Here’s some of what we’ve learned since Sunday, in no particular order: Linebacker Pat Angerer was a healthy scratch for the Texans game. If you throw a bad pass anywhere near Darius Butler, he’s going to get a hand on it. Griff Whalen can return punts (he had a 51-yard return against Houston). And Robert Mathis, with 16.5 sacks on the season at nearly 33, is still a game-changer who can ignite the rest of the defense.
Mathis brought down Case Keenum in the endzone for his 108th career sack (and a safety), passing Dwight Freeney for most in franchise history, and it was a strip sack, which extended his NFL record to 42 sack/forced fumbles.
The defense held Houston’s struggling offense in check all afternoon and never let them close the gap after their lone first quarter field goal. A significant part of that was the play of the defensive backs, particularly Vontae Davis, who kept Texans WR Andre Johnson out of the endzone, and Darius Butler, who picked Keenum off twice and nearly came up with a third.
Butler, who has 8 interceptions, 20 pass breakups (13 this year), and 3 TD’s since joining the Colts last season, credited the pass rush and good execution by his teammates for his most recent game-altering performance.
“I don’t know,” Butler said when a reporter asked what the trick is to all those interceptions. “It’s a team effort. It’s all 11 guys being on the same page, getting pressure. It gives you the opportunity to get better reads on the quarterback, get more comfortable back there. When it all comes together, plays are made like that.”
On one of Butler’s picks, he dropped back in a zone and read Keenum to see which of the two receivers on his side would be the target. “It was kind of a high-low concept,” he told a reporter yesterday. “Me and Landry were deep in basically like a two-deep and kind of was just reading Case (Keenum), really just seeing how basically you can tell his shoulders. Put your shoulders up in some way, he’s going to throw the deep ball to Hopkins and he kind of had them squared. He was going to (Andre) Johnson, so I was able to get a good break on it.” (I love it when these guys talk about specifics like that, although I can imagine a veteran quarterback trying to fool corners and safeties in that situation.)
Butler earned a +3.7 grade from Pro Football Focus, who also gave Vontae Davis a high mark at +3.3. Each player saw six passes come their way during the game, and each allowed only two catches. Butler came up with the interceptions, and Davis, according to PFF, didn’t allow a single yard after the catch. In all, they had a very good day and never let the struggling Keenum find a rhythm.
The No Huddle Offense, Coming to a First Quarter Near You
On offense, the Colts decided to go with the no huddle look early, build a lead, and then dial up the running game they love so much. They put up 20 first half points and coasted to victory, even breaking some nice runs in the second half. It was, well, fun.
Left tackle Anthony Castonzo, who helped key another solid effort against an elite defensive line (yes, the Texans are 2-12, but that front seven is not among their areas of concern), enjoyed running the no huddle on Sunday.
“Oh yeah, I really like it,” Castonzo said. “It kind of gets you into that rhythm where you’re getting set and you know what’s going on and the defense doesn’t. We got them to jump offsides a couple times because they were struggling to get lined up. Then they’re not thinking about the snap count. It’s kind of forcing them to play to you instead of you playing to them. It was good to kind of dictate the tone like that.”
I think it’s safe to say, the no huddle – given the type of talent this team has – was popular with the fans as well. Passing to set up the run, keeping J.J. Watt and the Texans defense off balance early on – it was great to see. It was like Christmas for Colts fans, and surely a good time for the players.
They did it all with paper-thin depth along the line due to injuries. Rookie tackle Xavier Nixon, recently elevated from the practice squad, had to come in and replace injured guard Joe Reitz, who had been playing very well by most accounts, at a position he’d never played in college.
“Yeah, that was extremely impressive, especially for the fact that I’m not sure he really played any guard in practice either,” Castonzo said of Nixon. “He’s been playing tackle in practice mainly. For him to be able to step in there and do what he did at guard and play a solid game really speaks to how mentally into it he is and just how valuable he is to be able to go in there at either position.”
This week brings an even greater challenge, as the Colts take on the 11-3 Kansas City Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs are 3rd in the league with 43 sacks and can pressure opposing quarterbacks from nearly anywhere. They’ve just finished clobbering two lesser teams by a total score of 101-41.
Castonzo feels as though the Colts offensive line is coming together at the right time, though, and no matter who is up next, they want to build upon that. “Yeah, I feel like as an offensive line, we’ve put together two back-to-back pretty good games, at least the second half of the previous game and then this game against the Texans,” he said. “We’re starting to play as well as we should be and we’d like to keep that going.”