Jeff Saturday’s Colts future? Malik Willis’ Titans future?: AFC South analysis

In an ESPN interview that aired before the Colts’ Week 16 game against the Chargers, owner Jim Irsay said interim coach Jeff Saturday was an “outstanding” candidate to be the head coach in time complete Irsay said Saturday will be “competitive” as the team begins a thorough search for the role in the offseason.

This should no longer be the case.

Since the dramatic win over the Raiders in the opener on Saturday, Nov. 13, the Colts (4-11-1) have suffered one humiliating loss after another under the franchise legend, most recently a 38-10 loss to game of the Giants on Sunday. New York had not scored more than 27 points in any game this season before playing Indianapolis, nor had the Giants beaten a team by double digits before the 28-point victory.

The Colts looked lifeless, as they have so often this season, the latest example of the team’s ineptitude that extends far beyond their terrible offense.

Most telling of what the Colts have become Saturday? How they responded to Kayvon Thibodeaux’s sack on Nick Foles that knocked the veteran quarterback out of the game. With Foles writhing on the floor in pain, Thibodeaux was doing a snow angel celebration next to him (Thibodeaux said after the game that he didn’t know Foles was hurt). None of Foles’ teammates seemed to take exception.

It felt symbolic of a Colts team that no longer wants to contend.

“Disappointed from an O-line perspective and guys in general,” he said Saturday of the Colts’ response to Thibodeaux’s celebration. “We protect our own.”

Before that game, he oversaw the biggest collapse in NFL history at the Vikings on Saturday. Under his watch, there were clock management issues late in the Steelers game. Under his watch, the Colts gave up 54 points to the Cowboys. Under his watch, Indianapolis mustered just three points against the Chargers. Just when you think the 2022 Colts have hit rock bottom, they hit a new low.

As interim coach, he didn’t create the mess for the Colts on Saturday. He inherited it. He has had to work with an offensive coaching staff that has been thin since the firings of coach Frank Reich and offensive coordinator Marcus Brady. He has had to work within the constraints of a flawed template. This was never a situation where Saturday, whose only previous coaching experience was at the high school level, could have any real success.

But the Colts have only become more of a mess on Saturday.

Irsay has no reason to believe he earned the full-time job Saturday.

Other reflections on AFC Sud:

jeans they’re looking to win despite the potential detrimental impact on the No. 1 overall pick

In terms of draft position, the Texans (2-13-1) have a lot on the line in their regular-season finale Sunday against the Colts.

Houston, which currently holds the first overall pick in the 2023 draft, gets the top pick with a loss or tie with Indianapolis, or a win or tie for the Bears, who face the Vikings on Sunday.

The mindset of the Texans in Week 18? To win.

“You say the No. 1 overall pick can help? Is that what you said? Yeah. How about the No. 2 overall pick, can that help? Yeah,” coach Lovie Smith said. “No. 3 [too]. There are many options that can help. That’s how I see it. We know the choices we have, we will add a lot of good football players. When you look at the history a little bit as well on whether you get the first pick or the second pick, third, you never know how they’re all going to turn out. I think it ultimately helps your ball club when you can get some of these top guys.

“We’ve been trying to win every game for a long time,” he continued. “None of that has changed.”

Two things about that.

First, it is always in the best interest of coaches and players to do whatever it takes to win. Regardless of how a season went, they have jobs and money to protect (and win) in a sport where those things are fleeting. This has precedent over intentional loss.

Second, Smith is right. Even without the top pick, the Texans would be in great shape. Assuming the Bears get the top pick and keep it, they’re sure to go the non-quarterback route considering they have Justin Fields. Even if the Bears traded the top pick, Houston would have advantages in one of the top signal-callers, a list that will include Alabama’s Bryce Young and Ohio State’s CJ Stroud.

have the titans renounced to Malik Willis?

In the wake of Ryan Tannehill’s injury, Joshua Dobbs has beaten out Willis for the starting quarterback role in just two weeks.

Dobbs was signed to the Lions’ practice squad on December 21. Eight days later, he started against the Cowboys and moved the ball better than Willis in any of his three starts. Then coach Mike Vrabel announced Monday that Dobbs would be the de facto starter in Saturday’s AFC South title game against the Jaguars.

“The message for Malik is to keep doing what he’s been doing, which is keep studying, keep using the practice reps to his advantage,” Vrabel said. “To help him slow down the game when he’s out.”

But Dobbs’ sudden appearance throws Willis’ future into doubt.

Right now, it looks like Dobbs and Willis will battle for the QB2 job in 2023 behind Tannehill, assuming the Titans bring him back, or another surefire starter.

If Willis can’t beat Dobbs in the upcoming training camp, it’s possible the Titans could look to trade the former Liberty star. Keeping three quarterbacks is unlikely for the Titans, and releasing a former third-round pick after one season would be a tough pill to swallow.

Ben Arthur is the AFC South reporter for FOX Sports. He previously worked for The Tennessean/USA TODAY Network, where he was the Titans beat writer for a year and a half. He covered the Seattle Seahawks for for three seasons (2018-20) before moving to Tennessee. You can follow Ben on Twitter at @benyarthur.

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