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INDIANAPOLIS – As the Colts head into Thursday's 2011 home finale, they will look across the field at a very familiar foe in the Houston Texans.
This will be the second meeting between the teams this year, but the differences between their week one and week 16 meetings are many.
On the Colts side of things, their injury-battered offensive line has found consistency in the past few weeks. Quarterback Dan Orlovsky is making his fourth consecutive start under center. The Colts have used a fullback routinely to help the rushing game get on track for its best performance the team has seen in years.
For the Texans, the injury bug has bit the AFC South Champions as they are on their third quarterback of 2011, with rookie T.J. Yates scheduled to make his fourth straight start. The Texans also will be without linebacker Mario Williams, who is on injured reserve and wide receiver Andre Johnson who has been ruled out for Thursday's game.
Yates has had his ups and downs in his rookie season throwing for 770 yards to go along with three touchdowns and three interceptions. The highlight for the rookie came two weeks ago when he led the Texans comeback by throwing a game-winning touchdown pass with just two seconds remaining to give Houston a 20-19 win over the Cincinnati Bengals.
"In this league one of the big stepping stones to being a successful quarterback is being able to go down late in the game and take your team down the field and get a win," Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak said. "So that was a big moment for him as a young player. It gave him a lot of confidence and it gives the football team a lot of confidence in him. For us to continue this year he is going to have to grow up real fast and kind of play above and beyond what you would ask of a very young rookie like himself. That was some good stuff (against Cincinnati), and like I said, at the same time we come back this week (against the Carolina Panthers) and make too many mistakes. So we just need to keep working and see if we can get him playing at a high level."
Even though this will be a road game for the Texans, Yates will be coming home to Indianapolis as he lived here until he was in the third grade and his grandfather still lives in Anderson.
"I'm looking forward to having some of my family and friends there, but first and foremost this is about our team getting back on track," Yates said. "Last game we, as a whole, did not play well at all as a team, and myself, personally, didn't play well. So it was a quick turnaround. It's one of those good things where you have a bad taste in your mouth, but you have to turn right around and play another game. So you get a chance to go out there quickly, correct things and kind of jump back up on that horse."
In last week's Colts game with the Titans rookie quarterback Jake Locker entered the game in the fourth quarter. The dual-threat Locker led the Titans on their lone touchdown drive and the Colts will face a similar signal-caller on Thursday.
"He is a mobile quarterback," safety Antoine Bethea said. "Looking at the film in a short amount of time, he really doesn't make a lot of mistakes. Hopefully, we can get (Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis) off the edges and get him into a position where he has to make some mistakes. Hopefully, we can capitalize on those."
As any rookie quarterback does, Yates will be leaning on the running game on Thursday. Fortunately for the North Carolina product, he will have the disposal of one of the best running back duos in the NFL, Arian Foster and Ben Tate.
The 2010 NFL rushing champion, Foster has overcome some early-season injuries to rank third in the NFL with 1,667 yards from scrimmage this year.
Foster was the leading receiver for the Texans last week against Carolina and he had more than 100 yards rushing and receiving against Tennessee on October 23.
In week one against the Colts, Tate took the bulk of the carries for the Texans and he started off the season with back-to-back 100-yard rushing performances.
"(Arian) Foster and (Ben) Tate, they are doing a good job," Bethea said. "They have that zone principle where the running backs can run and find that hole and if one person is out of position, it could possibly be a 40 or 50-yard run. We most definitely have to be gap-sound this week and run to the ball and fly around like we did on Sunday."
The Texans lead the league in time of possession and their head coach talked about the importance of running the football on Thursday.
"First off, anytime you come to (Lucas Oil Stadium) the game changes drastically, because (the Colts) get off the ball so well and the turf is has always given us problems, it's given the Houston organization nine problems," Kubiak said. "We have never found a way to win there. But it starts with the crowd noise, the turf and the way (the Colts) get off the ball that presents a lot of problems for us offensively."
Those home fans were greeted with the first victory of 2011 on Sunday and in the final home game of the season Thursday the players expect the same type of effort from the 12th Man they got against the Titans.
"They were great," Orlovsky said. "(It was) not surprising. I've quickly learned how passionate the fans are about the Colts, about the players, really. I think some credit needs to go to the team for giving the fans a decade of (good performances). They were great, real supportive. Hopefully, we can continue. I'm a big believer in giving them a reason to cheer. Hopefully, we can go out do that on Thursday Night. We're going to need their help. They were a huge help for our defense (last week). A false start here or there, a delay of game, a general sense of not allowing the other quarterback to get comfortable (is important). They were huge for us on Sunday. Hopefully, they will be a bigger help on Thursday."
Texans 34, Colts 7 – September 11, 2011
With newly-signed quarterback Kerry Collins under center, the Colts dug themselves an early hole from which they could not recover. The Colts defense got things started on the opening drive as safety Melvin Bullitt intercepted Texans quarterback Matt Schaub. However, the Colts drive would stall on the next possession and from there it was all Texans. Kicker Neal Rackers finished off a 13-play, 73-yard drive with a 25-yard field goal to start the scoring. The Colts would then fumble on the opening play of the next two drives both leading to Texans touchdowns and making the score 17-0 after the first quarter. The Texans offense would keep things going in the second with another touchdown and a field goal before the special teams got involved. Punt returner Jacoby Jones capped off the 34-0 first half with a 79-yard return for a touchdown with less than a minute remaining in the second quarter. The Colts did get on the board in the second half as wide receiver Reggie Wayne capped off a seven-reception, 106-yard day with a six-yard touchdown in the fourth quarter.
Texans running back Arian Foster against the Colts defense: After battling hamstring injuries early in the season and missing the first game between these teams, Foster is back and among the league leaders in rushing yards. The third-year back leads the league with 138.9 yards from scrimmage per game and will be leaned on heavily with quarterback T.J. Yates making just his fourth NFL start. The Colts could be without linebacker Philip Wheeler for the second straight week but Ernie Sims filled in admirably last week with a game-high 15 tackles. The Colts held Titans running back Chris Johnson to 55 yards on 15 carries and will be looking to neutralize another Pro Bowler on Thursday.
Colts running game against the Texans defense: Coming off one of the best rushing performances in franchise history, the Colts will look for similar success against the Texans. One of the new wrinkles in the running game has been the use of fullbacks Jerome Felton and Ryan Mahaffey. Running back Donald Brown ran for a career-high 161 yards against the Titans as the trio of Joseph Addai and Delone Carter combined for more than 200 yards rushing for the first time all season. The Texans outgained the Colts by 103 yards on the ground in their week one meeting but this will definitely be a different rushing attack coming at Houston.
-The Colts are 9-0 at home all-time against the Texans.
-Colts wide receiver Reggie Wayne has 11 career touchdown receptions against the Texans, which is the most by him against any team.
-Colts wide receiver Pierre Garcon needs 125 receiving yards for his first-ever 1,000 receiving season.
-Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney has 15.5 career sacks against the Texans, which is the most for him against any team.
-Colts defensive end Robert Mathis has 12.5 sacks against the Texans, which is the most for him against any team.
-The Texans are looking for their fifth straight road win of 2011 and are 4-0 against the AFC South.
-Texans linebacker Connor Barwin's 10.5 sacks in 2011 joins Mario Williams as the only Texan to record double-digit sack totals in a season in franchise history.
-The Texans are second in the NFL by allowing 277.9 yards defensively.
-Texans running back Arian Foster is the only running back in the NFL to have two 100-yard receiving games in 2011.
-Texas quarterback T.J. Yates was born in Indianapolis and lived there until 3rd grade.
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on seeing quarterback Dan Orlovsky earn his first win as a starting quarterback in the NFL):
"I'm glad to see a lot of our guys, just the entire team really (earn the victory), because it's been a tough stretch. It's not over yet, obviously, we've still got to battle and we have a couple more games ahead of us. It was good to see Dan (Orlovsky) play well, and it was good to see him get a win, obviously. I was also not only happy for him, but also happy for a lot of other guys on this team. I worry about my men, these guys that play for us. It's important for them to get one as well."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell (on making improvements in the running game and adding a fullback to the offense):
"I think there are a lot of things that go into it. I don't think there is just one factor. I think we have a combination of things that are occurring. Once we settled in, we were able to use our personnel as such where we had two healthy fullbacks. We started out a few weeks back with one, then we got injured and had to change in the middle of a game. Now, we have a couple of guys who have been able to work that position. Even if we have an injury, we have someone else who can come in and still carry on. We've made a concerted effort to run the ball. You can see by the numbers in previous weeks, our numbers have been increasing steadily. We're not quite certain we want our numbers like they were (against Tennessee), 34 attempts rushing and 17 passing, but the running game is important to us. It's how at this point in time we're going to win games. We have to be able to control the line of scrimmage. Certainly there is a commitment there (to run the ball). Our backs are doing a good job of running the ball. Our offensive line, fullbacks and tight ends are all doing a good job of creating creases as well. The perimeter (is, too). You can't have a good running game without everybody being sold on it."
Colts Head Coach Jim Caldwell(on the play of the linebacker group):
"These guys have been playing well. That group has come along and gelled together. Even without Philip (Wheeler) in there they played well, and Ernie (Sims) stepped in and had (15) tackles. I think overall, when you look at that group, they have performed extremely well, and that has made a difference for us."
Colts defensive end Dwight Freeney(on finishing with a .500 record in the AFC South and finding a silver-lining on the season):
"Absolutely, you have to. This game is tough and it wears on you, so you have to find reasons to play sometimes. Bulletin board (material) and all of that stuff, you have to find things. For us, it's going out there and continuing to play hard and finishing the season strong. We've got some division opponents, so they know us and we know them. (We will) just see if we can get a couple of more wins here."
Colts quarterback Dan Orlovsky(on how much inside knowledge he has on Houston, having played there previously, and if that will help him on Thursday):
"The teams play each other enough and have had enough big games against each other the last couple of years that you know enough about each other. Obviously, me being there practicing against those guys basically every day, I certainly know the kind of players they are. At the end of the day, it's going to come down to us going out and playing and executing. It's not like either team is a big team that is going to try and confuse the other a ton. Each team lines up and kind of does what they do. It's about going out and doing it better than the other guy consistently. They know me just as well as I know them."
Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak(on Texans quarterback T.J. Yates' performance this season):
"He's been inconsistent, but we know what we're facing with a young player like himself. But he has consistently done good things, and he's had mistakes in each game that he has to correct. In this past game (against the Carolina Panthers), obviously, we had a few more (mistakes) then we need to be successful. I think he's got a very bright future. This is a big task for him to take on, but he's working very hard and hopefully we can play well around him."
Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak(on being able to wear the opponent down with the running game):
"It does start with what we are offensively. We want to move our quarterback and we want to play (action) pass so if you're not running the ball well, those things are not effective. I think we are one or two in the league in time of possession this year, which has been very positive for our team, and our special teams have been pretty solid. So it is what ultimately makes us go, but there are some days that you show up, you don't run it well, and hell, you better be able to throw it to win. We were able to do that in Cincinnati a couple of weeks ago."
Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak(on the Texans being able to overcome injuries to quarterbacks Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart and injuries at other key positions):
"I've been doing this a long time and I've been a part of injuries. Those are part of the game all the time, but it's interesting for us with how it's been such key players. If you would have said at the start of the season that you're going to lose Matt (Schaub), you're going to lose Andre (Johnson), Arian (Foster), Mario (Williams) and those guys, then you would have said, 'Oh no, that doesn't look good.' But we've found a way to rally, we've had to change it a little bit at times and say, 'OK, how do we go win this game? What's the best thing for us to do this week?' I think we've found ways to adapt, and our players, you've got to give them a lot of credit, they've adapted as well. Ultimately, when you show up on game day you (will do) whatever it takes to win, and we've been able to keep pushing ourselves and find a way to do that. I've been proud of them from that standpoint."
Texans quarterback T.J. Yates(on being thrust into the starting quarter position but not being able to make any excuses because of the win-now mentality of the NFL):
"Absolutely. These coaches and everybody on this team, we all have extremely high expectations of each other and of ourselves. I may be a rookie on paper, but I've been in this offense all season long, had a couple of games under my belt and I don't care who you are, you can't be making mistakes like that (against the Carolina Panthers) on the offensive side of the ball. Doing that stuff is not going to get your team in the right position to win football games, so it's not acceptable. I've got to learn from it and move on. (The Carolina) game was definitely a learning experience for me. There were some things that I did wrong that I had to go on film, correct myself and get better from. You hate to have a learning experience in our situation, but it's kind of what happened."
Texans quarterback T.J. Yates(on working with Texans Head Coach Gary Kubiak and quarterback Matt Schaub):
"It is awesome. I've got so much experience and information to pull from at all times. All my coaches are awesome. All year long (Quarterbacks) Coach (Greg) Knapp, Coach (Gary) Kubiak and (Offensive Coordinator Rick) Dennison have been (very helpful). They push the backup quarterbacks so much, because they know we don't get the reps physically out there on the field that we have to get them mentally. So every that they get we are getting quizzed on everything that you can think of. (Things like) formations, plays and defenses, at all times whenever you're in the building, and even sometimes when you're not, you're going to be tested mentally as a backup. I think that helped me so much in being able to step in when Matt (Schaub) and Matt (Leinart) got hurt."