**A Capsule Look at the Colts' Sunday Showdown Against The Texans
Indianapolis Colts (7-0) vs. Houston Texans (5-3)
Sunday, November 8, 2009 (1:00 p.m. EST)
Lucas Oil Stadium (63,000 capacity) – Indianapolis, Ind.
Television/Radio: CBS Sports and 1070-The Fan/HANK-FM 97.1
The Indianapolis Colts will look to improve to 8-0 when they host the Houston Texans this Sunday, in the first of two games between the AFC South rivals this month.
The Colts are amidst a three-game homestand after defeating the San Francisco 49ers last week, 18-14. They will host the New England Patriots next week.
This is the Colts' final first-round matchup against their three divisional opponents, having already defeated Jacksonville and Tennessee earlier this season.
But the Colts will face a Houston team that is off to the best start in its nine-year history. The 5-3 Texans are riding a three-game winning streak and are coming off a 31-10 victory at Buffalo.
"They have been playing extremely well, and we are concerned with them," Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell said. "All of our games have been very close over the last few years. I wouldn't expect this to be any different."
The Colts own a 13-1 advantage in the all-time series, but the Texans have been closing the gap in recent years. Last year, Indianapolis defeated Houston twice, but both games were decided by less than a touchdown. The Texans have never won in Indianapolis.
"We've had some great football games with them in the past, (but) they tend to be the ones making the plays at the end, and they get the victory," Houston Head Coach Gary Kubiak said.
A win Sunday would extend the Colts' regular-season winning streak to 17 games, but quarterback Peyton Manning expects to get Houston's best effort.
"I really think this may be our biggest (game) of the season, so far," Manning said. "You look at the actual records of the teams we've beaten so far and they don't have as many wins. I think we are beginning the teeth of our schedule right now with the way some of these teams we're about to play are playing right now. Houston is playing with a lot of momentum…
"Being an AFC South game, it's one that both teams will want to win. It's kind of the last game of our second quarter. We want to go into the second half of our season on a high note."
When adversity has struck, the Colts have seemed nearly unflappable this season.
Several players have missed playing time over the team's first seven games due to injuries, but the Colts' "Next Man Up" theory continues to be a mantra that translates to winning.
"I think that is the healthiest approach," Caldwell said. "What we try and do is try to encourage all the guys who are not just starters, but the guys behind them. Even the guys on the practice squad, we tell them that anybody at any point in time could be called upon to step in and do a job. You have to be ready."
Caldwell acknowledged it can be difficult for players to sometimes wait their turn, but when it comes to being ready, they have no choice.
"When opportunity knocks, you have to be able to take advantage of it," the Colts coach said. "We need them to be ready, and they certainly need to be ready."
Fortunately for Caldwell, the players have been ready this season. And they will need to continue to be after the Colts learned of some unfortunate news this week.
Three defensive starters, linebacker Tyjuan Hagler (elbow), cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee) and safety Bob Sanders (elbow), were placed on Injured Reserve this week. In addition, the Colts announced wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez underwent arthroscopic knee surgery on Thursday.
While the injuries will be felt, Caldwell said he takes comfort in the fact that young players have being stepping up all season.
"Situations occur, and sometimes you have to be called upon to do just a little bit more than you ordinarily do for a game," he said. "This one will be no different. I think we are well equipped to handle it."
With three roster spots open, the Colts activated rookie linebacker Cody Glenn from the practice squad and signed defensive end Josh Thomas, who played with the club from 2004-08 and had a brief stint with the team during training camp, and tight end Tom Santi. Santi played in six games last season and is being moved up from the team's practice squad.
"He knows our system," Caldwell said of Thomas. "He's been able to do it in previous years, coming back at short notice and being able to be a factor in a ballgame quickly."
In place of Hagler, Caldwell said the team would likely turn to second-year veteran Philip Wheeler and use rookie Ramon Humber in relief duty.
As for Jackson, the Colts will continue to start rookie Jerraud Powers at cornerback alongside veterans Kelvin Hayden, Tim Jennings and T.J. Rushing and rookie Jacob Lacey.
"Jerraud acts as if he's been here on this earth before," Caldwell said. "He is just wise beyond his years in terms of the way in which he acts and functions. Lacey still has a bit of playfulness in him, yet he is still determined. Like most good defensive backs, I think you have to be a little bit of a riverboat gambler with a short memory. I think he does possess that."
Melvin Bullitt will move back into the starting lineup for Sanders.
Despite the injuries suffered and adjustments made on the defensive side of the ball, the Colts have yet to lose this season and are giving up just 13 points per game, the fewest in the NFL.
"It's like a juggling act," Caldwell said. "We've been able to perform fairly well under the circumstances."
A CLOSER LOOK AT THE TEXANS
Off to the best start in franchise history, the Texans are coming to Indianapolis in search of a signature victory.
Houston has never beaten the Colts in Indianapolis, but came very close last season. Colts safety Antoine Bethea said he sees basically the same Texans squad from last year, with the exception that this year's club is playing with a lot more confidence.
"Obviously, they are playing good football right now, and they are confident in everything they are doing," Bethea said. "They are the same team, but they are just making fewer mistakes."
The 5-3 Texans, who defensive end Dwight Freeney said have gotten better every year he's played them, are led by one of the strongest passing games in the league. Quarterback Matt Schaub leads the NFL in passing yards with 2,342 and in touchdowns with 16.
"He has poise and accuracy," Caldwell said. "He is playing with a lot of confidence. He has been spreading the ball around. He's been doing a great job."
The Texans will be without one of Schaub's favorite targets Sunday, tight end Owen Daniels. The pass-catching tight end suffered a season-ending knee injury last week.
"You're never going to replace his production with one player," Kubiak said. "I think the key is we have to spread it out amongst the group, and everybody has to pick up the slack."
The Texans have plenty of other capable weapons remaining. Pro Bowl wide receiver Andre Johnson leads the NFL in receiving yards and running back Steve Slaton is coming off a 1,200-yard rushing season in 2008.
"In my opinion, (Johnson) is one of the best receivers in the league," Schaub said. "He's my go-to-guy, obviously. We want to get him the football, because he's a playmaker and can do a lot of things with it in his hands. We've got other guys that can make plays, too. It's just a matter of going to the open guy."
The Texans are led on defense by defensive end Mario Williams (3.0 sacks) and linebackers Brian Cushing (66 tackles) and DeMeco Ryans (59).
Tight end Dallas Clark said the Texans don't utilize a complex defense, but instead line up and say, "Come beat us."
"We have to attack them," Clark said. "It's not like they try and screw you up with blitzers and crossers or anything like that. They play pretty heads up."
Several players, including Clark, said they are going to have to match Houston's intensity and enthusiasm on Sunday.
"This is a big division game, and one of the number one goals in everyone's locker room is to win the division," he said. "This is a big game for both sides."
The Colts issued Friday's game status/injury report with WR-Anthony Gonzalez (knee), DB-Kelvin Hayden (knee) and K-Adam Vinatieri (right knee) listed as out for Sunday's game against Houston. RB-Donald Brown (shoulder), WR-Pierre Garcon (ankle) and DT-Fili Moala (concussion) did not practice on Friday and are listed as questionable for Sunday. DB-Jamie Silva (hip) was listed as full participation for Friday's practice and is listed as questionable for the game.
• "It's the same guy I've always seen. Unfortunately, or I guess fortunately, I got to see him a lot in my days at Denver and now in Houston. I just marvel at what he does week-in and week-out. I've got so much respect for him, obviously, as a player, but also as a person and what he's done for this league and the job he's done for (his) franchise. I guess unfortunately as a visiting coach, he's special to watch. He's a great player." – Houston Head Coach Gary Kubiak on Colts quarterback Peyton Manning
• "The guy makes a lot of plays. He is all over the field. He's a force to be reckoned with every time that ball is snapped on any of our kicking teams. He gives us great effort as well." – Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell on special teamer Jamie Silva
• "When K-Adam (Vinatieri) gets hurt you say, 'How do you bring in anybody that has the kind of experience that Vinatieri has?' Nobody really has the experience Vinatieri has because of the situations he's been in. Matt's been around for a long time and sure has seen a lot of situations. He was calm and cool the other day, as you'd expect him. Obviously, we'd like to ease his load a little bit, and hopefully make him just kick extra points." -- Colts quarterback Peyton Manning on kicker Matt Stover, who made four field goals last week
STORYLINES TO WATCH FOR…
1) WAYNE CONTINUES TO IMPRESS
As much rewriting of the record books Peyton Manning has done this season, wide receiver Reggie Wayne has been keeping just as busy.
Through seven games this season, the three-time Pro Bowl wideout is on pace to have the best statistical season of his career. Wayne is second in the NFL in receptions (51), receiving yards (689) and touchdowns (six). In addition, the nine-year veteran is leading the league in catches for first downs with 39 and receiving yards per game with 98.4.
While Caldwell has been impressed with his player's performance, he is not sure he is ready to title Wayne's season his best ever.
"He has been playing so well over the last six or seven years," Caldwell said. "Overall, he was overshadowed because Marvin (Harrison) was here… Now, obviously, he doesn't share that spotlight. He certainly has taken over that No. 1 spot and has performed extremely well."
Caldwell said it is hard to pick and choose years when players like Wayne, Manning and Harrison have had so many good ones to offer.
"I certainly wouldn't say (Wayne's) playing any less than he has played (in the past), Caldwell said. "I would say he's at his zenith and getting a little bit better."
Wayne's quarterback, Manning, said he has seen a change in the wide receiver's approach this season.
"This is a different type of year for him," Manning said. "His role has changed. He's taken some of these guys under his wing a little bit and helped them. (Assistant Head Coach/Wide Receivers) Clyde Christensen has challenged Reggie, also, to take his game to the next level. Clyde does a great job with all of the young receivers, but he has also challenged Reggie. I think Reggie has answered that challenge and is playing at a high level."
2) PASS RUSH TO GET PLENTY OF CHANCES
With 283 pass attempts this season, Texans' quarterback Matt Schaub drops back as much as any quarterback in the league.
And while he has produced a league-leading 16 passing touchdowns, the quarterback also has been sacked 13 times.
"Obviously, you have the possibility of the sacks and the quarterback getting beat up and those types of things," Kubiak said of his team's passing offense.
With a sack recorded in eight consecutive games, Freeney is the Colts' leading pass rusher. The defensive end said if the Colts can stop the run Sunday, and the offense and special teams do their part, the Texans will have to pass against them, meaning plenty of opportunities for him and his teammates.
"If we do what we are supposed to do, then we can open the floodgates and pin our ears back and get after the passer," he said.
And with pressure on the quarterback comes chances for the secondary.
"We have been making teams one-dimensional," Session said. "We are stopping the run and giving guys in the secondary a chance to make plays on the ball. The quarterback is getting thrown out of his element, and our defense is getting a chance to make plays in the passing game, and that's really helped us."
3) COLTS MUST LIMIT JOHNSON
The Colts have gone against some of the best wide receivers in the NFL this season. On Sunday, they might be going against the most physically gifted.
At 6-3 and 225 pounds, Texans wide receiver Andre Johnson has the rare combination of "size, power and speed that you just don't find very often," Caldwell said.
Last season, Johnson reeled in 115 catches for 1,575 yards and eight touchdowns. In two games against the Colts in 2008, he caught 13 passes for 186 yards and a score.
In order for the Colts to win Sunday, they will have to limit Houston's passing attack and contain one of the best wide receivers in the league.
"There is no question he has elite ability," Caldwell said.