INDIANAPOLIS (AP) When the Colts' offensive linemen walked into the team complex Monday, they already knew this week's challenge.
Keep Andrew Luck clean and on his feet.
Sure, the linemen hear that message on a regular basis, but it takes on greater significance this week with J.J. Watt and the Texans on deck.
''He (Watt) makes the tough grinding plays, and he's always going hard. So it's always a challenge to go up against him,'' Luck said of Thursday night's game. ''But it makes it fun to go up against great players - and a great defense.''
While Luck embraces the chess match, Watt's versatility and game-changing ability are a major concern, especially for an offensive line in flux.
Undrafted rookie Jonotthan Harrison made his first career start at center Sunday against Baltimore and is expected to play the same role this week. Left guard Jack Mewhort (ankle) and right guard Hugh Thornton (back) have missed two straight days of practice with injuries. If they can't play, the Colts likely would move Lance Louis back to left guard where he started two weeks ago, and go with either backup center A.Q. Shipley or veteran Joe Reitz at right guard.
Coach Chuck Pagano isn't saying yet who will start or how Indy will contend with the menacing Watt, all complicated by the short week. Pagano just knows that if the Colts can't protect Luck, things could get ugly fast.
''He's relentless. He's got size, he's got length, he's got a motor, he knows the game inside and out,'' coach Chuck Pagano said Tuesday. ''Whether you put a tight end over there, a back, chip, help, slide the line, you've got to do whatever you can to take care of this guy. He's a high energy guy with a ton of talent. He's long, lengthy, twitchy, fast, competitive. He's a freak.''
The numbers prove it.
Watt has more sacks (33) than in anybody in the league since 2012, when he was the NFL Defensive Player of the Year. Although he has only two sacks through five games this season, Watt is still making an impact. He has scored two touchdowns, one on offense and another on an interception return, while helping the Texans rebound from their dismal 2013 season to a tie atop the AFC South with the Colts.
Opponents have attempted to slow down Watt with some exotic blocking schemes, but somehow the defensive end always seems to come up with a solution.
''That's part of the challenge,'' said Watt, who has sacked Luck four times in four career games.
Defending division champion Indianapolis (3-2) heads to Houston on a three-game winning streak. A win would not only give the Colts sole possession of the division lead for the first time this season, but it also would give Indianapolis a 3-0 record in division play, with two of those wins on the road.
A win for Houston would give the Texans an early edge in the tiebreakers before December's rematch in Indianapolis.
Keeping track of Watt is only part of the problem for the Colts.
While Indianapolis isn't expected to see No. 1 draft pick Jadeveon Clowney (knee) this week, the Texans still have plenty of playmakers such as linebackers Brian Cushing and Brooks Reed, cornerbacks Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson and safety D.J. Swearinger.
So while Luck & Co. must know where Watt is at all times, the most dangerous part is avoiding tunnel vision.
''You do have to keep an eye on where 99 is, he's a stud,'' Luck said. ''I hesitate to say you build a whole game plan around him, and I know as a quarterback, you don't ever want to get too locked in on what one guy on the defense is doing. I think that can get you out of rhythm, the offensive rhythm. But I know as a unit we have the utmost respect for him and what he does on the field.''
NOTES: Cornerback Darius Butler (ankle) and defensive tackle Arthur Jones (ankle) missed Tuesday's practice. Inside linebacker Jerrell Freeman was limited and receiver Reggie Wayne rested. ... Outside linebacker Bjoern Werner was a full participant after sitting out Monday's practice with an ankle injury. ... Colts defensive end Cory Redding will be inducted into the University of Texas Hall of Fame on Nov. 7, the school has announced.
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