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NFL Preview - Houston (4-2) at Indianapolis (4-2)
By Scott Garbarini, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - The Houston Texans came through with what was viewed as a landmark win in their last encounter with the Indianapolis Colts. When the two AFC South foes square off again Monday night at Lucas Oil Stadium, they'll be trying to achieve a franchise first.
Houston has never beaten the Colts in Indianapolis in its history, though the team has come close to doing so in recent times. The Texans owned a four-point lead in the fourth quarter of last November's clash at Lucas Oil Stadium, but a Colts touchdown with just over seven minutes to go dealt Gary Kubiak's club a tough 20-17 loss. Houston was also ahead in the second half of a 2008 clash in Indianapolis, but eventually fell by a 33-27 count.
The Texans did dish out a little payback against their longtime nemesis during Week 1 of this 2010 season, this time leading from start-to-finish in a 34-24 verdict that made the NFL world wonder whether a team that had been flirted with playoff participation in the past was indeed ready to break through.
Houston prevailed by abusing the Colts with an incredibly potent running game, unleashing running back Arian Foster for a club-record 231 yards and three second-half touchdowns on 33 attempts. The Texans piled up 257 yards on the ground for the game, also the most in team annals.
Indianapolis amassed its share of yardage that day as well, with star quarterback Peyton Manning shredding Houston's porous secondary for 469 passing yards and three touchdowns. Wide receiver Austin Collie hauled in 11 Manning throws for 163 yards, 73 of which came on a scoring catch in the game's waning stages, with All-Pro tight end Dallas Clark adding 11 catches of his own for a total of 80 yards.
Neither Clark nor Collie will be available for Monday's rematch, however, with the former done for the season with a wrist injury sustained in Indianapolis' 27-24 win at Washington on Oct. 17 and Collie having undergone surgery on his right thumb less than two weeks ago. Their absences take away two key components of the league's second-ranked passing attack, and the Colts may also be without leading rusher Joseph Addai due to a ailing shoulder.
Indianapolis still has a healthy Manning, however, and the four-time NFL MVP will likely be bombing away once again at a Houston defense that's surrendering a league-worst 306.2 passing yards per game and won't have one of its core players suiting up, with standout middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans tearing his left Achilles' tendon in the Texans' 35-31 shootout win over Kansas City back in Week 6.
Houston gave up 417 total yards to the AFC West-leading Chiefs and trailed 31-21 midway through the fourth quarter before rallying for two late touchdowns, with quarterback Matt Schaub and wide receiver Andre Johnson connecting on the go-ahead 11-yard touchdown pass with only 28 seconds remaining.
Both the Texans and Colts enter Monday's showdown with 4-2 records and sit a half-game back of front-running Tennessee in the AFC South, with each team coming off a bye week as well.
Houston's season-opening triumph was only the franchise's second win in 17 all-time meetings with the Colts, and the Texans have never emerged victorious in their eight previous visits to Indianapolis. The Colts, who had taken six straight matchups in the series prior to the Week 1 loss, handed Houston a 20-17 setback at Lucas Oil Stadium during Week 9 of last season.
Kubiak is 2-7 against the Colts in his career, while Indianapolis' Jim Caldwell is 2-1 against both Kubiak and Houston as a head man.
WHEN THE TEXANS HAVE THE BALL
The Colts can expect to see plenty of Foster (635 rushing yards, 19 receptions, 7 total TD) again after the undrafted second-year back's brilliant display in the season-opening meeting, with the NFL's third-leading rusher (105.8 ypg) taking aim at a fourth game with over 100 yards in 2010. He's part of a dynamic Houston offense that ranks fourth in total yards (379.7 ypg) and has scored 30 or more points four times in the team's six contests to date. Schaub (1538 passing yards, 9 TD, 5 INT) only threw for 107 yards on 9-of-17 passing in the Week 1 win over Indianapolis, but he's a Pro Bowl-caliber quarterback capable of doing much more. The 29-year-old had a tremendous game against the Chiefs two weeks back, completing 25-of-33 attempts for 305 yards and two touchdowns in engineering the Texans' comeback. He has one of the league's premier receivers to work with in Johnson (32 receptions, 488 yards, 2 TD), who racked up 138 yards on eight grabs in the Kansas City game and has over 100 catches and 1,500 yards in each of the past two seasons, and talented tight end Owen Daniels (15 receptions) has become a bigger part of the game plan lately after getting off to a slow start while recovering from an ACL tear sustained last November. He set season bests with five catches for 79 yards against the Chiefs. Wideouts Kevin Walter (22 receptions, 3 TD) and Jacoby Jones (18 receptions, 1 TD) also need to be accounted for, and the Texans will get starting left tackle Duane Brown back for Monday's tilt after serving a four-game suspension for testing positive for a performance- enhancer. The 2008 first-round pick should help stabilize a front line that's allowed 16 sacks in six games.
Foster isn't the only one to run wild on the Colts this season, as the club ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing defense (137.3 ypg) and is permitting a subpar 4.8 yards per carry. Free safety Antoine Bethea (43 tackles) is Indianapolis' leading tackler by a significant margin, an indicator that the front seven hasn't always been doing its job. The Colts will have defensive signal-caller Gary Brackett (32 tackles) back at his middle linebacker spot after missing the Washington game with a groin problem, but difference-making safety Bob Sanders remains out with a torn biceps he suffered in the opener. If Indianapolis is able to contain Foster, it'll better equipped to let loose the formidable pass-rushing duo of ends Robert Mathis (24 tackles, 5.5 sacks) and Dwight Freeney (9 tackles, 3 sacks), who've combined for 8 1/2 of the team's rather modest total of 11 sacks, on Schaub. Mathis had 1 1/2 sacks in the Week 6 decision over Washington.
WHEN THE COLTS HAVE THE BALL
Don't anticipate the Colts changing their approach with both Clark and Collie on the shelf, as there's plenty of available weapons remain in place to enable Manning (1916 passing yards, 13 TD, 2 INT) to precisely dissect the Houston secondary. The cerebral quarterback still has his No. 1 target on hand in wide receiver Reggie Wayne (45 receptions, 602 yards, 2 TD), and if the Texans choose to roll coverage in the four-time Pro Bowler's direction, counterpart Pierre Garcon (14 receptions, 1 TD) can make them pay for that decision. The third-year burner had a 57-yard touchdown catch against the Redskins and finished the game with 103 yards on four grabs. Collie's absence may be offset by the pending return of oft-injured wideout Anthony Gonzalez, who caught 57 balls as a starter two years ago, from a lingering ankle sprain, but unproven reserves such as rookie receiver Blair White (6 receptions, 1 TD) and little- used tight end Jacob Tamme will still need to step up if Indianapolis' second- rated offense (409.1 ypg) is to match its usual standards of excellence. While Addai (406 rushing yards, 3 TD, 18 receptions) is likely a no-go for Monday, the Colts do have ready replacements in 2009 first-round choice Donald Brown (81 rushing yards, 1 TD) and Mike Hart (93 rushing yards, 1 TD) at the running back position. Brown has missed Indy's last three games with a hamstring strain, but is expected to play this week.
No team has allowed more yards to the enemy than the Texans, with four of their six opponents eclipsing the 400-yard mark so far this year. Houston has been especially horrific against the pass, with young cornerbacks Kareem Jackson (32 tackles, 1 INT, 5 PD), Glover Quin (27 tackles, 4 PD) and Brice McCain (18 tackles) -- all of whom are in their first or second seasons -- all enduring a trial-by-fire ordeal. The trio will need to grow up in a hurry in order to slow down Manning and his crew, and it would help if the Texans can bring a consistent pass rush to the party. Pro Bowl end Mario Williams (16 tackles) has done his part by producing five sacks through the first six games, but Houston has just 10 as a team. A run defense that was solid during the early stages of the season received a major blow with the injury to Ryans (54 tackles, 1 sack), and it showed in the 228 rushing yards Kansas City managed back in Week 6. The cupboard isn't bare, however, as 2009 NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year Brian Cushing (17 tackles) will be moved from the outside into Ryans' spot in the middle and new strongside regular Kevin Bentley is a veteran with previous starting experience.
Fantasy players will want to pay attention to this one, as there are a wealth of worthy choices among two teams that both contain explosive offenses. Manning is a must-use regardless of the opponent, but his owners have to be salivating over a matchup with a brutal Houston pass defense. Wayne and Garcon have great potential as well as Indianapolis' two main receivers, and whomever takes over the roles of Collie and Clark will have plenty of value as well. That's a wait-and-see scenario, however. Count on Brown and Hart undergoing a near-even split of touches in the Colts' backfield, which limits the upside of both. There's little risk involving Foster, though, and Johnson also gets a thumbs-up on the Houston side. Schaub usually makes for a solid selection at quarterback, but keep in mind that the Texans went very run-heavy in the Week 1 meeting between these clubs. Monitor the situation regarding Daniels, as he appears to be rounding back into form but has been too inconsistent to recommend with confidence. Don't even think about using either of these defenses.
This game has the makings of one of the most entertaining ones on this week's docket, with a budding rivalry between two division members that can each light up the scoreboard. Houston's success in Week 1 and Indianapolis' injuries at the skill positions, not to mention its problems in defending the run, give the Texans a fair shot in finally obtaining an initial road victory in this series. However, that only happens if their defense suddenly learns how to stop somebody, and that's a rather tall task against Manning and a Colts offense which still has enough available playmakers to be effective. With some additional preparation time, the Colts should be better equipped to handle what the Texans threw at them in the opener, as well as allow some of the reinforcements to get comfortable with their increased responsibilities.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Colts 35, Texans 27
10/29 14:09:03 ET