The Buffalo Bills (6-3) host the Indianapolis Colts (5-5) Sunday at Highmark Stadium in a rematch of last year’s Wild Card matchup in which the Bills earned their first playoff victory in 25 years. This game is of great importance for both teams, as Buffalo holds a half-game lead over the New England Patriots in the AFC East, while Indianapolis hopes to keep pace with the 8-2 Tennessee Titans in the AFC South.
Here are the top five storylines to watch in this Week 11 showdown.
Can Bills defense contain RB Jonathan Taylor?
The Bills boast the NFL’s No. 3 run defense, surrendering just 83.9 yards-per-game on the ground at an average of 3.8 yards-per-carry. As stellar as Buffalo’s front seven has been against opposing rushers this season, they have an incredibly difficult task ahead of them in limiting second-year running back Jonathan Taylor.
Taylor has been absolutely sensational this season, rushing for 937 yards and nine scores on 161 carries. He’s averaging 5.8 yards-per-carry and a whopping 3.6 yards-after-contact per rush this season. He’s a big, physical back (5-foot-10, 226-pounds) that’s powerful enough to run through tackle attempts with exceptional speed to break off monster runs. He leads the league in missed tackles forced (37), 10-plus yard rushes (24), and 15-plus yard runs (11) and is a truly special talent at the running back position.
As good as Buffalo has been against the run, they struggled mightily against another premier ball-carrier in Derrick Henry – the only other truly dynamic back they’ve faced this season. The Bills’ defense buckled as the game wore on against Henry and the Titans and they’ll need to play a full 60 minutes if they hope to come away with a victory against a talented Colts offense.
Josh Allen & Co. vs. leaky Colts Pass D
After torching the New York Jets defense for 366 yards and two touchdowns, Buffalo quarterback Josh Allen has another ripe matchup to bolster his numbers for an MVP push. Indianapolis’ defense is struggling mightily against the pass this season. They’re surrendering 227.1 yards per game (22nd), 7.1 yards per attempt (21st) and have allowed the most passing touchdowns in the NFL (23).
Bills receiver Stefon Diggs will face off against his former teammate, Xavier Rhodes – a tall, long cornerback that’s had an up-and-down season thus far. Through 10 games, Rhodes has allowed a 70.3-percent catch rate for 387 yards (14.9 yards-per-reception) and two touchdowns. Slot defender Kenny Moore is an active and aggressive nickel, whose 57 solo tackles are third-most in the NFL. While he’s been disruptive as a blitzer and run defender, he’s been shaky in coverage this season. Moore is the NFL’s most targeted cornerback (73) and has allowed the most catches (53) for 525 yards and three touchdowns.
While Indianapolis has done a good job taking the ball away (10 interceptions), they’ve been an extremely boom-or-bust unit that’s susceptible to the deep pass – against both receivers and tight ends. The Colts are among the league’s worst at defending tight ends, allowing 60 catches (second-most) for 619 yards (sixth-most) and six touchdowns (third-most) to the position.
If the Bills can protect Allen and allow him enough time in the pocket for plays to develop, the fourth-year passer has a great opportunity to light up a shaky Colts’ secondary.
Can Buffalo’s OL stymie DeForest Buckner?
There’s no secret that the kryptonite to Buffalo’s offensive juggernaut is a quality interior defender. Cam Heyward (12 pressures, 1 sack, 2 stops), Daron Payne (11 pressures, stop), Jeffery Simmons (5 pressures, 2 sacks, 5 stops) have dominated the Bills’ inferior guards. Buffalo’s offensive line has played at a high level with Spencer Brown’s emergence at right tackle, which pushed Daryl Williams inside to guard, but they’ll have another imposing force to contain Sunday in DeForest Buckner.
Buckner is a physical freak. The former Oregon star stands 6-foot-7, 295-pounds, and plays all over the line – whether it’s rushing from a wide alignment as a nine-technique edge rusher, or head up as a zero-technique over a center, Buckner is a player that needs to be accounted for on every play. Josh Allen called Buckner a “menace” during his Wednesday practice, and he’s not exaggerating. Through 10 games, Buckner has tallied 45 tackles, six tackles for loss, 4.5 sacks and two pass breakups. His 37 pressures are fourth-most among defensive tackles and his 24 tackles against the run are fifth-most at the position. He’s a truly dominant player against the run and pass and is an extremely difficult matchup in terms of sheer physicality, as well as technique.
Williams, along with Ike Boettger and Mitch Morse will need to bring their A-games if they hope to prevent yet another game-wrecking performance from another dominant interior defender.
Will Ed Oliver notch first sack vs. All-World LG Quenton Nelson?
Ed Oliver might be having the quietest breakout season of any player in the NFL. Through nine games, the former No. 9 overall pick has just 16 tackles and zero sacks. Box score scouts will call him a bust, but Oliver’s incredible disruption has been a catalyst for much of Buffalo’s defensive success this season – particularly over the last month.
Since Week 7, Oliver leads all defensive tackles with six QB Hits to go along with 11 pressures. Oliver is wreaking havoc on opposing guards, and this week, he’ll match up with one of the top offensive linemen in the NFL – Quenten Nelson. Nelson has been a first-team All-Pro in each of his first three seasons and is widely regarded as a player with Hall of Fame potential. He’s a huge part of the Colts’ rushing success and has surrendered just 10 pressures in pass protection this season.
This will be a fun battle to watch, with some added competition – as Oliver won the 2018 Outland Trophy, given to the nation’s best college lineman, over Nelson. Oliver is heating up and if he plays anywhere near the level he has in recent weeks, he’s due for a sack.