By Sam McPherson
Short weeks are always tough in the modern NFL, playing two games in the span of five days. Football is a violent sport, and there’s only so much the body can handle. Toss in the fact that this Thursday’s contest against the Indianapolis Colts at home is perhaps the biggest game of the year for the Houston Texans, and it’s clear there is no time like the present in the modern NFL.
The Texans are 1-3, and they trail the 2-2 Colts in the AFC South division. This is the first division game of the season for Houston, and it’s at home. Those are absolute, must-win games for NFL teams—for if the Texans lose, they drop even deeper in the standings and have to make it up with a win on the road later in the season. That’s hard to do.
Indianapolis has won 11 straight division games and owns the AFC South. The Colts also have an 8-0 win streak on Thursday nights. That’s what Houston is up against if it wants to make 2015 special, because if the Texans lose this one, they’re down and out for the season already—after just five games.
Luck Or No Luck
Of course, Houston would rather not face injured Indy quarterback Andrew Luck. He is 5-1 in his career against the Texans, having thrown 14 touchdowns and just three interceptions in those games. He’s all but owned Houston. Needless to say, the Texans might like facing backup veteran QB Matt Hasselbeck instead. Luck could be a game-time decision on Thursday as he nurses his partially separated shoulder, and Hasselbeck was effective enough last week in leading the Colts to an overtime win over Jacksonville that was aided by multiple missed field goals by the Jaguars kicker.
Run On Indy All Day Long
In three losses, the Texans have averaged 71 yards rushing per game, and in their one win, the team ran for 168 yards (against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers). The good news is that the Indianapolis run defense is ranked 25th in the league, giving up 119.5 yards per contest. That bodes well for Houston, regardless if running back Arian Foster is fully healthy or not. Foster ran for only 10 yards on eight carries last week, although the entire Texans rushing core was ineffective. Regardless of who is quarterbacking Houston, the running backs must take advantage of the Colts defense early and often.
Will The Real J.J. Watt Please Stand Up?
Through four games, the Texans defensive star has 18 tackles, four sacks and four passes defensed. He’s playing well by most standards, but we’ve yet to see any dynamic plays that helped define Watt’s league MVP campaign last season. Is it too much to ask for him to steal a win for the team this week? Watt is the team’s best player, bar none, and even though he plays on the defensive line, this is a great week to remind the league why he was in the MVP conversation last year. Watt needs to be a disruptive, frightening and scoring force for the Houston defense on Thursday night—showing the national television audience he hasn’t lost a thing.
Houston Must Minimize Mistakes
The Colts have been a very fortunate team since drafting Luck in 2012. Indianapolis is a stunning 21-4 in games decided by a TD or less since then, including 2-0 already this season. Last week, Jacksonville kicker Jason Myers missed a 54-yard field goal at the end of regulation that would have won the game for the Jags, and then he missed a 48-yard attempt in overtime that would have clinched the game as well. How does Indy get so lucky? Only the football gods know, so the Texans better play very well in all phases of the game: penalties, special teams, etc. The smallest crack in the armor is all the Colts need to win these days.
Sam McPherson is a freelance writer covering baseball, football, basketball, golf, hockey and fantasy sports for CBS, AXS and Examiner. He also is an Ironman triathlete and certified triathlon coach.