NASHVILLE, TN - OCTOBER 23: Kareem Jackson #25 of the Houston Texans is called for interference on a pass to Donnie Avery #82 of the Tennessee Titans at LP Field on October 23, 2011 in Nashville, Tennessee. The Texans defeated the Titans 41-7. (Photo by Joe Robbins/Getty Images)
This is a day that will most likely be spent reveling in the afterglow of the glorious destruction that the Texans rained down upon the Titans in Nashville, but that win doesn't actually change too much in the grand scheme of things. Revealing Tennessee as a pretender was excellent, and doing it on the road just added to the glory, but the Texans were always likely to emerge from the pittance that is their remaining schedule with high enough marks to take the AFC South crown by default. It was stupendous to see them not let it be passed down -- and instead actually take it -- but there isn't much of an actual story there, so I want to instead have you guys think back to Tennessee's first drive of the game.
The Texans had just completed a run-run-run three-and-out, and the "Fire Kubiak!" crowd was already getting their fingers warmed up. Matt Hasselbeck lobbed an arcing ball to his left on third-and-7 for an incomplete pass. Or at least it would've been if Kareem Jackson had not been called for pass interference. Again.
It seems to me that there are two main schools of thought on the Kareem Jackson situation: you can buy the Texans party line that he is "playing well" and/or "battling out there," or you can trust the eyes that tell you that him being on the field is a liability.
There are two main problems that I can point out about Jackson on tape. The first one, which will be obvious to anyone who has watched a Texans game in the last two years, is that he has no afterburners. If his man beats him deep, he will be open. While I have limited press box experience this season, having attended only the Colts game from the booth, it seemed to me that when he was on the field, the Texans were giving him an overwhelming amount of help.
The second is that he still makes plenty of mental mistakes. I again offer a press box observation: watching the final drive of the Texans-Colts shellacking in Week 1, the Colts completed a 36-yard pass to Reggie Wayne on first down, most of that coming after the catch. The reason it came after the catch? Because the Texans had called a man-to-man play, and Kareem Jackson, who ostensibly was covering Wayne, played him as if he was in a zone.
Despite his struggles, I feel like there is still a sizable minority of Texans fans that feel like he has untapped potential or, at the least, think he is getting better. I don't really see it. To me this is one of those assertions that doesn't hold up under the weight of evidence. Jason Allen is still seeing plenty of snaps, and Allen is nothing but replacement-level fodder. In fact, he was picked up off waivers from the Dolphins last season solely because Jackson wasn't ready to play on a week-to-week basis. Splitting snaps was their way to keep calling Jackson a starter despite any evidence that he warranted the job, and it continues to this day under the same baseless reasoning. Gary Kubiak says he is playing better, but Kubiak knows how to faintly praise with the best of them. If you asked Kubiak to tell you what is wrong with Nickelback, he'd tell you that Chad Kroeger is a heckuva guitarist who just needs a few more records to get it together.
Now that we have that out of the way, let's talk about Jackson's future in Houston. I know the very optimistic among you are still banking on the "Nnamdi Asomugha didn't play until his third year" scenario (now that the "Darrelle Revis wasn't very good in his first season either!" plot has ended), and his first-round pedigree unfairly raises those hopes in my view. The problem is that we have a lot of evidence in place that says that Kareem is not a starting NFL cornerback, and said evidence comes mostly in the form of a non-correctable tool: his deep speed. You can't just go learn deep speed in a playbook -- you either have it or you don't. Kareem Jackson doesn't.
But with the injury to Danieal Manning and (ostensibly) a pretty weak upcoming schedule to tinker around with, I would make the following change to the lineup: Jason Allen starts at cornerback, and Jackson grabs 20 snaps a game ... at safety.
When I look at Jackson's strengths, I think his skill set translates a lot better to safety than it does at cornerback. He's a pretty good tackler for a cornerback, especially on catches in front of him, and he does have solid instincts when a ball is actually placed where he can reach it. It would also minimize my two big complaints about him: he won't have to worry quite so much about getting beat deep, and he'd have more time to react laterally to quick passes.
It isn't a Glover Quin-esque slam dunk move to me, and it's definitely awkward to make the move in the middle of the season, but I feel like this is the best chance we have of getting positive value out of Jackson at this point. Offensive coordinators have a bullseye on Jackson the cornerback. If Kenny Britt were healthy enough to suit up yesterday, he would have found 100 yards off Jackson easily. This changes the game a little bit. And with Shiloh Keo looking rookie-ish (and I'm being charitable here) in his early snaps, I think it gives the team something to fall back on in the event of further injuries on the last line.
Does it shake up the depth chart? Sure, a little bit. I'm not sure that you can argue that Brice McCain is worse than Jackson right now though, and as much as Rick Smith loves the cadre of late-round picks he has filled his secondary with, the Texans can always go find another Jason Allen if nobody can step up and play the snaps effectively. I know, I know, crazy talk to think that Rick would give up on his prized Antwaun Molden before he has four seasons to develop on IR, but since Wade Phillips is now calling the shots, I no longer feel it is totally out of the realm of possibility.
Let's be honest with ourselves. Jackson has shown no aptitude for the outside cornerback position in 20+ games. A cornerback with his skill set can only be thrown out there to start out of desperation or blind faith. Wade knew this from the beginning. There is absolutely nothing that can be done to hide his flaws at the position.
The good news: your first position doesn't have to be your only one. It's time to see if Jackson has an NFL role beyond nickel corner, and the stars have aligned in the proper way to show it -- an upcoming schedule of creamy cupcakes and a safety situation that is completely unsettled behind Quin. Now, as is par for the course with this team, it is all in Wade's hands.