*HOUSTON — *Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.
This week’s edition is coming at you from Houston, where the Colts are in town for their Wild Card round playoff matchup against their AFC South Division rival Houston Texans.
Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here.
Let’s jump right into this week’s questions:
» Keith B. (Houma, La.): “Hey Andrew thanks for this mailbag. I'm in the United States Coast Guard and just returned from a year over in the middle east and will be in Houston for my first ever Colts playoff game! Was wondering if you think our o-line can get the run game going against the Texans this week? They struggled in the regular season in this area against the Texans as did the rest of the league. I think it's extremely important with TY hobbled and could be the difference in the game.”
Walker: Keith — thank you so much for your service! I can’t even imagine how stoked you are to get to your first Colts game. I think there are two possible ways I can go with my answer to your question about the Colts’ run game against the Texans today.
First, let’s go with what we know: the Texans are the best in the NFL at stopping the run. Like the Colts, they didn’t allow a single 100-yard rusher all season, but the Texans take it even further, ranking first in the NFL in rushing yards-per-carry allowed (3.44) and third in the league in rushing yards allowed per game (82.7). As you alluded to, the Colts didn’t run the ball so well in their first two games of the season against the Texans, with just 41 and 50 yards in Weeks 4 and 14, respectively.
So, that’s what we know. Here’s the unknown, however: Indianapolis is likely going to have its preferred starting five up front for the first time since Week 11, a group that the statistics show just has been able to perform much, much better both in the run game and as pass protectors. The Texans have not seen the lineup of Anthony Castonzo (left tackle), Quenton Nelson (left guard), Ryan Kelly (center), Mark Glowinski (right guard) and Braden Smith (right tackle) together in either of their two previous meetings against the Colts this season, so I’m interested to see if maybe Marlon Mack, Nyheim Hines and Jordan Wilkins can get something cooking — even a little bit — against this super talented Houston defensive front. If they can, then look out.
» Jamie R. (Myrtle Beach, S.C.): “Has TY Hilton been practicing much this week for the wildcard playoff vs the Texans? and what is the condition of his injury or how close to 100% is he at this point?”
Walker: The simple answer to your first question is: no; T.Y. Hilton did not practice at all this week leading up to today’s Wild Card matchup against the Texans. But that’s not out of the norm for the last few weeks as he’s been dealing with this nagging ankle injury; in fact, Hilton has practiced just once over the last month or so. And, amazingly, that hasn’t seemed to have slowed him down one bit, as he is averaging about 95 receiving yards in the three games since suffering the injury. As for the second part of your question, I couldn’t begin to provide any sort of percentage when it comes to his ankle, but I will say that I’d need to watch Hilton warm up before the game before making any declarations about how I think he’ll fare in today’s contest. I did notice a little hobble in his step last Sunday before the Titans game, and I think that showed throughout the night at times, even though he was able to battle his way through it for two catches for 61 yards, including a 43-yard play in which he was able to turn on the jets a little bit. So let’s see how Hilton is looking and feeling before the game today.
» David S. (Glascow, Scotland): “Just read PFF all pro teams. Can you try and explain to me, a newcomer to stats, how Vander Esch beat out Leonard for second team all pro. Leonard led Vander Esch on every stat I’ve checked except games played. I’m so confused I couldn’t even compare him to the other LBs selected. Thanks”
Walker: David, I can certainly understand your confusion. Pretty much every statistic, no matter how simple or complex, indicates Darius Leonard has had a better season than the Dallas Cowboys’ Leighton Vander Esch. The reason Pro Football Focus is different is because it has its own people who assign their own grades to each play of each game. So, according to their graders, Vander Esch was, for the most part, better at his job this season than Leonard was at his. You can argue about the stats to them all you want until you’re blue in the face, but PFF folks are dead set in their methods, so there’s no reason to get all that upset about it. I always say this about PFF: it’s a tremendous resource to track certain trends and statistics that otherwise you wouldn’t have; I enjoy utilizing their advanced offensive line stats (hurries, pressures, etc. allowed), their pass rush stats, where guys are lined up in various formations, etc. While I don’t usually tend to follow their grading system too closely, I do respect the obvious work they put in. So my advice, David, is to find a happy medium between the stats that you think represent a good player, and what maybe PFF’s graders believe is going on.
» Nathaniel M. (Bowling Green, Ky.): “I know our run defense has been awesome these last couple of week being able to stop Elliot from Dallas and Henry from Tennessee, how are you planing on shutting down Hopkins on Saturday. That will be a big Indicator on how the outcome will play out?”
Walker: I think the Colts provided somewhat a blueprint to putting the clamps down on DeAndre Hopkins back in Week 14, when they held him to a season-low 36 receiving yards (although he did have a touchdown reception). Pierre Desir did a wonderful job on Hopkins, as did the other Colts defensive backs who got in on the action. NFL Next Gen Stats showed that not only did the Indy secondary shut Hopkins down on his two deep routes (one was a little more than 25 yards away, while another was reaching 50 yards down the field; he didn’t make a play on either), the Colts did a tremendous job limiting Hopkins’ abilities after the catch. So Hopkins might be targeted a lot today (obviously) and he might haul in a lot of catches on the day. But if the Colts can continue to limit his opportunities deep down the field and bring him down immediately upon making his receptions, then that seems to be the formula for success against Hopkins.
» Joey F. (Pickerington, Ohio): “Hey Andrew, how do you think the Colt's will try to apply pressure on Watson this week to contain him from making those big time improve plays that he has proven to be able to do so well? Thanks!”
Walker: Between Nathaniel and Joey’s questions, I think we have the answer as far as what the Colts need to do defensively today against the Texans. The good news for Indianapolis and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus is that his unit has been able to apply constant pressure on Deshaun Watson in both their meetings in Week 4 (seven sacks) and Week 14 (five sacks). Back in Week 4, the pure speed of the Colts’ pass rush was on full display, as Indy defenders accounted for three of the four fastest sacks in the NFL that week, according to Next Gen Stats: Margus Hunt (2.4 seconds; No. 1) and Jabaal Sheard and Kemoko Turay (2.5 seconds each, tied for fourth). Back in Week 14, Denico Autry had the second-fastest sack in the NFL, as one of his two sacks was made in just 2.41 seconds. What does that tell me? First off, the Texans obviously have their share of issues up front; they allowed a league-high 62 sacks on the year. But secondly, it’s imperative that defenses not even give Watson time to use his elite athleticism to escape the pocket and make plays with his feet, and that’s what Indy did such a good job with for the most part in Weeks 4 and 14. We’ll see how that pans out today.
» Erick S. (Brazil, Ind.): “What is our biggest concern. Heading into Saturdays game and will Ryan Kelly be able to play this has been a amazing season”
Walker: Erick, I’ll address Ryan Kelly here: all signs point to him being able to play today against the Texans. Not only did he practice all week — he was estimated as a limited participant for Tuesday’s walkthrough, and was a full participant on Wednesday and Thursday — but he wasn’t even given an injury status for the game of questionable, doubtful or out, which is usually a very positive sign for a player’s availability. So it seems as though Kelly, who suffered his neck injury Week 16 against the New York Giants and missed last Sunday’s clincher against the Tennessee Titans, will be back in the fold.
» Michael A. (East Orange, N.J.): “Andrew Im sorry I have to tell u this I know odum your guy but why is he such a liability on defense and special teams?”
Walker: First off, Michael, it’s utterly shocking — and, frankly, impressive — that you follow closely enough to know that George Odum is my guy, but hats off to you. You are a true Colts fanatic. And I’ll respectfully disagree with you here: with injuries at the safety position, Odum has been thrust into a lot of playing time defensively down the stretch, and I actually think he’s done quite well for himself, most notably as a sound tackler out of the secondary. Yes, he did have a brutal late hit penalty last Sunday against the Titans, but I’d say compared to other players who have come and gone at the safety position in recent years who have at times had issues with similar penalties, I’m willing to chalk this one up to a young mistake for Odum. The undrafted rookie does have three other penalties on the year, but he is also second on the team with nine special teams tackles, so sometimes you have to weigh the obvious playmaking talent with the growing pains. Plus, you know … he’s my guy.
» Steven B. (Columbus, Ohio): “I actually have two questions if you have the time to answer both.
It seems as if the Colts get very little respect when it comes to the awards voters. I feel coach Reich has been overlooked for Coach of the Year. As far as I'm concerned, no other coach has done more with less talent than he has. Same goes for Chris Ballard when it comes to Executive of the Year. Do you feel it's because Indy is such a small market? Secondly, I've lost track of Terrell Basham since he was waived. I know the expectations were very high for him Where is he now and is he starting to reach those expectations?”
Walker: To answer your first question, what you’re seeing right now is just chatter about who’s worthy of those types of awards, because the actual winners won’t be known until the NFL Honors show the night before the Super Bowl. One would imagine the Colts will have realistic candidates for Coach of the Year, Executive of the Year, Comeback Player of the Year, Defensive Rookie of the Year and, maybe, Offensive Rookie of the Year. But the fact of the matter is this has been a very noteworthy season when it comes to not only first-year coaches having success, but also a ton of rookies having success, and on both sides of the ball. So, yes, we all feel Frank Reich should be Coach of the Year around these parts — and same goes for Chris Ballard and the Executive of the Year race — but I’m guessing those vote totals are going to be very, very close between two or three different candidates.
As for Tarell Basham, he got picked up by the New York Jets, and ended up playing in 10 games with one start there, totaling eight tackles, this season.
» Nick M. (Cheektowaga, N.Y.): “Quick question for you, any word or updates on Deon Cain? And is there a possibility of him coming back in the post season?”
Walker: Quick answers for you: Deon Cain’s recovery and rehab work, as far as I last checked, is going great. But, no, there is no possibility of him coming back this postseason. First off, it can’t happen simply because the team has no more return-from-IR spots left to use (it used its allotment of two on Tyquan Lewis and Joe Haeg). But Cain simply wouldn’t be ready to play by now; he suffered his torn ACL the first preseason game on Aug. 9, so this would only be less than five months post-surgery. We’ve learned about nine months at minimum is the expectation when it comes to ACL recoveries and getting back to practice, let alone a game setting. So look for Cain to be good to go by late in the offseason workout program, or, better yet, really good to go for training camp, barring any setbacks.
» Sandra B. (Evansville, Ind.): “Not really a question but sending kudos to Nyheim Hines who totally made the day for Easton Gansman who has Duchennes Muscular Dystrophy. Thank you for making such a tremendous impact in the life of this young man. It is professional players like you who take time for fans that are the real role models for our kids. God bless you!”
Walker: Here, here.
» John P. (Rolling Meadows, Ill.): “I don't have a question, but just wanted to say that I'm celebrating my 60th Anniversary as a Colt fan. I became a fan watching the NFL Championship game played on December 28, 1958 between the Baltimore Colts and New York Giants. I have remained a fan in spite having lived my entire life in the Chicago area surrounded by Bears fans. Super Bowls V and XLI were especially sweet.”
Walker: Thanks for sticking with the Colts all these years, John! Keep fighting the good fight against those pesky Bears fans.