The Indianapolis Colts have made the playoffs for the second time under head coach Frank Reich. The Buffalo Bills and their fans love Reich, but not this week, as the Bills play host to Reich’s Colts in a Wild Card matchup.
The Colts finished with the same record as the Tennessee Titans, but they didn’t win the AFC South Division because the Titans had a better divisional record than Indianapolis. The Colts have plenty of talent on both sides of the ball, and the Bills won’t be able to run away with this one.
Here’s the five Colts we’ll be watching closely this weekend.
The probable Hall of Fame quarterback threw for over 4,000 yards for the eighth consecutive year, finished with over 20 touchdown passes for the 15th straight season, and played in all 16 games for the 15th straight year, as well. Rivers averaged a strong 7.7 yards per attempt on the year, and he was sacked just 19 times behind the Colts’ stellar offensive line. Without tackles Anthony Costanzo and Will Holden, the Bills will have a shot at making Rivers uncomfortable in the pocket, but his lightning-quick release still stands as a big blitz deterrent. Rivers has never lost a game in the Wild Card Round of the playoffs. Taking away his intermediate options and swarming the running backs when he checks down will help the Bills end that streak.
RB Jonathan Taylor
The Colts’ rookie runner absolutely went off in the regular-season finale, as he carried 30 times for 253 yards and two touchdowns in the victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars. That effort put Taylor over 1,000 yards for the season, as he ended the year with 1,169 rushing yards and 11 touchdowns. Since Week 11, Taylor has carried 119 times for 741 yards—an average of 6.2 yards per carry—with seven touchdowns. Since Week 11, Buffalo has averaged right around 94 yards allowed per game on the ground. Containing Taylor will go a long way towards making the Colts do things they don’t want to do, like put the ball in the air 40 times. Buffalo’s explosive offense could also score enough where Taylor gives way to Nyheim Hines, the receiving back in the Colts’ offense, thereby limiting the rookie’s effectiveness. Stopping Taylor early and forcing some three-and-outs could change the whole course of the game.
WR T.Y. Hilton
Sure, the veteran was more dangerous with Andrew Luck than he’s been in the two years since Luck retired; however, Hilton is a legitimate deep threat and a solid receiver at every level of the defense. The Bills might not use Tre’Davious White to shadow him, especially given Levi Wallace’s struggles with big, physical receivers like Michael Pittman Jr. (who is 6’4” and 223 lbs), meaning that Hilton could end up seeing more of Wallace than we’d like. If Wallace and one of Buffalo’s safeties, whether it’s Jordan Poyer or Micah Hyde, can bracket him well and prevent an explosive play, the Bills should be in good shape.
DT DeForest Buckner
Man, this guy is flat-out disruptive. He’s an absolute unit, standing at 6’7” and 300 lbs, and he is a one-man wrecking crew on the interior defensive line. The Bills will have to give guard Ike Boettger some help, sliding Mitch Morse and maybe even keeping Devin Singletary and Zack Moss in to help protect, in order to avoid a situation like what happened with Cameron Heyward and the Pittsburgh Steelers in December. If Buffalo can adjust and neutralize Buckner like the did Heyward in the second half, then all will be well.
LB Darius Leonard
Leonard is already motivated to play the Bills, as he felt slighted by Buffalo selecting Tremaine Edmunds over him in the 2018 NFL Draft. Leonard already has two Pro Bowl nods and an All-Pro selection on his resume through three seasons, and he led the Colts in tackles this year with 132 in just 14 games. He managed seven pass breakups, seven tackles-for-loss, three quarterback hits, three sacks, three forced fumbles, and two fumble recoveries this season. The guy is a stud, and if he’s in the A-gap along with Buckner, that could lead to some serious trouble for the Bills up front. Morse and Allen will have to be sharp in setting the protections pre-snap in order to adjust.