Texans-Colts: Five Things to Watch
With Peyton Manning out for Sunday's opener and potentially the entire year after undergoing a second surgery on his neck, the narrative for Houston changes from a statement game to one of trends.
No Peyton, no chance.
That is, there should be no way to actually lose, or for the final score to even be within a possession. Yes, it's Gary Kubiak, and these are the Texans. But without Manning, Houston has the talent advantage at nearly every position, in addition to a home crowd at Reliant Stadium.
If Indianapolis pulls the stunner, the Kubiak-era death watch can officially begin. But even the most skeptical of Texan critics admit that's an unlikely scenario.
As a result, it's not so much if the Texans win, but how they win. After all, the Texans did beat the Colts with Manning in the 2010 opener -- but the 430+ passing yards allowed by the defense was an ominous sign that eventually became the undoing of their season.
Here's a rundown of five key areas to watch that could offer hints as to how the upcoming season may unfold.
5.) Can the defense consistently pressure Kerry Collins?
Kerry Collins is to be feared. By Colts fans.
Don't judge by the box score, because sack totals in one game can be fluky. The Colts value getting rid of the ball quickly, as does 39-year-old replacement QB Kerry Collins. Despite his statue-like mobility, 12 of the 13 sacks against Collins in 2010 came in under three seconds. So, the total number of sacks might not tell the tale.
The key will be whether the Colts have time to let downfield routes develop. They shouldn't. The Colts have a bad offensive line, and Collins's mobility is nonexistent. If Connor Barwin, Mario Williams and Brooks Reed are generating the pressure they should, you'll see most throws stay within 10-12 yards. Most expect new coordinator Wade Phillips to blitz frequently, and it should pay dividends.
On the other hand, if Collins has time to challenge Houston vertically, there could be eventual trouble. Despite the signings of cornerback Johnathan Joseph and safety Danieal Manning, the Texans still have question marks at the No. 2 corner slot (Kareem Jackson, Jason Allen) and with Glover Quin transitioning to safety. Against Collins, those areas aren't likely to be exposed, even in the absence of a pass rush. But without improvement up front, they could be in Weeks 3 and 4 against the Saints' Drew Brees and Pittsburgh's Ben Roethlisberger.
4.) Will Johnathan Joseph stay healthy?
Somewhat lost amid the Arian Foster injury saga was that the team's prized defensive acquisition also missed most of camp and the preseason with an injury. Joseph pulled his groin early in camp, and has played just one half of football as a Texan (in San Francisco). The injury doesn't appear serious, but groin issues can sometimes linger, and Joseph has a history of nagging injuries. He was out four games for the Bengals in 2010 with a bum ankle, and missed eight in 2008.
Behind Joseph, the depth chart at corner is remarkably similar to the one in 2010 that produced one of the worst pass defenses in league history. Phillips is relying on Joseph as the foundation of his new-look secondary, and it would be a good sign to see him make it through the opener without a limp.