Unlike two weeks ago, this week's opponent is one we know all too well. On Monday night, your Houston Texans travel to Indianapolis to take on Peyton Manning and the Colts.
There will be few surprises as both AFC South teams have already met once this season. Everyone knows that the teams should both score points while Jon Gruden repeatedly forces "The Sheriff" nickname down our throats, Chris Berman tries to be funny when he says "Stump the Schaub," and Andre Johnson will thank ESPN analyst Matt Millen for not drafting him in 2003.
How will the Texans attack Indianapolis? Has anything changed since Week One? Have the Colts shown any other vulnerabilities? How do the missing Indianapolis starters impact the game? All of these
sleep-deprived thoughts answers can be found below.
Since someone commented on it last week, if you want a quick-hits version then just read the paragraphs with a bold lead-in. Now...quick jump!
Colts Defensive Tale of the Tape: 26th in rush defense (137.3 yards allowed per game; 4.8 yards allowed per carry), 29th in DVOA rush defense (11% above the average); 12th in pass defense (206.7 ypg with a 83.5 QB Rating against and 1.83 sacks per game), 12th in DVOA pass defense (4.7% above the average).
Notable Stats from the First Match-Up: RB Arian Foster - 33 carries, 231 yards, 3 touchdowns.
Ideal Strategy: Run the ball with Arian Foster and Derrick Ward, mix-in the pass just enough to keep them honest, and run it on home. Must score touchdowns, not field goals, or else you're playing exactly into Indy's hands.
Naturally, you're going to think run, run, run against the Indianapolis Colts. This is the right kind of mentality to have as Houston, the #1 DVOA rushing team by a wide margin, should be able to move the ball on the ground against the Indianapolis defense again.
In Week One, the Texans ran for 257 yards, with 231 yards from Arian Foster, on the Indianapolis defense. Since that game, the Colts have allowed 113.4 rushing yards per game, which is an improvement, but those yards still rank amongst the bottom half of the league. Their DVOA against the run is nearly the worst in league, so the Texans should maintain a run-heavy gameplan against the Colts. Running, as seen in Week One, will allow the larger Texans offensive line, who outweigh the Indy front four by an average of 25 pounds, to wear down the smaller defense and keep the Colts offense off the field. With LT Duane Brown back, the Texans should also be more balanced on which side they run behind.
That said, I am very sure the Colts are going to put an emphasis on shutting down the run. If the safeties and linebackers are playing run first, Matt Schaub could potentially find some big plays through the air. While the stats show the Texans should run over the Colts, the Texans A) need to use the air just enough to keep the Colts defense honest at times and B) should take advantage of the built-in effectiveness that Week One's 257 rushing yards will give the play-action pass. To be clear: I'm not advocating a pass-first gameplan, but the run game will provide Schaub opportunities in the air.
If the returning Brown and Eric Winston can fight off Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, Matt Schaub will have his usual array of options. Andre Johnson will take on another tough test as the Colts rank as the best team against #1 WRs (best DVOA at -56.2%; 32.9 YPG to #1's), but Kevin Walter and Jacoby Jones should find plenty of space to roam. The Colts are 24th best vs. the number two receiver (26.2% DVOA; 56.2 YPG) and 26th against non-starting receivers (23.5% DVOA; 77.2 YPG). Due to their aggressive front-four being susceptible to screen passes, the Colts are also 21st against backs out of the backfield (4.8% DVOA; 28.1 YPG). As amazing as Andre is, Schaub, when the Texans do choose to throw, should continue to spread the ball around to his other targets, especially since locking in on Andre has, at times, led to interceptions when Johnson draws triple-coverage.
Regardless of how the Texans move the ball, Houston has to finish the drive off with touchdowns. Kicking field goals is a quick way to falling behind the Colts which then means you have to play at their fast-paced tempo - which is what they want you to do. If the Texans want to control the tempo, as they did in Week One, it's all about finishing the drive.
Match-Up: Texans Defense vs. Colts Offense.
Colts Offensive Tale of the Tape: 25th in rush offense (94.8 YPG; 3.7 YPC), 8th in DVOA rush offense (7.1% above the average); 2nd in pass offense (314.2 YPG with a 103.4 QB Rating and a sack allowed per game), 1st in DVOA pass offense (43.3% above the average); 62% Pass vs. 38% Run play selection.
Notable Stats from the First Match-Up: Peyton Manning - 40/57, 433 yards, 3 touchdowns; Austin Collie - 11 catches (12 targets), 163 yards, 1 touchdown.
Ideal Strategy: Honestly? How is a blogger supposed to know how to defend Peyton Manning when professionals don't? The best defenses against Manning seem to A) constantly mix-up the look, heavy on the zone blitz B) get effective pressure with 3 or 4 men to make Manning uncomfortable C) play Indy physically with press coverage to disrupt the offense's timing and D) hit #18 when possible.
With the injuries to starting RB Joseph Addai, #2 WR Austin Collie, and starting TE Dallas Clark, the Colts will be without three guys who have racked up 56% of their total offensive yards (1,374 total combined yards of Indy's 2,454 offensive yards) and two-thirds of their offensive touchdowns (12-of-18). In the first match-up, those three Colts combined for 316 yards and two touchdowns on 38 touches. It is more than fair to ask if this is too much production to replace even for the Colts.
While Manning has the ability to take Average Joe and make him a Pro Bowler, the Texans are fortuitous to find themselves playing the Colts in game one of their adjustment to (temporary) life without three starting skill players. On the flip side, one can argue that the Colts offense may have become a bit more difficult to defend. Will the Indy offense continue on "next man up" style to make stars out of no-name players or will they lean more on established targets like Reggie Wayne and Pierre Garcon?
Regardless, this match-up comes down to: Can the Texans disrupt the flow and timing of the Indianapolis offense? Typically, defenses accomplish this by mixing up the defensive schemes, getting efficient pressure with a 3 or 4 man pass rush, and challenging the Colts receivers at the line of scrimmage. It sounds simple, but it's hard to execute against this offense because Manning has such a quick release and is more consistent than any other player in the league today. Hopefully, Mario Williams continues his trend of playing his best football against Indianapolis and during a prime-time game. The front four will have to bring their work boots to Indiana if the defense is to have any success on Monday night.
Like the first game, Peyton's likely going to get his, so the defense can't blow opportunities such as getting off the field on 3rd downs or giving free yards away with penalties. The defense just needs to limit the mistakes and play smart, efficient football as they did in Week One.
Match-Up: Texans Special Teams vs. Colts Special Teams.
Colts Special Teams Tale of the Tape: 25th in yards per kickoff return (20.5 yards), 24th in yards per punt return (7.1 yards), 17th in yards allowed per kickoff return (24.1 yards), 29th in yards allowed per punt return (14.7 yards); 28th in Special Teams DVOA (-5.6%).
Ideal Strategy: Bench KR Steve Slaton and take advantage of the Colts' Achilles Heel since they are rated average to near-league worst in return/coverage stats.
A big change for Indianapolis is that Pat McAfee will not be punting, holding, or kicking off. The Colts signed Jeremy Kapinos to fill in on Monday night. If you're a Football Outsiders fan, they suggest that Kapinos was the worst punter in football last season. The Colts are not a special teams juggernaut so this one-game suspension will not help the cause. Do not be surprised if there's a bad snap on a punt, a bobbled hold, or some short kickoffs/punts.
Kapinos was 33rd in forcing fair catches last season, so punt returner Jacoby Jones could have a decent shot to make some longer returns against the poor punt coverage unit Indy fields. In the first game, Jones' lone punt return went for 39 yards. If Gary Kubiak and Joe Marciano would ditch the Steve Slaton Experiment (29th-ranked 19.3 YPKR), there would be a decent chance for good starting field position off of kickoffs as well.
The Texans are 10th in YAPPR and 12th in YAPKR, so Marciano's coverage units shouldn't struggle too much with the low-ranked Colts return game...which still has a better kick returner than Steve Slaton. Seriously, Slaton has no business returning kicks.
In summation, the blueprint for the Texans: On offense, use enough pass to keep the Indianapolis defense honest, but run Foster and Ward at their defensive ends all day. Defensively, mix up defensive schemes, get a good pass rush, and do what they can to disrupt Peyton's timing. For the special teams, bench Steve Slaton and take advantage of a below-average special teams unit. If all of this can be done then the Texans should shine on the national stage.
Agree? Disagree? Sound off in the comments, BRBers.