18 Things to Watch in Sunday's Colts/Texans Game
How scary could any team be that is quarterbacked by this?
Eyes in the Backfield is back for a record fourth season. Each week, we'll bring you 18 things to keep an eye on during the upcoming game. This week, the Colts take on the Houston Texans who are vying to take the AFC South Crown away from the champs. As you tune in, be sure to watch for:
1. Watch the starting LINEup. We have no idea what the Colts' line is going to look like on Sunday. If Saturday and CJ play, the line should look mostly familiar. However, CJ has been gimpy all week, and while Saturday might be sandbagging, we can't be sure what kind of shape he'll be in. Peyton could be running for his life. He's slow, too. That doesn't bode well for his life.
2. Watch for two tight ends. When the Colts won it all in 2006, they primarily used two tight ends. The problem is that they've been searching for a good fit at second TE ever since. Brody Eldrige would seem to be that guy. Given the uncertainty around the line, it's quite possible that the Colts will line Eldrige up by the left tackle to help with both run and pass blocking. This could be a VERY good thing.
3. Watch for fumbled punts. There've been a lot of questions this week about the Colts' plan to have Gonzo field punts. Frankly no one is sure how it will work out. He could be dynamic, but if he turns one over fingers will have to be pointed at the Colts' coaching staff who never asked him to return a kick in the preseason.
4. Watch for answers. Speaking of Gonzo, we are all wondering how the Colts will use him. We can pretty safely bet he's not the second receiver right now, but could he be the third? Will the Colts run four wide? Will they run two TE so much that the slot rarely sees the field? Answers are coming on Sunday, we hope.
5. Watch for the best wideout in football. For my money, Andre Johnson is the best wideout in the game right now. He is big and physical and impossible to cover. I've seen the Colts blanket him, and he still made a ton of catches. He's led the NFL in receiving the last two years. Just because he has a big game, it doesn't mean the secondary didn't do its job. He's just that good.
6. Watch for the Zombie. Bob is back. I'm just giddy about it. Someone is going to get lit up. Seriously though, Sanders gives the Colts big play potential out the secondary. That's something that is missing when he doesn't play. He's going to do something to help change the game for the Colts.
7. Watch the pocket. The consequence of having a patchwork line is that Peyton will have to move a lot. My favorite play is when the pressure comes from the outside, but Saturday clears out the middle giving Peyton a place to step up. It always seems like something good happens. As long as only one lineman screws up per play, Peyton can usually figure something out. If two blow it on the same play, down goes Manning. The only way to stop either QB in this game is to get pressure, so the pocket will be the key.
8. Watch the blitz. Last year, the Colts were among the least blitzing teams in football, and mostly saved their blitzes for inside the red zone (a strategy I endorse). Now, with Bob Sanders back, Larry Coyer has yet another rushing option available to him. You all know I'm not a blitz lover, but Sanders charging Matt Schaub would be delightful. Let's just keep Gary Brackett back in coverage, please.
9. Watch for "all in". The Texans have built everything this season on this game with the Colts. They know that if they are ever going to be seen as a legitimate power in the AFC, they'll have to beat the Colts. This is their chance. If they can pop the Colts in the mouth early, Indy could be playing catch-up for several weeks. The Colts know it's a marathon not a sprint. If they lose, they'll be ok. If the Texans lose, you have to wonder how they bounce back.
10. Watch for the unanswered points. The last several games at Houston have had wild swings. In each of the last two games, the teams went on scoring binges. Two years ago, the Colts ripped off 10 points, followed by a barrage of scoring from the Texans. The Colts then posted three touchdowns in the final few minutes to steal the win. Last year saw the Texans get up big before the Colts finally responded. No lead is safe on Sunday for either team.
11. Watch for recycled jokes. Luke and I have been doing Eyes for four years. With the division teams, it's getting hard to come up with original snarky things to say about them. Of course, in looking over past entries, I realize I've rarely joke about the Texans at all. Hmmm. Maybe if they ever do anything important I'll find a way to mock them.
12. Watch for Dierdorf. It's been more than 20 years since thousands of Colts' fans donned his mask on October 31st, 1988, but he's still going strong. Just make sure that if you are playing the "football cliche drinking game" with Dan-o doing color that you bookmark 18to88.com. You'll need to check the page once you finally wake up from your stupor so you can find out who won.
13. Watch the owner of the Houston Texans. His name is not Bob McNair, it's Peyton Manning. There are some cities where Manning is not respected. They hate him in Boston. The revile him in Jacksonville. In Houston, the only name they call him is "Daddy". Manning has led the Colts to 15 wins in 16 games against the Texans, and he's thrown more touchdowns against them than David Carr had for them. Well not really. But it's close (59 to 37).
14. Watch Cushing's replacement. The Texans Rookie of the Year linebacker won't be playing on Sunday. He's too busy being suspended. They'll go with second year man Xavier Adibibi. Cushing was the heart and soul of the Texans defense last year, though the Texans linebackers had fits trying to cover Dallas Clark who had two massive games.
15. Watch the rookie. Charlie Johnson is listed as questionable, which means that undrafted rookie Jeff Linkenbach could get the start. While this is cause for concern, the truth is that it could be a blessing in disguise. Not only is CJ not an elite left tackle, he may be one of the five worst left tackles in the NFL. Maybe giving someone else a shot couldn't hurt. Then again, an undrafted rookie trying to protect Manning from Mario Williams is basically the plot of my worst nightmare.
16. Watch the snap. There are two reasons for this. First is that Saturday may or may not play. The second is because it will be our first chance to see Manning interact with the new official placement rules since the debacle in Green Bay. Manning usually gets a key first down a game by quick snapping, so if the official doesn't get in position quickly, it could cost the Colts five yards instead of giving them five. In a close game, that could be the difference.
17. Watch the deep ball. Pierre Garcon's real value in the Colts' offense is as a deep threat. However, if the line is in shambles and Manning doesn't have the time to look long, will Garcon still be productive at other depths? In the end, the health of the line could end up affecting which wideout best fits the Colts offense. The long ball is an important weapon, but only if you have time to throw it.
18. Watch for a bad start. I've gone back and forth on this game for months. When the schedule first came out, I had it as a loss for the Colts. As little as a week ago, I felt confident about Indy's ability to dominate. Now, with so much uncertainty on the line, I have no faith in the Indy offense. I think the Texans squeak out a close, low scoring game 17-13 as the offense struggles to sustain drives.