Sean Pendergast

NFL Week 1: Colts-Texans — Four Things To Watch For

Sunday marks the first regular season game of the Lovie Smith Era as Texans head coach.
Sunday marks the first regular season game of the Lovie Smith Era as Texans head coach. Photo by Jack Gorman
If we are being honest with our assessment of the AFC South in 2022, it remains one of the weaker divisions overall in the National Football League. Also, I think if we're being honest, we would largely agree that the Indianapolis Colts are the most talented team of the four-team divisional bunch, and the Texans, while getting better, are still the most talent deficient.

So it would seem that Sunday's assignment, hosting and attempting to defeat the Indianapolis Colts, is a fairly daunting task, and the 8.5 point spread (in favor of the Colts) would seem to indicate that the oddsmakers agree with that assessment. However, there is some history at play here that helps the Texans.

The first is more nostalgic than anything else, but I will remind Texan fans that the Texans are 2-0 in season openers hosting the Colts! Granted, Jon Weeks is the only player still left on either team who participated in those two games, all the way back in 2010 and 2011, but still, IT HAPPENED, PEOPLE! In 2010, Arian Foster announced to the world who he was with over 200 yards rushing in the opener, and in 2011, the Texans mopped the floor with the Colts in the Colts' first game post-Peyton Manning neck injury.

As for more recent, more relevant history, how about this — the Colts have never won a season opener with Frank Reich as their head coach! Four season openers, four losses, and all of the losses were to teams that eventually missed the playoffs, some by a LOT. Here are those four games:

2018, 24-23 vs CIN
2019, 30-24 (OT) at LAC
2020, 27-20 at JAC
2021, 28-16 vs SEA

The combined records of those teams at the end of the season totaled 19-46. So it is not out of the realm of possibility at all that the Texans, who should have a chip on their shoulders in a big way after two blowout losses to Indy last season, could pull off the upset on Sunday afternoon. Here are four things to watch for on Sunday as we embark on the 2022 season:

4. Dameon Pierce Era begins
Pierce has flashed about as well as any reasonable Texans could have expected coming into the preseason, finishing with 11 VERY encouraging carries for 86 yards and a touchdown in the preseason. Pierce flashed so well in Week 1 of the preseason that he got to sit in Week 2, as if he were a vested veteran. This is probably the most hyped that Texans fans have been for a rookie since Deshaun Watson in 2017, which speaks to (a) how awesome Pierce has looked as a fourth round pick, and (b) what a barren wasteland the running back position has been for the Texans since Arian Foster left in 2015. The Pierce Era starts Sunday, and the Colts provide a formidable foe against whom the Texans offensive line will try to resurrect the team's running game.

3. New Colt pieces
In a recent poll of 26 anonymous player agents in The Athletic, Colts GM Chris Ballard was named the top talent evaluator among the general manager's ranks in the NFL. He won that honor last year, as well. Here's the thing — Ballard is really good at his job, BUT it's only resulted in one playoff win in four years (ironically, it came at NRG Stadium against the Texans in Andrew Luck's final season). So Ballard has operated with a sense of urgency in supplementing his stellar drafts with some veterans who have significant pelts on the wall. Matt Ryan is the team's new quarterback. He is a former league MVP. Stephon Gilmore signed with the Colts in the offseason. He was Defensive Player of the Year in 2019. Yannick Ngakoue has played for a number of teams in recent seasons, but is still a productive pass rusher. These new pieces will all be on display for the first time on Sunday.

2. Stopping Taylor
And even with all of those new pieces, the Colts will go as far as they can riding the back (and legs) of running back Jonathan Taylor, who in two seasons, has quickly established himself as the best running back in football. At least, that's what fantasy football players all think, as I haven't seen one fantasy draft that doesn't have Taylor going first overall. The Texans will need to find a way to slow down Taylor, and will try to do so by throwing as many bodies as possible at the situation, rotating fresh legs in on what has become a sneaky deep defensive line for the Texans.

1. It's time, Davis
The story of this season, though, for the Texans will be the development of Davis Mills. This will be a talking point leading into every Sunday of the season. Early mock drafts, across the board, all seem to have the Texans taking Ohio State's C.J. Stroud or Alabama's Bryce Young with a top pick next spring. If Mills is able to develop to the point where the Texans are comfortable giving him a Year 3 as the starter, it opens up so many possibilities in using what should be two picks in the top 15 (and five in the top 75 or so) in the 2023 draft to continue building the foundation AROUND Mills. Sunday is the first real test for Mills in what his coaches have deemed a very productive offseason that's seen Mills take the leadership reins behind the scenes. That's all well and good, but if the results are anemic offensive outputs, no one will care about the behind the scenes positivity.

SPREAD: Texans +8.5
PREDICTION: Colts 24, Texans 17

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Sean Pendergast is a contributing freelance writer who covers Houston area sports daily in the News section, with periodic columns and features, as well. He also hosts the morning drive on SportsRadio 610, as well as the pre-game and post game shows for the Houston Texans.
Contact: Sean Pendergast