We are going to be running our preview section for the Bills' opponent earlier than we normally do because of the Holidays. You know the deal by now. It is Know your Enemy..(Drum roll)….Indianpolis Colts edition. We are joined by the fine folks over at the Colts Authority to preview this week's matchup. Enjoy.
1) If you were the opposing offensive and defensive coordinator, how would you attack the Colts?
As an opposing defensive coordinator, I would attack the Colts by attacking their biggest weakness: the offensive line. I would call a lot of stunts and twists, techniques that have given the Colts fits all year, and a fair share of blitzes. On the back end, I would instruct my guys to play more soft coverages. The Colts love the deep ball, and until they showed a willingness to take the underneath stuff on a regular basis, my first priority would be preventing the deep ball.
If I were coaching the Bills offense, my game plan would be simple: a lot of 3-step drops from Fitzpatrick, and a fair share of slants and crossing routes from my receivers. On longer pass plays, I would pressure the Colts safeties, Antoine Bethea and Tom Zbikowski with vertical plays towards the middle of the field, and then take advantage of the isolated match-up of WR Stevie Johnson vs whoever. And, of course, I would find a way to get CJ Spiller (and, if he's healthy, Fred Jackson) involved as much as possible. Screens, wheel routes, and a good number of hand-offs to keep this Colts defense off-balance and guessing.
2) How good is Andrew Luck? Is he as good as advertised or is it kind of a byproduct where fans/media always seem to gravitate to an upstart rookie? In other words, is he great for a rookie or is he great for a franchise QB?
I always try to cover the Colts in an honest, reasonable fashion, but I was a fan first, so there may be some bias here, but Andrew Luck is well on his way to becoming a top-5 quarterback in the NFL (and the CFL, if he wanted). His pocket awareness, mobility, and ability to throw on the run would be remarkable for a player 5 years older, but is just uncanny for a rookie. He still makes the occasional dumb play and is prone to rookie mistakes, but you expect that from a rookie. As he continues to grow, develop, and learn what he can and can't get away with against NFL defenses, I'm comfortable saying he'll be a very good franchise QB for as long as he can stay healthy.
3) I've noticed you guys are 4th in total yards but 21st in scoring, why is that?
Red zone offense, plain and simple. The Colts can move the ball against any defense; they have an amazing amount of speed on the outside with Donnie Avery (who may miss Sunday with a concussion), and rookies TY Hilton and LaVon Brazill. Underneath, WR Reggie Wayne has abused every CB he's faced this year, and rookie TEs Fleener and Allen (especially Allen) have been good at getting open underneath and using their size and athleticism to create mismatches.
All of their problems come in the red zone. Some of this is play calling – OC/IHC Bruce Arians hasn't been at his best when the Colts are close, and he's far too willing to kick FGs from inside the 10 yard line – some of it is a lack of a great red zone play maker – only Allen and Fleener really have the size to be great RZ targets, and they are rookies who are still learning the ropes. In a year or two, the Colts could have a dominating RZ offense, but for now they're wildly inconsistent from inside the 20.
4) Aaron Schatz -who runs football Outsiders website- was on the Buffalo local radio station a week or so ago and said he was shocked the Colts at the time were 6-3. He pretty much thought you guys were overrated and not as good as your record. Do you agree with that and why?
I both agree and disagree with Aaron. The Colts are a surprising 6-4 team. Surprising based on their roster, what they went through this off-season, and what they are going through with their head coach. And I agree, after their 4-game winning streak, they got a little overrated, by both fans and the media. But here's where I disagree: look at the NFL. There just aren't a lot of great teams. The Colts have taken advantage of a really soft schedule, with wins over the Vikings, the Browns, the Titans, and the Jaguars, as well as more surprising victories over the Packers and Dolphins.
But Aaron is forgetting: the NFL is a QB driven league and the Colts got themselves a fine one, and most of the teams they've beat this year have had real questions at that position. So while their 6-4 record is surprising, it shouldn't be stick-your-finger-in-a-light-socket shocking, either.
5) Are there any players Bills fans don't know much about, but should keep an eye out for?
Outside of Luck and Wayne, there are probable 43 unknown guys on this team! I'll give you three to watch out for Sunday: WR TY Hilton, TE Dwayne Allen and RB Vick Ballard. Hilton is a speedster from FIU who has shown a remarkable ability to get open behind opposing secondaries. If Avery is out, Hilton will likely see all of the snaps as the #2 WR, and Luck will be looking for him deep early and often.
Ballard is the Colts 5th round pick out of Mississippi St. He struggled in his first few starts, but has come on recently and has shown good speed and patience when attacking the hole. I expect the Bills to get a heavy dose of the Colts running game this week, and the bulk of those carries will likely go to Ballard.
Everyone heard about TE Coby Fleener, the Colts 2nd-round draft pick from Stanford, and while Fleener had started to come on before injuring his shoulder against the Titans, TE Dwayne Allen has been the better player. The Colts 3rd round pick from Clemson is already a very good blocker in both the passing and running game, and has shown the ability to get open and make the tough catch. The Colts offense is at their most dangerous when they are able to attack with Hilton, Avery, and Brazill deep, and Wayne and Allen underneath, when the defense has backed off to protect itself against the big play.
6) Defensively, you guys have 22 sacks on the season and still have Freeney and Mathis applying pressure. To me, if you have a solid pass rush, you should be able to force turnovers, yet, you guys are last in picks, why is that?
Simple: this Colts secondary wouldn't start for any Division I college team. Injuries have taken starting CBs Jerraud Powers and Vontae Davis off the field, but even if they were healthy, the Colts lack a real dynamic play maker in the secondary. Even the most mediocre opposing QB is able to complete a high percentage of safe passes against this secondary, and it will clearly be one of the primary focuses for GM Ryan Grigson and his staff this off-season.
Regarding the pass rush: the sacks are nice, but the truth is, their only consistent pass rusher this season is Robert Mathis, and he's been saddled with injuries for much of the year. As with the secondary, the Colts lack a real dominating presence on the defensive line, which has allowed opposing offenses to scheme to neutralize the pass rushes from OLBs Mathis, Hughes, and Freeney.
The Colts have an aggressive, creative scheme that should have success attacking opposing defenses in the future, they simply lack the talent to be very successful in the present.