Marvin Harrison's role in the offense is starting to fade and Gonzalez proved last year that he is capable of handling an expanded role. The game against Houston is his chance to prove it further.
Gonzalez needs to show that he can go over the middle and take the big hit, as well as gain yards after the catch when the opportunity presents itself. As the game wears on and the Texans defense attempts to stop the bleeding, he will have his fair share of chances to burn them deep and needs to take full advantage of those chances. His blend of speed, agility, and awareness gives him the advantage over every defensive back that will be assigned to cover him.
With Reggie Wayne hobbled by an ankle injury, an even greater share of responsibility falls to Gonzalez to help the Colts move the ball through the air. He needs to take on that responsibility and deliver.
A healthy Joseph Addai will be looking to get the Colts running game back on track
AP Photo/Michael Conroy
2. Joseph Addai: The Texans struggle to stop the run. The Colts struggle to run the ball. Something has to give in this equation and, for the Indianapolis offense to continue to grow, they need to be able to move the ball on the ground.
With a healthy and stable interior offensive line and a no longer gimpy Peyton Manning, Indianapolis should be able to run the stretch and slant plays that have made them so effective over the years.
Addai is a critical component of that attack and must be able to see the crease and hit it with authority. Once he gets to the second level, he must make middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans miss and push the ball past the linebackers, gaining serious ground.
His success will open things up in the play-action passing game, catching the aggressive Texans safeties flatfooted. His failure will take that aspect of the passing game away, which will make things unnecessarily difficult for the Colts offense.
The Colts cannot afford for that to happen, facing the versatile Steve Slaton, so he must bring the same energy and focus to Sunday's game. In addition, the Texans will attack the middle of the field with receivers Kevin Walter and Andre Johnson, and especially with tight end Owen Daniels. For the Colts to be successful, Brackett needs to continue to be the same exceptional two-way defender he has been thus far.
4. Keiwan Ratliff: This young man has filled in admirably for the departed Marlin Jackson and, with Kelvin Hayden's return still in question, he needs to grow and develop in the defense against a talented and athletic receiving corps.
His ability to jam the larger Walter at the line and stay with him in the short area of the zone will be critical to the effectiveness of the rest of the defense, particularly the linebackers and Brackett.
He also may not have much assistance over the top, as Antoine Bethea has been held out of practice all week with an ankle injury. He also needs to come in strong in run support, so he is certainly not short on responsibilities.
5. Robert Mathis: The highly favorable matchup that awaits Dwight Freeney against the combination of Duane Brown and Ephraim Salaam has already been covered in explicit detail by Greg Talmage, but Mathis also holds a fairly significant advantage — especially in terms of speed and explosiveness — over Eric Winston.
Mathis played a critical role in the Week 5 victory over Houston and, with the Texans likely favoring Freeney's side of the field in light of the matchup, he will probably be left one-on-one against Winston for the bulk of the game.
The Colts pass rush has been sluggish at best and ineffective at worst so far this season, so this seems like an ideal opportunity for Mathis to have a breakout game.
He has been shut out since a three-sack effort against the Ravens in Week 6, so it is high time for Mathis to have another multi-sack game against the Texans. It would be a big step forward for Mathis, as well as the defense as a whole.