5 Things Learned: Colts Off To Kansas City After Impressive Wild Card Victory
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INDIANAPOLIS – The rubber match did not have much doubt.
From the onset Saturday, the Indianapolis Colts enforced their will onto the Houston Texans, ending up with a 21-7 victory, in Houston.
What did we learn from the Colts moving on to the Divisional Round of the Playoffs?
FIVE THINGS LEARNED
- Playoff Stage Not Too Big: On this short week leading into Houston, Frank Reich pointed out some key things his team needed to do to earn a postseason win. Among them was be productive in the run game and be more disciplined than they had been in recent weeks. Winning a road playoff game is not easy in the NFL. Reich had a blueprint in mind and his team executed pretty darn well. Marlon Mack rushed for 148 rushing yards and the Colts committed just 2 penalties all night (a week after a season-high 12 penalties). Indy set the tone from the opening drive. The Texans won the coin toss and decided they wanted their defense on the field first. How did the Colts respond? With two 9-play touchdown drives going the length of the field, as the Colts were flawless on third down and in the red zone. And the Indy defense forced a three-and-out, and then recorded a fourth-down interception. It was a dominant opening quarter on the road in the biggest game of the season. It’s one thing to start out like that in Nashville against Blaine Gabbert. It’s another to do it in Houston versus Deshaun Watson. That start set the tone.
- Kenny Moore/Pierre Desir Lead Defensive Masterpiece: Let’s begin with the two starting cornerbacks, both guys who were waiver claims following preseason cuts in 2017. Moore blitzed constantly from his slot position on Saturday and recorded some huge plays---an interception, a sack and a big pressure late to force an errant Watson throw on fourth down. And there was Desir once again used a lot in coverage on DeAndre Hopkins. The All-Pro Hopkins finished the day with 5 catches on 10 targets for 37 yards, almost the identical stat line to what he was held to a month ago against Desir and the Colts. Houston starting running back Lamar Miller had just 18 rushing yards on 5 carries as the Colts totally took away the Texans’ top skill players. Defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus saw his unit once again execute a terrific game plan.
- Marlon Mack’s Historic Day: Andrew Luck was pretty darn good on Saturday, but the support he’s received in 2018 was once again on full display. Again, Reich was pretty adamant all week long that the Colts needed to find consistent run game production, because that is what wins in the playoffs. The task was difficult though with Houston entering Saturday as the league’s top rushing yards per carry defense allowed this season, at 3.44 YPC. The Colts, with their best offensive line back intact, controlled the line of scrimmage all afternoon long. When it came to pass protection, Houston had some pressure but the line kept Andrew Luck upright in 32 pass attempts, making sure J.J. Watt nor Jadeveon Clowney didn’t wreck the game. It was strength versus strength and the Colts won the trenches, chalking up another one for the major off-season focus for Chris Ballard.
- Gutty Effort From T.Y. Hilton: Coming into Saturday, I thought the health/effectiveness of T.Y. Hilton would be the difference in this one. The Ghost wasted no time making his mark on this one. Hilton had 3 catches for 63 yards on the game’s opening drive, converting two third downs and then a 38-yard deep ball to set-up the first touchdown for the Colts. That’s exactly what the Colts needed from their star wideout in a hostile environment. Hilton finished the day with 5 catches for 85 yards, but what he did at the start of this game was the real story. All week long, Hilton was the storyline, in Indianapolis, and in Houston. Yet, he once again made some huge plays against the Texans, even though he’s battling an injured ankle right now that has kept him to just 2 practices in the past 5 weeks. I didn't think Hilton would be healthy enough to produce for the Colts to win in Houston. I was most certainly wrong.
- No. 1 Is Next: Following Week Six, the Colts were 1-5 and tied for the worst record in the NFL. When they take the field next Saturday, they will be 1 of 8 teams left in the postseason. This remarkable season has now been validated by a playoff berth, and a playoff victory (a road playoff win, too). For those dreaming big, the No. 1 seeded Chiefs will play in front of a raucous road environment at Arrowhead Stadium. But Kansas City has had some hiccups late in the season and their playoff history isn’t great, especially against the Colts. Any inclement weather as well would certainly play into the hands of the Colts, who don’t want, or need, to air it out as much as the high-powered Chiefs.
-Reich Quotable: On keeping Watt and Clowney ‘quiet’: “Running the football, the backs and tight ends did a great job with chip help. We had a multiple plan of attack in order to slow them down to chip and thump them every time we could, run it to slow them down. We talked a lot about that this week. Those are two phenomenal players and our guys did a great job.”
-Player Quotable: Quarterback Andrew Luck on when this season turned around: “I don’t think there was one defining moment. It was the consistency, the every day. Frank being genuine and authentic and being so consistent about that. Slowly, but surely, you just believe. You start to believe in yourself, because that’s always step one. And then you start to believe in each other. This is a fun group of guys to play with. It’s a great locker room. Chris has put a great bunch of guys together that care about each other, care about how we play, care about what we do off the field. It’s very fulfilling. It’s very energizing to get to share a field with those gentlemen.”
-Injury Report: The following players were inactive on Sunday: OL-Le’Raven Clark, C-Josh Andrews, WR-Ryan Grant, DL-Tyquan Lewis, LB-Ahmad Thomas, RB-Jonathan Williams and S-J.J. Wilcox. Three of the seven inactives are injury related: Lewis, Grant and Wilcox. Veteran safety Mike Mitchell left the game in the 3rd quarter with a calf injury.
-Key Stat: Houston came into Saturday having not allowed a single rusher of more than 85 yards this season. Marlon Mack’s 148 yards were not only a franchise record, but also was easily the biggest day given up by the Texans all season long. The Colts set a franchise playoff record with 200 rushing yards against the Texans.
-What’s Next: The Colts (10-6) are now off to Kansas City to take on the No. 1 seeded Chiefs (12-4) for a 4:35 PM kickoff on Saturday in the Divisional Round of the Playoffs.