INDIANAPOLIS — A Colts team coming off of two heavyweight bouts against Buffalo and Tampa Bay faces a different kind of test on Sunday.
Indianapolis travels to Houston to take on a woeful Texans team at 1 p.m. in NRG Stadium in a game that remains critical to the Colts for AFC playoff purposes. The Colts (6-6) blew out Houston 31-3 in the first meeting between the two teams, and the Texans have traded away some of their best players since that game.
But Indianapolis still needs to take care of business against the Texans (2-9), who knocked off the AFC South-leading Tennessee Titans just two weeks ago.
Expect to see more of Jonathan Taylor this week
1. Houston’s run defense is nothing like Tampa Bay’s. Jonathan Taylor ripped off 145 yards and two touchdowns in the first matchup, and that fits the profile of the Texans defense. Houston has given up 135.6 rushing yards per game and 4.5 yards per carry, ranking 31st and 24th, respectively, in the NFL. Houston has also given up more than 100 rushing yards in every game so far this season, except two: the season-opening win over Jacksonville and Miami’s 31st-ranked rushing offense.
2. If there’s been a surprising development in Taylor’s game over the past three weeks, it’s that he’s had trouble picking up yardage in the passing game outside of his touchdown catch against Buffalo. Taylor averaged more than 12 yards per reception through the first nine games, and he’s still getting the ball in the passing game, but he has just 43 yards on 13 catches in the past three weeks.
T.Y. Hilton still owns NRG Stadium
3. Any time the Colts go to Houston, T.Y. Hilton has to be on the watch list. Hilton has famously killed the Texans, racking up 1,061 yards and eight touchdowns in NRG Stadium. The veteran wide receiver has missed seven games this season and struggled to get going, but Hilton is coming off a four-catch, 28-yard performance that included a couple of big catches in the red zone against the Buccaneers.
4. The first time these two teams played, the Indianapolis passing game torched the Houston secondary with big throws: a 51-yard touchdown to Pascal, 52 to Hilton, 28 to Mo Alie-Cox. The Texans typically play a shell with two safeties high, but the Colts felt they could create big plays against Houston’s secondary, and Carson Wentz was able to push the ball down the field.
5. Keep an eye on Ashton Dulin, who is coming off of a 62-yard touchdown catch. Offensive coordinator Marcus Brady said earlier this week that the Colts would like to get Dulin more involved.
6. Houston’s pass defense isn’t much better than its run defense, but the Texans can rush the passer, and because of that, Houston has a knack for intercepting passes. Houston has racked up 25 sacks, led by edge rusher Jonathan Greenard with eight, and the Texans have 14 interceptions, led by three from cornerback Lonnie Johnson. Houston has also gotten four sacks from edge rusher Jacob Martin.
7. The Texans quarterback will be different this time around. Indianapolis saw rookie quarterback Davis Mills the first time , and veteran Tyrod Taylor is now fully healthy and back in the starting role. Taylor has struggled since returning, taking five sacks twice in three games and tossing four interceptions.
8. For years, Indianapolis has talked about creating 40 turnovers, a magical mark that hasn’t been reached by any NFL team since 2012, and for the first time, the Colts have a real shot. Indianapolis now has 27 takeaways with five games to go, and although they’d need to average 2.6 turnovers per game to get to the mark, that’s not far off of their current 2.25 turnovers per game. Houston has turned it over 18 times, tied for 25th in the NFL, and the Texans have tossed 12 interceptions. Darius Leonard and Kenny Moore have to be licking their chops.
9. With Mark Ingram now on the Saints and Phillip Lindsay in Miami, the Texans running game doesn’t have any of the punch that helped produce 124 rushing yards in the first meeting between the two teams, one of just two games in which Houston rushed for more than 100 yards this season — by comparison, Jonathan Taylor has rushed for more than 100 yards six times. Houston ranks dead last in the NFL in both rushing yards per game (78.3) and yards per carry (3.2).
The Houston Texans have the NFL's worst offense
10. Put simply, Houston’s offense is the NFL’s worst. The Texans are dead last in points, total yards and yards per play. Houston has had five games this season when it has finished with fewer than 4.0 yards per play, a horrific number considering that 4.0 yards would be average for a running game alone.
11. If there’s one player on the Texans offense the Colts must worry about, it’s wide receiver Brandin Cooks, who has 62 catches for 704 yards and three touchdowns this season. Cooks missed two days of practice this week with a non-COVID-related illness, but he did have nine catches for 89 yards against Indianapolis the first time. The rising young Colts cornerback tandem of Rock Ya-Sin and Isaiah Rodgers will have its hands full with Cooks’ speed down the field.
12. Nyheim Hines has now muffed two punts this season, and the Colts' average of 7.4 yards per return is tied for just 22nd in the NFL. Hines has had success as the Indianapolis punt returner in the past, but it's been far too shaky this season.
13. Houston's coverage units have been good, ranking fifth against punts and 13th against kicks, but the Colts would be wise to keep letting the electric Rodgers take some chances in the kick return game.
This article originally appeared on Indianapolis Star: Colts vs. Texans: 13 things to watch