AFC South: Houston Texans

The Film Don't Lie: Texans

October, 22, 2014
Oct 22
A weekly review of what the Texans must fix:

The Houston Texans will face the Tennessee Titans in what's another winnable game Sunday, but without fixing the mistakes they made Monday night against the Pittsburgh Steelers, winning anywhere will be difficult.

The most costly mistake that keeps repeating itself is the turnover mistake. The Texans lead the league in takeaways with 15, but have only a plus-two turnover margin, having given up the ball 13 times. And there is a theme in those plays.

"I think you're looking at three guys that really are trying to make a play," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said of fumbles by Andre Johnson, Arian Foster and DeAndre Hopkins in the past two games. "... Of course, you want these guys to take care of the football better, but I think these guys are pressing to try to make a play and we've got to make sure that they know, at the end of the day, ball security is the most important thing."

Though O'Brien spoke specifically about the Texans' recent rash of fumbles, quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick has attributed interceptions to his trying too hard to make a big play.

The motivation behind trying to stretch for extra yards, hoping you can keep trusting your hands, is a good one for the Texans. But methodical and mistake-free play (or at least fewer mistakes) might have changed the outcome of two games the Texans lost by less than a touchdown.
After the Texans' 30-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers, a common postgame question centered around the ridiculousness of what happened to conclude the first half.

Have you ever been part of something like that?

[+] EnlargeSteelers
Justin K. Aller/Getty ImagesThe Texans have given up 24-point quarters in consecutive games.
Most said no, or that they couldn't remember. It's worth pointing out, though, the Texans also gave up 24 points in a quarter last week to Indianapolis (just not as quickly). Here's a fact: What the Texans have experienced in the past two weeks is something that hasn't even happened in the lifetimes of most of their players. The last time it happened, Bill O'Brien was in high school.

For a team to give up 24 points in a quarter is unusual. For a team to do it in consecutive weeks is, well...

According to Elias Sports Bureau, prior to the Texans this season, the last team to allow 24 points in a quarter in consecutive games was the Packers in 1986. They did it in losses to the Vikings (42-7) and Bengals (34-28) in Weeks 4 and 5 of the season.

Since the Texans' inception in 2002, there hasn't been a single team to allow 24-point quarters in more than two games in an entire season.

It happened in different ways each time. The Colts' scoring explosion, driven by Andrew Luck and receiver TY Hilton, was aided by an onside kick after their first quick touchdown. That move totally caught the Texans off guard and helped the Colts go up 24-0 in the first quarter before the Texans answered.

Of course, last night's second-quarter catastrophe started with the defense allowing a few big plays, and got worse when offensive turnovers gave the Steelers the ball inside Houston's 10 twice.

The results both times, though, were too much for the Texans to overcome. And if the Texans aren't careful, they would find themselves on the wrong side of history if it happened again.

PITTSBURGH -- When did the 21-point deluge at the end of the first half start?

Depends whom you ask, but the result was three touchdowns in just over a minute and a half, which sparked the Pittsburgh Steelers to a 30-23 victory over the Houston Texans.

Some thought it started with the short pass Ben Roethlisberger threw to Le'Veon Bell, which went for 43 yards on third-and-10 with 5:42 remaining in the second quarter.

"That sort of sparked it," Houston safety D.J. Swearinger said. "They ran a little play to the running back. We just didn't capitalize."

You could say it started with the two-play, 19-second drive -- a 28-yard pass and a 35-yard pass -- that led to Pittsburgh's first touchdown.

"Anytime you give up a score that quickly, the offense is going to take that momentum and run with it," linebacker Mike Mohamed said. "We didn't do a good job of staying the course. It was just one thing after another, play after play."

Danieal Manning thought it started on the ensuing kickoff, when he bobbled the ball and landed on it deep in his own territory.

"I just muffed the ball," Manning said. "Trying to return and run before I caught the ball. Every time you have the opportunity, you're going to want to make a play. But you can't run without the ball. You just can't do it."

In the span of 92 seconds, the Texans allowed three touchdowns, two of which were fueled by turnovers inside their own 10-yard line. It was the first time since 2012 (when the Texans did it to the Dolphins) that a team has scored three touchdowns in the final two minutes of the first half. Prior to 2012, it hadn't happened since 2002.

The first touchdown -- Roethlisberger's 35-yard pass to Martavis Bryant, on which Bryant beat fellow rookie Andre Hal -- was on the defense. Kareem Jackson reminded Hal afterward that he needed to let that one go.

Then, the Texans' offense imploded.

"Just self-inflicted wounds," running back Arian Foster said. "We give the ball up twice in our own territory. Anytime you do that, teams are going to capitalize. [We] gotta be better."

After Manning's fumble pinned them deep, the Texans opted to pass the ball to Foster and gained only 1 yard. Next, they handed it to him, and after a lengthy review, the officials determined he had fumbled.

"I dropped it," Foster said when asked what happened.

Gaining confidence, the Steelers ran a play in which Roethlisberger flipped the ball back to receiver Antonio Brown, who threw a 3-yard touchdown pass to Lance Moore.

With that pass, a 13-point lead had turned into a four-point deficit. But the bad stretch wasn't over yet, though the Texans believed they were going to recover some momentum and head into halftime with some positivity.

"We were very confident going into that drive [at the end of the first half]," left tackle Duane Brown said.

But like everything else in this horrific stretch, the pass play the Texans called at their own 20-yard line with 1:08 left didn't work.

"We had the turnover on the possession before and went out there really just trying to get three points out of that drive," quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick said. "We had a decent play with Arian matched up, and it's not a good feeling to see the ball get tipped like that."

After the game, Fitzpatrick talked about the pass that hit Steelers defensive end Brett Keisel, caromed off another player and bounced back to Keisel for an interception, one he returned 16 yards. With the ball at the Houston 8-yard line, the Steelers took two plays to score this time, as Bell caught a 2-yard touchdown pass from Roethlisberger.

"Do stuff like that, [and] you don't win," receiver Andre Johnson said. "That's pretty much it."

Fitzpatrick called it miserable.

Jackson called it frustrating.

Swearinger chose a more active word.

"Crushed," he said.

It was just too much.

"We couldn't come back from it," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said. "Just too many turnovers. We had a hard time overcoming all those things."
PITTSBURGH -- You don't have to hang around Houston Texans coach Bill O'Brien long to know he has a fiery, emotional personality. That comes through after losses, but never more clearly than it did after the Texans' 30-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday.

O'Brien was heated. The tone and volume of his voice showed it. It was an appropriate response to a game that should have upset him, one in which players and coaches alike made mistakes.

"We had a terrible second quarter," O'Brien said. "We couldn't come back from it. Just too many turnovers. We had a hard time overcoming all of those things. But at the end of the day, we were one onside kick away from tying it. So we are trying to take some positive out of it, but we have to coach it better. We have to play a lot better."

He was asked if he'd ever seen anything like that final two-minute span, during which the Steelers scored three touchdowns in just more than a minute and a half. He said he wasn't sure. He was asked whether it was hard to stop the Steelers from scoring once they started, and that's when O'Brien bristled a little bit more.

"It was 30-23. It wasn't 50 to nothing," O'Brien said. "My point is we can't do that."

O'Brien went through a list of all his team did wrong: the 12-men-on-the-field penalty, the bobbled kickoff, the turnovers, the big plays.

"These questions are like we lost 50 to nothing," he continued. "We lost by a touchdown with all that stuff that we did. We have to improve it. We have to coach better, and we have to play better."

Next came a question about turnovers, and, again, O'Brien mentioned his frustration while also noting how close the Texans were to tying the game.

Finding positives is not always a bad thing, but focusing too much on those positives after another loss in what should have been a winnable game can be. I wanted to know if O'Brien actually was looking at the closeness of the game as a positive, or if his concern about all that went wrong (and we'll get into all of that in another post) outweighed that.

"I think it's a negative! We lost," he said, more visibly upset than he had been earlier. "It's a negative. It's terrible to lose. It's not good to lose."

And then the explanation for the search for the positives.

"My point is to these players in the locker room, is that with all those things that we did wrong, if we can fix those things that we're doing wrong, especially turning the ball over twice inside the 5-yard line, if we could fix those things, maybe we would have a shot, a better shot to win," O'Brien said.

"So no, it's awful to lose. It's not good to come close. There are no moral victories. But we have to fix these things."

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

October, 20, 2014
Oct 20

A few thoughts from the Houston Texans' 30-23 loss to the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday night.

What it means: The Texans have a lot of work to do, and starting fast isn't a magic elixir. We talked a lot about the slow starts leading up to this game. This time, the Texans scored early -- it was just the second time this season they've scored on their first drive. They talked about needing that first first down to develop a rhythm that would change the complexion of the game. It didn't exactly work like that. Although that first drive was easy, the rest of it wasn't, and the Steelers' maligned defense gave its offense time to get going.

Stock watch: The Texans' pass defense's stock is down again. They knew Pittsburgh's forte was big plays yet still gave up pass plays of 30 yards or longer to three different Steelers. Pittsburgh had previously only scored on two of their 11 such plays, but on Monday, they scored on a 35-yard pass to Martavis Bryant. Houston was short on defensive backs, especially with A.J. Bouye missing, but even some of their best defensive backs fell victim here.

Cornucopia of mistakes: In the fourth quarter, the Texans negated every chance they had to get back into the game with costly mistakes. There was an errant pass to an open Damaris Johnson at the beginning of the quarter. There was a penalty for having 12 men on the field. There was another for defensive holding, on Andre Hal. Then, with just under five minutes to play, DeAndre Hopkins caught a deep pass near midfield, tried to get a few extra yards and fumbled the ball. That fumble led to a Steelers field goal, which put Pittsburgh up 14 with 3:04 remaining.

Game ball: I had a few candidates for this as I watched the first 27 minutes of the game. Arian Foster was cruising nicely. Whitney Mercilus had a couple sacks and a forced fumble. But Shane Lechler gets the game ball for booting three punts for 135 yards (45.0 average), including one downed at the Pittsburgh 1-yard line.

What's next: The Texans have the short week that follows a Monday night game before they travel to Nashville to play the Tennessee Titans in their second division game.
HOUSTON -- The Houston Texans' D.J. Swearinger gets his trash-talking from his family.

So naturally, his performance against the Indianapolis Colts brought about the following tweet:

Swearinger heard it from all of his family members. Dad said, "Bro, what are you doing? I didn't teach you how to tackle?" His mom and sisters chimed in as well.

And Grandma didn't mince any words.

"Grandma said, 'You, you horrible!'" Swearinger said, in his best grandma voice. "'I don't like that DJ. I don't like that DJ.'"

Swearinger could only agree. He told her it wouldn't happen again.

"I knew it was bad during the game," he said. "Just a horrible performance."

He attributed it to bad technique. Tackling was part of his problem, and that's something the Texans are working on this week.

"You have to make sure that guys are taking the proper angles," coach Bill O'Brien said. "There is a lot of different types of tackles. There is the straight-on tackle. There is the two-man tackle where they're both converging on a ball carrier. There is the angle tackle where they can use the sideline. There is the open-field tackle when it's just one on one, say on a punt or kickoff, something like that.

"We try to simulate all those types of tackles throughout the week in practice, coach it up on the field, watch it on film, go back and do it again the next day and just keep teaching guys about what the proper angle is, what the type of tackle it is and how they can improve on their own tackling technique."

According to Pro Football Focus, Swearinger has missed five tackles on run plays this season, third most of any safety in the league that week, and has stops only 4.5 percent of the time, ranking him 36th among safeties. In coverage, Swearinger ranks 57th with 13.1 coverage snaps per reception. The leader among safeties is the Carolina Panthers' Thomas DeCoud, who had 116 coverage snaps per reception.

"You gotta live and learn," Swearinger said. "It was a horrible game by me. I definitely won't have another one of those."
HOUSTON -- Since their 33-28 loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Houston Texans' defensive players have talked a lot about staying disciplined with their own assignments.

As Texans coach Bill O'Brien sees it, that will be especially important when facing a quarterback who is as experienced as Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger.

"You have to make sure that you understand, whether it's based on their personnel, their formations, doing your job within the call that's made," O'Brien said. "So when RAC [defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel] makes the call, our guys have to do their job, whatever that call entails. Maybe that call entails this pressure or this coverage or this type of leverage. Our guys have to realize when you get caught out of position, when you're not doing your job, he'll make you pay. He'll find that; he'll find that soft spot and he'll make you pay. Our guys have to go out there and make sure they're really focused and doing their job on every play."

Roethlisberger is a different type of player than Andrew Luck, whom the Texans faced last week, but he does provide a similar challenge in that he's hard to bring down. Still, the Steelers' quarterback has been sacked 17 times, second only to Lions quarterback Matthew Stafford, which could indicate an opportunity awaits the Texans to get back on track in terms of pressuring the quarterback.
HOUSTON -- Each week when we talk to opponents on weekly conference calls, they rave about Houston Texans defensive end J.J. Watt.

Pittsburgh Steelers coach Mike Tomlin was no different, but he offered a thought as to where Watt is in his career and why that makes him so dangerous for opponents.

“He’s on top of his physical talents, he’s got enough experience now where his experience is really showing through," Tomlin said. "When a really talented player is at that stage of his career you have an opportunity for fireworks, player of the year type fireworks, and obviously that is the type of tape he’s putting out right now."

Watt appreciated the compliment when asked about it later.

"He’s a very good football coach, so obviously I appreciate any kind words he has to say, and those are very kind words," Watt said. "I respect him a lot and I respect their organization and everything that they’ve been able to do. Like I’ve kind of said all along -- I go out there and I try and be the best player I can be and put the best tape out there and work as hard as I can, and then let people say what they want. People who have been in the league a long time and people that have had success in this league are peoples’ opinions that I respect, so I’m very appreciative of that."

The Film Don't Lie: Texans

October, 14, 2014
Oct 14
HOUSTON -- A weekly examination of what the Houston Texans must fix.

To better their chances of topping the Pittsburgh Steelers next week on "Monday Night Football," the Houston Texans will need to regain control of opponents' explosive plays. They were particularly problematic last week against the Indianapolis Colts, mostly because of receiver T.Y. Hilton.

Bomb after bomb went Hilton's way. He beat at least three different Texans defensive backs in one-on-one coverage and sometimes created space for himself to the point where there were no Texans around him. He caught passes of 49, 40, 37 and 33 yards and was part of why the Texans now lead the NFL in allowing plays that gain 30-plus yards. The Texans have allowed 12 -- 11 passes and one run.

Pittsburgh ranks second in the league in plays that go 30 yards or longer with 11 (the Texans have 10), eight of them passes and three rushes.

"We've just got to take coaching and do what we're supposed to do, play the call and just do it right and not try to help other people out would be good," Texans' cornerback A.J. Bouye said.

I asked if it was difficult to have that discipline, and he said it wasn't. It just takes trusting the calls and trusting your teammates. Another solution safety Kendrick Lewis offered on Thursday was better communication on the back end of the defense.
HOUSTON - -Texans general manager Rick Smith acknowledged the inconsistency that's plagued his team on Monday, but just as his head coach Bill O'Brien, Smith appreciates the mental toughness he sees in the Houston Texans.

"We can’t make some of the mistakes that we’ve made and dig some of the holes that we’ve dug ourselves and expect to win," Smith said. "I think our guys understand that, but they’re committed. I like the work ethic. I like what I see so far from the coaching staff and the team, and I look for us to continue to get better."

As for quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's performance in particular:

"I think it’s been inconsistent," Smith said. "I think he’s played well in spurts and it’s much like the balance of the rest of the football team. We’re all searching, you always search for that game where you play the perfect game. None of us have done that so far, so we’ve got to continue to work at that."

Smith spoke to media after an event for Head Up Football, during which he spoke to youth football players and then presented a series of checks to their teams.

His fall has otherwise been divided between college games in preparation for the 2015 draft and monitoring the Texans' roster.

"I’ve been on the road quite a bit," he said. "I’ve got a few games, I like live exposure. It shows you a little bit more than just the tape exposure, so as many of these prospects as I can see live, I try to do that."

It is, of course, not a perfect science. Smith was asked about the 2013 draft class, more than half of which is no longer on the Texans' roster. The three that remain on the active roster are receiver DeAndre Hopkins, safety D.J. Swearinger and tight end Ryan Griffin. Asked if he can call it a disappointment, Smith pointed instead to the learning opportunity.

"Each individual case with those players was individualized, so you have to look at that," Smith said. "We’re always constantly assessing our process to make sure that we have a good process in place that give sus a chance to make good decisions. Sometimes it’s going to be a good outcome, sometimes it won’t be. But as long as you are identifying what the issues are, with each individual case, and make sure your process is something that is solid, I think you give yourself a chance to have success."
HOUSTON -- After the football was knocked out of quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick's grasp, the Indianapolis Colts recovered that fumble inside the two-minute warning and Thursday night's game was essentially lost for the Houston Texans.

While Texans coach Bill O'Brien didn't like the play, he said he had no problem with how any of his players reacted to that play.

One player who's taken some heat for his reaction is second-year receiver DeAndre Hopkins. Hopkins didn't immediately go for the fumbled football. He explained his thought process Friday.

"I thought it was incomplete, so I hesitated," Hopkins said. "By the time I got to it, guys got on it. Looking back on it, if I didn’t think it was incomplete, I probably could’ve got it. But the game doesn’t come down to one play. It’s an hour or two hours of a football game. I’ll take the blame, though."

He joins fellow receiver Andre Johnson in doing so. Johnson said after the game his fumble on the previous drive was the reason the Texans lost.

It's true, of course, that the game didn't come down to one play. More impactful was that miserable first quarter that showed how slow starts are becoming a trend.

"I think the players need to make up their minds that they’re going to start well," O'Brien said.
HOUSTON -- J.J. Watt considered his emotions before offering them. They were complicated, a mixture of frustration and optimism, because he liked what he saw out of his team for most of Thursday night's game against the Indianapolis Colts.

"It is a tough loss; it is frustrating," Watt said after his Houston Texans lost 33-28 and fell to 3-3 on the season, a game behind the Colts in the AFC South. "But I really don't think that it's -- it's definitely not time to panic. There is no doubt about that. It's not time to panic. The way this team fights, and the way that these guys battle, and the way we go out there and we give what we have. We just can't give team 24 points to start a game."

The Texans' mistakes are fixable. They are so fixable, in fact, that they're fixing them during the games. Despite that, again, it wasn't enough. Thursday night, they got a big game from their biggest name, and that wasn't enough.

"I don't know, seriously," Texans coach Bill O'Brien said when asked how to avoid slow starts. "We've got a week and a couple of days to figure things out. That's one of the things we've got to figure out."

That dismal first quarter, indeed, was what lost the game. That first quarter in which nothing went right for Houston. The Texans' offense went three-and-out on every first-quarter drive. The defense gave up 24 points. Special teams was caught off guard on a surprise onside kick immediately after the Colts kicked a field goal on their first drive.

Watt was right on another point, too: The Texans didn't quit, as is becoming their trend after slow starts that are typically limited to offense but on Thursday night permeated every phase of the game.

Watt was a bright spot, as he often is, especially at home this season. He sacked Colts quarterback Andrew Luck twice. He batted three of Luck's passes, tying a career high he matched from three other games. Oh, and then there was that touchdown.

"Big play, but at the end of the day, not enough," Watt said. "Gotta find a way to do more."

For the third time this season, Watt found the end zone. This time, he picked up a fumbled ball and ran it 45 yards for a touchdown, then danced in the end zone, better than he'd danced for his first two touchdowns. He's had practice now. Watt became the first defensive lineman since William "Refrigerator" Perry in 1985 to score three touchdowns in one season.

That touchdown with 10:36 to play in the fourth quarter brought Houston's comeback bid to an apex. The Texans were within five points, needing another stop and then some help from an offense that had provided three touchdowns already.

They got the stop, but receiver Andre Johnson fumbled the ball away on the ensuing drive, a mistake he said lost the game.

Then, Watt went back to work. He tackled Ahmad Bradshaw for a loss of 2 yards on a second down at the Texans' 41. On third down, he batted a pass, ensuring the Texans' offense got the ball back. But a fumble by quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick with 1:48 remaining effectively ended the most competitive Thursday night game so far this season.

The effort epitomized that of a team which outscored its opponent 28-9 in quarters 2 through 4. Across the board, things got better as the game progressed. Even Fitzpatrick, a player whose job security many fans question, had a 118.8 passer rating in the second half and a 124.1 passer rating in the second quarter after a 39.6 rating in the first.

This is not the first time we've seen a slow start followed by a recovery or a team showing it can do what it needs to but just doesn't do it consistently. Without a quarterback with game-changing ability, the Texans need everything else to go right. In that abysmal first quarter Thursday night, almost nothing did.

It's not time to panic, as Watt said. It's time for the Texans to figure out how to begin the game playing as well as they do late when urgency increases.
HOUSTON -- Observed and heard in the locker room after the Houston Texans' 33-28 loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
  • The Texans' starting defensive backs, Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, D.J. Swearinger and Kendrick Lewis, gathered together around Jackson's and Lewis' lockers to talk about what had gone wrong in a game in which they gave up 370 yards and three touchdowns through the air. "Communication is one big part of it," Lewis said. "Communication in the secondary, it gotta be on point at any given time because one big play, one big explosive play can change the game and give those guys momentum. That's what T.Y. Hilton kind of did for those guys, with him kept getting those deep balls. You've got to find a way to slow those types of receivers down, and the rest will take care of itself."
  • Johnson
    Andre Johnson placed the blame for the loss squarely on his own shoulders for his fourth-quarter fumble. "It was the biggest mistake of the game," Johnson said. "... I didn't have the ball cleanly. Just try to make something happen before really protecting the ball, and it cost my team. I accept full responsibility for it, and that's probably why we lost tonight. I wish I could play again tomorrow so I could change that."
  • Johnson's teammates probably could have guessed he'd take the fumble very hard. "I don't think that play hurt anybody more than it hurt him," left tackle Duane Brown said. Brown was insistent that play did not lose the game.

Rapid Reaction: Houston Texans

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9

A few thoughts from the Houston Texans' 33-28 loss to the Indianapolis Colts at NRG Stadium.

What it means: This was the battle for first place in the division, and the Texans ceded it to the Colts in a game that was closer than it initially seemed it would be. The Texans' defense had no answer for the Andrew Luck-driven passing attack, especially his throws to T.Y. Hilton, in falling behind 24-0 in the first quarter. Meanwhile, their offense offered its traditional slow start, going three-and-out on all three of its first-quarter drives. Their in-game adjustments were, once again, solid, but the slow start proved fatal to the Texans.

Stock watch: The secondary's stock went down today. It had several strong games and was a big part of the Texans' turnover margin being as strong as it was -- eight of the 12 Texans' turnovers heading into this game were caused by defensive backs. The Colts had the upper hand tonight. Hilton had 156 yards at halftime and 207 by the end of the third quarter. It was the first time since 2012 that the Texans allowed more than 200 receiving yards to an individual.

Turnovers return on offense: Two very costly turnovers crushed the Texans. Twice they attempted to mount a game-winning drive, and both ended in fumbles. Andre Johnson first caught a pass from Ryan Fitzpatrick and fumbled. Then, on the final drive, Fitzpatrick was hit as he tried to run away from pressure and fumbled. The second, inside the two-minute warning, effectively ended the game.

Game Ball: J.J. Watt scored his third touchdown of the season when he scooped up a botched snap and ran 45 yards to the end zone. This time he followed his score with an intentional rendition of the nae nae, a dance that Houston Rockets center Dwight Howard tutored him on. Watt also sacked Luck twice and batted two passes, the second on a critical third down with a little more than two minutes remaining in the game. Watt's play got the ball back for the Texans offense with plenty of time to win the game.

What's next: The Texans have 10 days until their next game -- a Monday nighter against the Pittsburgh Steelers.

Texans vs. Colts preview

October, 9, 2014
Oct 9
HOUSTON -- The fate of the AFC South is very much undecided right now, but the teams leading that race face each other Thursday.

The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans are both 3-2, tied for the best record in the division.

This has been a lopsided series in the past. The Colts have a 20-4 advantage, bolstered by years of divisional dominance with the help of former Colts quarterback Peyton Manning. History won't matter Thursday night, though, as the divisional foes aim to show a prime-time audience who they really are.

ESPN Colts writer Mike Wells and ESPN Texans writer Tania Ganguli examine the matchup.

Ganguli: So Mike, we talked a lot with the Texans' players about Andrew Luck's lack of fear -- of initiating contact and of taking hits. Does that drive his coaches crazy?

Wells: Not only the coaches, the front-office officials, his teammates and the fans go a little crazy at times when Luck gets hit. It’s not that Luck doesn’t have the ability to take off and run, because his athleticism is highly underrated. Seattle’s Russell Wilson continues to prove he’s one of the best at creating something with his feet when he doesn’t have anybody to pass the ball to, but Luck knows how to use his feet, too. He’s averaging almost 5 yards a carry in his career. Is it safe for Luck to run and risk getting injured? Of course not, when you’re talking about the Colts’ franchise player, but he’s pretty smart about when he tucks the ball and takes off.

J.J. Watt’s impact is undeniable. But has he made that much of a difference that he should be mentioned as a legitimate MVP candidate?

Ganguli: That depends on your definition of the phrase "most valuable player." Watt has impacted every phase of the game this season -- special teams (blocked extra point), offense (touchdown catch) and defense. It's not easy to compare across positions about how a player has the most value to his team, but I think often that award elevates the contribution of quarterbacks above all else. Yes, quarterbacks are supremely important to their teams. But quarterbacks don't affect defenses. I'd argue that Watt impacts such a high percentage of plays that he should be considered in the MVP conversation. Even when his contributions don't appear on the stat sheet, they're there.

Staying with defense, what’s impressed you about the Colts' defense this year? Or, if you haven’t been impressed, why not?

Wells: I was far from impressed after the first two weeks of the season, when the defense had only one sack. You wondered how the Colts were going to get by without Robert Mathis (suspension/Achilles) this season. I warmed up some to them after they recorded seven sacks total against Jacksonville and Tennessee. But we’re talking about the Jaguars and Titans, two of the worst teams in the NFL. But my thought changed again after the Baltimore game last weekend. Ravens quarterback Joe Flacco went into Sunday having been sacked only three times this season. He left the game with seven sacks after the Colts got to him four times. Defensive lineman Cory Redding recently told me that the defensive unit took those doubts about their ability personally. Defensive coordinator Greg Manusky deserves a lot of credit because he’s having the Colts blitz more, and it’s paying off. The defense will have a different test against the Texans because running back Arian Foster is averaging more than 150 yards a game rushing in five career games against the Colts.

Another defensive question: Why have the Texans given up so many yards this season? Are they not as dominant as before, or should people not read as much into the fact they’re 26th in the league in yards allowed per game?

Ganguli: What's interesting is that last season, the Texans gave up fewer yards but more points. You can attribute that largely to one thing: turnovers. The Texans were historically bad at forcing turnovers last season. They forced only 11 all year, a number they've already topped this season. They're making a bigger impact on games because of that. The defense kept the team in last Sunday's game against the Cowboys while the offense found its footing (which has taken about a half so far this season). I'll be interested to see how sustainable this is. There is an element of luck when it comes to forcing turnovers.

Speaking of those turnovers, the Texans' defense forces many turnovers in the red zone. Is that going to be a problem for the Colts?

Wells: The Colts are 22-of-25 on red zone attempts this season and they’ve turned the ball over only twice when they’ve been inside the 20, so I don’t see that being a problem for them. The issue the Colts could have is scoring touchdowns once they get in the red zone. Indianapolis has come away with a touchdown on only 15 of its 25 trips inside the 20-yard line. Their 60 percent success rate is 15th in the league. The elite teams know how to finish off a drive inside the red zone with a touchdown. The Colts need to improve in that area.

The quarterback situation in Houston has been dicey. Is there any reason to believe Ryan Fitzpatrick can be the guy?

Ganguli: I'm again going to say this answer relies on a definition. Could Fitzpatrick be the guy for this season? Absolutely. He has limitations, and they're pretty clear at times. He has shown the ability to make the right decisions, make the right plays and get the Texans in the right situations. He led a game-tying drive against the Cowboys. Here's what I will say: those moments are sprinkled in with problematic moments, and Fitzpatrick has yet to put together a complete game. He plays much better late in games than early in games, and it shows in the Texans' offensive production.