Strategy And Personnel

The Sports Xchange

December 06, 2018 at 1:12 am.


–In nine career games against Houston, QB Andrew Luck has 21 TD passes with six INTs for a 90.5 rating.

–The loss of TE Jack Doyle to a season-ending kidney injury two games ago might be more crucial than some realize. The Colts fell to 1-5 without Doyle in the lineup on Sunday. The 2017 Pro Bowl tight end was a valued blocker in addition to being one of Luck’s favorite pass targets.

–TE Eric Ebron tied his career high with 10 catches last week, when he amassed 81 yards. But what was missing from the previous game against the Jaguars were touchdowns. He caught two TD passes and ran for a score last time. In this game, he didn’t have a score and lost a fumble on a key fourth-and-1 failure.

Ebron’s 11 TD receptions are tied for second in the league, one behind Pittsburgh wide receiver Antonio Brown. If Ebron scores another, he’ll set a new Colts single-season record for TD catches. He shares the mark with Dallas Clark (2007).

–K Adam Vinatieri can make more history in this record-setting season with a field goal of 40-to-49 yards. His next would tie Gary Anderson (161) for most from that range in league history. Vinatieri, the NFL’s oldest player at 45, has already set NFL records in career field goals (576) and points (2,570) this season.

–P Rigoberto Sanchez is tied for third among regular punters in net average at 42.8 yards.

PLAYER SPOTLIGHT: RB Nyheim Hines. Although Marlon Mack is the starter, Hines continually gets his share of snaps because he’s so adept as a receiver out of the backfield. The rookie matched his career-best total of nine receptions in last week’s loss at Jacksonville. The previous time was against the Texans, when he caught nine passes for 63 yards and two TDs on Sept. 30. The Texans are 18th in pass defense compared to fifth in rushing defense, which suggests the Colts will stick to their season script and try to free up run lanes by throwing short passes. Hines is one of only two NFL rookies (Saquon Barkley) with at least 250 rushing yards (288) and 250 receiving yards (298).

GAME PLAN: It’s imperative for the Colts to shake off the ugly loss at Jacksonville and show they don’t have an offensive hangover from being blanked. That means a fast start, which will be a challenge against a Texans defense that’s No. 3 in fewest points allowed. Luck will have to connect with his receivers early, and because the Texans have such a formidable pass rush, that means getting rid of the football quickly. Houston will anticipate the short throws, too, and likely crowd the defensive box. So Luck’s quick decision-making will be put to the test. He needs to connect on a couple of throws down the field to loosen up that Texans secondary. While head coach Frank Reich will want to have balance with a rushing attack, those yards will be scarce if Luck isn’t successful in the passing game. Luck competed 40 of 62 passes for 464 yards and four TDs in the previous loss to the Texans.

An improving, young Colts defense will have to shadow Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson, who in addition to completing 66.5 percent of his passes for 3,031 yards and 21 TDs is an elusive scrambler with 375 yards rushing (5.4 yards per carry) and two TDs. Pressure him early and he’ll look to run. Watson has taken 41 sacks, so a Colts pass rush that generated three sacks and seven quarterback hits at Jacksonville will need to get after the second-year pro. Problem is, the Texans don’t need much time for two-time Pro Bowl wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins to get open. Hopkins had a season-high 10 catches for 169 yards and one TD in the previous game against the Colts. The Colts typically play a soft zone and try to keep pass-catchers in front of them. They undoubtedly will bracket Hopkins with a safety cover over top and a cornerback underneath, although he’s still capable of getting open and making plays.

–Colts RT Braden Smith vs. Texans DE J.J. Watt. The reliable rookie Smith faces his greatest pro challenge to date in lining up against one of the NFL’s most prolific pass rushers in Watt. The Texans’ two-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year has a team-high 11.5 sacks, including two sacks and two forced fumbles against the Colts last time. Watt has had at least two sacks in three of his past five games against the Colts. Smith, a second-round pick out of Auburn, didn’t start the previous game against the Texans. He’s started the past eight games and has made a successful adjustment to tackle after playing guard in college. But Watt, who has 87.5 career sacks in 100 career games, is a different animal.

–Colts CB Kenny Moore II vs. Texans WR DeAndre Hopkins. While the Colts have shuffled their cornerbacks at times, Moore started on the right side last week, which means he would draw one of the NFL’s hottest receivers this week in Hopkins, whose 80 receptions are tied for 10th in the league and his 1,115 receiving yards are tied for sixth. Hopkins’ eight TDs are tied for eighth. Hopkins has the speed to beat cover guys deep and is so quick in his cuts that coverage backs off and allows him room to make plays underneath on sideline and crossing routes. The Colts try to keep all pass-catchers in front of them, but with Hopkins, expect a constant double team, or at the very least, keep him guessing about what coverage he’s facing from one play to the next. Just putting Moore on a one-on-one island likely translates to Hopkins enjoying a monster game.