There isn't much that needs to be said when it's Colts week.
Since 2009, either the Colts or Texans have won the AFC South every year, minus 2017 when the Jaguars defense led them to the division title. In fact, over the history of the AFC South as it's currently constructed, outside of 2002, 2007, 2008 and 2017, every year has seen the Texans or Colts win the division. Suffice to say, when the Texans and the Colts have stepped on the field in recent years, there's been a ton at stake.
It's too early to say whether the Colts or Texans will win the division, but there's no question that this game will go a long way in determining which team could take home the 2019 division championship. Other than the 2017 finale, these two have played some knockdown, drag-out battles since 2014. The largest margin in a regular season victory (minus the 2017 finale) for either team over the past five years was seven points and there were two overtime games as well. Even that 2017 finale was only a nine-point margin, so there's not much that's separated these two organizations recently.
That said, the only game over the past six years with a double-digit margin left a mark for the Texans organization this entire offseason. Last January, the Colts came into NRG Stadium, took over the game early and never let go in a 21-7 wild card playoff win over the Texans. After the Texans posted an 11-5 season, one of the best in franchise history, Houston just didn't have it that day against Indianapolis and the Colts made them pay. Indy ran for 200 yards on a defense that had been giving up less than 90 yards per game all season long. Furthermore, the Texans offense hadn't scored in the single digits all year long and was held to just seven points.
Now, the Texans head up to Lucas Oil Stadium to take on a confident, physical and rested Colts squad after a bye week, after a huge win over the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium two Sundays ago. Sound familiar? Either way, without further ado, let's get to know the Indianapolis Colts.
2019 Schedule - Record 3-2
L, @ Los Angeles Chargers 30-24 (OT)
W, @ Tennessee Titans 19-17
W, Atlanta Falcons 27-24
L, Oakland Raiders 31-24
W @ Kansas City Chiefs 19-13
Colts offense (in 2019):
Rushing yards per game - 142.0 ypg (4th in the NFL)
Passing yards per game - 202.0 ypg (27th)
Total offense per game - 344.0 ypg (23rd)
Turnovers lost - 5 (3 INT, 2 fumbles lost)
Projected Colts starting offense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
QB - Jacoby Brissett
RB - Marlon Mack
WR - T.Y. Hilton
WR - Zach Pascal
TE - Jack Doyle
TE - Eric Ebron
LT - Anthony Castonzo
LG - Quenton Nelson
C - Ryan Kelly
RG - Mark Glowinski
RT - Braden Smith
Other key offensive pieces:
RB - Nyehim Hines
WR - Chester Rogers
WR - Deon Cain
WR - PARRIS CAMPBELL (rookie)
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to stopping the Colts offense:
1. Wrap. Up. It's a simple, yet valuable skill needed in a big way this weekend. Colts star running back Marlon Mack runs as hard as any back in the NFL and shoulder pops or weak tackle attempts won't cut it.
2. Last year, tight end Eric Ebron was a nightmare for the Texans. Can the Texans limit his impact with safety Tashuan Gipson Sr. and company? Last week, the Texans held Chiefs star TE Travis Kelce to four catches for 58 yards. But, the Chiefs weren't going to run the ball effectively, so Gipson and company could focus fully on Kelce and the passing game. The Colts will run it well and safety help may be needed to slow that ground game. That's the challenge on the afternoon: stop the run, yet slow Ebron in the passing game.
3. Set the strongest edge possible and be ultra-disciplined in run gap assignments. Mack was able to gash the Texans in the playoff game with outside runs due in large part to the Texans defense not setting the edge as well as they had throughout the 2018 season.
4. Stay deep and stay in coverage. Colts quarterback Jacoby Brissett does two things that make this a huge priority. One, he holds the ball a bit longer than the average quarterback. Two, he's so difficult to bring down/sack. Brissett has taken some hits, broken away from the sack and found open receivers when secondaries assume he's been sacked.
5. Stack and shed. Get off blocks and don't let this Colts offensive line occupy blockers. Be violent. Be quick. Be gone. Find the ball and make the tackle.
Colts defense (in 2019):
Rushing yards allowed per game - 113.2 ypg (19th in the NFL)
Passing yards allowed per game - 242.0 ypg (17th)
Total offense allowed per game - 355.2 ypg (16th)
Turnovers generated - 5 (2 INT, 3 fumble recoveries - Colts are even in TO margin)
Projected Colts starting defense for Sunday's game vs. Texans:
DE - JUSTIN HOUSTON
DT - Denico Autry
DT - Margus Hunt
DE - Jabaal Sheard
ILB - Anthony Walker
OLB - Darius Leonard (first game back since concussion)
Nickel - Kenny Moore II
CB - Rock Ya-Sin
S - Malik Hooker (could be active, first time since injury early in season)
S - Clayton Geathers (first game back since concussion)
CB - Pierre Desir
Other key defensive pieces:
DE - Al-Quadin Muhammad
DT - Grover Stewart
LB - BOBBY OKEREKE (rookie)
LB - Steven Adams
S - KHARI WILLIS (rookie)
S - George Odum
CB - Quincy Wilson
*All caps indicates a 2019 addition
Keys to winning vs. the Colts defense:
1. Handle the penetration. The Colts interior defensive line has some big time athletes on it. They're not terribly stout, but they are quick, violent and relentless. As such, it's difficult to control them all game long, but it's paramount to moving the ball effectively. Oh, and handle edge star Justin Houston with as many blockers as it takes to keep him from wrecking the game.
2. If there's time to throw, there are going to be open receivers if the Colts play zone. If they choose to play man, find the 1-on-1 matchup that a Texans pass catcher can win.
3. Expect the unexpected and let your eyes tell the full story. Last year, the Texans put a running back out wide and linebacker Darius Leonard went with him, essentially proving it was man coverage. But Leonard actually played a rolled up cover two corner in zone and it forced an incompletion.
4. Please, please, PLEASE hang on to the football this week. The Texans have put the ball on the turf MULTIPLE times the last few weeks. Some have been legit fumbles recovered by the defense, some have been recovered by a Texans offensive player and some have been called down when a Texan hits the turf. The main point is to not let that be an issue at all. Protect the football at all times this week and forever more.
5. Figure out how the Colts are covering the tight ends and then exploit that coverage as soon as possible. There are only so many ways to cover Hopkins, Fuller V, Coutee, Stills and the running backs, so something has to give for the Colts and the tight ends might be that situation.
The Houston Texans roster in photos. (Updated 12/29/2020)