It's the biggest game in Houston Texans franchise history. Admittedly, we're not talking about decades of legend here -- the team has been in existence since 2002 -- but at two games over .500 for the first time ever and facing a Colts team they've never beaten in Indianapolis, the Texans now have the opportunity to make a very large divisional (and potential postseason) statement. In beating the Bengals, 49ers, and Bills in the last three weeks, Houston's formerly porous defense hasn't allowed 100 yards rushing or 300 yards passing, and linebacker Brian Cushing(notes) looks like the leading Defensive Rookie of the Year candidate. That's all well and good, but we know that the 7-0 Colts will test that defense to its limits.
It's on the other side of the ball where you might find the surprises. Peyton Manning(notes) doesn't lead the league in passing yards; that would be Texans quarterback Matt Schaub(notes) with 2,342 to Manning's 2,227, though Schaub's played one more game. Schaub won't have tight end Owen Daniels(notes), out for the season with a torn ACL. But he will have Andre Johnson(notes), among the toughest receivers to stop in the game. And with the Colts' injury situation, expect the Texans to spread things out with multi-receiver sets.
In the last week, the Colts have found out the following: Safety Bob Sanders(notes) will be out for the season with a biceps tear, cornerback Marlin Jackson(notes) is out for the year with a torn ACL, and cornerback Kelvin Hayden(notes) will be out for up to a month with his own knee injury. Sanders hasn't played much in the last few years, and the Colts like replacement Melvin Bullitt(notes) enough to have people wondering about Sanders' future with the team. Rookie corners Jerraud Powers(notes) and Jacob Lacey(notes) have stepped up in recent weeks, but the depth situation is pretty woeful. And the challenges for that young secondary only increase as the season progresses -- in the next month, Indy faces Houston twice, as well as New England, and Baltimore. All high-octane passing offenses, and all will be ready to tee off on the kids.
Enter the Texans. At 5-3, this team could make some serious hay even if they split the season series with the Colts, and there's never been a better time to get that done. Look for head coach Gary Kubiak and offensive coordinator Kyle Shanahan to force matchups away from pressure, leaving the corners on an island and pass-rushers Dwight Freeney(notes) and Robert Mathis(notes) as the only real threats to Schaub's potential statistical dominance.