Splitting a regular season series with the Colts will give the Texans a look at how to beat them in the playoffs. Yet, both games were close, and the Colts are a surging team with their eye on a Super Bowl. Bill O’Brien will have his hands full with a game plan to beat the Colts, luckily O’Brien naturally reads this blog, so maybe I could help.
The first key to beating these Colts on Saturday will be to stop their death by thousands of paper cuts offense.
The death by thousands of paper cuts mantra means in football that a team will move down the field using as many plays as possible, often minimal yet safe gains. This is used as a way to keep opposing offenses off the ground.
The Colts run just this type of offense. In 2018, they have averaged 66.5 plays per game, good for fourth in the NFL. However, they are only 18th in the NFL in time of possession with 29:44 minutes per game.
So what does this mean? That the Colts, a 10-6 team thrive on keeping the ball in their hands, often passing the football. It is key that the Texans will need to keep the ball out of the Colts hands. But how?
First. Bring a powerful rushing attack
Lamar Miller will be relied upon heavily. Unfortunately, Miller has struggled in both matchups versus the Colts. In game 1, Miller had 49 yards on 14 attempts. Game 2 saw Miller have 33 yards on 14 carries and a touchdown. It is clear that the Colts have the upper hand when defending Miller, and he will need to step up.
The Colts defense is fast, but it’s not particularly huge. Therefore I would suggest that the Texans take advantage of this by running two tight end sets, and employ Alfred Blue as a fullback. This more massive set (22 formation) would help the Texans run a power run offense predicated on moving the ball down the field no matter the gain by out-manning the defense. I also wouldn’t be surprised to see O’Brien continue to use Deshaun Watson on read options favoring Watson.
Notice the blocking by the tight-ends on the play below, it’s clear that these options emphasis Watson as a runner.
Second. Go big on big
Defending the Colts rush attack will be tough. The Colts offensive line is big, strong, and nasty. Luckily, for the Texans, their defensive line is the healthiest it’s been all season. Obviously, pro-bowlers like J.J. Watt, Jadeveon Clowney, and Bernardrick McKinney will be relied upon, but, other, less popular players will need to step up.
D.J. Reader, Christian Covington, and Brandon Dunn are all massive players, and they might be seen at the same time in a sort of big 4-3 (4 defensive linemen, 3 linebackers) front to combat the big Colts offensive line. The 4-3 is a lineup that the Texans have recently employed to stop the rush, and I bet that they will show it more against the Colts on obvious run situations. However, the most likely lineup set to defend the run could feature either Jadeveon Clowney and/or Whitney Mercilus with their hands down as defensive ends.
Third. Stop Eric Ebron
A huge reason why the Colts are able to beat teams slowly and painfully is due to tight end Eric Ebron. Ebron, an athletic tight end, is a nightmare to defend before and after the catch. Meaning the Texans can’t and shouldn’t defend him using Whitney Mercilus anymore. Mercilus is a great pass-rusher, but he’s merely a liability while covering tight ends. This was the case in their two 2018 matchups as Mercilus was often left in the dust while covering Eric Ebron.
I would suggest Dylan Cole as a replacement on obvious passing downs to cover Ebron. Cole, in my opinion, is one of the more impressive coverage linebackers in the NFL.
So there you have it, three keys to beating the Colts. But don’t worry, more will become available throughout this week.