Taking into consideration all the Houston Texans accomplished while becoming just the second NFL team to win its division following an 0-3 start, their seemingly tenuous status as favorites on Saturday in the first wild-card game of the postseason offers a reflection of their opponent.
The Indianapolis Colts (10-6), who will face the Texans (11-5) at NRG Stadium, are a familiar foe whose strengths have overcome their weaknesses.
Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck fully reclaimed his standing as one of the preeminent quarterback in the NFL by finishing fifth in passing yards (4,593) and second in passing touchdowns (39) while making 16 starts for the first time since the 2014 campaign, the last season in which he guided Indianapolis to the playoffs.
Luck sat out the entire 2017 season due to a shoulder injury.
Protected by an offensive line that allowed the fewest sacks (18) in the NFL, Luck performed brilliantly as the Colts recovered from a 1-5 start to win nine of their last 10 games. In that stretch, he completed 69.5 percent of his attempts while tossing 23 touchdowns against seven interceptions and passing for 2,801 yards.
In two matchups against the AFC South champion Texans this season, Luck passed for 863 yards and six touchdowns with one interception. He was sacked six times as the teams split the meetings.
“I mean, (Luck) does a good job,” said Texans defensive end J.J. Watt, who recorded 16 sacks this season. “Obviously, (their) offensive line does a good job. I think as the years went on, especially, they’ve done a great job getting the ball out of his hands quick. He makes quick reads, he’s a smart guy, he knows where he’s going with the ball, tries not to put himself in too much danger. He does a great job, and like I said, those guys up front for him do a good job.”
The Texans must generate enough pressure on Luck as to prevent him from having an opportunity to pick apart their 28th-ranked pass defense. That Luck benefitted from the lowest sack rate (2.74 percent) of any quarterback in the league makes that particular task especially difficult.
“You have to mix it up. You don’t want to get in one mode,” Colts coach Frank Reich said of protecting Luck. “Great players like (Watt and Texans linebacker Jadeveon Clowney) you have to attack in multiple ways. You’ve got to be able to run the football, you don’t want to get in just a pass mode. You’ve got to be able to chip some, you’ve got to be able to use play-action. You’ve got to be able to change some things up formationally to present different looks.”
Texans seek to rekindle ground game
The Texans sit on the opposite end of the spectrum after surrendering an NFL-high 62 sacks of quarterback Deshaun Watson. Additionally, Houston struggled running the ball down the stretch, losing twice during a three-game span in which it totaled 198 yards on 61 rush attempts. Watson accounted for 110 of those yards while the running backs averaged 2.0 yards per carry.
Indianapolis sacked Watson 12 times during the two regular-season meetings. The Texans understand that providing Watson a clean pocket via pass protection plus an effective ground game is the best course of action for securing a win and an appearance in the divisional playoff round.
“Just everyone get on the same page,” Watson said of the Texans lowering the sack total. “Get the ball out a little quicker, make quicker decisions, throw the ball away and try to protect myself as much as I can.”
–Field Level Media