INDIANAPOLIS – Introductions won’t be necessary.
They aren’t necessary in normal circumstances since we’re talking about division rivals that meet twice a season, but Sunday’s get together at Lucas Oil Stadium comes two weeks after their most recent meeting.
It’s Indianapolis Colts vs. Houston Texans, round 2.
And so much is riding on the Colts’ ability to come up with one of those difficult seasonal sweeps.
They enter Sunday with a 9-4 record and No. 6 seed in the congested AFC playoff picture. This is no time for a misstep, not with so much hanging in the balance. An AFC South title remains within reach, but failing that, the Colts must deal with a wild-card mishmash that includes the Cleveland Browns, Miami Dolphins, Baltimore Ravens and Las Vegas Raiders.
The Texans? They’re 4-9 and out of the postseason hunt but would like nothing more than to atone for letting the one against the Colts 11 days ago literally slip through their fingers and dealing a serious blow to Indy’s playoff push.
However, sweeping the Texans – sweeping any team – is difficult. And don’t take our word for it. Consider:
Since the AFC South was formed in 2002, the Colts have had 55 sweep opportunities against Houston, Tennessee and Jacksonville. They’re batting just shy of .500 with 27 sweeps. And 16 of those occurred from 2002-10, with Peyton Manning under center. From 2011 to present, they’re 11-of-28 (.393) on sweep opportunities.
The Colts have posted the most divisional sweeps at the expense of the Titans (11), but the Texans are right behind (10). But after dominating the series with Houston – nine straight victories starting in ’02, and 15 of the first 16 – the Texans have been a tough out. Indy last swept the series in ’17 with Jacoby Brissett at QB1.
The Colts took their first step toward sweeping the Titans Nov. 12 in Nashville with a 34-17 win, then were overwhelmed 45-26 in their Nov. 29 rematch in Indy.
Another sweep of the Texans is possible after the Colts escaped with a 26-20 win in Houston Dec. 6. But let’s not forget how that ended – with the Texans facing a second-and-goal at the Indy 2 with 1 minute, 28 seconds remaining, only to have Deshaun Watson mishandle a shotgun snap and Anthony Walker cover it.
So much goes into completing a sweep, or preventing one.
“Players are tough-minded,’’ coach Frank Reich said. “The players in this league – and it’s on both sides – you get beat and that doesn’t taste good or feel good, so players typically bow up and want to respond.
“But for us as a team, we have to learn how to be able to beat a team twice because that is equally as tough.’’
Since Reich took over in 2018, his Colts are just 1-for-7 in sweep opportunities. They took the home-and-home series with the Titans in ’18.
As important as it is to be dialed in from an X’s and O’s standpoint against an opponent that’s familiar with your tendencies, strengths and weaknesses, players must maintain the proper mental approach, according to Reich.
“Not just when you get beat when you have to bow up, but you have to have the mental toughness to be able to come in to a second meeting with the same tenacity,’’ he said. “Obviously in this game it should be easy because we have a lot of respect for the Texans, number one, and number two, the game that we just played was obviously a very tight game.’’
There were a lot of positives from the first meeting.
Offensively, Philip Rivers passed for 285 yards and two touchdowns, T.Y. Hilton posted his first 100-yard receiving game (110 yards and one TD on eight receptions) in nearly two years and rookie Jonathan Taylor rushed for 91 yards.
Defensively, the Colts matched a season high with 5 sacks – Justin Houston accounted for 3, one of which resulted in a safety – while Kenny Moore II wrestled an interception away from Brandin Cooks, and Walker covered the game-sealing fumble.
The idea in round 2, insisted Darius Leonard, is for the Colts to continue to do what got them to 9-4, only do it better. There shouldn’t be any surprises from either sideline.
“You know exactly what they are going to run,’’ Leonard said. “You know what you played against them, so you know what works and what doesn’t work.
“Now, it’s just how can we be better? They know exactly what you’re going to do, and we know what they are going to do.’’
Speaking of seasonal sweeps, Rivers has had a hand in more than a few. During his 14 seasons as a starter with the Chargers, he led them to 15 sweeps in 42 opportunties against AFC West rivals Oakland, Denver and Kansas City.
Rivers, though, is facing a quick turnaround – playing the same team twice in a three-game stretch – for just the third time. In 2016, his Chargers won the first meeting with Denver but shortly thereafter lost the rematch. This season, the Colts won in Nashville and lost the next meeting with the Titans in Indy.
“You make tweaks here and there,’’ Rivers said. “I’m sure (the Texans) will as well.
“But I think the challenge is to not let that change anything you do preparation-wise. Still go through the third downs like you always do, still do the red zone. Don’t do anything different and go, ‘Well, we just played these guys. We know them. We remember.’’’
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.