The Texans (4-9) head to Lucas Oil Stadium for a Sunday matchup with the Colts (9-4). The two squads dueled two weeks ago inside NRG Stadium, and the visitors escaped with a 26-20 triumph. Here are five things to watch when the AFC South rivals clash in Indianapolis at Noon CT. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Stay Clean – Texans fans held their collective breath for a few moments last Sunday in the second half of the loss at Chicago. Pro Bowl quarterback Deshaun Watson got hit on a 3rd-and-Goal pass attempt, was slow getting up, and eventually left the field. He'd re-enter the game on the Texans' next drive, but the thought of losing him to injury caused a lot of worry.
It also spurred questions from the media after the game, and then during the week, about whether or not the Texans will sit the talented signal-caller. Watson explained why he has zero interest in any of that.
"Every rep that I get is a perfect opportunity for me to continue to build my trust and build the confidence as a quarterback and what I see as what defenses are trying to do me, the different throws and different opportunities that we have," Watson said. "That's what I'm kind of working on, is trying to craft myself and craft this team on what we want to do in the future."
Interim head coach Romeo Crennel doesn't want to sit Watson either.
"We play this game to win and there's a season to be played," Crennel said. "If you shut down Watson, then should you shut down the rest of the team and everybody pack up and go home for three games left?"
Last Sunday at Chicago, the Bears sacked him six times. The week before, he was dropped five times.
"Everybody is kind of involved but most of it is on the offensive line because they're the ones who are tasked with the responsibility to protect the quarterback," Crennel said. "We will continue to work to try to improve it. I think that if we don't get behind in games, that will help it because then we still have the offense available to us. Sometimes when you get behind in games and you have to throw all the time, your opponent knows that you have to throw and then they don't worry about the run."
2) Youth movement? – Several younger players will likely get called upon to contribute more than they had earlier in the 2020 campaign. Receivers Chad Hansen and Keke Coutee have been productive the last two weeks, as the former made his Texans debut against the Colts in Week 13, while the latter had a career-best 141 receiving yards against the Colts in that game.
Steven Mitchell, Junior caught three passes for 38 yards against the Colts.
Will Fuller V is suspended, Randall Cobb is on injured reserve, Kenny Stills was waived, and Brandin Cooks missed the Bears game with a neck injury. Cooks will likely return to play, and he'll be joined by the youthful trio, too.
Getting game reps, and having success with those reps, has helped build the confidence of Coutee, Hansen and Mitchell.
"They're going out there and winning their routes and making the plays that are coming their way," offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. "The more they can get out there and produce and do good things and put us in a good spot to score points, I think the more confident they're going to be, in which case the arrow's going to continue to move in the right direction."
Coutee, in particular, has experienced quite a bit of success against the Colts. Three times now, he's cracked the 100-yard mark in a game versus Indianapolis. Including his postseason performance against the Colts two seasons ago, Coutee has 854 career receiving yards. 385, or about 45.1 percent, of those yards have come in games against Indianapolis.
The familiarity in facing a divisional foe, according to Coutee, has helped him have success against the Colts.
"We always know where those guys are going to be," Coutee said. "They do a lot of things, but most of the time we know where they're going to be, and just being ready when our number is called."
3) RB numbers – Last week at Chicago, the Texans running backs combined for 70 yards on 20 carries. Two weeks ago against the Colts, they carried 12 times for 52 yards. Getting more consistent output in the run game has frustrated the coaches and players this season, and they're looking for improvement in that area.
"I don't think it's like any one thing that just holding us back," right tackle Tytus Howard said. "I think each game it might be a different thing. But it's just when we go out on the field, we've got to put all those things together to accomplish the goal because we know we can do it. We know we can run block."
David Johnson missed the Chicago game, but should be back. Duke Johnson is questionable after not participating in practice Thursday and Friday. C.J. Prosise is also questionable. So it looks like David Johnson, Buddy Howell and Scottie Phillips would be the likely backs at Indianapolis.
Howell came on in the second half of the Bears game, and carried 11 times for 42 yards. A special teams standout with the Texans since 2018, he made an impact offensively for the first time in his young NFL career.
4) Stop JT – The Bears landed a haymaker on the game's first play last week, as David Montgomery galloped 80 yards for a touchdown on the Bears' first offensive play from scrimmage. The Bears would finish with 169 yards on the ground, only needing 23 attempts to get there.
When the Colts were in town, rookie Jonathan Taylor was a headache. He finished with 91 rushing yards on 13 carries, and also caught a 39-yard touchdown pass.
"He definitely shows up," Crennel said. "He's productive. That's good for them. What we'll have to do is we have to try to slow the guy down."
On the year, Taylor's averaging 4.5 yards per run, and he's scored a touchdown on the ground six times. He's fresh off a 20-carry, 150 yard performance versus the Raiders, where he ran for a pair of scores.
Over the last three games, all Indianapolis victories, Taylor's averaged better than six yards a carry.
5) Hilton the horror – If there were a Mount Rushmore of all-time Texans villains, Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton's face would be on it. Twice.
Including the 2018 Wild Card victory, Hilton has played the Texans 18 times. In that span, he's torched Houston for 17.7 yards per reception and 11 touchdowns. The Colts have beaten the Texans in a dozen of those 18 contests, and Hilton's caused fits.
"He's been a great player ever since he stepped into the league," cornerback Vernon Hargreaves, III said. "You've just got to try to contain him, try to keep him out of the end zone, things of that nature. We've got to slow down the run game, obviously, see if we can slow down T.Y., make them throw the ball somewhere else and give ourselves a good chance to win."
Safety Eric Murray explained what else the Texans need to do, if they're to have success against Hilton.
"Definitely hit them,"Murray said. "You just can't let people run around scot free and not be hit. Just be physical with them and hit them."
In eight of those 18 games against Houston, Hilton's finished with at least 100 yards receiving.