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OC History: AFC South

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For this set of articles I’ll be looking at NFL teams, their offensive coordinators and how their coordinating has or might impact their team’s offense and in turn our fantasy expectations. I’ll be using the offensive coordinator info compiled by Mr. Jeff Brubach, which tries to look at the last three seasons of a coordinator’s offensive output.

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Indianapolis Colts

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Offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton will start his second season with the Colts after helping them to an 11-5 record and a division title. Of course for fantasy players those two facts are pretty much useless. We want to see fantasy points and plenty of them and Hamilton was not many fantasy players’ favorite OC last season.

With Andrew Luck at the helm we watched as the Colts ranked 23rd in pass attempts and 20th in passing yards. But somehow Mr. Luck ended up as the fourth best fantasy quarterback in the league while tying Alex Smith with just 23 passing touchdowns, ranking 15th in the league. So how did he do it you ask? Yes, it was with his legs, with which he gained 377 yards and scored four touchdowns.  Just those four extra touchdowns and yards put him right up there toward the top. Much like Aaron Rodgers, he has the capability of running, but only uses it when he has to. That makes it hard to predict what he’ll do on the ground, but the fact that he can and has, is helpful to his fantasy outlook.

The Colts actually threw the ball 59% of the time last season, which put them in the middle of the pack, but they slowed the game down enough to only rank 23rd in attempts. They have one of the best young QB talents in the game and it seems impossible that they wouldn’t end up passing more with him this season.

One reason they may pass more is the fact that their running backs have not been overly productive.  Last season they ranked 15th in total running attempts, 17th in yards, 19th in yards per attempt and 17th in touchdowns.  And those numbers were largely due to Donald Brown who had six rushing touchdowns and averaged 5.3 yards per carry. But of course he is now the third running back in San Diego. This season doesn’t promise much with Trent Richardson averaging under 3 yards per carry in preseason and nobody behind him really available to step up and lead them on the ground. Ahmad Bradshaw will need to reverse time and injuries and Richardson will need to turn into a new player.

So it seems as if they will throw it at least a bit more this season and Coach Pagano even admitted to that not long ago. That likelihood gives this passing game a bit more upside in theory and they also get Reggie Wayne and Dwayne Allen back from injury and T.Y. Hilton comes into his third season looking to become more consistent.

Last season Hilton was not quite up to the task of #1 receiver even though he did surpass 80 receptions and 1,000 yards. His inconsistency was tough on fantasy players and the Colts since they didn’t really have another receiver to count on. Hamilton was able to get away with it by slowing the game down and letting Luck do his thing when it came down to it, but this year a healthy receiving group could really open up this offense if Pep will let Luck be Luck.

Houston Texans

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The Texans quickly went from Super Bowl contenders to having the #1 pick in the 2014 NFL Draft. It was a perfect storm of injuries and Matt Schaub going on a pick-six spree of monumental failure. Gary Kubiak’s run-based offense fell off the tracks when Arian Foster was done after seven games and Matt Schaub wasn’t able to put the team on his shoulders. So in comes ex-Patriots’ offensive coordinator and Penn State head coach Bill O’Brien, who will serve as head coach and offensive coordinator this season.

A Bill Belichick disciple, O’Brien will be open to what works for his team and play each game based on matchups. Of course with the Patriots in 2011, his only season as offensive coordinator, the Patriots were top-5 in passing categories and had the third most rushing touchdowns. But also of course, he had Tom Brady as his quarterback and now he has Ryan Fitzpatrick. While with Penn State he was much more run-oriented due to his personnel, throwing the ball just 45% of the time last season. So he should be adaptable, but he’ll need to figure out a way to score with the personnel he has this year.

With Fitzpatrick at the helm there’s a good chance they will want to lean on Arian Foster, but leaning on Foster has already caused problems for Foster’s body in the past. If we could count on 300+ touches for Foster we could also count on this offense moving the ball. Behind Foster are some okay, but in no way team-carrying running backs.

Andre Johnson remains the best bet in the passing game and will be Ryan Fitzpatrick’s greatest asset this season.  Johnson saw 180 targets last season and easily could see a similar number as they look to him to keep the offense moving, especially if Foster misses time again this season. DeAndre Hopkins has all the talent in the world, but it’s extremely hard to project this offense with Foster as a high injury risk and Fitzpatrick as one of the most inconsistent quarterbacks in the league.  Hopkins would need the Texans to trade for Dan Marino in his prime for Hopkins to see consistent work.

The Texans do have a nice stable of tight ends with Garrett Graham, Ryan Griffin and C.J. Fiedorowicz.  And when you look at O’Brien’s 2011 Patriots’ team, we see Rob Gronkowski going for 90 receptions, 1300+ yards and 18 touchdowns. Of course there isn’t a Gronk in this group, but O’Brien knows how to use his tight ends. Aaron Hernandez also had a big 2011 (sans illegal activities). Of the three tight ends above, Fiedorowicz has the athleticism to take on a Gronkowski roll if everything comes together, but there’s also a good chance these three end up hurting each other’s numbers and causing fantasy headaches week to week.

Jacksonville Jaguars

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Last season was Gus Bradley and offensive coordinator Jedd Fisch’s first season as a NFL head coach and coordinator respectively. They watched as Blaine Gabbert took no steps forward and had to give over the quarterbacking duties to journeyman Chad Henne. It was not a recipe for success.

So what has changed this year? Well, they drafted some young talented rookie wide receivers, let Maurice Jones-Drew walk and replaced him with Toby Gerhart while their quarterback situation got better when they drafted Blake Bortles, but it remains murky with Chad Henne again as the starter while Bortles waits in the wings.

They are still rebuilding. Bradley will make their defense better, which should help their offense not need to throw the ball the 11th most times in the league while only ranking 22nd in passing yards like they did last season. With Henne or even Bortles, they will need to establish Gerhart and the defense to compete this season.

Blake Bortles has looked great in the preseason while Chad Henne has not, but coach Bradley still plans on starting Henne. Neither have much fantasy potential in redraft leagues, but Bortles looks to have the most fantasy upside of the two. He will most likely play a good chunk of games this year, but the situation is way too risky for most leagues.

The good thing about Chad Henne is that he doesn’t mind throwing the ball. He’s not overly timid and will let his receivers make plays. Of course he’s not skilled enough to do that without making multiple errors each game, but it can help his receivers to an extent. The question this year is, will the defense be good enough to keep the offense from needing to score multiple times in a short period of time? Last season they threw the ball often in comeback mode and never came back.

Toby Gerhart has some talent and is a bruiser. He could wear down a defense and take over a game if the Jags can hold the other team down long enough.  Gerhart is also proficient in the receiving game and should be able to at least get the 43 receptions Maurice Jones-Drew caught last year.

Bradley and Fisch haven’t exactly developed an offensive pattern other than trying not to lose by 20+ points. Bradley is a defensive guru who built up the Seahawks’ defense while Fisch has been working in and out of the NFL and college. They haven’t quite found their offensive identity yet. Most likely their personnel and improved defense will help shape their offensive outlook going forward.

Tennessee Titans

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In Ken Whisenhunt’s first six seasons as an offensive coordinator with the Steelers and head coach with the Cardinals, he had some of the best rushing or passing offenses in the league. But all good things must come to an end and after Kurt Warner retired they did. It quickly became a struggle to find a starting quarterback to replace Warner and eventually Whisenhunt was fired. Last season he hooked up with Mike McCoy and the San Diego Chargers, helping them turn around their declining offense and coached them to the 5th most total yards and an amazing 4th most passing yards on just the 22nd most attempts. McCoy and Whiz helped Philip Rivers have his most efficient passing season ever with a 69.5% completion rate and 32:11 touchdown to interception rate. So even with a run-heavy offense the Chargers were able to put up good passing numbers.

Now he moves on to coach a young Tennessee Titans team with a lot of potential in the passing game. The core of Jake Locker, Justin Hunter and Kendall Wright could develop into a top passing attack, but that is still very much yet to be seen. Whisenhunt has helped Ben Roethlisberger and Philip Rivers become better quarterbacks and Jake Locker needs his help to take a step forward.

Last season Locker had a promising start to the season before suffering a year-ending injury. He now has a more seasoned receiving crew and Whisenhunt to help guide the offense. The offensive minded Whisenhunt is a nice change from Mike Munchak and should bring a fresh start for this team.

The running backs for the Titans are a varied group, with Shonn Greene, Dexter McCluster and rookie Bishop Sankey. Last season Whiz did well to get Ryan Mathews and Danny Woodhead plenty of carries and receptions. That wasn’t his usual offensive game plan with the Steelers and Cardinals, but it worked and I could see him taking a lot from Mike McCoy, especially with the sometimes wild-armed Locker. A short passing game to McCluster and Sankey could be a big part of this offense, which should help Locker gain confidence and open things up downfield.

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