INDIANAPOLIS – The Colts sheer dominance of the Texans has been there in both Indianapolis and Houston this season.
The city of Houston got to see it on Sunday, with the Colts shutting out the Texans, 31-0.
What did we learn from the Colts (7-6) heading for their bye week just outside of the AFC playoff picture?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
1. Gave Them No Hope: When you play games like this—as a double-digit road favorite facing a team with one of the sorriest attendance numbers you’ll ever see in the NFL—the start of the game must all be about ‘giving your opponent no hope.’ That’s exactly what the Colts did, with Kenny Moore spearheading that. Moore picked off Tyrod Taylor on the first play of Sunday’s game, by doing a wonderful job getting his feet down in bounds. The Colts turned that into a TD with a 6-play/6-run drive. Moore then followed that up with a strip on the next series. Just like that, the Colts had taken the lead and broken whatever hope the Texans might have built had the game started differently, with Houston taking the first possession. Along with Moore, two high-effort sacks from Al-Quadin Muhammad had the Colts defense in full control throughout the first half. Again, there’s a reason why the Texans are officially eliminated from the playoffs now with more than a month still left in the regular. And the Colts did their part in pushing them towards an early offseason. While the first half saw little dominance from the Colts offense, particularly in the trenches, the game never felt like it would get out of their control Why? Because the Colts continued to dominate field position by not turning the ball over, thanks a high-level punt unit and a defense that showed why the Texans have the worst offense in the NFL. Houston had just 3 first downs in the opening half, despite having 6 drives, and never crossed midfield. The final straw of the ‘give no hope’ recipe was a touchdown drive to open the second half and push the lead to 21-0. This is how you beat bad football teams.
2. Defense Dominates: There’s nobody worse at offense in the NFL than the Texans. But the Colts defense did not allow even an ounce of resistance to Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills. In the end, it was the first road shutout for the Colts since 1992 and the Texans never got past the Indy 40-yard line. We talked about the early turnovers setting the tone, but even when that playmaking wasn’t there, the Indy D was outstanding. It took the Texans 44 minutes on Sunday to cross midfield for the first time. Some credit to the Colts secondary group, too. While the Texans have one of the worst wideout groups in the NFL, that position didn’t record a catch until late in Sunday’s third quarter. That’s incredible, with the Colts secondary playing a big part in that thanks to its coverage and plays on the ball. Tyrod Taylor and Davis Mills combined to go 11-of-27 for 84 yards and an interception. The Colts entered Sunday with a league-high 27 takeaways. That number is now 29. The defense wanted 40 takeaways at the start of the season. It was a beyond lofty goal. With 4 games to go, it isn’t crazy at all. Kemoko Turay also tossed in a couple late sacks. It goes without saying what his emergence would do down the stretch.
3. Meh Offensive Performance: How much was the Colts offensive sluggishness a result of no Ryan Kelly (COVID) in the lineup? The trench play for the Colts on Sunday was not at the level that should be expected. Over the course of the game though, a re-committed approach to giving Jonathan Taylor (32 carries for 143 yards and 2 touchdowns) the football a lot wore down the Texans. Even with Taylor carrying such a heavy workload, the Colts got a little bit more playmaking from other skill players on Sunday. That included Michael Pittman, Nyheim Hines and Ashton Dulin. Still the offense didn’t have a great crispness to it on Sunday. Carson Wentz finished Sunday 16-of-22 for 158 yards and a touchdown. That won’t impress fantasy owners, but it was yet another road performance in which Wentz didn’t throw an INT and finished with a quarterback rating of more than 100. That’s been a constant from Wentz away from home this year, and a good sign if meaningful football in January does happen for the Colts. It wasn’t a poor offensive outing, but one that you can get away with against the Texans, not against some other teams remaining on the schedule.
4. Hot Rod Warming Up? One of the reasons why the Colts didn’t put this game away sooner on the scoreboard came from a 35-yard missed field goal in the first half. That was Michael Badgley’s first miss with the Colts, a bad pull from the right hashmark. Badgley did make all 4 of his extra points, although the last one doinked in off the right upright, and hit a 23-yard field goal in the 4th quarter. Personally, Badgley should keep his job and still have a little bit of a leash. Yes, missing a 35-yarder that badly indoors isn’t good. But Badgley also entered Sunday having hit 38 straight kicks in his 7 games with the Colts (28 extra points and 10 field goals). The elephant in the room, no matter the kicker, remains distance, with Badgley yet to attempt a field goal of more than 50 yards. Remember, the Colts say Rodrigo Blankenship is healthy enough to kick, yet he remains on IR. One kick isn’t going to cost Badgley his job, and it shouldn’t. But the pressure has to rise a little for him moving forward. Granted, kicking indoors the next 3 games should help him.
5. Welcome To The Bye: Here comes the latest bye week in the NFL for the Colts. From an injury standpoint, the Colts are pretty darn healthy (no injuries to report on Sunday) and don’t really need this week to get many guys back (Parris Campbell could return later this month). The big benefit from this bye upcoming is with Ryan Kelly on the COVID list. If Kelly’s absence is in the 10-to-14-day timeframe, he would have missed a second game. But with the bye, he will only have to sit out one game in all likelihood. So, the first COVID issue of the season for the Colts comes on a weekend before the team’s bye. That’s a break. Something to note, with the Kelly news on Saturday, the Colts were the second to last team in the NFL to have a player go on the COVID list this season. On the bye week front, FWIW, some recent Super Bowl champs have often had late byes. Also, just for the conspiracy theorists out there, the Colts and Patriots both have a bye week next week, so both teams will have a week-plus of rest heading into the mega matchup on Saturday, December 18th in Indy. As we mentioned this week, if the Colts finish the season 4-1 (now 3-1 after Sunday’s win), that should be enough to get into the playoffs. Honestly, a 3-2 mark (now 2-2) could even sneak into the postseason. Another win, and one in the conference, keeps the Colts in a really nice position tiebreaker wise.
–Injury Report: The team’s inactives were as followed: RB-Marlon Mack, OT-Julie’n Davenport, WR-Mike Strachan, DE-Ben Bangou.
-Key Stat: With a rushing touchdown on Sunday, Jonathan Taylor now has a rushing TD in 10 straight games. That’s the longest streak in the NFL since LaDanian Tomlinson in 2004.
–What’s Next: The Colts (7-6) will have the latest bye week in the NFL next week. Along with New England being off, the Colts and Patriots (8-4) will meet on Saturday, December 18th at 8:20 PM.