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How Will Injuries Impact Texans-Colts Tonight?

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With neither team at full strength, the war of attrition continues on Thursday Night Football.

Houston Texans v Indianapolis Colts

With the most famous name on the list being none other than all-world defensive lineman J.J. Watt, tonight’s match-up between the Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts will spotlight each head coach’s ability to overcome adversity.

Without Watt, Houston’s front seven is going to have to work extra hard to put a dent in one of the best offensive lines in pro ball. The Colts o-line has allowed opponents to sack Jacoby Brissett a mere 15 times this season. For comparison purposes, Texans field general Deshaun Watson has gone down in enemy hands more than twice as many times, enduring 31 sacks so far. For those doing the math at home, the Colts are averaging 1.5 sacks given up per game, while Houston is letting Watson hit the dirt with the ball in his hands three times per game.

Without pressure to slow down Indy’s passing attack, T.Y. “Texan Killer” Hilton will have to be contained by Houston’s secondary. Except potential Pro Bowl safety Justin Reid and rookie corner Lonnie Johnson have been ruled out of tonight’s game. Speedster Bradley Roby is on the Oprah Winfrey “You get a hamstring injury and you get a hamstring injury and you get a hamstring injury” list of the Texans walking (but not running) wounded; the odds of him playing at 100% are almost nil. Houston’s other starting safety, Tashaun Gipson, is also on the limited participation list this week with a back injury. At full health, Houston’s secondary had a hard time containing the Colts’ passing attack. With four of their five key defensive backs out entirely or less than 100%, keeping Hilton in check might be impossible.

However, Hilton himself is on the list with a “freak” calf injury sustained a few weeks ago in practice. If Hilton can’t play, or can’t go at 100%, the Texans’ odds of slowing down Indy’s passing attack improve dramatically. Yet if Brissett gets the ball out early, often, and plays mistake-free football, the injury bug will likely prove to bite the Texans repeatedly.

Colts running back Marlon Mack was already ruled out after suffering a broken hand last Sunday, giving the Texans’ defense a chance to show the world last weekend’s utter inability to stop a running game in Baltimore was a fluke.

On the other side of the ball, Houston’s rushing attack needs to get back on track as well. Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson have proven to be possibly the best one-two backfield punch the Texans have ever had, depending on how highly you thought of Ben Tate during Arian Foster’s heyday. Without a way to shut down the Colts’ passing game, Houston’s best bet will be to lean heavily on their own running game, controlling the clock, and looking to Deshaun Watson and DeAndre Hopkins to bring the magic just enough to keep the Indy defense honest.

Another deciding factor in Houston’s favor is the turnover margin. Houston is currently +1, while Indy is -3 on the season thus far. If that ball continues to bounce the Texans’ way, it will certainly make up for a lack of solid pass rush. One x-factor that may also work in Houston’s favor is lightning rod wideout Will Fuller V. Currently listed as a game-time decision, if Fuller can go anywhere near full speed, the Texans’ passing attack goes from solid to unstoppable.

While it’s a shame a game with the implications of this one will be altered so dramatically by injuries, that’s part of life with the big dogs of the NFL. The playoff implications of tonight’s tilt can’t be overstated, but the injury impact is also huge.

Which injury do you think will have the greatest impact on Houston’s fortunes tonight?