Photo (cropped): Colts.com
Week Three: Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Location: Reliant Stadium Houston, TX
Kick-off time: 1:00 pm EDT
This past off-season, Bill Polian made it clear who he thought the most improved team in the NFL is. If you listen to his radio show, he discusses how he thinks the Houston Texans are the most improved. Though they still seem to have some of the same problems they've had in year's past (bad pass protection, shaky safeties, etc.), it seems they have grown stronger in other areas and are able to compensate somewhat.
For the Colts, Reliant Stadium was the last place this team lost a game, back on Christmas Eve 2006. Since then, the Colts has re-defined itself with a fast, aggressive defense that can punish opposing offenses. Here are the keys:
- Bob Sanders. I know. It's starting to sound like I'm repeating myself every week, but Bob's absence last year was a big reason why Houston managed to win their first game against Indy last year. Titans fans last week tried to downplay his significance in the game in Tennessee. Bob got 2.5 sacks, 11 tackles, and was in Vince Young's grill all day. This week, I expect to see less of the BSBD (aka the Cover 3) and more of Bob in coverage. Unlike Vince Young, Texans QB Matt Schaub can indeed throw the football accurately from the pocket or on the run. Expect Bob to have a big day, but not necessarily doing so rushing the passer.
- Freddie Keiaho. I actually think this is a big game for Freddie. He needs to prove that the Week One slam fest he did on New Orleans was no fluke, and that he can stay healthy. KO is like Bob Sanders, only at linebacker. He makes violent collisions with ball carriers, and he is an absolute beast when it comes to stuffing the run. The shakiness of Cato June last season contributed heavily to teams like Houston running the ball at will on the Colts. Houston's game plan today will likely have them attempt to run the ball and manage clock, trying to keep the Colts offense off the field. This is going to fail for them because of Freddie Keiaho. Freddie, Bob, and the rest of this revitalized defense will simply not let Houston to run the ball. This will likely force Matt Schaub to throw more than Gary Kubiak would like.
- Offensive line. Call it like it is folks: The line was terrible against the Titans. The funny thing is it was everyone except Tony Ugoh, who I thought played very well and continues to grow and mature with each game. Though the line has looked impressive running the ball, they were manhandled by Tennessee's front four. This week, it's Houston's front four, and their front four are the strength of their team. Today's match-up will pit Tony Ugoh and Mario Williams, a showdown Texans fans have salivated over since Tarik Glenn retired. My concern now really isn't with Ugoh. He's shown me he is a budding star at LT. My concern is with the other guys. I need to see a bounce back game. Dominating Houston's front would indeed show me something.
Again, Houston's game plan works only if they run the ball, but with Bob Sanders and Freddie Keiaho in there, that's not likely to happen. Houston is not comfortable throwing the ball. Though down by 14 last week, Houston did not start flinging the ball all over the place. Matt Schaub attempted only 28 passes, and has only 50 in two games. The Texans also ran the ball 34 times last week and 29 times the week before. Take away the run, and the Texans get uncomfortable.
All that said, it's easier to say "Hey, stop the fking run" than it is to do it. No matter the outcome today, this Texans team is vastly improved, and we Colts fans knew it was only a matter of time before Houston fielded a quality team. Today, their players are calling this game their "Super Bowl." The city has announced the game as "Deep Steel Sunday," which is to say that the team and fans will be decked out in their all blue unis, but instead of calling them "blue" they call them "deep steel."
The city will be crazy; the stadium, electric. The atmosphere will be very similar to last week's game. However, like last week, I just think this Colts team is too well put together, too talented, too well-coached. Hostile environments do no phase them. Pumped up opponents do not rattle them. They simply know how to win on the road.
As always, for a Houston Texans' fan take on things, visit Tim over at Battle Red Blog or Matt over at Da Good, Da Bad, and DeMeco. You'll notice that many of the Texans fans are a bit peeved we didn't pull a San Diego and give them any bulletin board material. Sorry guys. Colts fans typically respect their opponents, unless their opponents cheat or demean us.