One of my favorite things to do during the Buffalo Bills regular season each year is to exchange questions with the lead blogger for the team site covering that week's Bills opponent. This is the ninth season I've been doing it now, and I have yet to grow weary of the exercise. There's always an interesting tidbit or two to pick up on, and when the opposing team site is as level-headed and civil as Stampede Blue has been this week, it's all the more worthwhile.
Josh Wilson, who took over management duties of Stampede Blue a little over a year ago, kindly took the time to answer the five questions I had for him about this week's Bills-Colts opener.
An outsider's perspective is always interesting, so: what are your overall impressions of the Bills heading into a matchup with the Colts?
Wilson: I like the Bills a lot - well, for the most part. I think the Bills have one of the most talented defenses in the entire league, and I think we saw that on the field last year, and I'd expect to see much of the same this year. And then adding Rex Ryan to the mix should only help the unit be even better this year. I liked the addition of LeSean McCoy, because not only is he one of the best running backs in the NFL, but he also should help a Bills offense that is largely underwhelming. I still have major questions about their quarterback position, and while Tyrod Taylor looked good in the preseason, I'm not ready to count on him being a standout quite yet. I do think the combination of McCoy and this defense will be enough to make the Bills a good team this year and make a strong push for a playoff spot, but I always am cautious with a team that has questions like this at quarterback. We saw last year with several teams that, for as talented as they might be, the quarterback position is still the most important. So I still have legitimate questions, but I think the talent level they have all around, plus their new head coach, will make them a very tough team to play, and make them a team that could make the playoffs (or at least make a very strong push for it).
What is your feeling on Robert Mathis' availability for this game? If he does play, do you expect him to play very much?
Wilson: As of right now, we have no official word on whether Mathis will play on Sunday or not, but it seems that the general feeling is that he'll be back out there in a limited role. I don't expect a whole lot out of Mathis right away, as he's a 34-year old pass rusher adjusting to playing in a game again after tearing his Achilles, but even then, he's Robert Mathis, and could help the Colts' defense for sure. If he does play on Sunday, he'll be on a limited snap count, and will likely be used just as a situational pass rusher.
The Colts have changed a lot of parts up front on the offensive line this offseason. Has that unit looked improved from the 2014 outfit this preseason?
Wilson: I think that, just like last season, the offensive line play was a mixed bag in preseason. For much of the time that the first team was in, we saw them do pretty well in pass protection, but not so well in run blocking. There was, of course, a very rough game (against Chicago) in which the Colts struggled mightily in pass protection, but when taking all of the games into account, that seemed to be more of an aberration. That's not to say that this offensive line will be great at protecting Andrew Luck, but they did enough to give him time to throw and make plays for much of the preseason. The run blocking was another story, and that's something that we'll be watching this week - can the Colts' line make enough holes for Frank Gore and the other backs to make plays? Too often in the preseason, the play was stopped before the back had much of a chance.
So to sum it all up, I think that the Colts' line will be somewhere slightly below average again this year, which still concerns many people. The biggest thing that they've done this year in camp and preseason is be completely committed to the same starting five, as last year they changed it up way, way too much. The hope is that the continuity developed by the starting unit can pay dividends. Let's put it this way: I don't think the offensive line will be any worse than it was last year, and I think there's reason to think it could be slightly better because of the continuity.
Arthur Jones is on IR and Josh Chapman was released. What should we expect in terms of quality of play and playing time rotation with the Colts' defensive line?
Wilson: The Colts are expected to start two rookies along the defensive line, along with Kendall Langford, who has the longest consecutive-start streak of any defensive lineman in the NFL. It's a diverse group in that regard, and we really don't know what to expect from them yet because they are so inexperienced. Henry Anderson and David Parry were both drafted this year by the Colts and have a lot of potential, plus they fit into the system very well. But they'll have that adjustment period that comes with any player entering the NFL. I think that, long-term, there's a lot to like about Anderson and Parry along the line for the Colts, but I won't be surprised at all to see them have some struggles early on in the season.
How much can we expect to see of talented youngsters Donte Moncrief and Phillip Dorsett on Sunday, given the skill depth and quality veteran free agent additions that the Colts now boast?
Wilson: It's expected that both Moncrief and Dorsett should see significant playing time this season. The Colts are loaded at the wide receiver position, and are expected to use more three-wide sets this year, and that third receiver will be either Moncrief or Dorsett depending upon matchups. I would think that they will both see playing time this Sunday, and will both likely see targets, since Luck does a good job of spreading the football around. It really all depends on how much the team uses the three-wide formations, but it seems likely that the frequency of those formations will increase for the Colts this year. With that said, however, we'll see the two young receivers in another setting, as Dorsett is expected to be the punt returner and Moncrief is expected to be the kick returner.