Oh, yeah! Who doesn't get absolutely geeked out of their mind with the season opener on the horizon? If you don't, it's time to get your pulse checked. The Colts are coming to town to start the season at NRG Stadium for the first time since 2011. The first time the Colts began the season in Houston was in 2010 when a former practice squad running back named Arian Foster ran for 230 yards and three touchdowns in a 34-24 win. Foster became a legend that day for that performance and the Texans beat the Colts for just the second time in their history.
After a long run of Colts' wins at the outset of the Texans football life, the two AFC South combatants settled in as the two powers in the division. From 2014 through 2020, the Colts and Texans locked horns in nothing but one score games. Gut punch losses and exhilarating wins earmarked that timeframe, but in 2021, things changed. Badly. The Frank Reich-led Colts dominated the Texans in both matchups last season. Furthermore, the Texans could only muster a field goal in Indianapolis in the two games as the Colts napalmed the run of one-score results with a 31-3 blowout followed by a 31-0 shutout. Texans head coach Lovie Smith mentioned numerous times how difficult those results were to digest in preparation for this matchup to start the 2022 season on Sunday.
No team in the NFL is completely immune to change and the Colts are no exception. For all of the Jonathan Taylors, Quenton Nelsons and Shaquille (Darius) Leonards that have been mainstays on the roster for years, there's been a rotating door at QB. First, it was Jacoby Brissett, then Philip Rivers, then Carson Wentz and now Matt Ryan at the position. The 2016 MVP steps into a star studded huddle in his 15th year in the league, carrying the pressure of the Colts not making the playoffs last season with seven Pro Bowlers. How much does Ryan's presence play a role for the Colts in this matchup? Are the Texans ready for a 12-round slugfest? Two major questions to which we'll find out the answers very, VERY soon.
As such, let's get to know our week one foe - the 2022 Indianapolis Colts.
The Colts 2022 Schedule
Week 1 - @ HOUSTON TEXANS
Week 2 - @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 3 - v. Kansas City Chiefs
Week 4 - v. Tennessee Titans
Week 5 - @ Denver Broncos
Week 6 - v. Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 7 - @ Tennessee Titans
Week 8 - v. Washington Commanders
Week 9 - @ New England Patriots
Week 10 - @ Las Vegas Raiders
Week 11 - v. Philadelphia Eagles
Week 12 - v. Pittsburgh Steelers
Week 13 - @ Dallas Cowboys
Week 14 - OPEN
Week 15 - @ Minnesota Vikings
Week 16 - v. Los Angeles Chargers
Week 17 - @ New York Giants
Week 18 - v. Houston Texans
Colts OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 159.7 ypg (2nd in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 197.7 ypg (26th)
Total offense per game - 347.1 ypg (16th)
Turnovers lost - 19 (11 Fumbles lost, 8 INT)
Expected Colts starting offense for Week 1
QB - MATT RYAN
RB - Jonathan Taylor
TE - Mo Alie-Cox
WR - Michael Pittman Jr.
WR - Parris Campbell
WR - ALEC PIERCE
LT - Matt Pryor
LG - Quenton Nelson
C - Ryan Kelly
RG - Danny Pinter
RT - Braden Smith
Key Offensive Non-Starters
RB - Nyheim Hines
WR - Ashton Dulin
TE - Kylen Granson
TE - JELANI WOODS
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2022
Keys to winning v. the Colts Offense
1. Make Matt Move - Oh, an alliteration to start the 2022 Keys to a Win - gotta love it! The Texans must make QB Matt Ryan move off the spot repeatedly. He's not a mobile QB and doesn't love to get out of the pocket to run and/or throw. He will but he's not as adept as a number of other mobile, dual threat type QBs throughout the league. Once Ryan moves, the entire picture changes and that could be a very good thing for the Texans defense.
2. Free up Maliek - This training camp was the best I've seen Texans DL Maliek Collins. Quickness. Strength. Twitch. I mean, dayum, he was dominant all camp long. Now, he'll face one of the best guard-center combinations in Quenton Nelson and center Ryan Kelly, but the other guard is more than likely going to be a first time starter. I'm anticipating it to be Danny Pinter. As much as possible, the Texans must isolate Collins on Pinter, the new starter, in one-on-one situations because Collins can make a significant impact in this game winning that battle repeatedly.
3. Gap sound - It's one thing to physically win as many one-on-one battles as possible in the trenches, but it's quite another to be ultra-disciplined in filling gaps against the run for a full 60 minutes. Taylor does enough on his own as, arguably, the best running back in the league so the Texans front seven/safeties can't give him free yards by being undisciplined with their gap responsibilities.
Colts DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 109.1 ypg (11th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 234.1 ypg (19th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 343.2 ypg (16th)
Turnovers generated - 33 (19 INT, 14 Fumble recoveries - Colts were +14 in TO margin in 2021)
Expected Colts starting defense for Week 1
DE - Kwity Paye
DT - DeForest Buckner
DT - Grover Stewart
DE - YANNICK NGAKOUE
LB - Shaquille Darius Leonard - putting him in the starting lineup, expecting him to play
LB - Bobby Okereke
CB - BRANDON FACYSON
5c - Kenny Moore II
S - NICK CROSS
S - Julian Blackmon
CB - STEPHON GILMORE
Key Defensive Non-Starters
DE - Dayo Odenigbo
DE - Tyquan Lewis
DT - ERIC JOHNSON
CB/KR - Isaiah Rodgers
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Colts Defense
1. This isn't Grover from Sesame Street - For the past two years, I've discussed how dangerous Colts DT DeForest Buckner was, is and will be for the foreseeable future. What I haven't stressed is how much better the Colts defense is because of the emergence of the powerhouse next to Buckner - fellow DT Grover Stewart. From a height/weight/speed perspective, there are few in the history of the game built like this guy. Even worse, he's learning how to disrupt on a consistent basis on runs at him, runs away from him and passes in which he wins one-on-one against guards/centers.
2. That's OUR ball, not Shaq's - Whenever a Texans RB coughed the ball up during Training Camp, I always said out loud to no one around me the exact same thing "You better lock that thing up because Darius is coming." Now, a few days into training camp we found out that the Darius that I was speaking of was actually going to go by Shaquille. Regardless, the fact remains that any time Colts LB Shaquille Darius Leonard is on the field, Texans ball carriers MUST be conscious and aware of their ball security. Runners. Receivers. Quarterbacks. All of them. Leonard is THE best in the game at punching the ball out of players' hands to a point where he doesn't even tackle anyone any more; he just goes for the ball. And, he gets it out OFTEN. That can't happen, not once this Sunday, if the Texans' offense plans on being successful against this Colts defense.
3. The Old Gilmore - Maybe it's because I'm now old…er or maybe because the word old indicates decay or disrepair over time. In the NFL world, the word old conjures up a similar image most of the time. But, my use of the word old here has nothing to do with Colts CB Stephon Gilmore's age. When I say that Gilmore looks like the old Gilmore, it's not a good thing that Gilmore has returned to his Defensive Player of the Year form of a few years ago. He looked sharp, crisp, quick and explosive in the Colts preseason games, his first year with the team. That's horrible news. I was hoping to see AN old Gilmore, not THE old Gilmore. He certainly isn't on his last legs and he really looks like his old self to start the 2022 season. That alone gives the Colts defense a different dimension. The Texans will need to account for him wherever he is on the field in this Gus Bradley-coached defense.