A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Showdown Against The Texans
**Indianapolis Colts (0-0) vs. Houston Texans (0-0)
Sunday, September 12, 2010 (1:00 p.m. EDT)
Reliant Stadium (71,054 capacity) – Houston, Texas
Television/Radio: CBS Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1**
The Colts are well aware the Texans want to not only open the season with a win, but also put the Colts behind them in the standings for the AFC South division title.
Houston finished 9-7 last season, their first winning season in the franchise's eight-year history, but the winning season did not come with a playoff berth.
The Colts received the AFC South's automatic bid by winning the division, and despite having the same record as the two wild card teams, the Baltimore Ravens and the New York Jets, the Texans lost out on a playoff berth through tiebreakers.
The Texans feel their next step as a franchise is advancing to the playoffs.
And to do so, many Texans players said this week they feel they must first go through the Colts, AFC South Champions six of the last eight years.
"(The Colts) are a big challenge for us," Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "This organization has beaten Indianapolis one time in 16 tries. It's a big, big hurdle for this football team and it will take everything that we've got."
Texans quarterback Matt Schaub says that while people outside of the Texans' headquarters may be hyping the game up as possibly the most important game of the season, he cautioned it is one game, and the team will approach it that way.
"We don't really look at it that way," Schaub said. "It's a chance for us to get our season started off in the right direction against a divisional opponent at home. Being 4-4 at home last year, 5-3 on the road, we really want to step up and be a better home football team. We let that slip a little bit last year. It's a team that we know well. They know us well. It's a chance for us to go out and win a football game. It's one of 16 (games).
"We're going to put the same amount into this game as we would any other game. We have to look at what (we're) facing right in front of us. We can't look at the big picture and get caught up in that. We just have to get better day-to-day and be ready to go Sunday."
For quarterback Peyton Manning and the Colts, they know the Texans, Tennessee and Jacksonville are after the AFC South title.
But, as Manning said this week, the Colts prefer to remain the hunters and not the hunted.
"It's hard for us to factor those kinds of things in," Manning said. "We have goals that we want to accomplish. What Coach (Jim) Caldwell talks about is how somebody says that the Colts have a bullseye on them and they are the target. Well, we sort of look at other teams as if they are the target. They are our target. They are keeping us from accomplishing our goals. We want to go get them. That's how we've always approached that.
"We don't walk around saying, 'Because we've done this in the past, this is who we are.' We walk around saying, 'Hey, this is where we want to go. They're the team that is in the way. We have to go get this goal.' I think that kind of knocks that factor out of the equation. We have goals that we want to accomplish. But what an incredibly tough challenge, going to Houston, on the road, on opening day, noon (CDT) kickoff."
The Colts defense enters the regular season Sunday with a rarity that is not seen often in the NFL.
Twelve starters returning.
That's right, 12, one more than the 11 that the Colts will put on the field every week.
The Colts return all 11 starters from last season and add former NFL Defensive Player-of-the-Year Bob Sanders back to the lineup.
The returning players and the knowledge that comes from having played in Defensive Coordinator Larry Coyer's system for a season means that aspirations are high for the Colts' defense.
Defensive back Kelvin Hayden thinks that the Colts have more of a comfort with Coyer's defense now, but that the learning is never over.
"I mean we made progress, and we want to continue to make progress and soak in what he is trying to put in out there on the field," Hayden said. "We want to be able to let it all hang out come game day."
Kubiak, who coached with Coyer at the Denver Broncos from 2000-05, thinks Coyer's presence has helped take the Colts defense to another level.
"I think Larry has brought a great deal to it," Kubiak said. "It's always been good and Larry has added his touch to it in the amount of time he's been the coordinator. They've been very aggressive. The Colts have always had a great offensive football team led by Peyton, but, to me, their defense is one of the most underrated defenses in the game and has been for a long time. They are very consistent. They don't give up big plays. They play with great passion. They tackle well and nobody rushes the passer better. That's always been a challenge for us from that standpoint."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE TEXANS
The Texans feel they are ready to take the next step in their franchise's history this season behind an explosive offense that averaged 24.3 points per game last season.
Schaub, who started for the AFC and was named MVP in last season's Pro Bowl, led the NFL in passing yards with 4,770 while completing 67.9 percent of his passes. He also threw for more than 300 yards in nine games last season, including once against the Colts, which is tied for the second-most 300-yard games in a single-season in NFL history.
Kubiak has a theory as to why his quarterback was able to have his success last season.
"Staying healthy, Kubiak said. "He's always put up pretty good numbers and been a pretty consistent player. He's had a hard time staying on the field. He's been nicked up. Last year, he stays healthy for us and puts up good numbers throughout the season. He's a fine player, and he is still very, very young and works really, really hard at the game. He's a student of the game, most good ones are. If we can keep him upright, I think he has a chance to have an excellent career."
Kubiak also was quick to point out another reason for the impressive passing yardage total.
"We threw it quite a bit," Kubiak said. "Hopefully, we won't have to put it up that many times this year. Hopefully, we can find a way to run the ball better than we did last year. He gave us the best chance to win, especially when we had an eight-week span in the middle of the season where we had some serious running back problems and it wasn't any secret that we were going to throw it. He got his chances and he took advantage of it."
The Texans are looking to second-year running back Arian Foster to help bolster their running game. Foster rushed for 216 yards and three touchdowns in the final two games last season and enters the 2010 season number one on the Texans' depth chart.
Schaub and the offense also lean heavily on wide receiver Andre Johnson. Johnson, who has started for the AFC in three of the last four Pro Bowls, led the NFL with 1,569 receiving yards on 101 catches last season. The former Miami Hurricane also led the league in receiving yards in 2008, and became the first player since the Colts' Marvin Harrison to record back-to-back 1,500-yard receiving seasons.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell considers Johnson and the Texans offense to be very dangerous.
"Extremely, I mean, it is potent," Caldwell said. "Schaub is throwing the ball extremely well and operates that offense with great efficiency. He has weapons to get the ball to. Foster has been running the ball extremely well. Obviously, Johnson on the outside has speed, power and you name it, he's got it. They have (Jacoby) Jones and a whole host of guys (Kevin) Walter, (David) Anderson that can put the ball in the end zone, a good corps of tight ends, a very, very good offensive line that the tackles are veteran guys. They have a couple of new guys in the inside; the center is good and solid. They are a tough team to handle. They are dangerous."
On defense, the Texans are young and talented, and they have used their last two first-round draft picks on defenders. In 2009, Houston selected linebacker Brian Cushing, who went on to be named the NFL Defensive Rookie-of-the-Year. In the 2010 NFL Draft, Houston selected cornerback Kareem Jackson from Alabama in the first round to help replace veteran Dunta Robinson, who signed with Atlanta in the offseason. Cushing will not play in the season opener due to a four-game NFL suspension.
Outside of losing Robinson, the Texans defense returns almost intact for this season, including 2006 number one overall draft pick, Mario Williams, who had nine sacks last season.
The Colts issued their practice/game status report on Friday with the following players listed as questionable for Sunday's game at Houston: LB-Cody Glenn (hamstring), WR-Anthony Gonzalez (back), OT-Charlie Johnson (foot), DB-Jacob Lacey (head) and C-Jeff Saturday (knee).
"They have a drive and desire to be the best, there is no question about that. But more so than anything else, I have mentioned time and time again, they are motivated by obviously the challenge of this season. That is what they are motivated by, the here and now, the present, the urgency of now. We have an outstanding team that we have to focus on that has very, very good personnel, a veteran group that has done nothing but gotten better each and every time they have gone out. We have our work cut out for us, so to reflect back is something you will find that we do not do very often, and I think we are more motivated by the challenge of the season more so than anything else."– Jim Caldwell on his team being motivated by the challenge of a new season and not anything in the past.
"Hopefully we can be consistent. I think we are a real solid team when we are consistent, when everybody's doing what they are supposed to do, playing in their gaps. When that doesn't happen, we do not like the results. We have the opportunity to be really successful with everybody coming back and the addition of Bob (Sanders). So, it is going to be interesting how this year plays out for us."– Defensive captain Gary Brackett on what he expects from the defense this season.
"I think he is going to be at his prime until the day he walks away. He is unbelievable, just the way he handles the game, how much he handles. To go run the show week-in and week-out in this league at the line of scrimmage in this business, I can't tell people how impressive that is. It's something else. When you play him, you know he's always going to play well. That's just the way it is. They have such big-play ability, so from our standpoint we have to hopefully slow them down and not give up the big play and make them work and hopefully make a few plays ourselves. He's the ultimate challenge from a defensive standpoint in this league. When you face him, you're facing the ultimate challenge."– Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak on Peyton Manning.
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR… 1. The Colts hope to extend their road opener win streak…
The Colts have won their last five road openers, which is the longest active streak in the NFL. The Colts are 7-1 all-time in Houston against the Texans, but have had to overcome double-digit deficits in their last two trips to Houston. The Colts trailed Houston, 27-10, late in the fourth quarter in 2008 before coming back to win, and trailed, 17-0, last season before making another fourth-quarter comeback.
Colts Last Five Road Openers
2009: at Miami W, 27-23
2008: at Minnesota W, 18-15
2007: at Tennessee W, 22-20
2006: at NY Giants W, 26-21
2005: at Baltimore W, 24-7
2. Colts Pass Rush vs. Houston's Passing Prowess
One of the big keys for both teams will be the amount of pressure the Colts are able to apply to Schaub. Schaub's numbers last year prove it is not wise to let him stand back in the pocket and have time to find his receivers. Last season, Schaub connected on 63-of-85 passes for 595 yards and three touchdowns against the Colts, but the Colts pass rush was able to sack him four times and also helped force him into throwing four interceptions. The Colts will look to defensive ends Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis to try and keep Schaub off balance. Last year, Mathis had a sack of Schaub in both games and Freeney had 1.5 sacks in the Colts win at Lucas Oil Stadium. For their careers against Houston, Freeney has recorded 12.5 sacks in 14 games and Mathis has 10.5 sacks in 13 games. Mathis also has forced eight fumbles against the Texans in his 13 games played. The Colts hope that both players are able to add to those numbers on Sunday.
3. Addai and Clark Hope Success Continues
Joseph Addai and Dallas Clark both have had their moments in the series.
Addai, who hails from Houston and attended Sharpstown High School, has 127 career rushes for 588 yards (4.6 avg.) and six touchdowns against Houston. He also has caught 23 passes for 167 yards and three touchdowns against the Texans. Last season, Addai accounted for both Colts touchdowns in their 20-17 victory over Houston on November 8.
Clark has career totals of 56 catches for 648 yards and eight touchdowns versus the Texans. Last year in two games against Houston, Clark caught 23 passes for 182 yards and one touchdown. Clark's 14 receptions against Houston last November 8 tied a club record for single-game receptions and also were the third-highest reception total by a tight end in NFL history.