Check out our slideshow from the Texans/Colts game.
It seems evident that Matt Schaub isn't going to win a shootout with the likes of Tom Brady or Aaron Rodgers. Perhaps not with Andrew Luck. But if the team's other components execute the way they're designed to, he shouldn't have to.
On Sunday, the Texans (12-2) finally returned to their core principles of a punishing rushing attack and a diversified pass rush. Their reward was a division-clinching win that puts them on the verge of the AFC's number one seed and home-field advantage for the playoffs.
"We got back to what we kind of are as a football team today," said head coach Gary Kubiak, celebrating at Reliant Stadium after a second straight division crown.
Arian Foster rushed for a season-best 165 yards, including 131 in the second half as the Texans' offensive line wore down the Indianapolis front.
"I train myself to be at my best when everybody else is tired and I'm tired," said Foster.
On the other side, J.J. Watt had his usual spectacular game with three sacks, three tackles for a loss and a forced fumble. But for the first time in a while, he consistently had help, with a relentless pass rush limiting Andrew Luck to a mere 48 percent completion rate. Antonio Smith and Connor Barwin each had sacks.
"They were locked in all week, very quiet, very businesslike," Kubiak said of his team. "They got back to themselves this week."
Offensive line keys turnaround
If the Texans are to beat the likes of Brady or Peyton Manning come January, it likely won't be with the formula they used to rally against Jacksonville and Detroit. Andre Johnson is great, but those other elite teams simply have too many weapons.
Instead, the Texans must control the clock, keep opposing offenses off the field and physically wear the opposing defense down in the second half.
For one week, mission accomplished.
"I think that's what defines you as an offensive line," said center Chris Myers. "We've struggled with that in the past couple of weeks at being establish the run to finish the game. But we were able to do it today in a huge setting."
Indeed. The Texans dominated the clock (33:06-26:54 advantage), had a close-to-even split of passing and rushing yards (239 to 178), and seemed at their best as the game went on. Most impressive was Houston's final eight-play, 78-yard drive, on which seven carries went to Foster. The Colts (9-5) knew exactly what was coming but could do nothing to stop it, with Foster darting through gaping holes for 25 and 26-yard pickups.
"That's the way our scheme works sometimes," said Myers. "You get four yards here, three yards here, but as long as you keep staying true to it, those bust-out runs are going to come. They came in the last drive and it sealed the game for us.
"You can get a feel for how the game is going and when the defense is on their heels a little bit. They were on that last drive, and we took advantage."
Newton makes triumphant return
A big difference came in the Texans' ability to successfully run through the right side. With Derek Newton out since Thanksgiving with a knee injury, replacement tackle Ryan Harris and right guard Ben Jones were consistently unable to create room against New England.
On Sunday, Newton returned and delivered one of the best performances of his young career, consistently sealing holes and giving the Texans balance on both sides of the line.
"Nothing was going to keep me off the field today," said Newton. "I had to be out there. This team likes to run the ball, get down and dirty. It's about picking up first downs and having long drives. We did that today."
Posey makes his move
It wasn't all about the running game, of course. When the run plays struggled early on, Andre Johnson kept Houston afloat with the majority of his team-high 11 catches for 151 yards and a touchdown. For his part, Schaub had yet another efficient day, completing 23-of-31 passes for 261 yards, a touchdown and no turnovers.
The exploits from Johnson were to be expected. What may have come as a surprise, however, was the strong outing from rookie wideout DeVier Posey. A third-round pick from Ohio State, Posey caught three passes for 46 yards, including a 36-yard seam route on which he held on despite being decked.
The Houston coaching staff seemed quite impressed. For much of the fourth quarter, it was Posey -- not usual No. 2 receiver Kevin Walter -- that lined up opposite Andre Johnson as the Texans closed things out.
"A young player has really stepped up, so we're going to give him an opportunity to play more," Kubiak said of Posey.
The Texans all year have been searching for one of three young players -- Posey, Keshawn Martin (both rookies) and Lestar Jean -- to give them more explosion opposite Johnson in the passing game. With the postseason around the corner, Posey seems to be coming around at just the right time.
"This is all part of the maturation of a player," said Posey. "I learned as a freshman in college that it doesn't happen just like that. I've just been trying to study more and more. We don't have an easy playbook or scheme, so just being able to understand what we're doing conceptually has helped a lot."
Watt finds help
On defense, the incredible outing from Watt can't be overstated. Now with 19.5 sacks on the season, he has a legitimate shot to break Michael Strahan's all-time record of 22.5 sacks in a season. Even while playing a position (end in a 3-4) that typically isn't known for pass rushers.
"If he keeps going at the rate he's going, I think he'll probably be the greatest Texan to come through here," Andre Johnson said of Watt.
But unlike recent weeks, the "Bulls on Parade" label correctly applied to more than one defender. Conner Barwin and Antonio Smith each held their own, while the much-maligned Houston secondary limited star Colts receiver Reggie Wayne to a mere 3 catches for 14 yards, one of which came on the game's irrelevant final play.
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It wasn't a game without flaws. The Texans scored just one touchdown on five red-zone trips. Shayne Graham badly missed on another 50-yard field goal. The defense struggled at times with Vick Ballard, who rushed 18 times for 105 yards, and has Adrian Peterson and the Vikings visiting next Sunday.
But when everything was on the line in the second half, the Texans won a huge game by reverting back to their core principles: a physically-punishing ground game and a diverse pass rush that rattles opposing quarterbacks.
If they're going to win even bigger games in January, this is likely to be the formula.