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Texans vs. Colts: 5 good questions with Stampede Blue

Chris Shepard from Stampede Blue joins BRB for five questions

NFL: Jacksonville Jaguars at Indianapolis Colts Jenna Watson-USA TODAY Sports

The AFC South is one of the more maligned divisions in the NFL and for good reason. The level of play might not be quite on par with the rest of the league. However, when you get in the division, the games are as hard fought as any in the NFL. The Houston Texans and Indianapolis Colts have played some doozies over the years and last year was no different. The first matchup ended in a tie and the last game of the season decided the first overall pick.

Chris Shepard of Stampede Blue has been there for all of it. We enjoyed working with him last season on the bookends of the NFL season and he did not disappoint this time around either. The Colts are always an entertaining team to cover and Shepard did a great job of keeping us up to the speed on the the goings on in Indiana.

Battle Red Blog: Obviously, the biggest matchup will be Anthony Richardson vs. C.J. Stroud. How has Richardson looked so far through training camp, the preseason, and week one? What can Texans fans expect to see from him in week two? What does a successful Anthony Richardson season look like for Colts fans?

Chris Shepard: In week one Richardson did exactly what Colts fans should have expected and wanted him to do; he played smart disciplined football (for all but one pass late, with the game on the line), he took what the defense gave him, his well-documented accuracy issues were there but his footwork on short throws to the flat was much improved as was his accuracy in those situations. His accuracy isn’t as good as CJ Stroud’s, no one with eyes and working brain would argue that, but it was functional in week one. But the Colts knew that when they drafted him and are building out the offense around his strengths.

He went out there, took control and led the offense without procedural issue. His play on the field will improve with experience, his command of the huddle and his leadership, in week one, was far ahead of what I expected from a 21 year old with 13 college starts.

A successful season from Richardson has less to do with wins and losses and far more to do with the progress he makes from now until the end of the season. The important thing is that by the end of the season his baseline level of play has risen and we have a better idea of what to expect each and every time Anthony Richardson steps on to the field as the starting quarterback of the Indianapolis Colts.

BRB: The elephant in the room is the Jonathan Taylor situation. How do you see the showdown playing out? Do you think he gets dealt before the trade deadline? Do you think he ever suits up for the Colts again? As a fan and someone covering the team who do you think is mostly in the right here (feel free to make it a percentage)? How much is losing him hurting this team?

CS: This all goes back to last season when the Colts fired Frank Reich and did the unbelievably stupid thing of hiring Jeff Saturday. When Saturday came in, Taylor was dealing with a high ankle sprain. In Saturday’s first game in Vegas, Taylor went off and led the Colts to their only victory under Saturday. Taylor later re-injured the ankle. Desperate for wins, Saturday, with all of his coaching wisdom pushed Taylor to get back on the field before he was ready, in a season that had already been lost.

Taylor is right to be upset with and skeptical of, the team and his long term future. The Colts aren’t signing anyone until they see how they perform this season. Which makes some sense. They’re not giving anyone long term deals right now, when so much about the future of the team is unknown. It’s reasonable. So the question is: would Chris Ballard pay a running back, the least valued position in professional football, a top- or near top-of-the-market deal?

Ultimately this all comes down to timing. What Taylor wants is reasonable. What the Colts want is reasonable. But the timing of those things just doesn’t line up, at all. So what happens next? I don’t believe the Colts will trade him unless they get an insane return. For some reason everyone thought it was funny when Ballard requested young star receivers and picks in return for Taylor. But he made the offers he did because he knew they were insane, no part of Chris Ballard wants to trade Jonathan Taylor. If Miami or Green Bay was willing to do it, fine, but short of that he values Jonathan Taylor highly. He literally talked about wanting to pay him a big contract. The GM of an NFL franchise said he was going to pay a RB a big contract because he’s a great player. What GM tells the media he’s going to break the bank for a guy? Ballard did. He just wants it to be on his timeline.

BRB: Who are a player or two on offense and defense we might not be focusing on, but will definitely know by the end of week two? Who from last week’s game impressed you the most?

CS: On offense the two guys you need to watch for are rookie receiver Josh Downs and third year tight end Kylen Granson. Downs is an undersized slot receiver Indy took in the third round and he majors in getting open. Richardson only found him three times for 30 yards last week, but I expect this connection to grow. Look for Downs to be the hot read when the Texans send blitzes this weekend. Granson is an undersized tight end who is really good picking up yards after the catch.

On the defensive side of the ball it feels tougher to choose. These two teams played each other twice last season and the Colts are returning most of their starters from a season ago. That said, Zaire Franklin isn’t a household name, but he really should be. On a team that already has a now healthy multiple time all-pro in Shaquille Leonard, Zaire Franklin had a breakout season in 2022 setting a franchise record for tackles in a season with 167. In week one he had 18 tackles, 1 forced fumble (on the most heads up play you might ever see) and 1 PBU.

Former first round pick Kwity Paye has struggled with injuries during his first two seasons but looked good in week one, racking up a sack and having a top 10 edge rusher win rate for week one. Like I said, it’s tough to come up with names for the defensive side of the ball. The new corners aren’t all that promising and there just aren’t that many names you probably haven’t heard.

BRB: Obviously, the AFC South always gets made fun of for its lack of strength and this season is no different. However, on the positive end we could say it will be very competitive again this season. How do you see the division playing out this year? Obviously, the Colts and Texans brought up the rear last season. Do you see that repeating or do you see the Jaguars and/or Titans taking a step back?

CS: Unfortunately for all of us I think Trevor Lawrence and Doug Pederson are the real deal in Jacksonville. We’re all going to spend a long time chasing them. As for the rest of us, it gets interesting. The way I see, it the Titans are rudderless. They’ve drafted a day two quarterback two years in a row and neither one of them is any good. Those are wasted picks. Ryan Tannehill is 35 and it feels like his best football is behind him. Their entire offense runs through a soon-to-be 30 year old Derrick Henry. The only thing the Titans have going for them is Mike Vrabel. He’s a good coach.

As for our teams, it’s tough. Teams that start rookie quarterbacks almost never win a lot of games. So I don’t think the playoffs are in either of our futures for this season but things could turn around soon. From the outside looking in, and I say this as a guy who truly doesn’t hate the Texans or their fans. In general Texans fans seem to know their ball and over the years you all have been decent to interact with. Now Titans fans? I hate those people. So I say this with the least amount of bias as I can, my biggest concern with the 2023 Texans was the offensive staff they surrounded C.J. Stroud with when they took him second overall.

So the structure the Texans have built around their rookie quarterback include a defensive head coach, a first time offensive coordinator with no track record of building out an offense for a young QB and a first time QB coach, who prior to Stroud has only worked with Kirk Cousins as an assistant QB Coach. I just wouldn’t want to bet on it if I were taking a guy with the second overall pick. Either way time will tell. For now I think both Colts and Texans fans should be excited about the future of their teams.

BRB: DraftKings Sportsbook has the game almost as a pick ‘em game (Colts +1). How do you see the game shaping up next week? Are you expecting a higher scoring game or do you think it will be a defensive struggle? Are there any prop bets you can recommend to your fanbase?

CS: I watched the Texans play the Ravens and I am so sorry for the losses to that Houston offensive line. The Colts spent the offseason adding solid depth pieces to their already good defensive line and the Jaguars struggled to handle them all day long. I’m sorry to report to you that the Colts defensive line is going to have a very good game this coming Sunday and it’s going to severely hinder what the Texans offense can do.

On the other side of the ball, I also saw what the Texans defense did to former league MVP Lamar Jackson and I fully expect them to make life tough on Anthony Richardson, too. I’m sure we’re all monitoring the health of Jalen Pitre, because he changes the Texans defense. The second half without him in the game was night and day, so this could have an impact on the final score, but at the time of this writing I’ll have to assume he’s playing until I hear otherwise.

I don’t know what the over/under is for this game. But whatever it is, I’m betting the under. We might not see a touchdown scored and if we do it might not be an offensive player doing the scoring.

We want to thank Chris for his thoughtful answers to our questions and making this feature so enjoyable to do when we meet twice a season. We want to wish Chris and the Colts the best of luck this season as they try to get back into the thick of the race in the AFC South. Of course, we don’t want them to have too much luck on Sunday though.