What seems like just an exciting Monday Night Football game between 4-2 AFC South rivals could dramatically impact the Indianapolis Colts’ season. Defeat the visiting Houston Texans in a rematch of a 34-24 season-opening loss at Reliant Stadium, and the Colts will be back in the hunt for another division title and positioned for a late-season playoff run. Lose, however, and the Colts fall to 0-3 in the division, and their playoff aspirations could be seriously compromised.
Both teams are coming off bye weeks. Both have had their share of injuries of late. The Texans lost their defensive leader, linebacker DeMeco Ryans, for the season in the last game. The Colts lost Pro Bowl tight end Dallas Clark for the season. Wide receiver Austin Collie, whose 44 catches are second in the NFL behind teammate Reggie Wayne at 45, needed thumb surgery after the last game and will be out. Running back Joseph Addai has been unable to finish the past two games due to shoulder injuries. His status is unknown, as is the possible return from injury of wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez and running back Donald Brown.
The Texans are looking for a statement sweep to show the Colts’ time as AFC South champs — six crowns in seven years — is history. But Houston will need to play better defense than last time, when quarterback Peyton Manning passed for 433 yards. The Texans are last in the league in yards allowed. Manning has an NFL-best 103.4 passer rating. And the Colts’ pass-rushers will be looking to feast on a line that has allowed Matt Schaub to be sacked 16 times.
Keys for the Colts
• The Colts can’t get worn down defensively like last time. The defense is quicker at home and has allowed only 23 points in two games at Lucas Oil Stadium. Linebacker Clint Session has been playing better, with back-to-back 10-tackle games. As usual, the key is to get the Texans in 3rd-and-long situations. If the Colts limit Arian Foster’s gains, then they are confident their pass rush can make a difference.
• The injury losses will enable the Texans’ defense to focus on Wayne, who leads the NFL with 45 catches. But the Colts are creative and will still get him the ball, even against double teams. Pierre Garcon was outstanding before the bye with a 57-yard TD catch and a one-handed grab for the highlight reels. Expect Jacob Tamme to fill in for Clark. If Gonzalez isn’t healthy yet, rookie Blair White will take Collie’s spot. White has six catches for 66 yards and a score. In other words, Manning will have plenty of talent to utilize, even without a couple stars.
Keys for the Texans
• Foster ran for a franchise-record 231 yards in the opener. The Colts limited him to 40 in the first half, then wore down in the second. Foster is a classic one-cut runner, and he’s continued to be successful with a 5.5-yard per carry average. The Colts must play faster on defense to stop him, or this one will turn into a shootout.
• The Texans have been outscored 92-47 in the first half. The Colts are classic front runners who thrive with a lead — they have an 84-40 scoring edge before halftime. Houston can’t afford to fall too far behind, especially on the road in a city where it has never won. If the Texans can keep it close, anything is possible with an offense that features a great passer, dynamic runner and one of the best wide receivers in the game in Andre Johnson.
The Colts have had to watch film for the better part of two weeks which has shown them get pushed back and run over. Foster was that impressive in the opener. But expect the memory to be motivation for the Colts. The hunch is the Colts will find a way to endure. They have won 10 consecutive games in primetime. Bright lights seem to bring out the best in Indy. Colts 34-27.