COLTS // TEXANS OVERVIEW
Colts // Texans brings us an exciting matchup between two of the hottest teams in football. The Colts are coming off a tough 0-6 loss on the road at Jacksonville, but they had won five in a row before that. The Texans have won an NFL-best nine consecutive games — riding their defense, a strong run game, and just the right amount of Deshaun Watson to DeAndre Hopkins (“just the right amount” in real life, that is; certainly not just the right amount for fantasy). Indy plays at the fastest pace in the NFL and is willing to open things up through the air against tough run defenses, while the Texans rank middle of the pack in pace of play and have preferred to win games on the ground, ranking behind only Seattle in rush play rate. The Colts’ defense capitalizes on speed and forcing opponents to march the whole field. The Texans’ defense relies on their unblockable defensive line to create issues for opposing run games and passing attacks, while trying to confuse quarterbacks with variable looks and coverage schemes. This will be a fun game to watch, with the winner gaining important position in the playoff race (Houston is still chasing the number one seed, and Indy is chasing the final Wild Card spot). The Texans have been installed as 4.5 point favorites in a game with a healthy Over/Under of 49.0
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
The Colts have been one of the most adaptable offensive units in the NFL — going pass-heavy when Marlon Mack was missing in action earlier in the year, turning into a run-heavy team after Mack returned, then throwing the ball 52 times last week at Jacksonville (adopting the Patriots’ and Steelers’ occasional mindset of, “this defense is tough no matter what, so we may as well trust our star quarterback”). With Houston boasting a top five run defense and facing the eighth highest opponent pass play rate in the NFL, it would make sense for Indy to take this approach again — perhaps starting out with efforts at a balanced approach, but eventually putting the ball into Luck’s hands and giving him a chance to take over the game.
In the first game with Jack Doyle (once again) off the field for the Colts, 28 of the 52 pass attempts thrown by Andrew Luck went to T.Y. Hilton and Eric Ebron — good for a massive 53.8% target share. Luck, of course, had not topped 37 pass attempts in his five previous games (with 31 or fewer passes in four of those), so a high-volume game is not guaranteed for either guy (even on such a massive target share) — but with this game lining up nicely for a pass-heavy approach from the Colts, and with Hilton and Ebron providing solid target floors even without a pass-heavy game script, each guy draws the eye this week.
Ebron pulls the best matchup against a Houston team that has been torched by tight ends this year, consistently allowing above-expectation production while giving up the seventh most receptions and the sixth most yards to the position.
As for Hilton: he has a history of production against the Texans, with over 1200 receiving yards and nine touchdowns in 13 career games against his division rival. He has topped 100 yards in six of those 12 games, and he has regularly given Johnathan Joseph and Kareem Jackson fits. Joseph may miss this week with a neck injury, potentially setting up Hilton for some snaps against liability Shareece Wright. This is a very good Texans defense — and with the second fewest touchdowns allowed to wide receivers, upside has been tough to come by against them. But Hilton will be given opportunities to hit, giving him his typical range of iffy price-considered floor and excellent price-considered upside.
With Luck throwing 52 times last week, the final heavy-usage piece was running back Nyheim Hines, who saw nine targets with the Colts in pass-first mode. He averaged only 5.6 yards per catch on these looks, but he should at least be involved again.
Behind these three, Dontrelle Inman went 2-14-0 on six targets. Volume was otherwise spread thin across a handful of players.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
Houston has been atmospheric against the run this year, ranking sixth in adjusted line yards, fourth in yards allowed per carry, and second in run defense DVOA. Only the Saints and the Ravens have allowed fewer rushing yards than the Texans this year, creating a tough spot for Marlon Mack, who has performed well in easy matchups but mostly struggled in tough matchups. The last time Houston allowed a running back to top 60 yards against them was Week 6. The best rushing games against this team were 82 yards from Saquon Barkley and 73 yards from LeSean McCoy. Mack is going to need a busted play or a multi-touchdown game for anyone to notice he was playing on this slate.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
The Texans’ run offense has been awesome lately — with Lamar Miller topping 100 yards in four of his last six games — but this squad will run into a tough matchup in this spot against an Indy team that ranks seventh in fewest yards allowed per carry, seventh in adjusted line yards, and fourth in run defense DVOA. No running back has cracked 100 yards against the Colts this year, and no running back has cracked even 81 yards since Week 5. Miller should get his volume once again in this spot — though with such a limited pass game role, he’ll need a multi-touchdown game or a long run in order to notch relevant production. Behind Miller, Alfred Blue has continued to see heavy usage in this run-heavy offense — though he has not topped 54 rushing yards in a game all season.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
The Colts have been less daunting against the pass — forcing the shallowest aDOT in the league, but now allowing the highest catch rate in the league to go with it. This has led to the Colts ranking a middling 19th in yards allowed per pass attempt. While a huge chunk of their receptions have been allowed to running backs (the second most running back receptions in the league — paired with the third fewest receiving yards allowed to wide receivers), the Texans are not shy about throwing to wide receivers in any matchup when they choose to go to the air. Ultimately, the matchup itself here is above-average, as the Colts are allowing a 68.75% completion rate on passes to wide receivers. When these teams met in Week 4, DeAndre Hopkins hit the Colts for a 10-169-1 receiving line on only 12 targets, in a still-pass-heavy Texans attack.
Digging a bit deeper, it is noteworthy that the Texans’ run-heavy stretch has come against Buffalo, Jacksonville, Miami, Denver, Washington, Tennessee, and Cleveland — none of whom had a quarterback capable of pushing the Texans on the scoreboard and forcing them to click into attack mode. It’s no guarantee, but the clearest path to upside on the Texans’ side of the ball is to bet on the Colts scoring through the air and forcing the Texans to respond. If the Texans are unable to lean run-heavy in a tough matchup on the ground, it is worth noting that Hopkins now ranks third in the NFL in percentage share of team air yards, behind only Julio and OBJ. With Will Fuller out, Keke Coutee unable to get healthy, and Demaryius Thomas showing little, Hopkins has once again taken over as the king of this offense. He saw 12 looks last week when Deshaun Watson was finally forced to throw more than 24 times (31 pass attempts — giving Hopkins an unreal 38.7% of the team’s targets). Hopkins also saw 10 targets in a Week 9 game in which Watson threw only 24 times. Hopkins’ sheer talent has still given him a decent floor in his low-target games; but if this turns into a high-target game for him, he can win in a big way in this matchup.
If the Colts are able to do damage on the scoreboard (and/or if the Colts are able to continue their strong run defense), Watson will also have a shot at a big day as this offense opens up. Behind Watson and Hopkins, you’re hoping that Demaryius trips into another couple touchdowns, or — if he plays — you’re hoping that Coutee lasts through the game. This team’s three-way timeshare at tight end has also made it impossible to reliably bet on any of these guys.
While the Colts have a top offense, there are only a couple pieces that really stand out, as Mack is facing a tough matchup, and “upside” volume in this passing attack is thin behind Ebron and Hilton.
Even at his price hike, Ebron stands out. He’ll be at risk of a 4-40-0 game if the Colts lean on the run (that’s the basic line he posted in all three games earlier in the year that Doyle missed and that Hilton played), but with Indy likely to lean on the pass this week, the chances of a double-digit target game for Ebron in this soft matchup make him appealing.
Hilton joins Ebron as an appealing play. He has a weak floor for his price, but his upside is among the highest on the slate at the wide receiver position, and the likely pass-heavy nature of this game should give him a solid shot at hitting.
Luck is also in play for me in tourneys for the monster upside he has shown through much of the year.
With the Texans’ running backs providing little in the pass game beyond “hoping for a broken play,” and with this offense belonging primarily to the run game over the last two months, it’s difficult to bet on this unit with absolute confidence. The running backs carry low floors, and volume in this passing attack has been a bit thin for trying to capture the slate-breaking scores we would optimally be targeting at quarterback and high-priced wide receiver. This offense is best reserved for tourneys — in a bet that the Colts do well through the air, and that the Texans respond by opening up on their side of the ball. From a volume perspective, it would technically make the most sense to only bet on Watson and Hopkins in large-field tourneys — but realistically, it won’t be surprising if this game turns into a shootout; and if it does, Watson/Hopkins would carry as much upside as any players on the slate. I like them as iffy-floor, monster-ceiling bets in tourneys of all shapes and sizes.