INDIANAPOLIS – A Colts team at 8-5 has been nagged by uneven play for six weeks.
A 3-3 record has been tough to achieve and with three games to play, now is the time to "strike the match, catch fire and get the mojo going," according to Chuck Pagano, who was quoting Robert Mathis.
They're right. The Colts are one of three teams with a playoff berth secured, but improvements are necessary moving forward.
Houston has seen its two-year AFC South reign end under a rain of misfortune. With numerous factors on the line, the Texans come to Indianapolis seeking a first-ever win.
The Colts want to create momentum, and here are SEVEN VICTORY KEYS:
UNDERSTAND (TICKED) AND NOTHING TO LOSE – Case Keenum this week said his team is ticked (sanitized word used here) and is in a mindset to do something about it. The Texans opened 2-0, then misfortunes have kept that victory total stagnant. Minus a departed head coach and star RB, Houston seeks to end an 11-game losing streak and an 11-year drought in Indianapolis. If ever there were an opponent with nothing to lose, it's this Sunday. Jobs are on the line. A talented and popular interim coach, Wade Phillips, is in the saddle. Players like and respect him. They will play for Phillips and for a number of reasons – one being a champion's heart. Indianapolis will have its hands full, no matter what outside perception is.
NO YIELDING DIVISIONAL DYNAMIC – The Colts were a defending division champion (minus some departed veterans) in 2011 when Houston arrived at 10-4 wanting to solidify its first division title by knocking off a team that had beaten it 16-of-19 times while taking seven AFC South crowns. The Colts were 1-13, yet rose up on national TV and delivered a 19-16 right cross to Houston. Last year, Houston earned the division title with a week 15 home win, then came to Indianapolis and was beaten, a loss that thrust the Texans into the Wild Card weekend. Ouch. Memories are long. One of the stated goals this year was winning the South – done. It's another matter to maintain a stronghold on the division, and Tony Dungy often said he never wanted an AFC South team to think it could win on Colts soil. I'm sure that feeling exists now. Houston will fight for another year, and it will fight Sunday. The Colts started 5-0 in the division in 2005, 2007 and 2009.
ROLL BACK TIME –** The last Colts home game included three interceptions among four takeaways, defensive plays that kept Tennessee at bay while the Colts capped off a 22-14 win with a late TD drive after getting five FGs. The defense was timely with a Mathis strip-sack. None of those key moments were on display at Cincinnati. Indianapolis is 6-0 in multiple-takeaway games this season. Only one has come in the last six weeks. Let's revisit past ways.
WATCH THE LUGGAGE – It's been a bit of a catch-phrase this week, but a good one by Chuck Pagano and staff. In four of the last six games, QBs who opened 2013 as non-starters have hit 64.9 percent of their passes (104.9 rating) for 12 TDs (six of 25-plus yards), while having three interceptions – this after the Colts played well against a number of prominent veteran QBs earlier in 2013. Colts defenders did not thrive at Cincinnati and face Andre Johnson, who had three TD snares in the first meeting. Johnson has had a number of big days in his years against the Colts. Indianapolis needs to be sharp in its techniques and keep their eyes peeled.
CONTAIN TATE – Seven times this year the Colts have allowed 140-plus rushing yards in a game. Seven of the last nine opponents have rushed at least 30 times, each time topping 30 minutes possession time and but once not reaching a 4.0 average. It's a repeat of last week's note, but Houston saw on film what Cincinnati did (35 rushes, 155 yards, 4.4 avg., 37:45 TOP). Though he may have tender ribs, Ben Tatewent for 81 yards in the first meeting.
STILL THERE II – The only time in the past six games the Colts owned a first-half lead was against Tennessee two weeks ago, and then with four FGs. The Colts do not have a first-half TD in that span – a total of 37 possessions. Third-down conversions are five-for-40 in the last six first halves (zero-for-six last week), and opponents have kept the ball 23 more minutes than the Colts in those halves (earning a 114-24 scoring edge). Fifteen-of-37 drives have been three-and-outs. It's tough to write this again, but it's a major storyline the club would love to end Sunday and trend that forward as the final chapters (hopefully six) of 2013 are written.
POTENT TARGETS – Wanting to get T.Y. Hilton loose again is the offensive aim. Having three WRs catch 11 passes for 183 yards and four TDs last week was beneficial. Darrius Heyward-Bey contributed two first-down producing receptions. LaVon Brazill and Da'Rick Rogers caught nine-of-13 passes directed their way, and each scored twice. Coby Fleener has emerged lately, and he needs company to help Hilton. Hilton has 17 receptions in the last four games and those accounted for 135 yards and no scores. In the first two games post-Reggie Wayne, Hilton had 121 and 130 yards. The four-game total he has right now is constricting the field dramatically for the offense. He needs some help.
QUOTE TO NOTE(Cory Redding on who the enemy is)
"It's in this room. The enemy is always us, period, but it's no bigger now than it was before. We control our own destiny. Catching fire, doing the good things, executing well, winning these last three, going into the post-season strong, confident, on a roll, not limping into it, that's the mindset."