The Indianapolis Colts (1-13) earned their first win of the season with a 27-13 win over the Tennessee Titans. Finally combining four quarters of relatively-consistent play with some timely bounces, the Colts were able to avoid being remembered as one of the worst teams of all time. Can they ride the wave of emotion and relief to their second win of the year by beating the visiting Houston Texans (10-4) on Thursday Night? Or will the Texans, who are still in a fight for the top playoff seed in the AFC, remind the Colts and their fans why the team started the season 0-13?
Tale of the tape
How do the Colts and Texans measure up against each other on offense and defense? Let us take a look. NFL.com conventional rankings are listed first, with FootballOutsiders.com advanced stats (DVOA) in parenthesis.
|Passing||30th (29th)||24th (31st)||17th (9th)||2nd (4th)|
|Rushing||23rd (15th)||28th (26th)||2nd (8th)||5th (12th)|
|Total||31st (29th)||28th (32nd)||10th (7th)||2nd (7th)|
When the Colts have the ball
|Indianapolis Colts Offense||Houston Texans Defense|
|87 WR R. Wayne||99 DE JJ Watt|
|84 TE J. Tamme||95 NT S. Cody|
|74 LT A. Castonzo||94 DE A. Smith|
|76 LG J. Reitz||58 OLB B. Reed|
|63 C J. Saturday||56 ILB B. Cushing|
|71 RG R. Diem||59 ILB D. Ryans|
|72 RT J. Linkenbach||98 OLB C. Barwin|
|17 WR A. Collie||25 CB K. Jackson|
|85 WR P. Garcon||29 SS G. Quin|
|6 QB D. Orlovsky||38 FS D. Manning|
|31 RB D. Brown||24 CB J. Joseph|
When these two teams met back in week 1, it was hard to get a feel for how bad the Colts played in specific areas. On offense, they were starting recently-signed QB Kerry Collins, the first quarterback not named Peyton to start for the Colts since 1997, and it was clear that not only was Collins to ready to play in the Colts offense, he wasn’t ready to play, period. Collins’ lack of pocket awareness, timing, and feel for the game led to back-to-back fumbles, and by the time the second quarter started, the Colts were down by 17 points and in a fog from which they would never recover. Individually, however, there were some bright spots. When used, the running game was able to run for 4.0 yards-per-carry – with then-starter RB Joseph Addai running for 4.9 ypc – but with the Colts down so big so early, they were unable to effectively use that running game to control the game. In the air, WR Reggie Wayne was able to find open spaces, even against double – and sometimes triple coverages – as he hauled in 7 catches for 106 yards and a touchdown. The offensive personnel is not the only thing that has changed since Week 1. In their Week 15 victory against the Tennessee Titans, the Colts finally utilized the offensive strategy that many fans, bloggers, and experts had been suggesting for weeks: a run-heavy offense that utilized the Colts greatest strength – their offensive line and running backs – while sheltering their biggest weakness – their quarterback(s). The results were noticeable: longer drives, both in times of possession and distance, fewer turnovers from the quarterbacks, and a more manageable game situation in the 3rd and 4th quarters. No one can say with any certainty why it took the Colts 13 frustrating losses to make the obvious change, nor can anyone be sure that the Colts will stick with the philosophy against the Texans. If they don’t, the Texans improved pass defense – led by off-season acquisitions CB Jonathan Joseph and S Daniel Manning – will likely feast on the mistakes that Orlovsky has been prone to make as his number of attempts increases. In fact, if the Colts go back to the offense that was having Collins, Painter, and Orlovsky throw twice as much as they handed off, the Texans could win in a rout. If, however, the Colts do stick with the running game, utilizing Brown, Addai, and RB Delone Carter in the appropriate situations, the Colts will not only find their offense in manageable, winnable situations, but their defense will benefit, as well. The Colts have been one of, if not the worst, teams in the NFL with regards to opponent’s starting field position. A big part of that comes from drives that gain little, if any, yardage. So while the running game may not allow the Colts to produce points on every drive, it should go a long way towards helping the defense keep the Texans out of the end zone as well. The other benefit to sticking with the running game will actually be seen in the passing game. We have harped all season on how the Colts should be playing offense: pounding the ball for good yardage and then, when the opposing defense is at its breaking point, frustrated to the point of calling blitzes just to slow down the running back, you break out the play-action passing game, take your shot deep, and punish their impatience. Through three games, Orlovsky has had some beautiful passes. Allowing him to throw in the most ideal conditions – play-action against a run blitzing defense being one of the most ideal situations possible – will put him in the best position to be successful. For Orlovsky and the Colts passing game, it is not the quantity of passes, but the quality.
When the Texans have the ball
|Indianapolis Colts Defense||Houston Texans Offense|
|93 DE D. Freeney||12 WR J. Jones|
|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 WLB K. Conner||55 C C. Myers|
|51 MLB P. Angerer||65 RG M. Brisiel|
|50 SLB P. Wheeler||73 RT E. Winston|
|27 CB J. Lacey||83 WR K. Walter|
|35 SS J. Lefeged||13 QB TJ Yates|
|41 FS A. Bethea||86 FB J. Casey|
|21 CB K. Thomas||23 RB A. Foster|
Like the offense, judging the defense after the Week 1 match-up is a difficult task. While the final score of that game was 34 – 7 in favor of the Texans, it is interesting to note that all 34 Houston points came in the first half, and 17 of those 34 points were a result of either an offensive turnover or a special teams gaffes. And while simply boiling it down to “the Colts defense was only responsible for 17 of those points” is not entirely accurate, it does help put the game into some context. So what must the Colts defense do this time around to have four quarters of success? The first thing the Colts must do is play smart, gap-disciplined defense against the run. The Texans will try to catch the Colts safeties and linebackers over-pursuing on running plays, and if that happens, the running backs will be able to cut-back and find big holes where those over-pursuing players should be. Maintaining gap assignments: the key to the Colts defense stopping the run. The second key for the Colts defense and coaching staff is to recognize and properly adjust to the play-action roll-outs that the Texans offense has regularly used in the pass to hit big plays against the Colts. How do these roll-outs work? No longer the aerial assault from years past, the Texans are content with gashing opposing defenses with their zone-blocking scheme-led running attack: using cut-backs, misdirections, and stretch runs to catch linebackers and safeties out of position and then gaining big yardage with each run. Once the defense adjusts, the Texans break out their play-action roll-out. The quarterback will fake the hand off to either of their talented running backs – Arian Foster or Ben Tate – forcing the defense to flow to one side of the field (generally the left side). As the defense flows left, the quarterback will roll-out to the right side of the field, while his targets – at least two, a wide receiver and a tight end – cut from left-to-right across the field to mirror his roll-out. From there, the receiver, who is running against the flow of the defense, will have at least a step on his defender if that defender over-pursued against the play-fake, allowing him to be “wide open for an NFL player”, affording the quarterback and receiver an easy pitch-and-catch scenario. If that sounds daunting, it’s because it is. The key to stopping the roll-outs goes back to the first point: playing smart, gap-disciplined defense to prevent getting gashed by the running game. If the Colts can contain the Texans running backs, if they can force the Texans into 2nd- and 3rd-and-longs, they will be able to play much more cover-2 zone, making it easier for them to maintain their proper coverage assignments. If, however, the Colts can’t play smart, gap-disciplined football against the run, the Texans offense will get rolling in every facet, and at that point, even the best defenses in the league have trouble stopping them.
Five key match-ups
1. The Colts linebackers vs. The Texans running backs – The Colts trio of linebackers – Pat Angerer, Kavell Conner and Ernie Sims – had perhaps their best game of the season in Week 15. They were able to bottle up Titans RB Chris Johnson, limit his time and space, and, when he did find space, they delivered the kind of big hits that make a player such as Johnson think twice before trying to fight for the extra yard. Against the Texans backfield of RB Arian Foster and Ben Tate, the trio will have to be even better. Both running backs are talented – Tate is 2nd in running back DVOA and Foster is 21st – and will provide unique challenges for the Colts. Tate is a power north-south runner, a player that will find the hole and hit it hard. In their Week 1 match-up, Tate was able to attack the Colts defense for 116 yards on 24 carries (4.8 ypc) and a touchdown. Foster is the perfect compliment to Tate, a shifty cut-back runner with elite vision, Foster has had a field day in his 2 starts against the Colts, amassing 333 yards, 6.94 ypc and 4 touchdowns in those 2 games. The Texans offense runs off of the success of their running game. If the Colts linebackers can play smart, patient, physical football, they can go a long way towards containing the running game and everything that Texans HC Gary Kubiak builds off of it. 2. The Colts pass defense vs. The Texans play-action roll-outs – As mentioned earlier, the play-action roll-outs have gashed the Colts defense in the past. The two most common areas of attack for the roll-out is in the flat to the tight end or a deep pass underneath the safety but behind the covering cornerback. The first area – the flat pass to the tight end – is one that the Texans particularly like, as, because of the absence of WR Andre Johnson, their tight ends are their most talented receivers. To prevent TEs Daniels, Dreessen and Casey from making big catch-and-run plays in the flat, the Colts linebackers must maintain their gaps, read their keys (keys are things defensive players will look for to diagnose whether a play is a run or pass – how the offense is blocking, depth of players, motions, movements from the quarterback, etc…), and be able to react without stopping to think. Pass coverage has definitely been the weakest attribute of the Colts linebackers this season, and they will need to overcome that weakness if they hope to help the team start a winning streak. 3. LT Anthony Castonzo vs. Texans Pass rush – The Colts player with the most eyes on him this season – other than Peyton Manning, of course – has been rookie LT Anthony Castonzo. The blindside blocker started out well – allowing only 1 sack in his first 3 1/2 games – before being sidelined for a good chunk of the season with an ankle injury. Since returning from injury, Castonzo has performed well in some aspects of the game, most notably run blocking, but has had struggles in his pass blocking. Against the Texans, he will face a pass rush that is missing one of the most dominant players in the league, DE/OLB Mario Williams. Without Williams, Wade Phillips and the Texans defense looks towards DE Antonio Smith and OLB Connor Barwin to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks. While the Colts should be relying heavily on the running game against the Texans, they must be able to make the most of the passes they do attempt, and the key to that will be pass protection. If Castonzo and the rest of the Colts offensive line can give Orlovsky the time he needs to find his receivers, the Colts offense should have a chance to be successful. It is worth noting that, while Castonzo has had his struggles, they have usually been against speed moves to the outside, a dimension the Texans seem to lack in Williams’ absence. Look for Thursday to be another step in the right direction for Castonzo as he develops into a core player for the Colts. 4. RB Donald Brown vs. Texans run defense – Perhaps the player benefiting most from the Colts disastrous 2012 season is RB Donald Brown. Thought by some to not only be a bust, but a preseason bubble player, the 3rd-year running back from Connecticut has finally shown why he was the Colts 1st round pick in 2009. Finally notching enough carries to qualify, Brown leads the entire league in DVOA and is fifth among running backs with his 5.1 ypc. The Texans rush defense, while not dominating, is above average, and will be taking advantage of the Colts lack of great quarterback play by keying in on the run. Will Donald Brown be able to continue his impressive season by showing that he can run against a good defense, even when that good defense is devoting all of their attention to him? If he can, not only will he have permanently shed the bust label, but he could soon put himself in position to earn the lion share of carries for the Colts in 2012, despite playing in a crowded backfield with two other talented runners. As with Castonzo, while wins are nice, in a season where you’re 1-13, the development of your young players is more important. If Brown can show that he is a core player, it will be one less position that the Colts front office needs to worry about during the 2012 draft. 5. Colts fans vs. the next 5 months of speculation – The drama surrounding the Colts is about to hit full effect. What is Peyton Manning’s future? Will Jim Caldwell be retained? Has Bill Polian’s attitude actually jeopardized his position with the team? Will Jim Irsay please stop giving fans $500 and some champagne for predicting that his team would go 1-13? The most important things fans can do is maintain their sanity by, for the most part, ignoring the noise. Unless the Colts give definitive, factual statements such as, “We have signed Jim Caldwell to an extension” or “We have fired Bill Polian” or “Peyton Manning has retired”, etc… pay very little attention to the quotes. It is hard to remember, but there is a game to be played. If, as some suspect, Peyton Manning is quickly returning to health, a picture of drama, of an impending divorce, and a need for Andrew Luck, will be the most surefire way for the Colts to drive up the value of the number one pick. So while all of this may be emotional, may frustrate or upset you, the best thing to do is listen to mom. Remember how she used to say, “actions speak louder than words”? Well, mom is a genius for a reason. The Colts actions will tell you everything you need to know, the words are for the media and the other 31 teams.
The injury reports
|Player Name||Injury (STATUS)|
|Peyton Manning||NECK (OUT)|
|Dallas Clark||BURNER (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Dwight Freeney||REST (PROBABLE)|
|Fili Moala||REST (PROBABLE)|
|Philip Wheeler||FOOT (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Jamaal Anderson||GROIN (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Antoine Bethea||KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Delone Carter||FOREARM (QUESTIONABLE)|
|AJ Edds||ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Robert Mathis||KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Jeff Saturday||FOOT (QUESTIONABLE)|
|Player Name||Injury (STATUS)|
|WR Andre Johnson||HAMSTRING (OUT)|
|OG Mike Brisiel||ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|TE Owen Daniels||KNEE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|CB Sherrick McManis||ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|S Troy Nolan||ANKLE (QUESTIONABLE)|
|DT Shaun Cody||KNEE (PROBABLE)|
|TE Joel Dreessen||KNEE/WRIST (PROBABLE)|
|WR Jacoby Jones||FOOT (PROBABLE)|
|CB Jonathan Joseph||HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)|
|DE Antonio Smith||ANKLE (PROBABLE)|
|RB Ben Tate||HAMSTRING (QUESTIONABLE)|
|QB TJ Yates||RIGHT SHOULDER (PROBABLE)|
|CB Jason Allen||THUMB (PROBABLE)|
|DE Tim Bulman||CALF (PROBABLE)|
|OG Antoine Caldwell||ANKLE (PROBABLE)|
|RB James Casey||FOOT (PROBABLE)|
|CB Brandon Harris||HIP (PROBABLE)|
|DE Tim Jamison||KNEE (PROBABLE)|
|WR Jeff Maehl||HAMSTRING (PROBABLE)|
|DT Earl Mitchell||KNEE (PROBABLE)|
|C Chris Myers||KNEE (PROBABLE)|
|LB Jesse Nading||KNEE (PROBABLE)|
|S Glover Quin||ANKLE (PROBABLE|
|K Neil Rackers||RIGHT CALF (PROBABLE)|
|WR Kevin Walter||QUADRICEPS (PROBABLE)|
- The Colts are 16-3-0 all time against the Texans, including their 34-7 loss to the Texans in Week 1 of this season. The Colts are a perfect 9-0-0 at home in the series.
- QB Dan Orlovsky has faced his former team one time in his career, in that game he completed 12 of 25 passes for 265 yards and a touchdown.
- WR Reggie Wayne has faced the Texans 19 times and has hauled in 109 catches for 1417 yards and 11 TDs in those games.
- WR Pierre Garcon has 23 receptions for 283 yards and 1 TD in 7 games against the Texans.
- RB Donald Brown has 14 carries for 43 yards (3.07 YPC) and 0 TDs in 4 games against the Texans.
- TE Jacob Tamme has 6 catches for 64 yards and 1 TD in 3 games against the Texans.
- Pass rushing duo Dwight Freeney (15.5) and Robert Mathis (12.5) have combined to record 28 sacks in 12 games against the Texans.
- QB TJ Yates has yet to face the Indianapolis Colts.
- WR Kevin Walter has 29 catches for 409 yards and 2 TDs in 11 games against the Colts.
- RB Arian Foster loves seeing the Colts, while he’s only faced them twice, he’s amassed 48 carries for 333 yards (6.94 YPC) and 4 TDs in those 2 games.
- TE Owen Daniels has caught 22 passes for 218 yards and a TD in 8 games against Indy.
- DE Antonio Smith, who has filled in for injured DE/LB Mario Williams, has recorded 3.5 sacks in 6 games against the Colts.
Identifying the coverage
Where(Visually): NFL Network Who(Visually): Bred Nessler and Mike Mayock Where(Audio): 1070 AM The Fan WFNI and 97.1 HANK FM Who(Audio): Bob Lamey and Will Wolford Watch(And Learn): For the entire 2011 season, this space has been filled with some snark towards the upcoming broadcast crew. Not this week. While Nessler may not be the best play-by-play person alive, Mike Mayock is certainly in the top-2 of best “color guys” around. Generally unbiased, highly intelligent, and capable of packing that intelligence in an easy to understand delivery for the viewers, Mayock is actually able to explain the game in Xs and Os rather than some mythical, romanticized platitudes. If every game was announced by Mayock, the world would be a smarter NFL place. Is the Game on in your area? Time Warner. I would laugh, but it’s probably not funny. I feel bad for those affected (First World Problems), including my dear old dad. Don’t worry, dear old dad, your cranky old son will be on the phone giving you the play-by-play and complaining about a game you can’t see! Prediction Texans – 20, Colts – 17