NFL Preview - Houston (2-11) at Indianapolis (8-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - It's not been a season to remember for the Houston
Riding the wave of consecutive AFC South Division championships and expected
to compete for overall conference supremacy, the Texans appeared on course
after beginning 2013 with consecutive victories at San Diego and home with
Since then, saying it's been nightmarish would be considered by some an
Houston is still searching for a third victory three months and 11 games
later, and has changed its starting quarterback, lost a host of vital players
to injury, seen its coach suffer a mini-stroke on the field during a primetime
game and then fired that coach just weeks after his return.
In fact, Gary Kubiak's final game with the Texans came last week at
Jacksonville, when the Texans dropped a 27-20 decision - their second to the
Jaguars in three games - amid 14 penalties for a franchise-record 177 yards.
Taking over on an interim basis for this Sunday's visit to Indianapolis is
veteran NFL coach Wade Phillips, who also handled matters following Kubiak's
medical scare on Nov. 3.
"What's taken place with this organization is unacceptable," general manager
Rick Smith said. "We've got three weeks of an evaluation process left and
we've got to right the ship."
Front and center in that process will be the quarterback position, which is
the responsibility of youngster Case Keenum, who was thrust into the starter's
role in both the injury related absence and subsequent ineffectiveness of
veteran starter Matt Schaub.
Keenum was benched by Kubiak in the third quarter last week and has thrown
four interceptions and two touchdowns in his last four games, after beginning
his tenure with 822 yards and no INTs in his initial three appearances.
He was 20-of-34 for 350 yards and three scores against the Colts in Week 9,
the night Kubiak was stricken. That same game was the 2013 high watermark for
All-Pro receiver Andre Johnson, who caught nine balls for 229 yards - the
second-best total of his career.
He scored three times that night and has 46 catches for 722 yards and six TDs
in his last five meetings with Indianapolis.
"A win for this team would be big," Phillips said. "The team's been uptight
to me. All the pressure's been on them, they've put it on themselves and
rightly so. Now we just have to go play."
In Indianapolis, the buzzword of late is consistency.
The Colts have alternated wins and losses for the last six weeks, including an
ugly 42-28 loss last week at Cincinnati that dropped them from the third
conference playoff position to the fourth.
They have clinched the AFC South title, however, and will spend the final
three weeks hearing the not-so-unpleasant questions about whether it would be
prudent to rest starters, etc.
When Tennessee lost at Denver last week, the division's fate was sealed.
"'We talked and said, 'They gave us 16 games, we're playing 16 games,'" Colts
coach Chuck Pagano said. "Right now, we've got a lot of things to get better
at. We have to go back to work and play good football, consistent football for
Indianapolis has been offensively challenged since losing veteran wide
receiver Reggie Wayne to a season-ending knee injury on Oct. 20. In the six
full games since, they've not scored a first-half touchdowns and have been on
the short end, 114-24, through the opening 12 quarters of those six games.
Defense has hardly been a respite. In fact, the last five games - three of
them losses - have seen them dinged for an average of 32.2 points after they'd
surrendered just 19.4 per game while breaking from the gate at 6-2.
They trail Denver, New England and Cincinnati in the playoff seeding race, but
can fall no lower than No. 4 and are guaranteed at least one home playoff
game. Unless a late-season surge occurs, though, that'll be the only guarantee
for a team that has scored wins over San Francisco, Seattle and the Broncos.
"You never want to back door your way into it, but we won (the South),"
linebacker Robert Mathis said. "We're in there, punched our ticket to the
playoffs. We just have to hit the switch."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Return to November
As mentioned in some detail earlier, the Texans had some offensive success
against the Colts in their first matchup in early November, which,
unfortunately, would up being a side note after Kubiak's medical issues
unfolded at halftime.
If it's to end the 11-game plunge, Houston will have to recoup at least some
of the magic that allowed Keenum to pass for a career-high in yardage and post
his high single-game number in QB rating as well - 123.4.
Home Sweet Dome
From the Peyton Manning years through the Curtis Painter disaster to their
reemergence under Andrew Luck, the Colts have maintained a level of success
against the Texans in Indianapolis that simply hasn't wavered.
They are 11-0 all-time against Houston at home, whether at their initial
surroundings at the Hoosier/RCA Dome and into their subsequent new pad at
Lucas Oil Stadium.
The Colts, as Pagano has conceded lately, have been no one's facsimile of the
1985 Bears in recent weeks. The loss to Cincinnati was particularly ugly, and
the inability to generate offense in the opening halves of games speaks at
least in part to game-week preparation.
Still, they're facing an opponent that, while proud and in possession of some
talent, has seemingly checked out now that the season is lost. A boost might
have been in order with a new coach, but because Phillips has been there a
while it's not as likely to result in a jolt. Instead, it's more of the same.