The Pro Football Notebook

November 1, 2010 6:31 AM

AFC South Showdown: Houston-Indy

HoustonIndy.jpgHouston meets Indianapolis for the second time this season, as the AFC South rivals do battle on Monday Night Football. The first meeting came in the season-opener, and the Texans sent a clear message they intended to be a contender with a 34-24 win, that was also the coming out party for running back Arian Foster. Since then, Houston has sent conflicting message--continuing to win enough to be tied for first coming into tonight, but also losing at home to Dallas and blowing a big lead to Kansas City. Both they and Indianapolis are coming off a bye week. What can we expect in this battle for first place?

We can expect to see the ball in the air a lot. The Houston pass defense is porous, and while Indy's had some injuries in their receivers corps, they still have Reggie Wayne and Austin Collie. Most important, they still have Peyton Manning, who seems to plug in just about anybody on the flanks and turn them into a star. The Colts aren't running the ball well, so there's no reason not to open up. Houston is more than capable of answering, with Matt Schaub and Andre Johnson looking to hook up downfield. The Texans do have the threat of a running game with Foster and they have something else--a tight end. Owen Daniels is a solid target for Schaub, while Dallas Clark--long a Manning favorite in tough spots--is out for the season. Watch for whether Houston has an advantage in moving the chains. And above all, watch who gets pressure on the quarterback. Indy's coming at Schaub with both barrels, as Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis crash the pocket and it's imperative that Foster be a threat in the running game to keep them honest. Houston has Mario Williams set to pressure Manning. Overall, Indianapolis has been the more consistent team, they're playing at home and two pass rushers are better than one. Colts take it 30-20.

This game is for outright control of first place because the third element of the three-way tie at the top lost Sunday, with Tennessee letting a 19-7 second quarter lead in San Diego turn into a 33-25 loss. Vince Young was playing well before his ankle flared up, and both he and Kerry Collins matched blows with Philip Rivers. The difference was that the famed Tennessee running game just didn't appear yesterday, with Chris Johnson being held to 59 yards. And Jacksonville showed why this is the league's toughest division, winning at Dallas to 4-4 and ensuring no AFC South teams are under .500. The Jags gave up their share of yardage to Jon Kitna through the air but they also picked him off four times and shut down the Cowboy running game, while establishing their own. Maurice-Jones Drew rushed for 135 yards and David Garrard played outstanding mistake-free football in an easy 35-17 win.

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Dan Flaherty is the editor of the Sports Notebook Family, published through the Real Clear Sports Blog Network, offering daily MLB playoff coverage and game analysis in college football and the NFL. He is the author of The Last New Year's, a book that revisits the historic high points of college football's New Year's Day bowl games.

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