Published October 08, 2014
(SportsNetwork.com) - The top spot in the AFC South will be on the line when Houston native Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts shoot for their fourth straight win when they take on the Texans at NRG Stadium.
The defending division champion Colts have rebounded from a slow 0-2 start with three consecutive wins, including last weekend's 20-13 triumph over Baltimore.
Indianapolis has also generally dominated the Texans over the years, winning three consecutive games in the rivalry and compiling a gaudy 20-4 overall record against Houston.
Meanwhile, the Colts have also excelled on short weeks, winning nine straight games when playing on Thursday despite the lack of preparation time.
"It's annoying for players," Texans star running back Arian Foster said this week when asked about playing on Thursday. "I don't know one player that likes it. I really don't know a fan that likes it, either. I think it's just the league's way of trying to generate more revenue. Nobody is ready to play physically after a Sunday game. But you've got to go out there and do it."
No team has figured out how to do it better than the Colts, who are 11-1-1 in Thursday games. The only thing trending in Houston's direction is the fact that the home team has won four of the first five Thursday matchups in 2014.
Last weekend Luck passed for a touchdown and ran for another score against the Ravens, connecting on 32-of-49 passes for 312 yards, his fourth 300-yard passing performance in five tries this season. The only negative aspect of the ledger for Luck was two interceptions.
Ahmad Bradshaw added 68 yards on the ground but his fumble inside two minutes left nearly cost the game for the Colts.
"It's huge to survive our mistakes in a sense," said Luck. "It's the epitome of a team football game, of a defense lifting us up in a sense. We made our plays enough to get a win obviously."
The Texans, meanwhile, are coming off a tough loss in Dallas, losing a Lone Star State matchup with the Cowboys in overtime.
Dan Bailey kicked the game-winning 49-yard field goal in the extra frame to lift Dallas.
The Texans had scored the last 10 points of regulation to force OT, but punted on the opening possession of the extra session. The Cowboys' DeMarco Murray picked up 11 yards on a 3rd-and-1, and on an ensuing 3rd-and-8, Tony Romo lofted a rainbow along the left sideline for Dez Bryant. Texans cornerback Johnathan Joseph had tight coverage on Bryant, who ran a stop-and-go route, but Bryant was able to reach over top of his helmet to make a spectacular grab.
"It was the play of the game," Cowboys head coach Jason Garrett said. "I don't know if there's a better guy in the league that can make those kind of contested catches than Dez Bryant."
Bailey, who missed a 53-yard field goal on the final play of regulation to snap his streak of 30 consecutive field goals, was able to split the uprights this time from the left hash with 7:45 on the clock.
Foster carried the ball 23 times for 157 yards and two scores for the Texans (3-2), who have dropped two of three since beginning the year 2-0.
"Our defense did a good job of holding us in there," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "We just didn't do enough offensively."
Ryan Fitzpatrick was 16-of-25 for 154 yards with an interception, DeAndre Hopkins caught six passes for 63 yards and Andre Johnson hauled in five balls for 58 yards in defeat.
"No loss feels good, but, like I said, we have a quick turnaround," O'Brien continued. "We've got to get better, and we've got to get better fast because we haven't played a division game yet and we have a very big division game coming up on Thursday night in front of our home fans."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Luck and the Colts have gotten fat over the past three weeks thanks to a fortuitous turn in their schedule with two lightly-regarded opponents -- Jacksonville and Tennessee -- followed by a home game against Baltimore.
That said you can only play who is put in front of you and Indianapolis has handled its business, outscoring those three opponents by a combined 105-47 margin or by an average of 35-16.
The Colts defense, which allowed 409.5 yards per game in the first two games of the season, has settled down and surrendered only 297.3 per game since. The unit mustered just one sack and one turnover in the first two and had generated 11 sacks and nine takeaways during its three-game run with outside linebacker Bjoern Werner registering a career-high two sacks last weekend.
"The good thing about the Colts is that we're very familiar with them," Texans tackle Duane Brown said. "Of course you have a different game plan than we've had in years past, but as far as the personnel and things like that we kind of know what to expect."
Of course, the real strength of the Colts lies in their QB, Luck, who pilots an offense that is second overall in the NFL with 439.6 YPG and tops in passing offense (321.8 YPG). Luck himself leads the NFL with 1,617 passing yards and 14 touchdowns but the free thrower is also tops in interceptions with six.
With seven catches for 77 yards against the Ravens, veteran Indy wide receiver Reggie Wayne (13,950) surpassed Hall of Famer Cris Carter for the ninth-most receiving yards of all-time. Wayne needs 55 yards against the Texans to surpass another Hall of Famer, James Lofton, for eighth place.
Wayne will also look to extend his streak of impressive performances against AFC South opponents. Since divisional realignment in 2002, Wayne leads all active players in receptions (376) and receiving yards (5,077) against his own division.
The impressive Houston defense is led by All-Pro defensive lineman J.J. Watt, who has two sacks, three batdowns, an interception return for a TD, and an NFL- high 16 QB hits through five outings, and leads the NFL with 12 takeaways.
Safeties Kendrick Lewis and D.J. Swearinger both have three forced fumbles, tied for the most in the NFL, and inside linebacker Brian Cushing leads the unit with 45 tackles.
Offensively the Texans will continue to rely on their own veteran receiver, Johnson, who needs just 19 receiving yards to become the 15th player in NFL history to reach 13,000, as well as Foster, who leads the AFC since 2010 with 5,210 rushing yards and 45 touchdowns, including 752 yards (125.3 per game) and six touchdowns in six career matchups against Indianapolis.
History says the Colts are usually the better prepared team on a short week and there is little reason to expect that to change this time around.
Indianapolis has never lost on NFL Network's "Thursday Night Football," posting a 7-0 record dating back to 2007 with six of those seven wins coming on the road.
"You realize once the game starts, it's football," said Luck. "There's no use complaining or whining about anything. It's what you do."
Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 24, Texans 17