Just one year ago, heading into Week 15, the Colts sat at 0-13, and had a better than 50% chance to finish the season 0-16, something only the 2008 Lions have had to endure. They faced three divisional games to finish the season, and wouldn't you know they won two of them (as you all already know). Now, the Colts sit a lone victory away from securing a playoff spot, and if they can somehow pull off wins in their final three games, they'd win the AFC South, and have a decent shot at avoiding the team they'll face twice in the next three weeks: the Houston Texans.
The Colts and Texans are the last divisional series to play, oddly waiting until now to play for the first time. Honestly though, for the Colts, it was quite the blessing in disguise, as the Texans were playing a lot better earlier in the season, and probably would have steamrolled the Colts. Now, the rookie-laden Colts have almost a full season under their belts before playing the class of the division, the 11-2 Texans.
Houston comes into the matchup having been throttled by the Patriots on Monday night 42-14, something the Colts can relate to, although at least the Colts hung around for a half in Foxboro. Both Texans losses have been blowouts, as they lost to the Packers earlier this season 42-24. Winning anything close but getting blown out a couple times...where have I seen this before? The Texans have done a good job taking care of business, but it took overtime against both the Jaguars and Lions to beat them in the past month after winning on the road in Chicago in a sloppy, sloppy game dominated by Defense.
The Colts are a modest 17-3 all-time against the Texans, but have lost their last two trips to Houston. Last year marked the first time in thirteen seasons the Colts played without Peyton Manning, and it showed, losing 34-7 in a game that was 31-0 at halftime. In 2010 the Colts really struggled to get anything going offensively in the first 3 quarters, losing 34-24. Both of these game were played in Week 1, so maybe playing later will actually make a difference. The most famous game of the series was the Rosenchopper special, where the Colts scored 21 points in the final 4:10 to win 31-27. I love any excuse to see that play.
Will the Colts be able to punch their playoff ticket Sunday afternoon? Let's get to the numbers and find out:
Statistical Preview between the Colts and Texans (Adjusted):
|Orange Zone Eff||51.1%||24||62.1%||31||60.1%||8||55.5%||16|
|Avg Start Pos||26.7||32||28.5||7||30.7||14||30.2||18|
|3 and Outs||3.30||9||3.17||29||4.21||25||4.87||2|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.691||5||1.222||1||0.749||9||0.858||15|
Keys to the game:
- Turnovers, turnovers, turnovers, on both sides of the ball. The Colts have only played one of their six road games without multiple turnovers, so I guess there's something to knowing how to play even when the odds are stacked against you. The Texans are 5th in the league on both sides in Turnovers, so you shouldn't count on the Colts winning this battle. In fact, getting out with no turnovers would be cause for celebration at this point.
- When the Colts have the ball, expect to see some issues moving the ball, as the Texans have fantastic drive stats, including best in the league at Time of Possession per Drive, and 2nd in the league at Drive Success Rate, First Downs per Drive, 3 and Outs, and Plays per Drive. The Colts have struggled in all these areas the last couple weeks. Tough task to try and turn it around now.
- One area where the Colts could exploit the Texans Defense is if they get it into plus territory, they should be able to put some points on the board. During the first nine weeks of the season, the Colts were ranked 26th in Red Zone Efficiency, converting just 61% of the total points possible. Since that time? 86.8%, best in the NFL. Bruce Arians credits it to an improved running game, but something else definitely changed to be that different. If the Colts get down there deep, expect TDs if they want to win.
- The biggest key of the day will come on 3rd/4th Downs, where the Texans are best in the NFL with a league-low 29.1% conversion percentage. However, they do have a vulnerability, and that's on 3rd and 3 or less yards defending the run, where they've given up 8/10 on the season. When teams pass the ball against them on 3rd and short? 11/29, or 37.9% (Patriots were 0/3 last week). This is the kind of stuff that the Colts absolutely should know going into this game, so any 3rd and short pass I'm going to scream about.
- The Texans Offense has taken a step back this season, as they were one of the best offenses in the NFL before Matt Schaub got hurt last year. I can't imagine he's still feeling symptoms of the foot injury, but I guess it's possible. They have really struggled moving the ball at times, ranking 20th or below in several categories. It'll help them to play a defense that let's the opposing team move the ball pretty freely.
- The Texans do a really good job scoring TDs once they get into the Orange/Red Zone, and the Colts usually comply with the opposing offense, ranking 31st and 30th respectively. The Colts were able to slow down both the Lions and Titans. Can they do it again?
- The rushing numbers don't look like what they should for a team with Arian Foster, but they are what they are. The Colts have quietly become one of the better run-stopping defenses in the league, but they haven't faced a RB of this caliber since Week 2. Stopping the stretch play, a Texan staple much like in the hey-day of Manning and James, will be the key. That means Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis need to play big roles in the run game.
- I expect to see lots of play-action, roll-outs, and double moves from the Texans, trying to capitalize on the Colts aggressiveness. Hopefully Schaub forgets about Andre Johnson for long stretches of the game much like Matthew Stafford forgot about Calvin Johnson two weeks ago.
The Colts have won 7 of their last 8 games, but the best team they beat in that stretch was the 5-8 Dolphins, so I'm a little hesitant to think they can go into Houston and pull a game out at the end, which is the only way I can see them winning. This is the best defense the Colts have faced since Week 1, and I think it's going to show, especially in the first half. If the Colts can hang around they'll have a chance, but the fact is the Texans are on a different level talent-wise, and we've seen what happens when the Colts have played playoff-caliber teams. This will be a great trial-run for a playoff game, as the atmosphere should be on that level. Hopefully the Colts can use the experience in a couple weeks when the games really matter.
In the meantime, it's going to be a long day for the Colts. The Texans are just too good, and they won't be playing at Lucas Oil Stadium for another two weeks.
Texans 34, Colts 17