What We Learned: Texans at Colts

It was a close victory for the Colts on Sunday and they were fortunate to escape undefeated. But what else did we learn? Brad Keller takes a look.

Matt Schaub is no Peyton Manning: Schaub has looked solid this season and has been one of the best quarterbacks in the NFL in terms of statistics in 2009, but he is lacking that fourth quarter "killer instinct" that Manning has.  It's interesting to think that Manning, who was known for years as a great stats quarterback, but a guy that couldn't get it done in the clutch, has ascended to the upper echelon of assassins in the two minute offense.

True, Schaub repeatedly rallied the Texans on offense and did not allow them to quit in the second half when they were trailing and ineffective, but he also threw a costly interception late in the fourth quarter and nearly cost Houston the game with some questionable clock management there at the end. It's possible that Kris Brown would never have had the chance to miss the game-winning field goal had the Texans — or Colts — gotten to the line a half step slower.

Houston is 2-3 in games decided by seven points or less and the Colts are 4-0 in such games.  In a game that needs to be played hard for the full 60 minutes, those last two minutes at the end of each half are of critical importance.

The Texans have closed the gap a great deal in terms of talent, coaching, strategy, and preparation, but they don't have number 18.  And that's why Houston is 5-4 and Indianapolis is 8-0.

That was simply a tremendous effort by the defense as a whole, but particularly the secondary.  With two rookie cornerbacks — Jacob Lacey and Jerraud Powers — backup safety Melvin Bullitt, and former Pro Bowler Antoine Bethea, the Colts held the Texans to 17 points and intercepted Schaub twice.

It's true that they allowed Schaub to improve his season average of passing yards per game — he was averaging 292 yards per game coming into Week 9 and threw for 311 yards on Sunday.  It's true that Schaub averaged 7.23 yards per attempt, which is much higher than the per attempt average that the Colts have allowed for the season (5.8), but it is also much lower than the per attempt average that Schaub has for the season (8.1).  It's true that they gave up yet another touchdown pass, their second two weeks.  It's true that Marlin Jackson and Bob Sanders hadn't played much this season anyway, so it wasn't as though a dropoff in production was expected.  It was more like not much was expected from the rookies.

Well, they exceeded expectations and held a very potent Texans offense to 17 points and held them pretty much at bay in the second half of the fourth quarter.  Lacey and Powers had their lapses in concentration — how Jacoby Jones got that far behind Lacey is still a mystery — and Andre Johnson certainly had stretches where he completely outclassed Powers, but it was an amazing performance on the whole.

Still, you have to wonder about the ceilings on these guys: The natural progression from the previous point would be to say that Powers, Lacey, and Bullitt all played well and will only get better once they have some more experience.  But, none of them is a special athlete and all of them have pretty much maxed out on how much they can learn about this particular flavor of the Cover 2 and there's only so much they can do above and beyond what they've already done and shown. 

That's not necessarily a bad thing, it's just that Colts fans shouldn't look for the light bulb to come on at any point for any of these players.  The light bulb may be about as bright as it's going to get.  It should be bright enough to keep most opponents under 17 or 20 points a game, but it occasionally may not be.  So that's something keep in mind when the high-flying Patriots roll into town in Week 10.

Half a balanced attack is not a balanced attack: Manning was able to spread the ball around to a number of different receivers and, even though Dallas Clark ended up with 16 targets, he also converted on 14 of those targets.  It's never a bad idea to throw to a guy that will get you a completion 87.5 percent of the time the ball comes his direction.

Joseph Addai, Pierre Garcon, and Reggie Wayne all had at least nine targets as Manning dropped back to pass 52 times — 50 attempts plus two sacks — and there were lots of balls to go around for everyone.

Except, that is, for Addai in the running game.  Addai had only 14 carries and the Colts only ran the ball 18 times, despite the fact that they averaged 4.0 yards per attempt, which is better than their season average.  At the risk of beating a dead horse, 52 passes versus 18 rushes is not going to be sustainable in January and February, even in a dome.  Against a Texans defense that was very vulnerable to the run in all directions, Indianapolis should consider it a lost opportunity that they chose not to run the ball against mostly nickel fronts.

The Colts nickel defense did just fine against the run: Houston had only 81 yards on 26 carries for a 3.1 yard average.  For the most part, Indianapolis was in the nickel formation as well, but they were able to fill running lanes, get to the ball carrier, and keep Steve Slaton in front of them.

The Texans did them a favor by running Moats more than Slaton — though Slaton didn't look very confident or smooth in his cuts when he did get the ball — but it was still a spectacular effort from a maligned unit that was operating at a disadvantage for most of the game without a third linebacker in the box.

It's nice to be lucky and good: Indianapolis played a strong game, no doubt, but they also caught a couple of breaks.  The obvious break was the missed field goal by Brown at the end of regulation, but a luckier — and definitely stranger — break was the sequence of events after Moats fumbled near the goal line right before the tw- minute warning in the first half.

First of all, the Colts caught a break in that the Texans decided not to rush to the line and run a play, instead letting the clock run down to two minutes, which gave Jim Caldwell and his assistants enough time to analyze the play and determine whether or not to challenge the call.

Secondly, the ball took a strange bounce in that it skipped towards the end zone instead of simply rolling out of bounds.  With the momentum of the play heading towards the sidelines, all the flailing and kicking bodies in that area, and Powers heading out of bounds as well, it's amazing that Indianapolis even had a chance at a recovery. 

It was a heads-up play by Powers as well as a great strip by Bethea.  That was the good.  The fact that the Colts even had a shot at the ball and were given the opportunity to challenge the call on the field was the lucky.  In order to get to 8-0, you need a little bit of both.

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