Twice in the Bill O'Brien era, the Houston Texans have faced the Indianapolis Colts at home. Each time it has been a prime time game following a fairly devastating loss the week before — in 2014, following the 20-17 overtime loss in Dallas to the Cowboys, and in 2015, following the debacle in Atlanta when the Texans fell behind 42-0 early in the second half.
In each of those home tilts with the Colts, Indy has done what most teams do to the Texans when they meet after dark — they built up double-digit leads before the Texans scored a point, and they went on to win the game, 33-28 in 2014 and 27-20 last season.
Now here come the Colts again, ready to pounce on a Texans team that's trying to pick up the pieces from another soul thrashing the week before, this time in the aftermath of maybe the most disheartening loss of the O'Brien era, a 31-13 humbling in Minneapolis last Sunday.
Let's get you ready for the game, quick-hitter style, with some things to watch...
Leadership is a weird thing. Unless you're on a sideline, if all you're doing is observing from a distance, then what tends to happen is this reverse confirmation in which a team that's winning all of a sudden has these "great leaders," and a team that's getting blown out (like the Texans on Sunday) has a "leadership vacuum." That said, we've all watched the Texans enough to know who the leaders on the team have been over the past few seasons — J.J. Watt, Brian Cushing, Duane Brown, Chris Myers, Andre Johnson, to name a few — and the problem is those guys are all gone, injured or unable to play at a high level right now. Unfortunately, nobody has really filled this void, and it feels palpable. On top of that, the natural leadership position on an NFL team, quarterback, has a player who's under the most scrutiny right now for poor play. If the Texans lose this game this weekend, it will be fascinating to see who the "voices" of this team become, who's out on the front line taking the figurative bullets, as Chris Myers and Duane Brown did with so much dignity in 2013, when that season spun wildly out of control. (SIDEBAR — Antonio Smith might be the most suited for a leadership role on this team right now, given his history with the team and personality. He was in a recliner two weeks ago. What does that say?)
3. Frank Gore (GORE! GORE! GORE!)
Did you know that Frank Gore is the ninth all-time leading rusher in NFL HISTORY? I'll admit, I had no idea. And if he keeps up his current pace of around 66 yards per game this season, he will finish the season in eighth place, with only these names ahead of him — Emmitt Smith, Walter Payton, Barry Sanders, Curtis Martin, Ladanian Tomlinson, Jerome Bettis and Eric Dickerson. They are all Hall of Famers (or, in Tomlinson's case, will be by next summer). I don't know if Gore is a Hall of Famer, but he's been one of the best backs in the league this season, and the Texans are 26th in DVOA against the run right now. If the Colts get a lead in this game in the fourth quarter, their chances of staying on the field and keeping the game out of the hands of Indy's shoddy pass protection are good.
2. Secondary concerns
On Sunday, the Texans went into the game without CB Kareem Jackson (hamstring), and by halftime were playing without CB Johnathan Joseph (concussion) and SS Quintin Demps (calf) as well. This wasn't a major issue at the top two corner spots as Kevin Johnson and A.J. Bouye have been two of the team's best defenders this season. However, it did get Charles James onto the field as a nickel corner, and he got destroyed. (It also got Corey Moore and Eddie Pleasant some run at safety, which was also problematic.) Make no mistake, if given time, Andrew Luck is smart enough to find these weak spots in the Texans' secondary, unless the...
1. Jadeveon Clowney ascension
...continues. Last week, Clowney was not just stout in the run game, he was a disruptive force (four tackles for loss). Now he needs to have a breakout game rushing the passer, hitting Luck and putting the Colts in predictable down and distance situations. This is one way to take Frank Gore out of the game and protect your potentially leaky secondary. This is a game where the Texans need to win the battle of former No. 1 overall picks — Clowney needs to play like a star, and needs to make Andrew Luck say his name...
Prediction: Colts 27, Texans 23
Spread: Texans -3
Season Record (SU, ATS): 4-1, 4-1
Listen to Sean Pendergast on SportsRadio 610 from 2 to 6 p.m. weekdays. Also, follow him on Twitter at http://twitter.com/SeanTPendergast and like him on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/SeanTPendergast.
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