It is said that men are measured not in times of prosperity, but in periods of adversity. If true, the Indianapolis Colts (4-2), who have decided to go as a MASH unit for Halloween, will be measured in front of a national audience when they host the Houston Texans (4-2) on Monday Night Football.
The Colts, who often find themselves among the most injured teams in the NFL, have taken injury-depletion to a new level in 2010. Players out due to injury for Monday night’s game are: safeties Bob Sanders and Melvin Bullitt (season-ending injured reserve), wide receiver Austin Collie, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson, linebacker Kavell Conner, tight end Dallas Clark (season-ending injured reserve), running back Joseph Addai, and corner back Jacob Lacey.
The walking wounded could potentially be joined on the sidelines by running back Donald Brown and corner back Jerraud Powers. Fans interested in obtaining the autographs of Colts players may want to wear doctors or nurse costumes.
Making matters worse for the Colts is the current playoff picture. Entering Week 8 the Colts are eighth in the tight AFC standings which feature nine teams with .500 or better records. That, combined with the Colts’ two losses in conference and division, and you have what feels like a must-win game if the Colts hope to control their own fate come December.
The Texans, on the other hand, used the bye week for its intended purpose: getting healthy. Wide receivers Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones, who have battled nagging injuries for most of the year, are now off the injury report. Duane Brown, the latest Texans player to be caught using performance-enhancing drugs, will return from his four-game suspension. The only blemish on the Texans’ injury report is Pro Bowl line backer Demeco Ryans, who was placed on the injured reserve list due to a ruptured Achilles tendon.
On the field Monday night, the Colts will be staring at a team that looks strangely familiar as the 2010 Houston Texans have decided to dress up as previous incarnations of the Indianapolis Colts: an elite offense supported by a defense so dead it makes zombies look lively. The Texans feature the fourth best offense by conventional stats (first by advanced metrics) and pair it with the 32nd overall defense (30th). The Colts, meanwhile, have the league’s second best offense conventionally (third with advanced metrics) and the 21st “best” defense (23rd). Fans may be in for a high-scoring treat on Monday.
When the Texans have the ball look for them to start out with the same game plan that they used to finish the Colts in Week 1: Arian Foster, and a lot of him. The Texans were so effective running the ball that day that they attempted only 17 passes for the entire game. Head Coach Gary Kubiak will make the Colts prove that they can play smart, disciplined football before he decides to unleash Matt Schaub and the Texans’ vaunted passing attack.
That passing attack, which features the best wide receiver in the NFL: Andre Johnson, will use its abundance of weapons to attack the Colts defense at each level. Johnson and speedster Jacoby Jones will stretch the field, while tight end Owen Daniels and wide receiver Kevin Walter attack the intermediate routes. And when the Colts get too concerned with the tight ends and wide receivers, Schaub will be happy to throw the ball to his running backs, Derrick Ward and Foster, as both are able receivers capable of picking up good yardage after the catch.
The key for the Colts’ defense will be discipline. In the first match-up between these two teams, the Colts were run over because of their inability to maintain their gaps. Colts linebackers and safeties routinely over pursued, leaving them vulnerable to cutbacks and misdirection plays. Playing smart, disciplined football will help force the Texans into 2nd- and 3rd-and long situations, and make them take a more balanced approach on offense.
Once the Texans decide to pass, the onus will be on the front four to pressure QB Matt Schaub. The Colts’ defensive line has been inconsistent all year. Against the Giants and Redskins, they were brilliantly dominating. Against the Texans and Jaguars they were brilliantly dominated. Finding consistency, especially from defensive tackles Dan Muir and Fili Moala, will be a major factor in the Colts’ success, not only on Monday night, but for the rest of the season.
Where the Texans’ defense is concerned, Gary Kubiak must feel like Charlie Brown on Halloween when he reviews film: “I got a rock.” Houston’s rush defense, which ranks 13th in the league conventionally (24th by advanced metrics) would be a concern for Kubiak, if not for his pass defense, which is dead last in yards allowed (30th in advanced). Subtract stud linebacker Demeco Ryans from an already porous defense and you understand why Gary Kubiak announced that he would be dressed as Father Time on the sidelines Monday night.
For the Colts’ offense, success will start up front. In the first match up between these teams, Texans’ defensive ends Super Mario Williams and Antonio Smith dominated a banged up Colts’ offensive line, disrupted the rhythm of quarterback Peyton Manning, and knocked him to the ground several times. The offensive line is now healthy, and that, combined with the emergence of blocking tight end Brody Eldridge, should allow the Colts to protect Manning better in the rematch.
When Manning does have time to throw, he will find his targets wearing unfamiliar masks. With both Dallas Clark and Austin Collie out for this game, backup tight end Jacob Tamme and forgotten wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez will be forced to step up.
Tamme is similar to Dallas Clark: a quick, agile, receiving tight end. His ability to take advantage of single coverage and seam routes against zone coverage will help determine whether or not the Colts can replace Clark’s production. Gonzalez, meanwhile, is an elite player that has everything you want in a receiver: superb route running, great hands, quickness, and speed.
On the ground, the Colts will be without under-appreciated running back Joseph Addai, who suffered a serious nerve injury against Washington. They will attempt to replace his production and pass blocking with Donald Brown and Mike Hart. Brown, the Colts first round selection in the 2009 draft, has yet to consistently display the skills that prompted the Colts to draft him, but will need to do so now if the Colts are going to thrive in Addai’s absence. Hart, on the other hand, will not wow anyone with blazing speed or amazing moves, but is a solid contributor that does not make mistakes.
The Colts have faced adversity before and they have never shrunk its face. Unfortunately, while Peyton Manning will be wearing either his Reaper or Sheriff costume, too many of his teammates, which have stood so tall in tough times, will be dressed as patients for the Colts to keep pace with the Texans in their 2004 Colts garb.
Texans 34, Colts 20.