Grave: “A grave event or situation; is very serious, important, and worrying.”Collins Dictionary
Before we come to the matter at hand, we must recognize the graveness of the situation the Buffalo Bills now find themselves in. The Patriots have won five straight games and (last night) managed the Atlanta Falcons with relative ease. Meanwhile, the Indianapolis Colts have won four of their last five. Both teams are surging, while many worry or purport that the Bills are simply coasting. Should the Bills lose this Sunday, they will be locked into an all-out brawl with the New England Patriots for the division title. In fact, the rest of the season starts now. From here on out consider every game, every down, every snap, to be the difference between ultimate elation and utter deflation.
The buck stops at Highmark on Sunday and this wild Colt team, led by Bills legend Frank Reich, is expecting to come out on top. This is a matchup not to be taken lightly. The Colts feature the league’s leading rusher, an RB who I argue is superior to Derrick Henry because of passing game production. They also have one of the heaviest, tallest, and most stout offensive lines in the league, which now finally has all five starters healthy. The Colts are a worthy adversary. Defeating them will not be easy for a Bills team with some crucial absentee players.
DT Star Lotulelei’s absence significantly hampers the interior run D. Meanwhile, Spencer Brown’s absence makes pass protection exponentially more difficult, inconsistent, and unreliable. Spencer Brown makes a massive difference up front. (Who would have thought that prior to the season?) What he lacks in technical polish, he more than makes up for in sheer athletic prowess. Many Colts players have both the former and the latter in spades. Without further ado, what is the intelligence scoop on these 2021 Colts? Read on to find out.
SPY 1: A Taylor-Made Rusher
As briefed in the introduction, I start this section with a bold claim. Jonathan Taylor is the superior to Derrick Henry. This is for two reasons, one general and the other specific. Firstly, Jonathan Taylor is far more versatile in an all-aspect manner. Imagine if you combined the traits of Derrick Henry and Christian McCaffrey into a hybrid RB. This is my interpretation of Taylor. He runs powerfully like Henry. He is as elusive as Christian McCaffrey and has the receiving skills of Alvin Kamara. Taylor also has the contact balance of Nick Chubb. He is as swift as Chase Edmonds. He has the raw speed of Joe Mixon.
Taylor’s most effective trait, however, is none of the above. Taylor is hyper-intelligent. Drill down on this and you realize that it unmasks sub-traits enabled by the intelligence. Taylor’s intelligence allows him to be both vigilant and patient. He’s vigilant in the sense that he will not often be forced into, or get caught up in, the defense’s scheme. He’s patient in the sense that he can read the play, adjust his throttle, and change direction on the fly, in real-time. Once Taylor identifies a pathway on a zone run, he exploits it and becomes a gashing type of runner, slashing through before exploding out into the open field. If he gets to the second level, he is nearly impossible to bring down. Nothing short of rally tackles, trip ups, and 100% sound wrap ups or stand ups will neutralize him. Anything less than that, Taylor will not yield.
In Week 9 vs the New York Jets, Taylor felled the winged beast on a 78-yard gash up the right sideline on a simple outside zone run.
This clip shows that Taylor does not need much space with which to affect a good run. Even with a good push from his offensive line, Taylor’s anticipation, patience, and explosiveness make this play happen. In little more than a single second, Taylor has cleared the runway of Jets and is off to the races.
VERDICT: Jonathan Taylor is a lethal weapon, the greatest weapon on the Indianapolis Colts offense. Containing him will be virtually impossible, despite the Bills’ elite defense. That defense may be without Tremaine Edmunds (who is a tackling machine) once again and Star Lotulelei shielding the trenches. I expect Jonathan Taylor to be productive against the Bills and sustain his consistency in what has been his most effective season to date. The most effective way to stop Taylor may rest on the shoulders of Josh Allen and the offense. Putting up a massive number of points on the board, and doing so early, will function as a shield against the run game, rendering it useless by way of game-script and flow.
SPY 2: Challenged Receiving Corps
Beyond Michael Pittman, the Colts receiving core is mostly ineffective compared to other receiving corps around the league. These Colts receivers will be facing (arguably) the best secondary in the league at the back of the Bills defense. If Pittman and Zach Pascal can be neutralized by the Tre White and Levi Wallace, the Colts receiving corps is essentially paralyzed. However, the Colts do have receiving threats beyond the WR room. Namely, Taylor, Nyheim Hines, Moe Allie-Cox, and Jack Doyle. Though I expect the Bills to cover them with Matt Milano, Taron Johnson, or a combination thereof. Interestingly, Colts QB Carson Wentz leads the entire NFL in passing air yards, per Pro Football Reference. I am discarding this as “non-circumstantial”, as it pertains to this matchup because the Indianapolis Colts have not played a secondary even close to the level that the Bills secondary plays and performs at.
SPY 3: Darius Leonard
To be frank, Darius Leonard is one of the best linebackers in the NFL. He is the heart of the Indianapolis Colts defense. He is its’ quarterback and its’ captain. Curiously, Leonard has no sacks yet in the 2021 season. That said, he is more than making up for that by playing the true linebacker role instead of acting as a rush-centric LB. This is demonstrative that Leonard has developed and has expanded his purveyance of the field by doing more as an overall defender.
Leonard has already tied his career high in fumbles forced with four thus far. He also has five passes defensed and two interceptions which, when extrapolated for a 17-game season, shows that he will post career highs in these categories. In fact, Leonard is shaping up to have a career year in most major statistical categories. The biggest threat that Leonard poses is his proclivity to precept and subvert the offense’s plans on a given play. This is to say that he affects the play before it has a chance to develop.
VERDICT: Employing mismatches against Leonard will be crucial to overcoming him. Expect Dawson Knox to fill this role in earnest. Leonard will be hampered (to some degree) by an ankle injury and has missed practice time this week.
SPY 4: DeForest Buckner
It is highly unlikely Buckner plays this week, as he is listed on the Colts injury report with three separate injuries. The severity of these injuries is currently unknown. Normally, I would, without hesitation, acknowledge Buckner as the Colts best pass rusher. I still will recognize he has been extremely effective this season. Every year that Buckner has been with the Indianapolis Colts, he has shown improvement. If Buckner does play on Sunday, I expect it to be a limited deployment, likely on a snap count and accompanied by a significant reduction in effectiveness.
DARKHORSE BONUS POINT
The ESPN Power Index is a systematic analytical matrix which judges a team’s strength of victory of opponents. The thought process is that the higher the power index (FPI) number is, the more dominant that team is. This does fluctuate throughout the course of a season. Buffalo currently hold the top spot for FPI rankings posting a score of 8.6 and trended up to this spot just this week, after having demolished the New York Jets. On the other hand, the Indianapolis Colts are ranked in the middle of the league (16th), with a FPI of 0.6. This is due to their early season struggles, common inconsistency, and weak pass defense. The meaning of all this is, that, from an analytical standpoint based on a statistical approach, the Bills are the more dominant team in this matchup.
Each opponent will be ranked on a 1-10 scale. The higher the number = the greater the threat to the Bills.
Threat Rating = 8
Note: Most statistics were gathered from Pro Football Reference. This is an excellent resource and I recommend it to anyone seeking an extensive depository of football data.
In closing, please follow The Buffalo Fanatics on all platforms, trust the process and go Bills.
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