12 Things to Watch in Sunday's Colts Texans Game
This is the scariest thing you'll see all year.
Last week, the Colts fell down on the road against the Bengals. This week, they get a visit from the worst team in football, the Houston Texans. Oddly enough, that fact does little to quell the nervousness that is percolating around the city. The Colts haven't been playing good football in awhile, but they have a chance to right the ship. Here's what to watch for…
1. Watch the rhythm. With playoff seeding all but locked up, Indy has a chance to experiment over the final three games. The offense has moved in fits and spurts for a gaggle of fortnights now. Gaggle, of course, being the official herd designation for the wild fortnight. Fortnights in captivity are called a quell. The great thing about things that don't matter is that you can be creative and make them into whatever you want. That's the joy of creativity and of locking up your playoff spot with three weeks to go in the season. If the Colts want to treat these games like preseason affairs to get Da'Rick Rodgers and LaVon Brazill integrated into the offense, they can with little fear of repercussion. Or they could just hand the ball off a bunch. Either way.
2. Watch the watching. When the Texans parted ways with Gary Kubiak, part of the issue was his dogged insistence on playing Matt Schaub over Case Keenum. Of course, just 18 months ago, the Texans gave Schaub a huge extension, but Rick Smith has decided he's done. Now, Schaub may well be washed up, but Keenum is not a starting-caliber quarterback. For whatever reason, the Texans are dead set on watching him for a few games to see. So in the mean time, they keep losing games, and we can watch the watching.
3. Watch the irony. The Texans have never won in Indianapolis. In 2011, arguably their all-time best team lost to the Colts worst team in 15 years. Now, one of the worst Texans teams ever comes in to play a playoff-bound Colts team, and everyone is a little nervous. For reasons I can't fully articulate, keeping the streak of Houston losses in Indy feels like a big deal. There's nothing better than an aura of invincibility around your home field when it comes to playing a division rival.
4. Watch the Ring. Marshall Faulk and Eric Dickerson will go into the Ring of Honor at half time of the game. I've said it before, but I still think Bill Polian's biggest mistake was not keeping Faulk and dealing the Edge James pick for the New Orleans haul, bringing Champ Bailey to the Indy defense. Faulk was one of the great players I've ever seen. Dickerson for all his a-holishness was certainly dominant in his first few seasons in blue. Two of the ten best running backs in history (and you could argue two of the five best) are going to be in town Sunday. Watch them.
5. Watch the mismatch. Andre Johnson owns Vontae Davis the way I own DVD and VHF copies of UHF. That is to say, they are among my most cherished possessions, and I wear them out through constant use. Davis has been soundly abused by Johnson in their recent matchups, so look for the Colts to come up with some other way to limit him. If he's not doubled on every snap, he will break loose and punish them deep.
6. Watch the non-controversy. The last time I did an Eyes on the Texans, people took umbridge that I declared J.J. Watt the best defender since Lawrence Taylor. That chart at the top of the page? That's J.J. Watt's game chart. See how the bar graphs actually break through the top of the graph? Yeah. That's how good he is. He's equally good against the run and the pass. To put his grade in perspective, he's like three times higher than Peyton Manning. He's a freak. The Colts can't block him. Their only hope is to try and Andrew Luck out alive. So to everyone who questioned my statement before: shut it. He's awesome.
7. Watch the celebration. Robert Mathis needs 1.5 sacks to break Dwight Freeney's franchise record. He's getting there on Sunday. WIth three more sacks, he'll leap into the top 20 all time. He needs two more Pro Bowl-level seasons to make it into Hall of Fame range. 130 sacks and six Pro Bowls will likely be enough. Of course, Defensive Player of the Year award would help. He'll need five or six sacks over the final three games to get that, though.
8. Watch for tremors. Let's not pretend all is well over at West 56th. I'm not telling tales out of school to say that Mr. Irsay looks unhealthy. Given his bold statements after a loss to Buffalo in the preseason, there's no way he's all copacetic with the Colts dumping games in December. If the Colts were to lose to Houston, play poorly in the final two games AND drop a playoff game in embarrassing fashion…It has to be at least possible that he reacts, well, "decisively". I'm not saying there will be changes. I'm not entirely sure there should be at this point. I'm just saying that an 8-8 finish and a bad loss in the playoffs will not sit well. That's all. In that scenario, no one should feel safe that they'll have a job next year.
9. Watch for the Grim Reaper. Wade Phillips is the angel of death for a head coach. He's taken over jobs from his dad, Dan Reeves, and now Gary Kubiak. If you want to be sure to get fired half-way through the season, bring in Wade. Little known fact, he was originally Vice President of the US for a brief time back in 1997, but Bill Clinton replaced him with Al Gore just before the impeachment hearings. Needless to say, he managed to stay in office. After a brief stint in Atlanta, he moved to Baghdad to set up defenses for Iraq in the months preceding the US invasion. Per his typical M.O. he got troop performance up temporarily, then they all folded and Sadaam lost power. There is no truth to the rumor that he's being considered for the defensive coordinator job for the Colts next.
10. Watch the scramble. The Colts most effective offensive weapon is Andrew Luck running with the football. It's also their most terrifying. Luck has taken an absolutely beating in the pocket this year, so as much as no one wants to see him taking on linebackers in the open field, at least then he'll have a chance to avoid a hit or two. As the playoffs approach, look for the Colts to move the pocket and get Luck loose at little. Nothing can be worse than letting sit back and get blasted.
11. Watch for too little, too late. The Texans waited and waited to draft a second receiver to pair with Andre Johnson. When they finally landed DeAndre Hopkins, they did well enough. The rookie is having a nice enough year, and with a strong closing kick could even challenge the 1,000 yard mark. It really does make you wonder what would have happened in 2012, however, had they taken Alshon Jeffery in the first round. They instead went for Whitney Mercilus who has been a bit of a liability. His six sacks don't betray how much he's struggled to generate a consistent rush on the passer. Jeffery, meanwhile is already over 1,100 yards receiving and looks like the next be star. In the mean time, Matt Schaub's confidence is gone, and the team is stuck with Case Keenum. Wide out was the biggest need in 2012, and the team ignored it to their own peril. It's a cautionary tale to be sure.
12. Watch for relief. I've gone back and forth on this game. That really tells you all you need to know. The Colts can't be counted on to beat the worst team in football in Indianapolis. Yes, things really are that bad. Still, I can't bring myself to imagine the Texans celebrating on Indy's homefield. Colts 23 Texans 20