Colts @ Texans: Indy will have a problem in Houston

With Wayne out, can Andy Luck spot another open receiver?

As the in-form Colts adjust to life without Reggie Wayne, Romilly Evans reckons now is the time to take them on - even with the struggling Texans...

"Trent Richardson keeps hitting defensive bedrock with the shovel of predictable rushing lanes."

Indianapolis Colts @ Houston Texans
Start-time: Monday, 01:30
TV: Live on Channel 4

The Dallas Cowboys should be worried. This is the third consecutive primetime game for the Indianapolis Colts who, at this rate, will soon usurp the 'Boys as "America's Team".

In truth, though, when the schedulers originally came up with this match-up, they would have cast the Houston Texans as the star attraction. However, only seven games in the current campaign, the Colts (5-2) hold a surprising symmetrical edge over the Texans (2-5).

Ostensibly, Houston's fall from grace has been personified by their offensive leader Matt Schaub whose decline, subsequent injury, continued fall and ultimate benching has more than a passing resemblance to Wile E Coyote falling down a ravine. It never ends and the knocks just keep on coming. 

Schaub must have thought things couldn't get much worse when he was carted off in October to the sound of applause from his home fans. But now a young upstart called Case Keenum has been confirmed as starting quarterback for this tough assignment against Indy. When a head coach benches a seasoned pro with a collegiate contender for such a game, you know he's planning for the future. And Gary Kubiak clearly sees a future without Schaub.

For his part, Kubiak sounded like he was trying to rationalize trading in a long-term girlfriend for a younger model. "Matty is obviously upset," admitted the coach. "I know it's very difficult for him. It's very difficult for me, too."

While it's certainly a tough call, especially given what the two-time Pro Bowler has helped them build in Houston, even Schaub had the backbone to admit that his recent play was emblematic of wider concerns. Keenum, on the other hand, offers a fresh outlook with a cannon arm that opens up the possibility of regular downfield strikes.

His full NFL debut may have ended in defeat against the Kansas City Chiefs, but Keenum went down in a comparative blaze of glory to an unbeaten side. He completed 60% of his passes for 271 yards and a touchdown, resulting in with a QB rating of 110.6, the highest by a Texan quarterback this term. Keenum accordingly leapfrogged both Schaub and back-up TJ Yates in the pecking order. Since then he has benefitted from a bye week and another seven days to download the playbook onto his hard-drive (or brain if you prefer), so the initial signs are auspicious. 

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, however, is already turning raw promise into refined performance on the field. His development from college comet to NFL star has seemed like an effortless cosmic ballet - Luck can mastermind a fourth-quarter comeback, convert on third down with his foot-speed (surprising elusive for his six feet four inches), even master his boyhood hero Peyton Manning.

However, here comes the real test for Luck. Indy are in pole position for the AFC South and he is now expected to take them deep into the play-offs. The problem is he must now do it without his favourite wide out, Reggie Wayne, whose torn ACL is now on ice till next year. When your number one receiver exits stage left and your best running back, Trent Richardson, keeps hitting defensive bedrock with the shovel of predictable rushing lanes, it's all on the guy under center.  

Granted, the Colts' D (third against the pass in the league this season) should keep giving Luck the chance to explore some alternative routes to the end zone. Long story short, though, he has never had to cope with this burden of expectation before. And the journey from underdog to top dog has claimed many notable scalps in the past. 

Indy's recent past against the Texans is also not good. Indeed, they haven't won in Houston since 2009. Andre Johnson continues in grand heart (and has 292 yards receiving from in his last two Colts games) while Arian Foster has also racked up the ground gains (150.4 yards a game in five encounters). The latter is reported questionable after a hamstring strain, but at least the Texans still know how to get it done - particularly at home. 

The loss of five successive games with the addition of five injuries to core players obviously leaves them with a mountain to climb. Yet the undoubted potential of Keenum and the support he will draw on at home should usher in the hope most new eras enjoy

Houston are weakened but haven't become a poor outfit overnight  - they still rank 10th in the overall rankings for offense and defense combined. Indy, on the other hand, are about to take their first tentative steps into the unknown without Wayne. They lead the NFL in that most fickle but crucial of categories (Turnovers), whereas the Texans are probing the depths for interceptions. In fact, Schaub was riding a streak of four straight games with a pick returned for a touchdown.

One small reversal of fortune either way and the Texans could be back on top. But play it cautiously within the safety net of their field-goal headstart

Recommended Bets:

Back Houston Texans (+3) to win on the Match Points Spread @ 2.01/1 or better
Back Houston Texans (+0.5) to win on the First Half Points Spread @ 2.01/1 or better
Back A.Johnson to be First Touchdown Scorer @ 8.515/2 or better

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