Colts at Bills: What to watch for Sunday

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INDIANAPOLIS – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts Sunday meeting with the Buffalo Bills in Orchard Park, N.Y.

  • Kickoff: 1 p.m.
  • Broadcast: CBS4.

History lesson

We’ll keep bringing this up until the Colts do something about it. They’ve lost their last eight games against teams that reached the 2020 playoffs. Their last win against that group: a 34-31 overtime nod over Green Bay at Lucas Oil Stadium in week 11 last season.

And that streak includes the 27-24 loss to Buffalo in a first-round playoff meeting at Bills Stadium in January.

For those interested, the Bills lead the overall series 38-32-1 – remember, these were long-time rivals in the AFC East – and have won three of the last four. The Colts won the most recent regular-season meeting: 37-5 in 2018 in Indy. That game turned out to be the catalyst of a nine-wins-in-10 games streak after a 1-5 start in Frank Reich’s first season as head coach.

Who are these guys?

We’re talking about the Colts and Bills. Buffalo is 6-3 and the No. 2 seed in the AFC behind Tennessee (8-2). The Colts check-in at 5-5 and the No. 10 seed.

But it’s fair to wonder if we know enough about either team.

The Colts’ five wins have come against teams with a combined 12-34 record (.261). The combined record of the six teams whipped by the Bills: 18-39 (.316). Buffalo is 1-2 against teams with a winning record. It overwhelmed the Kansas City Chiefs in Arrowhead Stadium 38-20, but lost its opener at Pittsburgh 23-16 and dropped a 34-31 decision at Tennessee.

We should know a ton more about each of these teams Sunday evening.

Ball security

We’re primarily looking at you, Carson Wentz. Through 10 games, he’s done a pretty good job of taking care of the football. Yes, there were those two awful decisions/interceptions against the Titans in week 8, but otherwise, his aggressiveness/risk-taking hasn’t put the Colts in adverse situations. His three interceptions are 2nd-fewest among qualifying starters (Kirk Cousins with two). Wentz’s 1.9% interception rate is tied with Russell Wilson for 2nd best in NFL history.

In 10 games, the Wentz has six turnovers – three fumbles to go with the interceptions – and the Colts have only 10. They’ve been turnover-free in four games and didn’t suffer a turnover in the playoff loss to the Bills in January.

The Bills figure to put all of that to the test. They lead the league with 24 takeaways and a plus-14 in the takeaway/giveaway category – the Colts are second with 19 and a plus-11 – and have a league-best 15 interceptions. Nine different Bills have at least one interception, led by safeties Jordan Poyer (four) and Micah Hyde (four).

Put the football at risk, and Wentz likely will pay the price.

“Just got to be smart,’’ he said. “It’s a credit to them. It’s a good defense. We know that. Just got to avoid those mistakes. We’ve done a good job of avoiding turnovers and putting the ball on the ground. We’ve got to keep doing that.’’

Consider it one of those cause-and-effect situations. In their six wins, the Bills are a plus-17 with 22 takeaways. In the three losses, they’re a minus-3 and have committed five of their 10 total giveaways.

Pressure and contain Allen

Duh. But that’s easier said than done.

Josh Allen is one of those rare duel threats, similar but certainly not on the level of Baltimore’s Lamar Jackson. He’s Buffalo’s 2nd-leading rusher (322 yards and three TDs on 59 attempts), and that’s not simply a result of his ability to avoid pressure and scramble. Occasionally, Allen is the primary ball carrier.

When an offside penalty against Kemoko Turay gave the Bills new life with 30 seconds remaining at the end of the first half in the playoff game, Allen accounted for the final 20 yards with a QB draw and a keeper around the right side for a TD. He finished the game with 54 yards on 11 carries, both team highs.

If Allen isn’t taking off and running, he’s extending a play to allow Stefon Diggs, Cole Beasley, Emmanuel Sanders or someone else to work open. He turned in several of those improv plays in the playoff win over the Colts, including a pair to Gabriel Davis on the closing drive in the first half.

“Josh Allen does a great job of extending plays with his legs,’’ linebacker Darius Leonard said. “His receivers, they remind me somewhat of the Kansas City team. I mean, like whenever they know he’s out of the pocket, now it’s backyard football: ‘We’ve got to get open.’

“I was watching the game from last year and seeing the plays when he extends. It was a 35-yard pass, a 28-yard pass. We’ve got to make sure we try and take that away because that’s what they are really good at.’’

The Colts’ challenge is magnified with starting safeties Julian Blackmon and Khari Willis on IR. Andrew Sendejo and George Odum are the likely starters again. Also, cornerback Xavier Rhodes is battling a calf injury.

Turning up the pressure on Allen would greatly aid the back end. Allen has been sacked 10 times in Buffalo’s three losses and just four times in the six wins. In the 9-6 loss at Jacksonville, the Jaguars had four sacks and 19 pressures.

Rookie right tackle Spencer Brown was placed on the COVID-19 list Thursday and left guard Jon Feliciano remains on the COVID-19 list.

It’s incumbent upon rookie Kwity Paye, DeForest Buckner, Al-Quadin Muhammad and the rest to turn up the pressure on Allen, and not allow him to do damage outside the pocket.

Ride Taylor and the run game

This seems like a weekly segment. We need to find a sponsor.

Sunday offers one of those premier matches. Jonathan Taylor is tied for the NFL rushing lead (937 yards) and the Colts’ run game ranks 6th in yards per game (136.3) and 3rd in yards per attempt (5.1). The Bills’ run defense ranks 3rd in yards per game (83.9) and yards per attempt (3.8).

One more: Taylor has clicked off a league-best nine runs of at least 20 yards while the Bills have allowed just three, tied for 2nd-fewest in the league.

Taylor has piled up at least 100 yards in five of his last seven games, and eight in his 26-game career. The Colts are 8-0 in those games.

In the playoff meeting, the Colts out-rushed Buffalo 163-96 as Taylor finished with 78 and Nyheim Hines 75.

And the winner in: Bills 27, Colts 23. 

Our rear end hurts from straddling the fence all week on this one. We can envision Wentz, Taylor, Michael Pittman Jr. and the defense doing enough to pull off the upset. Shoot, the Colts were within a play or two of stunning the Bills in January. But until the Colts win one of these games against upper-tier teams, we remain skeptical.

Listen to the Colts Blue Zone Podcast for weekly coverage and analysis of the Indianapolis Colts.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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