The Indianapolis Colts defeated the Houston Texans on Thursday Night Football for their third straight victory to take a commanding lead of the AFC South. Here's a look at some of the good, the bad, and the ugly from the game:
The old guys were tremendous for the Colts. Consider this: the Colts scored 27 points last night. The youngest player to account for any of those points was 32-years old. Frank Gore (32) scored a touchdown rushing, Andre Johnson (34) caught two touchdowns, Matt Hasselbeck (40) threw two touchdowns, and Adam Vinatieri (42) kicked two field goals and three extra points. And then you can add in guys like Mike Adams too, who intercepted two passes. In short, the veterans really stepped up, provided leadership, and led the Colts to a win.
The offensive line has been criticized a lot this year, and often rightfully so. But in the past two games they have been much better, and on Thursday night they were fantastic. Did you see them render J.J. Watt nearly invisible? Now, he certainly wasn't invisible because he was occupying a couple of blockers, but you get the point: the Colts didn't let Watt beat them. And they kept their quarterback incredibly clean. According to Pro Football Focus, Matt Hasselbeck dropped back to throw 29 times and was hurried on just four of them. That's impressive. To be clear, Hasselbeck's incredibly quick release and the Colts' offensive game plan helped out a lot, but the line - especially guys like Jack Mewhort and Joe Reitz - deserve a lot of credit.
Entering Thursday night, Arian Foster had averaged 137 rushing yards per game against the Indianapolis Colts in his career, averaging 6 yards per carry. On Thursday night, Foster rushed for just 41 yards and averaged just 2.2 yards per carry. That's fantastic, and it's the latest sign yet of the Colts' improved run defense. The two rookies, Henry Anderson and David Parry, continued to step up, while then guys like Kendall Langford and even some of the depth players have made plays in the run game. Overall, the Colts allowed just 2.9 yards rushing to the Texans, a fantastic number that earns the Colts run defense some well-deserved credit.
The Colts' special teams units have been so good that they can sometimes get overlooked, but we have to give them credit for Thursday night's game. Adam Vinatieri hit both of his field goal attempts (from 48 and 42 yards out) and all three of his extra point attempts. Pat McAfee punted three times, pinning two of them inside the 20 yard line and averaging 49 yards per punt. Those two are exptected to be good, but the Colts' special teams unit got a surprise boost on Thursday by the play of Griff Whalen, their return man, backup receiver, and emergency quarterback. He averaged 37 yards per kick return, including a 50-yarder, and averaged 8 yards per punt return, including a 13-yard return. Whalen is the Colts' return man solely because he doesn't make mistakes like others have, but on Thursday he gave them an added spark as well.
It has been a rough season for some of the Colts coaches, and they have received some (deserved) criticism. But let's be sure to give some credit for Thursday night. I want to credit two coaches in particular. First, offensive coordinator Pep Hamilton called a great football game and had a great gameplan, knowing exactly what to do with the backup quarterback. Head coach Chuck Pagano also deserves credit. Playing two division games in five days with a backup quarterback is hard on any team, but Pagano has had the Colts believing that they can win and pulling out two big wins to take a commanding lead of the AFC South.
For the last few seasons, the Colts' pass rush has been abysmal, so this is nothing new - but on Thursday night, the Colts didn't do a good job whatsoever of getting to the quarterback. Even Robert Mathis, who had been doing a decent job of rushing the passer entering Thursday night, had very little impact on the game. The Colts' secondary was bad, yeah, but it's not like they got a lot of help from their pass rush either.
You might think I'm nit-picking here (that's exactly what I'm doing), but the Colts didn't do particularly well on third down on Thursday night. Entering the game, the Colts were converting on 45% of their third down attempts, but they were just 3-of-11 against the Texans (27%). On the other side, the Colts entered the game allowing opponents to convert on 36.7% of their third down tries, but the Texans were 8-of-16 against Indy (50%).
For the first time all season, the Colts had their top trio of cornerbacks playing in the same game. Yet Brian Hoyer and the Houston Texans had a lot of success against them. Of course, Greg Toler was making his season debut, while Vontae Davis was playing injured, but it was still bad. That Hail Mary at the end of the first half? The Colts were covering each other but nobody guarded Jaelen Strong. In the third quarter, the Colts let Strong run right by them for a touchdown. DeAndre Hopkins caught eleven passes for 169 yards. It was an ugly night for the Colts' secondary.
It's been said before, but I'll say it again here: the AFC South is bad. The Jaguars and the Texans both just lost to the Colts without their franchise quarterback within a five-day span. Now, to be sure, the Colts deserve a lot of credit for that, but they've won an NFL record 16 games in a row against the division and considering that the Jaguars and Texans couldn't beat them without Andrew Luck, that might not change much anytime soon.