Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans: What to Watch For

Oct 8, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) celebrates his first quarter field goal with teammates against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 8, 2015; Houston, TX, USA; Indianapolis Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri (4) celebrates his first quarter field goal with teammates against the Houston Texans at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Matthew Emmons-USA TODAY Sports /

The Indianapolis Colts head southwest to face the Houston Texans for Sunday Night Football. First place in the AFC South is on the line as both team’s are hoping to find solid footing early in the season.

The Colts sit at 2-3, have struggled through every single game this season, are riddled with injuries and a bad roster, yet still they have a shot to take the lead in the division with a win on Sunday. The Texans, on the other hand, haven’t quite come together as a team with Brock Osweiler at QB.

Houston is fresh off a beating at the hands of Minnesota where Osweiler was sacked four times and an additional (staggering) 15 hits. The good news for the Texans, is that the Colts have nothing resembling a pass rush.

The Colts have yet to play a complete game from start to finish. Last week against the Bears they appeared to turn a corner when coach Chuck Pagano opened up the offense to start the game, but then he dialed it back and got conservative again in the second half. Beating the Texans is going to take an aggressive effort that revolves around an up-tempo pace from start to finish.

Here’s what fans should watch for:

  • Luck to Hilton. T.Y. Hilton has been torching opponents and Andrew Luck is basically unstoppable when looking his way. The duo have torched the Texans in the past and no team has suffered against Hilton more than Houston (43 receptions, 778 yards, six touchdowns over eight games). Hilton has had two go-ahead touchdowns this season to save the Colts from a winless season. The Colts need Phillip Dorsett to step up to take some of the pressure off of Hilton and help Luck spread the ball around a bit more.

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  • Protection. Luck has taken 20 sacks this season in just five games.  He’s been hit a lot more times. This is behind what was supposed to be a rebuilt line with a new coach and nothing has changed (it has, in fact, gotten worse). Despite this, Luck is on his way towards a career best season. Imagine if his protection improved just a little bit? The good news is that J.J. Watt is out for the year, so the Colts don’t have to worry about Joe Reitz vs the Hulk. Watt is generally good for 2-5 big plays versus the Colts and without him the Texans pass rush has been inconsistent and run stopping has suffered.
  • Pass rush? Just kidding! We know the Colts don’t have a pass rush.
  • The soft underbelly. The Colts other big defensive weakness  is coverage on short passes. Quick slants, crossing routes, dump offs to running backs, and swing passes have killed this team in 2016 (and 2015, 14, 13…). The truth of the matter is that it isn’t going to get any better because the Colts linebackers are terrible in coverage. And even on the rare occasion they don’t blow their assignment, they struggle to finish tackles and turn a small gain into a big one. It feels like the play calling doesn’t address these issues but when they have to blitz to generate anything resembling pressure on QBs, it leaves these linebackers even more isolated.
  • GOAT. One of the lone positives for the Colts season is that they have figured out how to stop the aging process. Or at least Adam Vinatieri has (and was snubbed by the Nobel Prize committee). He received a record 16th AFC Special Teams Player of the Week award for his five field goal performance last week. Vinatieri seems to be getting better with age and if the game is on the line, expect him to win it for the Colts.

The Colts could easily go into Houston and come home with a win. The Texans haven’t looked very good even in their wins this season and are without their tone setter on defense. But it will require the Colts to play nearly flawlessly on defense and commit to an up-tempo offense all night. It is doubtful either of those two things happen.

Sunday should be more of a shootout, but the Colts generally don’t do shootouts under Pagano. So expect the typical script: Texans jump out to a lead, Colts claw back, and it’s a toss up in the fourth quarter.

But that still means the Colts will have a chance to win. Perhaps on a game winner from Vinatieri, because we haven’t seen that for awhile.