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Colts, Texans clash on Thursday night
By Brian Graham
INDIANAPOLIS COLTS (2-2) at HOUSTON TEXANS (1-3)
Kickoff: Thursday, 8:25 p.m. ET
Line: Indianapolis -1, Total: 45
The Colts hope to get back star QB Andrew Luck on Thursday night when they visit the reeling Texans.
Indianapolis is off to a slow start in 2015 at 0-4 ATS (2-2 SU), but is riding a current streak of 16 straight wins versus AFC South foes. The club escaped past Jacksonville last week with a 16-13 overtime victory, as Luck was sidelined with a shoulder injury. Houston has started 1-3 (SU and ATS) and is eager to get back on the field after a humiliating 48-21 loss in Atlanta last week in a game that was 42-0 after three quarters before some garbage touchdowns made the score closer than it should have been. The Colts own a commanding 22-4 SU mark all-time in this series, including five straight victories, but the Texans are 8-5 ATS at home all-time against their rival. While bettors for Indy can point to the fact that road teams after being beaten by the spread by 21+ points in their previous three games are 54-21 ATS (72%) in the past 10 seasons versus conference foes where the line is +3 to -3, Houston falls in the category of slow starting offensive teams (7 or less PPG in first half) going 56-26 ATS (68%) since 1983 after allowing 40+ points in their previous game. Luck isn’t the only questionable injured Colts player on Thursday, as LB Jerrell Freeman (groin), CB Jalil Brown (groin), DE Kendall Langford (back) and LB Bjoern Werner (hamstring) also share that same status. The Texans also have a slew of players with a questionable tag, with the most notables being WR Cecil Shorts (shoulder), LB Whitney Mercilus (thigh), LB Akeem Dent (hamstring) and S Quintin Demps (hamstring).
The once-mighty Indianapolis offense has managed only 18.0 PPG and 338 total YPG this season. The Colts are looking for better balance, as they have thrown for 240 yards in all four games, but have topped 100 rushing yards just once, averaging 87 rushing YPG on 4.0 YPC. Luck has faced Houston six times in his career, going 5-1 SU (4-1-1 ATS) with a weak 52% completion rate, but he also has thrown for 231 YPG with 14 TD and only 3 INT. If he is unable to play, the team will again turn to 40-year-old QB Matt Hasselbeck who completed 30-of-47 passes for 282 yards, 1 TD and 0 INT in last week’s win. The biggest disappointment for Indy’s stalling offense is WR Andre Johnson, who after posting seven 1,000-yard seasons with Houston, has just seven receptions for 51 yards in four games this season. That includes zero catches in Johnson’s past two contests. But the most important receiver on the field is top WR T.Y. Hilton, who has a team-high 294 receiving yards, but zero touchdowns. In last season’s trip to Houston, Hilton exploded for 223 receiving yards and a touchdown on nine catches (24.8 avg). Top RB Frank Gore has been dealing with a foot injury, but has been very productive in the past two weeks with 181 total yards and 2 TD. The Colts defense has surrendered 388 total YPG in 2015, but has allowed only 23.2 PPG. Their main problem has been giving up too many first downs (21.0 per game), leading to a poor 33:28 time of possession. While the run-stop unit has been adequate (119 YPG on 4.1 YPC), the secondary is allowing 268 passing YPG on 7.3 YPA and a 62% completion rate. It hasn’t helped that the defense has only three takeaways this year, but the Texans already have eight turnovers in four games.
Houston has been able to gain a good chunk of yardage (384 YPG), but has only 19.2 PPG to show for the efforts. The ground game has a pedestrian 100 YPG on 3.7 YPC, while quarterbacks have thrown for 285 YPG, but have a subpar 53% completion rate with 6 TD and 4 INT. The Texans will start QB Ryan Mallett (5.3 YPA, 3 TD, 3 INT) over Brian Hoyer (7.3 YPA, 3 TD, 1 INT) despite Mallett playing horribly last week (12-of-27, 150 yds, 5.6 YPA, 0 TD, 1 INT) and Hoyer faring much better (17-of-30, 232 yds, 7.7 YPA, 2 TD, 0 INT). While there are certainly questions on which quarterback can be most successful, there is no question that WR DeAndre Hopkins is the go-to receiver in town with 31 catches for 409 yards and 3 TD this year. With No. 2 WR Cecil Shorts (236 rec yds, 1 TD) questionable to play, veteran WR Nate Washington (210 rec yds) may see some more targets. RB Arian Foster made his season debut last week after missing the first three games with a groin injury, but gained only 10 yards on eight carries. Foster has always been a nightmare for Colts defenders though, as he has gained a robust 1,125 total yards (141 YPG), 6.0 YPC and 8 TD in eight career meetings. The Houston defense has been a huge disappointment this season in allowing 27.0 PPG on 344 total YPG. A big part of the large amount of points allowed is the unit’s mere two takeaways, as the per-play averages of 5.4 YPP, 3.8 YPC and 6.9 YPA aren’t that bad. While superstar DE J.J. Watt has been his typical productive self with four sacks and 8 TFL, his teammates have combined for only two sacks and 6 TFL. The Texans need somebody else to pressure the quarterback, such as 2014 top draft pick OLB Jadeveon Clowney who has yet to record a sack in eight career games.