Houston’s AFC South rivals are having a better season at 7-4 than the Texans are at 4-7. However, things could change in the final five weeks. To help preview the 12:00 p.m. CT showdown at NRG Stadium, Kevin Hickey from the Colts Wire stopped by and answered a few questions.
Texans Wire: Do the Colts still feel like they can win the AFC South now that the Titans series did not conclude with a sweep?
Kevin Hickey: They should. The game against the Titans was bad. Like, “let’s never speak of this” bad. They would obviously need some help from other teams to get the division title but nothing is out of the question yet. They have winnable games coming up in four of their next five matchups. The Texans will play them close, but there’s a real chance the Colts go 4-1 in their next five games. That at least gives them a chance at the division. Now if I had to make a prediction, I’d say the Titans are likely to come away with the lead at the end of the season. But it’s not out of the question yet.
TW: How much of a difference has Philip Rivers made to the team?
KH: It really can’t be overstated. Rivers will have his bone-headed throws where he tries to fit a ball into a tight window. Or he might take a risky shot downfield when he doesn’t really need to. But that mindset has helped the offense greatly. In just 11 games, Rivers has already surpassed Jacoby Brissett’s yardage totals from 2019. He’s spreading the ball around and each week shows a new level in commanding this offense. How far the Colts will go with Rivers remains to be seen. But he makes this unit way more efficient and explosive than they were in 2019. As long has he has solid protection, he’s likely to finish with a strong day.
TW: How have the additions of Xavier Rhodes and DeForest Buckner paid off for the defense?
KH: They have been great. The biggest surprise has been Rhodes. The veteran cornerback looked like a shell of himself last year but looks to be turning the clock back in 2020. He’ll be a free agent and should get a nice contract from the Colts this offseason. He’s allowing just a 63.2 passer rating when targeted and has been a key cog in the secondary. As for Buckner, he’s truly incredible. He’s built like a three-technique but moves like an edge rusher. He wins with power, incredible hand usage and an insane burst off the snap. He’s currently on the reserve/COVID-19 list and if he’s symptomatic (the Colts won’t say), he will miss Sunday’s game. He’s their best player and is probably underpaid at $21 million per year.
TW: Prayers and positive vibes for Rigoberto Sanchez of course, but how has the team responded to his diagnosis? Who will replace him?
KH: It’s crazy. Sanchez learned of the diagnosis last week and still wanted to play before his surgery on Tuesday. He’s in good spirits recovering and the prognosis is very positive. The team has rallied around him. He may be a punter, but the locker room absolutely loves him, and he fits the culture perfectly. Don’t be surprised if RigoStrong is their rally cry from here on out. The Colts signed veteran Ryan Allen on Thursday, former Patriots punter. They wanted a veteran for the home stretch of the season. We’ll see how it goes.
TW: Who are a couple of Colts players, who aren’t household names, that Texans fans should keep an eye on Sunday?
KH: DT Grover Stewart tops this list. He’s a one-technique and has emerged as one of the best run-stopping defenders in the league. In fact, the Colts just extended him for three years last week. Buckner might be the team’s best player and the engine of the defense, but Stewart is the biggest reason why their run defense is among the elite teams. He’s massive, strong but moves nimbly and precisely. S Julian Blackmon is also a player to watch. He’s a third-round pick from April’s draft and has emerged as a Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. He’s what the Colts wanted in Malik Hooker while adding a bit more physicality. Blackmon is extremely instinctive, can make plays on the ball and isn’t afraid to come downhill at the line of scrimmage. He’s been a lot of fun to watch, especially considering he tore his ACL less than a year ago and the Colts didn’t expect him to be making plays this quickly.
TW: What is your prediction?
KH: I definitely think the Texans are better than their record suggests and I never count out Deshaun Watson. The Colts could be without Buckner and left tackle Anthony Castonzo (knee), which helps the Texans. But with Will Fuller and Bradley Roby suspended, the Colts should come out with a win. It’s going to be close, especially if Castonzo doesn’t play, but I’ve got the Colts, 26-23.