Indianapolis @ Houston
Power rankings: Indianapolis 20, Houston 26
When Indianapolis has the ball:
The Colts major move this offseason was to give up on the one year Carson Wentz experiment in favor of Matt Ryan. Ryan, now 37 years young, has shown some signs of slowing down, but he was still a decent quarterback (74.7 PFF grade) despite having nobody outside of a rookie tight end to throw the ball to in Atlanta. His primary targets will be Michael Pittman Jr, Alec Pierce, TE Mo Allie Cox, RBs Nahiem Hines and Jonathan Taylor, as well as slot man Parris Campbell. Michael Pittman, a 3rd year player out of USC, showed major improvement in his second season with the Colts, and looks poised to be a legit number 1 option in the NFL. Behind Pittman is where things get hazy -- Pierce was taken 53rd overall in the draft, which was a reach compared to most draft boards, particularly with Skyy Moore still available. Pierce, who stands at 6'3 211, is a solid deep threat, but ran a very limited route tree in college. According to PFF, 66% of his yards came from vertical routes last year. The offensive line should at least be very good, even with losing two starters (Eric Fisher and Mark Glowinski). They return their core of Quenton Nelson (LG), Ryan Kelly (C), and Braden Smith (RT), all solid to elite players (I won't hear any guard not named Zach Martin as being better than Nelson). Matt Pryor (LT) and Danny Pinter (RG) come in fill the gaps -- both have been solid, albeit in limited snaps. On the ground, Jonathan Taylor should need no introduction, he was easily the best running back in football last season. The Colts finished 13th in offensive DVOA last season, a number that should improve given the upgrade at the quarterback position. The Texans on defense, to put it nicely, are a work in progress. They lost their best edge rusher from 2021 (Jacob Martin, Jets), but they did bring in Jerry Hughes and Mario Addison, each former Bills in their mid thirties. They are hoping Ogbonnia Okoronkwo (thanks copy/paste) can build on a year 3 season where he saw significant improvement from his horrid first two years. Their linebacker room is one of the worst in football, and they're relying on 3rd overall pick Derek Stingley to step in and be their top option at corner. Stingley was an exceptional draft pick, but playing corner in the NFL is damn near impossible, and expecting a rookie to come in and instantly be good would be a surprise. The other corners, Steven Nelson and Desmond King, have had success in the NFL but are both coming off of consecutive bad seasons. King looked like he was going to be the premier slot corner in the NFL after his second season, but he hasn't played at that level since 2018. 37th overall selection S Jalen Pitre will be another rookie starter in the secondary -- Pitre is a versatile safety who can line up anywhere on the field. He'll be playing alongside Eric Murray and Johnathan Owens, the former is journeyman safety, the latter is a 2018 UDFA who has played 178 snaps in his NFL career.
When the Texans have the ball:
Davis Mills finished his rookie season ranked 31st among 38 qualifiers in PFF grades (58.5), but did at least put together a few impressive games toward the end of the season (week 16 against the Chargers and week 18 against the Titans). Mills finished with a 66.8% completion percentage and gained 6.8 yards per attempt, giving some hope in Houston that he can be a capable starter in today's NFL. Unfortunately for Mills, his receiving options outside of Brandin Cooks are limited, but the Texans are hoping 2021 3rd rounder Nico Collins can build off a rookie season where he got better as the season progressed. The offensive line projects to be a bottom tier -- we know LT Laremy Tunsil is good when healthy, but the other four positions have questions. RT Tytus Howard was a first round pick in 2019, but he's been asked to jump all over the line, splitting time between left tackle, left guard, and right tackle. That's a big ask of a young kid, and the Texans are hoping they can allow him to stick at RT where he's been at his best. The running game will be led by rookie Dameon Pierce, who the Texans selected in the 4th round out of Florida in April. The Colts defense made a coaching change in the offseason, bringing over Gus Bradley from the Raiders. Bradley spent 4 seasons with the Chargers prior to that, and both teams showed a clear hated of blitzing, something that we should expect to continue while he calls plays for the Colts. The Colts do have a solid pass rush, led by Yannick Ngakoue and 2021 1st rounder Kwity Paye on the edge and DeForest Bucker on the inside. The linebacking core is led by Darius Leonard, who is consistently one of the better linebackers in football. The secondary looked like it was going to be a major issue before the Colts were able to snag Stephon Gilmore in free agency. Gilmore is turning 32 on 9/19, but was still an impressive player when healthy in Carolina last season. Slot man Kenny Moore is coming off of a down year in 2021, but he is typically a force on the inside. The safety tandem appears to be Julian Blackmon, who has struggled since being drafted in the third round in 2020, and Nick Cross, a third round pick out of Maryland.