Inside AFC South: Early Trends

The weekly series on AFC South Division developments with the Houston Texans, Indianapolis Colts, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans focuses on trends in the first few games.
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It’s just been two weeks, but that’s more than enough time to establish some patterns for the 2020 NFL season.

Good or bad, the small sample size for these trends is worth keeping an eye on in the weeks ahead, especially in the case of the Indianapolis Colts, who have placed three starters on injured reserve.

Here’s a look around the AFC South Division at what’s happening with the Colts, Houston Texans, Jacksonville Jaguars, and Tennessee Titans.

Houston Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has taken eight sacks and 21 hits in just two games this season.

Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson has been pounded in two losses.

Houston Texans

Mike Fisher/Texans Daily

The Texans have struggled in a multitude of areas on both sides of the ball to start this season, so it’s hard to pick only one. That said, there has been one specific issue that has been plaguing them in both games, and it has led to their $40 million man being put in harm's way far too often.

Texans star QB and franchise face DeShaun Watson has been under fire and constantly pressured from both sides, throwing the Texans passing game out of rhythm early on in games. Watson has been sacked eight times and taken 21 additional hits on 76 dropbacks. And that doesn't include the hits he has had to take on scrambles and other runs.

That sack number is tied for the second-worst spot in the NFL with the Philadelphia Eagles, and just in front of the Jacksonville Jaguars, who have given up 10 sacks. As a result, Watson has just two touchdown passes through the first two games, as well as two interceptions … not what Texans fans were looking for following Watson’s offseason pay day.

Obviously, it's nearly impossible to lay the blame for Watson’s struggles on the quarterback himself. After all, Laremy Tunsil, one of the best tackles in football, just signed a three-year $66 million dollar extension with the team. Tunsil, to his credit, has graded out well this season. On the other side, however, Tytus Howard has not, ranking 60th out of 71 eligible tackles per the Pro Football Focus Rankings. The Texans have also struggled on the interior at guard, with Zach Fulton and Max Sharping grading out rather poorly as well.

Does it help that the Texans traded away Watson’s number one option and favorite safety valve DeAndre Hopkins? Definitely not. However, that trade is over and done with, and the Texans are going to have to find a way to make life easier on Watson, or risk losing their season before the Week 8 bye.

Indianapolis Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell was placed on injured reserve on Tuesday with a knee injury. He had four injuries as a rookie in 2019, when he ended the year on IR.

Colts wide receiver Parris Campbell was placed on injured reserve Tuesday.

Indianapolis Colts

Phillip B. Wilson/AllColts

Two games, three players placed on injured reserve. Not just any players, either. The Colts have lost running back Marlon Mack, safety Malik Hooker, and wide receiver Parris Campbell. And who could have foreseen that Mack and Hooker

would have their Colts careers likely end with a ruptured Achilles?

Both are in contract years and facing a difficult recovery, so Colts general manager Chris Ballard won’t be expected to re-sign them. The Colts drafted rookie running back Jonathan Taylor and safety Julian Blackmon, who have stepped in and performed. Taylor rushed for 101 yards and one TD in Sunday’s home in over Minnesota. Blackmon had two pass break-ups, including a tipped pass to safety Khari Willis for an interception.

Campbell underwent surgeries for a sports hernia, fractured hand, and fractured foot as a rookie. The second-round pick lasted two plays on Sunday as he suffered an MCL injury on an end around. The Colts placed Campbell and Hooker on injured reserve on Tuesday. While Hooker won’t be back, the team evidently hopes Campbell could still return. If so, the obvious question is how long will he be able to stay healthy?

In his absence, the Colts will handle slot receiver by committee. Zach Pascal, T.Y. Hilton, and others can rotate there, as can rookie Michael Pittman Jr., who had four catches for 37 yards against the Vikings. The Colts were carrying seven wide receivers before Campbell’s injury.

The Jacksonville Jaguars have been continually outscored in the first half of three games this season.

The Jaguars have fallen behind in the first half of all three games.

Jacksonville Jaguars

John Shipley/JaguarReport

If there is an early trend from the first three Jaguars games in 2020, it is slow starts. No matter what the Jaguars have tried this season, they have been sluggish out of the gate every game, making it that much harder to win.

In each game this season, the Jaguars have won the toss and deferred to the second half. What has taken place each week since then has remained the same as well, with the Jaguars allowing touchdown drives on the first drive of every game. Add in the fact that each of Jacksonville's first offensive possessions of each game has resulted in either punts or turnovers and it is clear that Jacksonville has trouble simply getting off of the bus and getting ready to play.

Unfortunately for the Jaguars, this isn't a problem or trend that has only been restricted to this season. Jacksonville was one of the worst scoring offenses in the first half of games in 2019, and they so far have had one of the league's worst-scoring defenses in each game's first half. Jacksonville is allowing nearly 21 points per first half this season, making it hard for the Jaguars to get any momentum going week in and week out.

The Jaguars are far from being good, but can be an entertaining team. So far, though, the slow starts are making it harder and harder for them to convince the rest of the league of that.

Tennessee Titans running back Derrick Henry, who led the NFL in rushing in 2019, already has 56 carries in two games this season.

Titans running back Derrick Henry already has 56 carries in two games.

Tennessee Titans

David Boclair/AllTitans

After Derrick Henry led the NFL in rushing yards and attempts last season, there was a great deal of offseason discussion about his workload and whether it needed to be reduced in 2020. It already is abundantly clear that will not happen. In fact, the fifth-year running back is getting more work than ever.

Two weeks into the season, Henry led the NFL with 56 rushing attempts and was one of two players (Las Vegas’ Josh Jacobs was the other) with at least 25 carries in the first two games. His previous high through Week 2 was 34 carries. That was last season, when he racked up 25 rushes or more just three times in 15 appearances.

At his current pace, Henry would amass 448 carries, which would shatter Larry Johnson’s record of 416, set in 2006. There have been just five players in NFL history with at least 400 carries.

Part of the issue is the absence of long runs that have been a hallmark of Henry’s career. His longest run thus far has been 14 yards and he has just four runs of 10 yards or more. The result is that he and the offense have had to grind out drives.

Rookie Darrynton Evans, the Titans’ third-round pick in this year’s draft, has missed the first two games with a hamstring injury. Evans is small and quick and was drafted to be a change-of-pace from the big, powerful Henry.

He’s expected to make his pro debut Sunday at Minnesota, Evans could also slow the pace at which Henry has amassed carries thus far.

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(Phillip B. Wilson has covered the Indianapolis Colts for more than two decades and authored the 2013 book 100 Things Colts Fans Should Know & Do Before They Die. He’s on Twitter @pwilson24, on Facebook at @allcoltswithphilb and @100thingscoltsfans, and his email is phillipbwilson24@yahoo.com.)