Well, well, well, we meet again. It's the Colts and the Texans for the first time in 2021 and if history's our guide on such a rivalry, buckle up, Sparky, because this one is going down to the final gun. Take a look at recent history.
2020 - Texans fumbled at Colts two yard line TWICE within the last minute of each game, lost by seven and six.
2019 - Texans won by three, Colts won by seven
2018 - Texans won in OT by three, Colts won by three
2017 - Colts won by six, Colts won by nine (after a late safety)
2016 - Texans won by three in OT, Texans won by five
2015 - Texans won by six, Colts won by six
There's not a double digit spread in any of those games and the two matchups last year couldn't have been more disheartening with a bad snap fumble down by six at home and a Darius Leonard forced fumble at the two down by seven just a few weeks later in Indy.
That all said, the Colts have recently turned the tables on this rivalry yet again. There was a point heading into the 2020 season in which it was even for a stretch of games dating back to 2015. However, the Colts have won four of the last five regular season matchups and won the playoff game in 2018 as well, so five of the last six games resulted in Indianapolis victories.
The crazy thing is that in those six games, the Colts had a different quarterback each year. In 2018, Andrew Luck led the Colts to a key regular season win at NRG Stadium and the playoff game win in Houston as well. Jacoby Brissett went nuts in a regular season win at Lucas Oil Stadium in 2019. Old man Philip Rivers eked out two regular season wins over the Texans in 2020. Now, it's Carson Wentz's opportunity and it's the first time the Texans have ever faced the #2 overall pick from the 2016 Draft. He was injured late in the 2018 season when the Texans faced Philadelphia and the Texans missed an opportunity to get a look at the former North Dakota State star. As such, Wentz is the Colts fifth different starting QB the Texans will have faced since 2015. Then again, Texans QB Davis Mills will be the fifth different starting QB the Colts have faced since 2015.
As they say, the only constant in life is change; however, the revolving quarterback door hasn't gotten in the way of a nailbiter evolving between these two teams. As such, let's get to know this year's version of the Indianapolis Colts in preparation for the first meeting between these two teams in 2021.
2021 Schedule (1-4)
Week 1 - L Seattle Seahawks 28-16
Week 2 - L Los Angeles Rams 27-24
Week 3 - L @ Tennessee Titans 25-16
Week 4 - W @ Miami Dolphins 27-17
Week 5 - L @ Baltimore Ravens 31-25 (OT)
Week 6 - Houston Texans
Week 7 - @ San Francisco 49ers
Week 8 - Tennessee Titans
Week 9 - New York Jets
Week 10 - Jacksonville Jaguars
Week 11 - @ Buffalo Bills
Week 12 - Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Week 13 - @ Houston Texans
Week 14 - BYE
Week 15 - New England Patriots
Week 16 - @ Arizona Cardinals
Week 17 - Las Vegas Raiders
Week 18 - @ Jacksonville Jaguars
Colts OFFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Per game - 114.2 ypg (14th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Per game - 249.2 ypg (15th)
Total offense per game - 363.4 ypg (17th)
Turnovers lost - 5 (3 Fumbles lost, 2 INT)
Expected Colts starting offense for Week Six
QB - CARSON WENTZ
RB - Jonathan Taylor
TE - Jack Doyle
TE - Mo Alie-Cox
WR - Michael Pittman Jr.
WR - Zach Pascal OR TY Hilton (returned to practice this week, could play Sunday)
LT - ERIC FISHER
LG - CHRIS REED
C - Ryan Kelly
RG - Mark Glowinski
RT - Braden Smith (injured and missed last week's game)/JULIEN DAVENPORT
Key Offensive Non-Starters
RB - Nyheim Hines
WR - Parris Campbell
WR - Ashton Dulin
RB - Marlon Mack
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Colts Offense
- Wentz the Wizard - When the Colts traded for former Eagles QB Carson Wentz, there were some that labeled him broken or irreparably damaged. Well, the Colts coaching staff hasn't just put him back together again, these coaches have made him better. It's like a torn ACL that gets repaired and, after intense rehab, is stronger than it was before the injury. Over the past two weeks, both on the road, he threw four touchdowns with no INT, completing over 70% of his passes in each game, and averaging over 315 yards in each game. The Ravens seemed to have no answer for Wentz as he was dialed in from jump. He threw for over 400 yards against Baltimore, although nearly half of that yardage total came on four receptions (25 in total). Either way, Wentz is gaining confidence with every single throw and Baltimore couldn't make things cloudy for the Colts signal caller. That's the Texans charge on Sunday or else Wentz will have another strong performance against the Houston defense.
- Taylor Tool Time - I knew that it wouldn't take long and it happened, honestly, over the course of just one calendar year. Colts RB Jonathan Taylor went from change-up back in the Colts stable to the number one thoroughbred in the entire county. Translation? It means that Taylor is the most dangerous offensive weapon for the Colts, bar none. On the Colts first drive of the game against the Ravens, he turned a simple 3rd and 15 slip screen into a 76-yard catch-and-run touchdown. He's hitting holes with much more confidence. He's not waiting for things to develop, he's hitting holes AS they develop. Plus, he's 225 lb. with 4.38 speed, so if he gets to the second level without resistance, the Texans will be looking at his jersey's name plate all the way to the Lucas Oil Stadium end zone.
- Will he? - This just pains me to even say it but Colts WR TY Hilton returned to practice this week after being designated to return from injured reserve. It's not as if the Colts NEED Hilton with Michael Pittman Jr. and Zach Pascal on the roster, but the success that Hilton's had against the Texans can't be ignored. Now, keep in mind, just because he was designated to return doesn't mean that he will be on the field Sunday. That said, I just can't help but think in a "must win" situation, Hilton won't be on the field on Sunday.
- How will injuries impact the OL? - Pro Bowl G Quenton Nelson will remain on IR through this week so he'll miss this matchup with the Texans. Starting RT Braden Smith missed last week with multiple injuries. C Ryan Kelly left the Ravens game but returned to the lineup in the second half. LT Eric Fisher is still ramping up after tearing his Achilles near the end of the 2020 season. Even with the upheaval on the OL, the Colts did provide ample time for Wentz to throw the ball for over 400 yards and the run game averaged 4.7 yards a pop on 26 attempts. Regardless of the configuration, the Colts OL physicality will be a major key that the Texans defensive front must answer with its own brand of nastiness.
- Hines 57 - It feels like there are 57 different ways for Nyheim Hines to hurt the Texans. Screens. Basic runs. Unique run schemes. Out wide at receiver. Punt returns. Whenever he touches the rock, he's a threat to take it to the house every single time with legit 4.3 speed. I worry most about him in the passing game. The Colts offensive staff has unique ways to match him up in the passing game and that's an issue for any defense and a major challenge for this Texans defense.
Colts DEFENSE (in 2021 regular season)
Rushing Yards Allowed Per game - 108.4 ypg (14th in the NFL)
Passing Yards Allowed Per game - 260.8 ypg (20th)
Total offense Allowed per game - 369.2 ypg (18th)
Turnovers generated - 9 (3 INT, 6 Fumble recoveries - Colts are +4 in TO margin)
Expected Colts starting defense for Week Six
DE - Al-Quadin Muhammad/KWITY PAYE (injured last week)
DT - DeForest Buckner
DT - Grover Stewart
DE - TyQuan Lewis
LB - Darius Leonard
LB - Bobby Okereke
CB - Xavier Rhodes (suffered a concussion on Monday night)
Nickel - Kenny Moore II
S - ANDREW SENDEJO (suffered a concussion on Monday night)/Khari Willis (missed last week)
S - Julian Blackmon
CB - Isaiah Rodgers
Key Defensive Non-Starters
DT - Kemoko Turay
S/ST - George Odum
CB - BO PETE KEYES
CB - ANTHONY CHESLEY
DE - Ben Banogu
DT - Taylor Stallworth
Italics - Rookie
ALL CAPS - New to team in 2021
Keys to winning v. the Colts Defense
- Buck the Trend - In 2020, his first year as a member of the Indianapolis Colts, interior game wrecker DeForest Buckner finished with 9.5 sacks, 26 QB hits and ten TFL in just 15 games. Even though 2021 has been a bit of a struggle for Buckner, I'm more terrified about what he can do if his game is fully ON Sunday. His length is a problem for many interior offensive linemen and the Texans didn't deal well with him last year. All he did was generate five sacks, seven QB hits and four TFL in two matchups with the Texans. Suffice to say, Houston's OL can't allow him to wreck this game with another similar performance.
- Whither the Pass Rush - The numbers are a bit shocking through five games. The Colts defense is last in the league in QB pressures with just 25. This defense is tied for 28th in the league in QB Hits with 21 and tied for 17th with ten sacks. That's not what Colts DC Matt Eberflus envisioned for his unit in 2021. GM Chris Ballard put a ton of draft capital and $$ in this defensive line, but it's not getting to the quarterback as anyone wearing the Horseshoe expects. The Colts did sack Ravens QB Lamar Jackson twice but only for five yards in losses. The Texans OL is far from being in pristine shape so the Colts pass rush could go off if the Texans don't execute well against the multitude of Colts pass rushers.
- See ball, get ball - Colts LB Darius Leonard has a penchant for finding the ball and even more so against the Texans. In six regular season games against the Texans, he's had an interception and three forced fumbles, including the one at the end of last year's gut punch loss to the Colts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Throughout his three plus year career, he has ten forced fumbles, seven fumble recoveries and eight interceptions. I worry more about Leonard as a ball fiend than as a tackler and he's one of the best tacklers in the game.
- What will the secondary look like? - The Colts secondary is a mash unit. Starting CB Rock Ya-Sin missed the past two games. Starting S Khari Willis missed the win over the Dolphins but returned to play against Baltimore. S Andrew Sendejo suffered a concussion at Baltimore as did former Pro Bowl CB Xavier Rhodes. Even S Julian Blackmon left the Baltimore game for a bit. With all those moving parts, Ravens MVP QB Lamar Jackson shredded that unit with 442 yards and four TD. How will the Colts secondary bounce back and more importantly who will be there to face Davis Mills and the Texans passing game? Speaking of Mills...
- Comfortability, part four - I said it three weeks ago. I said it last week. I'll say it again now. The Texans offensive front must allow rookie QB Davis Mills to get comfortable as early as possible in the pocket and now you see why. When he got in a rhythm last week against the Patriots, Mills was dealing. Three touchdown passes. 312 yards passing. No INT. 141.6 passer rating. How many rookies have EVER done that against a Patriots squad led by Bill Belichick? That's what he's capable of doing when he gets comfortable. When he's not? Just rewind another week to the Buffalo game. Simple equation with complicated parts to say the least.
The next time you can see the Texans at NRG Stadium will be on October 31 as they host the Los Angeles Rams in Week 8. Kick off is set for noon CT.Click here for tickets.
Check out photos from the Houston Texans practice on Wednesday.