Sully's Mailbag: Big Test for Bills' D against Pass-Happy Colts


Here’s something to consider as you get ready for the Bills’ game on Sunday at Indianapolis: Andrew Luck is on pace to throw 768 passes this season, which would break Matthew Stafford’s record of 727 pass attempts, set in 2012 for the Lions.

Luck is also on pace to shatter the record for pass completions in a season. At his current pace, he would complete 496. Drew Brees set the record of 471 for the Saints two years ago.

So it looks as if a high-flying Buffalo defense will get tested through the air at the RCA Dome. The Bills’ pass defense is sixth in the NFL in yards allowed and third in yards per pass attempt, which is remarkable considering their horrid start in the first two weeks.

Over the last two games, opposing quarterbacks (Marcus Mariota, Deshaun Watson) have passed for just 153 yards a game, with a long reception of 24 yards. Something has to give Sunday. The D will need to contain Luck to have a chance.

On to the Mailbag:

@deejbobbydee asks: What is the difference between the Colts we beat last year and the Colts we see this year? A similar scenario with us plugging in a new QB and all.

Sully: Uh, Andrew Luck is playing. Last year, Luck missed the entire season with complications from a shoulder injury he originally suffered in the 2015 season. Luck recently revealed that he re-injured the torn labrum while snowboarding in the 2016 offseason.

Even healthy, Luck might not have made much of a difference in last year’s game, played in a blinding snowstorm at New Era Field on Dec. 10. The Bills and Colts combined for 97 running plays and only 38 pass plays that day. Jacoby Brissett was 11-for-22 passing for 69 yards for Indy. Brissett will be Luck’s backup in this year’s game.

The Colts have a much different look on offense under new head coach Frank Reich. Frank Gore, who led them in rushing a year ago and had 130 yards in the snow, is in Miami. Second-year back Marlon Mack, who has battled injuries, should get the bulk of the carries against the Bills.

Tight end Eric Ebron, who was signed after being cut by the Lions in March, has 30 catches for 326 and leads all NFL tight ends in touchdowns with six. Ebron was largely disappointing in Detroit after being chosen with the 10th overall pick of the 2014 draft.

The Bills won in overtime, 13-7, on a 21-yard run by LeSean McCoy. McCoy ran 32 times for 156 yards that snowy day. He hasn’t had 100 yards rushing or 30 touches in a game since. The Bills might need him to play at a similarly high level to win on Sunday.


@iansawyer asks: Do I even bother watching the game this week? Keep in mind I live in Iowa and haven’t missed one in 16 years. Go Bills!

Sully: Sounds like a typically conflicted Bills fan. Hey, they’ve won two out of four after that horrible 0-2 start, which had people wondering if they might go 0-16. No team in the league (OK, maybe the Ravens) has played better defense the last four weeks, so you can take comfort in watching the D harass Andrew Luck.

If you’re suggesting the games haven’t been artistic successes lately, I can understand. The last two games (13-12 win over the Titans, 20-13 loss to the Texans) were brutal offensive displays in a year when NFL teams are passing the football and scoring points at a record pace.

The Bills outgunned Tennessee, 223-221, and Houston, 229-216. That’s 889 yards of offense combined over two full games. The Chiefs and Patriots combined for 946 total yards in one game last Sunday night.

I skimmed the Bills’ record book and found that the Bills hadn’t played consecutive games in which neither team reached 230 offensive yards since 1974. So if you like offense, you might want to avert your eyes.


@BillsBackersYVR asks: What will I do when the Bills take a defensive player with their top five pick? You know they won't be able to resist.

Sully: I get where you’re coming from. Head coaches tend to favor their side of the ball. Every new Bills head coach since Marv Levy has taken a player in his specialty with his first draft pick after taking over.

So it was no surprise when Sean McDermott traded out of the 10th overall pick (passing on Patrick Mahomes or Deshaun Watson) at took cornerback Tre'Davious White in 2017. Doug Whaley was a lame-duck general manager at the time and McDermott had been given unprecedented control of the operation by the Pegulas.

Most of the additions in free agency during the past offseason were on defense. The lack of attention to the offense bordered on negligence. So wherever they pick in the first round next spring, they have to give serious consideration to offense — mainly wide receiver.

It’s not projected to be a great receiver draft at the top, however. So given the chance to bolster McDermott's defense, it wouldn’t shock me if they took a defensive player first and tried to fill in with offensive prospects later.


@Erran_Morrad asks: As an impartial observer of the Bills, what was your happiest moment watching the team over the past 10 years?

Sully: It doesn’t matter to me if the Bills win or lose, so my happiness isn’t generally associated with anything that happens on the field. My favorite moments were hanging out with the guys on the beat on Saturday nights before road games. Bars were usually involved.

But there are moments when you feel good for Buffalo fans and when the circumstances of a game inspire elevated, happy columns. One that stands out is the 34-31 win over the Patriots at the Ralph in 2011.

The Bills snapped a 15-game losing streak against New England that day. They picked off Tom Brady four times (he also had four TD passes). It tied Brady’s career high for interceptions in a game. He hasn’t thrown more than TWO interceptions in a game since.

That win got the Bills to 3-0. It was the height of the FitzMagic phenomenon. Ryan Fitzpatrick threw for 369 yards that day. Fred Jackson had 161 total yards. I remember Jackson lingering on the field with his son after the game, communing with the fans and soaking in the moment.

When Rian Lindell’s game-winning field goal went through as time expired, Van Miller’s voice resounded through the home press box: “Take that, New England,” Miller said. I hear it as if it were yesterday. I guess it did make me happy.


@lissmoe asks: Who do we want in the Fall Classic? Does it even matter at this point? This Red Sox team is unstoppable.

Sully: As a Sox fan, I’d rather play the Brewers, who are down 3-2 to the Dodgers in the NLCS as I write this. I fear the Milwaukee bats and bullpen, but the Dodgers are a tougher opponent now with Kershaw and Ryu both pitching at a high level and the bullpen virtually untouchable.

Let’s not get ahead of ourselves. This is still the Red Sox. Yes, David Price finally won a post-season game after 11 tries to knock out the Astros, the offense is relentless, and the bullpen hasn’t been the weak spot that the fatalists predicted.

But I still worry about the starting pitching, and about matchups. The Red Sox slugged about 100 points lower against lefties this season. Kershaw, Ryu and Rich Hill are all left-handed. They might slow down the bats.

Even after winning three World Series in 14 years, a Sox fans learns to be wary. I grew up expecting calamity. It never fully leaves your system.


John W Howell asks: Is it time to fire Housley, and does his racist wife strengthen that case?

Sully: Some context is in order here. Karin Housley, the wife of Sabres head coach Phil Housley, came under fire early this week after the Huffington Post revealed Facebook posts she made in 2009 that could be interpreted as racist.

Housley, who is running for Al Franken’s old U.S. Senate seat in Minnesota, criticized Michelle Obama for her demeanor in a meeting with Queen Elizabeth II and compared Obama with a chimpanzee in “Bedtime for Bonzo,” a Ronald Reagan movie.

“I think even that chimp stood up straighter than Michelle,” she wrote. In another post, Housley referred to Hillary Clinton as a "porker in a blue pantsuit"

Housley isn’t culpable for his wife’s dubious behavior, although it was a bit weak of him to dismiss it as simply “politics.” It probably won’t affect his standing with the Pegulas, who have donated money to her campaign.

It’s the continued slovenly performance of his team that should concern Housley. The Sabres are 3-4 after Thursday’s 5-1 blowout loss at San Jose. All four losses are by three goals or more. Their power play is 0-for-20 in those games.

Housley is a second-year coach whose team finished dead last a year ago and left much of the fan base disaffected. It was bad for business, and if the Sabres don’t turn things around in the next month or so, Housley could be in deep trouble.

If they’re near the bottom of the standings by Thanksgiving, he deserves to be fired.