TEXANS // COLTS OVERVIEW
If this game had been part of the Week 1 slate, it would have been viewed as a potential shootout, and DFS expectations would have been much higher than they will likely be at this point. Naturally, a new season brings plenty of “new things to learn,” and the “new things” that are most heavily impacting this game are both on the Colts’ side of the ball:
1) The Colts simply cannot attack deep. There were times last week against the Eagles when the Colts were facing an eight-man box on early downs, and Andrew Luck did not even bother to check out of the called run play. There were other times when he threw passes behind the line of scrimmage to players who had no chance of picking up yardage after the catch. It’s going to be difficult for the Colts to get into any true “shootouts” for as long as their attack remains so conservative.
2) The Colts’ defense has been a pleasant surprise to begin the season, ranking 16th in yards allowed and 14th in points, after finishing bottom three in each category last year. The Colts have started the year against Cincy, Washington, and Philly — three average to above-average offenses. Even the early-week Over/Under of 47.0 might prove to be a bit aggressive; and while this line could move either way, I’m guessing we see it slide down to 46.5 or even 46.0 before kickoff on Sunday.
TEXANS PASS OFFENSE
Only three teams in the NFL have faced a lower aDOT this year than the Colts, though we are dealing with a unique situation this week in the elements this matchup presents.
The Colts have been playing with a lot of six-man boxes early in the season, rushing four and dropping back into an effective zone defense — typically with five defensive backs and every-down linebackers Darius Leonard and Anthony Walker dropping back in coverage. Each of these linebackers has had a scorching-hot start to the season, which is enabling the Colts to be flexible against the run and the pass on all three downs.
What the Colts are essentially doing is taking away the deep outside of the field and making things tough over the middle — forcing teams to settle for short curl routes and hybrid slants that call for the receiver to settle into a soft spot in the zone. This was an approach that the Bengals were happy to take against the Colts in Week 1, and was also an approach the Eagles stepped into in Week 3 (while the Redskins, in Week 2, were set to run this sort of short-area attack anyway). This week should provide something different, however, as Deshaun Watson is one of the most attack-minded quarterbacks in the NFL. In fact, no quarterback at this point has a deeper average intended air yards than Watson’s 12.1 mark.
The easy reaction here is to point out what the Colts have done against the pass, and to call this a difficult matchup; but because the Colts have not yet been tested deep, we have not yet seen what Nate Hairston and Pierre Desir can do when tested. Each guy has the height to hang with the 6′ Fuller and the 6’1″ Hopkins, but there is a sizable talent gap here. I’m a big believer in scheme; but when it comes to a quarterback like Watson — who is going to attack downfield even if his guys are “covered” — I’m very willing to bet on talent. To date, Hopkins has at least 10 targets in every game, with an aDOT of 14.3. Fuller has target counts of 11 and nine through two games, with an aDOT of 16.0. Each guy is running a nuanced route tree, and while catch rate could be low in this spot on the covered deep shots these guys will see, the upside is still there.
TEXANS RUN OFFENSE
The Colts have been solid against the run, without putting too much emphasis on stopping the run — with further credit going to Leonard and Walker, who have been able to clog up holes and shed blockers through the first three games — allowing Indy to rank 15th in yards allowed per carry in spite of rarely leaving more than six men in the box.
Lamar Miller has been unsexy through the first three games of the season, totaling only 176 yards on the ground, on 44 carries. He has, however, maintained a stranglehold on lead-back duties, playing 76.5% of the Texans’ snaps last week, and running 37 pass routes (five catches on six targets) in a game script that led to his rushing work drying up. Expect Miller to return to the 15 to 20 carry range in this one, with an opportunity for four or five targets if Watson decides to check things down a few times with his main weapons in tight coverage deep. As always, Miller will need a touchdown in order to really have significant value, but he’s priced affordably, at under 11% of the salary cap on all three sites, and he’ll be an interesting piece to consider if value proves to be difficult to come by this week. With all the deep passes the Colts are taking away, they have given up the second-most running back receptions on the season so far — behind only the Falcons.
COLTS PASS OFFENSE
While Andrew Luck did throw 10 passes last week that traveled more than 10 yards downfield, he only completed two of them. Luck’s passes are not as sharp as they need to be when he attacks downfield — and while there is some slim case to be made that this is simply the result of rust, the likelier truth is that we will continue seeing a dink-and-dunk attack from Indy all season long. Through three games, Marcus Mariota is the only quarterback with a lower average intended air yards than Luck.
This is dimming expectations on the entire Colts’ passing attack, as T.Y. Hilton‘s speed is being wasted with an aDOT of 8.2, and defenses are playing everything close to the line of scrimmage and forcing Luck to go deeper than he wants to.
In better news for Hilton: he is soaking up over 35% of the Colts’ air yards (such as they are), and he has explosive upside with the ball in his hands — especially on the turf at Indy. Houston has allowed a below-average aDOT so far this season, while allowing an above-average catch rate and above-average YAC-per-reception marks. “Hilton with the ball in his hands” is a recipe for upside, though he’ll almost certainly need to hit for a big YAC day in order to truly reach his ceiling. His floor is boosted by target counts through three games of 11 // 11 // 10.
Eric Ebron played 52 of a possible 59 snaps on Sunday with Jack Doyle out, and he will step into that same role again if Doyle misses once more. He “Ebron’d” his way to only five catches for 33 yards on a whopping 11 targets — failing to connect on multiple end zone targets, and failing to haul in a couple of passes that most tight ends would have had. Ebron has long teased with his athleticism, but we know by now he is not a good tight end. The targets should be there once more if Doyle is out. Sometimes, opportunity trumps all.
If Doyle plays, he will step back into the lead role in this committee. Doyle was on the field for nearly every snap (and ran a pass route on nearly every Luck drop-back) in Weeks 1 and 2. In spite of Ebron grabbing glossy stat lines those weeks, Doyle is the man to play if he’s out there.
COLTS RUN OFFENSE
True to Frank Reich form, the Colts’ backfield has remained a committee through the first three weeks of the season, with Nyheim Hines taking the heavy snap lead last week against the run-tough Eagles, as expected, but with Jordan Wilkins still soaking up eight touches of his own to 10 for Hines. If Marlon Mack returns this week, this will shift to a three-man rotation, with each guy having a role in the game plan. If Mack misses, Hines is the likelier to lead the workload split against a Houston defense that has been tough on the run to begin the year; but either way, you’re looking at a guessing game on a split backfield behind a poor offensive line.
There is nothing in this game that stands out as a truly strong play, though there are some pieces that will at least be worth considering.
On the Texans’ side, Lamar Miller works nicely as a role-secure salary saver with moderate upside, while Fuller and Hopkins should continue to be peppered heavily with targets, even if these targets are coming in tight coverage. They both seem more like tourney plays to me at the moment; but while the uncertainty lowers the bankable floor, the ceiling is enticing. Alongside these two, Deshaun Watson is always, always in play in tourneys. His legs and his aggressiveness give him so much weekly upside, even if a dud may drop in there from time to time.
I’ll leave the Colts’ backfield alone, but Eric Ebron and T.Y. Hilton remain in the conversation (with Doyle stepping into Ebron’s place if he’s healthy this week). Hilton is pricey for the way he is being used (especially on DraftKings, where he costs 14% of the salary cap — compared to sub-13% on FanDuel and FantasyDraft), but the targets give him a nice floor, and he still has upside with the ball in his hands.
This probably won’t be the fireworks display we might have hoped for when eyeing this game before the start of the season; but there are still a few interesting pieces on either side of the ball.
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Jack Doyle is out. Ebron will soak up all the number one work at tight end once again. He’s still Eric Ebron, but seven to nine targets is a comfortable projection in this short-area passing attack, keeping him firmly in play in cash games and tourneys.