Eyes in the Backfield
18 things to watch for in the Texans/Colts game
When Mathis and Rosenfels meet again, this could well happen
After winning a game that we thought would be impossible, the Colts look to get on a serious roll. As luck would have it, the Houston Texans roll into Indy this week. And while games in Texas Stadium have always been tight, games in Indy never are. We are all looking for a dominant performance on both sides of the ball this week, but how will it play out remains to be seen. This week be on the lookout for:
1. Watch the deep ball. The Colts have been herky-jerky all year on deep pass, and it's imperative to get the deep game working in order for the offense to truly click. With Wayne and Gonzo out of practice for much of the week, 18 and 88 have been working a little extra with one another. Don't be surprised to see Marvin grab a least one pass over 30 yards.
2. Watch the corners. Even Colts #1 corner Marlin Jackson had trouble containing Andre Johnson in the first game. Johnson is a serious beast, and #3 and #5 corners Jennings and Ratliff will have more than their hands full. Watch for safety help at all times on Johnson, who may have to take some big hits after catches. If the Colts can limit Johnson, the Texans don't have a chance.
3. Watch Owen Daniels. The Texans TE has had a very nice season, and with Johnson drawing coverage away from the middle of the field, Daniels might be free to work the middle. Brackett and Bethea will have to do a good job in coverage to take away the easy tosses for first downs that Daniels loves.
4. Watch Rosenfels. Normally, we'd be worried about taking on a player who had something to prove. Not this week. Rosenfels hand delivered a win to the Colts back in week 5, and has said that he has revenge on his mind. The problem is that he's not actually very good. In just three games played this year, he has thrown 6 picks and fumbled 3 times (2 lost). He's a turnover machine, and if he's loose with the ball on Sunday, Houston is done.
5. Watch the return of the run game. Addai ran effectively against the Texans in week 5, averaging over 4.1 yards a carry. He had a big run to set up the Wayne TD pass to win it. The run game began to round into form last week, managing to be credible despite facing a tough Steelers front 7. This is the week Addai goes for 100 yards and breaks 4.5 yards per carry against a Texans defense that is 23rd against the run and will likely be playing from behind.
6. Watch Ugoh vs. Mario Williams. Williams had two sacks of Manning when they played earlier this season, but Charlie Johnson was playing left tackle. Ugoh has been on the hotseat all year for a variety of reasons, but there is no denying that the line has improved since his return. Williams was drafted to sack Peyton Manning. Ugoh was drafted to keep that from happening. Sunday is a referendum of sorts on those decisions. If Ugoh keeps Manning upright, the Texans won't win.
7. Watch for a limp. Reggie Wayne has been hampered by small nagging injuries the last several weeks, and his play has suffered because of it. He bounced back in a way last week, but two of his receptions were on tipped balls. In the three weeks prior he had 10 catches for 118 yards. Wayne injured his ankle last week and missed two practices. If he isn't 100% burden is on Manning to hook up with Harrison for first downs, something that hasn't happened regularly all year.
8. Watch for the heat. Gary Kubiak is under serious pressure to get wins in Houston. The Texans were chic pick to break out this year, but are once again relegated to the basement of the AFC South despite having a lot of talented players. Local papers are running stories about his performance, and if the Texans lay a big egg on Sunday, he could be out of a job sooner rather than later. This team has had some injuries and bad breaks, but who hasn't? They should be better than their record indicates.
9. Watch the blitz. The Colts used it with surprising effectiveness against the Steelers, but blitzes become less useful as teams prepare for them. If the Colts choose to blitz again this week, it could lead to huge gains downfield for the Texans. The Texans have given up 22 sacks, but the Colts front four hasn't been able to consistently generate pressure. They are just 30th in the league with 12 sacks. Mathis and Freeney account for 10 of those, which is remarkable given the fact that teams often just double both of them. I guess maybe it is time to keep blitzing after all.
10. Watch Mike Pollack. He's been the weak link on the O-line since his first start against the Texans. That's not a criticism yet, but it could become one. Diem has struggled mightily on the right side as well, and the combination has meant Indy has to run left if they hope to stay out of second and long situations.
11. Watch Slaton and company. The Texans rushing attack brutalized the Colts in the first matchup to the tune of 156 yards. The Colts have shown some improvement since then and we expect that number to be cut dramatically. Look for the D to allow less than 4 yards per carry for the second straight week.
12. Watch the streaking. The Colts usually go on at least one extended winning streak per season. They have a shot at their first three game winning streak of 2008. If they can win their third consecutive home can they will improve their home record to 3-2. So much for the LOSer Dome.
13. Watch the chant. It's no secret that we think Manning will have a huge second half of the season. Peyton has not had a vintage 4 or 5 touchdown game this season. Those things are hard to predict, but definitely look for 3+ touchdowns for Manning and the Colts to look like the Colts. A huge day, and you might start to hear the rumblings of a classic chant by the hometown crowd. M-V-P.
14. Watch the bandwagon effect. As we've mentioned, the buzz around town has been understandably quiet this season. Demond has had trouble getting rid of extra tickets this season and he didn't even bother going to the Patriots game. Needless to say, we expect a very different second half of the season.
15. Watch for candles. Demond is turning 28 on Sunday, and only a win will be acceptable to him as a present. A win and a stuffed Ewok. A win, a stuffed Ewok, and a Clone Wars Animated DVD. Demond seriously needs to grow the hell up.
16. Watch for a glimmer of hope. In 2006, the Colts started 9-0 and finished 12-4. This year the Titans have started 9-0. The best record the Colts can hope for is 12-4, so if any faint designs on the division remain, they likely rest with the Jags on Sunday. If Jacksonville can beat Tennessee at home, the Titans might start to feel the collar tighten (they face a Jets team on 10 days rest the next week). On the other hand, a Titans win all but eliminates the Jags from postseason consideration, so that's not all bad.
17. Watch for the #5 seed. With a win, the Colts slide into the final wildcard spot thanks to Favre and the Jets knocking off the Patriots on Thursday. Moreover, if the Giants beat the Ravens, the Colts would actually move into the top wild card slot. There's a long way to go, but it's better to be in the top 6 than out of it, even early.
18. Watch for a butt whooping. Texas never plays well in Indy, and they aren't going to this week either. The Colts know they need this game, and should respond with a convincing performance. Indy 31-Texas 17.