Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans: Complete Week 6 Preview for Indianapolis
Plenty of fans were nervous after an 0-2 start, but the Colts have appeared to figure things out. The first two wins were pretty one-sided going against two easy division opponents. However, they were able to get their first true statement win by taking down another playoff contender in the AFC despite more than a few miscues.
Quarterback Andrew Luck probably described the win best.
"(Against Baltimore) you expect things not to go as expected. What you do expect is a tough, gritty, down-to-the-wire (game)," Luck told The Associated Press (via ESPN.com). "We survived our mistakes, in a sense. We made our plays enough to get a win."
Thanks to the win along with a Houston Texans loss in overtime to the Dallas Cowboys, the two teams are now tied for the top spot in the division. That makes Thursday night's game a big one for both teams, but in reality, the Colts are still the favorites to win the division whether they win or lose.
With the season now in full swing, here's a complete preview for the Colts in their Week 6 showdown.
Colts Week 5 Recap
It wasn't a pretty game to watch last Sunday, with the Colts and Ravens combining for seven turnovers. The Colts accounted for four of those, including two in the red zone. Still, the Colts were able to do just enough to get the 20-13 win.
Andrew Luck threw two interceptions on the day, but, as usual, he had a very short memory regarding both of them. He finished the game completing 32 of his 49 passes for 312 yards and a touchdown along with a 13-yard score on the ground.
The bigger story of the day was the defense, which was able to hold its own against a physical offense. Bjoern Werner had easily his best game with the Colts, generating frequent pressure on Joe Flacco and even picking up two sacks. Sergio Brown, who replaced LaRon Landry at safety, stood out as well, making some crucial stops and even sacking Flacco on fourth down near the goal line.
Seeing the defense step up like that was a rare occurrence, but the Colts are hoping that they can continue to play at a high level. The secondary has looked especially good with Vontae Davis playing like a Pro Bowler and Greg Toler staying healthy.
If the defense can keep playing like this, then the Colts should have no problem winning the division and possibly making a deep playoff run.
News and Notes
Pagano "Doesn't Anticipate" Another O-Line Change
Many were surprised by the decision on Sunday to start undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison over veteran A.Q. Shipley, but it doesn't sound like they plan on switching back.
Mike Chappell from RTV6 reported that head coach Chuck Pagano doesn't plan on making another move on the offensive line anytime soon, but he still wouldn't rule anything out for certain.
“I don’t know,” Pagano told Chappell. “I don’t anticipate any [changes], but don’t be shocked if there was something. But I don’t anticipate anything.”
Harrison showed signs of potential on Sunday, consistently keeping a clean pocket for Luck. He had a few bad mistakes, but they were mostly mental errors like forgetting the snap count or not realizing Luck was in the shotgun and nearly snapping the ball over his head.
The decision will continue to be criticized, but if Harrison can cut down on the mental mistakes, he could be a solid option at center.
Colts Sign Victor Butler
Even with a big game from Werner this past week, the Colts are in need of some depth at outside linebacker, so they've been busy looking at options around the league.
The Colts brought in outside linebacker Victor Butler and waived Chris Carter, according to Josh Wilson from Stampede Blue. The Dallas Cowboys drafted Butler in the fourth round back in 2009, and he played in 63 games with them before moving to the New Orleans Saints in 2013. Unfortunately, a torn ACL kept him out last year and throughout training camp this season, forcing the Saints to waive him.
Carter did very little in his month with the Colts, and with his experience in Dallas, Butler could end up being a better option at the position behind Werner and Erik Walden.
Short Week Rough on Veteran Players
The game of football is violent in its nature, but it takes on a whole new level in the NFL. For players like Cory Redding that have spent over 10 seasons in the league, playing on a Thursday just four days after playing on Sunday is no easy task.
“When I was younger, I’d play a game Sunday, (and) I was ready to go Monday morning. Shoot, I was young, ready to go,” Redding told Kevin Bowen from Colts.com. "Now, as an old head, your body doesn’t feel right until Saturday. You’re hurt all week. That’s the game. That’s how physical it is (with) all the wear and tear on your body.”
The bright side is that the other team tends to play on Sunday as well, so there's no advantage for either side. Still, it clearly is rough for the players, and Texans running back Arian Foster went as far as to claim that it put "every player on the football field in danger," according to Brian Smith from the Houston Chronicle.
That's a pretty strong statement from Foster, but it's unlikely that he's the only one to feel that way. Still, there's nothing either team can do about it this week, because the date and time are already set.
Note: All injury statuses are from Tuesday's practice, via Colts.com.
A short week could make it harder for some of the Colts players to be ready for Thursday's game, but Tuesday's injury report didn't have any injuries that were real surprises.
Arthur Jones has been out since Week 2, but it's still unlikely he returns this week. However, with the extra time until their matchup against the Cincinnati Bengals, a Week 7 return is possible. In the meantime, Ricky Jean Francois will continue to fill in, and he's done a good job of holding his own.
Jerrell Freeman was limited with his nagging hamstring injury that's slowed him down since Week 1, but it's good to see him at least getting some work in. The Colts need him to stay healthy because Josh McNary has struggled while being forced into the starting lineup, especially when it comes to dropping back in pass coverage.
Both offensive guards didn't practice on Tuesday, and that could be a problem. If Jack Mewhort and Hugh Thornton both can't go, then the Colts will likely turn to Lance Louis, who started last week in place of Mewhort, and Joe Reitz. Suddenly, the Colts could have three new interior offensive linemen than they had a couple of weeks ago, so hopefully they can hold it together against a strong Texans front seven.
X-Factors and Matchups to Watch
Colts Offensive Line vs. J.J. Watt
On offense, there's only one player that Pep Hamilton needs to be focusing on, and that's former Defensive Player of the Year J.J. Watt.
It's been another dominant year so far for Watt, who is arguably the best defensive player in the NFL right now. Through the first five games, he already has two sacks and has hit opposing quarterbacks 18 times, according to Pro Football Focus (subscription required).
The Colts offensive line has been a pleasant surprise this season, but with the concerns on the interior with Thornton and Mewhort injured, things could get ugly if the Colts aren't careful. Offensive tackles Gosder Cherilus and Anthony Castonzo will likely be going up against Watt, but you can bet that the Colts use extra blocker to contain him.
Erik Walden vs. Derek Newton
Because of the lack of an elite quarterback, the Texans are likely to try to get the running game going early, and that will likely mean running towards right tackle Derek Newton's side. That means that Erik Walden is going to have to set the edge and stay disciplined.
Walden has been able to generate some pressure in the passing game, getting two sacks this year, but there are still questions about his ability to defend the run. The Houston offensive line hasn't been great this season, but Newton has been a very reliable blocker in the run game.
Arian Foster is already off to a strong start this year, running for 404 yards and three touchdowns while averaging 4.7 yards per carry. If Walden can't set the edge, then it could end up being a very long night for the defense.
Ahmad Bradshaw vs. Brian Cushing
As he continues to split carries with Trent Richardson, Ahmad Bradshaw continues to get more and more comfortable in the Indianapolis offense. His versatility has been a big help, especially in the passing game, catching 18 passes for 151 yards and four touchdowns.
The Texans will likely call upon Brian Cushing to contain Bradshaw in the passing game. Although he's not the same player as he used to be after multiple season-ending injuries, Cushing is still a good linebacker in coverage, allowing just 4.6 yards per reception, per PFF.
Bradshaw may not be able to make as much of an impact in the passing game, but he should still be effective running the ball. He's currently averaging 5.1 yards per carry thanks to his violent running style, not afraid to finish through contact. Look for the Texans to have Cushing constantly keeping tabs on Bradshaw when he's on the field.
Colts' X-Factor of the Week: Sergio Brown
It was a huge coming-out party for Sergio Brown last Sunday, doing an impressive job of replacing LaRon Landry at safety. He finished last week's game against the Ravens with three tackles, a pass deflection and a fourth-down sack, stepping up in his first career start with the Colts.
Brown showed off a surprising amount of speed when coming off of the blitz, and it completely opened up the playbook for defensive coordinator Greg Manusky last week. Hopefully that's a trend that continues, because it was a great way to generate a ton of pressure.
At the same time, Brown will have to keep his head on a swivel in pass coverage. Ryan Fitzpatrick isn't the best quarterback, but he won't be afraid to go deep if DeAndre Hopkins or Andre Johnson are open down the field.
This is another big game for Brown, but if he plays well for a second straight game, the Colts might want to consider keeping him as the starter when Landry returns.
The Colts have to feel confident about their team as a whole after three straight wins, and they'll have even more motivation heading into Thursday's game with the division lead on the line.
It's going to be hard for the Texans to contain the Indianapolis offense, even with players like Watt and Cushing. They're only giving up 17.4 points per game, but three of their five games have come against teams with questionable offenses, while the other two came against the New York Giants and Dallas Cowboys.
The Texans haven't gone against an offense like Indianapolis yet. The Colts are tied for first with the Philadelphia Eagles in scoring, putting up 31.2 points per game while also leading the league with 321.8 passing yards per game. As long as the offensive line can hold together, Luck should be able to find guys like Reggie Wayne and T.Y. Hilton, who should be able to have their way against the Houston secondary.
Fitzpatrick and company are going to have a very hard time keeping up with the Colts unless their starting quarterback gets hot. The Texans have weapons, but the Colts have enough depth in their secondary right now to contain the passing game. If Manusky wasn't afraid to blitz Flacco, then he should have no problem sending the house against a guy like Fitzpatrick, and that will make it even easier to contain the pass.
While it's been a promising start to the season for the Texans, I expect the Colts to assert their dominance and keep their winning streak alive.
Prediction: Colts 24, Texans 10