The rolling Texans eye another AFC South crown, while the Colts look to keep their playoff hopes alive. Last week, Houston dispatched the Cleveland Browns 29-13, while Indianapolis laid an egg, losing at Jacksonville 6-0. Besides the possibility of wrapping up the AFC South with a win and a Titans loss, the Texans are also in the mix for a first-round bye (though they would likely need to win out and get some help). Indianapolis has severely damaged their postseason chances with their loss to the Jaguars, and they most likely need to win out and get some help.
The Previous Matchup
It was the Week 4 matchup between these two that woke up the sleeping bear (Texans). Houston held a 28-10 lead in the third quarter until the Colts stormed back to force overtime. The teams traded field goals in the overtime, but Colts coach Frank Reich made the bold decision to go for it on 4th and 4 with 24 seconds left, instead of punting and settling for a likely tie. Reich's choice to go for it was the right call, but the play was poorly executed. Given how Andrew Luck had the Texans defense on their heels, piling up 464 yards and four touchdowns in the second half and the overtime, not attempting to keep the outcome in Luck's hands would have been criminal.
Could you imagine if the roles were reversed, and it was Watson who had 464 yards and 4 touchdowns, but Bill O'Brien elected to punt instead of trusting Watson to win the game? To put it mildly, the backlash would have been intense. Reich’s failure in that Week 4 matchup was the decision to ice Fairbairn on the game-winning field goal. Knowing the Texans were winless, had blown a double-digit lead, and were burdened under the NFL's longest losing streak, the pressure was all on Fairbairn to get the Texans their first win of the year. Fairbairn looked nervous leading into the failed attempt, but Frank Reich’s timeout negated the miss. This allowed Fairbairn to take a deep breath, compose himself, and nail the second attempt, giving the Texans the win.
No one could foresee the Texans getting as hot as they are, but getting that one win, no matter how ugly it was, gave the team the sweet taste of success and some confidence. Nine wins later, here we are with the rematch.
Keys to the Game
How do the Texans keep things going against the Colts?
- Run the ball well. The Texans are third in the NFL in rushing yards per game, with D'Onta Foreman off the PUP list. Foreman joins Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue, who are both coming off good games against Cleveland. The Texans need their trio of backs to establish an early rhythm, hog the football, and keep Andrew Luck on the sideline drinking Gatorade.
- Play cleanly. Deshaun Watson has played two straight games without a turnover, and the Texans as a whole have played mistake-free in back-to-back games. In doing so, the Texans won by 17 over Tennessee, and by 16 against the Browns. Houston must continue to play clean, keep Watson upright, and avoid silly penalties so as not to be in unfavorable 3rd-down situations.
- Sustain drives and finish. When your kicker has more field goals (29) than your quarterback has touchdowns (21), especially in today's offense-happy league, that is a problem. Houston is 15th in the league in 3rd down offense, and 25th in red zone offense. The Texans had no trouble moving the ball against Cleveland, yet still settled for five field goals. Houston needs to do a better job of sustaining drives, and most importantly finishing with touchdowns.
- Make Luck uncomfortable. In the first meeting, JJ Watt and Jadeveon Clowney wreaked serious havoc, producing all four of Houston's sacks against Luck. The Texans’ defense produced 11 quarterback hits, but this time around Houston needs more than just Watt and Clowney to disrupt Luck. Outside Watt and Clowney, the rest of the Texans front seven has to apply constant pressure. If the Texans defense can penetrate up front, they can limit this explosive Colts offense.
- Overbook the Hilton. T.Y. Hilton and Andrew Luck, when both are healthy, have a history of making big plays against the Texans, some in crunch time. In Week 4, T.Y. had four receptions for 115 yards on six targets. The Texans secondary, whether providing safety help or double coverage, need to find a way to keep Andrew Luck's go-to target in check, and force Luck to beat them with someone else.
- Be disciplined and get off the field on 3rd down. The Texans have a habit of getting caught lining up in the neutral zone on defense, as a way of trying to intimidate the opposing quarterback. But Luck really does not get rattled. The Texans need to avoid committing silly defensive penalties, because Luck can make any defense pay for giving up free yardage. Offensively, the Texans need to execute on 3rd down and stay on the field, but defensively the Texans need to find a way to get off the field on 3rd down. In Week 4, the Colts were 10/17 on 3rd down. If the Texans are going to put a cap on the Colts offense, being better on 3rd down is critical.
The biggest key to the game for the Texans is to play a good whole 60 minutes. Houston raced off to a 28-10 lead in Week 4, only to nearly blow it. If the Texans can get off to another double-digit lead, they will need to keep their foot on the gas for the entire 60 minutes.
The Texans in Week 4 were desperate for a win. This time they are rolling towards a division title. Houston is also in play for a first-round bye, and while they take on the Colts, the Chiefs will host the Ravens, and the Patriots will be at Miami against the Dolphins. On the flip side, the Colts know they have to run the table and get some help to snag the AFC's last playoff spot.
A division game in December, with playoff implications on the line, leaves me with only one question: is it Sunday yet?