Texans right end Mario Williams is playing excellent football. Williams has had at least one sack in each of the past five games, including three and a half in last week's win over the Broncos. He leads Houston with 13 sacks; the next closest teammate is DT Amobi Okoye with five and a half.
Why the breakout season after an inconsistent rookie campaign? Williams struggled last year dealing with his multiple line assignments and roles. He often switched between tackle and both end spots. Now the Texans are asking Mario Williams to focus primarily on being a right end. That's where he'll play a majority of his snaps.
Coordinator Richard Smith will still move him around — to left end, inside — looking for the best matchups. One thing they like to do is run stunts in which Williams loops around inside so that he can match up against slower guards.
Williams is learning to use his hands better and has developed a greater array of pass-rush moves and counter moves. At 6 feet 7 inches, 295 pounds, he has size, strength and speed, and is becoming more of a complete end who can play both the pass and run.
The assignment of slowing down Williams when he rushes from the right end spot will fall on rookie OT Tony Ugoh. Ugoh has the size, strength and wingspan to redirect Williams. He also does a nice job sliding out easily to cut off explosive edge rushers and can hold his ground against bull rushers.
He has struggled against defensive ends with good double-moves and second-wave bull-rushes. So how Ugoh handles Williams' counters might be even more important than how he deals with that initial lighting quickness in pass protection.
On the flip side, look for the Colts to run behind Ugoh. While Williams is a terrific pass rusher, he can be driven off the line in the running game. Running at him also helps wear him and his high motor down.
2. Keyunta Dawson:
With Raheem Brock likely out again this week, rookie Keyunta Dawson will again get the start at LDT. Expect Houston to run right at Dawson and LE Josh Thomas. Houston loves to run right, because their best run blockers, tackle Eric Winston and guard Mike Brisiel, are on that side. On top of that, those two will also enjoy significant size advantages this week.
Especially Brisiel, who at 6 feet, 5 inches and 305 pounds, will be blocking a 254-pound rookie defensive tackle who played defensive end in college. The big question here is whether Dawson has the strength to hold his ground against Brisiel in the trenches.
Dawson is a nice fit in the Colts' defensive line. He is quick off the ball, does a nice job slanting into gaps well and beating slower offensive linemen with their feet. That's what he'll need to do again this week against a big immovable force like Brisiel. Brisiel has had two very solid performances in his two starts since being called from the practice squad to the starting lineup in Week 14.
Watch this trench battle closely and see how Dawson holds up at the point of attack. That'll tell you most everything you need to know here. If Brisiel is having success blowing the smaller Dawson off the ball, then getting up to the second level to block Brackett or Keiaho, could result in some pretty nice runs for Houston.
Marlin Jackson with Robert Mathis
Andy Lyons/Getty Images
3. Marlin Jackson:
Andre Johnson leads the Texans with seven touchdown catches this season. That's a pretty solid number. Even more impressive when you consider he missed Weeks 3-9 with a knee injury. Johnson has caught at least 1 touchdown in four of the Texans past five games. Johnson missed the earlier meeting between Houston and Indianapolis, so it will be the first on-the-field look between Johnson and corner Marlin Jackson.
If Jackson is giving Johnson a nice cushion, expect the Texans to throw some quick passes his way in hopes of creating gains with the ball. Jackson is the Colts' biggest cornerback, as well as their best tackler. So it would likely be difficult for Houston to break something big that way.
However, on vertical routes, Jackson lacks the speed to run deep with Johnson. But Indianapolis isn't likely to leave a cornerback without safety help over the top against Johnson. If that safety, though, bites on a fake or play-action or misses his assignment, then that's when it could get problematic.
Houston will move Johnson around, looking for possible mismatches. One way they've done that lately is to move Johnson down into the slot.
Since Jackson moves inside to cover the slot in the nickel, expect Johnson to stay on the outside so that he can match-up against corner Tim Jennings when the Colts employ the nickel. That's a matchup Houston likes and will want to test downfield.
4. Reggie Wayne:
Injuries in the secondary forced the Texans to move safety Von Hutchins back to cornerback, the position in played in college and for Indianapolis sparingly a few years back. Von had some solid performances in Indianapolis, mainly as the slot corner, but could never seem to stay healthy.
Oddly enough, this season, he seems to be one of the few Texan defensive backs who can stay healthy. The move back to corner has not always been easy for Hutchins. He's had plenty of ups and downs. He struggled mightily a few weeks back manning Braylon Edwards and against Tennessee in early December Hutchins bit on a short route that ended up going for a long touchdown.
Expect to see Manning and Wayne test their former teammate early and often. They'll probably try some underneath and short stuff early on, in hopes of getting Hutchins to start biting on the short routes and then when that happens they can hit some deep passes.
The coach is insistent that the team will treat this game like it's a normal week and that those who can play will go full-steam ahead. A month off is a long time. With the Colts having everything locked up, it's logical to think Dungy will be a little quicker with the substitution button than usual.
I'd imagine Kenton Keith will see more carries than he has of late. Dungy has admitted some of his younger players need more time on the field and injuries to the defensive line and offensive line make wholesale substitutions difficult.