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Analyzing Colts biggest threats in the AFC: Houston Texans

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The Texans, main AFC South rival, are the biggest threat to take the division and look poised to make the playoffs once again.

Wild Card Round - Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans have established themselves as the main rivals to the Colts in the quest for the AFC South throne. With young franchise quarterback Deshaun Watson, the best receiver in the NFL (DeAndre Hopkins), and a rock-solid defense, the Texans are a scary team in the AFC, even though there are plenty of questions surrounding the team.

Strengths

Jacksonville Jaguars v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Texans biggest strength on defense is, without a doubt, their front 7. The Texans feature an All-Pro-caliber duo in J.J Watt and Jadeveon Clowney, along with solid players around them like Whitney Mercilus and Bernardrick McKinney. The Texans had a top-3 run defense and ranked 4th in takeaways. Health is a concern for Watt and Clowney, who each have considerable injury history, but when healthy, the duo is certainly a scary sight for opposing quarterbacks.

Watt is the face of the Texans, a hard-nosed monster of a man who has won DPOY 3 times in his career. He is neck and neck with Aaron Donald for title of best defensive linemen in the League. He makes the Texans defense exponentially better all by himself, and is always a force to be reckoned with.

On offense, the Texans have Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins, who form one of the best QB/WR duos in the NFL. Watson can make plays both with his arm and with his legs. Last season he threw for 26 touchdowns to just 9 picks and rushed for 551 yards, adding 5 more scores. Hopkins is undeniably a top-3 receiver in the league. He is impressive all-around and has the best set of hands of any receiver. In fact, he did not drop a single catchable pass last season.

The Texans are coached by Bill O’Brien, who so far has done a wonderful job of developing Deshaun Watson and forming a well-coached team. Since O’Brien took over in 2014, the Texans have had a winning record in 4 out of 5 years.

Weaknesses

Indianapolis Colts v Houston Texans Photo by Bob Levey/Getty Images

The Texans biggest weakness is, by far, their offensive line. Last season the Texans allowed the most sacks in the NFL, had the highest adjusted sack rate and ranked in the bottom 8th in all running categories (numbers taken from Football Outsiders). Watson took a lot of hits, and, as Colts fans know all too well, quarterbacks cannot withstand an unlimited amount of blows. The Texans tried to fix their offensive line through the draft, but in the first round, possibly the best tackle in the Draft, Andre Dillard, was taken just a pick before them, as the Eagles leapfrogged them at #23. The Texans ended up settling for Tytus Howard, who has the potential of becoming a solid tackle, but is considered a developmental prospect, as his technique is quite raw and he comes from a small school. Max Scharping was a solid pick in the second round. He has plenty of starting experience, but his pass-blocking technique is suspect, and the Texans need guys that can keep Watson clean.

The Texans other weakness is their secondary, which lost starting safety Tyrann Mathieu and starting cornerback/safety Kareem Jackson. Even though the Texans defense ranked in the top 3 against the run, they actually ranked in the bottom 5 against the pass. Houston did add Tashaun Gipson, but he does not have the ceiling Mathieu has. 2nd round pick Lonnie Johnson Jr. might have to step in as the starting cornerback in Week 1. The Colts passing attack seems to have the Texans number. In their three matchups last season, Luck posted a 64% completion rate, 1.085 yards, 8 touchdowns, and 2 picks. T.Y Hilton (A.K.A NRG Stadium owner) torched them in their own stadium on both matchups.

Another weakness of the Texans is how thin they are at receiver. Other than DeAndre Hopkins, no other player caught more than 35 passes last year. Will Fuller is an explosive weapon when on the field, but he has had injury issues his whole career and is coming off a torn ACL. Keke Coutee has a high ceiling, but he was not consistent in his rookie season and also dealt with some injuries himself.

Houston’s roster had some glaring weaknesses entering the off-season, and it seems like the team did not do nearly enough to address them. The Texans offensive line looks as sketchy as it did when the season ended, and the secondary got even worse. The signing of Bradley Roby was not a bad one by any means, but the cornerback room on Houston does not have a single guy without their fair share of questions.

How they match up with the Colts

Wild Card Round - Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Tim Warner/Getty Images

Last year we got a pretty good feeling about how the Colts match up with the Texans, as they faced each other twice in the regular season (as they do every year) and also in the Wild Card round of the playoffs. The Colts lost their first matchup on Week 4, 37-34 in an OT thriller at Lucas Oil Stadium. Luck torched the Texans that game, throwing for 4 TDs and over 450 yards. However, with Marlon Mack out, the Colts running game never got going, and after a questionable call to go for it on 4th down by Frank Reich (I still think that call was the right one), the Colts lost the game on a field goal.

The rematch came in Week 14, at NRG Stadium. Both teams came in with long winning streaks, and the game was key for the Colts playoff aspirations. This time the Colts defense was solid, and the Colts managed to beat the Texans 24-21. In the Wild Card game, the Colts dominated the Texans. Marlon Mack ran freely against them, racking up 148 yards and a touchdown, as Indy won 21-7 and moved on to the Divisional Round.

My impression for next season is that the Colts, with the moves they made this off-season and the expected progression of young players, look perfectly set to possibly sweep the Texans, and most likely re-establish themselves at the top of the AFC South. The Colts offensive-line should continue to improve, the receiver room improved drastically, and Indy will now have a legitimate pass-rusher in Justin Houston, who will have a field day against Houston’s tackles. T.Y Hilton will also be at full health now, and he probably can defeat the Texans all by himself.

I expect Houston to lose a step compared to last season, and I would not be surprised if they actually miss the Playoffs. There are just too many questions unanswered. This team is relying too much on Deshaun Watson’s magic, and with a mediocre offensive line in front of him, he will probably get hit a lot again. If Watson misses a part of the season, then the Texans are doomed. Houston’s backup quarterback right now is A.J McCarron, who has not thrown a touchdown since 2015, and has not shown anything that would indicate he can take over a starting spot should the need arise.