Five keys for Sunday vs. Texans

The Texans are treating this like a playoff game against the Colts, who can clinch the AFC South title with a home win.

The Indianapolis Colts can clinch their second consecutive AFC South Division title with a Sunday win against the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. Here are the Colts keys:

1. Double J.J. Watt — It’s been suggested before and will be repeated. Don’t mess around with the Houston defensive end. He’s too good. Don’t be stubborn and too rigid about playing him straight up until he impacts the game. Put two men on him on every play. And he’s still going to make some plays. He’s that effective. He had two sacks and returned a fumble 45 yards for a touchdown in the previous meeting against the Colts on Oct. 9. Two blockers should keep him off of quarterback Andrew Luck most of the time. This is one of those situations where you don’t over-think it. Take away the Texans’ greatest strength, or at least minimize him as much as possible, and force other players to have to make plays. Do that and the Colts should win this game. Don’t do it and anything is possible.

2. Load up box vs. Arian Foster — The Texans’ star running back has had five career 100-yard rushing games against the Colts, including 109 with two touchdowns in the Colts’ 33-28 win at Houston on Oct. 9. The Texans might have some different wrinkles in the offensive gameplan, but Foster is still the No. 1 catalyst. The Colts actually did a decent job against him early on in the previous meeting, but then the Texans widened their gaps on the offensive line and Foster was able to find running room. The Texans will want to establish Foster, who when effective moves the chains and chews up clock. The visitors will want to shorten the game and keep Luck and the offense off the field as much as possible. The Colts must maintain gap responsibility, don’t over-run plays because Foster is a great one-cut runner. And the Colts must stick to that for four quarters.

3. Pressure Ryan Fitzpatrick — The Colts have 35 sacks, including three in the previous meeting. They also intercepted Fitzpatrick once. If Foster can be at least marginally contained, that allows the Colts’ blitzing 3-4 scheme to come after the Texans quarterback, a 10th-year pro out of Harvard who knows he must take care of the ball. He’s thrown 17 touchdown passes with eight interceptions in 11 starts this season. But there’s a reason he’s played for five teams. He has 123 career TD passes versus 101 interceptions. Collapse the pocket around him, force the throws to be quick. Wide receiver Andre Johnson is questionable because of a concussion. Even if he plays, Fitzpatrick likely will be looking more toward wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Foster has caught 33 passes for 276 yards and four scores, too, so the Texans will probably try to catch the Colts in some of those blitzes with passes out of the backfield to their No. 1 running back.

4. Target othersT.Y. Hilton destroyed the Texans with nine receptions for 223 yards and one touchdown at Houston. So Houston will probably go the way of other recent opponents and look to double the Colts’ No. 1 receiver. While Hilton has proven he can beat double teams, too, the Colts should get rookie wide receiver Donte Moncrief as well as tight end Dwayne Allen more involved. Wide receiver Reggie Wayne likely has a bounce-back kind of game after last Sunday’s humbling one-catch, three-drop effort, and tight end Coby Fleener continues to make plays. That leaves Moncrief and Allen as the most under-utilized. Moncrief caught three passes for 33 yards while Allen had one 5-yard catch at Cleveland. But they still make huge plays on the game-winning drive. Moncrief caught a third-and-7 pass for 27 yards and Allen drew a pass-interference penalty for 35 yards.

5. A decent start — Don’t expect the Colts to bolt out to a 24-0 lead like the last time. But the way the Colts have started games of late, just being even after a quarter would be a welcome change. The Texans have scored just 51 points in the opening quarter, by far their lowest output, 33 fewer than in the third quarter. The Colts, who have turned the ball over five times combined in the opening quarters of the last three games, have still managed to outscore opponents 80-33 in the first 15 minutes. That’s their largest advantage. So it goes without saying that if the Colts can avoid turnovers, move the chains and score early, they should improve their chances of winning significantly. And while turnovers weren’t repeated as yet another key (as in past weeks), they still could be. The Colts are minus-4 in giveaway/takeaway ratio while the Texans are plus-12. No need to help these guys out.

Phillip B. Wilson can be found on Twitter (@pwilson24), Facebook and Google+.


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