Matchup: Texans @ ColtsWednesday, December 21, 2011
Thursday Night Football
Houston @ Indianapolis
Coming off a letdown loss to Carolina, Houston goes on the road to Indy with plenty to play for. While the Texans have clinched the AFC South, they're still fighting for a first-round playoff bye. A bye is particularly attractive for the Texans because it would give Andre Johnson's hamstring more time to heal, in addition to the obvious advantage of being able to spend two weeks game planning for postseason opponents. ... The centerpiece of Houston's Week 16 plan of attack figures to be Arian Foster and the running game. Even with Foster out against Indianapolis in Week 1, the Texans piled up 41 rushing attempts compared to 24 passes. Ben Tate was the offensive catalyst with 116 yards and a touchdown on 24 carries (4.83 YPC). When a healthy Foster has faced the Colts, he's been a near-unstoppable force. Foster has run for 333 yards and four touchdowns on 48 career attempts (6.94 YPC) against Indy, complemented by ten receptions in two games. ... Unforeseeable events will determine whether Tate accrues enough carries and overall production to post viable fantasy stats on Thursday night. The situation around Tate has been working against him of late because Houston has been unable to consistently blow out opponents with rookie T.J. Yates at quarterback. Tate has not exceeded 11 touches in any game since Week 10. He probably isn't worth the risk in a flex spot during fantasy championship week.
Confirming he's still a wide-eyed rookie, Yates returned to Earth with a no-score, two-pick game in last week's loss to the Panthers. Yates has flashed enough promise to solidify himself as Matt Schaub's long-term backup, but his consistency falls well short of fantasy standards. ... Here is Yates' target distribution in his three starts: Owen Daniels 20, Kevin Walter 18, Arian Foster 15, Jacoby Jones 10, Andre Johnson 9 (one game), Joel Dreessen 8. ... The targets suggest Daniels is worth a look as a TE1 at Indianapolis, but a knee injury suffered against Carolina makes him a roll of the dice as a fantasy starter. The Texans say Daniels will be a game-time decision, and the medical staff will determine his availability in a pre-game workout. If Daniels is active, it's worth noting that the Colts have allowed the most receptions to tight ends in the AFC. ... The Texans are unlikely to rack up many pass attempts in this game, making Walter and Jones unattractive WR3s. Yates has not shown an affinity for throwing low-percentage passes to Jones, as the two have hooked up for just four completions in Yates' three starts. Walter is a trusty possession receiver, but will need Yates to play much better than he did last week. The upside of both wideouts is capped by the fact that Yates may not throw more than 20-25 times Thursday night.
The Colts preyed on a soft Titans defense in Week 15, amassing 34 rushing attempts compared to just 17 passes from Dan Orlovsky. Donald Brown capitalized with a career-best game, breaking off an 80-yard fourth-quarter touchdown clincher on what was essentially a broken play. That's not to take anything away from a strong all-around effort from Brown, who is showing the big-play ability he flashed as a rookie two years ago. Keep in mind that Tennessee ranks 23rd against the run, while Houston is fifth. Brown is undoubtedly the Colts' feature running back and a viable flex option, but his matchup goes from highly favorable last week to borderline prohibitive in Week 16.
The concern for Colts skill players in this game is the possibility of losing the time-of-possession battle in a lopsided, decisive manner. The Texans should be able to pound the football early and often against the Colts' 28th-ranked run defense, a unit that has surrendered the second most rushing touchdowns in the league. Reggie Wayne has cleared 60 receiving yards once in his last six games, and the same can be said for Pierre Garcon. Texans top CB Johnathan Joseph figures to spend most of this game at left cornerback, the position opposite which Garcon most often lines up. While neither Garcon nor Wayne is a desirable Week 16 fantasy play, the latter is a superior bet for Thursday night production. ... Jacob Tamme will get the start in place of Dallas Clark (stinger), but did the same last week and caught one pass for three yards. Houston has allowed the third fewest receptions, third fewest yards, and third fewest touchdowns to tight ends in the league. Projected game flow and a difficult matchup are factors working against Tamme.
Score Prediction: Texans 24, Colts 17
Gregg Rosenthal takes a look at the key players to start or sit on Thursday night.