Texans at Colts: What to watch for Sunday

Sports


INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Houston Texans in Lucas Oil Stadium:

  • Kickoff: 1 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4.

History lesson

The Colts have put themselves into chaser’s mode for the rest of the season, and it’s never easy digging out of a 1-4 hole. They’ve gotten off to a 1-4 start or worse start six previous times since 1984 and only reached the playoffs once.

Of course, that’s the reason for optimism. The aberrant season occurred in 2018, Frank Reich’s first as head coach. The Colts opened 1-5 before reeling off wins in nine of 10 to earn a wild-card berth.

In those six prior bad starts, they lost at least 13 games five times.

We should know in relatively short order whether the Colts are able to regain their balance. The next five weeks figure to be pivotal in the AFC South for Indy and the 3-2 Tennessee Titans.

After dealing with the Texans (1-4), the Colts are at San Francisco (2-3) and have a three-game home stand against the Titans, New York Jets (1-4) and Jacksonville (0-5). Tennessee is home against Buffalo (4-1) Monday night and Kansas City (2-3) before its rematch with the Colts. The Titans then visit the Los Angeles Rams (4-1) and home against the New Orleans Saints (3-2).

Bounce-back from D?

There was talk of the defense being elite and piling up 40 takeaways and being an unquestioned strength. That seems like so long ago, and after not having nearly enough answers for Russell Wilson, Matthew Stafford, Ryan Tannehill and Lamar Jackson. Instead, coordinator Matt Eberflus’ group has underachieved during the first five weeks of the season and is coming off a colossal collapse in Monday’s night overtime loss at Baltimore.

The Ravens overcame a 22-3 third-quarter deficit by scoring TDs on their final four possessions – a fifth ended with Jackson’s fumble inside the 5-yard line – and piled up 523 yards. It marked the second-highest output allowed by an Eberflus-led defense since 2018, surpassed by the 542 yards amassed by Jameis Winston and Tampa Bay in ‘19.

The defense should benefit from the return of rookie defensive end Kwity Paye and cornerbacks Rock Ya-Sin and Xavier Rhodes. It also should benefit from facing a Texans offense led by rookie QB Davis Mills that ranks near the bottom in most meaningful categories: 29th in yards (282.6), 29th in yards per play (5.0), 28th in rushing (79.8), 28th in passing (202.8) and 29th in scoring (17.8).

Mills will make his fourth start in place of injured Tyrod Taylor, and it’s been a roller coaster ride. He was awful in the 40-0 loss at Buffalo (11-of-21, 87 yards, four interceptions, a 23.4 rating) but solid in last week’s loss to New England (21-of-29, 312 yards, a 141.7 rating). Mills has been sacked 11 times in his three starts, and will be without starting tackles Laremy Tunsil (thumb) and Mark Cannon (back) and center Justin Britt (knee).

If the Colts’ D isn’t able to get well against the Texans, then when?

More from offense

Carson Wentz appears to be getting past his badly sprained right ankle and is coming off the best game of his career. In the loss to the Ravens, he passed for 402 yards and two touchdowns, and the Colts finished with 513 total yards. They ran the ball effectively (123 yards, 4.7 per attempt) and Wentz completed seven passes that gained at least 20 yards.

As we’ve said so many times: do it again. Build on last week and provide momentum for what needs to be sustained productivity.

The return of T.Y. Hilton not only should provide an emotion boost but an on-field spark as well. He’s fully capable of being a big-play threat, whether it’s on an occasional post or on a catch-and-run crossing pattern.

About that run game

We’re gradually seeing the Jonathan Taylor-led ground attack pick up steam. After averaging 103 yards and 4.0 yards per attempt in the first three games, it’s bounced things to 131 yards and 4.4 per carry over the last two.

Credit Taylor’s leading role (327 yards, 9th in the NFL) and the complementary work of Nyheim Hines and Marlon Mack. The Texans have struggled against the run thus far, allowing averages of 134.8 yards per game (26th) and 4.4 yards per attempt (23rd). They’ve given up at least 156 yards on the ground twice in five games.

And the winner is

Colts 31, Texans 13. It’s obviously all 1-4 teams aren’t created equal, especially in the eyes of oddsmakers. They have the Colts a 10-point favorite.

We’re not getting into the betting game, but this is one Indy needs to go out and take control of from the outset. Get the lead, make life miserable for Davis and give the Texans no reason to believe they can pull the road upset.

Hilton told us he doesn’t believe the Colts are a bad football team. We tend to agree with him, but they’ve got to start proving it.

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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