The Herald Bulletin

Morning Update

Sports

December 21, 2011

Lose for Luck? Not in Indy’s game plan

Colts focused on winning out, not draft position

INDIANAPOLIS — The Colts broke their 13-game winless streak Sunday with a decisive 27-13 victory against the Tennessee Titans.

Now, they see no reason to stop at just one win. In fact, Indianapolis is looking at its final two games — today against Houston and Jan. 1 at Jacksonville — as a chance to even its season record against the AFC South and end a dour campaign on an unlikely high note.

“This game is tough, and it wears on you,” defensive end Dwight Freeney said. “So you have to find reasons to play sometimes. Bulletin board and all of that stuff, you have to find things, and for us it’s going out there and continuing to play hard and finishing the season strong.”

The irony today, as the Colts prepare for an 8:20 p.m. kickoff against the division champion Texans, is that not all the team’s fans are on their side.

A loss against Houston would clinch the No. 1 overall pick in April’s NFL Draft, and there are a host of Indianapolis supporters hoping to see the franchise use that selection on Stanford quarterback Andrew Luck — projected as the most pro-ready prospect to enter the league since Peyton Manning in 1998.

Of course, the Colts want none of that talk.

Their focus lies entirely on avenging a season-opening 34-7 loss in Houston. It was Indianapolis’ second defeat in its last three games against the Texans, but Houston never has earned a victory at Lucas Oil Stadium.

The Texans (10-4) are headed to the postseason for the first time in the franchise’s 10-year history. Houston has sewn up the AFC South title, and a win in Indianapolis would go a long way toward helping it receive a first-round bye in the playoffs.

The Texans are tied with the Baltimore Ravens and Pittsburgh Steelers for the second-best record in the AFC. New England (11-3) currently holds a one-game lead in the race for homefield advantage throughout the playoffs, but the top two seeds will get an extra week to rest following the regular season.

Despite all of its accomplishments this season, Colts center Jeff Saturday isn’t ready say the balance of power within in the division has tipped in Houston’s favor.

“They’ve won it one year, and they’ve played great this year,” he said. “They’ve got a great squad, and they’re a heck of a football team. They have got a great defense and probably the best front seven in the league on defense. They run the ball well, they’ve got a good offensive line and that blueprint does awfully well, usually, this time of year. So I’ve got a lot of respect for the way they play the game, but I would sure like to beat them this second game.”

The Texans are coming off a 28-13 loss against the Carolina Panthers, during which they turned the ball over three times.

Two of those miscues came off the arm of rookie quarterback T.J. Yates, a fifth-round pick who has started the past three games after injuries to Matt Schaub and Matt Leinart.

Yates has done well overall, winning his first two starts and throwing for 300 yards and a game-winning touchdown pass at Cincinnati on Dec. 11.

Yates’ grandfather, Gene, lives in Anderson, and his father, John, was a quarterback at Madison Heights. Yates grew up in Indianapolis before his family moved to Atlanta at age 10.

Colts vice chairman Bill Polian said last week the team was interested in Yates in the draft and was prepared to select him in the sixth round.

“I went up there for a visit before the draft, and I met with a lot of the coaches there,” Yates said during a conference call with Indianapolis media Tuesday. “That would have been a cool thing coming back to my original hometown. But I got fortunate that the Texans picked me up, and I couldn’t be in a better position.”

Houston likely will turn to its ground game to attack the Colts.

Running back Arian Foster has five 100-yard games in his past eight outings, and he’s gained 1,066 yards this season after winning the NFL rushing title in 2010.

Indianapolis held Tennessee, and three-time Pro Bowler Chris Johnson, to just 66 total rushing yards Sunday. But the Texans bring a different approach with their zone-blocking scheme, and they have great depth with Ben Tate (846 yards) forming a tag team with Foster.

Freeney said the Colts will need to be up to the task.

“Everybody knows what they’re going to do, and a lot of teams still have problems stopping them,” he said. “It’s going to be a challenge.”

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