Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

With a big AFC South battle looming between the Indianapolis Colts and the Houston Texans, editor Charlie Bernstein has five questions about the Colts for his counterpart, Eric Hartz. See what Hartz had to say about the Colts' run defense, the possible decline of Peyton Manning, the Texans' banged-up secondary, and more inside.

Charlie Bernstein: The Colts played a lot of cover one two weeks ago against the Jaguars to try and stop the run, but it didn't work. Will they employ a similar strategy against a Texans team which hasn't ran the ball very well this season?

Eric Hartz: The hope is that the team's two new defensive tackles, Daniel Muir and La Juan Ramsey, have become more comfortable with the system after practicing over the bye week and will help make the front of the defense stouter. With that in mind, I think the Colts will try to force the Texans to throw to beat them. The one thing the Colts have learned is that they don't have the type of defense that's built to win close games, when teams can mix up the run and the pass. The Colts will try to get off to an early lead and want to count on the pass rush and secondary to protect it.

Peyton Manning in decline? Eric Hartz doesn't think so
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CB: Are we starting to see the potential decline of Peyton Manning, or is it just rust from missing all of training camp?

EH: If that's the case, I'm going to need more evidence than a couple of average games — two of which Manning was able to lead his team down the field for go-ahead scores under pressure in the fourth quarter. I do think these first three games were a sort of "warm-up" for Manning — his preparation is as diligent as ever, but it takes time for any player, even a future Hall of Famer like Manning, to get used to playing at NFL speed after a long period of inactivity. I think you'll start to see Manning and the Colts' offense start performing like their usual selves.

CB: The perfect antidote for a seemingly struggling passing game appears to be the Texans lack of a pass rush and struggling corners. Will the Colts try to go no-huddle and light it up via the downfield passing game?

EH: It will be interesting to see how much they go no-huddle against a Texans team — and crowd — that will be fired up for its first home game, but I do expect the Colts to try to go downfield early and often. They showed flashes of their usual brilliance against Jacksonville — the game's opening drive was vintage Colts — and with the offensive line and tight ends Dallas Clark and Jacob Tamme getting healthy, the Colts should be able to use most of their many weapons effectively on Sunday.

CB: The absence of Bob Sanders certainly played a role in the Jacksonville game as the Colts missed numerous tackles. Will Melvin Bullitt be better in his second audition as a starter?

EH: The coaching staff has stated it has confidence in Bullitt, and he was often in position to make plays against Jacksonville, but didn't deliver with the sort of authority Sanders does. For example, on Fred Taylor's long run in which he cut back against the flow of the play, Bullitt had a shot to stop Taylor in the open field. But it was Taylor that delivered the blow when they met up, and the Jags' running back turning an eight- or 10-yard run into a 27-yard gain.

Bullitt ended up with seven tackles, but the team as a whole needs to do a better job of finishing off plays. That means wrapping up, not just hoping the force of their blow will bring down a ballcarrier.

CB: Texans quarterback Matt Schaub bounced back after a tough start to the season with a fantastic game against Jacksonville last week. Schaub's success can mostly be attributed to the lack of a Jaguars pass rush. Will the Colts try to dial up some more blitzes and put more heat on Schaub?

EH: The Colts certainly don't like to blitz, in part because their Cover-2 scheme doesn't allow much room for it — if a linebacker or defensive back storms the line of scrimmage, that usually leaves an area of the field wide open. Instead, the Colts rely on their front four to bring pressure, and they have not done a bad job of it.

However, a few well-timed blitzes could pay dividends, particularly since it's something the Texans haven't seen much on film, and Schaub may not recognize where he needs to go with the ball soon enough. Will the Colts have the confidence, or chutzpah, to call a blitz on a big third down where they need a stop? I doubt it, but then again, this team hasn't been very predictable so far this season.

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