The Texans (4-2) travel to Lucas Oil Stadium to face the Colts (3-2). Here are five things to watch when the AFC South rivals square off in Indianapolis. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Do it again, Deshaun – Over the last two weeks, the Texans have rung up a combined 84 points and 1,064 yards offensively, scored on 13 of 20 possessions, and won two games. Quarterback Deshaun Watson has passed for 709 of those yards, with six touchdowns through the air, two on the ground and just two interceptions. He’s completed 77.3 percent of his passes, and been incredibly efficient in high-pressure situations late in the game.
According to head coach Bill O’Brien, much of Watson’s success comes down to preparation.
“Playing that position when you have that much talent and that much ability and that much brain power, it's all about preparation. I think he does a really good job of preparing, so when you prepare like that and you get a lot of experience and you work that hard, you're bound to improve and get better, and that's what he tries to do."
As a starter against the Colts, he and the Texans won at Indianapolis in Week 4 last season, but lost at NRG Stadium in December and then a month later in the postseason. He was sacked a combined 15 times in those three contests, and threw it 129 times. In those two later contests, though, he was without Will Fuller, V, and DeAndre Hopkins was banged up. Keke Coutee missed the regular season game at NRG Stadium, and Demaryius Thomas was out for the playoff game.
This week, Hopkins, Fuller, Coutee and Kenny Stills all practiced and should play at Indianapolis. Tight ends Jordan Akins and Darren Fells have a combined five touchdown grabs, and the combo of Duke Johnson and Carlos Hyde can make things happen out of the backfield. A full complement of weapons for Watson is a big deal.
“It helps a lot,” Watson said. “You can't just double one guy, you have to really play your defense and everyone is a factor, everyone can make plays and that's the beauty. Especially playing with this group of guys, everyone wants the ball. So, everyone is going to go and try to execute and win their matchup.”
2) Oh yes, o-line – The Colts have an excellent offensive line. The Texans offensive line has started to click and is playing well, too. Over the last two games, Watson’s not been sacked, and he’s absorbed a total of three quarterback hits.
“Their additions of the offensive linemen they signed and also drafted – those guys are really playing well for them,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “Their line is much, much improved and their backs are certainly humming right now. They’re going to be tough to defend.”
Right tackle Tytus Howard left last week’s game with a knee injury and Roderick Johnson stepped in his place. He didn’t start any games for Houston last season and neither did the left side of the line in tackle Laremy Tunsil and guard Max Scharping.
“The offensive line is vital in setting the tone for the offense,” Texans offensive coordinator Tim Kelly said. “So, we want to be a physical group that can come out and run the ball and protect the quarterback.”
Tunsil and company like what they’ve done so far, but they’re far from being content.
“We’ve got to keep it rolling,” Tunsil said. “We’ve got to stay consistent. We’ve got to do our jobs. We’ve got to keep improving. We can’t get too comfortable right now.”
3) Eyes on the (tight) ends – The Texans have seen Fells and Akins team up to average a combined six catches for 71 yards and just under one touchdown per game this season. They’ve also been solid in pass protection when called upon, and helped the run game flourish to the tune of 139.8 yards per contest.
Akins was a rookie last year and not as much of a part of the offense, while Fells was in Cleveland. This season, they’ve been key components in the Texans success.
“Both guys are very smart,” O’Brien said. “They're very instinctive, they understand their roles and they really try to do as good a job as they can of learning the game plan every week and try to go out there and execute.”
The Colts, meanwhile, have Eric Ebron at tight end, who’s pulled down a pair of scores in 2019. Ebron is also second on the squad in receiving yards with 136 on nine catches. He caught a touchdown in each of the three games these two teams played each other last year, with a combined 12 receptions for 131 yards.
4) Mack attack – In years past, the Indianapolis run game was an afterthought. Potent through the air under the likes of Peyton Manning and then Andrew Luck, the Colts didn’t feature the run like they have this year.
With 142 yards per game on the ground, Indianapolis is currently fourth in the NFL in that category. Running back Marlon Mack accounts for 4.7 yards per carry and has rumbled for 470 yards in five games this season. Mack carried for nine touchdowns in 2018, but Texans defensive lineman D.J. Reader thinks he’s even better in 2019. This year he’s shown a lot more patience in what he does,” Reader said. “He’s got good burst. He’s fast. He can run. This year he’s done a good job of seeing the hole, letting the holes develop with that offensive line that he’s got and he’s done a good job of just kind of being patient in the hole.”
A physical, nasty and improved offensive line is a key reason for Mack’s success. Safety Tashaun Gipson Sr. is mightily impressed.
“This is the only offensive line I’ve heard of that has highlight tapes,” Gipson said. “And they’re actually pretty cool, too. That tells you everything you need to know about their offensive line. Tough. Hard-nosed. They’ve spent a lot of first round picks on that offensive line.”
5) Hold up, Hilton – If there were a Mount Rushmore of all-time Texans villains, Colts receiver T.Y. Hilton’s face would be on it. Since entering the NFL in 2012, Hilton’s played 14 regular season games and last year’s Wild Card playoff contest. He’s roasted Houston in those 15 matchups, catching 81 passes for 1,530 yards and nine scores. Figuring out a way to keep him from doing more damage on Sunday is important.
“He's fast, great route runner, can come in and out of his breaks, understands how to attack leverage, has great experience,” O’Brien said. “He's seen all of the coverages that there are, so he knows how to get open.”
Hilton in 2019, however, has averaged 9.7 yards per catch. He’s caught four touchdowns in five games, and 24 receptions for 232 yards.
Cornerback Johnathan Joseph missed last week’s game with a hamstring injury and fellow corner Bradley Roby exited in the second half of the win at Kansas City with a hamstring injury. Both starters were limited participants this week at practice, and will be questionable against Indianapolis. That means a combo of Lonnie Johnson, Junior, Phillip Gaines and Keion Crossen will pick up the slack out on the edge, if the Joseph/Roby duo can’t play.
Joseph liked what he saw from the Texans secondary versus the Chiefs, as Patrick Mahomes and company mustered a lone touchdown following the intermission.
“They did a great job,” Joseph said. “We’ve got several capable guys in the room. That’s the way you build a team.”
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 11/13/2019)