Get inside this week's Colts-Texans matchup with a look at how Frank Reich is getting his team back on track, T.Y. Hilton's track record in Houston and an under-the-radar All-Pro candidate. JJ Stankevitz
1. The Colts' are confident they can fix the issues that led to Week 12's loss to the Buccaneers.
On the surface, the Colts' three losses in which they had double-digit leads - to the Ravens, Titans and Buccaneers - are similar. But the reason why those losses happened is not, linebacker Darius Leonard said this week.
"If you watch the tape, we fixed the problem," Leonard said. "If you look at the games we lost against Tennessee and Baltimore, those were games where it's moreso communication and stuff like that, if you really see it. I think this last game, there's absolutely no way you win a ballgame with five (turnovers) and two PI's. That's just plain and simple.
"Those are things that I feel like we were trending in the right way - that's why you didn't ask me the question weeks before, because we fixed the problem. But when you turn the ball over five times and have two penalties that cost you, you list ballgames. That's nothing with schemes that we need to do, just fin da way to protect the ball and find a way to not get a penalty. That's all it is."
The Colts feel like those turnover and penalty issues are fixable - especially because they haven't been a team that's committed many turnovers or been flagged for many penalties this season. Entering Week 12, the Colts only had 10 giveaways in 11 games, and they have the fourth-lowest penalties per game average (4.8) in the NFL this season.
So in a sense, the things that cost the Colts last weekend were anomalies with how this team is playing in 2021. And the Colts are playing at a high level - numbers like these are what gives this team plenty of confidence heading into the stretch run of the season:
"I'm encouraged that we're building those leads against great teams," head coach Frank Reich said. "I know we have the players and coaches to get it done. We just have to prove it in a more consistent fashion."
2. The Texans defense does something very well.
The Colts will have to make sure those turnover issues don't crop up again this weekend against a Lovie Smith-coached defense that, while ranking near the bottom of the NFL in yards per play allowed (5.7, 23rd) and points allowed (26.5, 28th), is good at turning the ball over.
The Texans enter Week 13 with the sixth-most takeaways in the NFL (24), largely thanks to the fourth-most interceptions (14). Houston had five takeaways in its Week 11 win over the Tennessee Titans in Nashville and three in its Week 1 win over the Jacksonville Jaguars; the Texans also had five takeaways in a 17-9 loss to the Miami Dolphins in Week 9.
When the Texans have two or more turnovers, their point differential is plus-four (five games); when they have one or fewer, it's minus-132 (six games). The Colts, notably, didn't turn the ball over in their 31-3 win over the Texans in Week 6.
3. T.Y. Hilton is back for another trip to Houston.
Hilton's numbers in the city of Houston are nuts: 52 catches, 1061 yards and eight touchdowns in nine career games - good for an average of about six catches, 118 yards and one touchdown per game.
Some players who were on the field for Hilton's first trip to Houston in 2012 - punctuated by Hilton's 61-yard touchdown reception - included Reggie Wayne, Robert Mathis and Dwight Freeney. For whatever reason, no matter who's been wearing a Texans helmet, Hilton's had success at NRG Stadium.
And in asking Hilton why - well, there's not necessarily any reason why he's been so good in Houston.
'"No, just taking what they give me," Hilton. "If they give me the big shots, we take them. If not, then we live to play the next day so it's nothing they did and nothing I did different - just what happens."
4. Michael Badgley is still getting it done.
It's tough to ask for more from a mid-season replacement at kicker than the Colts have got from Badgley, who was signed to the practice squad in October after Rodrigo Blankenship injured his hip in the lead-up to Week 5's game against the Baltimore Ravens. Badgley, who was later elevated to the 53-man roster in October, is:
10/10 on field goals, including 3/3 on kicks of 40+ yards 28/28 on PATs
It's not easy for a kicker to be signed off the street and have the success Badgley has enjoyed in seven games with the Colts. But Badgley has found a groove, and Reich views every position as a meritocracy. So Badgley, on merit, will continue on as the Colts' kicker.
"I do think it takes a mental toughness, that you've got to block everything out and you've got to not care about anything," Reich said. 'You've got to have an ability to focus just in that moment and not really care. I've said this before about Badgley - not that I know him exceedingly well, just getting to know him and watching him operate. There are some kickers who I view that are extremely technical and analytical. I don't see him as one on those. He's fundamentally sound and everything but he's got more of a hey, I'm just going with the flow kind of an attitude, and sometimes that can play to your benefit. He's certainly making that play to his benefit."
5. Don't sleep on Ashton Dulin as a Pro Bowler - and maybe All-Pro - this year.
We're getting into that time of year when Pro Bowl voting is ramping up and folks are starting to consider which players might wind up as first-team All-Pros for the 2021 season. Jonathan Taylor - who leads the NFL in rushing - feels like an obvious candidate for both (he currently leads all players in Pro Bowl fan votes).
But how about some love for Ashton Dulin?
Dulin is on the Pro Bowl ballot as a special teamer, and with good reason. No regular special teams player has a higher Pro Football Focus special teams grade than Dulin, and his 14 special teams tackles lead the NFL. And if Dulin gets one more special teams tackle and four more receptions over the final five games of the season, he'll become only the 22nd player since 1987 to have 15 tackles and 15 receptions in a single season.
(If Dulin were to have 20 tackles and 20 receptions, he'd be only the second player to hit those marks in a season since 1987 - the other being Deion Sanders.)
And something that didn't show up in the box score was Dulin laying a block that helped spring a crease for Isaiah Rodgers on his 72-yard kickoff return with 20 seconds left in Week 12.
The Colts' George Odum was a first-team All-Pro special teamer in 2020, and Dulin is building a strong case to follow his teammate with those honors in 2021. It's not something, though, that he's thinking about with five games left and a chance to not only lead the Colts in special teams tackles, but continue making an impact on offense as well.
"If that accolade comes, that'll be a great testament to the team and to the work I've put in individually," Dulin said. "But again, we're focused on one big goal but if that accolade comes at the end of the season that's great as well."