The Indianapolis Colts won convincingly against the visiting Houston Texans. The surprising part of the victory is that it was without key players like Joseph Addai, Jerraud Powers, Dallas Clark, and Austin Collie. During the course of the game, rookie tight end Brody Eldridge left the game due to injury, first-time starting running back Mike Hart hurt his ankle in the fourth quarter, and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez took a hard hit on the sideline, which kept him from finishing the game.
The game had major contributions from players like Hart, who ran for 84 yards on 12 carries (7.0 yards per carry) and caught all three of the passes his way for an additional 19 yards. He had the best game of his career and was on pace to break the 100-yard rushing mark. Cornerback Justin Tryon got his first start with the Colts for Jerraud Powers. Pat Angerer started his first game at strong-side linebacker in place of Philip Wheeler. Jacob Tamme got his first career start for the injured Dallas Clark and managed 64 yards on 6 receptions, out of 9 targets, and his first NFL touchdown. Even rookie Jerry Hughes saw his first action, got his first NFL tackle, and a quarterback hurry.
Other players played big roles in the win, including Tyjuan Hagler who had a big impact on special teams. Tryon also had a solid game as the team’s kick returner. Wide receiver Blair White was returning punts for the first time and gave the Colts their best punt return game of the year. Even late roster addition Cornelius Brown, rookie defensive back who has spent much of the year on the team’s practice squad, was in on two special teams plays and nearly pounced on a muffed punt to put Houston away in the fourth quarter.
There were a lot of good signs on the defensive side of the football. In many ways the defense was primarily responsible for the Colts victory, and really allowed the offense plenty of time to get their timing and rhythm with a lot of new offensive contributors.
Linebacker Clint Session had his best game of the year, and possibly of his career. He finished the game with eight solo tackles, one sack, one tackle for a loss, one quarterback hurry, and one pass defended. The most important improvement for Session is that he was rarely out of position, often made saves with big tackles on Arian Foster runs, and pestered Matt Schaub in blitz packages. He did make a poor read and have a slow reaction on one run in the second quarter that allowed Arian Foster to run through an attempted tackle by Justin Tryon, but one mistake for the game and a lot of positive plays is moving in the right direction.
The defensive line was outstanding generating pressure on Schaub all night, including pressure generated by Muir, Foster, and even rookie defensive end Jerry Hughes on occasion. That said, the defensive tackles did not perform well at all against the run. Too often Dan Muir or Eric Foster were pushed five yards down the field and the fullback and tight ends were allowed to release to the linebackers. Houston was not able to run much of the night due to a big Colts lead, but the defensive tackles will have to improve against the run when games are closer.
Dwight Freeney broke out of his sack slump in a big way. He finished the game two sacks, two quarterback hurries, and a forced fumble. Those statistics, like usual, do not come even close to giving an accurate picture of Freeney’s impact on defense. He spent the entire game abusing Texans left tackle Duane Brown, got pressure a half dozen or more times on top of what his statistics represent, and kept Schaub off balance. In fact, pressure from Freeney and Mathis are what allowed Clint Session’s free rush up the middle to be so successful, Schaub had no where to go.
A week ago Pat Angerer did an excellent job in his first start at middle linebacker in the NFL. Gary Brackett’s return, though, made it clear that the young man has a ways go to fill Brackett’s shoes. Gary had nine tackles, but his impact in read, react, and recovery plays against the run, along with solid pass protection, made him a difference maker.
Much maligned cornerback Kelvin Hayden had his best game of the year. He spent much of the game making solid tackles against the run and pass, picked off Schaub and returned it for a touchdown, had five tackles, a tackle for a loss, and a pass defended. He did give up a touchdown to Andre Johnson midway through the third quarter after he missed on an attempted jam at the line of scrimmage. Otherwise, Hayden looked like the type of impact player he should be with his salary.
On the offensive side of the football, things were a little less consistent. Reggie Wayne dropped an easy pass on a slant across the middle. Brody Eldridge and Jacob Tamme dropped the first passes to them on the Colts first offensive possession.
The offensive line continues to have individual breakdowns that result in negative plays. Right tackle Ryan Diem had two false start penalties and a holding penalty that called back a Mike Hart 12 yard run that would have succeeded without his hold. Charlie Johnson was abused to the tune of one sack, three quarterback hits, another pressure, and a blown block on a run that resulted in him standing right in front of Donald Brown’s running lane — resulting in no gain. Mike Pollak and Kyle DeVan also made a mistake or two in pass protection that caused Manning to rush some plays.
On the other hand, the offensive line had another solid run blocking game. On many of Mike Hart’s big runs he had two or three blockers sealing a lane, giving him enough open field to pick his routes, make some defenders miss, and have the best running game of his career. For some reason, though, the offensive line failed to provide similar blocking for Donald Brown.
At the end of the first quarter Donald Brown was highly active in the offense. On the first play Brown ran for one yard, Jeff Saturday did not block well. On the second play he ran for three yards, two Houston defenders came free to hit him in the second level, where there was no blocking. On the fourth play Brown loses a yard when Charlie Johnson misses another block, falls down, and allows his man to run free with Brown to the right side, cutting off any cutback lane. The next play Brown catches a Manning pass for three yards and is hit immediately by Kareem Jackson, who was unblocked by anyone in the secondary and had a free shot.
Brown returns to the field on the next offensive drive, now in the second quarter, and comes in for Mike Hart only to have Charlie Johnson miss a block and end up standing right in front of him, when there would have otherwise been a nice running lane for a solid gain. On the next offensive series Brown loses a yard on first-and-10 when Gijon Robinson completely whiffs trying to block Mario Williams, who comes free right into Brown’s face shortly after he takes the hand-off. Later in the drive, with better blocking, Brown makes a 10 yard reception and a 3 yard run for a first down on 4th and 1.
Even with poor blocking, though, there was a marked different between Brown and Hart’s running styles. Hart managed to pick up two or three extra yards after contact regularly. He also managed to make defenders miss, kept them off balance, and increased the yards he put up on the ground even when he was past the point where his blockers had an impact. Another big impact Hart had was in pass blocking, where he had three impressive pass rush stuffs that allowed Manning time to make plays.
Receivers Garçon, Wayne, and Gonzalez were limited in the first half by a Houston defense intent on staying back and trying to force the Colts to use Tamme and to run with Hart. Since Tamme and the running game were highly successful in the first half, that was not a big deal. In the second half, the receivers got more involved. Garçon had his most consistent game of the year, catching everything thrown his way that he had a legitimate chance to catch. Gonzalez laid a few key blocks to extend receptions by other receivers, and did manage to get into the offensive production with one huge catch down the middle, which looked very similar to the kind of catches he made in his first two seasons.
For his first start in the NFL, Jacob Tamme played a solid game. He had the opportunity to develop some trust with Peyton Manning and appears to be enough of a receiving weapon that the Colts should not see a huge drop-off in their passing production with Clark out for the year. Credit to the coaching staff and Bill Polian for drafting and developing a player who has worked really hard in his first three years to be ready for this opportunity.
No phase of the Colts was perfect in the 30-17 win over the Texans on Monday night, but every unit on the team played a solid game. Even without Pat McAfee (who is noticeably better than Jeremy Kapinos) the special teams units kept the Texans honest. The defense shut down the Houston offense, including putting up six points of their own through a Hayden pick six, to allow the offense time to find their stride. The offense got new players some experience and at no time really sputtered or failed to produce.
The Colts are 5-2 and now hold first place alone in the AFC South. The team has bought another week for players like Joseph Addai and Austin Collie to get healthy and return. Their next game is Sunday in Philadelphia.