When Andrew Luck retired earlier this year, it may have finally happened.
The Colts trajectory as a team was incredibly positive and Luck was coming off of one of the best statistical seasons of his career. Prior to his retirement, the Colts were odds on favorites to win the division in 2019, widely considered one of the top teams to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl, and they showed their continued control over the division late last year when they bullied their way into the playoffs, beating divisional opponents on the road to advance to the Divisional Round.
Outside of years where Luck was injured or Ryan Grigson was the general manager, Indianapolis stood at the top of the AFC South and everyone else was trying to catch up.
Now, it’s possible that has changed.
Don’t get me wrong, the Colts are coming off of a big-time win over the previously undefeated Kansas City Chiefs. They still look to have a very promising future.
However, one could reasonably argue at this point that there is a legitimate rivalry in the AFC South. The Colts spent years beating up on division opponents and no one could seem to find a quarterback good enough to put up a reasonable challenge.
Deshaun Watson changed all of that. He is a sharp, young signal caller who can make all of the throws and is athletic enough to be dangerous on the ground.
He has his faults, including one shared by Andrew Luck and Jacoby Brissett (holding the ball too long), but if we’re being honest, he is clearly the best quarterback in the division today. The Texans traveled to Kansas City in Week 6 and stunned the Chiefs again. Granted, the team was reeling from the beating the Colts laid on them from the week before, but it was still a statement.
I assumed the Chiefs win was huge because the Colts were going to be the only AFC South team to beat them in 2019. The Texans obliterated that theory and kept themselves on top of the division for the game today.
Here it is folks. It’s official. The Colts have a divisional rivalry that fans from both teams can agree on.
Colts vs Texans.
Let’s do this thing.
RUN THE DAMN BALL
It’s incredible to see how far the Colts offensive line has come in just a few seasons under general manager Chris Ballard. The offensive line is the heart of the team’s identity and Quenton Nelson has made offensive line highlight reels a national thing.
Marlon Mack had a big day at Arrowhead and he owed a lot of it to his offensive line. This is the first time I can remember the Colts having the ability to simply line up and pound the rock relentlessly over an opponent. If they stay in the saddle and continue to ride this offensive line, they will create a dilemma for opponents.
The play-action passing game should open up considerably as the “run the damn ball” reputation continues to spread. Opponents will have fewer possessions and longer breaks between offensive series. If you want to neutralize an opponents superior quarterback, make him a spectator.
Colts fans watched it for years with Peyton Manning.
Now the shoe is on the other foot. If they blow the Texans off of the line of scrimmage and continue churning out yards on the ground, they can encourage Houston to make some offensive mistakes.
KEEP WATSON OFF-BALANCE
The two ways the Colts need to do this are 1) get pressure in Watson’s face from a variety of sources and 2) take away short, timing passes by being aggressive in coverage at the line of scrimmage.
Watson has done reasonable job of getting the ball out of his hands quicker, which has reduce the amount of time he has spent on his back. The best way to limit or reduce his ability to get rid of the ball quickly is to not simply set back in zone coverage and allow short passes. If the Colts defense gives him an easy out, it could be a long day.
As always, coverage and pass rush feed off of one another. If the Colts want to get hits on Watson, they have to have enough time to get there. The aggressive coverage at the line of scrimmage could force Watson to hold the ball for an extra second or two as routes develop. This should be enough time for Colts pass rushers to get home.
Denico Autry needs to have another big game.
While “run the damn ball” is the team’s identity, big plays have to become its complementary trait. Once an opponent is forced to put eight and nine players in the box, the back-end opens up. No player should feast more on a weakened Texans secondary than T.Y. Hilton.
Get the play-action game going. Keep the Texans off-balance. Let athletes like Hilton and Hines get things rolling. A couple of big plays that lead to touchdowns, coupled with a relentless ground game, should get the job done.