INDIANAPOLIS -- Putting pressure on Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson the way the Indianapolis Colts did last season -- 15 sacks in three meetings -- is one way to beat the Texans on Sunday (1 p.m. ET, CBS).
But there’s another way for Indianapolis to win. It’s similar to what they did in a Week 5 win over the Kansas City Chiefs.
Run, run and run the ball some more until the Texans prove they can stop it. It would also keep Watson and the Houston offense on the sideline.
The Colts put on a clinic on the ground against the Texans in their AFC wild-card victory in Houston last season, rushing for 200 yards on 35 attempts and passing for 222 yards on 32 attempts.
“It matters a little bit,” Colts coach Frank Reich said about last season’s matchup. “We factor all of it in. We’re always progressing and moving on and feel like we’re getting better. Really our DNA, it starts with who we want to be. On offense, it starts up front running the football.”
The Colts are in position to have success running the ball again. They were able to limit the Chiefs to 13 points by by limiting their time of possession; the Colts had the ball 15 more minutes than the Chiefs. Indianapolis rushed for 180 yards on 45 attempts.
Sticking to that formula might be necessary to beat the Texans. Houston (4-2) is sixth in total offense (396.8 yards per game), eighth in points per game (27.0) and ninth in time of possession (31:21) in the NFL this season.
“I would say that right now Houston’s ability to run the ball effectively has really helped them,” Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. “It certainly opens up a lot of things for skill players on the perimeter of their offense. So that’s one of the biggest things I see from them. Also the quarterback comparison, there’s obviously a lot of comparisons (to Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes) in terms of mobility, vision, arm talent, the way they’re both playing at a very high level and they’re both very difficult to keep in the pocket and also corral.”
One of the things the Colts (3-2) have done well under coach Frank Reich, according to Texans coach Bill O’Brien, is be a “game-plan offense,” which means they’re capable of putting together an offensive game plan that can change depending on the opponent.
Reich has proven he has no problem altering the game plan, but make no mistake about it, the Colts have taken on the identity of a run-first team for the first time in more than 20 years.
They have rushed for at least 167 yards in three of their five games and they've gained more yards on the ground than through the air in those games. The Colts are fourth in the league in rushing at 142 yards a game. After running the ball on 38.4 percent of the plays with Andrew Luck at quarterback in 2018, they've run on 47.9 percent of their plays this season. Reich acknowledged that's a "a little bit higher than anticipated." Only four teams have run the ball more often.
It's understandable when you take into account they have their entire starting offensive line, which is one of top units, back from last season.
"We always talk about it; every game is kind of its own entity and you block everything else out and you’re really only doing what you think you have to do to win that particular game," Reich said. "You really don’t care what the balance is. ... That stuff usually has a way of balancing out. I’m sure we’re going to go into one of these games and Jacoby [Brissett] is going to throw it 60 times and we show that we can win that way as well. We have not done that this year, but I wouldn’t be surprised if that happens one of these days.”