The third meeting of the season is win or go home for the AFC South foes

Texans vs. Colts: An early look at the playoff matchup

Andrew Luck led the Colts to a win. Tim Warner/Getty Images

The Texans will host the Indianapolis Colts in the AFC Wild Card round this Saturday. It will be the third meeting this season between the two teams with each of them winning on the road in the regular season. Houston bested the Colts in late September with Indianapolis returning the favor by beating the Texans in early December.

The Overtime Oops

The first meeting saw a winless Texans team escape with what was the start of a nine-game winning streak. They were in position to avoid the tie and win thanks to Frank Reich and the Colts ineptitude in overtime. The Colts won the toss and their first drive ended deep in Texans territory with a drop on third down. They would kick the field goal. After the Texans answered with three of their own the Colts faced a 3rd and 21 thanks to a Jadeveon Clowney sack. Luck would hit his wideout for 17 yards.

It was then Frank Reich made a decision that certainly haunts him to this day. He decided to go for it on fourth down with four yards to go on their own 43. Luck's wideout ran a route a little too deep and couldn't come up with the low pass. The Texans would kick a field goal for a win three plays later.

The Colts erased an 18 point deficit with ease in the second half scoring on three of their four drives. The Texans managed just a field goal after their dominant opening drive out of halftime. Kicker Ka'imi Fairbairn missed a 59-yard field goal as time expired but hit his other opportunities. The Colts had the Texans number in the second half but managed almost nothing on the ground against the Texans defense. It was all Luck and despite the loss one of the best games of his career. If the Colts didn't have five drops, two in overtime, they likely win this game and this weekend's game would be at Lucas Oil not NRG Stadium.

There's two sides to Reich's decision. One, if he doesn't do it and the Colts win the second game, like they did, they would be hosting the game as AFC South winners. The other side is the this helped galvanize the mentality of the Colts and endear the new head coach to his team. I find this angle hard to believe because they lost their next two before getting hot.

The End of the Streak

The final score and people getting angry at Jadeveon Clowney will make people think the game was a lot closer than it was but the Colts thoroughly outplayed the Texans at NRG stadium in the second meeting, ending the nine game winning streak. A huge second quarter where the Texans allowed 17 points and an answer immediately by the Colts, highlighted by one of the many huge T.Y. Hilton plays, kept the Texans at a distance they couldn't close.

Neither team could run the ball in this game but the Texans pass rush was neutralized to a large degree. They were able to get to Luck just twice for a sack while the Texans offensive line struggled, allowing five sacks of Watson. It was also a game where Watson missed a couple of throws he typically doesn't miss.

The concerning part is the Colts were missing a couple of key players, safety Mike Mitchell, center Ryan Kelly, and wideout Dontrelle Inman were all out for that game. Zach Fulton missed that game for the Texans. It showed the Texans still didn't know how to defend Luck and attack him with their talented pass rush.

Ugly Numbers for Texans Defense

Andrew Luck

65 percent completion percentage

863 yards

6 Touchdowns

1 Interception

T.Y. Hilton

13 Receptions

314 yards

Third Times a Charm

The last time division opponents met in the playoffs was last season when the Saints played the Panthers in the Wild Card round and finished the sweep of them. The last time it happened in the AFC it was a situation almost exactly like this one. The Steelers ended up as the sixth seed after losing at home to the Bengals and beating them on the road. The Texans hope history doesn't repeat itself as the Steelers went on the road and beat the Bengals.

Rushing Return?

The Texans ran the ball well against the Colts in the first game but their recent rushing woes were present in game two. The Colts simply couldn't run on the Texans in either game; most teams can't. They moved the ball well on the ground though against the Titans to make the playoffs but outside of pounding the Cowboys on the ground they've struggled to get over 100 yards recently.

Indianapolis has shown twice they score on the Texans without rushing the ball well. The Texans can rarely say that is the case with how they run their offense. Houston rushed for over 100 yards for the first time in four games. Deshaun Watson's legs did most of the work in that element. If they can get production on the ground they can not only score on the Colts but better control the game. If the Colts somehow can run the football, it could get ugly for the Texans.

Disrespect Card

Get used to it over the next few days, Texans fans. The Texans will be the trendy pick to get upset at home. As they should, by the way. The Colts should have tied them and then won the AFC South. They didn't though so the Texans get the benefit of hosting in this round of the playoff. Make no mistake, though they were outplayed in large stretches by Indianapolis, the Texans can absolutely beat the Colts at home. They didn't put together complete games either time. If the Texans play a complete or close to complete game they will be headed to New England to take on the Patriots the next week.

Slow to make big moves hasn't equaled a drop in potential for Texans

Texans are better despite slow free agency

The Texans are better today than when the season ended. It isn't a huge improvement, and there is room for far more improvement, but they're better.

Despite some people's frustration with the Texans not making moves they really haven't missed out on much, the draft is where they will truly improve, and people aren't remembering how good, or bad, they were last season.

Tyrann Mathieu is not $20 million better than Tashaun Gipson. I don't even believe Mathieu was the right type of safety for the Texans. He was a mismatch problem on bigger players, specifically tight ends where Gipson thrives. Mathieu was the third best safety on the team last season not playing as well as Kareem Jackson when he was at safety or the total body of Justin Reid who impressed in his rookie season. While the leadership aspect can't be denied, the Texans praised repeatedly the locker room personality Mathieu brought, the team doesn't lack for leaders.

Gipson has had more success in recent years statistically than Mathieu and plays a different style. You'll notice far less tackles and no sacks to Gipson's stat line. He will be asked to cover more than Mathieu was and his success in recent seasons shows he can do that well. He hasn't had to clean up a lot of messes in the Jaguars secondary, Jalen Ramsey and A.J. Bouye held their own, his experience playing deep will hopefully help handle the lack of top talent at cornerback for the Texans.

Speaking of cornerback, if that is where Kareem Jackson was going to play for the Texans in 2019 then there is no loss whatsoever in seeing him leave. He was not good as a corner last year after a really solid start to the year as a safety. Bradley Roby is more physically gifted and took a prove-it deal to try to hit the market with more buzz than this year. I would have preferred Jackson sticking around as a safety but alas the Texans didn't seem to see his value there.

Wholesale changes on the offensive line did almost nothing to improve it last season so I am not sure why some fans and media have desired that again. Yes, they shouldn't have been outbid on Roger Saffold (Titans) by a division rival who has invested greatly in their offensive line. No, Trent Brown (Raiders) and his bloated contract wasn't the answer at left tackle. Matt Paradis is coming off a broken leg at the center spot though he would have been an upgrade at center.

It is clear help on the line is coming via the draft, a deep one along the line might I add. With three picks in the top two rounds there will be opportunities to find players to push Nick Martin, Senio Kelemete, and Julién Davenport and it isn't out of the question. Seantrell Henderson despite his new contract is pushed by a rookie as well. This is a fine plan as only Nick Martin was a top round pick of any of the Texans current offensive linemen.

Also, this team won 11 games last season. Don't let a disappointing playoff performance skew how this team played. Deshaun Watson is going to improve and that is the most important thing about this team. He won't take as many hits as he did last season with draft investment and improvement of players on the roster. The rookie tight ends have a year of seasoning under their belt. D'Onta Foreman and Keke Coutee should be healthy and eventually Will Fuller will return. The defense returns or has replaced key figures.

Acting like this is a team that had to spend money just because they had cap space isn't a smart way to look at this team. Typically a team sucks when they have this much cap space, the Texans didn't fall into that category. Is there still room for improvement? No doubt. There's also room to find multiple bargains, be a destination for a trade post-draft, and pay Clowney. Relax, this is a long offseason. The Texans are better today than last week.

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