The Indianapolis Colts beat the Houston Texans 30-23 and improve to 4-2 on this young season. While it hasn’t always been pretty, the Colts sit atop the AFC South almost halfway through the year. In a big game against a high powered team like the Texans, key players had to step up on defense to slow down the likes of Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins. While players such as Pierre Desir and Darius Leonard had great games as well, we are going to highlight the aging bookends of the team for this week’s film room.
Justin Houston may be Chris Ballard’s biggest signing of his career, coming to Indianapolis with 78.5 career sacks in his eight years prior to Indy. While starting off slow this year, he has come into his own the past two weeks, tallying three sacks and five quarterback hits against two high powered offenses. He has four sacks on the season now and appears to be regaining his younger form as this year goes on.
On the more underrated side, Jabaal Sheard has been excellent and perhaps the Colts’ most valuable defender these past few games. After missing the first three weeks and most of the off-season with a knee injury, he has come on strong 1.5 sacks and two quarterback hits in the past two games. The steady veteran has also provided a huge spark to the Colts’ run defense and helped the team improve in this area.
In today’s film room, we are going to take a look at the impact that these two veteran edge players had against the Texans and why they were the key to the Colts’ defense all game long.
Let’s start with the more well rounded player who had a better overall game in this one. Sheard is known for his sturdy run defense as he attacks offensive tackles with great power and leverage. In this game, he did his part in shutting down the Texans’ rushing attack. Here he showcases strong hands and power at the point of attack by staggering the right tackle early in the rep. This allows him to get the necessary separation to come down into the hole in the line and make the run stuff for a short gain. Never flashy with Sheard but his power shows up on almost every run play.
This rep probably shouldn’t be in this article but it shows a point I was going to make later on. Matt Eberflus and the Colts’ defensive coaching staff did an excellent job of attacking the weakness of the Texans’ offensive line. With right tackle Tytus Howard out for this game and star tackle Laremy Tunsil on the other side, Eberflus did a great job of working his best players to the right side of the line away from Tunsil and to the backup tackle. Most of these reps, as you’ll see, are coming from the right side where either (and occasionally both) Sheard or Houston are lined up over the weaker right tackle. Both of these players had great games and should be commended for it but Eberflus did a great job putting them in the right position. In the meantime though, please enjoy this clip of the Texans’ backup right tackle tripping over his feet, leading to a Sheard sack.
Sheard’s excellent run defense comes in handy in goal to go situations. Here the Texans try a read option, a play that they typically find success on. Sheard single-handedly shuts this play down though. He starts up field unblocked so Watson can read who he is over playing to. Sheard sets like he is playing to Watson then breaks down the line as soon as the ball is handed off. He turns quickly and explodes down the line and is able to make the stop for a loss on the play. This is an excellent play that really showcases his value from down to down. There are a few plays almost every game that Sheard just stuffs completely on his own.
Lined up on the right side against the right guard, Sheard nearly sacks Watson rushing from the interior on this play. He overpowers the weaker guard with a strong swat and quick move inside. This leads to Watson having to step up and evade the rush and abandon the pocket. While the play ends up being a big one for the Texans, Sheard’s presence was felt on the play as he exploded into the backfield. The rest of the team has to finsish up the play behind him but great rush from the interior and notice how Houston and Sheard rushing from the right side causes the pressure off the mismatch.
Final clip for Sheard yet again shows his value in run defense. The Texans attempt to block him with a tight end which doesn’t work in the slightest. He controls the block at the point of attack and guides the tight end into the rushing lane. Once the running back nears the line, Sheard is then able to effortlessly discard the block and make the tackle. This game showcased all the types of ways that he can impact a game. From key pressures to timely sacks to stifling the run game, Sheard was all over this game and was a big reason why the Colts got the victory.
On the other side of the line was veteran Justin Houston and his two sack performance. He had a tough matchup on the left side against Laremy Tunsil and did struggle in those one on one reps. He did however do a great job scrapping through the line and still converting his chances for big time sacks. Speaking of those big time sacks, this play was one of the biggest of the game. However horrible the call was to call it a sack, it was terrible, it completely changed the outlook of the game. Sheard dominates his man and creates havoc in the backfield. Houston is then able to scrape though the pile and wrap up Watson and “cause his forward progress to stop” for a sack on the play. The result was a big time sack that kept the Colts in the lead and in control of the game after a costly mistake on offense.
After struggling to beat Tunsil on the left side, Eberflus unleashed Houston against the backup right tackle late in the half. The result was two big pressures in the red zone. ON the first of those two plays, Houston is split out wide in his stance. The right tackle attempts to jump him but Houston is way too quick. He beats the tackle to the edge and quickly swats away his hands as he turns the corner. This forces Watson to drift out of the pocket and throw an inaccurate pass as Houston closed in on him. He may be a bit older now but the flashes of how great he used to be do show up occasionally on film.
While he showcased his speed on the last rush, Houston is able to showcase his power on this one. The right tackle is able to get his hands on him this time but it makes little difference. Houston drives him up field before ripping underneath which sends the tackle to the ground. He closes in for the near sack before Watson is able to throw the pass away. Great play by Houston to get the pressure and again a great design by Eberflus to get this matchup with the team’s best pass rusher against a much inferior right tackle.
While Tunsil was a really tough matchup all game, this was a huge pressure by Houston off of the miscommunication. He tries to bull rush Tunsil which finds little success when the rest of the line caves in on the play. Luckily, Grover Stewart twisted to the outside which led to Tunsil breaking off of Houston and kicking out wide. The left guard doesn’t notice this and Houston is able to break through with a straight shot at Watson. The result is a bad decision by Watson to throw into coverage as Houston causes one of the biggest plays of the game.
Final play of the film room is Houston’s second sack of the game with the Texans’ backed up deep in their own territory. Nothing flashy on this play but a very savvy veteran move to get the sack. The Colts bring pressure on this play and force Watson to step up into the pocket to avoid a potential safety. Houston, after getting stonewalled on his bull rush attempt, understands that Watson will likely do this so he stays back and drifts to the middle of the pocket. As he drifts over, Watson runs right into his arms for the sack. Maybe not the highlight reel big sack but a very smart play to essentially shift into a spy and get the sack.
The Colts went into these past two games needing wins to stay competitive in the AFC playoff picture. They were able to pull off these two big upsets against talented offenses partly due to the strong play of these two veteran edge players. They have combined for seven QB hits and 4.5 sacks the last two games and have been all over the field.
While neither may be flashy, Houston is sometimes due to his skillset, they both know how to get the job done. It is easy to overlook these two players with all the young talent on the Colts’ roster but they are among the most important pieces to this defense. As the Colts enter this next stretch of very winnable games, expect this talented edge duo to continue dominating up front.