We won’t know it until we have the full context of the season, of course. Still, the Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts contest on "Monday Night Football" could prove to be the game of the year in the AFC South.
I’m not talking point spreads when I call the Texans the underdog. The Texans are trying to climb over the incumbent division champs; the Colts, on the other hand, are eager to extend an eight-year term as a playoff presence.
In a preparation week when both sides will spew some familiar phrases, I thought it might be fun to look at the game from the Texans’ perspective through the prism of some of those clichés:
They have to establish their running game.
Football Outsiders has preached to us that running well usually means you had a late lead and could stack up the carries, and that forcing the run early doesn’t correlate to wins. Look back at the Texans’ win in the first matchup on opening day. Arian Foster had 10 carries for a respectable 40 yards. But it was a second-half push to build on a second-half lead and wear down the Colts where he did his massive damage: 23 carries for 191 yards and three touchdowns.
Related cliché quote: “It was just one game. That’s what I was saying throughout the course of the whole week. It was just one game. This is just another game.” -- Arian Foster.
They have to give 110 percent.
The buzz out of Houston is that the Texans are actually planning on giving 112 percent. Because the Texans expect the Colts have considered the 110 percent rule, Houston goes up 2 percent just in case the Colts were thinking the same way and decided to boost their effort to 111 percent.
They just have to worry about themselves.
It’s certainly true. The Texans have things they should definitely be worried about in house: that shaky pass coverage and the weak rush that can take far too long to make the quarterback get the ball out of his hands. But I think they’d be wise to worry about Peyton Manning, Reggie Wayne, Dwight Freeney and Antoine Bethea, too. It’s impossible to extract just “you” from an equation that includes the guy you’re matched up against, because at least some of what you do has to be based on what he does. Are the Texans just worried about themselves? Sure. Duane Brown is thinking about what he needs to do to slow Freeney. Andre Johnson is looking and how some routes will help him shake Bethea.
Related cliché quote: “We all respect what [Manning] is all about, but we know what we have to do as a team to have a chance to be successful.” -- Texans coach Gary Kubiak.
The more physical team will win.
I don’t see it as any sort of guarantee here. The Colts can be a finesse team. Any squad that goes for speed and smarts over size and power fits the label, which has taken on a negative connotation because somehow power football is preferred. The Texans don’t like to be called finesse, because it’s usually part of the build up to someone accusing them of being soft. But there is nothing wrong with using athleticism and angles to make plays as opposed to brute strength. (Ryan Lilja covered that nicely in this piece.) The Texans certainly can be the more physical team in this game and still lose it.
No one thought we could win.
The beloved Rodney Dangerfield “no respect” card in cliché form. The Texans haven’t struck me as a big disrespect team, but it runs through every team that hasn’t won big and believes it has to prove itself. The Texans' defense is the worst yardage defense in the NFL, that’s not a respect-earner. Heck, even coaches of great teams like to use this tactic. It absolutely doesn’t matter if it’s not true if you can get players to buy it. Kubiak wouldn’t even need to doctor a pick sheet to slap up on the bulletin board or to talk about in a team meeting. He could simply urge everyone to look at this endless row of blue horseshoes. “The Colts are all beat up, we are 4-2 and have already beaten them and not one entry in 10 thinks we’ll win! Why, we'll show those @&*^(%!.$*s.”
Related cliché quote: “It’s a national televised game and people will get to see how the Texans respond.” -- Johnson.
They can’t shoot themselves in the foot.
Clichés are boring because part of becoming a cliché is being overused. But many of them became overused because they were accurate. Every team buys into this one. There are games every week decided by mistakes, and the Colts usually aren’t one of the teams making them. Everyone knows a key turnover, untimely penalty or missed field goal can be the difference. Tuesday morning, I’ll be looking for a divisional decisive moment. Plays like that are always contenders. But if you buy into “The Secret” and the idea that what you think about you bring about, then concentrating on not making mistakes is likely to help produce ... mistakes.
Related cliché quote: “It’s not about the talent. It’s really not. It’s about us making mistakes. We make the stupidest mistakes in the craziest times in the game.” -- Bernard Pollard.