Key Matchup: Matt Schaub vs. Colts D-Line

The outcome of Sunday's game could hinge on how effectively the Colts' defensive line can disrupt QB Matt Schaub. Brad Keller takes a look at why Schaub has been successful during the past two weeks, and what Indy can do to try to slow him down.

Since 2002, the Houston Texans have allowed the most sacks and have the worst sack differential in the NFL.

The Indianapolis Colts defensive line is well-known for their ferocious pass rushing skills. 

Sounds like an easy mismatch, right?  Not since quarterback Matt Schaub has started turning things around in Houston.

Former Texans quarterback David Carr was sacked more times in his first five years in the league than any quarterback in history.  Part of that was poor offensive line play by the Texans.  Part of it, evidently, was David Carr.

In his first two starts of 2007, Schaub has been sacked just twice.  While the Kansas City Chiefs aren't highly regarded for their front four (or their defensive prowess in general), they tallied both of those sacks, while the Panthers skilled front four (with stars such as Julius Peppers and Kris Jenkins) were shut out in Week 2.

It should be noted that Houston has improved along the offensive line with the continued development of Eric Winston and Chester Pitts.  Under the stewardship of second-year offensive line coach John Benton, they have made strides in pass protection.  Principle to their success, though, has been Schaub's release and decision-making along with head coach Gary Kubiak's game plan.

The Texans have primarily been throwing short timing passes (slants, screens, quick-outs) in order to allow Schaub to make a quick read and snap decisions out of mostly three-step drops.  As a result of his ability to get the ball out of his hands before the defensive line can even get started, Schaub has been accurate, effective, largely mistake-free, and -- most importantly -- upright.

Dwight Freeney
Jonathan Daniel/Getty

Given that the Colts have actually registered fewer sacks on defense than the Texans this year (4 compared to 6), the trend of Schaub keeping his uniform clean is likely to continue if the game stays close. But if Houston is forced into obvious passing situations out of the need to pick up yardage in large chunks, their offensive line is no match for Dwight Freeney & Company.  

The good news for the Colts is that even if they don't register many sacks in the game, Indianapolis doesn't need to get Schaub's uniform dirty to get inside his head.  In order to be successful on Sunday, the Colts just need to disrupt Schaub's rhythm and his timing with his receivers. Indianapolis will catch a break in that star wide receiver Andre Johnson will not play in this matchup.  That alone will effect Schaub's timing since he needs to get in sync with Andre Davis, Johnson's backup.  

The Colts can actively disrupt Houston's passing game by having the defensive linemen mirror Schaub, take three steps and then get their hands up.  The more they can disrupt Schaub's sight lines immediately following the snap, the better.  They may even want to occasionally drop one of their tackles into the short-middle area of the field to take away Schaub's first option.  Bottom line, the longer Indianapolis can force him to hold the ball, the more time Freeney and Robert Mathis can work on beating their overmatched counterparts. 

If the Colts are able to have success shutting down the short-passing game early, it will have a cumulative effect on Schaub over the course of the game and force him to take chances (especially if Indianapolis jumps out to an early lead).  It is a war of attrition and the Colts' defensive line must stay patient and disciplined if they are to win it.  If they win the early battles and stay focused, the sacks will come.  

Patience also means that Indianapolis must blitz sparingly  -- definitely nowhere near as much as they blitzed Tennessee last week, even though Bob Sanders had great success doing it last week. Against Houston, more blitzers means fewer people on the backside to tackle the receiver after Schaub completes the quick pass.

Ultimately, it boils down to preparation and coaching.  Tony Dungy and defensive line coach Jim Teerlinck should have their charges ready to play in a game that will determine sole ownership of the AFC South lead.

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