I've stared at my blank screen for about five minutes trying to come up with the best way to start my Harris Hits. I've tried to think of the best way to encapsulate those 60 minutes against the Colts. It was a bloodbath. It was as physical a game as I've seen the Texans play in quite some time. They answered the bell every single time and came away with a true TEAM win. Players love to get on social media after games and proclaim what a great team victory that was, but when the Texans players did that on Thursday night, they truly meant it. Offense. Defense. Special teams. All three units got it done in a 20-17 come-from-behind win at NRG Stadium in a must-win situation for the Texans. Here are my Harris Hits from this one.
What is there to say about Will Fuller V and DeAndre Hopkins? I mentioned before the game that these two had only been on the field together for the equivalent of two and a half games against the Colts over the past four years. In those games, well, they didn't have Deshaun Watson throwing them the football. In the six quarters this trio has now played together against the Colts - Fuller V has 11 receptions for 201 yards and one touchdown, Hopkins has 10 catches for 155 yards and three touchdowns and Watson is 31-of-47 for 446 yards and four touchdowns. Pretty, pretty nice.
Fuller V got involved early with a catch for seven yards when the Texans were backed up in the first quarter on their first drive. Watson looked him up early in the second quarter, but Colts safety Kenny Moore II made a tremendous play, picking off the pass which led to a Colts touchdown. On the Texans last drive of the half, Watson threw a dart to Fuller on 3rd-and-6 that kept that scoring drive alive. But, the dam really broke in the second half.
Watson dialed up a deep shot to Fuller V on the third play of the second half over the top of rookie Marvell Tell. Then, after the Colts took a 17-10 lead, Watson went back to Fuller V deep for a 51-yard catch that led to a Kai'mi Fairbairn field goal to cut the lead to 17-13. Then, to salt this one away, Watson hit Fuller V on an out cut for 11 yards and the final first down of the night.
I've said it all week and I'm certainly not alone in this assessment - Fuller V peels back so many different layers to the Texans' offensive onion. I noticed that the Colts tilted the field toward Fuller V, which I hadn't seen much of before. Typically, that's going toward Hopkins, but the Colts were definitely cognizant of Fuller's ability to win down the field.
Hopkins was equally as difficult to handle. The first touchdown was a mystery, in some sense. I don't have a clue what the safety was doing on that side of the field. Hop worked downfield and got himself wide open and Watson laid one right on him for six. The second touchdown was, simply put, a case of Hopkins winning man-to-man against Pierre Desir, a guy Indianapolis fans have called a Hopkins killer. When Watson threw the ball, I thought initially he overthrew Hopkins, but Hop found another gear and made the brilliant finger-tip catch for the winning score.
I do have to apologize to our team physician Dr. Walter Lowe because I spazzed out and nearly tackled him after Hop made that catch. He's tough, though, and took the hit in stride, not to mention he's the best in the business, so I'm glad I didn't take him out completely.
After the two Colts games last year at NRG Stadium, Deshaun Watson needed extra ice baths because of the hits/pounding he took in those matchups. On Thursday night, he was sacked only once and that was for just a loss of one yard. Plus, he took just four quarterback hits. Colts star rusher Justin Houston didn't get a hit on Watson all night. Texans' nightmare Jabaal Sheard only had two quarterback hits. The offensive line didn't play a pristine game, but dadgum, it was good. That quintet, along with the tight ends, answered physical with physical all night long and allowed Watson to make the throws that would eventually send the Colts back to Indianapolis with a loss.
Colts linebacker Darius Leonard is one of the best players in this league, but I'm telling you right now Texans linebackers Zach Cunningham and Benardrick McKinney take a backseat to no one. Those two combined for 27 tackles on the night, with Cunningham leading the way with 16 stops. Cunningham seemed to be everywhere and in the fourth quarter when the Colts continued to hammer the middle, Cunningham stoned Colts backs multiple times to set up second and third and long situations. McKinney left the game for a play after getting banged up a bit and returned to team with Cunningham to slow the Colts in the fourth quarter.
Similar to last year's regular season matchup against the Colts, the Texans defense yielded points in the middle of a punt sandwich. In that game last year, the Texans defense shut down Andrew Luck and company until a four-drive sequence that put up 24 straight in that Colts win. Last night, the Texans forced three punts, gave up 17 consecutive points and then forced two punts and one final fourth-down stop.
I was nearly convinced that the defense was out of gas after that 11-play, 66-yard drive that gave the Colts a 17-10 lead in the third quarter. The Colts relentlessly marched down, running 10 out of 11 plays, and stuck it in the end zone for the lead. Then, on the successive drive, the Texans scoring drive took just 2:53 off the clock and not much more in actual time. Yet, the defense followed with a three-and-out on the next drive, a five-and-out on the following drive and came up with a fourth-down stop on the final drive.
In the Week 7 matchup in Indianapolis, the Colts threw for 326 yards. On Thursday night, a revamped secondary gave up just 129 passing yards to Brissett. Talk about improvement! Now, the defense did give up some yardage on the ground (175 yards on 39 carries), but bowed its neck over the last 18-20 minutes of the game when it was absolutely do-or-die.
Oh and the Texans finally defeated Brissett. That dude is one heck of a competitor, so it was a big feather in the Texans cap to finally get a W against him.
Leading up to the game, I was asked a bunch about how much Vernon Hargreaves III would play in this one. We didn't know Bradley Roby would be inactive, so with that part of the equation still murky at the time, I wasn't sure what to expect. But, the former Gator defensive back stepped up in a huge way. He made a couple of key tackles later in the game and got a hand on a pass intended for T.Y. Hilton on a third down that got the defense off the field late in the third quarter. I worried about the communication because of the position he played on defense but watching the safeties, in particular, they almost over-communicated with VHIII to make sure he was on the same page. I had texted a friend of mine who was the Gators' sideline reporter while Hargreaves was in Gainesville and the one thing he told me that stood out was that in a secondary loaded with alphas, he was always the "lead dog." He played like it on Thursday.
The other pass breakup that got me pumped was Johnathan Joseph's breakup on Hilton in the fourth quarter. Hilton and Joseph were stride for stride on a deep ball and as Hilton went to reel in the Brissett pass, Joseph chopped hard over the top to knock it out. All I could think about at that time was the whole "clown" conversation prior to last year's playoff game. This defensive back crew heard all about how Hilton owned them, this town and this stadium and the veteran leader stepped up to make one of the more key plays on the night.
There were other champions on defense for sure, even though there were times that the Colts ran the ball with a ton of success. Defensive tackle D.J. Reader doesn't take kindly to anyone trying to block him. I mean, he welcomes it, but just know any offensive lineman trying to block him one-on-one is going to pay the price. ANY offensive lineman.
The defensive play of the night, though, belonged to Brennan Scarlett. On 4th-and-7 late in the game, the Colts rolled the dice and decided to go for it. Brissett dropped to throw and the Texans rushed just four and Scarlett ran a twist stunt on the inside. When he couldn't get to Brissett, he peeled back a bit from the offensive linemen and spied Brissett. When Brissett saw an opening as Scarlett jumped to the left side of the blockers, Brissett took off for the first down marker. Scarlett jumped back on the other side and chased Brissett down about half yard short of a first down. I was down the field, near the secondary, so I couldn't exactly tell where Brissett had gone down, but it felt like he had run a long way. When I saw the replay, I realized he had dropped fairly deep, so that was part of it, but Scarlett made a tremendously-difficult tackle on a big quarterback in the most opportune of moments.
The Texans then ran the clock out on offense after that, but it wasn't without some harrowing moments... or maybe just a singular moment. Y'all know me, I'm a Texans employee, a homer, whatever, but that ball was loose on Deshaun's scramble. Darius Leonard did indeed punch it out and I'm shocked that the booth didn't call down to at least have it reviewed. Now, there's no telling who had the ball at the bottom of the pile, but it was out and Leonard appeared to have it. Sometimes you get a break when you need it and that was the break the Texans needed to salt this one away.
The one play that'll get lost in the wash, in some sense, is the one big run the Texans had on the night and it happened on the first play of the fourth quarter. At halftime, Bill O'Brien had told me what I had said earlier during the broadcast - the Texans just couldn't get the run game going on the outside. So, at the exact moment it was needed, O'Brien called for an inside run and Carlos Hyde got great blocks up front, fought through a one-armed Anthony Walker tackle attempt and sped to a 33-yard gain. We'll all remember the deep throws and Fuller V and Hopkins and Watson and some timely defensive plays, but that play kick-started that game-winning drive for the Texans.
I'm sure there are aspects that need more of a deep dive - Carlos Watkins stepping up with some key stops. Jacob Martin's first sack of the year. Kai'mi Fairbairn's field goal. A.J. Moore's big hit on punt coverage - but it's time to get ready for New England's finest next Sunday. Enjoy the time this weekend, folks, and we'll see you Sunday night for another gargantuan game against the AFC's best team.
Houston Texans take on the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium for the eleventh game of the 2019 NFL season.