Is it just me, or did this bye week for the Colts seem to really drag on? Last year the Colts dealt with Head Coach Chuck Pagano being diagnosed with leukemia, so it kinda had the same feeling: just get the Colts back on the field so we all can move on. Two years ago, with the Colts not good, it flew by. Imagine that. This year we've endured coming off the much anticipated homecoming of Peyton Manning, the Colts beating the Broncos, but losing Reggie Wayne for the season with a torn ACL. I don't know about you, but I just want to see the Colts back on the field.
The bye week came at a really good time this season, as the Colts play one of their more important games of the year Sunday night, heading to Houston to take on the Texans. Division games are extremely important, as the easiest way to make the Playoffs is to win your Division, which starts with beating teams in your Division, especially if you can sneak one on the road. The Texans also had a week of rest last week, which was more than enough time for Head Coach Gary Kubiak, in a last-ditch effort to save his job, to prepare a new starting Quarterback, Case Keenum. It appears as though it isn't for just this week either, as longtime starter Matt Schaub appears to be healthy once again.
Keenum didn't play that bad against one of the best defenses in the league in Week 7, the Chiefs. He had an Adjusted Net Passing Yards per Attempt of over 8.0 (adjusted makes it 8.8), and only turned it over one time on a sack/fumble that ended the Texans chances late in the 4th quarter. He had another strip/sack earlier on in the 4th quarter, but the Texans recovered. If only the Colts had a guy on their roster that was good at the strip/sack to exploit these issues...Oh right, they have the best guy in NFL history in Robert Mathis. Things look promising that he un-breaks his tie with Jason Taylor Sunday night.
While the Colts sit at 5-2, two games up in the division, the Texans are a disappointing 2-5, losers of five straight games. As you'll see in the numbers, however, they haven't been playing that badly. They played well against the Seahawks, choked in the 4th quarter and lost in OT, and lost by just a point in Kansas City, with Keenum making his first career start. They did get smoked by the Ravens, 49ers, and Rams though. You'll see in the numbers how they tell the whole story on why they don't look bad overall, but keep coming up on the short end with points.
We all know the history between the Colts and Texans, with Houston never winning in Indianapolis and the Colts having won 18 of 22 games all-time. However, the Colts haven't won in Houston since 2009, and really none of them were that close. Last season it was a 29-17 loss in Week 15, which clinched the division for the Texans. Arian Foster ran a lot (especially late), and Andre Johnson caught a lot. Being able to stop the run is only important in the 4th quarter while trailing, as the Offense needs the ball back. The Colts didn't do it that Sunday. Foster has been limited in practice this week, so the Colts may catch a break and "only" have to deal with Ben Tate and former Colt Deji Karim.
How do the two teams compare to each other? Let's take a look and find out:
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Texans:
|Orange Zone Eff||59.8%||9||52.1%||14||44.1%||30||61.1%||23|
|Avg Start Pos||28.9||20||26.3||5||31.4||11||28.4||11|
|3 and Outs||3.02||8||3.69||17||2.53||3||4.70||3|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.529||1||0.783||19||0.882||20||0.933||9|
Keys to the Game:
- Like I said above, these Texans aren't a bad team at all, ranking in the top half on both Offense and Defense, and 10th overall. Their 2-5 record can be explained, however.
- We'll start with the Colts Defense, who have been outstanding defending the pass this season, 3rd in the NFL. They slowed down (can't really stop) the Broncos Offense like nobody else has this season, so transitioning from Peyton Manning to Case Keenum should be a no-brainer, right? Let's hope so. The Texans rank just 24th passing the ball (Exhibit A), which take into account interceptions and sacks. It'll be bad news for the Colts if they get big chunks of yards in the passing game.
- The Texans rank 25th in Turnovers (Exhibit B), and had a highly publicized streak of four consecutive games with an interception returned for a touchdown, three by Matt Schaub. I was within about 15 minutes of the burger place advertising the "Pick-6 Burger" during that week, and really wish I had gone up there. I wouldn't have "paid dearly" for it though. We already talked about the strip/sack that is surely coming, but an interception or two would be really nice by the Colts Defense, who is about league-average in forcing turnovers.
- You can see the Texans are pretty good moving the ball down the field, ranking in the top 10 in multiple drive-related stats, including 3rd/4th down. It's a strength-on-strength battle, as the Colts Defense has been excellent this season getting teams off the field when they have to. Whoever wins this match-up will be in good shape.
- The Texans are having trouble scoring points when they get into both the Orange Zone (30th) and the Red Zone (26th), which is not conducive to a system that rewards wins based on points (Exhibit C). They can seemingly move the ball up and down the field between the 20s, but have no success putting the ball in the end zone. Out of 20 trips to the Red Zoen, they have 9 TDs and 6 FGs. The Colts Defense has been good keeping teams out of the end zone when they get deep, so good success here for the Texans is bad news for the Colts.
- The Texans should have success running the ball. Won't matter unless they have a lead late (which we all hope they don't.)
- The Colts lead the NFL in Turnovers, averaging less than one per game. The Texans Defense has struggled forcing turnovers, ranking 27th in the league. I really don't like the Colts chances if they start turning the ball over.
- Looking at some of the drive-related stats, it appears as though the Texans either force a Three and Out on their opponent (3rd in NFL), or they allow long drives that end in Touchdowns (more in a minute). That's exactly how the Colts played last Sunday against Denver: they either were 3 and Out, or they went and scored points. Don't get too frustrated if we see several 3 and Outs from the Colts, especially early on. It's to be expected, seeing as this team hasn't played a down without Reggie Wayne yet. There will be some adjustment time. Don't panic.
- The good news is when the Colts do get a drive going, they'll undoubtedly score points, and most of them will be touchdowns. The Texans Red Zone Defense is the worst in the NFL at over 78% (Exhibit D), and their Orange Zone Efficiency isn't much better at 61%, 23rd in the league. The Colts, on the other hand, have been good but not great when in scoring opportunities, so they'll need to take advantage.
- The Texans Defense is not a good fit for the style of Trent Richardson: they give up lots of long runs, but consistently you aren't that successful. Don't be surprised to see a few big gainers, but also don't be shocked by a stop on 3rd/4th and short. That appears to be their strength.
While the records of the two teams make it look like a mismatch, this will not be easy for the Colts. Their Offense has not looked good the past two games (yes, even against Denver), when they were firing on all cylinders the first five weeks. The loss of Wayne is gigantic, and may take even more than this game to adjust. We'll see if one of the other pass catchers steps up and has a big game. Add in the Colts haven't won in Houston in four years, the Texans playing desperate, and they're coming off of a bye as well, and it could be a long night for the Colts.
That being said, this Colts team plays at its best with its back against the wall, and despite being three point favorites in this game, I expect Coach Pagano to make this seem like a game where nobody expects them to win. A Colts win will bury the Texans, effectively ending any sliver of hope they may have for a division title, and probably sending Kubiak packing at the end of the season. I think the Colts find a way to win late in a close game, something they've grown quite accustomed to doing.
Colts 23, Texans 19