Run-first attitude aside, Colts still need to take downfield shots

Sanchez not buying Colts or Texans as playoff threats (1:18)

Mark Sanchez doesn't see either the Colts or the Texans making a deep run in the AFC playoffs. (1:18)

INDIANAPOLIS -- The slogan the Indianapolis Colts' offense has promoted this season has been to “run the damn ball.” Quarterback Jacoby Brissett and guard Quenton Nelson have sported hats with that saying on it.

The Colts have followed through with that philosophy for most of the season, but at some point, the Colts have to also throw downfield when the running game is working in order to keep defenses honest.

That was the case Thursday night against the Houston Texans. The Colts, who rank third in the NFL in rushing, gained 175 yards on the ground in their 20-17 loss.

But one of the reasons the Texans won the game is because they didn’t allow the Colts any “chunk” plays down the field.

“We still have to find ways to make big plays, and if you are going to run the ball for 175 yards, that has to be accompanied by four or five chunk plays in the passing game that are set up because of how well you are running the ball,” Colts coach Frank Reich said. “Collectively, as coaches and players -- as an offense -- we just didn’t get that done.”

Brissett threw for a season-low 129 yards against Houston. That’s a stark contrast from when he threw for 326 yards and had a long completion of 34 yards in the first meeting against the Texans earlier this season.

Reich said they should have been able to get more big plays by the way they were running the ball.

“I think it should be easier,” he said. “In theory, you should be getting the defense biting up to play the run and making those plays. Then ,they should be there. I look back, and do I wish I would have called two or three more [plays down the field]? Yeah, I do. I should have called two or three more.”

The Texans completely changed their defensive coverage from Week 7 to Week 12. They dared the Colts to beat them through the air by playing predominately man-to-man defense in the first meeting. Houston played mainly a soft zone coverage five weeks later. Playing more soft zone meant the Texans were willing to concede underneath throws to protect from giving up big plays down the field. Brissett’s longest completion gained only 14 yards.

Brissett averaged only 5.2 yards per pass attempt as he settled for checkdown throws.

“When we were throwing the ball, they were forcing us to take the underneath stuff,” Brissett said. “And we were taking the underneath stuff. And we're still gaining yards on the short completions. But that was their mindset. That's what they wanted us to do. And the discipline of doing it, because you force something just because you feel like you need to make a play, then you don't have a chance at the end of the game to still be in it. So that's what they were forcing us to do.”

The Colts are hoping they’ll be able to have receiver T.Y. Hilton be a bigger part of the offense going forward. He was limited to just 25 snaps against the Texans after being out for three straight weeks with a calf injury. Hilton, the Colts' only legitimate deep threat in the passing game, didn’t help himself with drops on back-to-back possessions that would have kept drives alive late in the third and early in the fourth quarter. Chester Rogers was the only other receiver to have a reception, with one for 12 yards.

The Colts (6-5) are a game behind the Texans in the AFC South and have the same record as Pittsburgh, Oakland and their Week 12 opponent Tennessee in the playoff race. Indianapolis can expect that its remaining opponents made a note of what the Texans did and that those teams might use that same type of scheme against them until the Colts can figure out a way to beat it.

“When a team is playing a zone coverage and you're running the ball well in the play-action game, maybe it's a little bit harder to get plays over the top because they're playing soft zone,” Reich said. “But where you should be able to really hurt them is in the intermediate game -- 15-, 20-, 25-yard plays because they're playing zone coverage.”