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A shaky start through the first few weeks of the season has the Indianapolis Colts in an unfamiliar position in the AFC South. Another disappointing beginning for the Houston Texans has again relegated them to the division’s cellar.
The Colts will try to turn things around and even their record on Sunday afternoon as they seek their 12th win in 13 tries against the winless Texans, who will finally play their first home game of the season.
Slow starts are very uncommon for Indianapolis (1-2), which has opened each of the last three seasons 7-0 or better. The Colts, winners of five straight AFC South titles, haven’t finished lower than second in the division since 2001, when a 6-10 mark left them in fourth place.
Although they bounced back from a season-opening home loss to Chicago with an 18-15 road victory at Minnesota in Week 2, the Colts couldn’t keep their momentum going as they fell 23-21 at home to division foe Jacksonville on Sept. 21.
Currently in third place in the division, Indianapolis sees no reason to panic yet despite sitting ahead of only the lowly Texans (0-3).
“We’re not desperate in this locker room,” cornerback Marlin Jackson said. “We’ve just got to get back to doing what we do, and that’s playing consistent football.”
To do that, Jackson and the rest of the defense must try to re-establish their dominance. After allowing the third-fewest total yards last season, the Colts have surrendered the eighth-most (1,021) through three games, including 403 in their most recent loss.
They have particularly struggled to stop the run, yielding an average of 199.3 yards after giving up 236 versus Jacksonville.
“Unacceptable,” linebacker Gary Brackett said. “We have to get the ball back for our offense.”
Adding to those woes has been the absence of star safety Bob Sanders. The NFL’s defensive player of the year in 2007 has been limited to two games this season due to a sprained right ankle. He had arthroscopic surgery on a knee last Friday and could be sidelined at least another month.
Two-time league MVP Peyton Manning, meanwhile, is still working to regain his timing after undergoing surgery to remove an infected bursa sac from his left knee.
Although the perennial Pro Bowler ranks among the league’s best with a 261.3 yard passing average, he wasn’t sharp in the loss to Jacksonville, going 15-for-29 for a season-low 216 yards with a touchdown and two interceptions.
“You have to keep your poise, keep your focus and focus on the things that count,” Colts coach Tony Dungy said. “Whether you win or lose, you have to keep things in perspective and that’s hard when you’re used to winning a lot. But you have to zero in on just doing your job.”
Dungy and the Colts will try to avoid losing three straight division games for the first time since Dec. 3-24, 2006, while improving to 12-1 all-time against the Texans. Indianapolis has won the last two meetings overall and five of six matchups in Houston.
Sunday will mark the first game of the season at Reliant Stadium for the Texans, who were forced to play their first three contests on the road due to the effects of Hurricane Ike. They finished that stretch with a 30-27 overtime loss Sunday at Jacksonville.
Houston has won eight of its last 10 home games, and is slated to play its next four at Reliant Stadium.
“It’s been a hard month life-wise and football-wise for a lot of people,” said Texans coach Gary Kubiak, whose team has dropped four of six home openers in team history. “We get to settle down here, we’re not going anywhere for the next month.”
Kubiak’s team finished with a promising 8-8 mark last season, but now hopes to avoid its first 0-4 start since it opened 0-6 in 2005.
Houston’s Matt Schaub rebounded from a three-interception game in a loss at Tennessee the previous week with a strong performance against the Jaguars. He was 29-for-40 for 307 yards and a career high-tying three touchdowns as the Texans racked up a season-best 386 yards.
Schaub was 27 of 33 for 236 yards and a TD in a 30-24 home loss to the Colts on Sept. 23, 2007 in his only appearance against the division rivals.
“Our mindset is no different than any other week,” Schaub said. “We are approaching this game the same way we would any other game.”
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