Colts end Texans winning streak to stay alive in AFC playoff race

Going into this game, I didn’t feel very confident in Indianapolis. In fact, I picked Houston to win. After coming off of a rough shutout loss in Jacksonville last weekend, the offensive struggles continued for the first quarter of this week. The Colts stumbled out of the gate with four consecutive 3-and-outs, then an interception on the fifth series. This certainly didn’t leave Indy fans with much optimism, but luckily the Indianapolis defense did show up to keep the game interesting. Forcing several punts, and getting to quarterback Deshaun Watson 5 times was a huge difference maker on the way to Indianapolis’ victory.

The Colts forced two 3-and-outs to begin the game, before giving up the first touchdown of the day late in the first quarter (Alfred Blue 1yd rush). The 7-0 score would stand until 6:33 left in the second quarter, when Colts’ running back Marlon Mack punched it into the end zone from 4 yards out. The Mack touchdown was set up by a beautiful 60 yard strike from Andrew Luck to T.Y. Hilton on the previous play. Hilton would go on to have a monster day with 9 receptions and 199 yards receiving. The next Texans series was again a 3-and-out, as the Indianapolis defense got the ball back into Andrew Luck’s hands in time for another Colts touchdown drive.

Indianapolis would start the next drive on their own 34 yard line, but quickly advance field position on a nice connection from Luck to Eric Ebron for 23 yards to the Houston 43. Two plays later, Luck would find wide receiver Zach Pascal for a big 28 yard chunk. After a one yard loss on a Nyhiem Hines stretch play, Luck connected with Ebron again, as the tight end extended into the end zone to put the Colts ahead. Ebron’s touchdown set a Colts franchise record for single season receiving touchdowns by a tight end with 12. The record was previously held by Dallas Clark. The Adam Vinatieri point after attempt, gave the Colts a 14-7 lead with just under 3 minutes left in the first half, but second quarter points party wasn’t done yet! After the Colts defense forced yet another punt, the Indy offense took control with 1:14 left in the half, which was just enough time to get in range for a 54 yard Adam Vinatieri field goal, and take a 17-7 lead into the halftime break.

Coming out after halftime, the Colts defense was a bit sluggish. Houston’s offense managed to orchestrate a 16 play, 75 yard scoring drive (Lamar Miller 1 yard rush), and close Indianapolis’ lead to just 3. The offensive mishaps from the first quarter would not return for the Colts though; as they would answer on a 12 yard passing touchdown from Luck to Pascal. This pushed the Indy lead back to 10 by a score of 24-14. That score stuck until late in the fourth quarter, as Deshaun Watson made a spectacular throw, finding an open DeAndre Hopkins in the back of the end zone for a Houston touchdown. With just 2:37 left to play and 2 timeouts, the Texans chose not to attempt an onside kick. Instead, they attempted to halt the Colts’ potent offense. On a 3rd and 1 after the two minute warning, Andrew Luck would pull out the hard count, and managed to get Texans’ linebacker Jedeveon Clowney to bite. This gave Indianapolis a first down, and allowed them to kneel and close out the win 24-21.

Final Thoughts: This was by all accounts a playoff game for Indianapolis. They absolutely needed this win to keep in contention for a wildcard spot, and rose to the occasion. At 7-6, they are tied with the Ravens, Dolphins, and Titans for the 6th seed. Indianapolis gets a two game home stand against the Cowboys (8-5) and the Giants (5-8), before traveling to Nashville for an AFC South showdown against the 7-6 Titans. Not an easy schedule for the Colts to get through, but not impossible either. Indianapolis’ road to the playoffs means winning out. I think to be a #6 seed, 10-6 will be the record to get to, and that still may not be enough. The Colts “one game at a time” and “obsession to finish” mantras need to resonate in the minds of Colts’ players now, more than ever, because one loss may put an end to the Colts 2018 campaign.

For Houston, they can’t let off the gas too much either. With their upcoming opponents having a combined record of 14-25, the Texans schedule seems favorable; However, playing the Jets in the Meadowlands and the Eagles in Philadelphia could produce a couple of hiccups for an indoor team forced to play in the elements. Then, a final test in week 17 against a Jaguars team that would love to spoil the end of their rival’s season is no gimme either. At 9-4, the Texans control their own playoff destiny. Win 2/3 and they’re in for sure. Win out, and they might find themselves with a first round bye.

Photo Credit Tim Warner/ Getty Images

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Week 14 preview: Colts @ Texans

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.

Photo Credit: USAToday.com

Colts offense fails to score in defensive slugfest.

If you’re a fan of high flying offense and barn burning offensive numbers, you may have been pretty bored watching this game. Things started off pretty well for the Colts, as defensive tackle Denico Autry forced a Carlos Hyde fumble just three plays into the first quarter. The fumble was recovered by linebacker Anthony Walker. Autry’s name would come up quite a few times during the course of the game, as he managed a career day with 3 sacks and 2 forced fumbles. The turnover set up the Colts offense in great field position at the Jacksonville 42 yard line. Unfortunately, it was a short lived celebration. Three plays into the Colts’ first offensive series, Andrew Luck was forced out of the pocket and threw an errant pass in the direction of Eric Ebron, which resulted in an interception by Jaguars cornerback D.J. Hayden.

Those first two drives pretty much set the tone for the entire game. Turnovers, penalties, and punts plagued the offenses of both teams all day long. The first points almost came at the beginning of the second quarter. Kicker Adam Vinatieri had connected on a short 29 yard field goal, but on the play, the Jaguars were called for an unnecessary roughness penalty for roughing the holder. That put the Colts at the Jacksonville 5 yard line.

From the 5, Indy tried to muster enough offense to pierce the goal line, but were met by a blistering Jaguars defense in each of their four attempts, as the Jags ultimately forced a turnover on downs. That was as close as Indianapolis would come to points all day, as Jacksonville contained the ground game and forced Andrew Luck to throw over 50 passing attempts again this year. *Luck is winless in his career when he throws more than 50 passes in a game.

The only scoring that happened all game were two Josh Lambo field goals in the second and fourth quarters respectively. If not for two 4th down attempts inside the Jaguars 35 yard line, Indianapolis may have been able to pull this one out at the end. The decisions to trust in the offense twice, unfortunately resulted in failed attempts to get a touchdown and first down in each situation. Had the Colts been successful on field goal attempts in those situations, they were in position late in the fourth quarter to kick what would have been a game winner. You know what they say though, “hindsight is 20-20”. I applaud Frank Reich being aggressive near the end zone. He trusts his offense, and the goal line stop just as easily could have been a touchdown. As it ended up, the Colts lost this one 6-0, but are still in the thick of the AFC Wildcard race. Baltimore holds the 6 seed at 7-5, but Miami, Indianapolis, Denver, and Tennessee all sit at 6-6. With four games remaining in the 2018 regular season, here’s the remaining schedule for the Colts:

@Houston Texans Week 14

Vs Dallas Cowboys Week 15

Vs New York Giants Week 16

@ Tennessee Titans Week 17

Game Preview: Colts @ Jaguars

After their bye week and three straight home games, the Colts are taking their first road trip since traveling to Oakland in October. The forecast for tomorrow calls for thunderstorms in the Jacksonville area, so it will be interesting to see if the elements play a factor, especially for an indoor team like the Colts.

Since their week 10 matchup in Indianapolis, this Jaguars team has a wildly different look. Earlier this week, quarterback Blake Bortles was benched in favor of Cody Kessler, they fired their offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett, Leonard Fournette landed a 1-game suspension after landing a couple punches against the Buffalo Bills, Guard Andrew Norwell was placed on the Injured Reserve, and last but not least, cornerback Jalen Ramsey is questionable (due to injury) to play after starting every game in his NFL career.

As you can see, that’s a lot of changes so I’ll break them down one at a time.

Bortles: Pulling Bortles this week is a bit puzzling to me because, Bortles has historically put up solid numbers against the Colts. Even in the week 10 loss, Bortles threw for 320 yards and 2 touchdowns. Bortles career stats against Indianapolis are 187 of 302, 61.9% completion percentage, 2384 yards, and 14:3 touchdown to interception ratio. He does have a losing record against the Colts overall (4-5), but boasts a 3-1 record in home games against Indy. Cody Kessler has one game of regular season action this year (against Houston Texans), and the results were so-so. On that day Kessler finished 21-30, for 1 touchdown, 1 interception, 1 fumble, and was sacked 4 times in a 20-7 defeat.

Nathaniel Hackett: After coaching a sixth ranked offense that propelled the Jaguars to the AFC championship, many people expected more out of Hackett this year. Unfortunately for him, his offense took a nosedive this year. Falling to 22nd overall in total offense, having to fight through numerous injuries, and overcome poor quarterback play, Hackett just couldn’t hack it in Jacksonville. This Sunday, his former duties will be taken over by quarterbacks coach and interim offensive coordinator Scott Milanovich.

Leonard Fournette: Well, it seems as if the Jaguars’ season of frustration materialized in the form of a Fournette fist fight last week. The second year running back, who has spent much of the season sidelined with a hamstring injury, lost his temper during a loss against the Buffalo Bills. Losing is tough at any point. Jacksonville started out 3-1, and had Super Bowl aspirations to begin the year, but they have now fallen to 3-8, and are in the mix for a top 10 draft pick. The raw emotion of that disappointment has reared it’s ugly head, and the Jaguars are no better for it.

Andrew Norwell: The highest paid guard in the NFL, will unfortunately be sidelined for the rest of the 2018 season. An ankle injury sustained in Sunday’s loss to the Buffalo Bills adds to the seemingly never ending list of injuries to the Jacksonville offensive line. Left tackle Cam Robinson, Center Brandon Linder, and backup left tackle Josh Wells were all critical losses. Norwell seems to be the final nail in the coffin for this beat up o-line. Good luck back there Cody Kessler!

Jalen Ramsey: One of the NFL’s most talented young cornerbacks could miss the first game of his career on Sunday. Starting the week off with back-to-back “Did Not Practice” designations, the All-Pro finally logged a limited practice on Friday. Ramsey will be listed as questionable, with no word on whether he will even be available.

The Colts are not without their own set of injuries this week. Jack Doyle’s season came to an end this week, as he suffered a kidney injury that came at the end of Indianapolis’ win against the Miami Dolphins. The tight end spot, which had been a great position for depth, became much more shallow this week. Tight end Mo Alie-Cox is listed as OUT for this week’s matchup as well. This leaves Indy with Eric Ebron, and either Ryan Hewitt or Eric Swoope to fill the TE2 gap. Center Ryan Kelly will miss this week as well. After sustaining a knee injury against Miami, Kelly was unable to practice all week. Quite a few names are listed on the “questionable” designation, but most names in the list should play. The biggest concern of the “questionable” list is probably running back Marlon Mack, who is making his way back from a concussion.

Now that you’re all caught up, let’s talk about this weekend’s game. With all of the changes that Jacksonville has endured just over the course of this week, I have trouble believing they’ll be as competitive as a Bortles-led team. Granted, Kessler has some playing time this year, but changing coordinators and having to deal will several key injuries/suspensions to offensive players will be Cody Kessler’s bane this weekend. I’ll be looking for Darius Leonard, Malik Hooker and the rest of the Colts’ defense to force several turnovers.

For the Colts offense, sticking to fundamentals and just finding a way to move the chains will be critical. It’s supposed to be rainy and sloppy and gross. This week Indianapolis has to protect the ball and figure out a way to be effective on the ground. I think the rain might slow down this fast paced offense a little bit, so maintaining possession with slow methodical drives will be imperative. Andrew Luck has thrown at least 3 touchdowns in 8 straight games. This week however, Luck might need to take a back seat to his running backs and let them keep the ball dry. In week 10, Colts running backs ran for 85 yards on 16 carries, including a big 53 yard scamper by Jordan Wilkins. They’ll need that kind of big play production this week against a defense that still ranks 9th overall.

I think this game might be a lot closer that many may want to believe. If the elements play a factor in this game, Indianapolis’ fast offense, may have to take what the conditions give them. That being said, I don’t think a banged up Cody Kessler-led offense out duels Andrew Luck and company. I’ve got Indianapolis winning their 6th straight to stay close behind Houston in the AFC South hunt.

Indianapolis: 24 Jacksonville: 13

Photo credit: Colts.com

Injury Update: Jack Doyle

Tight end Jack Doyle has been placed on the injured reserve with a season ending kidney injury. This is a tough loss for the Colts. After missing extended time with a hip injury earlier in the season, Doyle had come back to be an effective part of the Colts offense during their 5 game winning streak. Since returning against the Oakland Raiders on October 28th, Doyle had compiled 17 receptions for 165 yards and 2 touchdowns. While Doyle has been known to be an effective pass catcher, his true value is as a pass blocker. Pro Football Focus rated Doyle as the #1 pass blocking tight end in the NFL this season. Doyle finishes the year with 26 receptions, 245 yards, and 2 touchdowns.

Luckily for Indianapolis, they have good depth at the tight end position. Eric Ebron is having a career best year, as he’s racked up 11 receiving touchdowns (tied for first in NFL). Eric Swoope and Mo Alie-Cox have also been good in limited action. Alie-Cox has collected 6 receptions for 112 yards and 2 touchdowns on the year, while Swoope has come off the practice squad several times this season to grab 7 catches for 83 yards and 3 scores. Both Alie-Cox and Swoope were injured during last week’s game against Miami, but head coach Frank Reich is hopeful that at least one of the two returns this Sunday when the Colts face the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Photo Credit: Indianapolis Star

Colts overcome three turnovers and 10 point deficit to win 5th straight.

What a roller coaster of a game! Let’s start at the end of the second quarter. With the Colts up 14-7, Ryan Tannehill connected with wide receiver Leonte Carroo on a 74 yard strike. Carroo wrestled the ball away from Colts’ cornerback Pierre Desir, and took it into the end zone to tie the game at 14. After the ensuing kickoff, Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense assumed possession at the 25 yard line. One play later, Dolphins’ cornerback Xavien Howard fought off T.Y. Hilton on an under thrown Andrew Luck pass for an interception. The Colts defense would respond with a turnover of their own, as veteran safety Mike Mitchell knocked the ball free from the hands of Dolphins tight end Mike Gesicki. One more play later, Xavien Howard was at it again, as he tracked down a pass that seemed destined to be another Eric Ebron touchdown catch. The Howard interception put the Dolphins on their own 6, and they would kneel to take the game into halftime.

The third quarter belonged to the Dolphins, as they put points on the scoreboard on their first two possessions of the second half (29 yard Jason Sanders field goal and 14 yard rushing TD by Kenyan Drake), and forced Indianapolis to a punt and a missed field goal on their third quarter possessions. Indianapolis finally found their groove in the fourth quarter, scoring 13 unanswered points to close out the game, Luck’s second end zone connection to Eric Ebron tied the game at 24, and Adam Vinatieri sealed the comeback with a 32 yard game winner as time expired.

Final thoughts:

This game was a lot closer than I anticipated. The Colts really struggled to get things going on offense in the first half. Three first half turnovers, and multiple penalties, kept the high flying offense grounded for much of the day. An excellent fourth quarter was the Colts key to victory. Two great defensive stops that forced the Dolphins to punt, set up good field position on two Indianapolis scoring drives. This was Andrew Luck’s 20th game winning drive and it couldn’t have come at a better time for the Colts. Now at 6-5, and tied for the 6th seed in the AFC playoff race, Indianapolis can’t afford to let off the gas pedal. As for this week, a hard earned victory puts the win streak at 5, and the Colts will gear up for a road trip to Jacksonville next Sunday.

Photo Credit: IndianapolisStar.com

Week 12 preview: Colts vs Dolphins

After starting off the season 3-0, the Miami Dolphins have swum into colder waters since. Having dropped 4 of their last 5, they find themselves competing for a wildcard spot, and are two games behind the New England Patriots (7-3) in the AFC East. Miami is a bit hard to pin down. They’ve shown the ability to beat a top team like the Chicago Bears (who are 8-3), but have also been locked in tight battles or lost to sub-par teams like the Raiders and Lions. A lot of that probably has to do with Miami missing quarterback Ryan Tannehill who has not played since week 5 against the Cincinnati Bengals. Up to that point Tannehill was playing pretty solid football. In five games played, he’s logged just under 1,000 yards, 8 touchdown passes, and has completed over 65% of his passes. While Brock Osweiler was serviceable in Tannehill’s absence, I’m sure the Dolphins are happy to have their starter back under center. Despite the recent slide, this Miami Dolphins team is not without its playmakers.

On the defense, star linebacker Kiko Alonso is currently second in the NFL in combined tackles (89), which sits behind only the Colts’ own Darius Leonard (104). Alonso has been playing very well in pass coverage this season, as he has compiled 6 pass deflections as well as 3 interceptions. He has also forced 3 fumbles this year.

On the offensive side, the Dolphins have a solid left tackle in Leremy Tunsil, that will help protect Ryan Tannehill’s blind side. Tunsil hasn’t allowed a sack all season, but did miss last weeks’ matchup against the Green Bay Packers. We’ll see if the week off will do anything to dampen his stellar performance this year. This will also be a return to Indianapolis for veteran Frank Gore. Gore 528 yards on the ground this year and is averaging 4.5 yards per carry. While his yardage isn’t incredible this year, his ability hasn’t faded, and can’t be looked past by this Indianapolis defense.

For Indianapolis, they’ll be playing their third straight home game, and bring a four game winning streak into week 12. Right now, the Colts offense is firing on all cylinders, as they are averaging 36.5 points per game during their winning streak. The defense has also done their part, as they are giving up just 17.25 points per game and have forced 9 turnovers over the same stretch. There are multiple reasons for the Colts awakening from their 1-5 slumber. To start, Andrew Luck is playing MVP level football. Luck has 7 straight games of 3 or more passing touchdowns, and now has 29 touchdowns on the year.

One reason Luck’s stats are so good? The Indianapolis offensive line. The Colts have only given up 10 sacks this year (2nd in NFL and 1st in AFC). More impressive, is that they haven’t given up any sacks in the last 5 games. A clean pocket for Luck equals points on the board for the Colts. Another reason for the boost in Luck’s touchdown production is the excellent communication he has with Eric Ebron and the rest of his tight end group. Luck has connected 15 times for touchdowns to his tight ends, and a big part of that number is Eric Ebron having a career year. Ebron leads all NFL tight ends with 9 receiving touchdowns and also has 1 rushing touchdown.

As the Colts take the field today, they find themselves in a similar scenario as the Dolphins at this point in the season. Both teams are 5-5, both are tied for an AFC wildcard spot (with Titans, Bengals, and Ravens as well), and both are in second place in their respective divisions. The difference, is that Indianapolis is trending upwards, and Miami the opposite. As they meet at Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon, both teams recognize this game could have major playoff implications.

My prediction: Miami has struggled on offense as of late. Averaging just 16 points over the last 3 games, Ryan Tannehill’s return couldn’t come at a better time. That being said, I don’t believe Tannehill will be able to cover up enough holes to keep the Indianapolis defense from collecting turnovers. The Colts defense has logged at least 1 turnover in every game this season, and I don’t think the Dolphins will put an end to that streak. The Colts offense is red hot right now, as they’re averaging over 36 points per game over their last 3. A hot offense paired with a defense who turns the ball over is a nightmare for opposing teams. I’ve got Indianapolis winning this one 34-20, and improving to 6-5 on the year.

Photo Credit: Andy Lyons/ Getty Images