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2011 NFL Week One Preview: Indianapolis Colts At Houston Texans

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[Editor's Note]: Obviously, Matt wrote this before the news broke that Peyton is out for Week One. Regardless, it's still a good preview of the game, Peyton or no Peyton. Rather than change it, I left it as is. Enjoy. -bbs

The air of uncertainty has been quite prevalent during the Preseason for the Indianapolis Colts, and as I write this, I'm very uncertain as to whether QB Peyton Manning will be under center, even though you might know right now as you read this. I'm writing this a full 9 days before kickoff, so I clearly have no idea if Manning will start, but I'm going to preview the game like he will, as I think the Colts will have to play damn near perfect to win without him. Now that we have the disclaimer out of the way, here goes the preview.

The Colts open the 2011 campaign in the same place they started last season, and that is in Reliant Stadium in Houston against the Texans. Last year we saw Arian Foster become a household name, rushing for 231 yards and three TDs on their way to a 34-24 fairly easy win to open the season. We saw Manning get beat up by the Texans Front Four, and throw the ball 57 times for 433 yards.

But we also saw that losing in Week 1 on the road within the division doesn't mean the season is over. The same can apply for 2011 too, no matter what anyone will say if the Colts happen to start the season 0-1.

The biggest difference for the Texans this season is new Defensive Coordinator Wade Phillips, who stepped down as the Head Coach in Dallas last season. With him comes a brand new 3-4 scheme, which the Texans have switched to for 2011. That means you'll see Mario Williams standing up to rush the QB, rather than have his hand on the ground. You may also see him drop into coverage, but I doubt it happens very often. The lockout certainly makes the transition much tougher to do, but they've had a month now in it, so they can't be nearly as bad as last year, right?

Let's take a look at both teams 2010 numbers, and I'll give you a couple keys to the game...

Statistical Comparison between Colts and Texans from 2010 (Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Texans
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 75.5% 3 69.5% 17 76.0% 2 75.4% 32
ANPY/A 5.967 14 5.551 14 6.571 6 7.341 30
Turnovers 1.80 16 1.21 29 1.36 9 0.98 32
Yds/Drive 34.82 3 29.96 19 35.78 2 34.95 32
ToP/Drive 2:49.0 11 2:52.0 28 2:45.0 13 3:01.0 32
Yds/Play 5.435 12 5.041 10 6.084 2 5.763 30
First Downs/Drive 2.12 2 1.74 20 2.11 3 2.04 32
3rd/4th Down 44.5% 5 38.8% 16 41.0% 13 41.9% 27
Avg Start Pos 27.5 30 30.0 15 25.9 32 30.7 21
3 and Outs 3.00 4 4.23 10 2.35 1 2.66 31
RZ Eff 80.1% 1 62.2% 14 78.2% 4 73.3% 29
Plays/Drive 6.415 1 5.849 26 5.948 6 5.984 30
Penalty Yds / Play 0.598 4 0.797 13 0.624 5 0.863 10
RB Success 46.3% 12 50.3% 30 51.5% 2 48.2% 24
Yds/Carry 3.71 26 4.16 14 4.64 4 3.67 7
Net Punts Yds/Game 39.56 14 40.84 29 37.80 23 39.49 20
Overall 6 21 2 32

Statistical Keys to the Game:

  • I told you the Texans defense was horrendous last season, necessitating the change to Phillips. You can't say they'll definitely be that bad come Sunday afternoon, but I don't think they suddenly become the Steelers or Ravens either. They did add Jonathan Joseph in Free Agency, which is definitely an upgrade, but those other guys were there last year too. They were in the bottom 3 of the league in the top 7 categories above, so that's a good sign if Manning can't go.
  • Not matter the QB for the Colts, they must play a turnover-free game against this defense, which was worst in the league last year in creating turnovers. The Colts were pretty average on Offense in terms of turnovers, so they absolutely must take care of the ball. Giving the ball to the Texans offense on a short field is a recipe for disaster.
  • When the Colts get into the Red Zone, they must get 6 points. They were best in the league inside the 20 last year, with the Texans defense 4th worst. Look for the Colts to run the ball with rookie Delone Carter when they get down there.
  • On the flip side, the Texans offense was excellent last season, ranking only behind the Patriots on the season. They ranked in the top 10 in 12 of the 16 categories, including having the fewest Three and Outs, something the Colts are very accustomed to not forcing a lot of, as we all know, even though they were pretty good at #10 last season. It's a tough, tough test for the Defense right out of the box.
  • The biggest story for the Texans offense is the injury to Arian Foster, who I'm assuming will not be available, which is a huge break for the Colts. The Texans were 2nd best in RB Success Rate last season, and 4th best in Yards per Carry, thanks to a monster season by Foster. Look for a heavy dose of either Derrick Ward, the smaller back, and Ben Tate, a rookie who missed all last season.
  • Time of Possession for the Texans will surely be a point of emphasis, even though that is one of the four stats they didn't rank in the top ten in. Last season in Houston the Time of Possession was pretty even, despite the perception being otherwise. The Colts defense will have to help out their offense by getting off the field.

No matter who is playing QB for the Colts, whether it be Manning or Kerry Collins, don't expect them to even be at the level of the 2010 Colts, which was not what we've been used to seeing from them over the past decade. I expect to see a heavy dose of running the football, as I think it's safe to say we won't see 57 passes again this year. As the two teams sit right now, the Texans are a better team, even if they are missing Foster. It doesn't mean the Colts can't win the game, but it's the first time in a while I've felt they need to have several things fall perfectly for them to win. Unfortunately, I think for the second straight year, the Colts start off the season with a loss, albeit in a shootout.

Texans 34, Colts 27

(I really, really hate picking against the Colts. I hope they make me eat my words.)