In The Know is an ongoing series with the opposing team's beat writer. This week, Matt Taylor of the Colts Radio Network, gives insight on the Texans upcoming opponent.*
What's the mood like in Indianapolis? With a 6-6 record and a three-way tie atop of the AFC South, it's a very different picture from where the Colts were a month ago.
Taylor: Yeah, indeed. The Colts are 6-6. They've won four out of the last six, and it's kind of funny when you look at where the Colts are right now after 12 games. They are 6-6, 3-3 at home, 3-3 on the road. They've won their last three road games. They haven't lost, ironically, on the road since they last played the Texans. They are 2-2 in the AFC South, they've scored 311 points and they've given up 311 points.
The Colts have literally set the reset button as we head into the final month of the season. It's going to be really fun. The Colts – just like the Texans – they hold their playoff destiny in their hands. If the Colts can win out, they'll be in the playoffs because that would mean they beat the Texans, what would give them the edge in the AFC South. As we both know, the easiest and clearest way to the post season is to win the division. The Colts – just like the Texans – hold their fate in their hand. It'll be a pivotal game coming up on Sunday.
Andrew Luck had as close to a perfect game as he's had all year on Monday night, 22-28 for 278 yards, four touchdowns and 147.6 passer rating. What was the difference for Andrew Luck in Monday night's win over the Jets?** Taylor: I think Andrew has been so solid all season long, and I think that's a big reason why the Colts are still in the playoff mixes. It's because they have a great quarterback. You brought it up, 147.6 passer rating. That's a career-high. He had four touchdown passes, three of them in the first half to (TE) Dwayne Allen.
The 2014 season, his numbers were so impressive. Obviously, last year, he missed nine games due to injury, but once we look back and reflect on this season, sometimes stats don't tell the whole story, but I think in a lot of ways, this year, his performance will be better than in 2014. His decision-making is better. What he likes to call and in his own words, the phone head plays, are down. He still takes his chances, but they're more calculated. He's running the football more conservatively. He's getting down. He's sliding. Andrew Luck is really starting to come in to his own and that's a scary thing to say considering how good he was prior to this season, moving forward and now in the future.
Andrew Luck is well-equipped to sort of take the torch from the other elite quarterback as more and more guys start to age and retire. Obviously Tom Brady is still once of the faces of the league, but I think Andrew Luck will become an even bigger face, an even bigger icon in this league by the way he's playing and the way he's taken this team where they want to go.
One question we discussed in Week 6 that still seems to be a lingering issue for Andrew Luck is the sack numbers. Only Cleveland quarterbacks have had more sacks than Luck this year. How much of a concern is the pass protection heading now and in the final stretch of the season?
Taylor: Well, it's still a concern, obviously. Andrew continues to be the highest-sacked quarterback and the hits go along with that as well. We talk about injuries. Every team is injured, but it seems like once a game, an offensive lineman is coming out due to an injury. That was the case on Monday night with (OG) Denzelle Good. He left the game with a concussion, so it's been sort of a revolving door. A carousel at all positions in the offensive line.
It seems like the only guy that hasn't been injured is the left tackle Anthony Castonzo and he'll tell you, in his own words, that he's been up and down this season as far as consistency goes. Right tackle now is Joe Reitz. Playing in Denzelle Good's stead on Monday night is Joe Haeg, the rookie who they drafted out of North Dakota State. They are high on him but he has sort of been a Swiss army knife. He's along that offensive line: he can play guard, he can play tackle. The only position he hasn't played all season long as been center, and that's been Ryan Kelly. He's a rookie but they're high on him.
(General Manager) Ryan Grigson actually said on his radio show this week that it's not been perfect, far from it. He'd like to see more consistency out of the group up front, considering what they are protecting in Andrew Luck. But, he is liking the trajectory of where that offensive line is going. He thinks the number of hits, the number of sacks are going down from what they were at the beginning of the season.
Obviously, they are going to have to protect against a really good front that the Houston Texans have this weekend. The Colts aren't making any bones about it as far as what they're goals are. They don't want to leave anything to chance, tie-breakers and things like that the rest of the season. They want to take care of business and win out their last four games, and I think if they do that, they'll have a good shot at playoffs. Obviously, the offensive line with be integral if they want to win those games. Because Andrew Luck has to be upright, obviously, in order to make plays.
One guy he was injured earlier in the season and who is back now is wide receiver Donte Moncrief. He did play against the Texans in Week 6 but caught a touchdown pass in the Monday night game. How has his return helped Luck in the offense? ** Taylor: The biggest impact that Donte Moncrief has is in the red zone. He's caught a red zone touchdown in five straight games. He's the first Colt to do that since Reggie Wayne caught five passes for a touchdown in 2009. He's a big-bodied guy, as you know. He's 220, runs really good routes. He's got those short windows, tight windows, where Andrew Luck can feed the ball into them and trust that Donte can go up and make a play.
That's really the biggest impact that Moncrief has on this offense. It's inside the red zone. And a possession-type guy too. On a third down-and-3 or third down-and-short, he knows Donte is going to make a play if it sticks and move the chains for a first down.
Colts linebacker D'Qwell Jackson is now serving a four-game suspension, starting Sunday. How much of a blow is a loss like that to the defense and who's going to step up in his place?
Taylor: It's a massive blow because D'Qwell Jackson, a captain on that team, has started every single game since he came to the Colts in free agency in 2014. That's 44 straight games. He leads the Colts in tackles but he did violate the PED policy and now he's going to miss the last four games of the season. The Colts know some options at inside linebacker. They can turn to rookie Antonio Morrison, but he struggled a little bit in pass-coverage situations. They can look to Josh McNary, who is a veteran. They can go to first year Colt Edwin Jackson, who has impressed the past couple weeks in inside linebacker. He had a nice little pop on Matt Forte on Monday Night Football. He had a career-high six tackles on Monday night, so probably look for a combination of all three of those guys to platoon and spell Jackson in a lot of different areas.
There's just something to be said about continuity, a familiar voice, a familiar leader out there on defense, and the Colts aren't going to have that the rest of the season on that side of the ball.
Edwin Jackson has sort of an interesting nickname, doesn't he up there?** Taylor: Yeah, they call him "Pound Cake." Pound Cake Edwin Jackson.
Is there a story behind that nickname?
Taylor: It's quite interesting. He's one of those guys that Ryan Grigson is really high on because – in his own words – he said that Edwin doesn't feel like anything is owed to him. He goes out there and tries to earn a roster spot every single day even though he already has one. When 53 is out there, and that's Edwin Jackson's number, he's going to make his presence felt. If he's going to make a mistake, he's going to do it 150 miles an hour. Obviously, you can't replace the experience that D'Qwell Jackson has but Edwin Jackson will come in and will give the team all he has. That's for sure.
What are the big storylines up in Indianapolis, heading into Sunday's game?
Taylor: We are looking at what the Texans have to offer, what their mindset is coming in to the game. Obviously 6-6, a three-game losing streak. When you look at this division, the Titans are 6-6 as well, and there's this historical factor.
I'm sure you're aware of this,but this is just the second time since the 1970 merger the three times have shared a division lead in 6-6 this late in the season. The other time was 1988. The AFC West had three teams at 6-6: the Broncos, the L.A. Raiders and the Seattle Seahawks.
It's just going to be really fun to see how this whole thing plays out. It's sort of the pseudo-AFC Championship game, which was the case last year. Remember last year when the Texans came in to Lucas Oil Stadium with so much riding on the line in a late December game? The Colts remember what happened last item they played the Texans, letting a 14-point lead slip away with three minutes to go. They haven't forgotten about that game. So many storylines and so many implications on this game on Sunday.
Check out some of the best shots from Wednesday's practice as the Texans prepare for Sunday's game against the Colts.