This was an interesting statement from ESPN's Paul Kuharsky, made last week while he was a guest on WFNI radio in Indianapolis prior to the Texans v. Colts game:
Houston is better, talent-wise. Period. That's not an opinion. That's a fact. So, if they come to Indianapolis and do what they should do, play how they should play, they should win this ballgame.
Roughly 72 hours later, the Colts pretty thoroughly dominated the Texans, winning 28-16.
I'm not using Kuharsky's statement to call him out, or anything. It's just interesting that Houston, who was clearly the better team talent-wise on Sunday, lost so poorly in Indianapolis. Well, a big part of the reason was Houston got out-played and out-coached. Remember the red challenge flag Gary Kubiak threw calling for a 12-men-on-the-field penalty against Indy that wasn't there? Remember Kubiak calling for that 52-yard FG attempt in the fourth quarter, which was missed? On the next series, Andrew Luck hit T.Y. Hilton on a 70-yard touchdown, and the game was effectively over for Houston.
Greg Rakestraw of WFNI went so far as to say:
"Counting is not the strength of the Houston Texans, which is not something you normally say about good coaching staffs in the NFL."
Funny dig. He's also 100% correct.
This was a game the Texans absolutely had to win, and they were dismantled by a team that is simply not as talented. How did this happen?
Radio host Jon Michael "JMV" Vincent at WFNI spoke with Rakestraw earlier this week, and it was Rakestraw that provided this rather interesting insight into the team [emphasis mine]:
But, big picture: What I've heard from Pagano. What I've heard from Arians. From players like Robert Mathis was either the word "belief," or simply the phrase that everybody bought in immediately. Everybody was swimming in the same direction from when the staff was first assembled in January and February to move the Colts in a different direction. And I'll go back to a specific quote that Robert Mathis gave a couple of weeks ago, when he said, "You know what, it was never a feeling of the coaches and us. It was a feeling of we are all together on this." And he said the coaches came in and rolled up their sleeves and went to work right along with all of us.
JMV supported Rakestraw's point by noting how, during the Houston game, a player like Jerraud Powers - who is on IR for the remainder of the season, and who's future in Indianapolis as a player is likely over - was coaching up the defensive backs, in particular Vontae Davis. Davis had two picks in the game.
Togetherness. Swimming in the same direction. Team. These were not thoughts and concepts that permeated through the Colts complex in the final years of the Bill Polian regime.
These notion of "togetherness" and "team" are interesting to someone like me because there is now a very strong and very popular movement in NFL media that utilizes metrics and numbers to track which teams are "good" and which teams "suck." We have our own method of doing this here, thanks mostly to the detailed work of Mr. Matt Grecco.
However, for me, football is one of the few games that, more often than not, defies statistics. When it comes to using FO, Advanced Stats, The Winning Stats, PFF, or anything else out there, then it seemed almost impossible for the Texans to lose last Sunday's game. Yet, they did. Badly.
The general answer is that the Colts simply played better "team football." They have all season. Athletes and superstars can win games individually in sports like basketball and baseball. In the NFL, if one team plays better fundamental football over a more talented squad, the inferior team will win. Plus, things like turnovers (Houston had two terrible picks to kill potential scoring drives) and a kick return for a touchdown are the ultimate equalizers. I'm not sure the exact percentage, but if you turn the football over twice and give up a special teams touchdown on the road, you're pretty much guaranteed to lose the ballgame.
Indianapolis did this at Houston three weeks ago, with two fumbles lost and a blocked punt that Houston scored off of.
It speaks to Indy's coaching and game-planning that, just two games later, they were able to adjust and attack the Texans with consistent success. The opening Colts drive, which culminated in a one-yard TD from Andrew Luck to Coby Fleener, was successful in part because offensive coordinator Bruce Arians called for more short passes and screens.
75 yards. 13 plays. 7:09 taken off the clock.
The Texans got smacked in the mouth, and they never fully recovered.
That drive almost pales in comparison to the one that closed out the game. When the Colts scored on Luck's 70-yard bomb to T.Y. Hilton, putting them up 28-16, the Texans responded on the next series with a drive of their own, needing only four plays before finding themselves at the Colts 30. However, Matt Schaub threw a terrible pick to Vontae Davis in the endzone, and the Colts offense set-up shop at their 20. That was at the 9:46 mark in the fourth quarter.
The Texans never saw the ball again.
The Colts went on a 17-play drive that ate up the rest of the fourth quarter. They converted three critical third downs on that drive, including a one-yard QB sneak at the Houston 40. "Meaningless" game? Yeah, it was Luck who was running that sneak. He started and finished the whole game, a giant "F U" to Bill Polian if there ever was one. It was also Luck who, on 3rd-and-2 from the Houston 20, hit Reggie Wayne to convert the down. Two minute warning. No Houston timeouts remaining. Ballgame. Colts win.
17 plays eating 9:46 of clock, covering 64 yards.
It really is something to see all these young, talented kids coming together and buying into a complete message that stems from owner to general manager to head coach to players. Last year this time, we were all wondering how the disconnect between those specific areas had wrought a 2-14 season. Now, the Colts are in the post-season and in the NFL record books for a the best turnaround by a team with the No. 1 overall selection in the draft that year.
Truly special. It's what makes the NFL such a great league, despite what the stats say.