The Indianapolis Colts (3-2) take their three-game winning streak into a big divisional matchup with the Houston Texans (3-2) on Thursday Night Football. The two teams have identical records, and therefore the winner of tonight's game will emerge with sole possession of first place in the AFC South. Though it's only week six, there is quite a bit riding on this divisional matchup as the Colts look to extend their winning streak against division opponents to ten-games. Here's your preview for the game.
What Happened Last Week?
The Texans lost in overtime on the road to the Dallas Cowboys, 20-17. Arian Foster rushed for 157 yards and 2 touchdowns while averaging 6.8 yards per carry, and the defense did hold the Cowboys to just 20 points, but in a close game throughout the Texans couldn't pull out the win (even though they tied it up in regulation with less than a minute left).
The Colts defeated the Baltimore Ravens at home in a close game, 20-13. The Colts offense was good but struggled to get the ball into the end zone, which meant that the defense had to show up - and they did, playing a great game. The Colts defense held the Ravens offense to just 13 points while Andrew Luck scored both through the air and on the ground to help the Colts to a big victory.
Key of the Game for the Colts
Score touchdowns. The Ravens defense that the Colts played last week was a "bend but don't break" defense, and as expected the Colts marched up and down the field on them. But when the drives got to the red zone (or started near it), the Colts struggled to put the ball into the end zone. The Texans defense is similar in that regard - they'll give up a lot of yards but not a ton of points, and that's because of their red zone defense. The Colts didn't convert their opportunities into touchdowns last week, and that's something that they must do Thursday night.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Texans Defense
I would say T.Y. Hilton against this Texans secondary, since Hilton has been tremendous against Houston so far in his career (22 catches for 388 yards and 5 touchdowns in four games), but I'm going to go a different direction here with the matchup to watch. I'm going to say it's the Colts offensive line versus J.J. Watt. I think that J.J. Watt is the best defensive player in the NFL, and that's a commonly held opinion too. Tonight, the Colts are going to be without their two starting guards, Jack Mewhort and Hugh Thornton. That means that it'll likely be Lance Louis and Joe Reitz starting tonight - good backup and spot starter guys, to be sure, but against J.J. Watt? That's something to watch. Additionally, right tackle Gosder Cherilus has quietly been having a terrible season, and so the right side of the line especially for the Colts is something to keep an eye on. Knowing that Watt has can can lined up on both the left and right sides, I'd expect to see the Texans line him up to try to take advantage of that (likely) combination of Joe Reitz and Gosder Cherilus. Hopefully the Colts provide some help against Watt, but regardless that matchup will be a huge one to watch.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Texans Offense
The Texans offense is pretty much one dimensional: it's all about Arian Foster. Foster is averaging 101 yards per game this season and is carrying the Texans offense. The Colts run defense, while much improved, still isn't great. That said, they've yet to allow a 100-yard rusher this season. Against the Colts, Foster has averaged 150.4 yards per game in his career. Especially with Ryan Fitzpatrick at quarterback, I think it's easy to see why this is the biggest matchup to watch when the Colts defense is on the field. Additionally, Jerrell Freeman is questionable with a hamstring injury, and if he can't play that would be a loss that would impact the Colts' run defense (as Arthur Jones is already out). This will be a huge test for the Colts run defense, an area that Chuck Pagano has repeatedly emphasized is important.
Why the Colts Will Win
Andrew Luck versus Ryan Fitzpatrick at the game's most important position. Need I say more? No, but I will. Luck has thrown for 9 touchdowns against just one pick in his four games against Houston, and he has weapons such as T.Y. Hilton, Reggie Wayne, Dwayne Allen, and others. There's no reason to expect the Colts not to be able to move the ball against this Texans defense, the question is just converting red zone trips to touchdowns. I think we'll see them improved this week and do that enough to win. Plus, the defense is playing well this year. Though Arian Foster could have a big game, the Colts defense should be able to continue their success at least somewhat.
Why the Colts Won't Win
Remember what I said about Arian Foster's success against the Colts? Yeah, he's been great, and there's a good chance he could be again tonight. And then J.J. Watt is a dominant force, and if the Colts can't get him blocked then Andrew Luck will be scrambling a lot. If Foster and Watt both play great, then the Texans have a good chance to win this game.
Unlike the other Thursday Night Football games so far this year, this game should be a competitive matchup that's fun to watch. The Colts have historically played very well on Thursdays, going 11-1 overall since moving to Indy and winning their last nine (dating back to 2004), and they have historically played very well against the AFC South, holding a current nine-game winning streak against the division. With the league's leading passer and a team surrounding him that has looked good the past three weeks, I think the Colts will win this one in Houston.
Colts 27, Texans 17
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