By Tom James
INDIANAPOLIS — The Indianapolis Colts are keenly aware of the position that they’re in heading into Sunday’s AFC South matchup with the Houston Texans.
“It’s always been a tough game, whether we played them here in Indy or we’ve always had really close games down there in Houston. The schedule has been funny where we had all four NFC games so early in the season. Now, we’re getting into the AFC schedule and into the division,” Colts quarterback Peyton Manning said Wednesday.
“This will be an extremely tough test for us. They are playing really well right now. You look at some of their games, they easily could have won a couple that they had lost. They’re playing with a lot of momentum right now.”
Indianapolis, 7-0 for the season and 2-0 in the division, has a seemingly comfortable 2 1/2 game lead over the rapidly improving Texans. Houston, meanwhile, will bring a 5-3 record and a 1-1 AFC South mark to Lucas Oil Stadium.
A win by the Colts would give them an early sweep of the division and allow Coach Jim Caldwell’s team a chance to control their fate in the AFC South. But losing would tighten things up considerably, especially since Indianapolis will play at Houston in three weeks.
“The only [game] I’m concerned about is this one. That’s all I’m worried about. I want to get our team ready for this particular contest. We know we have a very difficult team that we are playing,” Caldwell said Wednesday.
“They are hot. They have won three games in a row. Anytime you can win three games a row in this league, you have a pretty good football team. We have to get ourselves ready. We know they certainly have the ability to win the game if they play well.”
The first-year head coach is well aware the importance that Sunday’s game holds for both the Colts and the Texans. Houston is two games over the .500 mark for the first time in the franchise’s history.
And the meeting with Indianapolis is being hailed by some associated with the Texans as the biggest game that the team has ever played, a chance to finally make its mark against one of the two remaining undefeated teams in the league.
“I think what we have to focus in on is what we can control. We can’t necessarily control what they think and how they plan to do things. We can control how we practice and how we prepare and how we look at the opportunity. Those are the things we try to focus in on and talk about,” Caldwell said.
So, is the bullseye directly on the backs of the Colts this week? Or can Indianapolis turn the tables and pin the target on the Texans? That remains to be seen.
“I really try not to put myself in someone else’s shoes because I don’t know all of the factors. Back in the old days of college you always had your ‘red letter’ games,” he said.
“I’m not certain that’s the case with them [the Texans]. Some people do that. I’m not saying they have done it or will do it. It’s very tough for me to try and put myself in their position and answer that question.”
Manning said that the two teams share a mutual respect for each other.
“I think Houston knows that we have respect for them. You look at the scores of our games, I think last year they were six points and maybe three or four points. They’ve been close games. They’re a division team. I really think this may be our biggest of the season, so far,” Manning said.
The Colts have had the opportunity to play two winless teams so far, and the schedule heats up with the Texans and Patriots the next two weeks.
“You look at the actual records of the teams we’ve beaten so far, they don’t have as many wins. I think we are beginning the teeth of our schedule right now with the way some of these teams we’re about to play are playing right now,” Manning said.
“Houston is playing with a lot of momentum. I feel like because it’s a division game, that’s what makes it a big game for both teams. We’re going to be just as excited to play them as they may be to play us, because it’s a division game, it means a lot, especially when it comes to implications down the road. Being an AFC South game, it’s one that both teams will want to win. It’s kind of the last game of our second quarter. We want to go into the second half of our season on a high note.”
Focusing in on the Texans is made a bit easier knowing what’s at stake in the game.
“We’ve always put extra emphasis on our division games. I think that’s normal. We won our first two. Houston, just because they’re in the division, they really have nothing to do with Jacksonville or Tennessee. They are their own team,” Manning said.
“I think they’re playing at a very high level right now. We know we have to get good and prepared to play them and go out there and make plays on Sunday, because otherwise it could be a tough day.”
• • •
• Hagler done for the year — Strongside linebacker Tyjuan Hagler has been placed on the Colts’ injured reserve list, effectively ending his season. Hagler suffered a ruptured bicep muscle during the fourth quarter of last week’s game with the San Francisco 49ers.
Hagler’s career with Indianapolis has been slowed by various injuries after being a fifth-round draft pick in 2005. He has been sidelined with a sports hernia, a torn pectoral muscle and, now, a ruptured bicep muscle.
With Hagler out, second-year linebacker Philip Wheeler will take over as the starter. Wheeler was a third-round draft pick in 2008. Undrafted rookie linebacker Ramon Humber, who played at North Dakota State, will be his primary backup.
n Injury list — Sitting out Wednesday’s practice were defensive end Dwight Freeney (rest), wide receiver Anthony Gonzalez (knee), cornerback Kelvin Hayden (knee), cornerback Marlin Jackson (knee), safety Bob Sanders (elbow) and placekicker Adam Vinatieri (knee).
Rookie running back Donald Brown (shoulder) and wide receiver Reggie Wayne (strained groin) both took part in the workout.
“We’ll see [about Brown’s availability for the Houston game] after it’s all said and done. That’s where it looks like he’s headed,” Caldwell said. “[Jackson and Hayden] will go day to day. We’ll see where things are.
“I’m not quite certain where [Gonzalez] is at this point. I know he’s trying to get to the point where he feels like he can function at his normal level. He is not there yet. How long that takes him just depends. I know he’s taken a look at it and getting some more opinions and things of that nature and moving forward.”
• Roster move — The Colts have also signed rookie linebacker Cody Glenn off their practice squad.
Glenn had originally been a fifth-round draft pick of the Washington Redskins last spring but was released at the end of training camp and was subsequently added to the Indianapolis practice squad.