When the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans squared off two weeks ago in Houston, JJ Watt and the Houston defensive line controlled the game. They sacked Andrew Luck five times and hurried him countless other times en route to a 29-17 victory.
Today's game means nothing to the Colts in terms of playoff standing, but everything as far as confidence and momentum are concerned. For the Texans, the game could be the difference between home field advantage throughout the playoff and losing a first round bye, so the Texans will be keen to get their first ever franchise win in Indianapolis.
In the first meeting, the numbers don't tell the whole story. The Texans jumped out to an early lead thanks to some great plays by Andre Johnson and a blocked punt returned for a touchdown. For the most part of the first half, the Colts accomplished their defensive game plan: keep Arian Foster in check and play good red zone defense. Yet they trailed 20-10 at the break.
To win today, the Colts will need to duplicate their defensive effort, which will be no small task, and do a much better job controlling Watt and the Texans' pass rushers. If they can do that, they'll keep the ball in Matt Schaub's hands at the end of the game. Though Schaub is headed to the Pro Bowl, it's Foster who puts the game away, as he did against the Colts.
The first step to neutralizing Watt and the Texans' rush is to run the football. The Colts did that effectively the first time. Vick Ballard racked up almost six yards a carry and topped 100 yards. The problem is he didn't get the ball enough.
That was Ballard's first game as the Colts' featured back and Bruce Arians elected to use Mewelde Moore on one fateful series where Moore fumbled inside the one yard line. If Ballard can have some success on the ground, the Texans won't be able to come after Luck with reckless abandon.
The second key is to get Luck out of the pocket more. The Colts line isn't much healthier, if at all, than it was two weeks ago. Putting Luck back into five and seven step drops is to make him a stationary target, a sitting duck. The Colts will be wise to use the threat of Ballard and roll Luck out off of play action. This will take him away from the pass rush and give him more time to receivers. And if Luck is to get hit, better it be as he gains yardage on a run/pass option than seven yards deep in his own backfield.
The Texans focused on taking Reggie Wayne away from Luck in the first game and are likely to do so again. That means TY Hilton will have to take advantage of single coverage and Luck will have to find Coby Fleener and Dwayne Allen on underneath routes more often. If Luck has the patience and discipline to throw to receivers not named Wayne, he'll find them available.
Today's game promises to be a very emotional one with Chuck Pagano's return to the sideline. Despite Houston having more on the line today, the Colts have been magic at home this season. That with the added emotional boost of Pagano being back will give the Colts enough to ensure the Texans are playing next week as well.
Final score: Colts 31, Texans 26.
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