Week 7 Game Preview: Buffalo Bills at Indianapolis Colts
Two weeks ago, Derek Anderson was chasing around his three children, ages 4, 3 and 1, and pondering the end of his football career.
Sunday afternoon, he’ll be Buffalo’s starting quarterback when the Bills head to Indianapolis to take on the Colts.
“It’s football,” he said Wednesday. “Things that happen in this game never amaze me; just gotta be ready at all times. I was fully aware of what I was getting myself into coming here. Obviously, it’s not ideal, but we’re going to do what we can.”
Anderson signed with the Bills last week to serve as a mentor for rookie Josh Allen, and he never had any illusions that he would be playing. Even if Allen were to get hurt, he assumed Nathan Peterman would step in and take over, and that’s what happened in Houston.
However, after Allen left in the third quarter with an elbow injury that will likely sideline him at least a month, perhaps more, Peterman went in and ultimately threw a pick-six with 1:23 left to play that cost the Bills the game. And Sean McDermott determined, finally, that he’d seen enough of Peterman, a fifth-round pick in 2017 who has struggled mightily in every game he has played for the Bills.
“It’s the right move for our team,” McDermott said in making the announcement that Anderson would start.
Anderson had spent the previous seven years serving as Cam Newton’s backup and has played very little during that time, throwing just 168 passes, so he has some rust to shake off during practice before he steps on the field at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“It will take a minute to get used to it,” he said regarding the speed of the game. “But I think we’ll have a good plan and I feel good about the things that we had in today. Just going out there, football is football to me. Physically I feel good. Last week I pushed myself quite a bit just to kind of see where I was at. I knew what I was doing, but pushed myself pretty good through the week, ran pretty hard Sunday. I felt good today, legs feel good, arm feels good, mentally we’re working on it, putting a lot of hours in just trying to catch up with these guys. It’s my job to do what I can to catch up to where the guys are at.”
McDermott said one of the key factors in making the decision was that he believes Anderson has the ability to get ready on short notice. Also, he knows the player because he spent six years with him in Carolina.
“Derek’s a guy that I’ve been around in Carolina,” McDermott said, referring to the six years they spent with the Panthers before McDermott took the Bills’ head coaching job last season. “He brings experience, a leadership presence to the table and he’s worked hard the last week, week and a half here to get himself up to speed. That’s a natural part of it, and that’s part of what factored into the decision in terms of making sure he was able to get up to speed. Every situation is different, but if he was a quarterback that hadn’t been around the system, that would have been awfully hard to get up to speed in a short amount of time.”
Anderson has a tall order trying to kickstart a Buffalo offense that is the worst in the league. The Bills are averaging just 12.7 points per game, last in the NFL, and their passing game is also last at 123.0 yards.
However, the Colts have struggled to stop the pass as they rank 26th against the pass and are 30th in points allowed. If ever there is a week for Buffalo to snap out of a season-long funk, this could be it, and with the defense playing as well it has, the Bills should have an opportunity to stay in the game, and perhaps win.
Andrew Luck leads the NFL in pass completions and he’s second with 16 TDs, but the Bills have been outstanding on defense and have risen to No. 3 in the league in yards allowed thanks in part to a suddenly resurgent pass rush that could create problems for Luck.
“They're getting a lot of pressure and of course that will be a factor on Andrew this this week,” said Colts coach Frank Reich. “No doubt they’re getting a lot of pressure on the defense. This is probably the best defense we’ve played so far this season and I think it's because of their pass rush as they do get pressure. They find ways to pressure with four rushers and still play zone coverage behind it and when you can do that, that's a winning formula.”
70th regular-season meeting. Bills lead series 37-31-1. These two teams played in one of the most memorable games of the 2017 season, the blizzard game at New Era Field which was won by the Bills in overtime. Buffalo last played in Indianapolis in 2012, and it lost 20-13 to rookie Colts QB Andrew Luck.
BY THE NUMBERS
26 – That’s how many points the Bills have scored in the last 14 quarters dating back to halftime of the Week 3 Minnesota game. They are now the lowest-scoring team in the NFL at 12.6 per game.
PLAYER NOTES-- LB Matt Milano played every defensive snap in Houston and it’s clear that the coaching staff has come to see his value. He was in on seven tackles and he had a huge pass breakup late in the game that prevented a go-ahead Texans touchdown.
-- WR Kelvin Benjamin played only 71 percent of the offensive snaps and made just two catches for 43 yards, though one went for 39 yards.
-- WR Robert Foster was active, but he has had a difficult time adapting to the NFL game and he played only two snaps on offense.
-- CB Tre’Davious White had another excellent game. He did get nailed for a pair of holding penalties, but otherwise, he shut down DeAndre Hopkins, holding him to two catches for 23 yards when he was in coverage. One of those catches, though, was a brilliant TD reception by Hopkins despite blanket coverage.
-- P Corey Bojorquez averaged 48.6 yards on the five punts he got off, but he did have one blocked, the first against the Bills since 2011.
-- SS Micah Hyde had to be used as the punt returner after rookie Ray Ray McCloud lost an early fumble that set up a Texans touchdown.
-- RB Chris Ivory had a tough day as he gained only five yards on six carries and on one run, he was tackled by his dreadlocks.
-- QB Josh Allen did not practice, and his injured elbow was in a brace. He is expected to be out at least a month.
-- Derek Anderson was named the starter for Sunday's game in Indianapolis. It will be his first NFL start since December 2016.
LB Matt Milano. The second-year linebacker, a fifth-round pick out of Boston College, was being counted on to be an every-down linebacker going back to the start of the offseason program, but he struggled at times during training camp and the preseason, and the coaching staff took him off the field for portions of the first four games. That has stopped, however, as Milano has really come on the last couple weeks. He has proven to be an instinctual player who is always around the ball, and against the Texans, he made a tremendous pass breakup at the goal line that saved what would have been a go-ahead touchdown. He has played all but one snap in the last two games as Ramon Humber is no longer part of the rotation and Milano is thriving.
With Derek Anderson stepping into the starting QB role, it will be interesting to see how the Bills attack the Colts. They have struggled to run because every defense has stacked the box with no fear that the Bills could attack downfield through the air. That may change with Anderson, a veteran who understands how to read defenses and should pose a bigger threat throwing. The issue, of course, remains the weak wide receiving corps and whether it can get separation, but if they do, Anderson will be better positioned to take advantage.
On defense, the Bills have been menacing up front and last week they sacked Deshaun Watson seven times, forced him to fumble three times (he lost one) and baited him into two interceptions. Andrew Luck probably won’t be as easy a mark, but he also has lesser weapons to work with than Watson, so if the Bills can continue to bring the heat, Luck could struggle to move the ball downfield. One issue the Colts have is running the ball, and if the Bills don’t have to worry about the ground attack, they can get creative in their coverages and pressures.
MATCHUPS TO WATCH
Bills offensive line vs. Colts front seven. Anderson is going to need all the help he can get in his first start since 2016, and it’s twofold. The line has to create gaps for LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory in the running game because the Bills need to be able to extend drives and keep Andrew Luck off the field. Further, they need to be much better in pass protection than the four sacks allowed per game they have averaged. Anderson is no longer mobile, and he will need time in the pocket to stand and deliver.
Bills LBs Matt Milano and Tremaine Edmunds vs. Andrew Luck. Luck is playing very well in his return after missing all of 2017, and one of the keys has been his ability to execute a short passing game and that is reflected in his abnormally low 6.22 yards per completion. However, he has completed a league-high 186 passes, has thrown 16 TDs, and the Colts rank No. 1 in third-down conversions. Edmunds and Milano have been good in pass coverage, and they’ll need to be sharp to stunt the Colts’ short passing game.