Reporting Paul Gallant
It only took 15 weeks. But on Sunday, the Texans will FINALLY get their first crack of the season against the rival Colts. Who’d have thought, after pooping their pants all 2011, then kicking Peyton Manning to the curb, and doing nothing in the off-season to fix a horrendous defense, that the Indianapolis Colts would be 9-4 at this point? Outside of this loon?
We’re just a couple of days away from what appears to be another tough test for the Texans. So what should you expect out of Indy’s little ponies?
Seriously…how the hell are the Colts 9-4? Their head coach – Chuck Pagano – has been in the hospital battling leukemia most of the season. Their offense is loaded with inexperience. And outside of
two one pass-rusher, their defense is crap-tastic. So what’s the deal?
Sucked For Luck
Easy. This is a quarterback league, and tanking last year paid off big time. After a year without Peyton Manning, the Colts replaced him with Andrew Luck, an unbelievable talent with the potential to be just as good as his predecessor.
Has Luck been perfect this season? Nope. Far from it. Sure he’s got 3,792 yards passing and 18 touchdowns. But he’s completing just 54% of his passes and has tossed 18 picks. That should be expected…the kid is a rookie.
Still, he’s been remarkably clutch. Especially on third or fourth downs with 9 or more yards to go. Luck’s rating in those situations is 97.0. Yeah…that’s damn good.
Luck has been compared often to Ben Roethlisberger. He’s athletic, likes to roll outside the pocket to extend plays, and is a load to bring down. The Texans beat the hell out of Big Ben last year. To win Sunday, they’ll need more of the same.
And His Arsenal Is…
It all starts with Reggie Wayne – who is not only still alive – but looks as comfortable with Luck as he was with Manning. In fact, Luck might be a little bit too lovey-dovey with Mr. Wayne. He’s been targeted 162 times. One-Hundred and sixty-two freaking times. Holy Crap.
But it’s worked. Wayne has 94 catches for 1220 yards and 4 TDs – and most importantly – 65 first downs.
Who else is he looking for? Donnie Avery is his number two (52 rec., 706 yds, 3 TD). But the guy the Texans should really worry about is rookie third rounder T.Y. Hilton. The dude can FLY. And his numbers back that up. Hilton has 41 grabs for 638 yards – for a team high 15.6 average – and 5 scores. That should be a big scare. Why? Because the Texans D has allowed 20 passing plays of 20+ yards over the past 4 weeks. Yikes.
Also…don’t forget about Coby Fleener. The rookie tight end played with Luck for four years at Stanford. While he hasn’t been all that productive (23 receptions for 257 yards), he definitely has chemistry with his QB.
The Colts don’t do a lot by ground. Donald Brown (108 car 407 yds 1 TD) didn’t do a whole lot…but was placed on the IR this week with an ankle injury. And the only thing Delone Carter has going for him is a team high 3 rushing TDs and his alma mater. Rookie Vick Ballard (146 carries for ) has been a pleasant surprise – especially last week against the Titans (19 carries for 94 yards) – but don’t expect Indy’s running game to do much against the Texans front seven.
How “Luck”y Can You Be With That Offensive Line?
Want another Luck – Roethlisberger parallel? Here’s one: Luck – like Big Ben – has a paper mache offensive line. As Gregg Rosenthal points out, Luck has struggled of late, pinpointing those struggles on the abuse the rookie has taken.
He’s right. Here’s what Luck has dealt with the past 4 weeks:
12/9 v Titans – 4 Sacks, 9 QB Hits
12/2 @ Lions – 2 Sacks, 13 QB Hits
11/25 v Bills – 4 Sacks, 7 QB Hits
11/18 v Patriots – 1 Sack, 6 QB Hits
I don’t care who you are. If your offensive line is playing like a bunch of drunk matadors, any quarterback will get gun shy and start to struggle. Sure the Colts have won three of those four. But can a banged up group – which wasn’t very good to begin with – stop J.J. Watt and a surprisingly productive Whitney Mercilus from annihilating Luck? Doubtful
About That Defense…
I’ll be frank…it’s horrendous. Indy’s defense is 22nd in the NFL (20th against the pass and 19th stopping the run), but that’s deceptive. Especially considering the schedule. Outside of three teams – the Patriots, Packers and Lions – Indy has faced a slew of offensive attacks that are down right offensive to watch (Jaguars twice, Titans twice, plus the Dolphins, Browns and Jets).
The biggest problem is the inability to make ANY plays. The Colts are clueless when it comes to forcing turnovers (just 10, tied for last in the league), which is a major reason for their 30th ranked turnover differential (-16). Only one player – Darius Butler – has more than one interception (3).
The team even has issues getting to the passer. In years past, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney would routinely pile up sacks. Mathis has had some success this season (7 sacks). But Freeney – whose contract expires after this season – is doing nothing to earn another paycheck. He only has 2 QB take-downs in 11 games (he missed a month with an ankle injury). Jerry Hughes (4 sacks) has been decent. Still – outside of those three, quarterbacks could pull out a lawn chair, chug a margarita, and take a quick nap before they’d feel any pressure.
This Week’s Episode Of The Special Teams Horror Show:
T.Y. Hilton – who also serves as punt returner – will be another test for Joe Marciano’s much maligned unit. The rookie has the 8th best punt return average in the league, and we all know the Texans are prone to lapses in coverage – especially with Alan Ball still hurt (see Wes Welker’s big return Monday Night). Hilton has improved every week he’s been back deep, and his speed could be a major problem for the Texans.