[media-credit name="undefined | Coltzilla" align="aligncenter" width="560"][/media-credit]The Indianapolis Colts travel to Reliant Stadium Sunday to take on the Houston Texans in their 2011 season opener. With QB Peyton Manning officially ruled out for the game, the Colts will be led by quarterback Kerry Collins, the first quarterback other than Manning to start for the Colts since 1997, the year before Manning was drafted. The team that has been defined by Manning’s arm and mind for more than a decade will now be defined by the questions left by his absence.
Will a bend-but-don’t-break defense be able to change its philosophy and create lower scoring, winnable games? Will an offense that was designed around Manning’s ability to read and manipulate defenses be able to adapt to an older, less mobile, less amazing quarterback? And will a group of skill players that was inconsistent at best last year step up and show why many consider them to be one of the best units in the league? The Texans, for their part, have questions as well. Will the additions of Wade Phillips, Jonathan Joseph, and Daniel Manning be enough to turn around a defense that was near the bottom in every statistical category in 2010, including last in pass defense? Will Matt Schaub, Arian Foster, and Andre Johnson stay healthy for a full season? Will a team that has shown an inability to match preseason expectations rise to the challenge of taking hold of a division that seems exceedingly winnable? And will Gary Kubiak stop outsmarting himself?
When the Colts have the ball
|Indianapolis Colts Offense||Houston Texans Defense|
|WR 87 R. Wayne||DE 99 J.J. Watt|
|TE 44 D. Clark||NT 95 S. Cody|
|LT 74 A. Castanzo||DE 94 A. Smith|
|LG 76 J. Reitz||OLB 98 C. Barwin|
|C 63 J. Saturday||ILB 56 B. Cushing|
|RG 71 R. DIIIIEEEMMM||ILB 59 D. Ryans|
|LT 72 J. Linkenbach||OLB 90 M. Williams|
|WR 17 A. Collie||CB 25 K. Jackson|
|WR 85 P. Garcon||SS 29 G. Quin|
|QB 5 K. Collins||FS 39 D. Manning|
|RB 29 J. Addai||CB 24 J. Joseph|
The biggest question surrounding the Colts is how will an offense built around the mind of a single player adjust to that players absence? It seems safe to assume that the audibles and theatrics at the line of scrimmage will be put on hold until Manning returns. Beyond that, the most logical course of action would be to rely more on the running game than they have in recent years. And it is in the running game that the Colts may find their best bet at beating this Texans team. First, after years of publicly bemoaning a lack of success in the running game, the Colts finally spent the 2011 off-season making changes to the offensive line in an effort to improve the running game. Second, and perhaps equally as important, the Texans defense is in a bit of a transition period. New defensive coordinator Wade Phillips is charged with turning around a defense that was among the worst in the entire NFL last season. While Phillips is praised for his ability to quickly turn around defenses, he faces a challenge in trying to turn a bad 4-3 defense into a good 3-4 defense. The Texans currently lack the players long the defensive line that are usually associated with a successful 3-4. They are especially weak at nose tackle, the position charged with taking up a lot of space in the middle of the offensive line. The other problem facing Phillips is that of taking a group of players accustomed to playing in a 4-3 and getting them prepared to play in a different system, all with a shortened off-season due to the lockout. Converted OLB Mario Williams and ILB Demeco Ryans will be the two players under the biggest stress. Both players function and responsibility have changed significantly since they last played, and asking them to be fully acclimated to a system in week 1 may be a tall order. Additionally, Ryans is returning from an injury that sidelined him for a majority of the 2010 season, and it may take him time to return to the Pro Bowl level he was playing at prior to his injury. These factors should combine to allow the Colts bigger, stronger offensive line the opportunity to open holes for Colts’ RBs Joseph Addai, Delone Carter, and Donald Brown. If the Colts find early success in the running game, they may choose to employ a strategy often used against them: shortening the game by running the ball. When you run the ball, assuming the play does not run out of bounds or there is no penalty, the game clock will continue to run. As we have seen teams like the Jaguars do in the past, the strategy is based around keeping the score close, running the clock down, and limiting each team to between 5 and 7 possessions. As we have learned in the past, once you have established a successful running game, the best way to take advantage of it is to pass. The Colts were once the masters of the play action pass, aided by Manning’s masterful slight-of-hand technique, they will now hope to condition opposing defenses into expecting, and even worrying about the prospect of the run. A strong play-action passing game will help the offense by not only aiding the receivers in their quest for separation from their defenders, but also by slowing down the pass rush, making rushing players guess where the ball is. In the passing game, it appears that Kerry Collins will have most of his weapons at his disposal. Reggie Wayne, Austin Collie, Dallas Clark, and Joseph Addai all seem certain to play, while Blair White and Anthony Gonzalez both appear to have an outside shot of suiting up on Sunday. The availability of those players, along with 2010 breakout player TE Jacob Tamme, will give the Colts numerous options in the passing games. If the Colts choose to run their patented no huddle offense, a formation including both Dallas Clark and one of Jacob Tamme or 2nd-year TE Brody Eldridge should afford Collins and the Colts offense the ability to exploit various mismatches depending on how the Texans defend the no huddle attack. If the Texans defend with their base 3-4 defense, the Colts should be able to use Tamme and Clark effectively against the Texans’ linebackers. And should the Texans choose to defend the pass catching TEs by subbing to a nickel- or dime-package, the Colts should find success in the running game. In the end, the success of the Colts will come down to the revamped offensive line. If the offensive line improvements made by the Colts allow them both the ability to run successfuly against the Texans, as well as keep Mario Williams and the Texans’ pass rush at bay, Kerry Collins is good enough to beat what should be no better than an average defense. If the offensive line is unable to do either of those things, it could be a long, frustrating day for the once-explosive Colts’ offense.
When the Texans have the ball
|Indianapolis Colts Defense||Houston Texans Offense|
|93 DE D. Freeney||80 WR A. Johnson|
|99 DT A. Johnson||81 TE O. Daniels|
|95 DT F. Moala||76 LT D. Brown|
|98 DE R. Mathis||74 LG W. Smith|
|53 OLB K. Conner||55 C C. Myers|
|58 MLB G. Brackett||65 RG M. Brisiel|
|51 OLB P. Angerer||73 RT E. Winston|
|25 CB J. Powers||12 WR J. Jones|
|33 SS M. Bullitt||83 WR K. Walter|
|41 FS A. Bethea||8 QB M. Schaub|
|27 CB J. Lacey||23 RB A. Foster|
The biggest question for the Texans offense may not revolve around any player on their roster. Indeed, it appears at times as if the only thing holding back their offense is their head coach, Gary Kubiak. In charge of an offense that features dynamic, young talent at every skill position, as well as a good, young offensive line that is equally adept at run- and pass-blocking, Kubiak often appears to take the path of most resistance when attempting to finish off an opponent. Look no further than last year’s games against the Colts. In the first match-up between the two teams, the Texans rushed 39 times for 260 yards (6.67 YPC) and 3 touchdowns. Pleased with his greatness, Kubiak entered the second match-up determined to show how smart he was. Facing a Colts defense that was in the process of being depleted by injury, Kubiak came out attacking the strength of the defense: he threw, threw, and threw some more. The Colts led by 14 points at half time, a lead not close to insurmountable for the explosive Texans’ offense. Still, Kubiak dialed up a meager 17 rushing plays. Those 17 running plays were successful, netting the Texans 107 yards (6.29 YPC) and a touchdown. Their success in the running game only made the questions of why they ran so seldom ring louder. Once again the two teams meet in the first week of the season, this time the division appearing to be ripe for the taking for the Texans. Will Kubiak once again allow his genius to get in the way of his young squad, or will he learn the right balance between genius and common sense? Though Arian Foster appears as if he will be a game-time decision with a hamstring injury, the Texans seem well-stocked at running back with Derrick Ward and second-year stud-in-waiting Ben Tate ready to pick up the slack should Foster be limited. Look for the Texans to attack the Colts with their zone blocking scheme. If the Colts’ linebackers and safeties can maintain gap control – that is, not over pursue the play and allow the Texans’ running backs cutback lanes – the Colts should be able to contain Houston’s running attack and frustrate Kubiak into throwing more on first and second down. If the Colts fail to maintain their gaps and allow the Texans’ running game to get rolling, the defense could lose control of the game quick, as QB Matt Schaub beings to utilize the play action roll outs that are so prominent in Kubiak’s offense. From those roll outs, Schaub will use TE Owen Daniels to attack the the Colts linebackers and corners in the short flat zones while all-world superhuman WR Andre Johnson runs his 15-yard deep in to attack the Colts deep zones at the safety level. Perhaps the only weakness of the Texans’ offense is that while they are blessed with great top-end talent, they lack the depth of other top offenses. The boast only two viable NFL WRs in Johnson and Kevin Walter, while TE Owen Daniels is far and away their best receiving threat at the position. Indeed, their most depth appears to be at running back, though no three-running back set is believed to be in the works. As on the offensive side of the ball, the success of the Colts defense could come down to the success of their defensive line. Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney have terrorized Texans’ quarterbacks throughout their careers, including 13 sacks and 4 forced fumbles the past three season. If the pair can get consistent pressure on Schaub, along with any push from the interior linemen, lead by 3rd-year tackle Fili Moala, the Colts defense should be able to keep the team in the game until the end. If the front four of the Colts is kept quiet for 60 minutes, the Texans’ offense should be able to move the ball at will… unless their coach gets in the way.
The Injury Reports
|Player Name||Injury (Status)|
|Peyton Manning||Neck (OUT)|
|Gary Brackett||Personal (PROBABLE)|
|Austin Collie||Foot (PROBABLE)|
|Antoine Bethea||Hamstring (PROBABLE)|
|Anthony Gonzalez||Hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Blair White||Back (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Drake Nevis||Foot (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Player Name||Injury (Status)|
|CB Roc Carmichael||Shoulder (QUESTIONABLE)|
|RB Arian Foster||Hamstring (QUESTIONABLE)|
|MLB Mario Williams||Groin/Achilles (PROBABLE)|
|SS Grover Quin||Head (PROBABLE)|
|ILB Demeco Ryans||Elbow/Ankle (PROBABLE)|
|G Antoine Caldwell||Ankle (PROBABLE)|
|OLB Brooks Reed||Wrist (PROBABLE)|
|NT Earl Mitchell||Knee (PROBABLE)|
|LS Jon Weeks||Ankle (PROBABLE)|
Identifying the Coverage
Where(Visually): CBS Who(Visually): Dan Dierdorf and Greg Gumbel Where(Audio):1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford Why: No, seriously, WHY Dan Dierdorf? WHY!? Is the game on in your area? Good question. The people at The506 will be able to tell you.
- The Colts are 16-2-0 all-time against the Texans. - The Colts are 7-2-0 at Reliant Stadium - The Colts put up 27.6 PPG on the road (vs. 32.6 PPG at home) and give up 21.4 PPG on the road (vs. 17.2 PPG at home) against the Texans - Kerry Collins will be only the second quarterback in Colts’ history to start a game against the Texans - Kerry Collins lifetime stats against the Texans: 127/236 for 1550 yards 6 TDs, 9 INTs, and 9 sacks and a 3-4 record - Per John McClain of the Houston Chronicle, Collins is 0-7 vs. Wade Phillips as a defensive coordinator, and 1-8 overall against Phillips - Starting RB Joseph Addai has had success against the Texans: 137 carries for 632 yards (4.6 YPC) and 6 TDs, he also has 29 receptions for 196 yards and 3 touchdowns - Reggie Wayne has had success against the Texans, with 102 receptions for 1311 yards and 10 touchdowns lifetime against the team - Dallas Clark’s lifetime stats against the Texans: 67 receptions for 728 yards and 9 touchdowns - Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis have terrorized Texans quarterbacks, with a combined 28 sacks and 12 forced fumbles. Their stats over the last three years? A combined 13 sacks and 4 forced fumbles – Gary Kubiak knows how to build a running game that can attack the Colts-the Texans’ rushing numbers against the Colts since Kubiak became coach: 249 carries for 1249 yards (5.02 ypc) and 14 touchdowns.
Song(s) of the Week
Special Note: I personally want to thank reader and graphics guru MonkeyBiz (name changed to protect the innocent) for the custom banners (one for each week!) as well as the idea for the series name. He wanted me to pass along a note: if anyone is interested in his services (hey, that’s not what I meant!) let me know and I will put you in touch with him. It is people like MB that make the Colts community great. Thank you!