By Sam McPherson

The Indianapolis Colts head to Houston to take on the Texans for Thursday Night Football. Coming off a resounding loss in Atlanta, the Texans are nursing a tremendous amount of injuries during this short week of preparation for their Week 5 matchup against the AFC South favorite. Almost one third of the Houston roster is listed on the official injury report this week, and of course, the Texans need to be at their best to defeat the two-time defending division champs from Indianapolis.

Perhaps this many injuries is to be expected in a short week, but among those listed are 12 players in the “questionable” category. That could be a problem, considering three linebackers, three safeties, three running backs and two wide receivers are in the group. The last player in the category is a cornerback, meaning the defense is nowhere near at full strength in order to take on the often-explosive Colts offense that has carried the team to the AFC South title the last two seasons (and three straight AFC playoff appearances overall).

However, the Colts have a weak run defense this year, and the Texans will have to take advantage of that in order to win the game. With three running backs on the questionable front, the most “healthy” is Alfred Blue; who had a rough time last week against the Falcons. Arian Foster (groin) didn’t play much in Atlanta, his first time suiting up in the 2015 season. However, it’s a good sign this week that Foster was feeling well after the game. Even though he was limited in practice this week, it may have just been precautionary. Backups Jonathan Grimes (hamstring) and Chris Polk (knee) did not participate in Tuesday’s workouts, so it may be just Blue and Foster carrying the load on Thursday night.

If Houston can’t run, they’ll need a full wide receiver corps ready to take advantage of any opportunities available through the air. Both quarterbacks saw action in last week’s loss in Atlanta, and Ryan Mallett (chest) is listed as probable. It’s their throwing targets the starting quarterback will need to worry about: Veterans Cecil Shorts III (shoulder) and Nate Washington (hamstring) are questionable, and neither player practiced on Tuesday. That leaves DeAndre Hopkins as the only healthy wide receiver that regularly sees playing time. The others on the roster, Keith Mumphery, Jaelen Strong and Chandler Worthy, need to step up and produce against the Colts.

Defensively, the Texans need the front seven fresh and healthy to put pressure on the Indianapolis quarterback. There are rumors Andrew Luck may be out again, but backup Matt Hasselbeck also missed workouts this week due to illness. Either quarterback is experienced and capable, so the Houston defense needs to be alert and pressure the quarterback, clog the running holes, and cover an excellent group of receivers downfield. Linebackers Brian Cushing (foot) and Max Bullough (shoulder) are expected to play, but three others may not: Jadeveon Clowney (knee, shoulder), Akeem Dent (hamstring) and Whitney Mercilus (thigh). Dent and Mercilus didn’t practice this week, and Clowney was a limited participant in Tuesday’s workouts.

In the secondary, safeties Lonnie Ballentine (knee), Quintin Demps (hamstring) and Eddie Pleasant (thigh) are all questionable. Demps did not practice Tuesday, while Ballentine and Pleasant were limited in workouts themselves. Considering the Colts have four very capable receivers and two very competent tight ends, the Texans need all bodies available for nickel and dime packages on Thursday night against the Indianapolis offense. Cornerback Johnathan Joseph (hip) was limited in practice on Tuesday as well, creating even more concerns when it comes to defending the Colts through the air.

Probable:
Max Bullough, Linebacker (shoulder)
Brian Cushing, Linebacker (foot)
Ryan Mallett, Quarterback (chest)
Vince Wolfork, Nose Tackle (ankle)

Questionable:
Lonnie Ballentine, Safety (knee)
Jadeveon Clowney, Linebacker (knee, shoulder)
Quintin Demps, Safety (hamstring)
Akeem Dent, Linebacker (hamstring)
Arian Foster, Running Back (groin)
Jonathan Grimes, Running Back (hamstring)
Johnathan Joseph, Cornerback (hip)
Whitney Mercilus, Linebacker (thigh)
Eddie Pleasant, Safety (thigh)
Chris Polk, Running Back (knee)
Cecil Shorts III, Wide Receiver (shoulder)
Nate Washington, Wide Receiver (hamstring)

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.

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