It has been no secret that the Colts have struggled mightily in recent weeks. In the past 7 games, they had given up 31.14 points per game and had a 4-3 record - 3-3 since the bye week. In none of those games had they played all-around great game. Today, against the Houston Texans at home, the Colts did just that, and they put together a good all-around performance to improve to 9-5 on the season, winning 25-3. The 22 point margin of victory was the second-most for the Colts this season, second only to a 37-3 week four win in Jacksonville against the Jaguars.
This game was the complete opposite of recent weeks. The Colts had been starting slow and finishing fast, but today they started fast and finished slow. The Colts got out to a 20-3 halftime lead, and the only scoring in the second half was by the Colts, scoring only 5 points. Andrew Luck - who had 158 yards passing in the first half - finished the game with only 190 total.
The defense never let up, though, and the Colts ended up with an impressive and much-needed 25-3 victory over the Houston Texans, extending their unbeaten streak at home against the Texans and improving to 5-0 vs. the AFC South this season. Many will point to the fact that the AFC South is terrible this year, but I'll point to the fact that it doesn't matter - the Colts have still gotten it done when they were expected to against the division.
Here are some notes from today's game:
- First off, a HUGE congratulations to Robert Mathis on another great game and a great career. Today, he reached some huge milestones, setting the single-season franchise sack record with 16.5 in a season (surpassing Dwight Freeney's 16.0 in 2004) and setting the career franchise sack record with 108 (surpassing Freeney's 107.5). Additionally, he extended his career NFL record with his 42nd strip sack, and he also set all of those marks on a play where Mathis's strip sack led to a safety for the Colts. I'll have an article up Monday morning on Mathis's season and career, looking more into this great accomplishment and more specifically this great season. Be sure to check back then, and until then, a huge congrats to Robert Mathis on some great milestones in a great career.
- Griff Whalen - called up from the practice squad just a day ago - had a very impressive game today. He caught 4 passes for 45 yards and a touchdown - his first career NFL touchdown. Whalen was previously on the team for six games this year, catching 9 passes for 102 yards total in those games. Today, he caught 4 for 45 yards and a touchdown in a single game. Adding to those numbers, Whalen also had a 51 yard punt return that was a very impressive return by Whalen but also a play that had great blocking by the Colts (including by Darrius Heyward-Bey). Overall, Whalen accounted for 112 yards and a touchdown on 7 touches.
- Speaking of DHB, it was very telling that Griff Whalen played over him despite being called up just yesterday. DHB's only significant play that I really noticed him on was when he was blocking for Griff Whalen on the 51 yard punt return. With LaVon Brazill hopefully returning next week, it is absolutely fair to wonder what happens with DHB. I really don't think the team will cut him, but being relegated to special teams is a likelihood and him even being inactive is a possibility as well. He has fallen a long way quickly, but that's what happens when you're a wide receiver who can't catch. Credit to Chuck Pagano for making the move to bench him. It worked out today once again.
- Because everyone will ask about Da'Rick Rogers, I feel I should probably talk about him. He had 2 catches for 23 yards on 6 targets and also had one rush for 0 yards. The number of targets wasn't a problem and we shouldn't expect much more than 6 targets a game from him - that's a very reasonable number. But honestly, look at the other receivers and you'll notice that they had good games and that Rogers helped to open things up for them, as we hoped he would. So I'm not upset, disappointed, nor surprised by Da'Rick Rogers's performance today. The only people who have a right to be are those who started Rogers in fantasy (you wouldn't believe how many questions I got about him this week), and to them I just say - I told you not to start him.
- It was obvious that T.Y. Hilton was in the game plan today, as he caught 8 passes (a season and career high - tying the playoff game from last year against the Ravens, when he also had 8 catches) for 78 yards. It was a good game from Hilton and it was especially good to see him get going again. This season in two games against the Texans, he caught 15 passes for 199 yards and 3 touchdowns. In four career games against the Texans, he has caught 22 passes for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns. In fact, today was the first time in four games that Hilton did not catch a touchdown pass against the Texans.
- Donald Brown ran very well before he was hurt early, gaining 38 yards on 5 carries (7.6 yards per carry) before leaving the game with a stinger. He wouldn't return.
- Trent Richardson, meanwhile, had another bad game for the first three quarters. But he finished incredibly strong and finished with 64 yards rushing on 19 carries (3.4 yards per rush), and he added 38 yards, 4 catches, and a touchdown receiving. Total, Richardson accounted for 102 yards and a touchdown on 23 touches, the first time this year and first time with the Colts that he has topped 100 total yards in a game. He had some of his best rushes since coming to the Colts today, and combined with last week, he has accounted for 187 total yards and a touchdown on 34 touches. It is good to see the Colts get him involved in the passing game more, especially since he has been struggling to run the ball. I was calling for them to do that for a while, and in the past two weeks they have really tried to do so. The result has been Richardson's best two games as a Colt. Let's hope that continues.
- I'll criticize him when he's bad so I'll most definitely praise him when he's good - Pep Hamilton was very good today. His second half wasn't great and there is still room to work, but especially in the first half, he was great. He impressed me enough that at halftime I considered him to be the MVP of the game for the Colts, especially given all of the criticism for him this season. Today, however, he was great. He rolled Andrew Luck out at times, he called nice screen passes at nice times, he got Trent Richardson better opportunities to succeed by using runs out of the shotgun and draws, he got T.Y. Hilton involved more - it was great. I was very impressed with Pep Hamilton today and it reminded me once again why I am absolutely not ready to give up on him after only one season. He's improving and getting better.
- The opening drive for the Colts was about as perfect and impressive as you could ask for. After not having scored a first half touchdown since the October 20th game against the Broncos, the Colts went 79 yards on 11 plays in 5:29 and scored on a 14-yard touchdown pass to Griff Whalen from Andrew Luck. The Colts were 3 for 3 on third downs that drive, too.
- I haven't been impressed with Antoine Bethea or LaRon Landry this year, but today they both made some plays and deserve some credit.
- Darius Butler continues to be the Colts best cornerback, and today he picked off two Case Keenum passes, plus he batted down 3 passes. One of the picks was just a terrible throw by Keenum, but the second was a great jump by Butler to pick the pass off. Later in the game he had a third play that was almost a pick, but Butler couldn't bring it in. It was another great jump on the ball. Before being signed by the Colts last season, he had just three career interceptions. In each of his two seasons in Indianapolis, he has recorded 4 picks - and this year he still has 2 games left. Of those 8 interceptions, 6 of them have come against the AFC South.
- Bjoern Werner had by far his best game of the year so far (which isn't saying much, but still is good). Werner got a lot of playing time and got some pressure, including getting his first career full sack (he had 0.5 sacks entering the game).
- Adam Vinatieri was 3-for-3 today, hitting from 37, 43, and 40 yards out. He continues his incredible season this year, especially from 40+ yards out.
- The Colts started the game 5-for-5 on third down conversions. They finished 0-for-10.
- It was a very good performance by the Colts defense. They allowed just 3 points and just 239 total yards (just 3.79 yards per play total), forced 2 turnovers (and forced two more fumbles - both by Jerrell Freeman - but both were recovered by the Texans), recorded 4 sacks and 8 quarterback hits, and deflected 6 passes, while also getting a safety. The Colts defense allowed 3 points and scored 2. That's a pretty good performance right there.
- Chuck Pagano called his most aggressive game of the year. There was a terrible call that was to punt from the Texans 41 yard line, but that was the only time I can remember being upset with a call like that. I thought that overall - while it didn't always work out - it was a very good and aggressive game from Chuck Pagano and the rest of his coaching staff. He used his timeouts at the end of the half trying to get the ball back, he went for it on 4th down, he called a fake punt - and then there were the other individual play calls by the coordinators, such as a few safety blitzes (which Antoine Bethea timed PERFECTLY) and a reverse on offense. Some people criticized Pagano for getting aggressive once the Colts were already up 22 points and others said that it wasn't classy to do some of the things Pagano was (such as calling a fake punt up 22 points). But look - we've criticized Pagano so much for getting conservative late in games that we can't have it both ways. Every fan has their own idea of what the perfect amount of aggressiveness is, and anything else is a failure in their minds. I try to only criticize the very obvious ones, and I realize that I can't have everything perfectly my way, and that's ok with me. Furthermore, this is something fans (and some media) really need to understand - the Colts are already locked into a playoff spot. Yeah, they're playing for seeding, but the biggest thing the Colts are playing for right now is to work out the issues. They have had so many issues and failures in recent weeks that they need to address them. Because they already won the division last week, they essentially had 3 weeks to work on those issues. When the Colts called a reverse or a fake field goal, it wasn't to rub it in - it was to see what will work. Plus, they get it on film, and contrary to what many people think, that can be a good thing because it gets those plays on film for other teams to have to take time preparing for. The Colts are trying different players out and different plays out to see what will work, and I'm totally ok with that. Because right now it's not about looking impressive or playing the perfect football game - it's about preparing well so that when the playoffs come, they can look impressive and can play as close to a perfect ball game as they are capable of. Before you criticize, realize this point. Please.
- Unbelievably, the Colts are still alive for any of the AFC's top four seeds. Right now, they are the four seed, but it could end up differently, too.