I apologize for being a day late on the preview. Blame it on Justin Timberlake.
The Colts are a perfect 4-0 in the AFC South this season, and as it's been pointed out numerous times, they've only beaten division teams since their Bye week in Week 8. This week they welcome the Houston Texans to Lucas Oil Stadium, a place the Texans have never won a game, as the Colts are a perfect 11-0 hosting their division rival. Want a little symmetry? The Texans, who sit at 2-11, have lost 11 straight games this season after starting out 2-0. To say the Texans season has been a challenge is an understatement.
After last Thursday night's 27-20 loss to Jacksonville, the Texans fired Head Coach Gary Kubiak, a move that surprised exactly 0 people. Some think the reason it was done now rather than at the end of the season is because Kubiak decided to put Matt Schaub, who he benched earlier this season, back in at QB in the second half last week, a move owner Bob McNair was not a fan of. McNair came out on Friday, during the announcement that Kubiak had been fired, and said Case Keenum will be their starter the rest of the season. A desperate move by a desperate coach got him his pink slip a few weeks early.
Back in Week 9 the Colts fell behind 21-3 at halftime before they woke up, took the lead with 4:05 left in the game on T.Y. Hilton's third TD of the game. It was also Keenum's second career start, and his life was made easy in the first half, as the Colts secondary left Andre Johnson wide open on nearly every play, en route to three TD catches of his own. The Colts need to make sure to play like they did in the 2nd half rather than how they played in the first half.
Sunday reminds me of the game in 2011 when the Texans, who had already clinched the division came to Indianapolis to play the 1-13 Colts, who did win the week before but had lost their first 13 games that season. The Colts had nothing to play for but pride (and many thought it might have been the last home game for Reggie Wayne), while the Texans were a little in cruise control, but fine-tuning for their first ever Playoff game. We all know how it ended, a 19-16 Colts win, capped off by a Wayne TD. If the Colts let the Texans hang around, I could see Sunday playing out a lot like that late-season game two seasons ago.
How do these two teams match-up statistically? Let's take a look and find out.
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Texans:
|Orange Zone Eff||55.2%||14||52.0%||14||41.3%||31||67.3%||31|
|Avg Start Pos||29.3||18||28.1||9||30.5||11||28.9||14|
|3 and Outs||3.19||6||2.95||28||3.33||12||4.67||3|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.633||4||0.808||21||0.974||27||0.818||20|
Keys to the Game:
- We're going to start with the Orange and Red Zones this week, where the Colts have been improving each week, but have had trouble getting there. The Texans are league-worst in Red Zone Defense, second worst on both Offense and Defense in the Orange Zone, and their "best" unit, Red Zone Offense, is 29th, scoring just 54% of the total points possible. If the Colts don't dominate, on both sides of the ball, you should be very worried.
- Piggy-backing off that first bullet, Texans kicker Randy Bullock missed four field goals in the first meeting, which was a really nice benefit for the Colts. I'm guessing he won't have a night like that again Sunday afternoon, if given the opportunity.
- I already touched on Andre Johnson torching the Colts secondary in the first meeting, and I don't expect they'll let him roam as free as he did in the first meeting. Yards per Play is one of the better stats the Texans Offense has (even at 18th in the NFL), and the Colts aren't that good sitting at 27th. The only way I'm ok with giving up big plays is if the Colts Defense is taking some chances, blitzing, etc., and the Texans take advantage. If the Colts are sitting back in a Cover 2 zone, with no QB Pressure, and they are hitting huge chunks, something is wrong.
- The initial first down for the Colts Offense on each drive will be critical, as this is the best strength-on-strength match-up in the game. The Colts are 6th best in the NFL, while the Texans Defense is 3rd best. It'll be a good day for the Colts if they can avoid excessive Three and Outs.
- The Texans are pretty good running the football, even without Arian Foster, and I think with the coaching change, we're going to see an emphasis on rushing from the Texans. Sort of a back-to-basics mentality. The Colts better be up for the challenge, as the Colts also rank dead last in Time of Possession per Drive, and a lot of running won't help that out.
- The Colts lead the league in Turnovers, and the Texans are 3rd worst at forcing turnovers. Needless to say if the Colts turn the ball over, they'll probably lose.
If you've watched any Texans games the second half of the season, you'd have seen a team that competes in almost every game, before finding a way to lose time and again. It's not like they are being blown out, as they've lost their last seven by one score or less. For most teams you also see a bit more effort playing after a head coach gets fired, as most of them want to keep their job, and they're auditioning for next season. Add in the fact the Texans have never won in Indianapolis (have you heard that yet?), and the Texans have plenty of motivation to win Sunday.
I'd really like to see a first half touchdown (which we haven't seen since before the bye), and I'd like to see just one designed rollout by Andrew Luck, if only to pay tribute to Gary Kubiak. I think the Colts get the job done Sunday, but it won't be easy, and it'll come down to the wire. Just another run-of-the-mill Colts game.
Colts 28, Texans 23