This week it's the Colts turn to "take one for the shield" and play on a short week, traveling to Houston to take on the Texans TONIGHT (in case you just woke up from hibernation). It'll be the third division game for the Colts, while the other three teams in the AFC South have yet to play each other (Tennessee and Jacksonville play Sunday).
The Colts come into Thursday night's game winners of three straight (including those two AFC South games), and playing some of the best football in the NFL. We've seen both sides of the ball, and the special teams, contribute in big ways to wins that got the Colts back up off the mat of an 0-2 start. The Texans have an identical 3-2 record, but have played a slightly easier schedule up to this point (like traveling to Oakland rather than Denver). The three wins does best their win total from a season ago, but I think that was pretty expected after the wheels just fell off last year.
The Colts will have to wait to meet #1 overall draft pick Jadeveon Clowney, as he's missed the entire regular season so far with a knee injury, potentially from the turf monster that's gotten several other guys at the now called NRG Stadium. The Texans still do have the best defensive player in the NFL, J.J. Watt, who somehow outdoes himself each and every week. The dude's awesome, and the Colts, without both starting Guards, will have to find some way of slowing him down (rollouts?). The Colts will be without several other key guys, including CB Darius Butler, thanks to the nature of the short week.
Thursday night games have been quite kind to the Colts, as Josh pointed out Wednesday, winning 11 of their 12 games and nine straight on Thursdays. Does anyone else think it's strange that the Colts have only played three of those at home, yet keep winning? Jacksonville, on the flip side, has played six of their seven Thursday games at home. Maybe teams lobby for whether to play these primetime games at home, but it doesn't make much sense, nor very fair, to continue to force the Colts to play on the road on a short week every single year.
We all know the history between the Colts and Texans, with the Colts winning 20 of the 24 all-time meetings. All four losses have occurred in Houston, however, and the Texans have won three of the last four games at home against the Colts. Last year we saw the Texans jump out to a 21-3 lead at halftime, thanks to three Andre Johnson TDs, before squandering that away and losing 27-24, on three T.Y. Hilton TDs, the final one coming with four minutes left. The last four games for the Colts have moved away from the "fall behind early, frantically come back late" mold, so let's hope it stays that way tonight.
How do the Colts and Texans match-up? Let's look at some numbers and find out.
Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Texans:
|Orange Zone Eff||52.1%||18||49.0%||7||47.3%||25||44.4%||3|
|Avg Start Pos||33.0||6||26.1||4||28.6||24||31.5||26|
|3 and Outs||3.58||12||4.49||9||4.47||27||3.89||13|
|Penalty Yds / Play||0.743||12||1.096||3||0.979||26||0.688||25|
Keys to the Game:
- The biggest key tonight will be which team can score points when they get deep into their opponent's side of the field. Both Defenses are very good at not allowing points (Texans are 3rd in the Orange Zone), while both Offenses have struggled this year. Whoever can finish off drives with touchdowns (and not miss a slew of field goals) will win tonight.
- The Texans Offense has struggled to move the ball all season, ranking 30th in Drive Success Rate, 29th in First Downs per Drive, and 26th in Yards per Drive. The Colts Defense ranks 5th, 5th, and 6th respectively in those categories, so we should see these struggles continue. If we see drives of 7 or 8 plays and 40+ yards consistently, it won't be good news for the Colts.
- The one area the Texans have done pretty well at is on 3rd and 4th down, converting over 41% and ranking 11th in the NFL. Obviously the longer the 3rd down the less likely they are to convert, but forcing Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw the ball should be the primary goal for the Colts Defense, even with two very good WRs in Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. The Colts were excellent on 3rd/4th down last week against the Ravens, and they'll need a repeat performance Thursday night.
- We've talked about how much more important Field Position has been this season, and the Colts have a big advantage here. Hopefully we see the golf swing come out (only if necessary) to pin the Texans back deep.
- The Colts have to take much better care of the ball this week, as they can't expect to win turning it over four times again. Ball security needs to be paramount.
- These appear to be the two worst defenses stopping the run in the NFL. I expect the Colts to run it more than we've seen the last three weeks, but it would be entirely justified looking at these numbers. Build the lead, take away the option to run for the Texans, playing into the strength of the Colts Defense, and it'll be a good night.
We're now in Week 6 and there has yet to be a competitive Thursday night game, with four of the five road teams getting hammered, which isn't a good sign for the Colts. However, the Colts have been playing outstanding football the last three weeks, match-up pretty well with the Texans, and have always played well on a short week. I certainly wouldn't mind another non-competitive game if the Colts were on the good end of it, but I think we'll finally get a semi-interesting game. I think we'll see lots of field goals for the Colts and some sweat, but a third division win, giving them sole possession of first place, and a springboard for the rest of the season.
Colts 26, Texans 20
I'm confident enough tonight that this will be one of my five SuperContest picks as well (Colts -3).