The Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans face off on Thursday Night Football, and it's a matchup made for primetime. Matt Hasselbeck vs. Ryan Mallett. A bad Colts team vs. a bad Texans team. It's a fitting game to be played on a short week on a Thursday, when games are normally a bit more ugly, because this one would be ugly no matter what.
If you hadn't heard, Matt Hasselbeck is expected to make his second straight start for the Colts tonight as Andrew Luck continues to deal with a shoulder injury. He has been sick, however, and even landed in the emergency room earlier this week with a virus - something that's still ailing him.
The Colts are fresh off of their second win of the season, a very ugly 16-13 win in overtime against the Jaguars last Sunday. The Texans, meanwhile, are coming off of a 48-21 loss to the Falcons to fall to 1-3 on the year. The AFC South this year combined is 5-10, and it has firmly staked it's claim on status of being the worst division in football.
With all of that said, the Colts could improve to 3-2 on the season with a win, and with all three wins coming against division opponents - something that could go a long way toward helping secure a playoff berth. The Colts tied the all-time NFL record last week for most consecutive wins against division opponents with 15 in a row, and they are looking to break that record tonight. It won't be easy and it won't be pretty, but they might be able to get it done. Here's a preview of the game:
Matchup to Watch: Colts Offense vs. Texans Defense
Block. J.J. Watt. The Texans might not be having a very good year, but J.J. Watt is once again his usual dominant self. He has given the Colts' offensive line plenty of trouble in the past, and he almost led the Texans back from a massive deficit last year (with two sacks and a 45-yard fumble return for a touchdown). In eight career games versus the Colts, Watt has recorded 9 sacks, forced a fumble, defended nine passes, scored a touchdown, and blocked a kick. He notched multiple sacks in each of the two games against Indianapolis last year. He is as disruptive and dominant as it gets. The Colts don't have a great offensive line, either, and they have struggled to protect the quarterback. Matt Hasselbeck's quick release helped the line out considerably last week, but can he do that again, especially with Watt coming after him? That's the question. The Colts really need to block J.J. Watt tonight, but they haven't stopped him yet during his time in the NFL and neither have the other teams. The Colts are going to need to limit his effectiveness, however, if they want to win.
Matchup to Watch: Colts Defense vs. Texans Offense
Along with J.J. Watt, the Texans player who has had the most success against the Colts in his career is running back Arian Foster. In seven career games with at least one carry against the Colts, Foster has rushed for 960 yards and eight touchdowns while averaging 6 yards per rush and adding 23 receptions for 165 yards. How good has he been? If you stretched his average production against the Colts out to a 16-game schedule, he would have 2,194 yards and 18 touchdowns rushing with an additional 52 receptions and 377 yards receiving. That's insane production, and that's what Foster has done against the Colts. He is expected to carry a bigger load this week, which is smart considering the sub-par quarterback play of the Texans. And the Colts improved run defense - which might be without Henry Anderson, who is questionable - will be really tested by a player who has had success against them before.
Why the Colts Will Win
The Texans aren't very good. Houston fell behind 42-0 last week to the Atlanta Falcons before ultimately losing 48-21, and the Texans are 1-3 on the season. Ryan Mallett will get the start for Houston at quarterback, who has completed just over half of his passes for just over 5 yards per attempt with 3 touchdowns and 3 picks. He doesn't exactly strike fear into opposing defenses. The Colts struggled last week, but they still managed to do enough to beat a bad AFC South team with Matt Hasselbeck at quarterback. Can they do that again? If Houston plays like we've seen them play this year, the answer is yes.
Why the Colts Won't Win
The Colts aren't very good either. Remember, after all, that without Andrew Luck last week the Colts snuck by in overtime with a 16-13 win against the Jaguars at home, and now they will be going on the road on a short week to face a desperate Texans team. Houston can't afford to fall to 1-4 on the season while the Colts improve to 3-2, as that would make it very unlikely for a playoff run. The Colts played bad at home last week with a healthy Hasselbeck, and now he's not 100% and the Colts are on the road. No one should be confident in a Colts win.
There was nothing about last week's win that had me saying, "I'm confident this team could go on the road on a short week with a sick backup quarterback and beat a division rival who's desperate for a big win!" Nothing. I didn't think they would win without Luck last week, and they almost didn't (the Jaguars blew that game). Sure, give the Colts credit for pulling it out, but that wasn't the type of win that inspires any sort of confidence that they could do it again. I'm not sure the Colts can pull another one out, especially adding the road factor on a short week. One thing I am sure of, however? Get ready for another ugly game between two AFC South teams.