Through week five of this season, the Houston Texans defense was throttling their opponents. Save for a couple of late scores by Peyton Manning and the Broncos, Houston was 5-0 and no one had scored more than two touchdowns on them in a game. Their pass rush was intimidating, their linebackers were flying to the ball and their corners were shutting down opposing receivers. Then LB Brian Cushing got hurt, and everything changed.
The next week, Green Bay rolled into Houston and laid 42 points on the Texans. Since then, three other teams, including the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars, have piled 30 or more points on the Texans. Last week, Tom Brady and the New England Patriots' offense sliced through the Texans like so much Swiss Cheese.
To their credit, the Texans have won two of the contests (Jacksonville and Detroit) where they surrendered 30 or more points. That's a tribute to Matt Schaub and the Texans offense which seems to be hitting its stride. But defensive coordinator Wade Phillips has to be concerned about his defense's performance as the playoffs loom.
It's not just Cushing's injury that has hurt Houston. CB Johnathan Joseph has missed considerable time with a groin injury. He's slated to be back this week, but still isn't 100 per cent. Backups LB Brooks Reed and CB Alan Ball are out this week and S Glover Quin may not be able to go with a hip injury. Just as the Colts are having to rely on the "next man up," so are the Texans.
Houston still ranks seventh in the NFL in total defense, but clearly have struggled since the loss of Cushing to shut down better offenses, of which Indianapolis is one. The Colts rank seventh overall in total offense in the NFL.
Moreover, it would appear that a big part of Houston's defensive effectiveness is due to its offense keeping it off the field. Houston lead the NFL in time of possession, leaving its defense on the field for only 27 minutes a game on average. Last week, the Patriots owned that statistic as they converted six of 12 third down opportunities en route to 42 points.
The pressure is also overwhelmingly on the Texans. They carry the weight of lofty expectations, having been the odds on favorite to win the AFC for some time now. Now they are faced with having to beat the Colts to eliminate them from division contention and having to stave off the New England Patriots for home field advantage. A loss Sunday keeps the Colts in contention for the AFC South and puts Houston at risk for having to travel away from Reliant Stadium during the playoffs.
Can the Colts exploit all of this and steal a win on Sunday? We'll look more into how the Colts can do that in our key matchup piece tomorrow.
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