It has been a long two weeks, but we finally have Colts football returning after an early bye week that seemed to come at the best time possible. For the first time in nearly two friggin years, the Colts are starting to look healthy. Thanks to the injury reports posted by shake n bake, we have a better picture of who is healthy and playing. Injuries are a reason why Indy has limped out of the gate at 1-2. They are not an excuse to lose, but no other professional sport is so drastically affected by injuries than pro football. When your key players are not healthy, it will affect your win-loss column. If their health didn't matter, then they wouldn't be "key players" and they shouldn't be getting big contracts.
Not having Jeff Saturday and a healthy Peyton Manning cost Indy the Chicago game, and nearly the Minnesota one. A lack of healthy bodies on the d-line hurt them big against the Jaguars. But separate from all of these injuries is the fact that certain players who ARE healthy just have not produced. Guys like Freddie Keiaho, Clint Session, and Antoine Bethea have struggled. Yes, the DT position has been rocked by silliness and bad luck, but that does not account for the whiffed tackles and blown assignments we have been subjected to by Session, Bethea, and Keiaho. Obviously, they will improve. Bethea is proven, and Freddie K and Clint have shown flashes of brilliance in the past. The bye week was about getting people healthy and getting everyone on the same page.
This week, we see if it worked. Here are the keys:
- The Texans are totally and completely desperate for a win. They will literally do anything to get this win. Fake punts, fake FGs, flea flickers, reverses, HB throwing the ball, circus clowns, blow torches, you name it. They are 0-3 and staring "bust season" in the face. This team had a lot of high hopes for 2008, and for good reason. They are a solid team. However, as I talked about with Stephanie Stradley earlier this week, the Texans have just had rotten luck Weeks 1-4. For the Colts to overcome the wave of emotion the Texans players and fans will throw at them, concentration, execution, and playing fast are big keys. Contrary to popular (aka ignorant) belief, football is not a game of emotion. This doesn't mean you don't play with passion, but playing like a wild man will get you destroyed because football is really a game of execution. The team who plays better often wins. For the Colts, they must execute their game plan better than the Texans, despite all the emotion surrounding them.
- Run defense will continue to be a key until the Colts display some. Playing for the first time is DT Daniel Muir, who was signed after pre-season. Muir will fill the NT spot, with LaJuan Ramsey rotating in on certain downs. Eric Foster will play more at the other DT spot, and Raheem Brock will play both DT and DE. The Texans have an excellent back in Steve Slaton, and their offense (like Denver's) is built around the running game. Stop the run and it makes the Texans one dimensional. This turns Freeney and Mathis loose against Texans QB Matt Schaub, who had a strong game last week against the Jags.
- Run. The. Ball. I'm sick of seeing Peyton Manning throwing the ball 50 times. Run. The. Ball. If the Texans stack the line ala the Bears and Vikings, then I want to see the Colts actually spread the defense out. Don't bunch up in 2 TE when the linebackers are practically standing on the line of scrimmage along with the d-line. Bust out 3 or 4 WRs (with Addai as one of those WRs) and dare the Texans to blitz. If they do, Peyton should torch them with short passes or long throws. If they don't blitz, run the damn ball. The Colts only had 16 runs in their last game even though they averaged 6 yards a carry. For the love of God, run the ball!
As always, Tim is blogging up some Texans fun over at Battle Red Blog. He and his co-writers have answered your questions here while shake n bake and I have answered questions there. Don't forget to check out Steph's blog as well. Though the Colts have utterly owned the Texans since their creation in 2002, they have always, always, ALWAYS respected them. This will be yet another tough game for Indy, but unlike the previous three I think they are better equipped to take on this tough Texans team. Records mean nothing here. This is AFC South football. Expect a rumble (but please, no injuries for either team).