|Colts look for elusive finishing kick against Texans|
While the Indianapolis Colts overhauled their coaching staff in the offseason, one glaring trend has continued under head coach Frank Reich.
This team is still struggling to finish games.
Last year's 4-12 team led at halftime in nine games but won just twice. This year's Colts (1-2) have had fourth-quarter leads in all three games but been outscored 27-10 in the final 15 minutes. The most recent disappointment was a 20-16 loss at Philadelphia.
Enter the surprisingly winless Houston Texans (0-3), who visit Lucas Oil Stadium on Sunday in dire need of a win against their AFC South Division hosts. While the Colts, on paper, are better in many ways than a year ago, they can ill afford another late collapse.
"We know everybody emphasizes (that) everybody is desperate," Reich said. "They are desperate for a win. Every team is desperate for a win."
The good news is the Colts are only one game behind the Tennessee Titans and Jacksonville Jaguars (both 2-1) in the division. But the Colts are on the road for three of the next four after this game, which makes winning at home even more important.
"I think we can probably look back and say if we hit a couple more chunks in a couple of the first games, then maybe that swings the tide in a way," said Colts quarterback Andrew Luck, referring to a sluggish offense that's been too dependent upon short-range pass plays.
"We can always get better and I don't think I am anywhere near scratching the surface of realizing my full potential, if that makes sense."
The Texans are coming off a disappointing 27-22 home loss to the previously winless New York Giants. But quarterback Deshaun Watson leads an eighth-ranked offense with big-play capability, most notably with Pro Bowl star receiver DeAndre Hopkins.
In addition, defensive end J.J. Watt is beginning to round into form after missing significant time the last two seasons because of injuries. The three-time NFL Defensive Player of the Year recorded eight tackles, four for losses, three sacks and four quarterback hits with one forced fumble Sunday, dominating the Giants.
Watt is encouraged by his progress, but not satisfied.
"I think it's coming back little by little," Watt said. "I think last game it started to show up on the stat line more maybe than it did the first couple games, but I think it's still a work in progress. I still have a lot to improve on and get better at. I'm by no means where I want to be yet, but we're getting there."
Watt recorded his first sacks since a Sept. 18, 2016 game against the Kansas City Chiefs. He has 79 career sacks.
"He did a great job," Texans head coach Bill O'Brien said. "Did a really good job against the running game, played hard, excellent job pass rush."
Watt and Co. will look to keep Luck in control. Although Luck has attempted 124 passes, he's completed just five for 20 or more yards. He averaged a career-low 4.1 yards per completion in 40 pass attempts against the Eagles.
Because he missed last season due to right shoulder surgery, that's prompted questions about his arm strength.
"I know I am at a level where I can make all the throws and I feel confident that I am going out there with my full arsenal, if that makes sense," he said. "I don't think anything is physically holding me back."
A Colts defense led by the standout play of rookie weakside linebacker Darius Leonard has been better than many expected. A 21-9 win at Washington in Week 2 marked the first time the Colts had held an opponent without a touchdown since 2016. Then last week, those same Redskins scored 31 in a double-digit win over visiting Green Bay.
Meanwhile, injuries are affecting Houston's receiving corps. At Wednesday's practice, one day after placing Bruce Ellington on injured reserve, the Texans' receiving corps was banged up. Every wide receiver on the active roster was limited in practice except for rookie Vyncint Smith.
Hopkins is on the injury report with thumb, ankle and hamstring injuries. Will Fuller V, Keke Coutee and Sammie Coates are still dealing with hamstring injuries.