Will Foster run all over the Colts defense like he did in Week 1?
The 4-2 Houston Texans and 4-2 Indianapolis Colts will face off in a Monday Night AFC South Division rivalry showdown in an effort by both teams to tie the Tennessee Titans for the division lead. The Texans are coming off an eventful bye week. First, Houston welcomes back starting left tackle Duane Brown, who was present in the first game against these rivals as he helped boost Arian Foster and the Texan’s run game. He returns from serving his four-game suspension for violating the NFL Performance Enhancing Drug Policy. Also, the Texans lost starting middle linebacker and captain, DeMeco Ryans, for the season. He will be replaced by strong side linebacker Brian Cushing, who in turn will be replaced by returning linebacker Kevin Bentley. Bentley is returning from recovering from arthroscopic knee surgery. Finally, the Texans return to the field with a crew of healthy players, at least more healthy than they last were two weeks ago. Wide receivers Andre Johnson and Jacoby Jones, defensive end Mario Williams and linebackers Kevin Bentley, Darryl Sharpton and Xavier Adibi will all return to the practice field this week. For the Colts, their past Week 7 bye week was far from positively eventful. In fact, the Colts have lost key players to their team: tight end Dallas Clark was placed on the injured reserve, Austin Collie will remain out for this week, and running backs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown seem to be doubtful for Monday night’s game against the Texans. Also, defensive tackle Antonio Johnson is out indefinitely and wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez has a high ankle sprain. Injuries aren’t the only demeaning problem for the Colts; their punter was recently arrested and suspended for taking a publicly-intoxicated swim in a local Indianapolis lake.
What to Look For
Besides the crowd noise at Lucas Oil Stadium and Peyton Manning’s consistent fourth quarter heroics, the Colts do not appear to have the upper edge come Monday. In the Texans’ Week 1 win over the Colts, the Texans utilized the run game to run the clock out and keep Peyton Manning off the field. Although no two game plans are ever the same, the Texans will likely utilize the same plan of attack: run the ball and keep the ball out of Peyton’s hands. They’ll have to add in the unfamiliarity of some Colts players, including new tight end Jacob Tamme, running back Mike Hart and the combination of wide receivers Reggie Wayne, Pierre Garcon and Blair White. For the Colts, they’ll be pressured to stop the run and keep Schaub in check with their hungry-attack defensive ends.
The Texans drafted Mario Williams number one overall in the 2006 NFL Draft for one reason above the rest: Beat Peyton Manning. The Texans had their tails kicked by Manning for four years before drafting Williams, and it wasn’t until 2006 when the Texans finally saw some actual pressure on Manning. Although their second win in franchise history didn’t come to Week 1 of this season, the Texans’ addition of Mario Williams already has directly led to more intensity and pressure on Manning in the teams’ biannual match-ups. This game is no different, and Mario Williams’ injured groin and shoulder will take a backseat to pressuring and sacking Manning on Monday night. Williams is an athletic beast on the field, and when Manning’s under center, Williams always brings his best. Look for Manning to keep a fast, hurry-style offense, but Williams should try to match that intensity with his own. Williams is now one of the Texans’ main defensive leaders now that Ryans is out for the season. Look for Williams to step-up big on the Texans’ first Monday Night Game of the 2010 Regular Season.
Arian Foster. In the Week 1 win over the Colts, Arian Foster totaled 238 yards and 3 touchdowns on 34 touches. For the Texans to have success again against the Colts, they’ll need to have Foster have another great day on the ground. However, one cannot expect similar stats. Foster said this week: “This is the NFL. You’re not going to run crazy every game.” He’s right, every game is different, and Foster knows it:
“Every game has its own identity, I’ve always believed that. My mindset going in isn’t going to be nonchalant, because I had 231 yards. That’s not what I’m thinking at all. I’m thinking they (the Colts) are going to remember that and prove that’s not what we’re about. And we’re going to try to prove that we can run the ball — again.”
Texans fans have to hope the Texans will pound the run game against the Colts’ poultry run defense. The Texans’ offensive line must not let the crowd slow them down, distract them and cause penalties. Schaub must be on his game and lead his offense. If those pieces fall in place, Arian Foster’s Monday Night performance should force the City of Indianapolis to create a new street, “Arian Foster Drive,” right in the middle of Lucas Oil Stadium.
Matt Schaub. Although the Texans will likely be leaning on the run game to keep Peyton Manning off the field, Matt Schaub has a critical role in this week’s game. For one, if the Texans do stick with the gameplan, look for Matt Schaub to make smart, ball control style passes to keep the team calm under pressure at Lucas Oil Stadium. If the Texans fall to an early deficit, the Texans will no doubt resort to Matt Schaub’s arm. Schaub will have a healthy pass arsenal of Andre Johnson, Jacoby Jones, Kevin Walter and David Anderson. Tight end Owen Daniels was limited Wednesday but should be a go for Monday. The Texans’ offensive is arguably one of the best in the game. Their developing a bend-but-not-break mentality, already with two Schaub-led comebacks on the season. Schaub can play ball control or to light up the score boards, so look for him to play an important role on Monday Night Football.
Peyton Manning. The Texans defense ranks dead last in the league against the pass. Bernard Pollard has been exploited against the pass, the young corners have been nicknamed “kiddie corners,” and opposing offenses have ripped the secondary for quarterback and wide receiver career games. Although Peyton Manning will likely be without his top offensive weapons in Joseph Addai, Dallas Clark and Austin Collie, the elite NFL quarterback still can make plays. In comes Mario Williams. If Mario Williams can bring back his Week 1 intensity, he should add to Manning’s problems. However, Lucas Oil Stadium has a way about it of being the loudest stadium against opposing offenses while being the one of the most quiet for their own on-the-field offense. So look for Manning to have a much easier time, and avoid the penalties that the 12th Man in Houston at Reliant Stadium helped tack on in Week 1 in Houston. Manning should be comfortable and in the zone, and the Texans best bet to slow him down is to keep him on his heels and hope for some unfamiliarity throwing to the likes of White and Tamme. Tamme was recently cited by both Colts head coach Jim Caldwell and owner Bill Polian that Tamme can do the “same things” Clark can for the offense. Caldwell said “(Tamme) can play in-line. He can play obviously wide receiver. He can play in the slot. He’s a pretty versatile performer.”
Mike Hart. The Colts will no doubt still attack the Texans in the air, but no pass game is safe without a healthy dose of the run game. And it doesn’t hurt when the third backup running back on the depth chart plays very well in pass protection. The Texans rank 13th against the run coming into Monday night’s game, averaging 104 yards and a touchdown per game against the run. To improve, the Texans must stop the gaps and tackle upon impact. There can’t be silly arm tackles, and the defense cannot be predictable against the Colts’ pass heavy offense as to give up gains on the ground.
Indianapolis Defense. The Colts defense ranks 21st in the league, giving up an average of 344 yards per game. In their Week 1 loss, they gave up 231 yards on the ground to Arian Foster alone. Although Schaub did not throw for much, the Texans were able to control the clock and keep Manning off the field. If the Colts’ defense has a similar showing to their Week 1 performance and overall season performance, the Texans should be able to keep Manning off the field. Foremost, the Texans should still be able to keep the run game going; Arian Foster now has Derrick Ward and Steve Slaton to take off his carries and receptions load. Also, since Week 1, Matt Schaub has been lighting up the air, already winning two NFL-related passing awards.
To win the Texans need to run the ball, pass smart, avoid sacks and turnovers and simply play effective defense. Nobody expects the Colts to score under 21 points Monday, but you can bet the Texans will prove they can hang with the best of them. Although the Houston Texans’ 2010 Season has been littered with horrible defense and stunning offense, expect the bye week to some good. A loss here for the Colts could loom the downside of the season, so expect the Texans to keep that in mind when battling for the division tied lead on Monday Night. Texans win in Indy, 34-28.