Following on from part 1 where the focus was on the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Tennessee Titans, part 2 of this look at the backroom staff in the AFC South turns attention to the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts. The Texans and the Colts were the most successful teams in the division in 2018, with both making the playoffs. Therefore, on paper at least, there is little need for wholesale changes to coaching staff, more a case of refinement to take the next step to being a real contender for a championship. In both cases it is on offense that the changes most worthy of note have been made.
At first glance the 2018 season was a success for the Texans. However, remember they started 0-3 before their nine game winning streak, and then they limped out of the playoffs at home to the Colts, gone at the first hurdle. They have many promising facets to the side: a smothering defense (4th in points allowed, 3rd in rushing yards allowed), lots of individual talent (JJ Watt, Jadevon Clowney, DeAndre Hopkins etc.) and a next generation QB in Deshaun Watson. On the flip side there were some statistics which were alarming, none more so than allowing a league high 62 sacks on Watson. It was clear from the tape that not all of that was on the lack of blocking, some of this was on Watson, and it is his need to develop which has sparked the most intriguing change in the Texans coaching staff.
The Texans have hired Carl Smith as the QB coach, after 8 seasons with the Seattle Seahawks in the same coaching position. He brings 35 years of NFL experience and is credited with developing Russell Wilson into a top-tier NFL QB. Could he do the same with Deshuan Watson? Interestingly, there was not too much separating the statistics of the two QBs last season (Watson higher on yardage, Wilson better on TDs vs INT and a higher rating of 110.9 to 103.1) and Wilson was sacked only 11 fewer times than Watson. All told it is clear that O’Brien is looking to all Carl Smith’s years of experience to develop Deshaun Watson into a Super Bowl winner in the same way he did with Wilson. How will he do this? Will he look at improving Watson’s ability to progress through targets and then ‘throw away’ where needed? Looking at Russell Wilson now one would doubt that there will be any less scrambling from Watson!
At the helm offensively, at least in job title, will be new Offensive Coordinator Tim Kelly. He has been promoted from Tight End coach and has history with both Bill O’Brien and the Texans. For the past two seasons Bill O’Brien has called the shots on offense and 2018 was certainly an improvement, even without Will Fuller for the second half of the season. One to watch here will be whether Tim Kelly has autonomy to tweak the offensive game plans in 2019 or if O’Brien will still be calling the shots. With a combination of Carl Smith and Tim Kelly I think we can continue to expect the offense to revolve around Watson but maybe they can both work on keeping the QB upright a little more. The danger will be that there might not be sufficient new external input to the Texans offense in order to provide the variations needed to progress further than their ‘one and done’ in the playoffs in 2018.
The 2018 season saw a renaissance for the Indianapolis Colts with a 10-6 record and progression to the Divisional round of the playoffs. Frank Reich’s first year as a Head Coach was a success; after the poor 1-5 start they were one of the hottest teams in the NFL come December. With Andrew Luck at the helm and an extraordinarily successful rookie class to bolster the roster they must see a Super Bowl window in the offing. What have they done on the coaching staff to help cash in on the talent available?
The key name here to look at is Mudd, Howard Mudd. A legendary offensive line coach, 77 years old and with over 40 years experience in the NFL, including previous a stint of 12 years in Indianapolis when the Colts allowed the fewest sacks in the NFL (part of the reason for Peyton Manning’s successful career). He arrives as part of a new 3-man coaching unit of Mudd (Senior Offensive Assistant), Chris Strausser (O-line coach and another 30 year coaching veteran although predominantly at College level) and Klayton Adams (Assistant O-Line coach). There is a link between Mudd and Strausser from when the latter was at the University of Washington and Mudd was in the Pacific Northwest enjoying retirement. The link suggests a strong united team with common focus. Adams is the junior partner – with just the 14 years experience!
This team is in place to offset the loss of Dave DeGuglielmo, fired at the end of last season. DeGuglielmo had marshalled the Colts O-Line from worst in 2017 to first in 2018. His departure could be viewed as a surprise although he was a Josh McDaniels hire from McDaniels’ short (understatement) tenure with the Colts last year. This increased emphasis on coaching the O-line, utilising one of the greatest minds in the modern NFL era when it comes to blocking, suggests the Colts know where their strengths are and will look to double-down on them for next year. It will be interesting to see where they add to in free agency and the draft as one or two key additions could make them into a championship winning offense.
In putting this 2-part article together it has been predictable, perhaps, that the team with the most to do in the league (Jacksonville) has made the most significant changes to their coaching staff. The other three sides have made much smaller adjustments in a bid to build on current strengths. In summary how would I view the changes at this early stage?
Jacksonville – the hire of DeFilippo could well energise the offense but this will require resolving the bigger issue of QB. If it is not Foles then who do they get? If it is a DeFilippo/Foles combination do the Jags use the run game focus to develop more of a play action pass system?
Tennessee – can Arthur Smith step up and get more out of the Titans offense and specifically Marcus Mariota? Will the Titans obtain more key pieces on to the roster for Smith to utilise? Dean Pees will ensure the Tennessee defense keeps the heat on opposition offenses.
Houston – will Carl Smith be able to develop Deshaun Watson into a potential championship winning QB in the mould of Russell Wilson? Will Tim Kelly have enough elbow room from Bill O’Brien to put his own stamp on the Texans offense?
Indianapolis – will the new ‘brains trust’ coaching the Colts offensive line work out? If it does then the Colts offense can pick up where it left off in 2018. Give Andrew Luck time in the pocket and the Colts will be competitive in any game.
The coaching teams are now in place and attention will now turn to free agency and the 2019 draft in order to confirm which players these new coaches will be seeking to mould and develop heading into the new season.
Mark or MJ has turned his love of the NFL into sharing his thoughts and opinions on twitter @47yards and on 47yards.blog – He has been a New York Giants fan since their Super Bowl wins in 1986 and 1990 (47 yards is a reference to the distance Scott Norwood missed from in 1990 for the Bills – sorry Bills fans). He enjoys all things NFL and has extended that enjoyment to College football of late, following Ohio State. He is loving seeing the growth of the NFL fan base in the UK and finds September to February is the best part of the year!
Image credit: AP Photo/AJ Mast