Each week, Colts.com will speak with a writer who covers the team the Colts are set to play that upcoming week.
In Week 18, the Colts are facing the Houston Texans at Lucas Oil Stadium. To gain more insight, we caught up with Drew Dougherty, the Texans TV Host and Senior Integrated Media Manager.
Colts.com: This Saturday's game between the Colts and Texans is the biggest game of the year for both sides since the winner clinches their place in the playoffs. With so much on the line, how would you describe the atmosphere of the locker room?
Drew Dougherty: WR Nico Collins, DE Will Anderson, Jr, LB Blake Cashman—gave them a boost, and Stroud's return last weekend just turbo-charged that boost. He lifted the spirits when he came back to practice last Wednesday, and those sentiments were echoed by head coach DeMeco Ryans and many of his teammates. With him on the field, they believe they can win against anyone.
Colts.com: It's safe to say that C.J. Stroud has been one of the best rookies in the NFL this season. From Week 1 all the way to the regular season finale, where have you seen the biggest growth from him?
Drew Dougherty: Weeks 1 and 2 seem like light years ago. The Texans lost those games at Baltimore and at home against Indianapolis. Since the start of Week 3, this team is 9-5. Stroud's taken great strides in running the offense depending on the situation and the matchup. For example, in October and much of November, he went deep with ease. Nobody in the NFL has been better than him at throwing passes that go 20 yards or longer in the air. Stroud entered last weekend's win over the Titans atop that category in completions and completion percentage, and had seven touchdowns and zero interceptions. So Tennessee took away the explosive plays last Sunday, but Stroud adjusted and diced the Titans up with shorter passes, and he got the Texans run game into excellent matchups.
Colts.com: Another offensive rookie who turned heads this season was Tank Dell. Unfortunately, his season was prematurely ended after he fractured his left fibula. How have you seen the offense adapt in his absence?
Drew Dougherty: That's been a big loss. Including the game in which he broke his leg against the Broncos, Houston's not scored 30 points in the last five contests. They cracked 30 or more four times before Dell was done for the season. The Texans have been able to run the ball solidly since he left, and Devin Singletary's averaged 77.5 yards on the ground since Dell's departure. But you also have to factor in the two games without Stroud since Dell was injured: in all, the rookie quarterback's played just one full game since Dell was lost for the season.
Colts.com: Over the course of the year, rookie Will Anderson Jr. and Jonathan Greenard have established themselves as a formidable young pass-rushing duo. What is that allows them to work so well off of one another?
Drew Dougherty: Health. Until December, they were able to be on the field together. Greenard missed last week, and Anderson was out the two weeks prior. By most accounts, regardless of position Anderson was rated as the best overall player in last year's NFL Draft. He's played like it on the field, and acted like it off the field and in the locker room. His teammates elected him as one of the captains prior to Week 1. Greenard, meanwhile, is the healthiest he's ever been in his career, and he's producing. With eight sacks in just 12 games in 2021, last season was supposed to be a breakout campaign for him. But he only was healthy enough to start four times, so he wasn't able to do what he wanted. He's been healthy this year, Anderson has as well, and they've taken advantage.
Colts.com: The last time these two teams squared off, the Colts walked away with an emphatic 31-20 win. However, that game was three and a half months ago. From your observation, what are the biggest differences you've seen from both teams in that time?
Drew Dougherty: Stroud and offensive coordinator Bobby Slowik worked out the kinks of the first two weeks, and took off. There have been a slew of offensive line combinations, and none of the receivers and tight ends have played together on a consistent basis, but Stroud's flourished through it despite all that. The defense has been terrific against the run this year, after being atrocious against it since the start of 2019. This is a young, confident bunch that isn't looking towards great things in the future: they wanna win now.