The Buffalo Bills have a tough Week 1 matchup against the Indianapolis Colts. The Colts have dominated the AFC South and last year the team made it all the way to the AFC Championship Game. With such a difficult matchup to open the season, here are five questions to ponder entering Week 1.
1. Can Buffalo’s run defense stop Frank Gore without Marcell Dareus?
One player doesn’t make a defense, but when it comes to run defense Marcell Dareus is one of the best in the business. In fact, the defensive tackle was Pro Football Focus’ No. 1 player in terms of run defense last season with a +20.7 rating.
Unfortunately, Dareus will be serving his one game suspension on Sunday when the Buffalo Bills take on the Indianapolis Colts. Can Corbin Bryant, Dareus’ replacement, and the rest of the Bills front seven slow down Colts running back Frank Gore? It’s a fair question to ask, especially after last year’s game against the Oakland Raiders.
Against the Raiders, Dareus and the Bills were shutting down Latavius Murray early. In six carries, the back had five yards. It was on Murray’s sixth carry that Dareus was injured. From that point on, Murray looked like a different running back. He finished the day with 86 yards on 23 carries, and 81 of those yards came on 17 carries without Dareus in the lineup.
That performance came in Jim Schwartz’s defense and Dennis Thurman’s defense will be much different, but the success of Buffalo’s run defense will go a long way in determining if Buffalo can win in Week 1. Containing Gore in his Colts debut is crucial.
On paper, the answer should be an astounding yes. Indianapolis’ run defense was in the bottom half of the league last season. The Colts allowed 1,814 yards and 14 touchdowns on 423 attempts (4.3 YPC) last season. Indianapolis will be without their starting defensive end Arthur Jones and their line, featuring Kendall Langford, David Parry and Henry Anderson won’t be mentioned among the best in the league.
McCoy and Williams could both have a lot of success on the ground for the Bills on Sunday as long as the offensive line can create lanes for the backs. The left side of Buffalo’s line looked very strong in the preseason, so it wouldn’t be a surprise to see Buffalo find success running the ball behind Cordy Glenn and Richie Incognito.
Last year, the Colts allowed 113.4 yards per game on the ground. McCoy, Williams and Tyrod Taylor could really do damage running on the Colts this Sunday.
3. Can Tyrod Taylor continue his strong play with the Colts game planning against him?
Taylor did everything right this preseason. He showed tremendous accuracy in the pocket and kept defenses off balance with his running ability. While he was outstanding, opposing defenses don’t game plan much in the preseason.
On Sunday, the Colts will certainly have a plan in place to keep Taylor from breaking off big runs. They’ll certainly also try to throw some blitzes at Taylor to shake the quarterback in his first start. If Taylor can overcome Indianapolis’ defensive plans successfully, there’s no doubt that Buffalo’s chances of victory will be incredibly high.
4. How will Ronald Darby fare in his first start at cornerback?
Darby was put out on an island throughout the preseason and the results varied. He had a strong game against the Browns, but had quite a few struggles against the Panthers and Steelers in terms of catches allowed and penalties.
Against the Colts, Buffalo isn’t going to put Darby out on an island often. He’ll be given safety help throughout the game, which should limit the amount of big plays that come against him. That said, Darby needs to limit his aggressiveness in terms of keeping his hands off of opposing receivers. Referees won’t hesitate to throw flags against a rookie cornerback if they feel he’s being too aggressive.
Even with safety help, Andrew Luck will likely target Darby whenever he possibly can.
5. Can Buffalo’s defense frustrate another top quarterback?
Last year, Buffalo’s defense frustrated the likes of Peyton Manning and Aaron Rodgers. It was a different scheme, but the talent on the defensive side of the ball largely remains the same.
The Bills will throw their fair share of exotic looks at Luck and the Colts on Sunday. Completely stopping Luck isn’t possible, but Buffalo’s defense can fluster Indianapolis’ quarterback on Sunday. If the Bills defense gets to Luck early in the game, they could force the quarterback into making some mistakes. There’s no doubt that Rex Ryan and Dennis Thurman will throw the kitchen sink at Luck on Sunday. If they can get after the quarterback and limit his time to find receivers, Buffalo will have a great shot of winning their home opener.