AFC SOUTH REPORT

Titans get Browns; Jaguars and Colts face off in key division game

Marcus Mariota should be 100 percent this week. Andy Lyons/Getty Images

Brian Schaible of SBNation Radio will provide coverage on the AFC South.

All of the preseason predictions of a 9-7 (or worse) division winner appear to be on target. 

For a Texans’ team decimated by injuries, getting the Browns and then a bye week is about the best two week stretch imaginable. Houston will travel to Seattle next week before returning home to host the Colts on Nov. 5.  

Let’s take a look at the rest of the AFC South heading into week seven. 

Tennessee Titans

The Cleveland Browns may very well prove to be the cure all for AFC South struggles in 2017. Much like Houston last week, Marcus Mariota and company are at least partially limping into the showdown with Cleveland before getting an extra week’s rest.

After back to back losses in which Mariota was sidelined with a hamstring injury, he was able to jump into action in Monday night’s win over the Colts. Mariota threw for 306 yards and one touchdown in his first ever victory against Indianapolis. The Colts had won eleven previous games against their division rival. 

Mariota has fully participated in practice on Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday. Titans Coach Mike Mularkey believes he is “very close, real close” to 100 percent.

The dreaded hamstring strain seems to be infectious throughout the Titans locker room. Rookie wide receiver Corey Davis and veteran safety Johnathan Cyprien have already been ruled out against the Browns. Running Back DeMarco Murray’s status is very much in doubt as he was sidelined Thursdaywhile getting treatment on his right hammie. Murray was able to participate in a limited capacity on Friday.

Matchup: Cleveland Browns 0-6 vs. Tennessee Titans 3-3

Despite playing just two games, Myles Garrett has recorded three quarterback sacks. After finishing 31st in total defense in 2016, the Browns are currently ranked 8th.

Titans’ Head Coach Mike Mularkey recognized just how disruptive Garrett can be along the defensive line. “He can do it all. Just for his size, he has great length very good and powerful man. Has multiple moves and is very athletic and slippery. He’s very good and you know why they picked him where they picked him.”

After being benched for a week, DeShone Kizer will return as starting quarterback for Cleveland. He acknowledged Thursday that he needs to “have a better attitude and do more.“ He also added that “It sparked my competitive juices. It definitely motivated throughout the week.”

Head Coach Hue Jackson said on Kizer’s return to the starting position, “I’m not gonna say the rest of the season but I know he’s the guy right now….I know it was the right thing to do a week ago. And I think we’ll be better for it.”

Matchup: Indianapolis Colts 2-4 vs. Jacksonville Jaguars 3-3

When Andrew Luck returned to practice on Oct. 4, the team was hopeful he would be ready to go against Jacksonville. After receiving a cortisone shot in his throwing shoulder, Luck may be shut down for the remainder of regular season.

While the Colts may be dependent on their starting quarterback returning to achieve success, the same cannot said for the Jacksonville Jaguars.

In six games, Blake Bortles is currently 26th in quarterback rating. In the Jaguars two road victories against Houston and Pittsburgh, he passed for a combined 210 yards and one touchdown. Meanwhile, both the defense and Leonard Fournette combined for three scores each.

In what could conceivably be a foreshadowing of things to come, Bortles addressed the release of kicker Jason Myers by acknowledging that anyone can be cut at any time.

“I think anytime a guy gets cut during the season, especially a starter, at any position I think it's definitely an eye opener. You know, nobody is really safe,” said Bortles.

“It’s a results oriented business and everybody gets that and you got to do your job and if you don't do your job they can find somebody else to replace you.”

Jacoby Brissett will make his sixth start for the Colts. While he has shined at times, he's only managed to pull out victories against winless San Francisco and Cleveland.

Jacksonville Head Coach Doug Marrone has been impressed with what he's seen of Brissett so far.

“He’s a young player that's getting better and better each week. A young player that can really throw it on a dime. It's a challenge for us. We have to play consistent and take advantage of all the opportunities and those are the things we need to win. We can't let other teams make big plays on us.”

Indianapolis enters the game 29th in total defense while allowing over 114 on the ground per game. This could spell trouble going up against the number one ranked rushing team in the league. 

However, it's been a bit of a mystery this week on the availability of Leonard Fournette. After a suffering an ankle injury last Sunday, Fournette has told the assembled media he’s fine and would “most definitely” play on Sunday. But after missing practice every day this week, perhaps Jacksonville is hoping to rest the star rookie through their week seven bye week.

If Fournette cannot go, look for an increased workload from Chris Ivory. Also, expect TJ Yeldon, who’s been very much a forgotten member of the backfield thus far, to be in uniform on Sunday. While Yeldon has battled through a number of injuries in his short career, this year he has largely been a healthy inactive. Sunday would mark the first time he's been a part of the gameday roster this season.

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The Rockets are collecting a lot of young talent. Photo by Carmen Mandato/Getty Images

Good parents are protective of their kids. Some helicopter parents are a little too protective and take it too far. Kenyon Martin Sr came out and wanted his son traded to a contender where he can flourish in a winning environment. He felt as if Jr wouldn’t be able to flourish as much as he thinks his son can in Houston. With the arrival of the number three overall pick, most likely being a frontcourt guy, they must’ve thought his playing time would decrease. Less time means less development means less money you can ask for on the next contract. I get it. I’m a parent. I understand. But there’s a point in which you have to be realistic.

Things like this are actually a good problem to have. It speaks to the Rockets having an abundance of talent, young talent at that. Whenever a team has a bevy of young talent in the NBA, they’ve been losing a lot and have stockpiled high draft picks. That, or they’ve developed a bunch of young guys that are now getting playing time and are on the verge of perhaps breaking out. Teams love it because crafting and shaping their future is easier when there’s a ton of options. They can choose to play and develop the guys they want to keep and trade the ones they don’t…provided they have any value.

Sr may think Jr is a future All NBA guy, and maybe he is, but he hasn’t been able to beat out Jae’Sean Tate for playing time in that tweener 3-4 combo position. One of the main things people point out is his ball handling. If he can’t handle the ball and make plays, he can’t play effectively enough in this system at that position. While he’s been able to give them valuable minutes, he’ll have to continue to improve and fight for those minutes. With the possibility of yet another player at that position with lofty draft status and expectations coming in (not to mention a unique skillset), the writing was on the wall.

When Sr came out recently and stated Jr is committed to staying here and getting better and Jr reiterated that at media availability this week, it helped quiet down the rumors. Would I be surprised if he’s traded? Not at all. He’s a good young athletic player who’s improved his shot. He could be a valuable rotation player for any team that has him. Do I want him to stay? Of course! I’d love nothing more than this team to grow together and stay together.

That’s in a perfect world and that’s somewhere we don’t live. Acquiring this much talent has paid off in the recent past. I wrote last week that this team can do what the Warriors and Celtics did if they continue to draft well, develop their talent, and surround their core with the right kind of role players. If playing time and meeting their potential for too many players becomes a problem (cap-wise, playing time, or any other reasons), they can always make deals and turn that talent into more draft picks. OKC did it with James Harden and flipped assets into about 3 million draft picks over the years. Blueprints are out there for the team to follow. Let’s keep hoping Rafael Stone can push the right buttons at the right times and continue to build this team back into a contender.

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