The AFC South’s future is on the toll road Thursday, and it comes down to a familiar matchup.
Let’s first lift a day out again to January, which may perhaps perchance perchance well in actuality feel esteem it used to be ages within the past, nevertheless used to be, genuinely, perfect 10 months earlier than now. The recreation used to be, obviously, Colts-Texans, nevertheless it certainly came within the playoffs. The Colts had to eradicate in Week 17 supreme to gain there, while the Texans loved the comfort of NRG Stadium earned by their division title.
That title didn’t pause up mattering great.
Indianapolis dominated Houston within the wild-card matchup, burying the Texans in a 21-point gap within the indispensable half of and cruising to victory. The Colts rushed for 200 yards and saved the Texans from doing great of anything else offensively, allowing supreme three third-down conversions on 13 attempts. It used to be a mighty victory that signaled a capacity altering of the guard in a somewhat fluid AFC South.
Then Andrew Good fortune retired.
That’s how we’ve got gotten so far, where we’ve got reached Week 12 and not utilizing a determined chief within the division. Houston and Indianapolis are both 6-4, tied atop a tightly packed division that doesn’t seem ready to produce a sound Dapper Bowl contender. This may perhaps occasionally must send one representative to the postseason, though, and this recreation may perhaps perchance perchance well scramble a long formula toward figuring out this kind of qualifier.
Right here’s what to scrutinize for in Thursday night’s AFC South showdown.
Can the Texans gain off the mat?
Houston visited Charm Metropolis final weekend in anticipation of a heavyweight showdown with the Baltimore Ravens. It used to be supposed to reflect the shootout between Deshaun Watson’s Clemson Tigers squad and Lamar Jackson’s Lousiville Cardinals.
It did now no longer.
The Ravens beaten the Texans, winning wire-to-wire in a recreation that looked extra esteem a warfare between a superpower and the 2008 Lions. Houston may perhaps perchance perchance well no longer attain great of anything else all afternoon, matching its defensive ineptitude with equally unhappy offensive play. Baltimore outgained Houston with supreme its speeding offense alone, racking up 263 yards on the floor versus the Texans’ 232 total yards of offense. After recording seven sacks in their final four games blended, the Ravens sacked Watson seven times Sunday.
It used to be the Texans’ fourth perfect margin of defeat in franchise historical previous — a firm founded as a spread team in 2002.
There’s position off of hope, though, that this waste consequence used to be supreme a queer outlier. Till Sunday, Watson hadn’t misplaced a birth by double digits in his profession. The defeat used to be Watson’s first outing with a passer ranking below 70 in 2019. And the Texans’ defense hadn’t allowed this kind of ample speeding total since Week 6 of the 2005 season.
Statistically, Sunday wasn’t indicative of who these Texans are. Nonetheless can they rebound in time to gain a well-known victory in opposition to a familiar foe?
Winning on the floor
The Indianapolis Colts personal a made up our minds advantage on this department, and need to you are a fan of fireworks, Thursday night may perhaps perchance perchance well no longer be the game for you.
On the other hand, we’ve got been immoral earlier than.
Indianapolis brings the No. 9 speeding defense into Thursday night’s contest, which used to be so intimidating, Jaguars coach Doug Marrone abandoned the bound within the third quarter Sunday. Houston can now no longer give you the money for to attain the same with a backfield of Carlos Hyde and Duke Johnson, though numbers below will point to how the passing recreation may perhaps perchance perchance well soften up the Colts’ defense bigger than the bound, anyway.
The place this category is incredibly most primary is when the Colts beget the ball. Indianapolis outgained Jacksonville on the floor by 235 yards, racking up 7.3 yards per raise and three speeding touchdowns while cementing its superiority within the speeding department. The final time the Colts posted this kind of big speeding differential, they had been headquartered in Baltimore and having fun with in a pre-merger NFL (1959).
Meaning it doubtless may perhaps perchance perchance well no longer play out in a similar vogue Thursday, which is okay, nevertheless also doesn’t diminish the importance of winning on the floor. The Colts will doubtless be without lead again Marlon Mack, who suffered a hand atomize Sunday and would be out for an undetermined duration of time. Jonathan Williams assumes accountability, and did a bang-up job in this kind of job final week, gaining 116 yards on 13 carries. These Texans are great better than the Jaguars in opposition to the bound, finally statistically, ranking thirteenth within the NFL, allowing 102 yards per recreation on the floor. Without Mack, the duty will doubtless be taller for Indianapolis. That can’t be denied.
Organising a presence on the floor is extra most primary for Indianapolis than supreme preserving on time table. Unparalleled esteem Good fortune earlier than him, Brissett ranks second within the NFL in play-motion charge (32 p.c) amongst 33 qualified quarterbacks this season. He holds onto the ball longer than 2.5 seconds on 61 p.c of his scramble attempts (fifth most within the NFL), a partial fabricated from such reliance on play motion. Indianapolis sticks to this kind of offense because Jacoby Brissett is merely better in play-motion, posting a 113.1 passer ranking when running play-motion versus a 90 set with none bound false.
Play-motion also enables Brissett to use his feet, where he unsurprisingly excels, throwing five landing passes (T-second most in NFL) and finishing plus-5.9 p.c of passes above expectation while on the bound (fifth-top doubtless in NFL).
Quiz to scrutinize hundreds of Williams and Nyheim Hines, because the Colts will must continue to depend on their backfield contributors, even without Mack.
Getting others eager
Houston’s passing recreation is dominated by targets for DeAndre Hopkins, who has chanced on himself in Watson’s crosshairs 10.4 times per recreation (75 receptions on 104 targets). Nuk brings great recreation-altering capacity with per week, nevertheless basically the indispensable to victory will doubtless be about bigger than No. 10 for Houston.
First off, feeding Hopkins is a entertaining capability, fascinated by Hopkins’ penchant for hauling in passes that most would now no longer snag. He leads all receivers in completion share above expectation (plus-12.6 p.c) on short passes (now no longer as a lot as 10 air yards), per Subsequent Gen Stats.
That’s basically the indispensable for Houston’s offensive success thru the air. Watson is now no longer in actuality one to be sacked lickety-split (third-longest time to sack within the NFL at a median of 5.13 seconds), nevertheless he and Hopkins thrive when getting the ball out lickety-split. Over the final three seasons, Watson’s stress charge has dropped 13 share capabilities, his time to throw has shortened from 3.10 seconds to 2.seventy nine, and his air yards per strive beget dropped from 11.2 to 8.5. The longer he is within the league, the extra Watson is learning to lift the below possibility and place so with extra conviction. No longer every play needs to be a condo bound.
Nonetheless after they attain desire to swing for the fences, the Texans beget the tools in Hopkins and beyond. Kenny Stills’ 16 deep receiving touchdowns (20-plus air yards) are tied for second most within the NFL since 2016 with Tyreek Hill. Will Fuller, who used to be projected to be restricted in Monday’s be aware (if the Texans had held be aware), makes Watson better within the long recreation. With Fuller on the self-discipline, Watson has done 41.4 p.c of his deep scramble attempts, which produce up 16 p.c of his total scramble attempts. Without Fuller, those numbers tumble to 36 p.c and 10 p.c.
Merely, with Fuller and Stills eager, the Texans pose a a lot bigger threat. The Colts are going thru a handful of secondary injuries, too, seriously losing rookie nook Rock Ya-Sin to an ankle damage in Sunday’s eradicate. Unlike dilapidated knowledge, Houston’s top shot at softening Indianapolis’ defense is thru the innovative passing recreation: birth short and within the waste lift the deep strike, while sprinkling within the bound.
Something a similar, if less statistically deep is appropriate of the Colts, too. They’ve been compelled to play without T.Y. Hilton and Parris Campbell, and for a week and a half of, their beginning quarterback. Brissett returned Sunday and straight away improved Indianapolis’ offensive potentialities, nevertheless he’d certainly welcome the wait on of Hilton or Campbell. The latter used to be projected to be a restricted participant in Monday’s faux be aware, meaning he has a a lot bigger likelihood of no doubt returning to the self-discipline.
Brissett won a recreation Sunday while throwing to Marcus Johnson, Zach Pascal and Chester Rogers. Eric Ebron contributed in tiny spurts, which helped, nevertheless the quarterback may perhaps perchance perchance well use an upgrade in expertise. He may perhaps perchance perchance well gain it on a short week.
Winning on the point of ******
Did you scrutinize Quenton Nelson’s keg stand occasion Sunday? Sure? No doubt you did. It used to be magical.
What’s great extra magical, though, is the play of Indianapolis’ offensive line. Those gaudy speeding numbers talked about above? They’re largely resulting from the play of the fellas up front.
For the second straight season, Indianapolis’ offensive line is surroundings the tone for the entire team and producing predictable success. They’ll meet a front that’s lacking J.J. Watt nevertheless is seeing improved play from Whitney Mercilus, who has posted a 13.1 p.c stress charge over his final two games after inserting up a 7.8 p.c charge over Houston’s first eight games.
Winning within the bound recreation is precedence No. 1, which is ready to then produce the scramble blocking off fragment of the anxiety more straightforward for the horseshoe-helmeted guys. And perhaps they’ll even discover themselves terminate ample for a shot at redemption for Nelson, a PFF top 100 selection in Week 11 who used to be robbed of a landing that potentially in no plan will have to beget even been dominated a landing (nevertheless used to be fatefully authorized, temporarily, producing the greatest occasion in historical previous).
The Texans are fascinated about this bullet, too, thanks to those seven sacks of Watson final week. Watson holds on to the ball longer on passes that are now no longer deemed to be short thanks to his mobility. In truth, Watson’s below-stress marks, that are now no longer correct, would doubtless be even worse if he wasn’t evading stress on 18 p.c of dropbacks when hurried, the fourth-top set amongst 33 qualified quarterbacks this season. The major, though, is stopping such stress from changing into stress. Watson owns a 115.3 passer ranking, third-top within the NFL, when he is now no longer compelled. When he is compelled, that number drops to 58, 26th within the league.
He didn’t entire a scramble below stress final week. Four of his six sacks took longer than 5 seconds to file, and the strip sack of him took 10.31 seconds. It’s unrealistic to demand any offensive line to block that long — it used to be the longest time to sack since Week 1 of 2017 — nevertheless everyone can wait on him out by being extra efficient on first and second down and steer determined of long down-and-distance eventualities in which Watson is compelled to drop, pat and wait to open a scramble deep.
If both groups defend it short, straightforward and on time table, they’ll doubtless be *** with their performance up front.
Can the Colts impart their ownership of the division?
The Colts very a lot surprised loads after they handled the Texans within the aforementioned playoff assembly, and they ran their eradicate dash to some straight after they defeated Houston in Week 7. A eradicate on Thursday night would cap the trifecta and produce it determined to the rest of the league: That is Indianapolis’ division.
Nonetheless this one will need to unruffled be done on the avenue in yet another retractable-roof stadium that is far less pleasant than the downtown Indianapolis confines of Lucas Oil Stadium. The Texans potentially need this eradicate bigger than the Colts, seeing as how final week went, nevertheless they’ll must channel that desperation into sail energy in taking down the team that seems positioned to impart itself because the top capacity within the division.
As demonstrated by the commerce that brought them Laremy Tunsil and Stills, the Texans are constructed to eradicate now. It’s time for them to monitor thru on that promise, or else cede the position of AFC South alpha to the Colts.