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NFL Preview - Indianapolis (5-2) at Houston (2-5)
By Lyle Fitzsimmons, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - If the Houston Texans ultimately cede control of the AFC's South Division to Indianapolis this season -- after winning it the last two years -- expect bad luck and south Texas product Andrew Luck to be among the named culprits.
Linebacker and defensive leader Brian Cushing became the latest starter to be gnawed by the injury bug two weeks ago at Kansas City, when he suffered a fractured fibula and a torn lateral collateral ligament in his left knee, ending his season prematurely for the second straight year.
Others, including running back Arian Foster and quarterback Matt Schaub have also been impacted on some level by dents and dings, and Schaub's absence for one game with an ankle problem has been compounded by ineffectiveness.
Schaub will remain a healthy non-participant this week against the Colts while Case Keenum -- who started the loss to the Chiefs by necessity -- remains the No. 1 man by design.
The 25-year-old product of the University of Houston threw a touchdown pass and was 15-of-25 for 271 yards in the 17-16 loss to Kansas City, in which the Texans compiled 294 total yards. In the six prior games, Schaub, a veteran of 85 starts over seven seasons with Houston, compiled a 78.8 passer rating.
He threw eight touchdowns and nine interceptions in those six games, with four of the INTs coming back for opposition scores.
"I've got to make decisions I think are best for the football team right now," embattled Texans coach Gary Kubiak said. "The decision I made was based on what I saw take place (against Kansas City) with Case and him taking advantage of an opportunity. I want to see him move forward."
Among Keenum's would-be weapons, Foster is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury and another running back, Ben Tate, is questionable with a rib problem.
Houston, which has scored barely 12 points per game since a 2-0 start, hasn't lost six straight since 2005.
"We had to adjust to that last year," Kubiak said. "We'll have to do that again. It's going to call for some other guys to be vocal. Unfortunately, we've been down this road before and some guys will have to step up."
The Colts, who enter the game with a three-game lead over the Texans in the South, encountered some injuries of their own before the bye week as well.
Veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne was lost for the season with a torn ACL in his right knee, ending a consecutive games streak that stretched back to 2001 during the early days of Peyton Manning.
Ironically, Wayne was hurt in Manning's return to Indianapolis with the then- unbeaten Denver Broncos, whom the Colts beat, 39-33.
Stepping into his shoes are fellow wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey and T.Y. Hilton, along with tight end Coby Fleener.
Heyward-Bey and Fleener each caught TD throws from Andrew Luck against the Broncos.
Luck, the son of ex-Houston Oiler and current West Virginia athletic director Oliver Luck, was actually born in the nation's capital but he spent his formative years in Houston where he began his football journey at Stratford High School before moving on to Stanford University and eventually becoming the No. 1 overall pick in the 2012 NFL draft by the Colts.
Luck will face a Texans defense that's given up a bloated 27.7 points per game, but is the league's best in total defense -- allowing just 267.7 yards per game, 145.6 through the air. He was sacked six times in two games against the Texans in 2012, which the teams split.
"They've got game-wreckers all over the place," Indianapolis coach Chuck Pagano said. "They've got a front seven that is as good as anybody in football. They've got probably the best defensive player in football in J.J. Watt."
Linebacker Robert Mathis, who's also faced the vintage Houston teams, agreed.
"To be the champ, you got to beat the champ. (Houston is) the champ," he said. "We've just got to go down there and handle our business. I've been a part of some division championship teams. They're focused and they want it, it's just a matter of taking care of business.
"We're not looking at their record, because they are the two-time AFC South champions and we respect them as such."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
Turn Red to Green.
The Colts have found great success upon reaching the red zone this season and are second-best in the league when it comes to average points per trip. The problem is, they're just the 19th-best team in the league when it comes to reaching that Valhalla territory. The more Houston can force 3s instead of 7s, the better chance it has.
Keenum looked uncomfortable when the Chiefs got to him or near him on passing downs. He was able to break containment and create plays on occasion, but when he was pressured and kept in the pocket, he struggled. If the Colts are successful in slowing the Texans' battered run game, they could make things quite difficult for the young passer.
To paraphrase Dennis Green, if the Colts are who they say they are, they'll show it here.
Houston has home field and a lot of players who can still produce, but injuries and ineffectiveness have left a shell where a division champion once resided.
Sports Network predicted outcome: Colts 29, Texans 19
11/01 09:29:17 ET