The Bills have struggled on offense from the start of the season. Some of those struggles can be linked to inconsistency at the quarterback position and turnover at head coach and offensive coordinator, but the primary reason they are currently 29th in the league in points scored and 30th in passing yards per game has been injuries and spotty play along the offensive line.
Left tackle Jonathan Scott has the frame to play the position at 6-foot-6 and 318 pounds, but he is not strong or aggressive at the point of attack and is light-footed for such a large man. If Dwight Freeney sees significant playing time — which is unlikely, but possible — he should be able to run around or through Scott with little difficulty. Regardless, Ervin Baldwin and Raheem Brock should also be productive against Scott.
Right tackle Kirk Chambers is another rangy player that can be beat off the line or simply run over. He tends to lean into blocks, which eliminates any leverage he gains with his legs and makes it easier for a defender to overpower him. Robert Mathis is actually a good matchup for Chambers, but he will also play sparingly if at all, so Keyunta Dawson needs to get into his body and push him where he wants him to go. Dawson has more size and strength than Mathis, so he might be more effective both in the running game and the pass rush than would Mathis.
The strength of this unit is along the interior, where Buffalo center Geoff Hangartner is quick and strong and is used almost as another pulling guard and rookie left guard Andy Levitre is playing well in the running game and starting to get the hang of things in pass protection.
The Bills recently signed right guard Richie Incognito off waivers and he has started the past two games. Incognito has always been a gifted player with a short fuse and he eventually wore out his welcome with the Rams. St. Louis released Incognito following a sideline altercation that he had with head coach Steve Spagnuolo during a 47-7 loss to Tennessee in Week 14.
Buffalo has not run the ball effectively up the middle, though, averaging only 3.63 yards per carry. They prefer to run behind their guards and have averaged 4.7 yards per carry running behind either Levitre or Incognito.
It really depends on how quick of a hook Antonio Johnson and Daniel Muir are given. If they play into the second half, the Colts should be able to stop the Bills on the ground between the tackles. If not, Eric Foster and some combination of Brock, Dawson, and John Gill will get pushed around and the Buffalo running backs should be able to easily get to the second level.
The interesting side of this matchup is whether or not the Bills just decide to run the ball until it stops working, or if they decide to pass the ball in order to mix things up. When they do throw, Indianapolis has very favorable matchups at every position along the line regardless of who is coming in the pass rush. If the Colts are able to bottle up the running game early, then it could be a very long afternoon for Ryan Fitzpatrick, who hopes to return in Week 17.
Bringing in Terrell Owens was the biggest move of the offseason for Buffalo and he currently leads the team 51 receptions and 764 receiving yards. But, this is not a potent passing attack, so those numbers need some perspective. That's fewer receptions than Austin Collie and fewer receiving yards than Pierre Garcon. He also has the same number of receptions as Joseph Addai and the same number of receiving touchdowns (four).
The Bills struggled to get the ball down the field against Atlanta in Week 16 with Brian Brohm making his starting debut, as Owens averaged ten yards a reception on four catches and big play threat Lee Evans — averaging 14.1 yards per catch this season — was held to eight yards per reception. Both players had a long gain of 15 yards.
The deep passing attack has been more successful with Fitzpatrick at the helm and Brohm did not look comfortable at all as Buffalo scored only three points on a third quarter field goal when they were already way behind. The Bills have been fairly effective working the ball underneath in the short passing game to Josh Reed and their tailbacks, but working the ball underneath plays directly to the strength of the Indianapolis defense.
Buffalo needs to work the intermediate and deep middle and work the sidelines on ten and 15-yard outs. Unfortunately for them, the weather forecast calls for temperatures in the 20s, snow showers, and possible gusting winds. Fitzpatrick and Brohm have difficulty getting enough zip on the ball in those pass patterns in controlled climates, so it is unlikely that the conditions on Sunday will do them any favors.
Fred Jackson has been a pleasant surprise for the Bills this season playing in place of former first round selection Marshawn Lynch. Lynch was suspended for the first two games of the season and Jackson flourished in the starting role.
When Lynch returned, he was inconsistent, hesitant to the hole, and had issues as a receiver out of the backfield, so Jackson got the starting job back. He has been serviceable so far in 2009, averaging 4.2 yards per attempt on 204 carries with two touchdowns and also contributing 44 receptions for 356 yards and a touchdown.
Neither back is a home run threat, though they can both break a long run if given sufficient blocking. They cannot, however, create a big play on their own, so as long as Gary Brackett and Clint Session stay in their gaps and don't get overwhelmed by the Buffalo blockers, they should be fine.
The primary advantage for Buffalo in this game is that both Lynch and Jackson run very well in inclement weather. Lynch is averaging only 3.8 yards per carry, but has the kind of low-to-the-ground, short striding running style that is ideal for snowy conditions. Jackson has a very similar running style to to Lynch and does not dance or cut very often, so it is unlikely that he will slip and fall, leading to a negative play or a missed opportunity.
Stemming from poor line play, inconsistency at quarterback, and the fact that now deposed head coach Dick Jauron fired his offensive coordinator one week before the season started, the Bills passing attack has not been able to find its stride thus far this season.
With poor weather, a strong Colts pass defense — even if the starters are rested, most of the reserves have been in the starting line-up at some point in 2009 -- and a choice between Fitzpatrick and Brohm, it is highly unlikely that Buffalo will suddenly find their groove on Sunday.
They rank 26th, 20th, and 14th to the short left, short middle, and short right areas of the field, averaging 4.99, 6.77, and 5.6 yards respectively. The one area of the field where they have had success is the deep right, where they rank 11th in the league with 12.95 yards per attempt. But, if you take out the 98 yard touchdown reception that Owens had in Week 11, that average drops to 10.59 yards per pass. They rank 31st in yards per attempt to the deep middle with 7.71 and 26th in yards per attempt to the deep left, with 7.33.
Their best shot will be to get the running game started and hope to take advantage of the backup safeties for the Colts by throwing deep off of play action. If they keep pushing and Indianapolis keeps putting in reserve players, eventually Buffalo can wear down the Indianapolis defense and be successful by winning the battle of attrition, not the individual matchups in play.
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