Colts vs Texans: 5 things to watch in Week 1

The wait is finally over!!! The start of the NFL season has finally come to fruition and the Indianapolis Colts are set to open up on the road against the Houston Texans.

This divisional series has been one-sided during the Frank Reich era. The Colts are 9-2 against the Texans over the last four years, including a playoff victory in H-Town. Last season, Indianapolis outscored Houston 62-3 in their two matchups.

But it’s a new year for both teams and anything can happen on opening day across the league. The Texans shouldn’t be taken lightly by the Colts so it is important for the team to get off to a strong start on Sunday.

Here are five things to keep an eye on when the two teams clash:

The star of the Colts

AP Photo/Darron Cummings

Unless you were able to attend the Colts training camp, the only way to see Jonathan Taylor run the rock was any clips that the organization decided to release across their social media platforms. After taking on the NFL by a storm in 2021, the third-year running back will be looking to get his 2022 campaign off to a hot start against a team that he gashed last season.

Taylor ran the ball 46 times for 288 yards and four touchdowns in his two games against Houston.

Lovie Smith has had all offseason to make sure he can come up with a gameplan to prevent Taylor from running all over his defense again. But Taylor has shown even when teams stack the box that he can still find a way to break one off. Looking for the stud back to come out the gates hot to help lead his team to a victory.

First real look at Gus Bradley's defense

AP Photo/Darron Cummings, File

There has been much speculation on what the Indianapolis defense will look like under their new defensive coordinator. A change of scheme along with the additions of Yannick Ngakoue and Stephon Gilmore will give the unit a different feel than in the previous seasons.

Gus Bradley is known for his primarily Cover-3 defense but he understands he needs to continue to evolve to keep up with the game.

This will be the first game where we will get any insight on what to expect from Bradley’s defense but there may be some growing pains as the team learns the new system. Especially if Shaquille Leonard does miss the opener on Sunday. Missing the leader of his unit will affect his playing calling.

There is still a chance that No. 53 is out there but it should be kept in mind that he’s had limited practice snaps in the defensive scheme and he is moving to play the middle inside linebacker position this year.

In the end, whoever is playing on Sunday afternoon will still show the type of defense the Colts will be playing this year.

The starting rookies in their first NFL game

AP Photo/Joshua Bessex

The success of finding immediate contributors on Day 2 of the NFL draft for Chris Ballard will be looking to continue with Alec Pierce and Nick Cross. The pair of rookies have earned their spots with the starting units by their impressive play throughout the preseason and they will get a chance to continue their development against the Texans.

Pierce will be lining up on the opposite side of Michael Pittman Jr. so he will be getting plenty of one-on-one matchups he can take advantage of. The rookie receiver has a great opportunity to earn some recognition by the end of the season because of his pathway to production. He just needs to deliver and do his job within the offense.

Cross has been a pleasant surprise for the Colts. The third-round safety didn’t have a lot of expectations but he came in like a veteran and has the coaching staff much comfortable after the Khari Willis retirement. If Cross can carry over his play into the regular season then he can help form one of the better safety tandems with Julian Blackmon.

Pierce and Cross don’t have to be All-Pros as rookies but they do need to play at a high level if they want to help the team meet their expectations.

Matt Ryan and the passing attack

AP Photo/Doug McSchooler

The chatter about how much an upgrade that the Colts feel they got in Matt Ryan over Carson Wentz has been loud throughout the offseason. Similar to the defense, this will also be the first look into how the offense will look with Ryan under the center. I’ve long expected that we will see a mixture of what Ryan wanted to bring with him from the Atlanta Falcons, elements from the unit with Philip Rivers, and what worked for Frank Reich in 2021.

If there is one thing that the majority of people know will happen is that Ryan will be targeting Michael Pittman Jr. often on gamedays. It has been heavily reported about the pair’s chemistry and how it has continued to grow stronger throughout the preseason. The third-year receiver should be able to go over 100 receptions for the first time in his career.

Outside of Ryan’s favorite target, Mo Alie-Cox takes on a larger role as he fills Jack Doyle’s shoes in the offense. Alec Pierce and Parris Campbell will be looking to take the pressure off Pittman Jr.’s shoulders by making an impact on the passing attack.

The X-factor in this year’s unit will be Nyheim Hines. Frank Reich has admitted that he regretted his usage of Hines in 2021 and that he needs to be more involved in the offense. I’m expecting Hines will be a big part of not only the screen game out of the backfield but he will line up in the slot and even out wide at times.

Will any role players make plays in Houston? Ashton Dulin, Mike Strachan, and Dezmon Patmon will get in the rotation and make the best of the moment. We should see plenty of Kylen Granson in two-tight end sets and I wouldn’t be surprised if he gets a few chunk gains for the Colts. I’m also interested to see how much Jelani Woods plays and how he will be deployed in the offense.

There are still a lot of questions on how the passing attack will look with Matt Ryan and some of those answers will reveal themselves against the Texans.

Get off to a fast start

There are a lot of expectations for the Colts inside and outside of the organization. After the late season collapse in 2021, the pressure of making the playoffs is on for the coaching staff and front office. One way to make sure they aren’t crawling out of a hole to start the year as Indianapolis has done in the past is winning the season opener.

They haven’t opened up a season 1-0 since 2013. Losing a season opener is not the kiss of death for teams but for the Colts, it’s a lingering stench that they need to get rid of. For a team that needs to reach the postseason, they can’t afford to repeat past failures against the Texans on Sunday.

After this game, they will be on the road in Jacksonville, a place they haven’t won since 2014. Then they face the Kansas City Chiefs, Denver Broncos, and the Tennessee Titans in a three-week span. Indianapolis needs all the momentum they can grab before they enter that gauntlet.

It will be a team effort to help come out in the first quarter and punch Houston in the mouth before they can gain any confidence. The offense has to end every drive with points and the veteran-led defense can’t let the young Texans offense sustain drives throughout the first half.

The longer they let Houston stick around then the likelihood of a ninth straight season-opening loss can happen so it’s important for the Colts to create separation on the scoreboard as early as possible.

Story originally appeared on Colts Wire