The Indianapolis Colts get back to their division this week, hosting the Houston Texans on Sunday. The Colts have faced tough opponents outside of the AFC South in recent weeks, losing by double digits to the St. Louis Rams, Arizona Cardinals and Cincinnati Bengals.
Needless to say, they're looking forward to another AFC South battle.
This week, the Colts face the Texans in Indianapolis, where they'll look to preserve their undefeated record against the Texans in pass coverage.
The Texans have disappointed more than any other team in the league, but they're still talented, even if they did lose to the Jacksonville Jaguars this past week. Against the Colts a few weeks ago, the Texans got out to a 21-3 halftime lead before a frantic comeback by Indianapolis changed the game in the second half.
The Texans can play with the Colts, that much is clear. So what does Indianapolis need to do to make sure that Houston's winless streak in Indianapolis stays intact? Find out in this week's game plan.
Offense: Big Plays Through the Air
Last time these two teams met, the Colts struggled to get anything going offensively in the first half (copy/paste to the last six weeks).
Why? Well, specifically, the Colts have struggled sustaining drives due to their lack of consistency. Part of this is due to the offensive scheme and play-calling, but a large part is that the Colts' players are all inconsistent. The offensive line is inconsistent (aka bad), which means any play at any given time can go downhill very quickly. The wide receivers are extremely inconsistent. Coby Fleener is consistent but isn't being used in a way that best utilizes his talents.
With that inconsistency comes poor third-down performance. Against the Texans in Week 9 the Colts failed to convert a single third down (out of six) in the first half. Overall, the Colts have converted just over 30 percent of their third downs since Reggie Wayne's injury, the fourth-worst rate in the league over that period (via Pro-Football-Reference's Game Play Finder).
Unfortunately, that's not likely to change against the Texans in Week 15. Despite their record, the Texans have a very talented roster, and their defense is 10th in the league in third-down conversions this season, according to ESPN.
So, if the Colts aren't going to fix their third-down woes, how can they put up points in this one?
The answer: The same way they did in Week 9—big plays.
T.Y. Hilton was the recipient in that particular matchup, catching seven passes for 121 yards and three touchdowns. Hilton has had at least 78 yards in all three of his games against Houston and a reception of at least 58 yards in each of those contests as well. Can the Colts find that kind of success against the Texans again?
Pagano on young WRs: "Hopefully we continue that trend & it will take away some of the coverage from T.Y. Hilton. We need to get him going."— Kevin Bowen (@KBowenColts) December 11, 2013
It seems that this may be the game that we see "good" Hilton again, something that has been sorely lacking from the offense in recent weeks. Hilton has been getting extra attention, and he's been unable to deal with it.
However, with Da'Rick Rogers breaking out against the Bengals, Houston may not be able to put all of its secondary's efforts on stopping Hilton. Rogers is a legitimate downfield threat and a very dangerous threat after the catch on shorter routes. If the Texans hold both safeties back deep, Coby Fleener should be able to work with the room in the middle of the field.
The other potential chunk yards are to be found against Houston using the running backs in the passing game. The Colts did this against the Texans with some success in Week 9 and again against Cincinnati last week. Don't be surprised to see a few screens and outlet passes early, although on third-and-long would be vintage Pep Hamilton.
Defense: Go Back to Spying
In their last matchup, the Texans moved the ball because of Case Keenum and Andre Johnson. Keeping Johnson down is easier said than done; the man is a future Hall of Fame receiver. Vontae Davis is a good corner, but it will be a group effort if the Colts are to keep him from putting up the kind of numbers he did in Week 9 (nine catches, 229 yards, three touchdowns, all largely in one half).
No, the easier task is going to be keeping the ball from getting anywhere near Johnson, and that will only happen if the Colts can get to Case Keenum.
If you've been reading our coverage for any length of time, you'll know how important QB spying was during the first few weeks of the season. For some reason, the Colts rarely did this against the Texans, and it cost them dearly.
Keenum's biggest plays came when he was able to leave the pocket, get a clean look downfield and uncork a pass largely unhindered.
Even if Gary Kubiak is no longer the head coach in Houston, the staples of his offense will still be there. The Colts can expect quarterback rollouts, and they can expect Keenum to try to extend plays by getting out of the pocket.
The Colts counteracted this type of play from Russell Wilson and Colin Kaepernick well by using a spy, namely Jerrell Freeman (and occasionally Antoine Bethea). It would be beneficial for the Colts to use Freeman like that again here. Freeman excelled in that role early in the season, looking much better when used like that than he has over the last few weeks.
Of course, it should help that the Colts are at home, where the pass rush is generally more reliable. Getting to Keenum usually means success for the defense, but the Colts' pass rush is not good, and they'll likely need to use an extra player, like Freeman, to make Keenum uncomfortable in Week 15.