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2015 NFL Week 15 Preview: Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans

A de-facto Playoff game where the Colts could be starting Charlie Whitehurst? That's the reality of this strange season when the Texans come to Indianapolis with the AFC South title on the line. Can the Colts stop their two game losing streak and show some semblance of an Offense?

Ronald Martinez/Getty Images

If I told you before the season that the Week 15 game between the Colts and Texans would ultimately decide the AFC South, your first instinct would have been "the Texans must really be good this year then", not "the Colts have completely fallen off the planet" right? Sadly the latter is true, so when these two teams clash inside Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday afternoon, one of them will climb to .500 and have a stranglehold on the division, while the other can start preparing for this spring's NFL draft (or, in the Colts case, hiring a new head coach / general manager).

To add injury to insult (see what I did there?), Andrew Luck has already been ruled out by the Colts, even though he got back on the practice field for individual drills Wednesday, and Matt Hasselbeck did not practice after he had to be removed for the second straight game Sunday with a rib injury. That means there's a very real possibility that the Colts Playoff chances in 2015 rest on the right shoulder of Charlie Whitehurst. Oh boy. But wait! The Texans have their own QB injury issues, as Brian Hoyer was also ruled out on Wednesday with a concussion, so T.J. Yates will start in his place with Brandon Weeden waiting in the wings. Want to know why the NFL protects their QBs to an absurd level? You'll see why in this game.

Want more injury news? J.J. Watt broke his hand last week before the Patriots game but still played with one of those club-like casts over his hand. They mentioned during the game it really hindered his ability to move all along the Defensive line, as he couldn't line up in a three-point stance with his injured hand. Add in that the Colts should get OT Anthony Castonzo back this week, and hopefully some of the protection problems the Colts have had recently will be minimized. Among other players that didn't practice Wednesday for the Colts were CB Vontae Davis, LB D'Qwell Jackson, WR Donte Moncrief, and for the Texans both DE Jadaveon Clowney and LB Brian Cushing did not practice. Things are always up in the air early in the week, and we'll get a better sense of their availability after Friday, but several big names for both sides that aren't the QB could be missing.

We all know the history between these two teams in Indianapolis: the Texans have never won there. They've tried 14 times but came up short each and every time (even in 2011, ironically enough started by T.J. Yates). The guy who has lost this game the most times, however, will be wearing a home uniform, as Andre Johnson was a part of 10 of them (missing 2011 and last season). Overall the Colts are 23-4 all time against the Texans, but rarely has a game between these two teams had this much on the line.

How do these two teams stack up? Let's jump into the numbers and find the keys to the game.

Statistical Comparison between the Colts and Texans (Adjusted):

Statistic Colts Texans
Offense Rank Defense Rank Offense Rank Defense Rank
DSR 67.0% 24 71.2% 21 65.9% 29 66.1% 6
ANPY/A 4.555 27 6.523 24 5.142 21 5.907 18
Turnovers 2.26 32 1.79 13 1.41 8 1.39 25
Yds/Drive 27.34 26 32.17 25 26.18 27 25.49 3
ToP/Drive 2:34.0 24 2:38.0 14 2:24.0 28 2:31.0 4
Yds/Play 4.900 29 5.709 26 4.667 32 5.052 9
Orange Zone Eff 55.3% 15 57.2% 24 56.6% 12 52.1% 11
First Downs/Drive 1.62 22 1.69 15 1.55 26 1.43 5
3rd/4th Down 39.9% 14 42.2% 23 35.1% 25 29.0% 2
Avg Start Pos 29.2 18 29.0 12 27.9 27 30.6 24
3 and Outs 4.45 28 3.46 19 4.81 31 4.15 8
RZ Eff 63.4% 17 72.1% 26 59.5% 24 65.9% 17
Plays/Drive 5.644 19 5.592 13 5.540 22 5.139 3
Penalty Yds / Play 0.745 10 1.062 2 0.749 12 0.861 13
RB Success 42.7% 20 43.6% 15 38.2% 30 40.6% 7
Yds/Carry 4.03 18 4.37 25 3.64 28 4.21 21
Overall 25 22 28 9

Keys to the Game:

  • The Colts Offense goes from playing the league's worst Defense on 3rd/4th Down to playing the league's second best. It naturally means that because they couldn't have done much worse last week that this week they'll shine. It wouldn't surprise me in the least, but I wouldn't get your hopes up. The Texans are great on 3rd/4th down this year.
  • The other big problem the Colts have had of late is scoring touchdowns in the Orange/Red Zone, and the Texans Defense is pretty much right in line with the Colts Offense. Too much Adam Vinatieri -> No Playoffs for the Colts.
  • Last week against the Patriots, the longest drive the Texans gave up was 57 yards, and that ended in a field goal. Even if Hasselbeck can play for the Colts, I've talked each week about how he's good for two or three drives per game of that length, and that's against an average team, not an elite drive-stopping one like the Texans. This make the previous bullet even more important: if they can string a drive together, they have to score six.
  • No turnovers, as the Texans aren't good at forcing them anyway. I'll believe that when I see it though.
  • The Texans Offense has the lowest Yards per Play in the NFL at 4.7, which is interesting to see. I think that has a lot to do with all the incomplete passes they've thrown this season (224, most in the NFL), and percentage-wise fall only behind the Rams (but have thrown 129 more passes!). It would be foolish to think the Texans won't take shots down the field, especially to DeAndre Hopkins.
  • Speaking of Hopkins, he got free anytime he wanted in their first meeting, and I expect to see him targeted early and often. Without Arian Foster the Colts should be able to key on him with two guys and hope for the best. The Patriots kept safety help on him the entire game Sunday, and was virtually non-existent. Easier said than done (I know), but emulating the Patriots scheme wouldn't be the worst idea.
  • The one thing the Texans do well is not turn the ball over, but Yates is the great unknown here. A defensive touchdown could be a huge break in a game like this (see: lack of Offensive firepower).
  • Remember that sweet Pat McAfee onside kick last year against the Texans in Houston? I wouldn't be shocked to see something like it Sunday at some point, assuming the Colts can score some points. The Special Teams for the Colts has either been really good or really poor, and this week could really use the "good" team.

The 2015 Colts have been an infuriating team to try and figure out, as the only consistent thing about them is their inconsistency. One thing we have seen for almost four years now, though, is when their backs are against the wall, they always respond. Every single time. Even if it is at the last possible millisecond, they find a way, whether it be in a drive, a game, or a season. It might take until the second half, or even the fourth quarter, but I think somehow, someway they'll find a way to win this game. Those previous 14 games played between these two teams in Indianapolis should have little-to-no bearing on Sunday, but I think there's something that gets into the heads of the Texans players they just can't overcome it. Logically it makes no sense, but it just does.

Colts 16, Texans 14

Thursday Night Game: Buccaneers 22, Rams 21