18 Things to Watch for During Sunday's Colts/Texans Game
I suppose it's naive to expect the second watching to improve
Last week's game was a barn-burner (again), with Indy coming out on top (again). This week, the Horse takes on the Texans (again), in what could be called the biggest game in Houston franchise history (again). Will the Colts win (again)? Once (again), this Sunday, watch for:
1. Watch who shows up. The injury front hasn't been kind to either team thus far. Colts' fans were greeted with a bevy of new names on the injury list this week, including Peyton Manning. The early week injury report read like a 'Who's Who' key figures for the Horse. The Texans don't want to hear any complaining as they recently put star safety Eugene Wilson on IR. Replacing your safety the week you play Peyton Manning is never an enviable task. This game could be a war of attrition.
2. Watch for made kicks. Chris Brown has yakked back to back big kicks that would have sent the Texans to OT. Unless he suddenly develops a mental block, the odds say he's due to hit a few. His miss a couple of weeks ago gave Indy a huge win, but don't count on him helping out the Horse again. I think he's used up his supply of shanks for the year.
3. Watch for the short week. For the second straight week, the Colts get to face a team coming off of Monday Night Football. It's not necessarily a massive advantage, but anything helps. The Texans played that game at home, so it's not like they had to travel, but still. They suffered an emotional loss, and now have to turn around to play the Colts. That's a tough scheduling break for them.
4. Watch for desperation. Again, for the second straight week, the Colts have to travel to play a team desperately in need of win. The Texans were looking strong at 5-3 just a few weeks ago, but last second losses to the Colts and Titans have them reeling. They are now in danger of falling completely out of the wild card chase, unless they can win Sunday. They are in a 6 team scrum for the final 2 wildcard slots, and at a game and a half behind Denver for the 5 hole, it could be argued that they are in a 5 team race for one spot. The Texans need this win.
5. Watch for a close game. Not all the games between the Texans and Colts have been close, but all the games in Houston have been. 5 of the last 6 games in Houston have been 9 points or closer, and 4 of those were decided by 6 points or less. The Colts have been living on the edge for weeks now with a myriad of close contests, and history tells us that this should be another one.
6. Watch for a clinch. Indy can actually wrap up the South before December 1st if they can beat the Texans and the Jags drop their game at San Francisco. This would mean the Colts would be AFC South Champions for the 6th time in the 8 year history of the division. The best part is that the team would finally have to admit that they accomplished something this year.
7. Watch the hometown boy. Joe Addai has been playing extremely well in recent weeks, and has a touchdown rushing, receiving, or throwing in all but one game this season. Addai always plays well in Houston averaging better than 80 yards a game, at 4.5 YPC, with a score in his hometown. The Colts' run game has improved in recent weeks, so expect Addai to creep near 100 yards.
8. Watch the flags. The Texans did themselves no favors a few weeks ago by picking up 13 penalties for 103 yards. They obviously drilled on it, because they only had 5 for 25 against the Titans on Monday night. If the Texans can stay more disciplined, they have a good chance of pulling off the upset.
9. Watch the bouncing ball. The Texans have coughed up the ball at the worst possible moments this season, including one on the goal line against the Colts. For Indy, CB Jacob Lacey has developed a real knack for ripping the football free. If the Texans can't hang on to the football, they stand little chance of hanging with Indianapolis this week.
10. Watch the second chance. While Charlie Johnson has largely played well pass blocking this season, he did have trouble with Mario Williams in their first meeting this year. CJ once again has an opportunity to show that he can play with an elite DE. Williams isn't having the best season, and if he can get to Manning again this Sunday, it will be major step backward for Johnson.
11. Watch his abdomen. Two games with no sacks by Dwight Freeney! It's time to panic! Obviously not, but it's natural worry about the odd assortment of injuries the great DE has had to battle this year. The Colts rely heavily on Freeney to get pressure on the quarter back, and if he's not 100% it will eventually show on the back end. He already has missed practice time this week, and Colts fans have to be at least a little concerned about Freeney's health going forward. The team can't win the Super Bowl without him.
12. Watch the cloud of dust. The Texans are probably going to start Chris Brown at RB. Wait, let me rephrase that. The Texans are probably going to start Chris Brown at RB? He's averaging 3.3 YPC and is one of the slowest, least intimidating backs in the NFL. Of course, the Texans once ran Ron Dayne 32 times for 153 yards on the Colts, so maybe they figure it doesn't really matter. The Colts have held opponents under 100 yards rushing in 5 of 10 games this season (including the first game with the Texans). Look for them to do it again on Sunday.
13. Watch for no one to notice. Andre Johnson and Reggie Wayne will make the top four of any list of best WRs you can find right now. Johnson is a big, physical player who tortured the Colts in Houston last year to the tune of 9 catches 131 yards and a TD (against pretty good coverage). Reggie Wayne has elevated his game to an incredible level. If you like flanker play, these two are as good as it gets. Considering that they are one and two in the NFL in yards and represent around 30% of their team's passing offense, it's a good bet that whoever comes out on top in this matchup will be on the winning side. I just totally recycled that from two weeks ago. So what? It's still true.
14. Watch for ball security. Peyton has five picks in the last three games after throwing just four in his first 7 games. Several of the picks have been bad decisions and the result of over-aggressive play by the QB. Manning won't throw multiple picks again this week. He's going to do his best to protect the football. He might toss away a few more passes, but I can't seem him throwing many to the Texans.
15. Watch for the step forward. Pierre Garcon got his catch rate back to 50% and his DYAR over zero thanks to a huge game last week. It was certainly an encouraging sign to see him flying down the field on the deep ball early. If Frenchy can piece together two solid games in a row, it'll be a welcome sign that perhaps he's turned a corner. He showed real toughness last week after the hit by Ray Lewis. If the Colts can get big time production out of the #2 slot, it bodes well for the offense going forward.
16. Watch Jones vs McAfee and Co. The Texans have had excellent success with Jacoby Jones (slated to return from injury) running back kicks. Likewise, the Colts, behind the deep kickoffs of rookie Pat McAfee have been stellar at covering kicks. This is a matchup of strength verses strength. If the Texans can manage to break a long return, it will be a blow to a Colts' unit that has done an excellent job pinning teams inside the 25 yard line on a consistent basis this year. By the way, what kind of a name is Jacoby? It's like Jacob and Cody hooked up and produced a biologically improbable love child. I'm not a fan.
17. Watch for misplaced parenthesis. I know I have the nasty habit of over using parenthetical asides (I think it's something I picked up in high school by reading too much Dave Barry). I really have to come up with a better way to offset unrelated dialogue in a form that isn't quite so grammatically offensive (and footnoting just doesn't work well in blog format). It's getting ridiculous. Pretty soon, I'll get so confused about my own personal order of operations that I'll wind up with an actual football observation inside the marks (like about how Dallas Clark had a career high 14 catches in the last meeting, so watch him on Sunday). Damn. I told you.
18. Watch for a change of heart. I've been mentally and emotionally preparing to pick the Texans in this game all year, and I won't be particularly shocked if Houston eeks out the win. Still, I can't ignore the injury to Eugene Wilson. You never want to play Manning with replacements in the secondary. I have to go with Indy 21-18. Demond says 31-24, Colts.