Colts at Texans: What to watch for Sunday

Indianapolis Colts

FILE IMAGE (AP Photo/Michael Conroy)

INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Houston Texans in NRG Stadium.

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

History lesson: Thus far, it’s been a Feast on the Least season. The Colts find themselves at 6-6 and as the No. 10 seed in the AFC playoff picture because they’ve whipped up on teams with losing records and found ways to lose against teams with winning records. Of course, you know that.

To their credit, the Colts largely have taken care of business against inferior opposition. They’re 5-1 against teams with a losing record and have won five straight since the season-opening loss to Seattle. During that five-game stretch, they’ve only trailed for a total of 48 minutes, 19 seconds, and that came against Miami and San Francisco. They haven’t trailed in the two games against the Jets and Jacksonville.

That certainly bodes well for Sunday. Houston is 2-9 and coming off a 21-14 loss at home to the Jets, who were 2-8. And let’s not forget the Colts dominated the Texans 31-3 in week 6 in Indy. They’ve won three straight and eight of the last 10 in the series.

But something’s got to change if the Colts are going to earn a playoff spot for a second straight season and the third time in five seasons under Frank Reich. Before closing the season at 2-9 Jacksonville, they must deal with 8-4 New England, the 6-5 Las Vegas Raiders and 9-2 Arizona.

“There’s no great teams or bad teams in the NFL,’’ insisted defensive tackle DeForest Buckner. “Everybody’s close.’’

The Texans, he added, are “a really good team. Shoot, they beat the Titans a couple of weeks ago. So it’s a game that we all need to be up for. We can’t look past it.

“We know we have the bye week next week, but . . . we have to get through the Texans to get to the playoffs.’’

Listen to Q: Quenton Nelson’s in-game discussion with Reich – “Can we get a straight run call?’’ – caught everyone’s eye on the latest episode of HBO’s “Hard Knocks.’’ Although the return of the run game in the fourth quarter couldn’t prevent a loss to Tampa Bay, it probably isn’t a bad idea for Nelson’s voice to resonate against the Texans.

Among Houston’s many, many, many issues is a defense that ranks 31st in rushing yards allowed per game (135.6) and 24th in yards per attempt (4.5). The Texans have given up at least 156 yards six times, including 174 to the Colts in week 6. That day, Jonathan Taylor piled up 145 yards and two TDs on just 14 attempts. One was a franchise-record 83-yard gain.

It’s worth noting that despite Houston’s leaky run defense, Taylor is the only back who’s cracked 100 yards against it.

Reich is all about offensive diversity and taking what the defense gives him, and the Texans have given a lot during their dismal season. Their defense ranks 31st in yards per game (378.1) and 32nd in points (26.5). But it also has generated 25 sacks and 20 takeaways. The Texans came up with five takeaways against Miami and Tennessee.

Carson Wentz is going to have to make some plays in the passing game. But this is one of those games where it’s probably wise not to over-think things.

Give Taylor – remember, he leads the league in rushing and yards from scrimmage – and Nyheim Hines a heavy workload, win the game and head into the bye week.

Hey, T.Y., it’s Houston week: We’re way past the point where T.Y. Hilton exploiting the Texans is a novelty. It’s routine. He’s amassed eight of his 34 career 100-yard games against Houston – including a career-high 223 in 2014 – and piled up 1,798 yards in 19 regular-season meetings. The latter figure, by the way, is the most yards any opposing player has against Houston.

And then there’s this. Hilton’s 10th season has been shortened to five games and 21 targets by neck surgery, a quad injury and a concussion. His most productive game? Yep, week 6 against Houston with four catches and 80 yards on four targets.

“Just taking what they give me,’’ Hilton said. “If they give me the big shots, we take them. If not, then we live to play the next day. So, it’s nothing they did and nothing I did different. Just what happens.’’

Day for the D?: The NFL’s weekly stat package ranks teams in 17 categories. Offensively, the Texans are 32nd – that’s dead last – in six and 31st in another. Among the bottom-feeding stats: 32nd in yards per play (4.5). For context, consider Jacksonville ranks 31st at 5.3 yards per play.

More context: in six of 11 games, Houston has averaged 4.1 yards per play.

Yikes.

The Texans’ franchise QB (Deshaun Watson) is the active roster but unavailable because of off-field issues, their leading rusher (Mark Ingram) is in New Orleans following an October trade and their leading receiver (Brandin Cooks) was limited in practice Friday after battling an illness early in the week. Also, starting center Josh McCray is out with a concussion and wideout Danny Amendola out with a knee injury.

Trust us, Reich and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus have warned the players about not overlooking the Texans. It’s doubtful they’ve spent much time poring over the week 6 blowout. Ingram was Houston’s leading rusher (73 on 18 carries) and rookie QB Davis Mills passed for 273 yards with no touchdowns and two interceptions.

For the rematch, Mills has been replaced by veteran Tyrod Taylor, whose mobility (136 yards and three TDs on 16 attempts) adds a wild-card dimension to Houston’s offense. And the Colts have had issues with mobile QBs.

Also of note: Houston’s only two wins have come with Taylor under center.

After dealing with a pair of offensive powerhouses in Buffalo and Tampa Bay, this is one of those games the Indy defense needs to step up and exert itself from start to finish.

And the winner is: Colts 34, Texans 13. Again, let’s not over-think this. Taylor pads his lead-leaguing rushing total with a seventh 100-yard outing in the last 10 games. Wentz tosses a couple of TDs, one to T.Y., of course. And the defense adds to its NFL-leading 27 takeaways. Nothing too fancy. Just win and enjoy the flight home.

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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