This time a year ago, the Houston Texans were preparing for a Week 18 matchup in Indianapolis against the Colts to close out the 2022 season. This year, that exact same sentence holds up for 2023, as the Texans travel to Indy to face the Colts this weekend in their regular season finale. Any similarities between this season and last end there, with the venue and the opponent.
Boy, how times have changed. A lot can happen in one year, and for the Texans and the Colts, more of it has been good than bad. For the Texans, in particular, a LOT more has been good. They found their franchise quarterback, their long term head coach, and a bit of a swagger that's been buried since, probably, pre-Bill O'Brien.
This time a year ago, the game between these two teams was a noon kickoff, buried amidst a pile of barely relevant football in Week 18, with the only relevant storyline being whether the Texans could clinch the first pick in the 2023 draft by doing something they'd done exceptionally well all year — lose a football game.
We all know how that ended — a 4th and 20 Hail Mary and subsequent two point conversion (both to tight end Jordan Akins) gave the Texans a 32-31 win, and relegated them to the second overall pick in the draft, a curse that became a blessing from about the time the name "C.J. Stroud" left the lips of commissioner Roger Goodell announcing the Texans' pick at the 2023 draft.
Now, these two teams battle for something completely different and way more fun, a spot in the 2023 postseason. The game has America to itself, with a 7:15 p.m. Saturday kickoff. The winner of this game secures a spot, the loser goes home. This is why you hired DeMeco Ryans and drafted C.J. Stroud, to play in games like this. The atmosphere should be off the charts at Lucas Oil Stadium. Let's get it on!
Here are four things to watch for:
4. Hey, Houston, Joe Buck is back!
For the last three seasons, the play by play duties for Houston Texans games on TV have been doled out largely to some combination of D team announcers on CBS and FOX. (Spiro Dedes is our friend!) With a prime time game comes relevance and acknowledgement, but Texans fans, be warned — with this primetime game comes JOE BUCK! Yes, the former lead MLB announcer for FOX is now the lead play by play guy on ESPN for their NFL coverage, which I know many of you hate to hear. For some reason, Houstonians hate Joe Buck, despite his voice being the narrator on moments like this:
To be clear, I'm cool with Joe Buck. I just want the rest of y'all to be up to speed. Now, onto the actual football....
3. Operation Shutdown Taylor
Since their Week 2 loss to the Colts, the Houston Texans have had one of the best defenses in the league when it comes to stopping opposing rushing attacks. The Texans' defense allows just 3.3 yards per carry, second in the NFL behind the New England Patriots. Fortunately, stopping the run is the ticket to slowing down the Colts, as their best offensive player is running back Jonathan Taylor, even if the stats don't portray his season as a typical Taylor season. Injuries and an early season holdout for more money (which he wound up getting) have been a factor, but I'm certain DeMeco Ryans is planning on seeing the version of Taylor that led the NFL in rushing in 2021.
2. No big chunks
With great run stopping this season for the Texans, unfortunately, has come a serious propensity to bite on play action fakes, and subsequently give up huge chunk plays in the passing game. When the Texans defense has been its worst this season, it's when it's allowed explosive plays, particularly to offenses that aren't all that explosive to begin with. The Colts have two capable receivers in Michael Pittman and Alec Pearce, so the Texans will need to maintain discipline on defense, and if they do, they can leave the rest of the work up to....
1. C.J. Stroud, big stage time
Quite simply, this is why you drafted C.J. Stroud. Games like this, moments like Saturday. The environment should be electric in Indianapolis, but Stroud has played in more intimidating environments in college, if we're being honest. The pressure of being the Ohio State starting quarterback exceeds any pressure that he will likely ever feel as quarterback of the Texans. In short, Stroud will be up to the moment on Saturday. I'm confident of that. My only question really centers around the red zone. The Texans have not been great cashing in on opportunities deep in opposing territory (18th in the league), especially lately, without WR Tank Dell (broken leg) out there to loosen up defenses. If the Texans lose, that will be why — getting three points instead of seven on trips into Indy territory.
SPREAD: Texans -1.5 PREDICTION: Colts 27, Texans 23 SEASON RECORD: 6-10 SU, 6-10 ATS
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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.