The Colts go into Houston this week to face the Texans this week. The Colts hold the top wildcard spot, and could clinch it this week with a win. Andrew Luck goes up against his first tough divisional opponent in Houston, who are coming off an embarrassing 28 point loss against the Patriots. They look to redeem theirselves. With a win, Houston would clinch the AFC South and have a hold on the #1 seed in the AFC. If the Colts win this week, and their next 2 games, they would win the AFC South. A lot of implications on the line this week, which should make for an interesting matchup.
What the Colts Need to do to Win
Well, let's start with the offense, as always.
Andrew Luck is going to have to have a big game. The Colts need to go into this game with a pass heavy attack. That means Luck needs to throw the ball at least 40 times. Is that the best gameplan, maybe not. Ideally, every team wants to have a balanced attack, but with the Texans stout rush defense, the passing game is the way to go. Plus, the Texans have an overrated pass defense, that has been torched by pass heavy offenses this year (Pats, Lions, Packers just to name a few). The biggest weakness about the Texans pass defense is their deep ball game. They got completely torched by the Pats last week when it came to the deep ball. The Colts' biggest strength in the passing game is the deep ball. They take a lot of shots, maybe too many, but if there's a week to go crazy, it's this week. I don't mind the coaches calling deep passes before the play, but if Luck sees 2 safeties playing deep, that should be the sign to switch it up. The mental part of his game needs to be ready this game, because he's going to have to do a lot of reading. There are more holes in this defense that there are in swiss cheese, and Luck has to realize that. He needs to make smart throws and try to avoid throwing in the area of JJ Watt. Don't even try a slant in his direction, or even an intermediate pass. He's that good. Be smart, pick your shots, and find the holes, and Luck will beat this defense.
As for the running game, Vick Ballard doesn't need have a huge game, but he needs to have a couple of pretty big runs. He needs to have runs that get them first downs. So, if he has 5 straight 3 yard runs, then a 12 yarder, that's good. You cannot expect him to get a lot of yards against one of the best run defenses in the league. Expect a 17 carry, 61 yard performance from Ballard.
Then, the receivers. When it comes to deep passes, TY and Donnie need to shine. If the Colts expect to go deep, which I think they will, and a lot, they'll need TY to make big plays. He's done that a lot this year, but if there's one game he has to be on the ball, it's this game. TY needs to make plays, plain and simple. Donnie just needs to catch anything thrown his way. TY has been the better deep threat in the past few weeks, so getting Donnie to run more short patterns could be benefitial (as the Texans may be expecting the long ball with Donnie). If that's the case, he can't drop a pass. Every play counts, and even one drop can hurt the Colts. It nearly did last week, where Donnie dropped one in the endzone. As for Reggie, just let him be Reggie. Let him run every route, and target him several times. He needs to have a big game, too. Reggie needs to play the safety blanket kind of role, and TY needs to play the big play kind of role. Finally, Dwayne Allen should be used to block, and provide extra support, but if he's involved in the passing game, he has a great matchup against the Texans' linebackers who have struggled against tight ends recently. Same for Fleener, and maybe he should get a lot of targets, as he also creates matchup problems for this defense.
However, none of this could be achieved with a bad O-line. The Texans have a very good D-line with perhaps the frontrunner for the defensive player of the year. The Colts need to double team Watt, that's a must. He cannot have a good game, they need to shut him down, and one guy cannot do that. Get Satele and McGlynn against him. I think the Colts should have at least 6 blockers on most downs as the passing game will need a lot of time if they expect to throw deep or have a pass heavy attack. That means getting Allen on the end to help block, or having a blocker in the backfield is a must. The Colts' O-line has been very bad recently, so they need all the help they could get. So, double team JJ Watt, have the tackles in one-on-ones with a tight end or running back help block. If they have extra blockers with running backs, they need to provide that last line of support, which means that they need to get the most dangerous man. I also recommend to pray, because getting 10 guys blocking may not even be enough.
So, to recap, the gameplan should be to have a vertical pass heavy attack that focuses on the weaknesses of the Texans pass defense. All the Colts need from the running game is a few big runs. If they can do this successfully, they can put up 24+ points.
Then, there's the defense.
The Colts should try and stack the box, worry about the run. The Texans like to run it a lot (and early on in the game) against the Colts. Stacking the box should help contain their running game. Get Lefeged or Bethea in the box, and that should help. As for the passing game, the Texans like to go deep, and like to be aggressive. They need to have a safety play deep a lot of the time, and have their cornerbacks playing tight on the line. If they play conservatively, this Texans team will pick this secondary apart. I've learnt that the only way to stop aggressive is to play aggressively on defense. That means blitzes, and playing tight on the line. Put Vontae against Andre, Cassius against Lestar Jean, and Gordy against Walter. Why? Vontae is the Colts' best corner, so it only makes sense to put him against one of the best receivers in the NFL. Cassius does well against the deep ball, and Jean seems to be a deep threat only kind of receiver. Gordy isn't horrible on the short passes (slants, ins, hooks), and that's where Walter does well. Then, there's Owen Daniels. Put Jerrell Freeman, Kavell Conner, or Antoine Bethea against him. Freeman has been great against tight ends recently, so I recommend him, but all 3 should do a good job.
The defensive line needs to create penetration up the middle. They need to make it tough to run it up the gut. Don't worry about the passing game, the D-line needs to worry about stopping the run. If they can create penetration up the middle, the Texans will be forced to start running to the outside, which is better for the Colts.
The inside linebackers need to stay in the box. They need to worry about the running backs and Owen Daniels, that's it. Put one of them against Daniels, and keep another one in the box. As for the outside guys, the "Freethis" just needs to keep getting pressure against Schaub. Duane Brown is a tough matchup for Dwight, so if he can anything against Schaub, that would be good. Mathis has a good matchup, and needs to get pressure on the quarterback.
What the Colts can do, and it could work because they would be stacking guys in the box, would be to do a lot of blitzes with the linebackers and/or safeties. If they can create chaos up the middle, and get some pressure on Schaub, that would help stop the running game and contain the passing game.
The Colts need to have an aggressive gameplan. I recommend they stack the box, blitz a lot, play man to man, and have a safety play deep. Worry about the run, and take away the deep ball. If the offense does their job, the defensive gameplan should work.
What the Texans Need to do to Win
On offense, the Texans need to have a run heavy attack. I'd say they should run the ball about 55% of the time(which is a lot more than the league average, so don't think running the ball 55% of the time is a balanced attack). That means Foster should get the ball a little less than 30 times. That's fine, and he's used to it. He's had about 5 games this year where he ran the ball a little less than 30 times. They won all 5 of those games. Plus, Foster has a great history against the Colts, and seems to have great games against them. He should be heavily involved in the offense.
As for the passing game, Schaub shouldn't have to save this team. All he needs to do is just move the ball effectively. That means, not too many shots down the field, as the Colts are surprising good against passes that travel 25+ yards in the air. They need to do a lot of short passes, and dump offs. Just passes that move the ball. Get the first downs, and kill the clock. Try to get at least to around midfield on each drive.
On defense, they need to somehow slow down their passing game. How do you do that? By taking away the long ball. The Colts have the most deep ball completions in the NFL, and in all of the games where they score 23+ points, they successfully complete the long ball. If you want to contain their passing game, and not allow them to get a lot of points on the board, they have to stop their vertical passing game. Now, how do you take away the long ball? By playing deep zones. Cover 2 and Cover 3 should do the trick. It requires 2 (or 3 for Cover 3) players to take away the "deep zone." The deep zone is marked by an imaginary line about 18-21 yards from the line of scrimmage. That's where they get the term Cover 1, Cover 2, Cover 3, Cover 4, etc. It's how many guys are in the deep zone. If Luck can't find anything down the field, he'll hesitate, and the Texans' D-line should be able to get to him. So, take away his "deep" reads/options, and it really helps the D-line. That's how you stop their passing game, or at least contain it.
As for running the ball, the Texans play the perfect defense to stopping it. The 3-4 defense is a very good defense to stop the Colts' rushing attack. The Colts like to rush it to the outside a lot of the times, and teams with 3-4 like to play contain with their outside linebackers (the ones that are standing up on the line of scrimmage). You play contain, you almost always take away the outside runs. As for up the gut. Leave the linebackers as is, and if there is a problem, bring down a safety. It shouldn't be a problem though.
The most intriguing matchup has to be Andrew Luck vs JJ Watt. Watt is arguably the defensive player of the year and has knocked down 35 (yes... 35) passes this year. With Luck's unorthodox passing stance, where he bends down lower than most quarterbacks, that could create a problem for him as Watt could bat some of his passes down. Also, Watt is a great pass rusher, so how will Luck try and fight him off? The winner of this battle could be the winner of the match.
No interceptions from either team this game.
Houston Texans 27 vs Indianapolis Colts 21