INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ season-opening game Sunday against the Texans at Houston’s NRG Stadium:
- Kickoff: 1 p.m.
- Broadcast: CBS4.
- Line: Colts by 7.
History lesson, Part I:
Everyone inside the Indiana Farm Bureau Insurance Football Center – most notably owner Jim Irsay, general manager Chris Ballard, coach Frank Reich and the players – is sick and tired of answering questions regarding the NFL’s longest active losing streak in season openers. That’s because it belongs to the Colts, who’ve lost eight straight. The last opening-day win: 2013 against the Oakland Raiders. Only two teams have experienced longer losing streaks: Cleveland (13) and Philadelphia (nine).
And it’s not as if we can point an accusing finger at the starting quarterback. Five have contributed to the futility: Andrew Luck (four times), Carson Wentz, Philip Rivers, Jacoby Brissett and Scott Tolzien.
Maybe it ends with Matt Ryan. But we feel it’s our duty to point out the Colts’ newest triggerman lost his last four season-opening starts with the Atlanta Falcons.
“There’s not much talk other than going 1-0 every day. That’s our mentality,” Reich said. “You have to take it week-by-week. To make everything a must this or have to get, in the long run that doesn’t normally play out well for you.”
History lesson, Part II:
There’s no time like the present and no team like the Texans to end the opening-day drought. The Colts have won four straight in the series – including last season’s 31-0 and 31-3 sweep – and nine of the last 11.
“I remember when somebody dominates,” said Texans’ first-year coach Lovie Smith, who was Houston’s defensive coordinator last season. “It’s a motivating thing as much as anything, for us to see exactly where we need to go.
“No, we don’t run from that at all. You can’t run from that past.”
History lesson, Part III:
The Colts have opened a season in Houston twice. And they’re 0-2; 34-7 in ’11 with Kerry Collins at QB and 34-24 with Peyton Manning under center.
Offensive formula, Part I:
Ryan has replaced Wentz and is viewed as an upgrade in leadership and directing a more efficient offense. The idea is he’ll look for chunk plays where the situation presents itself in the passing game, but he’ll make the layups. Ryan has completed at least 64.7% of his passes in 10 consecutive seasons, including 67% last year with the Falcons. The difference between that and Wentz’s 62.4% in ’21 is huge. By the way, Ryan’s 65.5% career rate is tied for 9th-best in NFL history.
But the Colts’ offense will continue to run through reigning rushing champion Jonathan Taylor.
“He’s a beast,” Ryan said. “He’s an absolute beast.”
Reich and his staff will monitor Taylor’s season-long workload, but they also will maximize his supreme skills and game-breaking potential. It’s anyone’s guess whether Taylor can approach the standard he set last season – a franchise-record 1,811 yards and a league-best 2,171 yards from scrimmage – but he’ll be a week-to-week headache for defensive coordinators.
He was an absolute migraine for the Texans last season. In the dominant sweep, Taylor averaged 144 yards per game and 6.3 per attempt. His 14-carry, 145-yard outing in week 6 included an 83-yard run, which was the longest non-TD run in the NFL last season.
Worth noting: last season, the Colts were 9-1 when Taylor rushed for at least 100 yards. They were 0-7 when he failed to reach triple digits.
“Taylor is a great runner,” said Texans safety Jalen Pitre. “He’s downhill, has the speed to break away and also has moves inside. They have two great backs in Taylor and Nyheim Hines. They complement each other.”
Offensive formula, Part II:
That’s a good transition. As much as Ryan absolutely must be the answer at QB and Taylor must have a suitable encore to the best season by a back in team history, others must step up.
That includes Hines, who’ll be much more involved than he was in ’21 when he matched a career low with 96 touches. He’ll get a handful of rushing attempts, but look for the versatile back to be one of Ryan’s frequent targets, either out of the backfield or while lining up in the slot.
And Sunday is the first opportunity for the wideouts and tight ends to alleviate prevailing concerns over their overall lack of experience. Obviously we’re not talking about Michael Pittman Jr., who should be headed for a 100-plus catch season. In the wideouts’ room, we’re talking about Parris Campbell, rookie Alec Pierce, Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan and Dezmon Patmon.
Mo Alie-Cox returns with experience at tight end, but the same can’t be said for Kylen Granson and rookie Jelani Woods. Granson should be given every opportunity to be a steady contributor.
Welcome, Gus Bradley. He replaced Matt Eberflus and was given several significant components: edge rusher Yannick Ngakoue, cornerbacks Stephon Gilmore and Brandon Facyson, rookie safety Nick Cross. DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart return to give Bradley one of the league’s best interior tandems. The team anticipates significant year 2 leaps for ends Kwity Paye and Dayo Odeyingbo. Tyquan Lewis offers invaluable versatility.
The influx of talent should enable the defense to excel even without Shaquille Leonard, who will miss at least the opener while he recovers from back surgery.
The Texans categorically were one of the NFL’s worst offensive units last season: 32nd in yards (278.1), 30th in yards per play (4.7), 32nd in rushing (83.6), 28TH in passing (194.4) and 30th in scoring (16.5).
But they expect a better Davis Mills in year 2, and he was respectable as a rookie. The 2021 3rd-round pick completed 66.8% of his passes for 2,664 yards with 16 touchdowns and 10 interceptions. The Texans have put their run game in the hands of rookie Dameon Pierce. The 4th-round draft pick averaged 7.8 yards on 11 carries in the preseason.
The Colts’ defense needs to make things uncomfortable for Mills, and that might be difficult if Houston sticks with a short-drop, quick-throw approach. In the blowouts last season, Indy’s defense generated six sacks, 9 more quarterback hits on Mills and Tyrod Taylor. They completed just 57.1% of their passes, averaged 4.8 yards per attempt, suffered three interceptions and finished with a 51.9 rating.
The Colts’ defense should be better. What about Houston’s offense?
And the winner is: Colts 27, Texans 16:
If the Colts are who a lot of us believe they are, they have to start exorcising demons. On top of the list is winning an opener. We’re not even remotely expecting another demolition of the Texans. Lovie Smith will get this franchise whipped into shape. But he has a lot of work to do. But Ryan and Taylor should prove to be too much for Houston’s defense and Bradley’s defense is poised to assert itself.
You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.