INDIANAPOLIS - NOVEMBER 01: Mike Hart #32 of Indianapolis Colts runs with the ball while tackled by Zac Diles #54 and Bernard Pollard #31 of the Houston Texans during the NFL game at Lucas Oil Stadium on November 1 2010 in Indianapolis Indiana. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)
What should you be keeping an eye on in the season opener against Kerry Collins and the Colts?
Great news Texans fans, we're less than 24 hours away from the beginning of this new season. Our guys are taking on the Colts in a rematch of last year's season opener, but there will be plenty of new faces in tomorrow afternoon's contest. With the absence of Peyton Manning, this game shifts to a must-win for the Texans and Gary Kubiak. It's imperative to get off to a good start this season, especially within the AFC South. I have broken down five important topics in this game, and I'm even going to predict the score.
Without any further ado..
5) If Arian Foster doesn't play, will a combination of Derrick Ward and Ben Tate be effective?
It's being reported that Arian will be a game-time decision, but will the offense lose a step if he misses the game? I feel that a committee of Ward and Tate will be able to do enough to open up the passing game for Matt Schaub. After averaging 6.3 yards per carry, I think we all know that Ward can be relied upon in Kubiak's zone-blocking scheme, but what about Ben Tate? He missed all of last season with a early injury in the preseason, but he has looked great so far in training camp and this preseason. I think his big-play potential provides a nice complement to Ward's steady game on the ground, and I think Arian Foster won't be missed as badly as you might think. We'd obviously love to have last year's NFL rushing leader back, but I don't think he should risk any future injury by playing this week. If anything, this allows the coaching staff to see what Ward and Tate are truly capable of without Foster in the backfield. It should certainly be interesting to watch.
4) How will Johnathan Joseph play in his Texans' debut opposite Reggie Wayne?
I loved the acquisition of Joseph this offseason, and I think he provides a nice shutdown corner in the secondary for once. I honestly can't remember being confident in a Texans' cornerback until now, and he gets to showcase his talent immediately against the AFC South's best receiver not named Andre Johnson. ESPN's insider scouting report is also intrigued by this matchup:
The Houston brain trust feels like they finally got their shut down corner with the signing of Joseph away from the Cincinnati Bengals. He will get his first test as he spends most of this game lined up over the ever dangerous Reggie Wayne. He has enough size to match up with most bigger receivers and the kind of footwork and speed needed to match Wayne on downfield routes. Wayne is Indianapolis' most consistent receiver and gives them their best shot at scoring quickly.
3) How much will the Colts rely on new QB Kerry Collins?
Indianapolis has usually been able to count on a strong performance from Peyton Manning and a decent running game to confuse most defenses. With Manning's absence, I think they will have to utilize Joseph Addai and Donald Brown early in order to free up some time for Collins and the rest of the Colts' offense. Indy fans have been spoiled for years as Manning would observe the opposing defense and audible to any play that would favor their offense, but I don't have any confidence in Collins executing with such effectiveness. He has only been a Colt for less than a month, and I'd be very surprised if he has any kind of rapport with Reggie Wayne and Dallas Clark.
2) Will Wade Phillips' new 3-4 defense be able to force multiple turnovers?
New Texans' defensive coordinator Wade Phillips couldn't have asked for a better debut against the Manning-less Colts, and I'm anxious to see what kind of pressure he applies with the 3-4. Most Texans' fans believe that the secondary should be better this year with the additions of Johnathan Joseph and Danieal Manning. Does that mean that Phillips will feel comfortable loading the box and forcing Collins to throw downfield? I hope so because I have enough of confidence in our defensive line and strong linebacking core. J.J. Watt should be able to bully some of the Colts' linemen, and I think blitzing Collins from many different angles should lead to a couple interceptions.
1) How will Mario Williams look playing OLB in the 3-4?
As Wade Phillips transitions our defense into the 3-4, I know many Texans' fans are curious about Mario's new role in this scheme. Phillips feels that Williams can perform to a similar level as Demarcus Ware, but I'm not ready to make any comparisons just yet. We need a couple games to see how Williams performs standing up on defense, but I think he can be very successful in the future. It looks like I'm not the only one:
Once LB Mario Williams gets comfortable with his new role and the front three understand their role in the blitz package, this could become a dynamic pass rush.
In a rematch of last year's season opener, our hometown team will try to get off to a good start against the Manning-less Colts. Veteran QB Kerry Collins will be leading Indy, and new Texans' defensive coordinator Wade Phillips couldn't have asked for a better matchup to begin the season. We still don't know if Arian Foster will be able to play, but I don't think his absence would hurt the offense too much. Matt Schaub will put up numbers like he always does, and the new defense should hold the Colts to a couple scores at most.