Welcome to Week Seven of the NFL season. Here at 300 Level Media, we will attempt to inform and educate our readers about the Buffalo Bills’ upcoming opponent and what each team might do to emerge victorious.
The Bills’ seventh game of the 2018 season will take place in Indianapolis as they take on the Colts. Here’s what to watch for:
INDY REBUILDING ON DEFENSE
Colts head coach Frank Reich – the former backup to Hall of Famer Jim Kelly – spent the early part of his coaching career working for Indy as Peyton Manning’s quarterbacks coach. During that time period, his boss was another Hall of Famer in Tony Dungy, who believed in a straightforward Cover Two defensive scheme that allowed his guys to play fast and rely on execution rather than outsmarting the opposition.
Reich has returned the Colts to that mindset, bringing in staff members who have ties to the Dungy coaching tree in defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus, defensive backs coach Alan Williams and defensive line coach Mike Phair. The problem is they have very little depth on that side of the ball, which limits their creativity.
Defensive end Jabaal Sheard is one of the best run-defending linemen in the league, but creating pressure in the pocket isn’t his strong suit. Conversely, his counterpart Margus Hunt, a former project in Cincinnati, has gotten off to a good start with four sacks in five games but is bound to cool off at some point.
Beyond those two, the only other defender of note is second-year safety Malik Hooker, who was compared by some to Ed Reed when coming out from Ohio State. Hooker has had injury troubles in the pros, but when healthy, he has played well.
Colts kicker Adam Vinatieri is also ten points away from surpassing Hall of Famer Morten Andersen as the NFL’s all-time leading scorer.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO – FOR THE MOST PART – LUCK
Reich and offensive coordinator Nick Sirianni had a tough task on their hands coming into this season. Coming off of shoulder surgery that kept him out of all of last season – and not having one of the NFL’s better offensive lines over his career to boot – quarterback Andrew Luck needed to change something in his game in order to stay healthy.
Rather than attempt most of his passes out of plays where he took seven-step drops and create on the run, it was believed that Reich and Sirianni would attempt to get him to take more three and five-step drops and get the ball out of his hands quickly and accurately. The problem with that approach is, it would take away from one of Luck’s greatest strengths.
According to Andy Benoit of the MMQB, “Luck is at his best when he extends plays. Most quarterbacks go sandlot when they prolong the action, but Luck understands which routes beat which coverages late, and he consistently spots receivers coming open by keeping his eyes downfield and moving within the pocket. His accuracy on tough throws is exceptional. You take those virtues away when you ask him to get rid of the ball sooner.”
So far, Reich and Sirriani have asked Luck to throw the ball so much – due to a lack of a running game from second year back Marlon Mack and company – that he is on pace to set league records for most pass attempts and completions in a season. Which is a precarious position to put him in, given his health issues.
Luck’s best target is wide receiver T.Y. Hilton, who may or may not play due to injury. Hilton is reminiscent of former Bills wideout Lee Evans in that he is a one-trick pony, but he is one of the NFL’s best at that one trick – getting open on deep routes. The problem for Hilton is that he struggles against press coverage due to his smallish frame. If he plays, watch for the Colts to send him in motion to create more space between him and defenders.
The Colts’ offensive line is mostly young, save for veteran left tackle Anthony Costanzo. Center Ryan Kelly is only in his third year, and guards Quinton Nelson and Braden Smith are rookies. Right tackle Joe Haeg is injured. The Bills may attack this by asking their defensive line to run a lot of twists, stunts and slants, and test that young line’s communication.
Tight end Eric Ebron, formerly of the Detroit Lions, is a good route-runner and is explosive wherever he lines up – on the line, out wide or in the slot. But he’s such a bad blocker that when he comes into the game, defenses know it will likely be a pass. Luckily for Indianapolis, they also have a very good blocking tight end in Jack Doyle.
ANDERSON GETS THE CALL FOR BUFFALO
35-year old Derek Anderson, a former Pro Bowler and 14-year veteran, will get the starting nod for Buffalo as the injured Josh Allen sits out. Anderson, while boasting more experience than Allen and the beleaguered Nathan Peterman, will have his own issues to deal with in this game in that he doesn’t fully know the Bills’ offensive system because he signed with his new team less than two weeks ago.
Luckily for Sean McDermott and offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, they each have familiarity with him – McDermott from his time in Carolina and Daboll coached him in Cleveland in 2009. So they each should have an understanding of what he can and cannot do well. They likely won’t put too much on his plate early, asking him to perform just this week’s gameplan and not have Anderson execute a play he doesn’t know or isn’t comfortable with.
What can Anderson still do at this stage of his career? And how comfortable is he with the Bills’ playbook? We will know by the end of Sunday’s contest.
BILLS’ DEFENSE TURNING INTO AN ELITE UNIT
Over the last several weeks, the Bills’ unit hasn’t just made a turnaround from being one of the worst in Weeks One and Two to respectable. In fact, they’ve become one of the league’s best.
Ranked third overall in yards allowed, sixth against the pass and eighth against the run, McDermott and defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier have done a masterful job. This was exemplified in last week’s game, when the Bills forced Houston – which has had one of the NFL’s better offenses – into turning the ball over four times and registering seven sacks and 12 hits on quarterback DeShaun Watson.
If the Bills can find a way to force the Colts to rely on their running game and not on their passing game – which could be a tall task given how well Indianapolis has done in that regard – then they should have a chance to win on Sunday.
COLTS BOAST KINSHIPS WITH BILLS AND SABRES
Yes, you read that right – not only does Indy have people on their staff who have worked for the Bills, but they also have an association with the Buffalo Sabres as well.
In addition to having Reich and former Bills strength and conditioning coach Rusty Jones (1985-2004) in their employ – with Jones as their Director of Sports Performance – longtime Sabres strength and conditioning coach Doug McKenney (1995-2015) has switched sports and assists head man Richard Howell in the same area of focus.
Sirianni is also a Jamestown native.