Texans-Colts Preview

The Indianapolis Colts have clinched the AFC South, but they’re

hardly playing their best heading into the final three weeks of the

season.

They’ve been anything but lackluster when facing the Houston

Texans, who have dropped all 11 meetings in Indianapolis.

The Texans will try to snap that skid and an 11-game overall

losing streak when they play their first game under interim coach

Wade Phillips on Sunday.

Although Tennessee’s loss at Denver on Sunday handed

Indianapolis (8-5) the division crown, coach Chuck Pagano said he

can’t afford to rest starters following a 42-28 loss at

Cincinnati.

“‘We talked and said, ‘They gave us 16 games, we’re playing 16

games,”’ Pagano explained. ”Right now, we’ve got a lot of things

to get better at. We have to go back to work and play good

football, consistent football for 60 minutes.”

The Colts haven’t scored a first-half touchdown in the last six

games. They’ve been outscored 114-24 in the first 30 minutes over

that span, which began a week after the loss of receiver Reggie

Wayne to a torn ACL on Oct. 20.

Indianapolis has also struggled defensively, allowing an average

of 32.2 points while dropping three of five. The Colts gave up 19.4

per game during a 6-2 start.

Indianapolis seems headed for the No. 4 seed, with AFC West

leader Denver at 11-2, East leader New England at 10-3 and the

North-leading Bengals at 9-4 and holding the head-to-head

tiebreaker.

Even if they can’t move up, the Colts would like to regain their

form from an early season in which they defeated San Francisco,

Seattle and Denver.

”You never want to backdoor your way into it, but we won (the

division),” NFL sacks leader Robert Mathis said. ”We’re in there,

punched our ticket to the playoffs. We just have to hit the

switch.”

After throwing for an average of 237.0 yards with two touchdowns

and five interceptions in his previous four games, Andrew Luck went

29 of 46 for 326 yards and matched a career high with four TDs

against Cincinnati.

The second-year pro will try to build on that performance

against a Houston team that has the second-best pass defense in the

league, allowing an average of 183.6 yards.

Luck has not thrown an interception while tossing seven

touchdowns in three career meetings with the Texans. Though he went

18 for 40 at Houston on Nov. 3, he threw for 271 yards and three

second-half scores to T.Y. Hilton as the Colts rallied from 18 down

for a 27-24 victory.

Hilton has 14 catches for 310 yards and five touchdowns in three

career games against the Texans, while rookie Da’Rick Rogers could

also play a large role after his 107-yard, two-touchdown effort

last week.

The Colts’ 11 straight home wins over the Texans have come by an

average of 13.9 points, with the most recent one a 28-16 victory

against the eventual AFC South champions Dec. 30.

This season has been a much different story for league-worst

Houston (2-11), which dropped its 11th in a row by a score of 27-20

at Jacksonville last Thursday.

The Texans were penalized 14 times for a team-record 177 yards

in the defeat before firing coach Gary Kubiak on Friday. They’ve

turned things over to Phillips on an interim basis for the second

time – the other when Kubiak suffered a mini-stroke at halftime

Nov. 3.

”What’s taken place with this organization is unacceptable,”

general manager Rick Smith said. ”We’ve got three weeks of an

evaluation process left and we’ve got to right the ship.”

Smith said he’d like to see what quarterback Case Keenum can do,

and he’s been named the starter against the Colts even though

Kubiak benched him late in the third quarter last week.

Since throwing for 822 yards with seven touchdowns and no

interceptions in his first three starts, the rookie has thrown for

770 yards with two scores and four picks over his last four. His

best performance, however, came when he went 20 of 34 for a

career-high 350 yards with three touchdowns against the Colts.

Star wideout Andre Johnson had nine catches for 229 yards – the

second-highest yardage total of his career – with three touchdowns

in that meeting. The six-time Pro Bowler has 46 receptions for 722

yards and six scores in his last five games against

Indianapolis.

”A win for this team would be big,” Phillips said. ”The

team’s been uptight to me. All the pressure’s been on them, they’ve

put it on themselves and rightly so. Now we just have to go

play.”