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Colts at Houston: 5 keys to a road division win

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How the Colts react to losing Reggie Wayne is vital

Saturday, November 2, 2013 - 12:01 am

After a week off to heal and deal with the loss of Reggie Wayne, the Indianapolis Colts travel to Houston for a prime-time AFC South showdown. The question is what team the Texans will be.

Houston entered the season as a Super Bowl contender. Now they're 2-5.

Here are five keys for the 5-2 Colts to head home with another division win:

Rattle Keenum

The Texans have turned to Case Keenum at quarterback despite the fact long-time starter Matt Schaub is healthy and ready to go. This speaks of desperation, but is also a credit to the confidence coach Gary Kubiak has in Keenum. Keenum, undrafted out of Houston, spent 2012 on the practice squad. But his 271-yard performance against the Chiefs two weeks ago opened eyes. The Colts, and especially Robert Mathis, need to close the pocket on Keenum. He can run, but if he's on the run, odds of turnovers increase.

Big plays from receivers

With Wayne out of the season with a torn ACL, the Colts need more production from wide receivers Darrius Heyward-Bey, T.Y. Hilton and at least one of the trio of LaVon Brazill, Griff Whalen and David Reed. It's possible Colts quarterback Andrew Luck will beef up his passing to tight end Coby Fleener, or even utilize running back Trent Richardson out of the backfield. The Texans have a quality defense, and an elite pass rusher in J.J. Watt. Luck needs some playmakers to make plays.

Win the old turnover game

It's a cliché for a reason. Teams that don't turn the ball over increase their chances of winning. Richardson has had two fumbles with the Colts, which is two more than he'd had since he was a college player at Alabama. He has yet to really get on track with a huge yardage game. The Texans rank No.10 in rushing defense, so they're capable of forcing teams into passing mode. Houston's secondary of Kareem Jackson, Johnathan Joseph, D.J. Swearinger and the veteran Ed Reed can make plays if a quarterback gets careless.

Prevent the big plays

Whether it's running back Arian Foster – questionable after a hamstring injury two weeks ago – or wide receiver Andre Johnson, the Texans can't be allowed to convert the type of big plays that build momentum and increase the home-field advantage. The Colts could be without cornerback Greg Toler, who has a groin injury, but they will have safety LaRon Landry again. The secondary has been strong. That new standard needs to be maintained.

Start fast, finish faster

The Colts ran into trouble in their last road game at San Diego because of difficulty in turning long drives into touchdowns. They were stuck on field goals, and some punts, allowing the Chargers to stick around until they could make the game-winning plays. A couple of early touchdown drives, demonstrating that Luck isn't lost without Wayne, would boost Indianapolis' confidence moving ahead. A strong fourth quarter is crucial on the road, too.

The pick: Colts 26, Texans 24