The Buffalo Bills (6-6) host the Indianapolis Colts (3-9) at New Era Field on Sunday, in what, at least on paper, looks like the easiest of their four remaining games of the 2017 regular season as they continue to battle for an AFC playoff spot and end their 17-year postseason drought.
Playoffs aside, the No. 1 topic of discussion surrounding the Bills this week is whether quarterback Tyrod Taylor, who has a knee contusion, will be able to suit up versus the Colts on Sunday. Head coach Sean McDermott has been mum to this point on Taylor, who up to this point hasn’t been able to do much on the field in practice this week.
If Taylor can't play, Bills fans and the rest of the NFL will get another look at Nathan Peterman as a starter, just a few weeks removed his all-time bad, nightmarish regular-season debut.
Also, the Bills will take the field on Sunday without starters Jordan Matthews and Shaq Lawson, who have been placed on injured reserve and will be out for the remainder of the season.
Ahead of the showdown with the Colts, we reached out to Christopher Blystone, who covers the team for fellow SB Nation blog Stampede Blue, and asked him five Colts-Bills questions.
1. Peterman may make his second career start on Sunday. What sort of defensive game plan do you foresee the Colts throwing at the rookie QB and the rest of the Bills offense?
If there is one thing for Bills fans to take heart in, it is that the Colts have made a habit of making bad quarterbacks look good all season long. The Colts have a nearly non-existent pass rush. It appears that we share this frustration with the Bills, as we are tied for 30th in the league in sacks. There simply has been no time this season where the Colts have effectively pressured a quarterback with any kind of consistency.
What is worse, out best cornerback in Rashaan Melvin will likely be out again this week with an injury to his hand. That means that the starting cornerbacks will almost certainly all be rookies. A defense with no pass rush and all rookie corners is about as good a situation as a quarterback can ask for.
I would guess that Monachino will attempt to dial up some blitzes and try to get some pressure on Peterman early and hope to capitalize on the mistakes that might cause. If that doesn’t happen, it may be a long day for the defense.
2. What’s your evaluation of quarterback Jacoby Brissett having seen him play in 12 games for the Colts this season?
After watching him to this point in the season, the conclusion I have arrived at is that Jacoby Brissett is a very good backup quarterback. In fact, he is most likely the best backup in the league. Given the dearth of talent at the quarterback position, he could very likely even start on several rosters. An offense that was tailored to his strengths would make a big difference, and the Colts have done an awful job of doing that for him.
With that said, he has several glaring flaws. The greatest of those is in his decision making. Brissett does not react quickly, is tentative with his reads, and often takes completely unnecessary sacks, simply because he does not make a decision quickly enough. The Colts’ offensive line has gotten a lot of grief in the media for being absolutely manhandled all season. Some of that they deserve, but a lot of the blame goes on Brissett for holding the ball far too long and the rest goes to the coaching staff for designing plays where the routes take much too long to develop for a team with offensive line issues.
Perhaps the most irritating thing about Brissett for me personally is that he doesn’t seem to know how to execute the screen pass at any level. The Colts have a player in Marlon Mack who is a big play waiting to happen at any moment. When the coaching staff accidentally calls a decent play and Mack is able to slide out into the flat and offer an outlet to beat blitzers, Brissett rarely identifies him. On the rare occasion that he does manage to notice Mack is open, his response is to fire the ball at him at maximum velocity. If someone could teach him to throw a pass with some touch and get rid of the ball quicker, he has all the talent to be a starting quarterback in the NFL. Right now, though, he is just a very good backup on a very bad offense.
3. Name a player on the offensive side and one on defense that you expect will make a big impact for the Colts in the game.
I think that rookie running back Marlon Mack has a chance to have his biggest game of the season this week. The strengths that Mack has in breaking big plays, especially against teams that lose contain, are a bad matchup for the Bills’ front seven. The biggest knock on Mack is that he is a bit of a liability in pass protection. If the Bills cannot get to Brissett quickly it will remove a lot of the Colts concerns about keeping Mack in the game. If he can find himself in space, he is a nightmare for defenses, and I think this might be the week he shows that more clearly than he has all season.
On the defensive side of the ball, it is tough to identify any one player who has that ability. Nearly all the Colts’ best defenders have now made their way to injured reserve. If I had to choose one who might have a big impact it would be safety Clayton Geathers. He has been on limited snaps after returning from a neck injury last season that kept him sidelined, but he is probably one of the surest tacklers and run stoppers on this defense. Given the weather forecast, it is likely to be a game that will be won or lost on the ground, and Geathers may make the difference there.
4. With the results they’ve had this season, along with the uncertainty regarding Andrew Luck’s availability, how concerned do you think the Colts front office is with finishing out with a top-five pick in the 2018 draft?
Given their attrition due to injury I am not sure it matters how concerned they are or aren’t. This team simply does not have the talent to finish much better than that at this point. They have had one of the easiest schedules in football and have only managed to scrape out 3 wins, all of which were very nearly losses given their tendency to fall apart late in games.
I know I come across as very negative and down on this team, but the toll the injuries have taken cannot be overstated. There is a lot of young talent on this roster plenty of reason to be optimistic going forward next season upon Andrew Luck’s return. His value to this team when healthy has been made totally apparent by this season and if the Colts are able to add a blue-chip pass rusher or a top-level offensive lineman in the draft, it will go a long way toward righting the ship and making this team competitive again.
General manager Chris Ballard will be foaming at the mouth to get a top draft pick, but I think as a realistic guy, he understands that there is still a lot more that they need to do to be a real contender than simply pick up a top-five guy.
5. What’s your prediction for how the game will play out, and who comes away with a W?
I actually think this could be a very entertaining game to watch. I think we could see a highlight reel of great runs take place in a game where weather might be a factor. Ultimately, the most consistent thing the Colts have done this season is choke away games late, and I expect nothing different this week from them. Bills win 27-21.
Thanks to Chris and the rest of the Stampede Blue staff.