HOUSTON -- Here are five things to watch for in Sunday’s Colts-Texans game:
1. Life after Reggie: Quarterback Andrew Luck is about to face the toughest challenge of his young NFL career outside of starting his first game. Reggie Wayne (knee) was Luck’s go-to player, security blanket, Mr. Reliable and any other words you can think of to describe what he has meant to the second-year quarterback. That’s no longer available. As Rachel Eldridge from ESPN Stats & Information pointed out last week, Luck has completed only 23.8 percent of his pass attempts without Wayne on the field. Before you choke on your food in shock, Wayne missed only 7.8 percent of the offensive snaps since the start of 2012. The Colts preached all week that they will attempt to replace Wayne by committee. That will likely be the case, but somebody will have to step up and be Luck’s go-to receiver at some point.
2. Containing Watt: Colts coach Chuck Pagano described Houston’s defense as having “game wreckers all over the place.” The main “game wrecker” for the Texans is J.J. Watt. The reigning AP Defensive Player of the Year had three sacks, six tackles for loss, four quarterback hits and a forced fumble against the Colts in Houston last season. Watt has gotten off to a slow start this season, with only 4.5 sacks and one forced fumble. The Colts can’t afford for Sunday to be the game in which Watt gets it going.
3. Going against a new face: Houston quarterback Case Keenum has only one NFL start on his resume. But he’s in the perfect position to try to end Houston’s five-game losing skid. He’s the fan favorite over former starter Matt Schaub, his first home start is in the same city where he set the NCAA all-time passing record while slinging the ball downfield at the University of Houston and he’s facing a team that could have a difficult time putting points on the board without Wayne. Keenum didn’t play poorly in his first start at Kansas City on Oct. 20. He was 15-of-25 for 271 yards and a touchdown. Six of his completions were for at least 25 yards.
4. Bringing the heat: Colts linebacker Robert Mathis is one of the early front-runners to take Defensive Player of the Year honors away from Watt. Mathis leads the league in sacks with 11.5 and Indianapolis has 21 as a team. Keenum was sacked five times by the Chiefs.
5. Pound it on the ground: The Texans have the best pass defense in the league (145.6 yards a game), but the same can’t be said about their run defense. They’re 28th in the league in stopping the run at 122.1 yards a game. The Colts are ninth in the league in rushing (129 yards a game) despite the fact that Trent Richardson is still trying to find his way. They’ve teamed Richardson with Donald Brown in the backfield to go with some runs here and there from Luck.