The Indianapolis Colts exploited several of the Texans’ weak spots to beat them 24-21 on Sunday at NRG Stadium.
The Texans came into the game with a nine-game winning streak, while the Colts had won five of their last six games. The Texans dominated the Colts in the first quarter, not letting them gain a first down and holding them to just 31 total yards. The Colts had four series in the first quarter and they went three-and-out each time. Meanwhile the Texans had a 10-play, 82-yard scoring drive that consumed 12:34 of the clock. Alfred Blue scored on a 3-yard run, assisted by the entire offensive line as they moved the scrum into the end zone. The Texans led 7-0 but after that it was all Colts.
In the second quarter the Colts went into a hurry-up offense which seemed to catch the Texans off-guard. The Colts scored two touchdowns, the first on a Marlon Mack 4-yard run, and the second on a 14-yard pass from Andrew Luck to Eric Ebron. Adam Vinatieri added a 54-yard field goal as time expired in the half to make the score 17-7.
In the third quarter, Lamar Miller scored on a 1-yard run to bring the Texans’ closer at 17-14. But Zach Pascal caught a 12-yard pass from Luck to give the Colts a 24-17 edge at the end of the third quarter.
The Texans scored on a 7-yard pass from Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins with 2:37 to go in the game to come within three at 24-21. With the crowd sensing a comeback win, the defense forced a third down and one at the 48-yard line with two minutes to go. But Luck used a hard count to entice Jadeveon Clowney to jump offsides and the game was over.
The Texans missed an opportunity to move up in the playoff rankings as the Patriots lost to the Dolphins. Both the Patriots and Texans have 9-4 records, but the Patriots hold the tiebreaker over the Texans.
Despite being the hottest team in the league with a nine-game winning streak, the Colts discovered the Texans’ Achilles heel, actually heels, and the streak was over.
First, the Colts shut down the Texans’ running game, which had been their mainstay during the winning streak. Coming into the game, the Texans were averaging 140 rushing yards per game, third best in the league, but the Colts allowed them just 89 rushing yards. The Colts overwhelmed the Texans’ offensive line by stacking six defenders against them for most of the game. Contributing to the problem was the absence of Zach Fulton, one of the Texans’ best run blockers, who did not play due to an injury.
“We were never able to get into a rhythm. Our first down offense was terrible, I mean, it was awful. We lost yards on first down, I mean, probably between eight to 10 times today. It was awful. You’re losing two, second-and-12, we lost four one time, ran an outside zone, lost four yards. We were second-and-14. When those things happen, it’s really just the whole unit, starting with me, making sure that I do a better job this week with them,” Texans Head Coach Bill O’Brien said.
Second, with the run stopped, the Texans went to the air, but they were limited to mostly short yardage passes. The primary reason was that the Texans are short on fast receivers who can open up the field, and slot receivers who can find the open spots when the field has opened up. The speedy Will Fuller was injured earlier in the season and slot receiver Keke Coutee has missed the last couple of games. On Sunday, wide receiver DeAndre Carter was forced out of the game with a concussion, leaving the Texans with just three available wide receivers, forcing them to play third string quarterback Joe Webb III as a receiver. With the secondary shutting down the receivers, Watson held on to the ball too long and was sacked five times.
“Having a balance, establishing the run game, slows down the defensive line, slows down the secondary coming up in the run, kind of opens up the pass game. If you don’t establish the run game, get the other team’s defensive line going, they get momentum, juice and confidence. The secondary can play a little bit tighter, because they feel like their defensive line is geared up. I mean, we’ll watch the film and correct those, move on from it,” Watson said.
And finally, the Colts’ T.Y Hilton ran free in the Texans’ secondary, catching nine passes for 199 yards.
“Yeah, I think throughout the week we noticed some things where we thought we could take advantage of T.Y.’s speed and his maneuverability. T.Y. does some things very special. He does some things that not many other people can do. So we saw I think some opportunities through film that we thought we could take advantage of. Once we got that first one, it was like OK, yeah here we go, let’s get it. When T.Y.’s in the zone, he’s in the zone, man. It’s fun to play with him,” Luck said.
For the game, Luck completed 27 of 41 passes for 399 yards and two touchdowns.
“Today we did not combine the coverage and rush like we have been doing in previous games. If we’re not covering well, the rush isn’t getting home, maybe one is happening, something else isn’t happening, we’re going to have a hard time. We’ve got to get back to that. We’ve got to get back to doing a better job of coaching that, executing it on the field,” O’Brien said.
To advance in the playoffs, the Texans will need to improve greatly in those areas.
“We’re just going to watch the film, correct that, get ready for the New York Jets, keep moving. We have three more opportunities this regular season, Jets, Philly and Jacksonville. Try to flip the script next week and get back on the win column,” Watson said.
The Texans visit the New York Jets on Saturday.