Game Preview: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

Dec 24, 2022; Nashville, Tennessee, USA; Houston Texans safety Jalen Pitre (5) takes a knee after intercepting a Hail Mary attempt to end the game against the Tennessee Titans at Nissan Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Christopher Hanewinckel-USA TODAY Sports

Game Preview: Houston Texans at Indianapolis Colts

The Matchup:

Houston Texans (2-13-1) at Indianapolis Colts (4-11-1)

Game time: Sunday, Jan. 8, 2023, noon CT

TV/Radio: KHOU-11 (CBS)/SiriusXM 225, KILT-AM 610, KILT-FM 100.3, KLOL 101.1FM (Spanish)

What’s at stake: For the Texans, it’s the top pick in the draft, and it is very much at stake. The only team that can pass the Texans for the top spot is the Chicago Bears. At 3-13, the Bears are a half-game behind the Texans for the top spot on the board. Chicago is also mailing it in for the final week of the season against a Minnesota Vikings team that still has an outside shot at the No. 2 seed in the NFC. If the Texans lose, they have the top pick. If they tie (again), they have the top pick. If they win and Chicago loses as expected, they will fall to the second pick.

While falling from first to second may not seem like that big a deal, historically, when two quarterbacks are selected 1-2 overall, only one of them is usually successful. Picking the right one is very important. The Texans have essentially waited all year for this moment to claim that number-one pick, so this would be a terrible time to mess that up. Texans head coach Lovie Smith contends the Texans want to win this game.

For the Colts, they are also in tank mode, especially following their historic collapse against the Vikings in Week 15. They have lost six straight games and will start former Texas Longhorn Sam Ehlinger at quarterback in Week 18. Zack Moss is now the primary running back with Jonathan Taylor on injured reserve. Indianapolis currently sits with the fifth pick in the draft, but a victory combined with a loss by the Los Angeles Rams to the Seahawks in Seattle could drop them to sixth. The Colts are likely to be in the market to draft a quarterback as well, and a higher pick means either drafting who they want or having better trade value to move up.

This is a game both teams actually should want to lose.

When the Texans have the ball: Davis Mills will be looking to find his form after laying an egg last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars. He will have Brandin Cooks, Chris Moore, and Amari Rodgers as his primary wide receivers with Phillip Dorsett out. Rookie tight end Teagan Quitoriano returns this week and is likely to be one of the top two TEs for Houston this week, along with Jordan Akins. O.J. Howard could be the odd man out among the team’s four tight ends.

Dare Ogunbowale and Royce Freeman will split the carries for the Texans, but neither has had any success. The Texans’ run game has been lost without Dameon Pierce, who is on injured reserve. Without Pierce, the Texans’ sub packages with QB Jeff Driskel have lost their effectiveness, but the team has continued to run them.

When the Colts have the ball: Sam Ehlinger will be the quarterback this week. Ehlinger has struggled in his limited work this season. Ehlinger came on in relief of an injured Nick Foles last week and finished 9-for-14 for 60 yards and a touchdown against the New York Giants, however, that touchdown came late in the third quarter with New York ahead 31-3 at the time. It was total garbage time. Parris Campbell and Michael Pittman Jr. are the primary receiving targets.

Zack Moss is the primary ball carrier as Taylor is on injured reserve. He finished last week with 15 carries for 74 yards and will be facing the worst run defense in the NFL. It will be interesting to see how much Colts head coach Jeff Saturday relies on the run game because the Colts can dominate with it if they choose.

Key Texans to watch:

QB Davis Mills: If the Texans get the Mills they had last week, the first pick is sealed. If Mills, who has to know this is his final game in a Texans uniform, somehow finds the rhythm and drives the offense to scores and the team to a win, it would almost be like he is sticking it to the Texans while trying to show another team in the league he has talent and is worth trading for. His body of work this year has been poor, but he has had a few games where he has shown flashes of strong play.

RB Dare Ogunbowale: Ogunbowale has yet to show any success on the ground as a ball carrier, and this should be his final game in a Texans uniform, too. That makes it an audition for him for next season and an opportunity to get some good plays on tape. The Texans line struggles with run blocking more so than it does in pass protection, and his rushing numbers (2.9 YPC) are terrible. He will get some opportunity, though, because of the Texans’ commitment to running the football.

WR Brandin Cooks: Is Cooks checked out? He had a spat earlier this season where he was away from the team because he was frustrated with the losing and wasn’t traded to a team that could win. Prior to this season, Cooks was considered “quarterback proof,” meaning he could be productive no matter who his quarterback was. This season, Cooks has performed far below his usual standards. This will be only the third time in nine seasons Cooks fails to attain at least 1,000 yards receiving. The others were his rookie season, when he played only 10 games, and 2019 when he played through some injuries. Will he show up and try to win, or will he go through the motions?

S Jalen Pitre: Pitre is one interception shy of the franchise rookie record of six set by Dunta Robinson in 2004. He leads all NFL rookies in tackles with 139, which is second all-time for Texans rookies (DeMeco Ryans 156, 2006). He is the only player this millennium to record at least 125 tackles and five interceptions in their rookie season. Pitre could add to his standout totals and potentially tie or break team records for interceptions and tackles by a rookie. The team record for interceptions in a single season is seven, by Marcus Coleman in 2003.

The Bottom Line: This is a game where both teams have every incentive to lose and legitimately no reason to win. Both teams looked incredibly lethargic last week as well. This game could take on a preseason game feel if both teams play as they did a week ago.

The truth is the winner of this game is really the loser, as both organizations truly want to be winning on April 27, which is Day 1 of the 2023 NFL Draft. It would be insane if after a season of horrific disappointment and frustration that Lovie Smith and Davis Mills, in their final acts as Texans, blow the first overall pick for the team. Not only is that scenario highly possible, I think it is likely.

The Texans will beat the Colts, brag about having a winning record in the division, and watch the Chicago Bears trade the top overall pick for a boatload of picks as another team leapfrogs the Texans for the right to choose between Bryce Young and C.J. Stroud. That team could very well be the Indianapolis Colts.

Did that make you sick to your stomach? It should. Houston can’t blow it this late, but the people who control their fate just might.

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