Two years ago, the Colts looked like a team that was just hanging on for dear life. They were an 8-8 team that could've gone one of two ways. They chose Option B: tear down (relatively speaking) and rebuild. The team brought in GM Chris Ballard in 2017 and hired Frank Reich away from the world champion Philadelphia Eagles in 2018. It's not been a magic carpet ride, but it's clear, CRYSTAL clear actually, how this team has been transformed in those two men's images. Ballard drafted longer, stronger and faster on the offensive line and the defensive front seven, in particular, and that has paid huge dividends. Reich's even handed leadership has the Colts playing smart, tough, physical and mistake-free, seemingly, on every single down.
There was so much talk about quarterback Andrew Luck returning for the Colts this year that most people glossed over the transformation of this team from small and quick to physically imposing and nasty, especially on the front seven. There isn't one "name" guy that most fans would recognize, but trust me when I tell you that this group is as good as any the Texans will face this year. There isn't a Jurrell Casey (Titans) or a 'Snacks' Harrison (Giants), but there are eight or nine guys that the Colts will rotate in and out of the game and ALL of them play with an edge.
It's a young, hungry and confident bunch that doesn't know any better and that's a scary group to face, in its building after two consecutive road trips when you're 0-3. This will be a dogfight and to get the win, the Texans need to get grimy, gritty and nasty.
Let's get to know the 2018 Indianapolis Colts.
Schedule - Record (1 - 2)
L, 34-23 Cincinnati
W, 21-9 @ Washington
L, 20-16 @ Philadelphia
Rushing yards per game - 82.3 ypg (29th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 207.7 ypg (23rd)
Total offense per game - 290.0 ypg (28th)
Turnovers lost - 4
Colts starting offense last Sunday vs. Philadelphia:
QB - Andrew Luck
RB - JORDAN WILKINS (rookie)
WR - RYAN GRANT
WR - T.Y. Hilton
TE - RYAN HEWITT
TE - ERIC EBRON
LT - LeRaven Clark
LG - QUENTON NELSON (rookie)
C - Ryan Kelly
RG - MATT SLAUSON
RT - Joe Haeg
Other Key Offensive Pieces:
WR - Chester Rogers (No. 3 receiver)
RB - NYHEIM HINES (rookie)
RB - Marlon Mack (Inactive last week - injury)
OT - Anthony Castonzo (Inactive last week - injury)
TE - Jack Doyle (Inactive last week - injury)
**All caps indicates a 2018 offseason addition
Keys to the Colts Offense:
Follow Me To Freedom
Colts guard Quenton Nelson was the number one player on my Harris 100 2018 draft board from the first day that I put it together. It never changed and I never wavered from that ranking. When I heard the Colts call his name on draft night, I was sick to my stomach and angry that five teams in front of the Colts passed on him. Sure, there was some offensive firepower for the top five teams but couldn't the Browns or Broncos have saved us a bit by taking him?
But, he's a guard, John. I understand, but he's a tone setter for this offense and will continue to be one into the future. The Colts want to run behind him on counters or power plays when he pulls to the right side or they're running directly behind him on his left side. The key, though, is that No. 56 will take you to the ball in the run game, especially when he pulls. When he does pull, he's looking to bury a linebacker or defensive end, not just make the block. There will be no cut block or low block with him. The Colts offense hasn't completely clicked but when it has moments, many of them are the result of running behind, or being protected by Nelson.
Who Are These Guys?
Since the Colts moved to Indianapolis, they've had some well-known players tote the rock for the organization. Hall of Famer Eric Dickerson was traded to the Colts in 1987 and led them to the playoffs that season. Edgerrin James was picked over Ricky Williams in the 1998 draft and teamed with Peyton Manning for years in the Colts backfield. Frank Gore led the Colts the past two years after a long, stellar career in San Francisco.
But, who are these guys? Jordan Wilkins? Nyheim Hines? Marlon Mack? Yeah, you don't know the names, for the most part, but this trio has improved each and every week. Hines and Wilkins are rookies, selected in the fourth and fifth round, respectively. So, those two rookies and Mack, in only his second year, have taken over as the Colts RBBC - Running Back By Committee. Hines is a former track star who has the burst and speed to be a problem for the Texans defense out in space. Mack was injured last week but gave the Texans a ton of issues last year in both games. Wilkins is the team's true between-the-tackles option right now, but he runs hard and exacts a punishment on defenders. Will any of the three be the equal of Dickerson, James or Gore? Probably not, but as a group, they complement each other, and this offense, well.
Rushing yards allowed per game - 106.0 ypg (15th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 241.7 ypg (15th)
Total offense allowed per game - 347.7 ypg (16th)
Turnovers generated - 5
Colts starting defense last Sunday vs. Philadelphia:
DE - Jabaal Sheard
DT - Al Woods
DT - AL-QUADIN MUHAMMAD
DE - Margus Hunt
WLB - DARIUS LEONARD (rookie)
MLB - Anthony Walker
SLB - ZAIRE FRANKLIN (rookie)
CB - Kenny Moore
FS - Malik Hooker (injured in both Texans-Colts matchups last year)
SS - Clayton Geathers
CB - Nate Hairston
Other Key Defensive Pieces:
DE - KEMOKO TURAY (rookie)
DT - Hassan Ridgeway (inactive last week)
DT - Grover Stewart
LB - NAJEE GOODE
S - Matthias Farley
CB - Pierre Desir
**All caps indicates a 2018 offseason addition
Keys to the Colts Defense
The Defensive Line Buffet
If any unit on the Colts epitomizes the changes the Colts' brain trust have made the past two years, it's this Colts defensive line. When I first put on the Eagles game from last week, this group immediately caught my eye. What worries me most is that each player creates unique issues for opposing offensive lines. The one player that's been a thorn in the Texans' side for YEARS is defensive end Jabaal Sheard. He's built a lot like Trey Flowers/Dietrich Wise of the Patriots and provides the same impact. I can't tell you how many times he's pressured the quarterback or batted a pass down thus far this season. Suffice to say, he's playing better than ever. Defensive end/pass rush specialist Kemoko Turay, the rookie from Rutgers, is built like Broncos' star rusher Von Miller and plays like his hair is on fire every single down when he comes into the game.
Defensive tackles Grover Stewart and Al Woods are 330 pound-people movers. They are insanely strong, football angry and difficult to move. Margus Hunt is a 6-8, 298 lb. freak of nature who has FINALLY learned how to play the NFL game. He can bounce inside and out but when he's at a tackle position, he's ultra-quick and disruptive up the field. Throw in Hassan Ridgeway (injured in the Redskins game in Week 2) and this Colts defensive line is a menagerie of strength, power, quickness, disruption and versatility.
DeMeco Ryans Reincarnate
In 2006, the Texans drafted Alabama linebacker DeMeco Ryans in the second round to lead their defense. From Day 1, he was the command center for the Texans defense. He tackled everything that moved and was as highly respected as anyone in this organization.
Now, change the year to 2018, the name to Darius Leonard and the team name to the Colts. Leonard has provided nearly the exact same impact as a top-of-the-second round selection. The rookie from South Carolina State leads the NFL with 41 tackles, seven more than Kiko Alonso (Dolphins) who sits in second. The Colts rookie is tied with Texans star J.J. Watt, among others, with three sacks in three games.
He's long, physical and crazy fast. But, it's his instincts that make him, potentially, the best Colts linebacker since they moved to Indianapolis. Sure, that's a bold statement for a guy that's played three games, but the traits that intrigued most NFL scouts in the draft process are on display consistently. The scary thought is that he's getting better and more comfortable on each and every snap. The Texans MUST find a way to get a hat on No. 53 every single play, run or pass. He can wreck the game stopping the run and playing in coverage. Like someone who once donned a Texans jersey years ago.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 3/2/2021)