INDIANAPOLIS – ROOKIE PRODUCTION CARRIES OFFENSE – When the calendar turned to the month of December, the thought of the Colts' first-year players hitting the "rookie wall" was asked to interim coach Bruce Arians.
Arians already had addressed the topic with the young players, cautioning them to approach the rest of the season wisely and to maintain peak physical condition.
His words are being followed, and rookies accounted for nearly 82 percent of the Colts' offense at Houston.
Running back Vick Ballard had his first career 100-yard game on Sunday with 18 rushes for 105 yards. The output was the highest individual rushing total the Colts have had since Dec. 18, 2011.
"(Ballard) has the ability to make people miss and ran the ball extremely well," Arians said. "We felt like coming in that we matched up with them and had a plan to attack what they do, and, on the most part, it was successful."
Wide receiver T.Y. Hilton had three receptions for 78 yards, including a 61-yard touchdown catch late in the second quarter. The 61-yard play was the longest of the season for the Colts.
Hilton (six) now is two touchdown receptions behind Bill Brooks and Marvin Harrison for the club rookie record.
Tight end Dwayne Allen had the other touchdown for the Colts, an eight-yard reception late in the third quarter. That 80-yard touchdown drive came with rookies accounting for every yard, including 60 from Ballard on five rushes.
While the offense had success in moving the ball for much of the afternoon, Indianapolis had two drives that began inside the Houston 40-yard line. Those possessions resulted in just three points.
"We shot ourselves in the foot a couple of times. We got down in the red zone a few times and didn't convert," offensive guard Joe Reitz said. "When you're playing a good team on the road, you need to execute and can't shoot yourself in the foot, which we did too many times."
DEFENSE KEPT GAME CLOSE WITH STRONG PASS RUSH–* *After a three-game stretch early in the season with 11 combined sacks, the Colts pass rush put together a three-sack performance on Sunday.
It was the most experienced Colts defenders doing the damage in getting to Texans quarterback Matt Schaub.
Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis got the first sack in the second quarter when he took Schaub down off a play-action pass. The sack on first down helped force a punt.
The play gave Mathis eight sacks on the season, and is 3.5 shy of his career-high (2005, 2008). Two more sacks would give Mathis his fifth career double-digit seasonal total.
The sack began back-to-back three-and-out drives for the Colts defense, both of which set up the offense inside the Houston 40-yard line.
Outside linebacker Dwight Freeney joined his Pro Bowl teammate in the third quarter with a sack of Schaub in the red zone. The play came on second-and-eight from the Colts' eight-yard line and helped force a field goal.
For Freeney, the sack gave him 16.5 against the Texans, the most against any team in his 11 seasons. Indianapolis is 26-9 when Mathis and Freeney have sacks in the same game.
The Colts' final sack came on the first play of the fourth quarter when safety Antoine Bethea blitzed Schaub on another play-action pass.
In forcing six field goal attempts, the Colts defense kept the team within striking distance for the entire second half, and the unit held Houston to five-of-13 on third downs.
"The offense is going to make their plays, but we strive on keeping them out of the end zone," cornerback Vontae Davis said. "We have to go back and look at the film, learn from our mistakes and find out ways to get better. We are still pushing to get in the playoffs."
The defense looks to carry that effort into the final two games with the goal of extending the season beyond 16 games.
"We have a whole lot to play for," Mathis said. "We haven't accomplished our goals, and we aren't settling for mediocrity. We have to pull it together and go get one next week."