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3 keys to Texans-Colts wild card playoff game

HOUSTON – The Houston Texans will face a division foe in the playoffs for the first time when they host the Indianapolis Colts on Saturday at 3:35 p.m. at NRG Stadium. 

The two teams split their regular-season meetings, with the Texans winning 37-34 in overtime in Indianapolis in Week 4 and the Colts winning 24-21 in Houston in Week 14. 

Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will be making his seventh postseason start but first since 2014. His Colts have split those six games. Texans second-year quarterback Deshaun Watson will be making his postseason debut after a spectacular regular season.

Watson finished third in the AFC in passer rating (103.1), tossing 26 touchdown passes and just nine interceptions. He also rushed for 551 yards and five touchdowns. 

The play of the quarterback in the postseason goes a long way toward winning and advancing, and that’s where this starts with the keys to victory for the Texans.

1. Texans must run the ball effectively. 

They need to get the offense into manageable distance on second and third down, especially early in the game, and that will come from running the football, most likely. Houston ran for just 3.5 yards per carry in their two games against the Colts this season. Having Watson more integrated into the rushing attack is likely and helpful. If Keke Coutee is active -- and that appears likely for the first time in six weeks -- that will also take some of Colts' focus away from the run game.

Only four of the 47 carries from running backs Lamar Miller and Alfred Blue went for more than 7 yards, while 25 of their carries went for 2 yards or fewer. Any additional assistance to the blockers to prevent obvious passing situations could be a huge benefit to Watson as he plays his first NFL postseason game.

2. Make Luck uncomfortable. 

Of course, that is easier said than done. Luck was sacked only  18 times this season and he and the Colts had the fewest sacks per pass attempt in the NFL. It’s worth noting though, that Houston had six of those sacks on Luck this season with five coming from J.J. Watt (three) and Jadeveon Clowney (two). Watt also forced a Luck fumble, which the Texans recovered and Clowney recovered a botched quarterback-center exchange for a touchdown in the Texans win in Indianapolis. 

Luck did throw 15 interceptions this season, 2nd most in the NFL. The Texans managed to snag one of those when Andre Hal jumped on a tipped pass in the December meeting in Houston. Luck’s postseason history isn’t particularly good, having thrown just nine touchdown passes in six games, while tossing 12 interceptions.

If Luck gets comfortable in the pocket, as he was throughout the two head-to-head matchups, then seeing the Luck that amassed 863 passing yards against Houston is a real and unfortunate possibility.

3. Limit pre-snap penalties

Houston had a whopping 11 pre-snap penalties in two games against the Colts this season. Mistakes will be made, but these seem avoidable and must be eliminated on both sides of the ball for the Texans. Houston didn’t give away a boatload of yards via penalties in the two games, but they made life far too tough on themselves and far too easy on the Colts with their mistakes. 

Some of the obvious things are part of a winning formula, also. The Texans need to prevent another wow game from T.Y. Hilton, who rolled up 314 yards in two games against the Texans. Tight end Eric Ebron also caught a touchdown pass in each of the two meetings between these teams this season, and matching up better with him is a must. 

For the Texans' offense, it would be a huge development if someone other than All-Pro wide receiver DeAndre Hopkins became a threat for the offense. Whether that’s DeAndre Carter or any of the rookies who could be running routes for Watson (Jordan Akins, Jordan Thomas, Coutee, Vyncint Smith, Steven Mitchell), another threat that the Colts have to concern themselves with would open things up for Watson to go to work.