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You won’t hear many people talking about it, but the AFC South has quietly emerged as one of the best divisions in football. The Houston Texans began their season with a bang when they defeated the Indianapolis Colts by a convincing score of 34-24 in Houston. The Texans have since leveled off a bit, but the Colts have not played exceptionally well and are battling significant injuries. Indy will be looking to prove week one was a fluke, while Houston will be trying to convince the AFC they’re for real.
1. Can the Colts Stop Arian Foster?
To say Arian Foster exploded onto the scene against the Colts week one would be a complete understatement. The Texans, who were previously know for their prolific passing attack, threw the ball only 17 times. Foster carried the rock a whopping 33 times and added a catch, giving him 34 touches for the game. What did he do with the opportunity? He ran for a franchise record 233 yards and scored 3 touchdowns. The Colts had absolutely no answer for Foster, and there’s no doubt in anyone’s mind Houston will look to get the ball into Foster’s hands again to see if Indy can make the adjustment.
2. The Colts Banged Up Passing Attack
It seems like Peyton Manning has three favorite targets every season: Reggie Wayne, Dallas Clark, and some other guy. Dallas Clark and the other guy won’t be playing against Houston. The other guy (who was at one time Anthony Gonzalez) is Austin Collie. He’s expected to miss several games after undergoing thumb surgery. Clark will miss the rest of the season after suffering a significant wrist injury. If anyone can make a patchwork receiving corps work, it’s Manning. Fortunately for the Colts, Houston ranks dead last in pass defense out of 32 NFL teams. Manning will be missing some significant pieces, but going against a horrible pass defense could help get things going with some new targets.
3. Can the Texans Keep Matt Schaub Upright?
Matt Schaub has been sacked 16 times this season. He’s a good pocket passer with one of the best deep threats in football at his disposal in Andre Johnson. When Houston gets into trouble on offense, it’s usually because opponents are applying pressure on Schaub and he’s either getting sacked or making poor decisions with the ball. Houston’s pass protection should benefit from the return of Duane Brown, who served a four-game suspension for violating the NFL’s banned substance policy. Brown was matched up against Dwight Freeney week one and did a pretty good job against him. If the Texans can protect Schaub, it will allow them to get the ball to Andre Johnson deep down the field. That will help open things up for Arian Foster, if he even needs any help.
Houston has lost middle linebacker DeMeco Ryans for the season after he tore his Achilles during a week six match-up with the Chiefs. Ryans was a force on defense for the Texans, and they’ll have to turn to Brian Cushing to help fill the void. Andre Johnson was battling an ankle sprain for a while but appears to be close to 100 percent. Tight end Owen Daniels is still getting back into the feel of things after undergoing off-season knee surgery to repair the second torn ACL of his career.
The Colts’ injuries are many, to say the least. Running backs Joseph Addai and Donald Brown were held out of practice on Thursday and it’s looking like neither will play. That puts the burden on Mike Hart, and he’ll need to perform if called upon with Indy’s passing game hurting as well. We already mentioned Dallas Clark is done for the year, and Austin Collie for the next several weeks. Reggie Wayne was limited at Thursday’s practice with a hamstring injury, but he’ll play unless he can’t walk. They don’t have many other options at this point. Rookie receiver Blair White will be leaned on to make an impact with the Colts lacking depth at receiver.
Arian Foster owners are salivating over this week’s match-up, and rightfully so. Foster torched the Colts week one and they haven’t really solved the issues they’ve had stopping the run. Indy still ranks 26th in the NFL in rushing yards allowed per game. The Colts rank 12th in passing yardage allowed, but Andre Johnson and Matt Schaub could be in for big weeks if Indy focuses on stopping Foster. Receiver Kevin Walter could be a sleeper this week if the Colts stack the box.
Peyton Manning is a must-start against the Texans’ horrendous pass defense, regardless of how many weapons he’s missing. The Clark and Collie injuries should lead to a ton of looks for Reggie Wayne, so expect a big week out of him. As we mentioned above, Blair White could see increased looks and will definitely see his share of targets. He’s a decent WR3 if byes are killing you, and there’s plenty of them. The Texans are decent against the run at 13th in the NFL, but Indy will need to take a balanced approach with it’s passing game banged up. Mike Hart could be a decent flex play if Addai and Brown are unable to go.
If the Texans win, they’ll have a good hold on the AFC South. The season is far from over, but with Houston, Indy, and Tennessee all playing well tie-breakers could end up being crucial. Two wins over a divisional opponent that will be in the race all year would be huge for Houston. That being said, I can’t see the Colts dropping two games to the Texans. Peyton Manning and company were caught off guard week one, and I don’t think it will happen again at home — even with their injury concerns. Expect a shootout all the way through with the Colts coming out on top.