The final month of regular season play has arrived, and both the Colts and Texans are vying for playoff spots. For the Texans, a win would extend their lead in the AFC South to a virtually insurmountable distance. For the Colts, this game is a must win if they hope to stay in the running for a potential AFC wildcard spot.
After beginning the season 0-3, the Houston Texans have been the hottest team in the NFL. Reeling off nine straight victories, the Texans have propelled themselves to the top of the AFC South, and the #3 seed in the AFC playoff race. Second year quarterback Deshaun Watson leads the way for Houston, as he has passed for 3,031 yards and posts a 21:9 touchdown to interception ratio. Watson has also added another 375 yards on the ground, as well as two rushing touchdowns. However, Watson is not the only playmaker on Houston’s roster. Game-breaking talent is found at nearly every position on both the offense and defense. Whether it’s the tandem of Pro Bowl receivers Deandre Hopkins and Demaryius Thomas, or All Pro defensive end JJ Watt, or elite safety Tyrann Mathieu, it’s clear that this team is loaded with talent.
The Texans offense currently ranks 12th in the NFL in both points per game (25.2), and yards per game (374). They also rank 3rd in rushing yards per game (140.8). A weak spot though, surprisingly seems to be the passing game. With just 233.2 yards per game, Houston ranks just 22nd in the NFL.
On the defensive side, the Texans are even better. Ranked in the top 10 in points (19.6), rushing yards (91.3), and total yards allowed per game (341.5), the Houston defense continues to be one of the more imposing to match up against.
As impressive as stats like this may be, the Colts can play confident in this week’s game knowing they took this team to the wire in week 4, and may have tied, if not for a gutsy Frank Reich decision to go for it on 4th down in the Colts own territory. Some things have changed since then. The Texans did trade for wide receiver Demaryius Thomas among other transactions, but the Colts offensive line looks a lot different from week 4, and Indianapolis will have running back Marlon Mack in the lineup this go around. T.Y. Hilton also missed some playing time during the Colts’ and Texans’ last meeting, as he was in and out during the game, while nursing hamstring and shoulder injuries. Perhaps Indianapolis can be the beginning and the end of the Texans long winning streak. To do so, they’ll need to play much better than they did last time these teams met. For Indy to pull the upset, I believe 3 things have to happen in order to pull out the victory:
1) Protect Luck and Protect the Ball: The Colts started their last game against Houston off with a 7 play 75 yard touchdown drive, and forced Texans to punt on their opening possession. The next Indianapolis possession was not so graceful. Two plays into the drive, linebacker Jadeveon Clowney recovered an Andrew Luck fumble and took it in for a Texans’ touchdown. From then on, Indianapolis was fighting momentum. Luck fumbled again late in the second quarter (again the result of poor pass blocking). Two plays later, Houston found themselves leading 21-7. The Colts fell behind 28-10 at one point, but 14 of Houston’s points could have been erased if Indy had simply held on to the ball. It wasn’t until the Colts forced a turnover of their own, that they reclaimed momentum to spark a comeback and force overtime.
Control Time of Possession: Its worth noting, that in Houston’s three losses this year, they failed to win the time of possession battle in each of those games. For this matchup, I’d like to see the Colts make long, methodical drives in order to take the playmaking ability of Deshaun Watson away for as much as possible. If the Colts can keep the Houston offense sidelined, they have a good shot at pulling this one out.
Run the ball effectively: During their week 4 matchup with Houston, Indianapolis found themselves in a hole, the could only be dug out with a career day by Andrew Luck. Luck posted career highs in yards (464), completions (40), and attempts (62), and finished with 4 touchdowns and 0 interceptions in a ridiculous Madden-esque stat line. With Marlon Mack in the lineup for this game, and both Jordan Wilkins and Nyhiem Hines having had solid playing time this season, Indianapolis should unleash their 3-headed monster to the fullest extent.
It was a little unnerving to see the Colts post a goose egg last week against Jacksonville. With another top 10 defense to play this week, the Colts are forced to have a short memory. Judging by the week 4 meeting of these teams, a barn burner isn’t off of the table, but I feel as if the score will be a bit more tame this go around. Each team recognizes this as a critical game for playoff positioning, and that why I believe they will be much more conservative in their play calling. I don’t think we’ll see Frank Reich go for it on as many 4th downs, but instead take the points if available. That being said, I like the Texans in this game, simply because I believe they have a more well rounded team. Household names like JJ Watt, Deshaun Watson, Jedeveon Clowney, and Deandre Hopkins likely made game planning for this team a nightmare. This week, I have Houston winning, (but not without an Indianapolis fight) 24-20, and pushing their winning streak to 10.
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