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
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...
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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.
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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
Andre Johnson - WR
Ryan Fitzpatrick admitted he "didn't get it to Andre [Johnson] nearly enough early"... Johnson finished with 5-77-0 on nine targets, but had just one catch for four yards through the first three quarters. After the game, coach Bill O'Brien said that Johnson...
Oct 23 8:03AM Read More
Brian Cushing - LB
Texans ILB Brian Cushing will miss at least one week with a knee injury. It's a blow to an already vulnerable Houston run defense, and a nice upgrade to Bishop Sankey's Week 8 matchup. Justin Tuggle and Mike Mohamed figure to start at inside...
Oct 22 8:32PM Read More
Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson (ankle) was limited in Wednesday's practice. The Texans are limiting Johnson's reps coming off Monday night's loss. He'll remain a WR2 for Week 8 against the Titans.
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Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster was limited in Wednesday's practice. The Texans listed Foster as "not injury related," but he missed practice time last week with a groin issue. Foster has a matchup with the Titans' No. 22 ranked run...
Oct 22 5:15PM Read More
Jadeveon Clowney - LB
According to, there's a "decent chance" Jadeveon Clowney (knee)... "He feels good," coach Bill O'Brien said Monday. "Well see how it goes this week in practice. We'll be able to make a determination pretty soon about whether...
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Garrett Graham - TE
Garrett Graham caught two passes for 24 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers. Graham was targeted three times, but dropped the other. It can be considered one of Graham's better statistical games of the season, which obviously means he's nowhere near...
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Andre Johnson - WR
Andre Johnson caught five passes for 77 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers on... Johnson and DeAndre Hopkins each saw a team-high nine targets. There was nothing special about Johnson's night. His biggest play was a 24-yard grab on a deep in route in...
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DeAndre Hopkins - WR
DeAndre Hopkins caught six passes for 108 yards in the Texans' Week 7 loss to the Steelers on... Hopkins and Andre Johnson each saw a team-high nine targets. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw it to whichever receiver was working against embattled Steelers CB Cortez Allen. ...
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Alfred Blue - RB
Alfred Blue rushed for 14 yards on five carries and caught an 11-yard touchdown in the Texans'... Blue was the vulture on the opening-drive 11-yard score after Arian Foster managed 59 rushing yards to get the Texans near the goal line. Foster is an every-down back,...
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Ryan Fitzpatrick - QB
Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 21-of-32 passes for 262 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception... Fitzpatrick played well for much of the first half, leading the Texans on three consecutive scoring drives to open the game. It was a train wreck thereafter. One play...
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Arian Foster - RB
Arian Foster rushed for 102 yards on 20 carries in the Texans' 30-23, Week 7 loss to the... Foster got off to a blazing start, rushing for 59 yards on the Texans' 94-yard opening touchdown drive, but was vultured by Alfred Blue for the 11-yard touchdown catch to...
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