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Colts culture shift testaments prove Shane Steichen’s first campaign is a success

The Colts aim to earn a season sweep over the Texans for the 13th time in the historic rivalry. 

NFL: Las Vegas Raiders at Indianapolis Colts
Indianapolis Colts linebacker E.J. Speed (45) makes a tackle in the first half as Las Vegas Raiders wide receiver Jakobi Meyers (16) catches the ball at Lucas Oil Stadium. 
Trevor Ruszkowski-USA TODAY Sports

Saturday’s prime time showdown has massive implications as the winners will clinch a playoff berth, whereas the losers’ road to the playoffs will abruptly reach a dead end at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Texans (9-7) and Colts (9-7) went through a complete culture shift after the dreadful 2022 campaigns that had both franchises among the top-four picks in the NFL Draft. First-year head coaches Shane Steichen and DeMeco Ryans have built significant cases to be NFL Coach of the Year candidates.

Colts defensive coordinator Gus Bradley spent all week preparing the defense for NFL Rookie of the Year candidate C.J. Stroud and the Texans. Indianapolis’ front line has compiled 17 forced fumbles this season, which is tied with Denver for the second-most in the league. With 49.0 team sacks in 2023, the Colts have the most sacks in a single-season in the Indianapolis era — since 1984 — and trail only the Broncos (11) with 10 strip-sacks.

Defensive tackle DeForest Buckner registered the 60th sack of his career, and joined Browns’ Myles Garrett and Chiefs’ Chris Jones as the only three NFL players to register at least 7.0 sacks in each of the past six seasons (2018-23). According to Pro Football Focus, Buckner’s 86.3 pressure grade is the fifth-highest among defensive lineman.

Linebacker Zaire Franklin surpassed his own record with his 11th double-digit tackle performance, which is the most in a single-season in franchise history. Franklin enters Week 18 leading the league with 170 tackles, breaking another of his records (166 in 2022) for the most tackles in a single-season in franchise history. Buckner and Franklin were listed as alternates to replace the eventual AFC champions at the 2024 Pro Bowl.

Linebacker E.J. Speed led the team in tackles for the third consecutive game with 12 against the Raiders. In 2023, Speed produced a career-best 87 tackles, 10 tackles for loss and three forced fumbles. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Speed has the lowest passer rating allowed by linebackers entering Week 18, trailing only Buccaneers’ Devin White (63.2) and Patriots’ Jahlani Tavai (69.3).

Speed told reporters on Wednesday he is a “testament of the culture that we’ve got around here”, developing players from special teams roles, to leaders in the starting lineup.

One of the under the radar re-signings during this campaign is defensive end Tyquan Lewis, who has played 412 snaps rotating on the front line. Indianapolis’ second round draft pick in 2018 is producing his best season with 12 QB hits and nine tackles for loss. Lewis recorded his fourth sack in Sunday’s win against the Las Vegas Raiders, which tied his single-season career-high.

The main focus throughout the locker room is a chance to control their destiny and dance their way into the playoffs with a high-stakes divisional win. Indianapolis leads the all-time series over Houston 32-10-1, with the lone tie in the 2022 season opener. The Colts aim to earn a season sweep over the Texans for the 13th time in the historic rivalry.