INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ meeting with the Texans Sunday at Houston’s NRG Stadium:
*Kickoff: 1 p.m.
*Spread: Texans by 1.
*History lesson, Part I: The Colts once owned the AFC South. From the division’s inception in 2002 through 2010, they were 42-12 in divisional play and captured seven of nine AFC South titles. Thank you, Peyton Manning and the rest of your decorated supporting cast. Andrew Luck kept things going from 2012-16 with two AFC South banners. At one point, he was instrumental in leading the Colts to 16 straight division victories.
But since the Colts’ last division title in 2014, they’ve been mediocrity personified: 24-24-1. More concerning, they’re 1-6-1 in their last eight AFC South games. They’ve lost three straight and are looking to avoid just their second four-game skid inside the division.
This team’s going nowhere until it once again learns how to better navigate the AFC South.
*History lesson, Part II: It’s Anthony Richardson vs. C.J. Stroud, Round 1. Or at least that’s the hope. Stroud appeared on the Texans’ injury report Friday with an unspecified injury to his right shoulder.
If both high-profile quarterbacks are available, it will mark just the seventh time since 1950 quarterbacks taken with top-4 picks have met during their rookie seasons. One of the previous six pitted the Colts’ Peyton Manning, No. 1 overall in 1998, against San Diego’s Ryan Leaf (No. 2).
For those of you who haven’t been paying attention, the Texans selected Stroud with the No. 2 pick in April, and the Colts opted for Richardson at No. 4.
If the shoulder injury keeps Stroud on the sideline, the Texans will turn to Davis Mills. He’s been Houston’s primary starter the past two seasons: 5-19-1 as a starter, 33 touchdowns, 25 interceptions and a 83.3 passer rating.
*More from Moss?: Richardson’s NFL debut was less than ideal. In part, blame the lack of reliable ground support. With Jonathan Taylor missing the first of four games while on PUP and Zack Moss out while still rehabbing a broken right forearm, the running backs combined for 25 yards on 16 carries. Deon Jackson finished with 14 yards on 14 attempts with two lost fumbles.
Even with Richardson adding a team-best 40 yards and one TD on 10 attempts, the Colts managed just 65 yards. After one week, they rank 29th in yards per game and yards per attempt (2.5).
The expected season debut of Moss should help. The 5-foot-9, 205-pounder possesses a powerful, decisive style. He’s rushed for 1,282 yards during his three-year career, and is coming off a strong December when he took over for an injured Taylor. Over the Colts’ final four games, following a trade from Buffalo, Moss piled up 334 yards on 69 attempts (4.8). He notched the best game of his career in the Colts’ week 18 loss to Houston with 114 yards on 18 carries.
Shane Steichen likely will stick with his backs-by-committee approach, but Moss is a much better option as a lead back.
*Taking a few shots: We should see Richardson be given a fatter playbook as he goes through his rookie season. In the opener, he operated a game plan that largely kept him out of harm’s way. Shorter drops. Moving out of the pocket. Quicker and shorter throws. That resulted in deep threat Alec Pierce finishing with one catch for five yards on three targets.
Richardson averaged six yards per attempt, tied-16th in the league. His pass-catchers averaged only 9.3 yards per reception. The Colts averaged 9.7 yards per catch last season — the worst in team history.
Sunday might offer a better opportunity for Richardson to limber up his strong right arm. Houston will be without starting safeties Jalen Pitre and Jimmie Ward. If the Colts’ protection holds up, there should be occasions for Richardson to stretch the field on shots to Pierce and Michael Pittman Jr.
That would benefit the entire offense, including the run game.
*Pressure the rookie: We’re talking about Stroud, not Richardson.
“Whenever you’re going against a young quarterback, a rookie quarterback, you want to get pressure on him early,’’ defensive tackle DeForest Buckner said. “You want to hit him as much as you can in the pocket. Even if we’re not bringing pressure and it’s a passing down, us four up front have to do a really good job in applying that pressure on him throughout the day.
“You can never let him get comfortable back there.’’
In Houston’s opening loss at Baltimore, Stroud was sacked five times for a minus-46 yards and hit on another five occasions. He was pressured on 25 of his 54 dropbacks.
Right tackle Tytus Howard is out the first four games with a broken hand, and left tackle Laremy Tunsil is questionable with a knee injury.
The Colts exerted decent pressure against Jacksonville’s Trevor Lawrence. Buckner and Kwity Paye registered sacks, and Buckner’s was the spark of his strange 26-yard touchdown return with a second fumble on the play.
Crank it up.
Oh, and keep a short leash on Stroud’s ground support as well. Houston’s backs combined for 19 carries and 52 yards against the Ravens. Dameon Pierce, who led the Texans with 939 yards last year, was limited to 38 yards on 11 attempts.
*And the winner is: Colts 24, Texans 17. We’ll use the same rationale we leaned on when the Colts opened last season at Houston. If they’re unable to handle a bad team, even on the road, what does that say about the rest of the season? The Colts proved us wrong in week 1 of 2022, doing more than enough wrong to exit with a 20-20 tie.
Find a way.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter/X at @mchappell51.