After the first two weeks of the season, the Houston Texans were 2-0 and sitting atop the AFC South, while the Indianapolis Colts were reeling after an uninspired loss to the Miami Dolphins. Five weeks later, however, the Colts have a stranglehold on the division at 5-2, while the Texans have lost five games in a row and are competing with Atlanta for the "most disappointing" label.
Looking up at Indianapolis is a familiar position for the Texans, but the season isn't over yet. Despite the gap between the two teams in the win-loss columns, the overall talent gap on paper is nonexistent, if not in Houston's favor. With the game being in Houston and the Colts not having any experience in playing without Reggie Wayne, this game really could go either way.
For the Colts, it's an important game for them to prove that they can be consistent enough to be considered a contender. If they are still going to compete for a conference championship this season, they'll need to be able to beat a team like Houston, even on the road.
For the Texans, the playoffs are a distant hope at this point, but not quite impossible yet. Even if they were, they would always relish a chance at knocking off the Colts, especially in front of the home crowd. The Colts have been a dominant older brother for years, and just two years away from the division title doesn't quite seem like enough time.
So, how will Indianapolis stave off the Texans in Houston on Sunday night? We'll take a look at the key points for each unit in this week's game plan.
Offense: Take Care of the Ball, Get into the Red Zone
Sure, these aren't profound concepts, but let's look at the numbers to explain why those two things are the most important concepts against Houston.
|Texans' Defensive Drive Stats Rank|
|Yards Allowed /Drive||27.33||5th|
|Points Allowed/Red Zone Trip||5.57||31st|
The biggest things that stick out to me from the drive stats is that the Texans have quite a bit of talent on defense and can still stop teams. With high marks in yards, punts and three-and-outs per drive, the Texans stop the opposing offense as well as any team.
Unfortunately for Houston, once a team is able to start moving the ball, it's all over. The Texans have forced just three interceptions on the season (worst in the league) and have forced five fumbles (26th in the league). Once opponents get into the red zone, they score at an incredibly high pace.
So, the Colts offense has to match that trend, not making it easier for Houston by making silly mistakes that result in turnovers. Fortunately for Indianapolis, the offense and Andrew Luck have been exceptional at taking care of the ball this season.
The Colts' three interceptions (all thrown by Luck) is the lowest interception total for a team in the NFL. Luck's interception rate of 1.3 percent is second-lowest in the league, behind only Jake Locker.
He's also doing a better job of not getting sacked, as the Colts' 15 sacks allowed is eighth-best in the league, despite allowing 52 QB hits (fourth-highest, according to NFL.com). According to Pro Football Focus (subscription required), only 14 percent of the plays that Luck is pressured on turn into sacks, the sixth-lowest mark in the league.
So, the Colts should be able to take care of the ball in this one. The other side is a bit trickier. The Colts have been very efficient in the red zone, scoring 5.48 points per trip (second in the league). The problem is that they don't get there all that much. The Colts have only had 20 drives end inside the red zone this season, tied for 19th in the league.
Too often the Colts stall just outside of the red zone and are forced to kick field goals. Against Houston, it will be paramount to reach the red zone and take advantage of the opportunities to score touchdowns.
Defense: Take the Run Game Away, Make Case Keenum Uncomfortable
I don't know what a Case Keenum is, but it sure looked good against Kansas City in Week 7.
Keenum finished the game 15-of-25 for 271 yards and a touchdown, good for a 110.6 passer rating. Keenum was especially productive throwing down the field. He finished 3-of-5 for 206 yards on passes travelling at least 20 yards in the air, and one of those incompletions should have been caught:
When Keenum got time to throw, he generally made accurate, smart throws. He was actually let down by his receivers more often than the other way around. While the Houston receivers didn't have an excessive amount of drops, they failed to reel in numerous catchable balls, like this one to DeAndre Hopkins in the end zone.
The one area where Keenum did struggle was under pressure. The Chiefs were able to get to him and either force a throwaway or a sack on numerous key third downs. Overall, Keenum was just 6-of-10 for 69 yards when pressured, and his YPA went from 13.5 when not pressured down to 6.9 yards per attempt when pressured (according to Pro Football Focus).
Keenum is athletic and made numerous plays outside the pocket in his debut as a starter, so the Colts likely will need to use a similar game plan as they did against San Francisco and Seattle: Force Houston to throw it, and then make Keenum uncomfortable while maintaining contain.
Jerrell Freeman will likely play a big role as a quarterback spy in this one, as he did in the aforementioned games. I've mentioned numerous times how effective he has been in this role over the first half of the season, so I expect it to be effective against Keenum. As long as the defensive line can continue to play disciplined while getting a push up the middle, the Colts should be able to keep him uncomfortable.
As good as Keenum may have looked at times against the Chiefs, he isn't experienced enough to handle the load for Houston on his own. If the Colts stifle the Houston run game, like they did against Seattle and San Francisco in the second half, they can build up a multi-score lead and unleash the hounds on Keenum in the second half.
Of course, it all sounds good on paper, but that doesn't mean it will be executed. After all, the San Diego game happened. But, then again, so did the Denver game. And the Seattle game. And the San Francisco game.
So pretty much anything can happen.