3TFO: Texans @ Colts, Week 17
Their once inevitable first round bye comes down to the last game of the season as they look to fend off the Indianapolis Colts for the second time in three weeks. Houston is coming off a surprising 23-6 loss at the hands of the Minnesota Vikings, while the Denver Broncos and New England Patriots have remained in striking distance for the top seed in the AFC.
Ironically, while Houston is still looking to solidify their position at the top, their division rival Colts are locked into the No. 5 seed regardless of this week’s outcome. Perhaps even more important for them, and everyone around the league, is the return of Head Coach Chuck Pagano who has battled leukemia for the majority of the season. His inspirational story is sure to bring some added emotion to the matchup regardless of what’s at stake. With a road playoff game looming next week, it remains to be seen whether or not Indianapolis chooses to rest its starters at some point in this game.
Houston needs a win and Pagano makes his return, setting this up to be an exciting Week 17 matchup. Let’s take a look at three key battles to watch out for.
Matt Schaub vs. Colts Defensive Backs
Although quarterback Matt Schaub has graded at +16.2 on the season (12th in the league), most of his success came in the first half of the year when he graded at +17.0 through his first eight games, but -0.8 since that point. He’s at his best when working off play action in Houston’s scheme where his 112.5 QB Rating ranks fifth in the league on such throws. Of Schaub’s 533 dropbacks, 26 percent come off play action, good for sixth in the league. For him to regain his first half form, the play action passing game has to create big plays as the Texans head toward the playoffs.
On the other side, the Colts’ defense has struggled all season, including inconsistent play in the secondary. Cornerback Vontae Davis ranks 98th out of 115 qualifiers with 1.61 Yards Per Cover Snap while CB Cassius Vaughn ranks 106th at 1.67. Vaughn’s -11.3 grade ranks third worst among all cornerbacks. Safety Antoine Bethea will be challenged by Houston’s play action game and he’ll need to tackle better as he’s missing one every 8.7 attempts.
Andrew Luck vs. Texans Pass Defense
It’s been a year for the ages for rookie quarterbacks, though Andrew Luck has had to take a backseat to outstanding performances from Robert Griffin III and Russell Wilson. Luck has shown great potential in his first year, but in addition to playing in a challenging system in Indianapolis, he’s also made his fair share of rookie blunders. Still, he’s the key cog in the Colts system and a huge reason why they’re locked into the playoffs with a week to go. Keep an eye on his decision making and his ability to get the ball down the field. His 100 deep pass attempts are tops in the league though his accuracy percentage on such throws ranks 14th at 42.9 percent. Also, 16.7 percent of Luck’s passes have been beyond 20 yards, so expect the Colts to stick with their season-long game plan of challenging defenses down the field.
For Houston, much of their second half “slide” has come from injuries and inconsistent play in their back seven. They lost linebacker Brian Cushing early in the season leaving a gaping hole in the middle while top cornerback Johnathan Joseph has battled through injuries all season. Joseph generally tracks the top wide receiver on the other side and he ranks 82nd in Yards Per Cover Snap at 1.35. On the other side, CB Kareem Jackson has had a solid season as the No. 2 CB grading at +12.4 overall with 0.99 Yards Per Cover Snap (21st in the league). If the Texans want to lock up the top seed and eventually make some noise come playoff time, Joseph and Jackson will be two of their most important players as they lock up against the top passing offenses of the AFC.
Right Side of Texans Offensive Line
As playoff time approaches, team weaknesses are generally exposed on the big stage and the Texans have to be concerned about the right side of their offensive line. Right guard Ben Jones has seen the majority of the snaps at the position, though fellow rookie Brandon Brooks has spelled him at times and looked more impressive (+3.5 overall). Jones has been a liability in pass protection as he ranks 66th out of 72 guards with a Pass Blocking Efficiency of 94.9. At right tackle, Derek Newton has been unable to replace the departed Eric Winston, grading at -12.6 on the season. The development of Jones, Brooks, and Newton will be another key storyline for Houston.
Indianapolis moves their defensive linemen around but keep an eye on defensive end Cory Redding on the inside. He’s bounced back from a disastrous first game of the season as a run defender and has played quite well in that area the last two weeks. He graded at +2.5 against the Texans in their last matchup. Outside linebacker Robert Mathis has generally maintained his pass rush ability this season in his move to 3-4 outside linebacker and his 8.8 Pass Rush Productivity ranks 14th at the position. 67 percent of his rushes come off the left side so he’ll spend the majority of his time matched up with Newton.
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