Big-play attack leads to Colts’ big win over Houston

Indianapolis Colts
Texans Colts

Indianapolis Colts’ Parris Campbell (1) makes a touchdown catch against Houston Texans’ Terrence Brooks (8) during the first half of an NFL football game, Sunday, Oct. 17, 2021, in Indianapolis. (AP Photo/AJ Mast)

INDIANAPOLIS — He walked into the locker room at halftime Sunday afternoon, scanned the stat sheet and winced.

The Indianapolis Colts led Houston 10-3 at Lucas Oil Stadium, but had rushed for 18 yards on eight attempts, including Carson Wentz’s half-ending kneel-down. Feature back Jonathan Taylor had 6 yards on two carries.

Reich’s knee-jerk reaction?

That’s terrible.

Then, he  reconsidered.

“We only had four possessions,’’ Reich said. “We hit some chunk pass plays.

“You say, ‘What do you want? Do you want to grind it out in the run game or hit chunk plays?’ I want to hit chunk plays.’’

Done. The result: Colts 31, Houston 3. It enabled Indy to move to 2-4 heading into next Sunday night’s road test against the San Francisco 49ers.

With Carson Wentz regaining his mobility after suffering a badly sprained right ankle in week 2 against the Los Angeles Rams, the Colts’ offense is complementing the Taylor-led run game with an explosive passing game.

In last Monday’s overtime loss at Baltimore, Wentz passed for a career-best 402 yards and averaged 11.48 yards per attempt. He completed seven passes that covered at least 20 yards, including Taylor’s 76-yard TD on a screen and a 42-yard TD to Michael Pittman Jr.

Sunday, there were three more: a 52-yarder to T.Y. Hilton, a 51-yard TD to Parris Campbell and a 28-yard TD to Mo Alie Cox. There were four other completions that gained at least 12 yards.

In the past two games, Wentz has completed 36-of-55 passes (65%) for 625 yards (11.4 yards per attempt), four TDs and a 128.2 rating.

“This is the guy I knew in Philadelphia,’’ Reich said. “He can be a big-play machine. What I’ve been more impressed with – I know he can make those plays – but I like the way he’s taking care of the football.’’

Wentz has nine TDs and just one interception. He’s completing 64.2% of his passes and averaging 8 yards per attempt and 12.5 yards per completion.

 “Carson has been really good,’’ Reich said.

Wentz and the coaching staff were optimistic Houston’s defense would be conducive to yielding chunk plays.

“I mean respect the heck out of them,’’ Wentz said, “but thought there were some chances to use our speed and get guys running on those safeties and try to create some big plays and were able to do that a couple of times.’’

Handling the deep safeties would be key, Hilton said.

“Yeah, we talked about it last night. We talked about it again this morning,’’ he said. “That I take care of my safety and he takes care of the other safety.

“Just a couple of plays that we talked about, and he was able to hit me.’’

The big-play nature of Sunday’s offense had Wentz apologizing to the defense. It contributed to the Colts running just 48 plays (Houston had 74) and the Texans dominating time of possession (34:33 to 25:27).

“At one point I came off (and said) to the defense, ‘Hey, sorry we’re getting off the field too quick,’’’ he said.

Big-play run game, too

It’s not as if Taylor had an uneventful first half. He was limited to just three touches – two rushes for 6 yards, one catch for 13 yards – but spent his time in pass protection.  Wentz finished the first two quarters 9-of-15 for 185 yards and a 51-yard TD to Campbell.

“We were calling a lot of shots so my mind was, ‘Hey, I’ve got to make sure I keep QB1 safe and clean,’’’ Taylor said. “I knew the deep shots we’re calling (and) we’ve got the playmakers to make them down field.

“I knew in the second half we were going to get the run game going and that I would need to be mentally ready, physically ready when I did have my number called.’’

Taylor had 7 yards on his first four attempts. Then, Boom!

On his second handoff of the third quarter, Taylor swept around left end, got a nice block from wideout Zach Pascal and outran the Texans for a 83-yard gain. It was the longest run in franchise history.

“That’s what playmakers do,’’ Reich said.

Taylor finished with 145 yards on just 14 carries. He had TD runs of 4 and 11 yards. It was his second 100-yard game of the season and fifth in his brief two-year career.

But it was the 83-yarder that dominated the post-game conversation.

“He is a beast back there,’’ Wentz said. “He is so good between the tackles, but when he gets out on the second level, he is so fast.

“I came over to the sidelines and (said), ‘That dude is fast-fast. Like he is a different speed and I know he is a problem for defenses.’’

Taylor’s 83-yard run was his second long-distance play in seven days. He took a screen pass 76 yards against the Ravens.

Bounce-back from defense

Less than a week after yielding 523 yards and four straight second-half touchdowns to the Ravens in an epic overtime collapse by the Colts, the defense made amends.

“We responded well,’’ said linebacker Bobby Okereke, who led the team with 14 tackles. “We try to stay with that 1-0 mentality. You can’t really think about the past too much, especially with a big division game.

“We just wanted to set the tone.’’

The Texans finished with 353 total yards, 19 first downs and converted 9-of-17 third-down situations. But unlike in previous games, the Colts defense made the plays when they needed to be made.

It came up with interceptions from linebacker Darius Leonard and cornerback Isaiah Rodgers, and Leonard forced a fumble by David Johnson with his patented punch-out strike. Tackle DeForest Buckner and safety Khari Willis had 1 sack each.

Leonard’s interception was his second of the season and ninth of his career. The latter is the most by a linebacker since Leonard entered the NFL in 2018.

The Colts have had a takeaway in seven consecutive games, the third-longest active streak in the NFL.

Medical update

It remains to be seen how costly the win over the Texans will be.

Hilton insisted his quad injury wasn’t serious, but Campbell exited the game with a foot injury and cornerback Rock Ya-Sin didn’t return after sustaining a foot/ankle injury in the third quarter. Also, defensive back Jordan Lucas didn’t return because of a knee injury.

This and that

Placekicker Michael Badgley did his job without a hitch while filling in for injured Rodrigo Blankeship. In fact, he singlehandedly outscored the Texans 7-3 by converting a 41-yard field goal and four PATs.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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