Vacation, in terms of a one-week bye, is now over.
It’s back to work for the Indianapolis Colts, who will go into Sunday night’s nationally televised National Football League game (NBC, 8:30 p.m. kickoff) against defending AFC South champion Houston with a 5-2 record and a two-game lead in the division.
The Texans, meanwhile, have struggled of late and will take a 2-5 mark against Indianapolis.
Colts quarterback Andrew Luck doesn’t care to talk about Houston’s issues so far this season. All he knows is that the Texans have ruled the division the last two seasons and still possess an outstanding defense.
“I don’t think there will be any problem of flipping the switch [coming off a bye] and getting back going. I don’t think guys really turned it off completely [last week] either,” Luck said Monday.
“It’s great to relax, great to get your mind off of things. But we’re excited for this week and a great test in Houston.”
The Colts-Texans rivalry has developed into a pretty fierce matchup in recent years. Indianapolis dominated the division from 2002 to 2010, but Houston has been the top dog the past two seasons.
That’s what Luck and the rest of the Colts locker room sees when thinking about the Texans.
“I’m sure [they Texans] wish their record was better than it is. But that’s all thrown out the window,” the Indianapolis quarterback said. “These are the division champs. These are the reigning champs and we want to be where they were. So we know [that the division title] goes through them.”
Head coach Chuck Pagano concurs.
“Absolutely. We’d be crazy to look at it any differently. That’s exactly how we’ve got to treat it. Again, everybody’s good. We know how good this football team is. They’ve got the No. 1 defense in the league. They’ve got playmakers on both sides of the ball and they’ve got runners, got receivers,” Pagano said.
“If they go with [second-year quarterback Case Keenum], we saw him do a nice job last week [against Kansas City] and give them a chance to win on the road in a tough, hostile environment to play. Whoever they go, we’ll get ready for all of them. It’s like every one of them. It’s going to take everything we got to go down there and play well and try to get a victory down there.”
• No Reggie — What’s also important for the Colts is how they handle the season-ending injury to veteran wide receiver Reggie Wayne, who suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee two weeks ago in the win over Denver.
“I don’t think [the offense] changed [with the loss of Wayne]. I think we’ve got guys that will step up and fill that hole,” Luck said. “It’s too big of a hole for one guy to step up and fill. It will take a collective effort. But I don’t think things will change too much.”
Wide receivers T.Y. Hilton, Darius Heyward-Bey, LaVon Brazill, David Reed and Griff Whalen will have the unenviable job of trying to fill the void left by Wayne’s absence. Whalen was activated off the Colts’ practice squad on Monday.
Colts general manager Ryan Grigson spent his off week trying to find a potential replacement for Wayne off the NFL’s waiver wire or through potential trades.
“You’re going to exhaust all resources, turn all stones and see if there’s somebody, but again, you got to bring somebody in in a short period of time and teach them the terminology and the system and all that stuff,” Pagano explained.
“These guys [already on the Indianapolis roster] are more than capable. They’ve been here. We know what they are. They know our system. That’s why we decided just to stand pat.”
Pagano doesn’t see many changes coming in the team’s offense with Wayne sidelined.
“I think we just kind of stick with what we’re doing. Things might change in certain downs, distances, things like that. Obviously, our quarterback had a high comfort level with [Wayne] on any down, particularly third down. We’ve got guys that we can plug in,” Pagano explained.
“Again, you can’t replace a guy like Reggie, but again, we feel good about the guys we have and feel like they’ll come in and they’ll do what they have to do to help us win this game.”
Hilton, Heyward-Bey, Brazill and Whalen are expected to divvy up the catches that would have gone to Wayne. Who will play where remains an open question right now.
“We’re going to mix it up. T.Y. knows all the spots. DHB knows all the spots. When we go with two-receiver sets, generally those two will be the guys that are on the field,” the Colts coach said. “Then we go three-receiver sets or whatever, we can move them around.”
Pagano likes how Heyward-Bey, signed as a veteran free agent from Oakland last spring, has fit into the Indianapolis offense.
“He’s gotten better. We know from an athletic standpoint, speed standpoint, talent, all those things what he’s capable of doing. Now it’s just a matter of he’s going to have to take on a bigger role, both in the classroom as far as leadership role in the classroom and then on the football field,” he said.
• Time off? — Not really. The Colts’ coaches spent their bye week in self-evaluation, going over game tapes of the previous seven games and trying to find ways to improve the team’s overall performance.
“Any time you have some time, you always go back on the bye week, you look at yourself. You do self-scouting. You see what’s working on offense, defense, special teams. Then what’s working for different players individually. We took a good, hard look at that like everybody else did on the bye week and try to put him in situations where he can be successful,” Pagano said.
“We’re doing a lot of good things. There’s some things, obviously, that we have to clean up in all the areas. Two major things that I think lead to being on the winning side of the record is turnovers. We’re plus-seven. At the time, I think we were tied for second, I don’t know after this week’s ball games where we’re at. But being plus-seven in the turnover margin is huge. We’re taking care of the football and we’re getting more takeaways. That was a huge emphasis coming into the season. Then penalties. I think we’re second or third in [fewest] penalties.
“Attention to detail. We talk all the time, you don’t win games in the National Football League, you lose them. You just try to avoid the friendly fire and not shoot yourself in the foot, so to speak,” he said. “If we can continue to take care of the little things, take care of the cents, as we talk, the dollars will come. We’ll make sure that we keep harping on the little things.”
• Injury list — Rookie outside linebacker Bjoern Werner (foot) and cornerback Greg Toler (groin) are both listed as day-to-day for practices this week.
Werner has been sidelined since he was injured against Jacksonville on Sept. 29. Toler was hurt against Denver two weeks ago. A decision on the availability of both won’t be made until Friday at the earliest.
Cornerback Josh Gordy (groin) and safety Delano Howell (neck) are both doubtful for the Houston game.
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