Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts face the Houston Texans in the first round of the AFC playoffs. Photo by Terry Schmitt/UPI | License Photo
INDIANAPOLIS -- The Indianapolis Colts and Houston Texans know each other too well, so Saturday's first-round playoff matchup between AFC South Division rivals at Houston's NRG Stadium could come down to new wrinkles.
But not too many, according to Colts first-year head coach Frank Reich.
As a player and a coach, he's been in this situation of division foes meeting again in the postseason several times. So, while the Colts (10-6) and Texans (11-5) have learned a lot about each other in splitting regular-season meetings with each team winning on the road, now is not the time to stray too much from what has worked.
"You have to fight to find ways to make slight changes, but don't go crazy," Reich said on a Monday conference call. "You've got to avoid the mistake of 'Hey, we've got to be drastically different just because they know us.' At the end of the day, you have to do what got you here but then you still have to have a few new wrinkles, a few un-scouted looks to keep them guessing a little bit."
The Colts have won nine of 10 games to become just the third team in NFL history to qualify for the playoffs after a 1-5 start. One of those more recent victories was 24-21 at Houston on Dec. 9. The Texans started off 0-3 before winning 37-34 in overtime on Sept. 30 in Indianapolis.
The latter game is memorable because Reich gambled on a fourth-and-four play at his own 43 with the score tied with 27 seconds remaining in overtime. The pass was incomplete. Deshaun Watson threw a 24-yard pass to DeAndre Hopkins and then the Texans kicked the game-winning field goal.
That started a nine-game Texans winning streak which the Colts snapped three weeks ago.
The Texans know they have to get pressure on Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, who threw three touchdown passes in Sunday night's 33-17 road win at Tennessee in a win-or-go-home showdown for both of those teams.
The Colts know they have to block one of the NFL's elite pass-rushing tandems in J.J. Watt and Jadeveon Clowney. Watt, three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year and five-time All-Pro, has enjoyed four multi-sack games in his career against the Colts, including two in the first meeting this season. Twelve of the defensive end's 92 career sacks have come in 12 games against the Colts.
The Colts led the NFL in fewest sacks allowed with just 18 this season. Watt had three of them.
Reich suggested the new wrinkles will be more subtle than anything.
"It can just be a personnel change," he said. "You can run the same play and put different people in there and to the defense it is like, 'Hey, they might be running this but the last time they ran this they had two guys here and now it is two different guys.' So it can be as little as something like that to a different formation or a motion or a shift."
Luck, who went to high school in the Houston area, passed for a career-high 464 yards, completing 40 of 62 passes with four TDs in the Week 4 home loss. He completed 27 of 41 passes for 399 yards with two TDs and one interception in the recent road win.
The Colts are in the playoffs for the first time since 2014, when they lost the AFC title game at New England.
"We've been in this -- for lack of a better word -- playoff mode for a while, kind of with our backs against the wall," Reich said. "So, I am trusting the process that has been established, the leadership of the players and the focus and the vision of what we are trying to do. That focus and vision is on getting better every day and then beating the next opponent."
--LB Darius Leonard, a second-round selection, finished his rookie regular season with a franchise-record 163 total tackles, 19 more than the next player in the league. He added his second interception on Sunday night and contributed seven sacks this season.
--QB Andrew Luck tied an NFL record with Sunday night's touchdown pass to tight end Ryan Hewitt, the 13th different player to catch a scoring pass from him this season.
--RB Marlon Mack rushed for 119 yards for his fourth 100-yard game this season. That's the most since Joseph Addai had four in 2007.
--TE Eric Ebron, in his first season with the Colts after four in Detroit, earned his first Pro Bowl nod after posting career highs with 66 receptions for 750 yards and 14 total touchdowns (13 receiving, one rushing).
--WR T.Y. Hilton, hobbled by a sore ankle for the past month, has a league-best 951 receiving yards since Week 8 and is the only pass catcher to average more than 100 receiving yards with 105.7 during that stretch. Noticeably hampered by the ankle at Tennessee, he had two catches for 61 yards, the first time since Week 8 he didn't have at least 77 receiving yards.