The Texans (9-3) host the Colts (6-6) in an AFC South matchup this Sunday. Houston won the first meeting, 37-34, in overtime at Indianapolis in Week 4. Here are five things to watch when the two squads kickoff at noon CT inside NRG Stadium. First Glance is presented by First Community Credit Union.
1) Aggravate Andrew: With 6:39 left in the third quarter of the first 2018 matchup between these two teams, the Texans were up by a 28-10 margin. On the opening possession of the second half, Deshaun Watson and the offense burned 8:21 off the clock in a marathon drive that went 15 plays for 84 yards. Andrew Luck and the Colts had endured a first thirty minutes in which he was sacked three times, he completed just 50 percent of his passes, he lost a pair of fumbles, and the run game amassed just 14 yards.
But after that Texans touchdown in the third, a Watson 5-yard run, Luck and company erupted. He completed 28-of-38 passes for 322 yards in the rest of the half and in overtime, with three more touchdowns and zero interceptions.
Houston’s defense needs to play like it did in the first half back on September 30, and the Texans said they recognize what must be different in this contest.
“Learning from some of the mistakes we made in the first game that allowed them to throw for 467 yards, allowed them four touchdowns, allowed T.Y. (Hilton) to have 115 yards,” defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel said. “So, we need to cut back on that considerably to give ourselves the best chance to win the game.”
One thing the Texans did well in Week 4 was defending against the run. Indianapolis picked up just 41 rushing yards on 17 carries. Doing that again, according to outside linebacker Jadeveon Clowney, will make Luck’s job a lot tougher.
“First things first is stop the run,” Clowney said. “Make him have to throw the ball more and put it in his hands, pressure that the pocket, put the pressure in that pocket and he’ll get uncomfortable, get him rattled a little bit, start hitting him. When you start getting hit, you get uncomfortable.”
The Colts know Clowney and J.J. Watt are two of the most disruptive defensive forces in the NFL. That duo combined for four sacks and five tackles for loss back when the Texans beat Indianapolis in Week 4.
"They’re definitely one of the tougher duos that you face," Colts head coach Frank Reich said. "But then, their whole defensive front, we feel, is very good, but they’re certainly two elite pass rushers that present a challenge. So, you certainly have to game plan against that.”
2) Mathieu's memory – The Colts scored 34 points against Houston in Week 4. They’re the only team to crack 30 against this defense in 2018. 24 of those points came in the latter part of the third quarter through overtime. Safety Tyrann Mathieu’s been thinking about that for the last two months.
“Me and my coaches were laughing about it the other day,” Mathieu said. “This game has been on my mind since we’ve played these guys. Like I said, I didn’t play my best game. Felt like we gave up too many yards on defense. We weren’t really competing how we wanted to, weren’t really challenging those guys how we wanted to. So, it’s going to be a big emphasis, especially on the secondary this week, just trying to do what we’ve been doing the past couple weeks, not do anything special, but to remember how it went the last time around.”
Luck had a 42-yard completion and a 40-yard completion to receiver T.Y. Hilton. He finished with four catches for 115 yards. Crennel said the Texans could use some interesting methods to keep Hilton from having another big day.
“I might have to triple-team the guy,” Crennel said. “I know that impacts everywhere else, but that way he will not get to go off.”
3) Run like the wind: In the last two games--both Texans victories--Houston’s led by double digits for 85:06 of 120 minutes. For more than three quarters of the last two contests, the Texans have coasted. One huge reason for that: they’ve been able to run the ball with great success.
Lamar Miller’s churned out 162 yards against the Titans, and then turned around six days later and gained 103 yards versus Cleveland. As a team, Houston picked up 187 yards last Sunday and 281 yards on Monday Night football against Tennessee. When a running back's gotten a carry, the Texans have averaged 6.5 yards.
Deshaun Watson's gotten loose and scrambled for good chunks of yardage in the last two victories as well, as he's picked up an even 100 combined rushing yards against Tennessee and Cleveland.
O'Brien's been pleased with the way Miller and the run game have clicked.
"Our line is doing a good job," O'Brien said. "And he and Alfred Blue are doing a decent job. It has to continue, though. It has to continue.”
On the season, Houston's gained an average of 140.8 rushing yards per game. That's the best mark in the AFC, and third-best in the NFL.
4) Keep it clean - In five of their last six games, the Texans haven't committed a turnover. On the season, they're plus-8 in the turnover differential category, which means they have eight more takeaways as a team than they do turnovers. During the nine-game winning streak, the're at plus-10 in turnover differential. Deshaun Watson was picked off in each of the first six games this year. But starting with the Week 7 win at Jacksonville, he's thrown just a pair of interceptions, and a combined 12 touchdown passes. His growing comfort in the pocket, and command of the offense have been big pluses for the Texans.
"Every day I’m able to get stronger, feeling more comfortable with myself because we’re doing a great job – outside of meetings and the practice fields – our strength and conditioning coaches and the athletic trainers of putting in the work throughout the week," Watson said. "I feel a lot stronger than I have before – my full body – and it just gives me the confidence when I step on the field that I can go out there and make plays with my legs and with my arm and just kind of improve.”
Quarterbacks coach Sean Ryan likes what he's seen from Watson, in terms of patience.
"From the start he’s always had a presence about him in the pocket," Ryan said. "He’s not been a ‘first progression take off and run’ type of guy. He’s just not that quarterback. Again, I think he’s gotten better with it."
5) 'Hop's milestones - Wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins is following up his All-Pro 2017 with another All-Pro caliber 2018. Three-fourths of the way through the season, he has 80 catches for 1,115 yards and eight touchdowns. If he gets another 20 receiving yards against the Colts, he'll become the second-youngest player in NFL history to reach the 7,000-yard mark. With 50 receiving yards, he'd have a streak of 22 straight games with 50-or-more receiving yards. That's the longest active streak in the NFL, and the third-longest in League history.
For Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, Hopkins is the cream of the crop when it comes to receivers in the NFL.
"He creates problems," Eberflus said. "His catch-radius and his ability to get open and his ability to stay open and his ability to always be open I think that creates a lot of problems for any defense throughout the league."
In the Texans win over the Colts in September, Hopkins caught 10 passes for 169 yards and a score. That included a pair of 30-yard catches and a pair of 24-yard receptions.
The Houston Texans defeated the Cleveland Browns in Week 13 of the NFL season.