This week the contests involving the AFC South teams spanned Saturday and Sunday. The Houston Texans headed up to the New York Jets on Saturday, hoping to recover from a loss last week. The Indianapolis Colts hosted the Dallas Cowboys and the Tennessee Titans headed to New York in crucial matches for the AFC wildcard picture. As for Jacksonville? They were hoping to add more misery to a crumbling Washington Redskins season.
Let’s take a look at the what happened in each game and the key takeaways.
Indianapolis Colts 23 vs. Dallas Cowboys 0
Cowboys offensive woes
I am going to start with the biggest game in terms of statement made. The Colts shut out the Cowboys and made life extremely difficult for Dak Prescott. Prescott completed just 24-of-39 passes for 206 yards and an interception. When you look at the box score it is hard to understand what happened. Prescott was hit just five times and sacked just three. In addition, the run game was functioning efficiently, with both Ezekiel Elliott and Rod Smith averaging over four yards per carry.
What the Colts did was prevent the Cowboys from getting the ball to Amari Cooper. Since his Thanksgiving breakout, Cooper has had eight receptions per game on 10 targets per game. In this game he had just seven targets, four receptions and 32 receiving yards, his lowest since arriving at the Cowboys. That meant that Prescott had to look elsewhere and those options were found wanting. The most noticeable absence is Michael Gallup, who did not register a single catch.
Turnovers were also an issue. Prescott threw one interception and Elliott had a fumble. Officially the Cowboys lost the turnover battle by one but there are some hidden stats. Their first drive ended in a blocked field goal. They also had two drives in the second half which ended on downs. That means the unofficial turnover count was five for the Cowboys and one for the Colts.
Colts lean on the run
Again the Colts offensive stats are a little weird given the dominance the scoreline suggests. Luck completed just 16-of-27 for 192 yards with no touchdowns but crucially no interceptions. T.Y. Hilton still managed to have an 85 yards game and was once again Luck’s most targeted receiver. No other receiver had over 50 yards receiving and only one other saw over five targets, Nyheim Hines.
Instead the Colts used the run game effectively. Marlon Mack was the main weapon, with 139 yards on 27 carries and adding two crucial touchdowns. Mack did fumble but the game was as good as over by that point. The run game has been a key part of the Colts turn around this season and they will be hoping to keep Mack churning down the stretch this season.
This was always a trap game for the Cowboys. They have had so many monster matchups the last few weeks it was always possible they may lay an egg here. In addition, it was just a game the Colts needed more and often that can make a big difference. The concerning thing for the Cowboys is that when Cooper was somewhat shut down their passing offence really struggled. On the Colts side this is a case of winning a game while not playing great on offence. Against a defence like the Cowboy it is really impressive they found away. Ultimately though the headline here is for the Colts defence who proved they can cause teams problems and have now shut down offences for three weeks running.
If you would like more on this game from the Cowboys perspective check out this article from my colleague Chris Milner.
Tennessee Titans 17 @ New York Giants 0
Another game another shut out. This time in the rainy surrounds of MetLife Stadium as the Titans disposed of any threat the Giants may pose. This was an unspectacular game in many regards as both teams struggled to the pass the ball. Marcus Mariota completed just 12-of-20 for 88 yards and Eli Manning was 21-of-44 for 229 yards and an interception.
The difference in this game was the ability to run the ball. The Titans had a great day on the ground as they lent on last weeks hero Derrick Henry. Henry finished the game with 33 carries, 170 yards and two touchdowns. In contrast, Saquon Barkley had 14 carries for just 31 yards.
The key for the Titans is simply that they won. This was a potential trip game and they lent on the power of Henry to carry them through it. They will need more from the passing game at some point but for now they just need to ride Henry again next week against the Redskins and hope he can carry them to another win and potential winner takes all game in Week 17.
Houston Texans 29 @ New York Jets 22
I do not want to spend a huge amount of time on this game as my colleague Alex Riley wrote about it Sunday. DeAndre Hopkins was the key to this game for the Texans as he had 170 of DeShaun Watson’s 294 passing yards. Outside of that it was a pretty ugly game offensively for the Texans. Even defensively they were not able to stop rookie quarterback Sam Darnold from moving the ball on them and that will be concerning.
The crucial thing for the Texans is that with the Patriots loss this win took them to the #2 seed. That is incredily important for a team who have a decent home field advantage but have not looked great on the road. Although we did see the Colts go into Houston and win last weekend so the Texans will want to win their final home game against the Jaguars in Week 17.
Saying that though, we keep talking about the Texans playing badly and winning and it being a good thing. However, it is one thing to play badly and beat good teams but when you play badly and beat bad teams that should bring about some concerns. The Texans need to have a solid game on the road in Philadelpha next week or they could lose the #2 seed they gained this weekend.
Jacksonville Jaguars 13 vs. Washington Redskins 16
Cody Kessler had more rushing yards than passing yards in this game for the Jaguars. Oh and he led the team in rushing on just six attempts. Yes those two stats probably explain how the Jaguars lost this game. If it was not for a Dede Westbrook punt return they would have been held touchdownless for the second time in three games.
The Redskins did just enough and amazingly they remain alive in the NFC playoff race with Josh Johnson at quarterback. Whether they can have the same level of success against Tennessee next week is doubtful but for now there remains hope.
Image credit: Yahoo