Describing a game as “key” this late in the season is cliché. Any team who hasn’t clinched a playoff berth, and arguably any that hasn’t clinched home-field advantage in the playoffs, is still playing “key” games. This fact makes it no less accurate to describe this afternoon’s match-up between the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans as a “key” game for the Colts.
Indianapolis lost control of its destiny in the AFC South by dropping a huge home game against the Tennessee Titans a few weeks ago — thanks in part to COIVD-19. It is now in a position to simply keep winning games down the stretch and look for the Titans to lose. If they win-out and Tennessee does not, the Colts will win the AFC South. If they don’t surpass the Titans in win total this season, they have to keep pace in a tight and active wild card race.
A win today would be huge for cementing the Colts’ chances of earning a playoff berth. The rule has long been that 10 wins will get you in (although that hasn’t always been the case). Still, if the Colts can get 10 wins out of the way, it will set them up to play confidently and comfortably over the last two weeks. If they lose today, they’ll once again hand control of their destiny over to other teams.
*** The keys to the game will look awfully familiar. Two weeks ago this was the game group of keys and they seemed pretty spot on. ***
Pressure Deshaun Watson
Deshaun Watson is having an incredible season. Any discussion about the league’s top quarterbacks that do not include Watson, and consider him as an honorable mention MVP candidate, isn’t being honest. If the Texans didn’t have to suffer through Bill O’Brien to start the year, things could have been much different in Houston this season.
With that said, even miracle workers need help and Watson’s not getting much. His head coach and general manager dealt away arguably the best receiving weapon in the NFL, some of his best teammates are out for the remainder of the season for failed PED drug tests, and injuries or perhaps age is picking apart the heart of the Houston franchise. Deshaun Watson is the best quarterback who happens to be on a really bad team in the league.
As with the game two weeks ago, the Colts will need to strike early on the scoreboard and then get after Watson. He is mobile and can escape the pocket but is not a run-first threat. His greatest weakness as a quarterback ought to be familiar to Colts fans, as Andrew Luck had the same one. Watson is not afraid to hold onto the ball and try to extend plays. He isn’t the quickest to get the ball out and at times that will lead to big opportunities for the pass rush. The longer he sits or feels he has to sit, the better.
Will DeForest Buckner play? If so, can he pester Watson in the same week he did Week 13? Will Kemoko Turay start to show signs of life after a frustratingly slow healing process from his ankle injury a season ago? If the Colts’ defense can rattle Watson once again, the Texans are likely too short-handed to keep up.
RUN THE DAMN BALL!
Don’t look now but the Colts rushing offense is starting to get going. Jonathan Taylor is breaking out late in the season, just in time to set up a push into the playoffs. The offensive line appears to have put things together and Anthony Castonzo’s gutty return to the field after a knee sprain could keep Indianapolis in the driver’s seat, particularly late in games after the Texans’ defense starts to wear down a bit.
If Deshaun Watson is the biggest threat to winning the game, an entirely fine strategy is to keep him on the sideline. If the run game is effective, and against this defense, it should be, Indianapolis can place a lot of pressure to force things in an effort to lead his team to a win. Indianapolis should be all too familiar with the pitfalls of a quarterback trying to play hero ball.
Time for T.Y. Hilton to clown again
T.Y. Hilton has been on fire in recent weeks. He caught five passes on seven targets for 86 yards and two touchdowns last week in Las Vegas; eight passes on 11 targets for 110 yards and a touchdown in his last meeting with the Texans, Week 13; and four receptions for 81 yards and a touchdown against the Titans, Week 12.
The chemistry between veteran quarterback and receiver appears to be fully engaged at this point and Hilton just loves to pick on the Houston Texans. He will get a secondary that is still without its best cornerbacks Bradley Roby and Gareon Conley. This unit also just lost safety Justin Reid to injured reserve. Look for the “Ghost” to keep his streak alive and for Philip Rivers to keep building on their strong showings the last few weeks. Having Hilton take over as a dominant receiver will be crucial if the Colts hope to get anywhere in the playoffs.
For that matter, they’ll need Hilton in top shape just to get there.