As the Houston Texans rolled into Indianapolis on Sunday, they would be forgiven for expecting the Colts to continue to rely on their run game, with Marlon Mack and the offensive line having dominated a number of teams this year already. What transpired was an impressive pass-heavy display by quarterback Jacoby Brissett as the Colts ran out 30-23 victors to take them to 4-2 and sole possession of first place in the AFC South.
Brissett had a career-high four touchdown passes, with 326 yards and was spreading the ball around well, targeting eight separate pass-catchers. Brissett clearly enjoys playing the Texans, as he has now won all four of the games he has played against them, throwing seven TDs with no interceptions. He also earned the respect of Houston’s pass-rush behemoth, JJ Watt.
The three-time Defensive Player of the Year said of Brissett: “We got after him and hit him a bunch. Sometimes he got the ball out while he was getting hit. Every time he gets hit, he pops back up and keeps playing. I respect that toughness and respect the way he plays.” High praise indeed.
The Colts only managed 62 yards rushing against the Texans defense who played well against the rush attack, and so it came down to Brissett’s arm and the play-calling of Head Coach Frank Reich. Reich continues to stay ahead of the curve and give the Colts a schematic advantage on a weekly basis, alongside Offensive Coordinator Nick Sirianni.
If you were to say that the Colts would prioritise the pass game, you would think that could only mean another highlight-reel performance against the Texans for TY Hilton, who has averaged over 100 yards per game against the Houston franchise. However, it was third-year wide receiver Zach Pascal who emerged as the main man for the Colts, with 106 yards and two touchdowns on seven targets.
Coming into the season, the Colts were hoping that their wide receiver room would be boosted with the additions of Devin Funchess via free agency, second-round rookie Parris Campbell and the return from injury of second-year player Deon Cain. Funchess and Campbell have had little impact thus far due to injuries and Cain has simply been a disappointment and so this has allowed Pascal to emerge as a surprising number two receiver behind Hilton.
It was also a big day for tight end Eric Ebron. Following his career year in 2018 where he hauled in 14 touchdowns, Ebron has been quiet this year so far. Ebron had also seen the return of drops in his game, including three in one half against the Oakland Raiders. Drops were an issue that plagued him during his time in Detroit after the Lions drafted him at #10 in the 2014 NFL Draft.
Ebron put all of that behind him today and had one of the catches of the year at the back of the end zone to take the Colts to 21-9 up on the first drive of the second half. Brissett’s throw saw Ebron reach up one-handed to pull the ball in while miraculously keeping both his feet in bounds. He also had some key catches for first downs and you could see it meant a lot to him to be involved and trusted, ending the day with 70 yards from four receptions.
It is only fair that I give the Colts’ defense their due as well. Admittedly, the Texans made some real progress in the second half, including two touchdown drives which came in at 1:46 and 2:03 minutes so they were moving the ball well at times, but the Colts’ defense had been stout in the first half. The Colts’ offense had produced a turnover on downs in their own half as well as a fumble inside their own 10-yard line and the defense still managed to restrict gun-slinger QB Deshaun Watson and his crew to just three field goals going into the half.
The pass coverage was particularly good, with Pierre Desir continuing to play at his best when lined up opposite DeAndre Hopkins and this game saw him bring in an interception on an ill-advised throw from Watson who threw across his body right into Desir’s arms in the fourth quarter. The game was also sealed with an impressive interception from returning linebacker Darius Leonard. The reigning NFL Defensive Rookie of the Year had missed three weeks of action due to being unable to escape the concussion protocol and immediately stepped back into his leadership role within the young Colts’ defense overseen by Defensive Coordinator Matt Eberflus.
The Colts now sit on top of the AFC South with some very winnable games up next, with three of their next four at home against the Broncos, Dolphins and Jaguars as well as a trip to Pittsburgh to face the struggling Steelers. Those four teams have a combined 7-19 record and, with the way the Colts are seemingly able to win games either by pass or run attacks, you would not put it past the Colts to be rolling into NRG Stadium to face the Texans again in Week 12 at 8-2.
From a Texans point of view, they will be disappointed with the showing today, with a frustrating display by the secondary, although injuries undoubtedly contributed to that, as well as 10 penalties. When the Colts did struggle to generate offensive momentum, they were invariably helped out by a Texans penalty to provide a fresh set of downs.
Overall, this was an enthralling battle which, in my opinion, saw the right team walk out with the win. Both teams gave a great effort and the Texans were undoubtedly hurt by missing players , which showed up their lack of depth but the Colts did what they had to do. Potentially, the only frustration from a Colts perspective was an inability to close out the game. A number of times in the second half the offense had a chance to bleed some clock and gain a few first downs and the run game never got going to give the defense a rest and watch the clock tick down.
I will leave you with the thoughts of ‘The Ghost’ himself, TY Hilton: “We can win any type of way. We can beat you running, beat you passing or beat you doing both. This team don’t get enough credit. That’s OK with us. We’re just gonna keep going out there and beating whoever they put in front of us.”
The rest of the AFC better start taking note of what is happening in Indy. Go Colts!
Feature Picture – Credit: Bobby Ellis/Getty Images