It took just 12 game minutes for Wade Phillips and his new-look defense to show why this year's Texans could be different from their once-promising predecessors.
Matt Schaub wasn't himself early on, air-mailing two routine throws to Andre Johnson and Kevin Walter. Both went off the receivers' outstretched arms, one resulting in an interception and the other an incompletion on what should have been a touchdown.
The Texans (1-0) had two promising drives that culminated with three points instead of 14. A year ago, similar missed opportunities doomed a team with one of the worst pass defenses ever.
Not on Sunday.
After the interception, the Texans forced Kerry Collins and the Colts (0-1) to punt after just five plays, punctuated with the first of two sacks from Mario Williams in his new outside linebacker role.
After the field goal, Antonio Smith -- now mostly playing against interior linemen in the Phillips 3-4 scheme -- used his speed to sack and strip Collins, forcing a fumble recovered by Shaun Cody. That set up the Texans at the Indianapolis 12, leading to a Derrick Ward touchdown.
"He's really a player," Phillips said of Smith. "They voted him captain and you can see why. He's an all-out player that can give you problems. "
On the next play from scrimmage, Collins muffed the snap, and strong penetration from rookie end J.J. Watt allowed him to recover that fumble. Three plays later, Ben Tate matched Ward with his own rushing touchdown.
It was 12 minutes into a game in which the Texan offense had already suffered a turnover and dropped a potential TD on third down. But they already led 17-0.
For once, the Houston defense picked up the star-studded offense. How's that for a change?
"Our defense went out there and they had my back," Schaub said.
When the Texans last played the Colts in November 2010, the Colts raced down the field for an opening-drive touchdown. Later in the quarter, Schaub had an interception returned for a score. The Colts led 14-0, and that sent the Texans into catch-up mode, abandoning the run despite the soft Indianapolis run defense. The Texans lost that game, 30-17.
On Sunday, however, Phillips's defense kept the Texans from falling into such a hole, even considering the early offensive miscues.
"He's done a hell of a job," head coach Gary Kubiak said of Phillips. "He's been exceptional and the players have adjusted very quickly to what he wants them to do.
"That's the best half of football we have probably played as a team," Kubiak added.
No, the Colts didn't have Peyton Manning. But they did have Collins, a capable veteran QB who orchestrated a blowout victory over the Texans last December while with Tennessee.
A year ago, the Texan defense was shredded by similar retread veterans, including Collins, Donovan McNabb, Matt Cassel and David Garrard. That wasn't the case come Sunday.
"I told those guys when I came in day one that we have the talent and it's just about us going out and getting the job done," said new cornerback Johnathan Joseph. "For us, this is step one. We did a good job."
The game was by no means perfect. The Texans offense had three turnovers, and will have to replace No. 2 receiver Walter for the next three months due to a shoulder injury.
But with Schaub, Johnson and the expected return of Arian Foster, that unit should be fine. Moreover, the offensive line held up beautifully against Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis, and James Casey proved a capable fullback replacement for Vonta Leach.
For a third straight year, the Texans should have one of the top offenses in the NFL. The question is whether Phillips can have a defense capable of keeping the team afloat during any short-term hiccups.
In the first week, the defense did exactly that.
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"So far, so good," said Phillips. "They put a lot into it. They've worked hard and studied hard. That's what we really pushed with them because we were behind and they needed to study more than they ever have."
"It was obviously a good start for us."