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  • Here's what the Colts need to do on both sides of the ball to take down the Texans on wild-card weekend.
By Andy Benoit
January 03, 2019

Before wild-card weekend, Andy Benoit is giving a blueprint for the four underdogs to win on the road. Here’s his plan for the Colts in Houston.

On offense…

The Colts faced the Texans twice this year: once when Andrew Luck’s arm was still rounding back into form (a Week 4 loss), and once after it had (a Week 14 win). Let’s examine what happened in Week 14: The Colts came out in heavy personnel (six offensive linemen, plus blocking aficionado Ryan Hewitt at tight end) and promptly went three-and-out on their first four series. So, they shifted to a spread quick-strike passing game and found some rhythm. Then they went back to the heavy personnel, by then knowing how Houston would play it, and got T.Y. Hilton deep against mismatched safety Justin Reid for 60 yards. Hilton and the aerial attack would go on to control the game from there.

It’s imperative Houston’s corners press Hilton, who is battling a bum ankle and is Indy’s only consistent source of explosiveness. (Against Houston this year Hilton has 13 catches for 314 yards.) The Colts will likely align Hilton inside, or at least in a tight split, where press coverage is harder to employ.

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Even if the Texans can contain Hilton, Luck is a savvy enough field general to win with his ancillary weapons. Something Indy did in the last meeting was flood one side of Houston’s two-deep zone coverages with three receivers. That’s typical. What wasn’t typical is that those floods came on the short side of the field, not the wide side of the field. The Texans will have a plan for defending Indy’s three-receiver route combinations to the field’s short side. So look for the Colts to run crossing routes away from that short side, especially with Pro Bowl tight end Eric Ebron or flex running backs Nyheim Hines.

On defense…

Get Deshaun Watson to play like he did when these teams met back in Week 14. Watson is an intriguing young talent, but he was the reason Houston lost that game. He was unsettled in the pocket, he didn’t identify some good reads and at times stayed too long on bad ones. Plus, he misfired on a few designer zone-beating routes to wide receivers.

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The question for Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is: How do you get Watson to play like this again? One idea could be to go with nickel personnel, even when the Texans are in their base two-tight end sets. Yes, that will leave the Colts light in run support, and Texans head coach Bill O’Brien is a patient enough play-caller to make them pay. But it also fortifies Indy’s pass defense, combatting the 1st-and 2nd-down throws that O’Brien can dial up to get Watson some comfortable reads against predictable looks. Show Watson something unexpected early on, even if it’s as simple as a nickel package against a base set, and you can (hopefully) get him relying too much on his athleticism and not enough on Houston’s designs. In Week 14, the Texans in base personnel had success attacking Colts linebacker Matthew Adams in coverage. It’s a different equation if stud slot corner Kenny Moore is aligned where Adams would have been. Moore is also a physical tackler and proficient blitzer, so the drop-off in run defense might not be as potent as one would expect.

Chance at an upset: 70%. The Colts are soaring on all fronts.

• Question or comment? Email us at talkback@themmqb.com.

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