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Five things to watch: Texans at Colts

Posted Dec 29, 2012

Here are five things to watch when the Texans (12-3) face the Indianapolis Colts (10-5) in Week 17 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis.


Here are five things to watch when the Texans (12-3, 5-0 AFC South) face the Indianapolis Colts (10-5, 3-2 AFC South) in Week 17 at Lucas Oil Stadium in Indianapolis. Kickoff is on Sunday at noon CT.

1. Chasing history: Texans defensive end J.J. Watt needs two sacks to tie Michael Strahan’s single-season NFL sack record and 2.5 to break it.

With 20.5 sacks through 15 games, Watt is two shy of the 22.5 Strahan had in his record-setting 2001 season. Watt had three sacks against the Colts two weeks ago at Reliant Stadium and has six games this season with two or more sacks. He has recorded a sack in 12 of 15 games this season.

Just 23 and in his second NFL season, Watt said this week that the sack record is a “huge goal” of his but, of course, that winning is his number one priority.

“I would love to win the game and get the sack record,” he said.

Watt already has the sixth-most sacks in a season in NFL history. His 20.5 sacks equal Hall of Fame linebacker Lawrence Taylor’s total from 1986, the season Taylor became the last defensive player to win NFL MVP honors. Two players (Reggie White in 1987, Chrsi Doleman in 1989) have recorded 21.0 sacks. Two others (Mark Gastineau in 1984, Jared Allen in 2011) have recorded 22.0.

In his last two games against the Colts, Watt has four sacks, 15 solo tackles, eight tackles for loss, seven quarterback hits, three passes defensed and one forced fumble.

2. 100-1,500: In a season already filled with milestones, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson needs 43 more receiving yards to become the second player in NFL history with three 100-catch, 1,500-yard seasons. He also would become the second-oldest player ever with 100 catches and 1,500 yards in a season.

Johnson has 100 catches for 1,457 yards, ranking sixth and third in the NFL, respectively. The seven-time Pro Bowler has a chance to join Marvin Harrison as the only players with 100 catches and 1,500 yards in three seasons.

Just five players in history have had 100-1,500 seasons past the age of 30. Hall of Famer Jerry Rice was the oldest at 33 years, two months and 11 days in 1995. Johnson will be 31 years, five months and 19 days old on Sunday, which would make him the second-oldest.

Last Sunday, Johnson became the fifth player in NFL history with four 100-catch seasons, joining Wes Welker (5), Rice (4), Harrison (4) and Brandon Marshall (4). He also recorded his 800th career reception, becoming the second-fastest player and 25th overall to do so in NFL history. In Week 15 against the Colts, Johnson topped 11,000 career receiving yards in his 136th career game, making him the third-fastest to the mark. He reached 10,000 yards in Week 6 against Green Bay.

In 16 games against the Colts, Johnson has 93 catches for 1,134 yards and six touchdowns. He had nine catches for 151 yards and a touchdown against Indy in Week 15.

3. Favorite opponent: Running back Arian Foster has been dominant against Indianapolis throughout his career, averaging 164.0 rushing yards in four games (656 total) on 6.7 yards per carry with five touchdowns.

Foster, who was named to his third consecutive Pro Bowl this week, has averaged at least 6.1 yards per carry and has at least one run of 30 yards in every game against the Colts in his career. Three of his top-four rushing performances have come against Indianapolis: a 231-yard game at Reliant Stadium in Week 1 in 2010, a 158-yard outing at Indy in Week 16 of last season and a 165-yard day two weeks ago in Houston.

Since 2010, no running back has averaged more yards against a division opponent than Foster against Indianapolis, and it’s not even close. The next-best output has been by Minnesota’s Adrian Peterson, who has averaged 127.8 yards per game against Green Bay over the last three seasons.

Foster ranks fifth in the NFL in rushing yards (1,328), eighth in yards from scrimmage (1,522) and first in rushing touchdowns (14) and total touchdowns (16).

4. Texans 3rd-down offense: The Texans have struggled mightily on third down in recent weeks, none more so than in last Sunday’s loss to Minnesota.

They were 1-of 11 (9.1%) against the Vikings. After scoring a field goal on their first drive, they went three-and-out on six of their next 9 series. They did not score a touchdown in a game for the first time since October 2006 and had only 187 yards of offense, their lowest total since opening day in 2009.

Of the Texans’ 11 third-down plays against Minnesota, eight were third-and-nine or longer. Those third-and-longs were set up by incomplete passes, false start penalties, holding penalties and runs for minimal gain, no gain or loss by Arian Foster and Ben Tate on first and second down. Quarterback Matt Schaub was 4-of-8 for 22 yards and was sacked twice on third down overall.

As coach Gary Kubiak pointed out after the game, the Texans did not run the ball once on their 11 third-down plays. They had third-and-three once deep in their own territory and gained two yards on a pass to tight end Garrett Graham before punting. They had third-and-one twice. The results: an incomplete pass near midfield that led to a punt, and a sack on third-and-goal at the one for a loss of 14.

The Texans’ struggles on third down are nothing new. Before their bye week in Week 8, they ranked fourth in third-down percentage (45.2). Over their last four games, starting with their 42-14 loss at New England, they are 14-of-55 (25.5 percent). The only game they have converted more than 30 percent of third downs was in Week 16 against the Colts, when they went 5-of-13 (38 percent) but were 1-of-5 in the red zone.

5. Colts playing time: The Colts are locked into the No. 5 seed in the AFC playoffs no matter if they win or lose on Sunday, but coach Chuck Pagano said this week that he will not rest his starters.

Pagano, who is making his return to the sideline from a 12-week absence for leukemia treatment, said that resting players is not in the Colts’ DNA, that they owe it to themselves, their fans and city and that they are playing to win the game and gain momentum heading into the playoffs.

Given that and the likelihood that Pagano wants to see his full team in action in his first game back, and that Colts players will be emotionally inspired by his return, the Texans are expecting the Colts’ best effort on Sunday. Still, it wouldn’t be a surprise if Pagano decides to rest key starters like quarterback Andrew Luck, wide receiver Reggie Wayne and outside linebackers Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney in the second half or fourth quarter to avoid risking injury. He said he wouldn’t rest his starters, but he didn’t say he wouldn’t rest them for the entire game.

Whatever the Colts do with their starters, the Texans have a lot on the line. If they win in Indy for the first time in team history, they lock up the No. 1 seed in the AFC and home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. If they lose, they could end up as low as the No. 3 seed if the Denver Broncos (12-3, vs. 2-13 Kansas City) and New England Patriots (11-4, at 7-8 Miami) both win on Sunday. That would mean the Texans have to play a Wild Card game next weekend against No. 6 seed Cincinnati instead of getting to wait until the Divisional Round to play the lowest-seeded team from among the Wild Card winners.

Twitter.com/NickScurfield

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