Five Things Learned, Colts-Houston
INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts are 6-2 and have a two-game AFC South lead at the season’s midpoint. The wins that followed a loss at San Diego came in dramatic style over unbeaten Denver and against a 2-5 Houston group fighting for its 2013 survival.
The Colts produced a 10th comeback win under Chuck Pagano by wiping out an 18-point halftime deficit in a 27-24 victory at Houston. Plays were made across the board in keeping a two-game AFC South lead over Tennessee.
Here are FIVE THINGS LEARNED.
PERFECT WITH PERFECTION – The Colts are 7-0 under Pagano (3-0 in 2013) in turnover-free performances. That the club has seven in 24 outings (almost 30 percent of the time) is a pretty healthy percentage and is a testament to his ball security preaching. Prior to Pagano, it took a 37-game span back to 2010 to encompass seven spotless performances. The Colts’ six giveaways lead the league. Only four other teams are in single digits. Three of those seven miscue-free games have been on the road, further evidence of the ability to play like Pagano preaches.
OVERCOME ADVERSITY – Houston sucker-punched the Colts one minute into the game with a long TD pass. Adam Vinatieri had a field goal blocked moments later to the delight of the Houston fans, but the defense held on third- and fourth-and-one rushes to thwart the Texans. One possession later, a near blocked punt helped set up a short field and a second Houston TD in the opening quarter. After replay overturned what appeared to be a recovered fumble on a kickoff return, Houston added its third TD for an 18-point lead. It came on a gut punch with 34 seconds left in the first half, a time when late scores can damage a team’s mindset. The Colts hung tough on the road and after trading field goals in the third quarter, scored on three straight drives to take the lead. It was producing and being non-judgmental in adversity. “Chuck (Pagano) puts into us the ‘never-give-up’ spirit,” said Anthony Castonzo. “It’s a trickle-down effect. Everybody buys in. We’re all 100 percent in on every play. There’s no give-up in this game.”
LUCK REMAINS MASTERFUL – With 10 game-winning drives in fourth quarter and overtime, Andrew Luck has the most of any quarterback in the first two years of a career since 1970. Luck’s manner in the huddle and calm leadership style affects teammates deeply. “Andrew basically takes control of the huddle. He’s telling us, ‘One play at a time, one play at a time.’ He’s focused,” said Castonzo of Luck, who must have read Kipling while earning his architecture at Stanford. Even after the latest Houdini act, Luck credits teammates and coaches first. There is no “I” in Luck. If a player can have a virtuoso career after 24 games, Luck has done it.
LINEBACKERS MORE THAN MATHIS – Houston was able to neutralize Robert Mathis probably better than any team this year. Still, Erik Walden had a 10-yard second-quarter sack of Case Keenum that preceded a missed field goal that would have put Houston up, 17-0. After the Colts took the 27-24 lead with four minutes left, Mathis and Angerer stopped Ben Tate for short yardage around midfield, then Angerer stayed at home and dropped Keenum for a three-yard loss on a Pistol keeper, a superb one-on-one effort. On the ensuing play, Mathis contained Keenum and Angerer delivered a hit on Keenum’s release. Keenum’s pass hit Walden in the facemask and Mathis nearly corralled the ball for a touchdown. Three linebackers, three plays in the clutch, and the Colts forced a punt. While Angerer’s 12 tackles topped the team, Walden was in the middle of key moments for a second straight game.
PRODUCTION PAST WIDE RECEIVERS – With Reggie Wayne gone for the season, developing production past the wide receiving corps is a must. Luck hit wide receivers 12 times in 29 targets, with more plays being made in the second half than the first. Indianapolis was able to get three receptions from Coby Fleener, plus a critical two-point snare. Trent Richardson had two receptions, including a 24-yarder that set up T.Y. Hilton’s third TD. Success in spreading the ball paid dividends, and the club must continue that as Luck’s cohesion with wide outs continues to develop.