The 11-2 Texans look to rebound from the Monday night debacle by corralling the AFC South second place Colts. The 9-4 Colts are led by Houston native and former number one pick quarterback Andrew Luck as well as the emotional spirit of first year head coach Chuck Pagano, who is still recovering from cancer treatment. Although the sky is falling for some fans outside Reliant Stadium after last week, this game is for the AFC South Championship – if the Texans win, they win the South Division and control their own path. Time to refocus on what is most important.
The Colts come to Reliant Stadium with a banged up offensive line, which doesn't bode well for Luck, who has been knocked down 100 times this year - 14 more than any other NFL quarterback. The Texans defensive success is predicated by pressuring the quarterback into hurried throws or sacks. If the pass rush is unsuccessful, then the defensive backfield is going to be left all alone and most likely burned as they experienced against Rodgers and Brady. If given enough time, most NFL quarterbacks will be able to find an open receiver - so the question this week is can the Texans defensive front pressure Luck enough to disrupt the Colts' passing attack?
Texans to watch: Defense
The Texans' defense isn't all that complicated. It is an aggressive attacking style regardless of the down or distance. Teams that have given the Texans problems this year have neutralized this aggressiveness by protecting the quarterback and exploiting the matchup weakness. With Rodgers and Brady (the Texans only two losses), the Texans' defense failed because they gave elite future Hall of Fame quarterbacks time to go through their progression of receivers and find the open man. Playing man to man coverage against these types of quarterbacks will fail miserably if they are given time. One solution, especially for quick strike type quarterbacks like Rodgers and Brady, is to stop the run and make them put together long, patient drives in hopes they become impatient and make a mistake.
However, Luck is no Rodgers or Brady, yet, so Wade Phillips' aggressive style should favor the Texans. The Texans to watch this week will be the men in the trenches, especially Antonio Smith. We all know J.J. Watt has been a beast this year but it is time for Smith to bring it and take some pressure off Watt. Fans can only hope the savvy veteran has been conserving some energy for the playoff run. The key for the Texans will be to unleash the outside rush with Whitney Mercilus but at the same time get maximum pressure up the middle in Luck's face forcing him into bad decisions. The Colts rank 25th in offensive turnovers with multiple turnovers coming in all of their road games so far this year. Typically, the team that makes the most turnovers, loses the game.
Texans to watch: Offense
Last week versus the Patriots, quarterback Matt Schaub was the offensive player to watch. We suggested Schaub would need to play perfectly and lead the Texans like never before in order for the Texans to win. Well, that obviously didn't work out. Schaub, who is normally very patient and has been quoted in the past as saying "take what the defense gives you," decided to go against his own philosophy by forcing the ball and missing open receivers. Schaub, unlike most NFL quarterbacks, doesn't have to win the game for the Texans – he just doesn't have to lose it for them. Fans should hope Schaub gets back to his patient ways and let his playmakers (Foster, Johnson, Daniels) win the games. Last week, Schaub tried to do too much. This week, look for Schaub to get back to being Schaub.
However, this week's Texans to watch on offense is the offensive line, especially the right side and whoever plays right guard (Ben Jones, Antoine Caldwell or Brandon Brooks). Jones, who is a center by trade and has done fairly well in his rookie campaign at guard, was dominated last week. Caldwell has been injured and needs to get back on the field to solidify the right side of the line and for the playoff run. And Brooks, who has been inactive most of the year, is starting to play. He has played in three consecutive games since Detroit. It is much harder for defensive linemen to push Brooks (340 lbs) around so look for him to get more involved if Jones and Caldwell faulter. If schematically and technically Brooks is sound, he could get more playing time simply due to the fact that he is fresh and there is little to no game film on him.
The Texans are built to control the tempo and the clock. They are not built to consistently win shoot outs. The Texans need to get back to running the ball and utilizing the play action. As pointed out by State of the Texans earlier this week, it is also time to use Ben Tate so Foster will be fresh for the playoff run. By winning Sunday, the Texans will accomplish another team goal. The first was to get into the playoffs and the second is to win the division in consecutive years.