The Indianapolis Colts venture to Houston’s NRG Stadium to take on the Texans in a Thursday night battle for first place in the AFC South Division. Here are five Colts keys:
Keep Foster in check — Easier said than done, it’s not easy minimizing Texans running back Arian Foster. We’ve seen him run through poor Colts defenses before. But these Colts are 11th against the run and proven to be more stout inside. The 3-4 scheme must stick to fundamentals and not be overly aggressive. Foster is a classic one-cut runner. He looks for the hole, then makes that one cut to daylight. The Colts probably can’t shut him down, but defenders can minimize the big plays. Don’t turn a decent gain into a game-changer. Expect the Colts to crowd the defensive box to get more hands on him and force the Texans to adjust. And don’t take a breather when backup Alfred Blue enters. He’s averaging 3.7 yards and has the Texans’ longest rush of 46 yards. The Texans would like nothing more than to control this game at the line of scrimmage and rely on their run game. That keeps Andrew Luck and the Colts’ offense off the field. Get stops early and put the down-and-distance situations into the hands of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick as much as humanly possible.
Give help on J.J. Watt — Too many times NFL teams take chances on how they deal with certain players. Watt will remind quickly that it typically takes more than one man to slow him down. The Colts would be wise to line up a tight end, be it Dwayne Allen or Jack Doyle, in the backfield to help block No. 99. Chipping him with a running back might work at times, but don’t rely on it too often. Do so and he’ll beat that chip. It’s happened too many times. We haven’t seen Andrew Luck roll out much this season. Rolling him away from Watt’s side would give the quarterback some extra time and make the line’s job a bit easier. Luck has to be mindful of where Watt is on every play. And that also means when throwing because nobody knocks down passes better. What’s most impressive about Watt is he seems to make his biggest plays at the crucial moments. It can’t be stated enough. Don’t leave anything to chance. Keep Watt guessing on where that double team is coming from on any given play.
Utilize those tight ends — Allen continues to make big plays, as evidenced by his four touchdown catches, tied with Ahmad Bradshaw for the team lead in scores. While he might not be a pass-catching option as often if used to neutralize Watt, another nice wrinkle would be to flair him out of the backfield in certain situations and give Luck that option. Bradshaw and running back Trent Richardson have been getting a lot of yards on these check-down throws, so there’s no reason Allen can’t be utilized in the same manner. Linebackers can’t stay with this guy. We’ve seen it consistently through five games. If Doyle is in the backfield, turn Allen loose down the seams and make those Texans linebackers run. Wide receivers have their moments getting open, but don’t forget about Allen. He can force defenses to adjust, too.
Be smart at safety — The Colts have received solid coverage efforts while the guys up front have been blitzing. Cornerbacks Vontae Davis and Greg Toler will have tough assignments this week with Texans wide receivers Andre Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins. Johnson is the perfect blend of physicality and speed, so it would be a bit naive to think the Colts can jam him too often. That brings the safeties into play. Mike Adams and Sergio Brown must keep an eye on Johnson and be quick to support. Same for Hopkins if he goes deep. Yeah, there’s only so many safeties out there, so you can’t double both guys. But it stands to reason the blitz won’t get to the pocket every time, and when this happens, Adams and Brown must recognize where these two guys are headed and be prepared should they elude Davis and Toler.
Take care of the ball — Turnovers are always a preaching point each week, but especially so when bodies are tired and players might be inclined to take more chances. The Colts have turned it over too many times, even when winning. Luck realizes he must be smarter about making risky throws, but in the heat of the moment, he sometimes extends a play and tries too hard to make that throw. He would be better off just tucking it and running than risking an interception. And when the Colts are in field-goal range, don’t be afraid to settle for three points if that third-down throw isn’t there. The Texans haven’t been scoring a lot of points, so Adam Vinatieri field goals can add up if the offense consistently moves the ball into Texans territory. The Texans’ big problem in recent Colts games has been defending receivers. Reggie Wayne, T.Y. Hilton and Hakeem Nicks, among others, should be able to get open most of the time. But if they’re not, make the safe play. Don’t keep giving away points.
Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.