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INDIANAPOLIS – ‘Playoff’ football has arrived for the Colts.
While Frank Reich wants to downplay the ‘back against the wall’ mind frame, the Colts really need a win on Sunday to maintain some decent chance at the playoffs in 2018.
Here are 7 things to watch for as the Colts (6-6) play the Texans (9-3) in Week 14:
1. Containing Watson
-Back in Week Four, Deshaun Watson showed off that rare elusive ability in keeping enough plays alive to beat the Colts. Well, Watson is now 2 months further removed from his ACL recovery. Containing Watson is an absolute must for the Colts this Sunday. The Colts fell into some sacks against Watson back on Sept. 30. They need to make sure their rush lanes are disciplined this Sunday.
2. Protecting The Franchise
-For a third straight week, the Colts will have Evan Boehm starting at center in place of Ryan Kelly. That isn’t the only change the Colts will have on their offensive line from when these two teams first met in 2018. You now have Anthony Castonzo, Mark Glowinski and Braden Smith in the starting lineup, compared to Le’Raven Clark, Matt Slauson and Denzelle Good for the first contest in Week Four. Keeping Andrew Luck upright against the menacing Jadeveon Clowney and J.J. Watt is an absolute must after last week’s struggles for the offensive line.
3. Better In Situational Football
-Despite getting into some decent third down and distance situations against the Jaguars, the Colts were an ugly 5-of-18 on third down. It was a far cry from what they’ve been doing through the first 11 games of the season. Missing Ryan Kelly and Jack Doyle aren’t helping the Colts in these important situations. They need to take full advantage of those opportunities on Sunday, knowing how high scoring of an offense the Texans can turn into.
4. Plan To Handle Hopkins
-No opposing wide receiver has had more yards versus the 2018 Colts than DeAndre Hopkins. In fact, the Colts have allowed just two 100-yard receiving games all season. Both came in Week Four to the Texans (168 yards by Hopkins and 109 yards by Texans rookie Keke Coutee). The Colts must do a better job in trying to limit Hopkins, who is unquestionably one of the game’s best receivers with an incredible catch radius.
5. Defense Faces Better Competition
-Do not look now, but the Colts continue to rise in the defensive rankings. The Colts rank 11th in total defense (yards allowed) and are 15th in points given up per game. Now, playing the likes of Derek Anderson and Cody Kessler have helped those numbers. And the test will definitely rise this coming weekend, with the Texans having one of the more talented and balanced offenses at quarterback, running back and receiver. The Colts will need to take advantage of a weak Houston offensive line.
6. Turnover(s) Turned Into Points Is Needed
-In all 12 games this season, the Colts have forced a turnover. But too many times in 2018 they have not been able to turn those extra chances into points. On Sunday, playing away from home against a 9-3 team, it could very well take such a turnover/score to make the difference. The Colts are the underdog going into Sunday and with the offense missing a couple of key pieces, they could very well need the defense to continue to create, while the offense punches in the extra possession.
7. Find The Big Road Win
-Since Week Three, the Colts are 1-4 in road games. This is the next step that is necessary for the Colts to play January football in 2018. The Colts have taken advantage of the third easiest schedule in the NFL through 12 weeks, to be at .500. But now they have to overachieve a bit down the stretch, with at least one road win needed, to be in the postseason.
Bowen’s Prediction: Texans 31-27. It is not odd to see the Colts and Texans playing in December in a meaningful game for the AFC South race. But it is different seeing the Texans with a three-game lead over the Colts right now. A loss for the Colts on Sunday would actually eliminate them from AFC South contention in 2018. I do expect the Colts to bounce back on Sunday and play much, much better than they did in Jacksonville last week. The Texans do not have a strong offensive line and their secondary was shredded by Andrew Luck back in Week Four. If the Colts can avoid the early turnover(s), unlike the first meeting in Week Four, they should definitely keep this competitive for quite a while on Sunday. But I just think the top-end talent of the Texans shows up in the 4th quarter for their 10th straight victory and a season sweep of the Colts.
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