After dominating the AFC South over the previous eight seasons, the Peyton Manning-less Indianapolis Colts have given way to the Houston Texans. Even though these teams' most recent efforts more resembled previous seasons than the current one, this may be Houston's best chance to finally win in Indianapolis. Looking to regroup from their first defeat in more than two months, the division champion Texans visit a Colts team looking to build on its first win of the season Thursday night. With Manning under center, Indianapolis had won seven of the past eight South titles and made the playoffs in all nine years since the division was created in 2002 - Houston's inaugural season.
The Colts had been 15-1 in this series before losing two of the last three meetings, including a season-opening 34-7 defeat at Houston on Sept. 11. However, the Texans are 0-9 all-time at Indianapolis, giving up an average of 32.6 points, but this is the first time they've played there without having to face Manning. The Texans secured their first postseason berth and division title in Week 14. They entered Sunday having won a franchise-record seven straight and coming off a last-second 20-19 victory over Cincinnati, but they lost 28-13 at home to a sub-.500 Carolina team. Houston had been tied for the conference's best record but fell one game behind New England and is now one of three AFC teams at 10-4.
The Texans find themselves in a similar situation Thursday and likely know better than to overlook a Colts team that has plenty to celebrate following an 0-13 start. Making his third consecutive start, Dan Orlovsky was just 11 of 17 for 82 yards but threw for the go-ahead touchdown in the third quarter, and no Colts passes were intercepted for the first time since Week 5. Donald Brown carried 16 times for a career-high 161 yards, including an 80-yard TD run late in the fourth.
A big reason Indianapolis dominated this series was the Texans weren't very good defensively, but they've made major strides this year, ranking second in total yards allowed at 277.9 per game and fifth against the run (96.8 ypg). However, they gave up a season-worst 166 yards on the ground Sunday and two rushing TDs, one more than they surrendered during the seven-game win streak. Rookie T.J. Yates, thrown under center with season-ending injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart, also had a forgettable performance as he went 19 of 30 for 212 yards and two interceptions. With Yates still getting accustomed to his new role, the offense continues to lean on Arian Foster. The Pro Bowler had his fifth 100-yard rushing effort and eighth touchdown in eight games Sunday, running for 109 yards and catching five passes for 58.
In two career meetings with Indianapolis, Foster has totaled 405 yards from scrimmage and four TDs. He rushed for a career-high 231 yards and three scores during a 34-24 win Sept. 12, 2010. WIth Yates continuing to become more familiar in the Texans offensive scheme and Foster in the backield, expect Houston to be methodical while successfully stopping the Colts behind Orlovsky with numerous packages enjoying a distinct advantage up front and in the backfield.