Colts' next challenge is beating NFL's top defense

Colts' next challenge is beating NFL's top defense
October 30, 2013, 5:24 pm
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INDIANAPOLIS (AP) The Colts already have a laundry list of first-half accomplishments.

They beat the defending NFC champs on the road. They are the only team with wins over two of the NFL's three one-loss teams. They've already beaten the NFL's top offense and, on Sunday, they've got another big challenge - facing Houston's top-ranked defense .

''They've got game-wreckers all over the place. They've got a front seven that is as good as anybody in football. They've got probably the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt,'' coach Chuck Pagano said Wednesday.

Pagano didn't stop there, and with good reason. There are plenty of other guys on Houston's defense who are capable of creating chaos, and the Colts know it.

Indy (5-2) has grown accustomed to these sorts of story lines.

Before Peyton Manning's return to Lucas Oil Stadium two weeks ago, Pagano matched wits with his younger brother, San Diego defensive coordinator John Pagano. Before that, Andrew Luck faced former college teammate Richard Sherman and returned to the Bay Area where he played college football. Before that, it was Darrius Heyward-Bey and Vontae Davis trying to show their former teams, Oakland and Miami, they made mistakes by letting them go.

But Sunday's contest may be the most significant yet.

If the Colts hand Houston (2-5) a sixth straight loss, their lead over the two-time defending AFC South champs will expand to four games with eight to play and give them a key road win over the Texans (2-5). A win Sunday also would give Indy a chance to complete a sweep of its division road games when they play at Tennessee.

If they both the Texans and Titans, Indianapolis would be in complete control of a division it virtually owned from 2002-10, though the Colts aren't looking that far ahead.

''There's a saying - to be the champ, you got to beat the champ. They're the champ,'' Pro Bowl linebacker Robert Mathis said. ''In order to get it back, we've just got to go down there and handle our business. I've been a part of some division championship teams. They're focused and they want it, it's just a matter of taking care of business.''

Few teams have been better at overcoming distractions these last two seasons.

Last year, Indy used an incredible second-half rally to beat Green Bay - just six days after players were told Pagano would be out indefinitely to battle leukemia. When Pagano returned for the final week of the regular season, the Colts won that game, too, beating the Texans to prevent them from earning a first-round bye in the playoffs. They won Luck's home debut and his first two games against rookie quarterbacks (Brandon Weeden and Ryan Tannehill), and now comes another trip home to Houston.

Why are the Colts so good in these situations?

''I think when you go through what we went through last year with coach, it puts things in perspective,'' Robert Mathis said. ''It lets you know that anything is possible.''

Matt Hasselbeck, Luck's backup, has been through similar circumstances.

In 15 seasons, he served as Brett Favre's backup, led Seattle to a Super Bowl, made three Pro Bowl appearances and was a solid starter in Tennessee. So when the season began, Hasselbeck couldn't avoid seeing the similarities between this locker room and others he's been part of.

''I told them how similar that (Super Bowl) team is to this one,'' Hasselbeck said. ''That year, guys you'd never heard of stepped up and had the best years of their careers and the guys we were counting on also had the best years of their careers. Reggie (Wayne) was having a great season, Andrew is off to a great start and now we need everybody to maximize their potential.''

Especially this week, against the Texans' defense.

In addition to Watt, the league's reigning defensive player of the year, Houston also has 2004 defensive player of the year Ed Reed; Pro Bowl defensive end Antonio Smith; emerging nose tackle Earl Mitchell; three former first-round picks - cornerbacks Kareem Jackson and Jonathan Joseph - and linebacker Whitney Mercilus; linebacker Brooks Reid and safety D.J. Swearinger, both second-round picks; and linebacker Darryl Sharpton, a fourth-round pick in 2010.

What the Texans are missing is their defensive leader, Brian Cushing, who sustained a season-ending knee injury before last week's bye.

The Colts don't expect much of a drop off.

''They've got able bodies. They've played well with him and they've played well without him,'' Pagano said. ''They've got a system in place and they're going to run their system.''

But if Luck is going to deliver back-to-back wins over the league's most potent offense and most stingy defense, he has to focus on something other than a homecoming.

''Right now, it's us versus the Texans,'' he said. ''They are the reigning division champs and to get where we want to go, we have to through them.''


AP NFL website:

Texans - Team News
Alfred Blue - RB
Alfred Blue (ankle) was limited in Wednesday's practice. Blue got first-team reps with Arian Foster (knee) not practicing. The Texans also held out Andre Johnson (ankle) on Wednesday.
Oct 29 5:15PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) did not practice Wednesday. The Texans are limiting Johnson's reps for rest purposes. He didn't suffer any setbacks last week and should be fine for Sunday's game against the Eagles.
Oct 29 3:43PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster (knee) did not practice Wednesday. It's a new injury for Foster. Coming off his three-touchdown performance, it's possible the Texans are getting him some rest. Foster will be a top-three running back in Week...
Oct 29 3:18PM Read More
Zac Diles - LB
Texans signed LB Zac Diles. CB Elbert Mack was waived in a corresponding roster move. Diles' addition is a sign the Texans aren't expecting Brian Cushing (knee) back for Week 9.
Oct 28 4:04PM Read More
Garrett Graham - TE
Garrett Graham was held without a catch in the Texans' Week 8 win over Tennessee. Graham was targeted just one time on the day, a seam shot from Ryan Fitzpatrick that predictably fell incomplete. Graham has been a very minor part of the offense, making...
Oct 26 4:53PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson caught seven passes for 55 yards in the Texans' Week 8 win over the Titans. Johnson saw a team-high dozen targets. He was followed by Titans top CB Jason McCourty for much of the afternoon, leaving DeAndre Hopkins to work on sophomore Blidi...
Oct 26 4:44PM Read More
DeAndre Hopkins - WR
DeAndre Hopkins caught five passes for 95 yards in the Texans' Week 8 win over the Titans. Hopkins was targeted 11 times compared to 12 for Andre Johnson. Hopkins picked up chunk yards on all of his grabs, and was stopped at the five-yard line on one grab where...
Oct 26 4:24PM Read More
Alfred Blue - RB
Alfred Blue rushed for 42 yards on 14 carries in the Texans' Week 8 win over the Titans. Blue added a 22-yard catch. With the Texans clobbering the Titans late and Arian Foster having already piled up 173 yards and three touchdowns, Blue got plenty of run late...
Oct 26 4:11PM Read More
Ryan Fitzpatrick - QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed just 19-of-35 passes for 227 yards, one touchdown, and zero... Fitzpatrick was pretty bad for most of the day, begging to be picked off, but the Texans rode Arian Foster's legs to victory. Fitzpatrick's lone touchdown went to Foster on...
Oct 26 3:45PM Read More
Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster rushed for 151 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries in the Texans' 30-16, Week 8... Foster managed just 36 yards on his first 10 carries, but broke a 34-yard touchdown and had no trouble finding holes in the Tennessee defense from there on. Foster caught a...
Oct 26 3:21PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Jadeveon Clowney (knee) is active for Week 8 against the Titans. Clowney will play on a "pitch count," likely in pass-rushing and third-down situations. Good luck with Clowney and J.J. Watt, Zach Mettenberger. Inactive for the...
Oct 26 10:34AM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) is likely to play against the Titans, but will be on a... "I thought what he did what he had to do this week," coach Bill O’Brien said. "I think he’s got a good shot to play on Sunday." Clowney has been...
Oct 25 9:13AM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) is listed as probable for Week 8. Johnson practiced in full Friday after being limited early in the week. He'll continue to play through his ankle injury. Johnson is a mid-range WR2 for Sunday's game...
Oct 24 5:19PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) remained limited in Thursday's practice. Johnson doesn't need full practices at this stage of his career. He's a solid WR2 for Sunday's game against the Titans.
Oct 23 4:37PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
Texans OLB Jadeveon Clowney (knee) said he'd be surprised if he doesn't play in Sunday's game... Clowney hasn't played since tearing his meniscus in Week 1. He says he plans to "push through" the soreness that's still in his knee. If the training staff lets...
Oct 23 11:41AM Read More

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