The Indianapolis Colts have a short week before they face the Houston Texans. The NFL insists on these inane Thursday night games, while at the same time touting player safety, and it has resulted in many one sided affairs this season.
Both teams sit at 3-2 and are fighting for outright ownership of the AFC South. For the Colts, this is another average team that needs to be taken care of regardless of the short week. The Texans have been playing above their means and have faced just two teams with a plus, the Cowboys and Giants, losing to both of them.
A loss would say that the Colts have more work to do, but its still a road game on a short week. Andrew Luck had an uneven game last week and will be looking to rebound against a challenging but ultimately inferior opponent.
Here’s what fans should be on the lookout for:
- Protection. Hugh Thornton and Jack Mewhort won’t play on Thursday. That means Lance Louis (who’s filled in the past two weeks at right and left guard) and hopefully Joe Reitz will play the guard positions this week. The Colts have had one of the best lines in terms of pass protection this season, but injuries (and odd coaching decisions) are starting to show some cracks. Its like that Jonotthan Harrison starts again, which will mean more struggles in the run game. What matters more is how the line keeps Luck upright and stopping that one guy…
- The Worldbreaker. I haven’t heard any official nicknames for J.J. Watt, but I think this one works (it was applied to the Hulk originally, which seems appropriate). He is literally off the charts defensively, and Pro Football Focus has him at +27.7 overall by far the highest in the NFL. He is almost the entirety of the Texans defense. Watt has 35 total quarterback pressures (including hits and sacks) which is roughly 18-percent of opponents dropbacks. The Colts have to specifically gameplan to remove him, even if that means a triple team.
- Run Defense. If ever there were a game where Chuck Pagano’s notion of stopping the run was true, its this one. Arian Foster third in the NFL in rushing yards and extremely dangerous when healthy. The Texans want to run the ball since Ryan Fitzpatrick is barely a game manager. If the Colts can contain Foster, then it will be up to Fitzpatrick to win the game with his arm and that plays into the team’s strengths.
- Pass Rush. The Colts have some how cobbled together a decent pass rush despite not having Robert Mathis on the field. They currently rank eighth in the NFL in adjusted sack pressure and are tied for sixth in the NFL with 12 total sacks. After a breakout performance for Bjoern Werner, it will be interesting to see what he does for an encore. Houston ranks eighth in pass protection, but the Ravens were second before facing the Colts.
- The Resident. T.Y. Hilton owns the Texans. He flat out owns them. In four games, Hilton has 22 receptions for 388 yards and five touchdowns. He has a tendency to make big plays against the Texans for 50-plus yards and a touchdown. With the improved receiving threats for the Colts, expect Hilton to play more decoy and draw the defense deep, opening up the underneath routes for Reggie Wayne and the tight ends.
- The Other Resident. Andre Johnson has a history of big games against the Colts (and everyone else in the division). He has just a 4-15 record vs the Colts but recorded 118 receptions for 1,522 yards and nine touchdowns in those 19 games. In this game last season, Johnson had nine receptions for 229 yards and three touchdowns, but was shut down a few weeks later in Indianapolis. The Colts will likely keep Vontae Davis on him, but that will leave a struggling Greg Toler on DeAndre Hopkins who’s playing very well this season.
- Turnovers. Both teams rank in the top 10 in takeaways and Houston leads the NFL with 12. With the short week, it wouldn’t be surprising if both teams were a little sloppy with the ball. Generally, if a team wins the turnover battle, they’ll win the game too. Whoever can make fewer mistakes tomorrow will come away with the victory.
The Colts are the better team. This is the time of the season where the good team’s start to separate themselves from the rest of the league. The Colts should build a clear lead in the division tomorrow night and not have to look back for the rest of the season.