Texans vs. Colts: Takeaways from Houston's 27-24 Loss Against Indianapolis
If the Houston Texans' season wasn't lost before Sunday night, now it is.
It looked as if the Texans might pull off an upset against one of their biggest division rivals, but instead the Indianapolis Colts showed once again why they are perhaps the best fourth-quarter team, putting a dagger in the hearts of Houston fans at home.
The game had pretty much everything, including a scary situation with head coach Gary Kubiak, who collapsed at half time and was carted off the field.
It was hard to fault Case Keenum in his second start of the year, and after so much talk about the offense, it looked like the week of rest did the play-calling some good—even though kicker Randy Bullock will probably be spending some more time at home now.
The Texans came undone in the second half. There was a lot of good to take away from this game even in the face of defeat. Here's a look.
The Texans Finally Can Protect
Even though the Texans lost, the protection surrounding Case Keenum was remarkable all game long.
By far the biggest talking point was Duane Brown, who was assigned the task of keeping Robert Mathis quiet on the edge. Mathis had 11.5 sacks coming into Sunday night, but he left Houston without ever laying a palm on Keenum, mainly thanks to Brown's early jumps at the line.
As a unit, the entire offensive line held up well, and Keenum was afforded the luxury of five to six seconds of pocket time before he had to make a throw. Having a quarterback who can run the ball, unlike Matt Schaub, also made for some running holes up the middle that helped with field position.
It was simply a concerted effort from the offensive line to take away the Colts' key playmakers. When the time called for a double-team on Mathis, Brown and Derek Newton both pitched in.
The Pass Rush Isn't Missing Brian Cushing, Yet
On paper, Andrew Luck threw three touchdowns, but the Colts hit only 18 of their 40 pass attempts, as the entire passing game looked uncomfortable all game long.
Much of it was to do with the absence of Reggie Wayne, Luck's main go-to target, which forced him to search for other options to throw to. In the end, T.Y. Hilton was that guy, but the Texans managed to sack Luck four times in the game and make the Colts offense look pretty ordinary.
Defensively, Wade Phillips did a good job of dialing up a lot of blitzes, and early on in the second quarter, the Texans defenders were unblockable. Joe Mays recorded a big sack on second down at one stage, and J.J. Watt followed it up with another on the very next play.
Unfortunately, the defensive backs struggled to keep Luck and his receivers silent for the entire game, but the pressure was there all night long, especially on third down. There were even a couple of occasions where the Texans stopped the Colts in the red zone, a rare scene this season.
The Offense Came Out of Its Shell
It's been an entire season of short, underneath screen passes from Schaub, and not enough deep passes down the sidelines to really test out opposing safeties.
Finally on Sunday night the Texans changed their conservative approach, and it worked wonders with a new quarterback under center.
At the end of the first half, Andre Johnson had six receptions for 185 yards and three touchdowns, all thanks to deep floater passes that put the Colts corners under pressure. Every single deep shot was in one-on-one coverage, and when Johnson wasn't open, Keenum was scrambling left or right to make plays down the sidelines to guys like DeVier Posey.
The ball was shared extremely well, and even when the Colts finally decided to bring everyone forward and play their safeties deep, Keenum still managed to hit DeAndre Hopkins deep.
It was by far the biggest positive to come from this game, and for the first time this year, the Texans offense had a bit of electricity to it.
The Texans Secondary Issue
There was not one single player among the Texans secondary who had a fantastic game on Sunday night.
When the team relinquishes an 18-point lead like that, someone is to blame, and after T.Y. Hilton blazed the defensive backs late in the fourth quarter, Johnathan Joseph and Brice McCain definitely have to be in the firing line.
Aside from Joseph and McCain's blown coverage, though, Kareem Jackson gave up another big-time pass interference call on Darrius Heyward-Bey (he seems to have one every game), and Ed Reed now looks like he could be out of a starting spot if his woes continue.
An unnecessary roughness call on Reed gave the Colts a first down in the third quarter and a fresh scoring shot, while it was again the familiar tale of penalties that led to Houston's sixth straight loss.
The final part of the puzzle was Darryl Sharpton's controversial roughing the passer call on Luck that gifted the Colts a 1st-and-goal. For a defense that ranks so highly in the league and so lowly in red-zone coverage, it doesn't look like anything is about to change.
Tough Like Tate
With Arian Foster's hamstring still bothering him, Ben Tate took over, and even with a few broken ribs, he looked as strong as ever.
Statistically speaking, Tate finished with only 81 yards, but for once, the running game wasn't used to set up the passing game, and Tate had no trouble taking it to the Colts defense on stretch plays to the outside.
The lack of screen plays also allowed Tate some more freedom to simply run the ball, and with how well the offensive line was playing, he helped set up a lot of Houston's third-down conversions.
Right next to Tate was Dennis Johnson, who had his first 36 yards of his career. Tate will have to hold tight now as Foster returns to strength.
The Texans Didn't Stay Resilient
The situation that unfolded at halftime was unlike any other, and as we await the news on Gary Kubiak's condition, one thing that was noticed was the Texans' change in demeanour once Wade Phillips took over.
It's unclear how informed the team really was of what was going on, but some feared the Texans might come into the third quarter distracted, and uninspired. Unfortunately it happened, and even though things fell apart late in the game, the team looked lost on defense in the second half as Rick Dennison took over calling the plays.
Getting used to the sight of another head coach on the sidelines mightn't be a reality just yet, but after this season, it could be.
The Trouble with Special Teams
One of the biggest pimples on Houston's season has been special teams, and on Sunday, it continued to grow.
Randy Bullock hasn't hit a field goal from outside 50 yards, and after missing a 43-yarder early in the fourth quarter, his 55-yard shot to send the game into overtime will be scrutinised all week long—and perhaps even cost him his job.
Bullock was bad, but Shane Lechler wasn't much better, either. An ugly punt late in the fourth gave the Colts the ball near their own 50, and it eventually lead to Hilton's touchdown catch on the outside.
Add all of that with Keshawn Martin's controversial fumble in the first half, and you are looking at one of the Texans' largest problems of 2013.
What Does This All Mean for Next Week?
The Texans lost this one, but they should go into Arizona next week feeling OK about their chances. There could be some big changes on special teams coming up, but if you were looking for a solid answer on Keenum, you got one against Indianapolis—he's good.
The Cardinals are 4-4, and are fresh following the bye week. Keeping the same kind of offensive balance will be key for the Texans next week, and doing without the conservative approach could really test the Cardinals' 18th-ranked pass defense.
Foster isn't healthy, and we all hold Gary Kubiak in our thoughts and prayers. With whatever happens, all that unfolded this week should only inspire Houston more.