The Indianapolis Colts host the Houston Texans on Sunday in the annual “Can They Finally Win in Indy?” game. The Colts sit at 9-4 can clinch the division with a win. The Texans, at 7-6, are still fighting for a playoff spot.
The Texans have never won in Indianapolis. They are 0-12 in their brief history. With so much on the line for both teams, its hard to see the Texans managing to finally notch a win in Indianapolis this year.
In the last meeting between these two teams, the Colts jumped out to a 24-0 lead in the first quarter before the Texans managed to rally. It ended with a Bjoern Werner strip/sack of Ryan Fitzpatrick to seal a 33-28 victory.
The Texans on Offense
The Texans are a run first team and rank fourth in yards per game. Arian Foster is still one of the better running backs in the NFL and has over 1,000 yards rushing so far this year.
Football Outsiders has the Texans with the 17th overall offense, ranking 15th in passing and 21st on the ground. Despite the surprising rating in terms of running efficiency, Foster still ranks in the top 10 among RBs. PFF also has him as the 11th highest graded running back in the league.
The problems with this offense stem mostly from the quarterback position. Despite having a decent season, Fitzpatrick was benched in Week 11 for Ryan Mallett. Mallett didn’t play particularly well against Cleveland and then had a horrible game the following week against Cincinnati that ended with a torn pectoral that put him on IR.
Fitzpatrick returned with two rough outings before carving the Titans apart for a career high six touchdowns two weeks ago (his numbers immediately came back to earth the next week at Jacksonville).
Fitzpatrick has played well enough to be the 10th rated QB by PFF and he’s 15th according Football Outsiders. Another part of the puzzle has been the play of Houston’s wide receivers.
DeAndre Hopkins has been the lone bright spot in the receiving corps. He ranks ninth in the NFL in receiving yards and is the fifth rated receiver in DYAR and seventh in DVOA (just ahead of T.Y. Hilton). PFF has him 12th in the league as well.
But outside of him, that’s been it for the Texans. Andre Johnson has not had a very good year and might not play this week after suffering a nasty concussion this past Sunday. Johnson is down in the high 70s in terms of efficiency in the NFL this season.
The receiving options simply aren’t there. To put it in perspective, J.J. Watt has the highest grade (after Hopkins) with a +2.5 in just nine snaps at tight end.
What it Means for the Colts on Defense
The Colts have feasted against inferior opponents and mediocre quarterbacks this season, and that does double for home games. We know they can shut this defense down, its just a matter of not letting up.
The last meeting featured big games from Johnson and Foster, but this time around it looks like the Colts will have to focus on Hopkins and Foster. Getting Vontae Davis back this week is key as he will effectively neutralize Hopkins in the passing game.
The Colts will want to crowd the box and get the Texans in obvious passing downs, thus forcing Fitzpatrick to beat them. He’s more like to not throw a touchdown and complete less than 60-percent of his passes than not.
The Texans on Defense
This is the part where we talk about Watt and how dominant he has been this season. He is far and away the highest graded player in the NFL with a monster +76.6 overall.
The Texans defense relies heavily on Watt being brilliant every week. He’s third in the NFL in sacks at 14.5 (two of which came against the Colts) and leads the NFL in pressure.
Overall, Houston is in the middle of the pack in terms of defensive efficiency. The Texans are 15th overall, 18th against the pass and 17th versus the run. Traditional stats have them giving up the 28th most passing yards in the league and 15th on the ground.
The cornerbacks have played fairly well this season but safeties D.J. Swearinger and Kendrick Lewis have struggled. When it comes to covering wide receivers, the Texans are the best in the NFL at covering the number two option but rank 26th when it comes to primary threats.
Houston is merely average against all other threats on the field.
What This Means for the Colts on Offense
Hilton will feast. He always does against the Texans. He had nine receptions for a staggering 223 yards and a touchdown in the first meeting. In five meetings with Houston, he has 31 catches for 611 yards and six touchdowns.
There are few certainties in life, but Hilton torching the Texans secondary is one of them.
The other key for the Colts will be stopping, or at least limiting, Watt. The last meeting saw the Colts largely nullify Watt in the first quarter while they built up a big lead. Watt had a sack on a Andrew Luck scramble, but it was rendered meaningless with a touchdown pass on the next play.
However, as the game wore on the Colts blocking scheme went from using two or three linemen and a tight end to stop Watt to just a tight end. The Colts will have to keep at least two blockers on him at all times and make sure to run more plays away from him as he swatted down three passes during the last meeting.
It should go without saying, but the Colts also need to focus on ball security as they’ve fumbled the ball far too many times in recent games. The Texans might struggle to move the ball, but giving them extra chances certainly doesn’t help matters.