The second half of the season has begun to ramp up with the playoff picture becoming clearer with just six more weeks remaining in the regular season. That has been the case in the AFC South with the Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans entering their Week 12 showdown with the division lead on the line between the two playoff hopeful teams. Here are a few storylines to keep an eye on in Thursday’s contest.
3. Can Colts’ running game step up without Marlon Mack?
The Colts got back on track in Week 11 in a convincing win over the Jacksonville Jaguars that featured a strong outing from Mack leading the ground game. He racked up 109 rushing yards on 14 carries with a touchdown, but he suffered broken hand in the contest that will keep him out of the mix for the next several weeks.
Mack’s absence now puts Nyhiem Hines and Jonathan Williams to pick up the slack. Williams shined in the increased work with 116 rushing yards on 13 carries with one catch for 31 receiving yards. Meanwhile, Hines had three rushes for 11 yards with a touchdown along with three receptions for 24 receiving yards.
The Colts will look to lean on this tandem to provide their offense with much balance against the Texans defense that is giving up 102.0 rushing yards per game. That will need to be a point of emphasis if Indianapolis hopes to grab the win on the road.
2. Deshaun Watson’s bounce-back game?
The Texans lost their one-game advantage atop the AFC South following a disappointing showing in the blowout loss to the Ravens.
It was a forgettable performance from Deshaun Watson as he completed 18-of-29 passes for 169 yards with an interception and sacked six times. Watson couldn’t get anything going down the field as he struggled to find any offensive fluidity, leading to just one scoring drive in the contest.
However, Thursday’s game is a chance for him to bounce back in a significant way as it’s an opportunity to avenge the loss to the Colts a few weeks ago. In that contest, Watson completed 23-of-34 passes for 308 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
The Texans’ offense goes as their star quarterback performance, and he has proven to be one of the league’s most dynamic players at his position. There will be a heavy reliance on Watson to head the charge with his arm and legs at home that could spell a big outing for him in a pivotal game.
1. Colts defense up for the challenge?
One of the underrated parts to the Colts’ success this season has been the play of their defense. They possessed one of the better units last season that has continued to build on that upward trend.
Indianapolis is currently ranked 10th in total yards allowed, 11th against the pass, ninth against the run, and 15th giving up 20.6 points per contest. They buckled down in recent weeks, allowing 16 points or fewer three times in their last five games, with the other two contests being no more than 24 points.
The Colts have depended greatly on their defense to carry them through the last few weeks, especially when Jacoby Brissett was out with a leg injury. They are set to face another stiff challenge against Watson, who they were able to pick off twice in the last meeting while limiting them to converting 4-of-12 third-down conversions and only 2-of-5 trips in the red zone.
If Indianapolis hopes to grab a much-needed edge in the AFC South division race over the Texans, they will need their defense to stay on that upward trajectory on the road at NRG Stadium on Thursday night.