually) catch that New York Giants rookie receiver Odell Beckham Jr. made against the Dallas Cowboys on Sunday night. It certainly was the highlight of the weekend, not only among the league’s banner crop of rookie receivers, but the entire NFL.

Beckham caught 10 passes for 146 yards and two touchdowns in that game. It was the third time he has surpassed 100 yards receiving in the past four games. Beckham has 41 catches for 609 yards this season and most of that has come in the past four games (31 for 503 yards).

Here is the latest look at the class or rookie receivers, which includes two Jaguars. They are ranked by targets, which is a true measure of how much a receiver is utilized. We’re using the qualifier of having a minimum of four targets per game (48 targets needed to qualify):

Kelvin Benjamin, Carolina (97 targets): The Panthers had a bye so he wasn’t able to pad his stats of 52 catches for 768 yards and eight touchdowns. His catches and yardage are second among rookie receivers and his eight TD catches is tied for the lead.

Sammy Watkins, Buffalo (89): The Bills were all over the Jets in a 38-3 rout, but Watkins contributed only three catches for 35 yards. He now has 48 catches for 684 yards and five touchdowns.

Allen Robinson, Jacksonville (80): He’s out for the rest of the season with a stress fracture in his right foot and finishes with 48 catches for 548 yards and two touchdowns. He has just one drop.

Jordan Matthews, Philadelphia (77): He caught six passes for 77 yards in the Eagles’ 43-24 victory over Tennessee. He has 50 catches for 635 yards and six touchdowns and is tied with two other players on the list for the fewest drops (one).

Mike Evans, Tampa Bay (77): He was targeted nine times but caught only three passes for 47 yards in the Bucs’ 21-13 loss to Chicago. One catch went for a touchdown, though, and that tied him with Benjamin for most TD catches by a rookie this season (eight). He has 49 catches and his 841 yards leads all rookies.

John Brown, Arizona (71): He was a non-factor in the Cardinals’ 19-3 loss to Seattle, catching just three passes for 61 yards. He has 37 catches for 529 yards and five touchdowns.

Brandin Cooks, New Orleans (66): He is out for the rest of the season with a broken thumb and finishes with 53 catches for 550 yards and three TDs.

Jarvis Landry, Miami (64): Landry had two touchdowns among his seven catches for 50 yards in the Dolphins’ 39-36 loss to Denver. He has 49 catches for 450 yards and five TDs.

Allen Hurns, Jacksonville (59): He caught just one pass for 13 yards in the Jaguars’ 23-3 loss to Indianapolis and has 31 catches for 488 yards and five touchdowns.

Odell Beckham Jr., New York Giants (57): His monster game (10 catches, 146 yards, 2 TDs) gives him 41 catches for 609 yards and five touchdowns this season.

Taylor Gabriel, Cleveland (57): He caught one pass for 13 yards in the Browns’ 26-24 victory over Atlanta and has 30 catches for 540 yards and one touchdown.

What about Tom Savage?

November, 25, 2014
Nov 25
HOUSTON -- For the past six months, since being drafted in the fourth round by the Houston Texans, Tom Savage has understood this: It's not his time yet.

[+] EnlargeTom Savage
AP Photo/Pat SullivanTom Savage's only NFL experience so far is in practice, but is it time to give him a shot in a game?
"I think that’s my main goal right now is just to keep improving and kind of put myself in a good situation so that whenever that time comes, whether it’s next year or this year, just be ready to go," Savage said the day before Ryan Mallett was named the Texans' starter, supplanting Ryan Fitzpatrick.

The Texans' quarterback situation has changed significantly since then, which begs one question: Is it his time now?

Making Mallett the starter during the Texans' bye week was equal parts Mallett being ready to take the helm, a belief that Fitzpatrick had done all he could and a desire for better evaluation. Mallett had developed for three seasons as a backup quarterback in New England and improved steadily as Fitzpatrick's backup in Houston.

Now that Mallett is out of the picture for this season with a torn pectoral muscle, the Texans have broader evaluation needs.

Therein lies the argument to start Savage.

Nearly everything we know about him comes from his limited time playing in college. Here's Matt Williamson, ESPN's resident scout:
"He is a big strong kid with a great arm. He is tough in the pocket, but very limited mobility. He wasn’t at Pitt his entire college career and had a lot of learning still to do when he entered the draft. How much has he progressed since then on the mental aspects of the position? I really don’t know. But much like [Zach] Mettenberger in TEN, he has starting QB traits and if mentally prepared, should get a shot before the end of the season."

That arm drew attention during training camp. Strength was something he'd been asked to improve once he got to the NFL. The two quarterbacks ahead of him have helped his mental progression.

"Mallett has a good grasp of the offense just from being around it for so many years," Savage said. "Fitz is a vet and he’s been around the league and he’s kind of got that mental toughness that young rookies need to kind of learn. He’s one of the toughest guys I’ve been around, so it’s good to get both of their features and kind of instill it in myself."

A franchise quarterback is a tough thing to find, but when you find him, that sets up a team for years. Finding that player, and developing him if necessary, is the most important factor in any NFL team's success. Devoting resources and time to that process is often necessary but can require patience. If Savage struggles at first -- a bigger risk with Savage than Mallett given Savage's limited time in both college and pro practices -- that doesn't necessarily mean he'll never grow into a solid quarterback. But it does mean the Texans' immediate future could be rough.

That's a tough ask of a team that is not yet out of the playoff race.

The Texans' loss Sunday to the Bengals combined with Indianapolis' win made that harder, especially since there are now nine teams in the AFC with at least two more wins than Houston, but the Texans aren't out of it yet.

With a postseason berth still at stake, it'd be difficult to hand over the reins to a rookie who's had almost exclusively scout-team repetitions so far. You can bet that will matter to the Texans' thought process.

And if we've learned something from Mallett, it's that waiting can sometimes be the best thing for a young quarterback's career.