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Film Room: How the Colts can get Jonathan Taylor rolling against the Texans

Taylor needs to build off his Green Bay game against the Texans

Green Bay Packers v Indianapolis Colts Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images

The Houston Texans are the worst defense in the NFL at stopping the run. Through just 11 games this year, they have already allowed over 1700 yards rushing and allow an average of 4.9 yards per carry against. One of the key factors for the Colts winning this upcoming weekend will be how successful they can be on the ground and if they can keep the ball out of Deshaun Watson’s hands.

Luckily the Colts have rookie running back Jonathan Taylor returning from the COVID-19 list for this game. Taylor has had an up and down rookie season but his last game played against the Packers was by far and away his best as he rushed the ball 22 times for 90 yards (should have been another 50+ more yards too that were taken away by penalties).

So today we are going to look at how awful this Texans’ rush defense has been and see how Taylor can build off his game against the Packers and find success this Sunday.

Texans Run Defense

The two biggest aspects that stand out about the Texans’ run defense are that their interior defensive linemen are a major downgrade from D.J Reader and they are very undisciplined and susceptible to cut back lanes. This is a bad run defense all around but it truly starts up front. The role of an interior defensive tackle is essentially to cause disruption and eat blocks to free up linebackers. The Texans’ defensive linemen don’t really do either as they get little push into the backfield and if they are double teamed, they get driven pretty far off the ball. DT Corey Liuget (#93) gets driven off by the double team and linebacker Tyrell Adams (#50) is much too slow to cut off the backside run.

The Colts are known for their discipline and how they rarely miss tackles in run defense (I believe Indy still has the least amount of missed tackles in the NFL). The Texans however are the exact opposite. They are a very undisciplined defense that struggles to wrap up and allows so many yards after contact in the run game. Just count how many players get their hands on Kareem Hunt here before he goes out of bounds. Also, again look at the defensive line. Defensive tackle Ross Blacklock (#90) gets driven off the ball so easily for the big gain.

Another run play and more defensive linemen getting blown off the ball. Defensive end Carlos Watkins (#91) is pinned easily on the end which allows the pull to come around and lead the way. Linebackers likely won’t make this play anyway but they are both essentially taken out of the play by a tight end pulling through the hole. Just sloppy all around by this defense and they continually get blown off the ball.

Even when the Texans have the numbers advantage in the box, they still seem to get beat in the run game. It is a combination of so many factors for them too. Their defensive linemen cause no disruption. Their linebackers are slow to react and even when they do meet the runner in the hole, they miss tackles far too often. On top of all that, they are a fairly slow and undisciplined defense that gets killed by counters and outside runs. There is no excuse for the Colts’ run game to struggle this weekend.

Jonathan Taylor’s Breakout Game

It has been a challenging rookie season for Jonathan Taylor. From having virtually no offseason to jumping to the starter with Marlon Mack’s injury, it has been a tough season. However, he has strung together some stronger games lately and that truly manifested against the Packers for an outstanding game overall. He looked quick and decisive all game long and finally didn’t look like he was overthinking every little thing in the backfield. This is a great job of planting his foot, finding the hole, and running hard up field for the big gain.

The most surprising aspect of his rookie season has been Taylor’s struggles to make defenders miss and create yardage for himself. At Wisconsin he had no trouble staying upright and running through arm tackles for extra yards. That really didn’t transfer to the NFL until this game against the Packers. He looked stronger on his runs and did a great job of driving through traffic on the interior. This was perhaps his best run of the season as he navigated through a few poor tackles in the backfield and worked up field for a big gain.

Overall I think this is setting up for a good game for Taylor this weekend. The Texans have an awful rush defense and are susceptible to getting beat by bigger running backs with speed (Nick Chubb, Derrick Henry, Kareem Hunt). While Taylor isn’t on the same level as those backs, he is coming off his best career game and essentially a bye week for himself as he had to quarantine during last week’s game. If he can run with the same conviction and power that he did against the Packers (and the Colts offensive line can chill with the penalties), it should be a good game for the young running back.

Final Thoughts

It has been a rough season for the Colts’ rushing offense as they have struggled to build any consistency. However, we have seen some good things lately from Jonathan Taylor and if he continues this play against a poor Texans run defense, he could be in line for a big game.

The only major concern in my eyes is the Colts likely starting Le’Raven Clark at left tackle in place of Anthony Castonzo. The Texans are smart at lining up JJ Watt over weaker offensive linemen so expect a lot of Watt over the left tackle in this one. If the Colts attack the outside and give Clark a lot of help in the run game, this could be the big game we all need to see from Jonathan Taylor.