Texans-Colts: Five matchups to watch

Texans-Colts: Five matchups to watch
December 16, 2012, 8:00 am
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Texans' secondary looks to bounce back vs. Luck

It’s a big game on Sunday. When the Texans host the Colts at Reliant Stadium at noon, it’s not just a division battle; it’s one with major playoff implications too.

If the Colts win, they earn a playoff spot and keep their division hopes alive. If the Texans win, they clinch the AFC South for the second consecutive season.

The Texans also have a chance to earn a first-round bye on Sunday. With a win and a New England and Denver loss, they get that first-round bye.

Without further ado, here are five matchups to watch inside the game:

1. Andrew Luck vs. Texans’ defensive line

Andrew Luck has transformed the worst team in football into a legitimate playoff contender. Sure, he’s had some help but he’s having a season that might end up earning him the Rookie of the Year award, not to mention a few MVP votes.

“He’s a great player. He’s a heck of a football player,” J.J. Watt said. “You watch the tape (and) you wouldn’t think he was even close to being a rookie. He’s a great football player. He has a great head on his shoulders. He can run. He can pass. He’s very smart. They’ve got a heck of a quarterback up there. It’s going to be a good challenge for us.”

And it’ll be a big challenge for the Texans line, sure. But it’s going to be quite a challenge for Luck too.

“He’s a monster,” Luck said of Watt. “He gets sacks. If he’s not sacking the quarterback he’s hitting the running back behind the line of scrimmage. If he’s not doing that he’s batting balls down so he’s definitely a premier player in this league.”

Watt is second in the NFL in sacks with 16.5 in just 13 games but it’s his other skill that’s really something special. When Watt can’t make his way to the quarterback, he tosses up those bear claws he calls hands and swats the ball out of the air. He’s done that 15 times this season. As a team, the Texans have done it 35 times, which leads the NFL.

So how will this translate against the Colts? Well, so far, Luck has been susceptible to the batted pass. In fact, his 21 batted passes, according to the Indianapolis Star, are the most in the NFL.

Oh and by the way, the Colts are playing this game without two starting offensive linemen.

2. Arian Foster vs. Colts’ defense

The Colts’ defense is around the middle of the pack in terms of running defense.

They’re the 18th ranked run defense in terms of yards per game with 120.6. But they have given up 12 touchdowns on the ground, the eighth most in the NFL.

The Texans’ run game has struggled in recent weeks. Arian Foster is coming off the worst two-game stretch of his career as a starter. He’s had just 84 yards over the past two games.

“The run game is what we hang our hat on,” left tackle Duane Brown said. “That’s what starts our offense, gets us going. So four yards a carry is okay, but we have a higher standard than that.”

In three games against the Colts in his career, Foster has averaged 163.7 yards per game, which is his highest average against any team in the NFL. He has also scored five rushing touchdowns in those games.

3. Secondary vs. Reggie Wayne

The Texans’ secondary has struggled in recent weeks but if they shut down Reggie Wayne, they might be able to take the passing game away from the Colts.

Wayne is having a remarkable season, especially for a 34-year-old receiver in his 12th NFL season. Wayne has 94 catches for 1,220 yards and four touchdowns. But the next closest player in receptions is Donnie Avery with 52.

The Texans need to stop Wayne. And it will fall on Brandon Harris a good deal of the time.

“I think (Harris) did a great job against his guy (WR) Wes Welker, who is probably the greatest at his position in the slot,” Johnathan Joseph said. “This will be a big task for him going against Reggie Wayne, who is a crafty veteran as well. But he’s got a lot of veterans around him who are picking him up throughout the week. He’s up for the task and we think he’ll do a great job.”

4. The turnover battle

OK, OK, we know. Turnovers are important every week. But check this out:

The Texans have the second-highest turnover differential in the AFC at a plus-14. The Colts? They have the second-worst at a minus-16.

The Texans have just 13 turnovers on the season, while the Colts have double that.

The Texans have 27 takeaways. The Colts have just 10, the fewest in the entire NFL.

5. Andre Johnson vs. Colts’ secondary

Johnson has been playing back at his former All-Pro level and the Colts have certainly given up plenty of yards through the air. They give up an average of 242 yards per game –13th in the league.

Furthermore, the Colts have allowed a 100-yard receiver in each of the past six games.

“I have no doubt on how we will respond on Sunday,” Johnson said. “Period. You guys can say what you want, think what you want, just watch us on Sunday and see what happens.”

Johnson was the AFC Offensive Player for the Month for November. He’s already crossed the 1,200-yard mark and had a decent game against the Patriots, with eight catches for 95 yards.

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