After being hammered by the New England Patriots last Monday night, the Houston Texans suddenly find themselves in a tough race in the AFC South.
That's because the upstart Indianapolis Colts have surprised many by winning nine games. They have done it behind the brilliance of rookie quarterback Andrew Luck and veteran wideout Reggie Wayne.
Here are the best matchups in this Sunday's critical divisional tilt.
Reggie Wayne vs. Jonathan Joseph
Undoubtedly the marquee matchup will involve receiver Reggie Wayne and cornerback Jonathan Joseph.
Wayne has been magnificent this season. The 34-year-old has played a key role in helping Luck's development.
He has hauled in 94 of the rookie's passes, many of them astonishing, highlight-reel catches. That's helped Wayne accumulate 1,220 yards and score four touchdowns.
As much as he has helped Luck, Wayne has also managed to create space for his youthful supporting cast. The likes of Donnie Avery, T.Y. Hilton and Dwayne Allen have all benefited from the attention paid to Wayne.
The result has been a versatile pass attack that has keyed many of the Colts' victories. Stopping Wayne will be Joseph's top priority.
The Texans rely a lot on man coverage and their schemes are keyed by Joseph's skills. His is particularly adept in off-man coverage.
He has the agility and speed to shadow receivers deep and pounce on any errant throws. The Texans usually let Joseph trail the opposition's best receiver and his battle with Wayne is definitely one to watch.
Cory Redding vs. Texans Offensive Line
The Colts switch to a 3-4 defense has been spearheaded by superb defensive tackle Cory Redding. The ex-Baltimore Raven has been a consistently disruptive force in defensive coordinator Greg Manusky's hybrid schemes.
Redding will line up on the outside and occupy double teams. He will also slide inside to pressure the pocket.
Houston's offensive line must control the 32-year-old, after struggling in New England. The Texan's front five couldn't cope with huge tackle tandem Kyle Love and Vince Wilfork.
If the Texans hope to get Arian Foster and their zone-running game going, their offensive front must keep Redding quiet.
Colts Offensive Line vs. J.J. Watt
J.J. Watt is the linchpin of Wade Phillips' Texans defense. The second-year pro is having a monster season and is currently the most dominant defensive lineman in the game.
Watt has the size and strength to drive blockers back into the backfield. His power and long arms enable him to collapse the pass pocket and stuff the run.
The Texans slide Watt inside to defensive tackle in their dime front. He operates as a 3-technique pass-rusher in the guard-tackle gap. From that position Watt is a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks. He has logged 16.5 sacks and also batted down 15 passes.
Luck has been sacked 32 times this season, behind an offensive line that can be pushed off the ball. According to NFL.com, the Colts will miss starting center Samson Satele and right tackle Winston Justice through injury.
That's bad news against a Texans defense that likes to bring a lot of pressure and with Watt leading the charge.
It often takes more than a double team to contain the former Wisconsin ace. If the Colts can't control him, Watt will simply take over the game and give Luck fits.
Where To Watch Online: Indianapolis Colts at Houston Texans
Prediction: Indianapolis Colts 17-27 Houston Texans
The Colts are certainly an emerging team, but a trip to Houston still looks too tough. The Texans can be counted on to harass Luck and apply a lot of pressure.
If the rookie can't produce points, the Colts will struggle to keep pace. Foster and the Houston running game should wear down Redding and company as the game goes on.918369