Kenny Moore II, Colts’ D set the tone from start to finish; dominate Texans

Indianapolis Colts

Indianapolis Colts cornerback Kenny Moore II (23) celebrates his interception against the Houston Texans during an NFL football game, Sunday, Dec. 5, 2021, in Houston. (AP Photo/Eric Christian Smith)

INDIANAPOLIS – Defensively, it was as good as it gets, from exhilarating start to suffocating finish.

From Kenny Moore II’s interception of Tyrod Taylor on the Houston Texans’ first offensive play 5 seconds into Sunday’s game.

To Kemoko Turay’s fourth-down sack of backup Davis Mills on the Texans’ final pathetic snap three hours later.

In between, there was a ton of Jonathan Taylor (32 carries, 143 yards, two touchdowns) and just enough of Carson Wentz (158 yards, a touchdown to Ashton Dulin), but let’s not kid ourselves, this was a defensive masterpiece, even if it came at the expense of the NFL’s most feeble bunch.

Indianapolis Colts 31, Texans 0.

And it wasn’t that close.

Listen to Frank Reich.

“Dominant defensive performance.’’

And.

“The defense was unreal.’’

And.

“That’s an epic defensive performance really start to finish.’’

Let us count the ways:

Exhibit A: the Texans ran just seven plays in Colts’ territory, the first with 49 seconds remaining in the third quarter. They netted 1 total yard.

Exhibit B: the defense allowed just 141 total yards, the 6th-fewest in the Indy era and the fewest since week 7 of 2014 (135 in a 27-0 drubbing of Cincinnati). The Texans averaged just 2.8 yards per snap.

Exhibit C: the shutout was the Colts’ first since week 15 of 2018 (23-0 versus Dallas). More impressive, it was their first road shutout since blanking New England 6-0 in 1992, before the vast majority of the current defensive roster was even born.

Exhibit D: the shutout was just the sixth in the NFL this season.

“Good work. Good work,’’ Moore said.

He was the catalyst with takeaways on the Texans’ first two possessions. His week-long preparation included how Houston liked to use sprint-outs by its quarterbacks. So when Taylor followed that script on the first play of the game, Moore pounced. He sliced in front of Davion Davis for his team-leading fourth interception.

“He just wanted a cheap one with the receiver,’’ Moore said with a smirk.

On the Texans’ ensuing series, Moore forced a fumble by tight end Pharaoh Brown.

“Coming into the game we wanted to jump out pretty fast and from there we just wanted to build momentum for the offense,’’ he said.

The Texans managed 30 yards on eight plays in the first quarter and had more turnovers (two) than first downs (one). They had 48 yards at halftime.

It never got better.

That was the master plan as All-Pro linebacker Darius Leonard took the NRG Stadium field.

Dominate.

Keep the pressure on.

The memory of the defense failing to finish strong in last Sunday’s loss to Tampa Bay lingered.

Shutting down – shutting out – the Texans, Leonard said, “feels amazing, especially after the performance last week, not finishing the game. It was good to just come out and dominate and go into the bye week with a dominant performance.

“Before we even went out there, I said ‘If we don’t shut these guys out, we didn’t do good enough.’ The second quarter came, third quarter, fourth quarter, and every time I ran out there I said, ‘Let’s keep it going. Don’t back off. Let’s keep pressuring them and let’s protect the goose egg.’’’

Team-wide motivation apparently came from the most senior member: T.Y. Hilton.

The Colts had seen their three-game winning streak snapped by the Buccaneers and their record level off at 6-6. Next up: the 2-9 Texans.

Indy entered the game favored by 10½ points, and couldn’t afford a slipup considering the jumbled nature of the AFC’s playoff picture.

Hilton wanted no part of a possible “trap game.” He addressed the team following its Saturday morning walkthrough.

“T.Y. said it best on Saturday: ‘Good teams play down to the level of their competition, but great teams dominate the whole game,’’’ Leonard said. “We wanted to come out and just completely dominate and Kenny Moore came out and just played amazing.

“I don’t think he’s getting enough credit right now. He played balls out. He’s the one that set the tone.’’

Added Reich: “I think Kenny Moore is a Pro Bowl player, I really do. I just think he’s a difference-maker. We think he’s the best nickel in the league.’’

The defense didn’t allow a first down on six of 11 possessions and limited Houston to 3-of-15 on third- and fourth-down conversions. It had the two Moore takeaways and four sacks of Taylor and Mills. Kemoko Turay and Al-Quadin Muhammad had 2 each.

That dominant performance allowed the offense to work through a slow start and enabled Reich to stick with his run game.

The Colts led 14-0 at the half, but it should have been a comfier cushion considering the favorable field position they usually enjoyed. They used the short field following Moore’s interception (at the 29-yard line) to drive for Taylor’s 1-yard run, came up empty following Moore’s force fumble (Michael Badgley was wide left with a 35-yard field-goal attempt) and finished the first half with an efficient 11-play, 54-yard drive that ended with Wentz’s 2-yard TD to Ashton Dulin.

By the game’s end, the Wentz-led offense consisted of 22 passes and 48 rushes. With Taylor leading the way, the Colts amassed 238 yards on the ground, the third time this season they’ve eclipsed the 200-yard barrier.

“You can be more patient with the run game when the defense is playing like that and I think we just wore them down,’’ Reich said.

Wentz described the shutout as “incredible,’’ and enjoyed how it allowed the offense to operate.

“They came out swinging and they dominated the whole day,’’ he said, “and that makes life a lot easier on the other side.’’

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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