JACKSONVILLE – Senior correspondent Brian Sexton examines the AFC South entering Week 8 of the 2023 NFL season …
Where there's smoke in the NFL there is generally fire. The Titans may not be holding a fire sale yet, but there are signs the franchise and new general manager are ready to start an overhaul.
An aging roster cost the previous general manager his job and the roster has lost 11 of 13 games dating to last November. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill is injured in the final year of his contract, and neither Malik Willis (last year's second-round pick) or Will Levis (this year's second round pick) is the obvious replacement.
Running back Derrick Henry isn't the same bulldozer who powered the Titans for years. This week's trade of former All-Pro safety Kevin Byard to the Philadelphia Eagles could be interpreted as smoke.
"Until I'm told different, I'm focused on winning and beating the [Atlanta] Falcons," Henry said. "I'm here at work ready to go practice and focus on beating the Falcons."
But even Henry must have seen his name in the trade rumors and wondered if he's near the end of his Titans career. It's difficult to move on from players who shaped a franchise and endeared themselves to a fan base, but Byard – whose 27 interceptions are the most in franchise history – was such a player.
"I think he's one of the greatest Titans to play," Henry said of Byard. "His play and what he's done in the community and how he treats everybody in the building and around here … it speaks for itself. He'll definitely be remembered around here and the impact he had on everybody around here, I think he's been great."
Titans Head Coach Mike Vrabel told the media this week sometimes tough decisions must be made.
"We have a job to do. I have a job," Vrabel said. "Everybody else has a job. It's what we've always done. We'll compete. I'm sure everybody has their own personal feelings on it just like I do. Whether they agree with it or disagree with it, I ask that they respect it.
The next time you watch the Texans, pay attention to first-year Head Coach and former Texans linebacker DeMeco Ryans. You will see a coach with great energy who loves what he's doing. It's a refreshing change for a franchise on its fourth head coach in as many seasons, but the Texans are one of 2023's surprise teams and Ryans is a big reason.
"His consistency, his sincerity on a day-to-day basis is real," Texans general manager Nick Caserio said. "His energy is real. He probably wishes he could still play. But that emotion, that juice, that permeates the building, and the players feel that, and it's real."
The Texans are playing a brand of football any San Francisco 49ers fan would recognize. Ryans was a big part of that organization, and his defense was the NFL's best in 2022. Those teams played with great energy, played physically and played together. That's what Ryans is working to build in Houston.
"A physical style of play, a relentless manner of play — that's what I wanted to implement," Ryans said. "I think it starts there — how you play the game. You want to win. You want to be recognized and respected by your peers in this league. It's about what you put on tape, and so that's the first thing that I wanted is to make sure people respected what we put out there on the field."
As the Texans come off their bye, they believe their 3-3 start sets them up to make more noise than anyone thought possible in Ryan's first season.
"Overall, the culture is just changing," explained defensive end Jonathan Greenard. "Understanding that we actually have a chance, and coach actually believing in us, definitely helps out and goes a long way."
The Colts late in the week were still talking about the controversial calls at the end of their loss to the Cleveland Browns Sunday. That's not ideal considering the New Orleans Saints are on tap.
Quarterback Gardner Minshew's four turnovers on consecutive Sundays hasn't helped his team. He acknowledged that bad calls sting, also noting the same was true of bad plays.
"I think we could have won that game, and that's on us," Minshew said. "There's a million plays out there that could have been made, and we didn't make them. It's always convenient to look for excuses, but I think we've got to look at ourselves and figure out what we can do to fix it."