Colts vs. Texans: Full Houston Week 5 Preview

Brian McDonald@@sackedbybmacContributor IOctober 7, 2015

Colts vs. Texans: Full Houston Week 5 Preview

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    Michael Hickey/Getty Images

    Despite how awful the Houston Texans have looked over their first four games this season, a win against the Indianapolis Colts on Thursday would put them in a first-place tie in the AFC South.

    A win over Indianapolis would not only put the Texans in a tie for first place during the short term, but over the long term it would also give them a much better chance of winning several potential tiebreaker scenarios.

    Losing to the Colts this week wouldn't mathematically end their playoff chances, but at 1-4 with the tiebreaker against Indianapolis basically surrendered, you'd have my permission to start discussing who the team should take in next year's NFL draft.

    Assuming that it takes at least a 9-7 record to make the playoffs, the Texans would need to run off an 8-3 finish to the season to reach that win total if they start 1-4.

    You should never say never in sports, but the odds of that happening feel low.

    At least one team from this division will probably finish the season with a .500 record or better, but the AFC South of 2015 is starting to look a lot like the NFC South of 2014.

    The Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars both have young quarterbacks who aren't quite ready, the Texans don't have a quarterback who will ever be ready, and the Colts' quarterback is dealing with an injury; the door is wide open for a team to step through and take control.

    That is unless the Texans lose this week—then that door will get slammed in their face rather abruptly.

Week 4 Results and Recap

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Want a recap of the Houston Texans' 48-21 loss to the Atlanta Falcons?

    The Texans got their worst butt-kicking in franchise history; how's that for a recap?

    Hey, if the team is going to move past that loss quickly because of the short week ahead, why can't we do the same? There's no need for any of us to relive the memory of that awful game, so this recap will be brief.

    A huge "thank you" in advance to everyone who reads this entire page instead of skipping past to the next topic, but I certainly don't blame the people who do make that decision.

    All right, let's get this over with quickly like pulling off a Band-Aid from an area of your body that has a lot of hair.

    That analogy was a little gross, so please accept my apologies.

    So, how did the Texans lose so badly?

    Well, they were outgained on the ground by 81 yards, lost time of possession by over 11 minutes and were minus-four in the turnover battle; there's your problem!

    There's no need for advanced stats or deep thinking to dissect this one; any time the Texans lose those three stats by that wide of a margin, they will get blown out.

    The footwork and accuracy of Ryan Mallett was awful against Atlanta. 

    Ryan Mallett remains the Texans' starting QB Most over/under thrown passes this season: Mallett 40 Tannehill 35 Bortles 32

    — ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) October 5, 2015

    Even when his passes weren't over or under-thrown, they still ended up behind his intended target way too often.

    Forget the running game, the offensive line and the defense for a moment, if Mallett doesn't play any better than he did last week, this team is headed for a top-10 draft pick.

    The running backs only averaged 3.2 yards per carry on 17 attempts, but after trailing 42-0 at one point in the third quarter, the Texans had no choice but to abandon the running game.

    DeAndre Hopkins put up some big numbers with 157 receiving yards, but 111 of those yards came during the second half with the team already down 35-0. It all counts, but at that point the Falcons were playing soft coverage with a huge lead, so it's hard to give him much credit.

    Per Pro Football Focus, J.J. Watt filled up the stat sheet with one sack, two quarterback hurries, two batted passes and three tackles for a loss, but it wasn't enough. He came to play, but it's a team game with 10 other starters on defense, so individual performances mean very little.

    Moving up to the next level, the inside linebackers played a poor game against the run and the pass.

    Their most glaring mistake was losing Devonta Freeman on a wheel route for 44 yards, but Brian Cushing also received the team's second-worst run defense rating from Pro Football Focus for the game.

    In the secondary, the Falcons picked on Kareem Jackson. They threw at him five times before he left the game, with four of those attempts being completed against him for 41 yards.

    For the season Jackson has allowed 21 receptions on 27 targets—77.8 completion percentage—and ranks 59th out of 68 eligible corners with an opposing quarterback rating of 118.2 on passes thrown his way, according to Pro Football Focus.

    Without question he has to play a whole lot better, but an improved pass rush and a scheme with less off-coverage would help his performance a great deal.

    On special teams it was the same thing we've seen every other week with Shane Lechler playing well but the kicker and return game failing to rise to his level.

    In particular Nick Novak's 53-yard field-goal attempt made me cringe.

    Missing a 53-yard field goal is understandable, but not only did his kick go way wide, but it also landed in the middle of the end zone; I'm not sure that kick had the distance to be good from even 40 yards.

    It was a total team failure against Atlanta last week.

News and Notes

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    Sam Riche/Associated Press

    Andre Johnson Returns to Houston

    The man who will most likely become the first Houston Texans' player inducted into the Pro Football Hall of Fame returns to town this week as a member of their biggest division rival.

    Despite having two different seasons cut in half by different injuries, Johnson still averaged 84 receptions and 1,133 receiving yards during his 12 seasons with Houston.

    For 12 seasons he was the Texans' rock as their most reliable player both in terms of effort and production, but he joined the Indianapolis Colts earlier this year after asking for and receiving his release.

    At the heart of that issue was Johnson's claim that head coach Bill O'Brien told him during a meeting that he should only expect to catch about 40 passes during the 2015 season.

    Unfortunately for Johnson, O'Brien's estimate has been far too generous so far this season.

    Currently, Johnson has a total of seven receptions for 51 yards through four games—his lowest yards-per-game average previously was 52.9 from 2005—which puts him on pace for 28 receptions and 204 receiving yards.

    It's tough to watch his career end like this, so hopefully he'll turn it around...starting next week.

    Johnson left on bad terms and has said a few things since being released that understandably annoyed many Houston fans, but if you go to the game, please don't boo him.

    Paying your hard-earned money for the ticket gives you the right to express your feelings, but Johnson deserves to be cheered.

    It may not have ended well, but he put blood, sweat and tears into trying to make this team successful for 12 seasons—on many awful rosters—and was a good member of the community.

    Arian Foster Hopes to Contribute More This Week

    In his first game this season, Texans' star running back Arian Foster wasn't able to produce at the level we're all accustomed to seeing, as he had just 10 yards on eight rushing attempts. 

    Arian Foster said he hopes to increase his contributions Thursday and get a win. He kept it simple

    — Aaron Wilson (@AaronWilson_NFL) October 6, 2015

    It was arguably the second-worst game of his career—his 2014 game against Buffalo is the other contender for that dubious distinction—but looking ahead to this week, Foster has had a lot of success against Indianapolis during his career.

    Three of Foster's top four single-game rushing totals have come against the Colts, while his yards per game (120) and yards per attempt (six) numbers are better against Indianapolis than any other opponent he's played more than twice.

    Hopefully, playing last week knocked the rust off after he hadn't taken the field since December 2014, because the Texans need a big game from him this week to defeat the Colts.

Latest Injury News

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    Associated Press
    Carlos ThompsonIRWrist
    Jeff AdamsIRKnee
    Ryan GriffinIR/DFR Knee 
    Tom Savage IRShoulder
    David QuessenberryIRIllness
    Reshard CliettIRKnee
    Lonnie BallentineQuestionableKnee
    Quintin DempsQuestionableHamstring
    Cecil Shorts IIIQuestionable Shoulder
    Akeem DentQuestionableHamstring
    Nate WashingtonQuestionableHamstring
    Jonathan GrimesQuestionableKnee
    Whitney MercilusQuestionableThigh


    .@HoustonTexans Tuesday Practice Report (10/6): pic.twitter.com/O2mr4FPUEo

    — Texans PR (@TexansPR) October 6, 2015 

    The @HoustonTexans have officially released ILB Mike Mohamed from Injured Reserve with an injury settlement

    — Texans PR (@TexansPR) October 6, 2015

    The biggest injury storyline to watch leading up to kickoff will be the status of the two banged-up wide receivers.

    If neither Cecil Shorts nor Nate Washington is able to play, then three rookie wide receivers will be forced up the depth chart behind DeAndre Hopkins.

    Keith Mumphery had his best game as a pro last week against Atlanta with four receptions for 56 yards, but neither he nor fellow rookies Chandler Worthy and Jaelen Strong are ready to be counted on as major contributors.

    Shorts and Washington have had their own shortcomings with drops and fumbles, but their experience certainly makes them more prepared than the rookies for a big game like the Texans face this week.

    The depth in the secondary could also be a concern if Quintin Demps isn't able to play.

    For the season the Colts' top three wide receivers and most active tight end have all played on more than 200 snaps; their top running back has received just 180 snaps, per Pro Football Focus.

    Indianapolis isn't short on talented receiving targets and likes to spread out the defense with three-receiver formations, so even having one regular contributor in the secondary who is unavailable to play would be a big problem for the Texans.

    SourcePro Football Reference 

Key Matchups

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    Patric Schneider/Associated Press

    Can Someone Please Slow Down T.Y. Hilton?

    Despite only being in his fourth NFL season, T.Y. Hilton has made a mark as perhaps the biggest "Texans killer" in the league.

    In just six games against the Texans, Hilton has 35 receptions for 661 yards (110.2 per game) and six touchdowns—easily his best numbers against any team in the league.

    Hilton is more than just a one-route receiver, and he's given the Texans fits with his speed.

    Kareem Jackson and Johnathan Joseph are quality corners, but for different reasons neither one has the speed to keep up with Hilton.

    Stopping Hilton this week will be a team effort and require alert play from more than just the primary corner in coverage.

    In previous matchups the Texans safeties reacted too slowly to Hilton when he ran the streak route. They either got caught looking into the backfield or tried to play his break on a possible shorter route and were left nearly standing still as Hilton blew by them.

    To borrow a popular phrase, the safeties will always need to be "deeper than the deepest" in coverage of Hilton to prevent the big play.

    If the little guy beats them deep a couple of times for a touchdown or two, the Texans will be in big trouble.

    Throw at Vontae Davis at Your Own Risk

    2014 Pro Bowler Vontae Davis is one of the few players at his position who could be described as a shutdown corner.

    Davis allowed zero touchdowns, intercepted four passes and held opposing quarterbacks to a 38.8 QB rating last season, which led to a second-place finish—Chris Harris Jr. ranked first—in the pass-coverage rating from Pro Football Focus.

    The three teams who threw at Davis the most last season—the Denver Broncos, New York Giants and Cincinnati Bengals—came away with QB ratings of 52.5, 50.9 and 39.6, respectively.

    Overall, Colts' opponents threw at Davis a combined total of 92 times last year with only 44.6 percent of those attempts going for completions; throwing at him was a low-percentage play last year.

    This season has gone a little differently for Davis, to say the least.

    After not allowing a single reception against Buffalo in Week 1, Davis has allowed at least four receptions and 50 yards in each of his following three games. He also gave up two touchdowns during that three-game span that in part has led to an opposing quarterback rating of 9944th-best in the league.

    The Texans had mixed results going after Davis last season from their first game to their second against the Colts.

    In their first meeting, Houston threw at Davis was five times, with four of those passes being completed for 74 yards and a 118.8 QB rating.

    In their second meeting, the Texans threw at him five times again but only completed one of those attempts for a gain of 30 yards and a 12.5 QB rating; Davis also had one interception and one pass breakup during the game.

    So which version of Davis will the Texans face this week?

    He has probably been a little better than the Pro Football Focus numbers indicate, but even if he is struggling, the Texans don't have a quarterback consistent enough to trust going after him.

Texans X-Factor of the Week

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    Associated Press

    Texans X-Factors of the Week: Jared Crick, John Simon and Whitney Mercilus

    Will a pass-rusher other than J.J. Watt please stand up?

    The Mr. Everything of the Texans has been their best pass-rusher this season by a wide margin.

    Jadeveon Clowney hasn't recorded a sack but does lead the team in quarterback hurries with 11 and has rushed the passer better than the stats indicate.

    Against Andrew Luck this week—and every week for that matter—the Texans desperately need another pass-rusher to emerge and impact the game.

    Luck has faced pressure on 40.8 percent of his dropbacks—fifth-highest in the league—and is completing just 35.7 percent of his passes while under pressure, which ranks second-worst in the league; only Ryan Mallett has completed a lower percentage.

    This is true for most teams, but the Colts' passing offense is especially vulnerable to a good pass rush.

    Watt and Clowney are reliable performers, so the guys who really need to step up are Jared Crick, Whitney Mercilus and John Simon.

    For what it's worth, Crick and Mercilus rank as the Texans' worst and third-worst pass-rushers so far this season, according to the ratings from Pro Football Focus.

    Stepping up their performance doesn't even necessarily mean that they have to record a sack for the Texans' pass rush to be effective, but they do have to win their matchups and at least apply a little pressure.

    Evaluating the performance of pass-rushers is usually too heavily focused on one stat, because hits on the quarterback and quarterback hurries can often be just as effective as a sack.

    Forcing quick throws can cause incompletions if the receiver isn't looking for the ball yet, while hits on the quarterback can cause turnovers if the ball floats or flutters up in the air once the passer is hit during his throwing motion.

    The Texans need those plays just as much as they need more sacks.

    Every offense the Texans face will throw double-teams at Watt and Clowney on a regular basis, which means those other guys going after the passer will get the benefit of only having to beat one blocker.

    In particular, Houston drafted Mercilus in the first round to rush the passer; if he can't beat a one-on-one block consistently, then he doesn't deserve to start.

    Watt and Clowney will do most of the heavy lifting, but Simon, Crick and Mercilus have to do their part.

Prediction: Texans 23, Colts 21

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    David Goldman/Associated Press

    Sometimes in sports—and in life for that matter—you get unexpected results that all the evidence leading up to the event suggested would be impossible.

    The Texans' Week 16 game last year against Baltimore seemed like it would be an easy win for the Ravens based on all the stats, injury statuses and the momentum of each team, but the game didn't play out the way most predicted.

    Coming into their matchup against Houston, the Ravens had won four out of their last five games, and two of their key players were having career years.

    During that five-game stretch, quarterback Joe Flacco completed 67 percent of his passes, threw seven touchdowns, rushed for two more scores, had just one interception and tallied a 104.0 QB rating.

    Running back Justin Forsett averaged 104 rushing yards per game on 5.46 yards per carry, with five touchdowns during that same five-game stretch.

    The Ravens offense averaged 27.2 points scored per game during that stretch; Baltimore was playing very well coming into the game against Houston.

    On the Texans' side of things, each of their top three quarterbacks to start the season had been lost to injury coming into the game, which forced the team to play Case Keenum against Baltimore.

    There was zero reason to think the Texans had a chance to win that game, but yet they never trailed Baltimore during a dominant victory.

    Flacco threw three interceptions while completing just 42 percent of his pass attempts. Houston held Forsett to a season-low 19 yards on just 10 carries. The often erratic Randy Bullock made all six of his field goal tries for the Texans, and Arian Foster, of all people, threw Houston's only passing touchdown of the game.

    Who would have predicted any of that? I certainly didn't in my preview for that game.

    Like that game against Baltimore last year, there are few statistical or logical reasons to pick the Texans to win, but that's what I'm going to do. This week does feature a big return of a former player and comes just a week after a devastating loss; there are a few similarities to last year.

    Having a short week to prepare should be beneficial to the Texans by not allowing them the time to dwell on last week's embarrassing loss.

    If this team has any fight inside it, then that rout to Atlanta should also provoke an emotional reaction and an inspired performance on the field.

    The Texans still have more flaws than I care to count, but the timing of this game seems to work in their favor.

    Emotional fuel doesn't last for long, but it could be enough for the Texans to win this game.

    Prediction: Texans 23, Colts 21

    Advanced stats courtesy of Pro Football Focus.

    Follow me on Twitter for more news and opinion on the Texans: @sackedbybmac. Go Astros!

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