Right end Aaron Schobel is the star of this unit and has quietly had himself a stellar season with ten sacks, three forced fumbles, and an interception, which he returned for a touchdown in Week 1 against the Patriots. He is a tenacious pass rusher that uses his hands, speed, and relentless motor to their fullest extent.
Schobel is only an adequate run defender, though, and often over commits to the pass rush in an attempt to make a game changing play. Tony Ugoh will need help, either from a chipping back or tight end to his side, especially early. The Bills will come out of the gate firing and the first sack or hit that Schobel gets on Peyton Manning will probably spell the end of his day, so the Colts need to make sure that they keep Schobel neutralized by running right at him — teams are averaging over five yards a carry to his side of the field — and double-team him when they drop back to pass.
Former Jaguar Marcus Stroud did not participate in practice on Thursday due to illness, but he should be in the lineup on Sunday. He is a big reason that the only area of the field Buffalo is not getting dominated in is up the middle, as opponents are averaging only 3.84 yards per carry straight up the gut.
Stroud teams with Kyle Williams for a fairly formidable tackle combination, but Williams is also more of an undersized pass rusher than he is a run stopper, so Jeff Saturday, Kyle DeVan, Ryan Lilja, and the Indianapolis reserves should be able to get a push at the point of attack and have some success running up the middle, provided they have any interest in doing so.
Left end Chris Kelsay doesn't have the numbers that Schobel does, with only five sacks this season, but he is another one-way player that has been abused by opponents in the running game. Runs to his direction are averaging 7.92 yards per carry around the end and 6.06 yards per attempt over right tackle.
Michael Toudouze will not have an easy time with Kelsay, but he should be able to use his size and strength to eliminate Kelsay and allow Dallas Clark — or whoever the blocking tight end is to the strong side — to kick out and isolate on the linebacker, giving the Colts plenty of opportunities for big plays to the edge.
Buffalo is the 32nd-ranked run defense in the NFL and their front seven has been pushed around all season. If ever there were an chance for Indianapolis to get Joseph Addai and Donald Brown going, this is it.
Running the ball will limit the effectiveness of the talented pass rushers the Bills have along the front four and limit the number of opportunities the defense has to get to the quarterback. The Colts have given their rushing attack very limited interest in 2009, but this is their shot to finally be productive and prolific with their running attempts against a wounded, overmatched front seven.
In what will emerge as a theme of this defense, the Buffalo linebackers are generally more skilled in coverage than they are against the run. Middle linebacker Paul Poluszny has 99 tackles in only 11 starts, but that has been more a result of numerous opportunities to clean up after the defensive line than a nose for the football.
He does have three interceptions and three forced fumbles, though, so that may make the Bills one of the few teams that Indianapolis cannot attack over the middle in the passing game this season. They should move their tight ends out of the formation in order to take advantage of the edges in the running game and to get them some space matched up against safeties in the passing game.
Outside linebackers Chris Draft and Jon Corto are vulnerable both to the run and to the pass, so, in general Manning and the Colts should avoid the middle of the field and concentrate on some very juicy matchups to the outside. Draft is in his 30s and Corto will likely be making the first start of his career.
In the flavor of the Cover 2 that the Bills run, they ask a lot of their Sam and Will linebackers and Draft and Corto are not up to the challenge. Poluszny is by far the best of this group, so he should be avoided.
The Buffalo secondary has been ravaged by injuries this season, with key contributors Leodis McKelvin and Jairus Byrd on injured reserve and numerous other defensive backs out of the lineup for the balance of the 2009 season.
The Bills still have the league's third-ranked pass defense, which is partly the result of teams being able to run on them at will, but more the result of having talented pass rushers on the defensive line, good coverage linebackers, and a great deal of talent in the secondary, particularly in this system.
Buffalo is allowing only 4.56 yards per attempt to the short left (number one in the league) and 4.91 yards per attempt to the short right (third), so it is unlikely that the Colts will be able to pick them apart underneath.
Ashton Youboty, while a talented young veteran, is still overmatched against a player of Reggie Wayne's caliber. With Austin Collie most likely starting for Pierre Garcon, he will have a tough matchup against Drayton Florence on the other side of the field.
Garçon, if healthy, would be able to take advantage of Florence's aggressive style of play — Colts fans will remember Florence from his days with the Chargers and Jaguars — by running the slant-and-go pattern that he has run effectively with Manning a number of times this season. However, if it is Curtis Painter throwing to Collie or Hank Baskett, the matchup swings decidedly in favor of the Bills.
The best shot Indianapolis will have will be to take advantage of the fact that the ballhawking Byrd is out of the lineup and Donte Whitner has been slowed this week by illness and attempt to get the ball to Wayne or Collie over the top, driving a quick strike stake through the heart of this defense.
The issue, of course, is that the starters for the Colts offense will see limited action. If the Bills secondary can keep everything in front of them in the first quarter and the pass rush can get to Manning, Buffalo should be able to chase the starters out of the game and get the reserves in there to swing the matchups back in their favor.
If the starters can score a couple of quick touchdowns, though, that may be all they need to run the clock out against an impotent Bills offense and a suspect Buffalo run defense.
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