The Bills got blown out by the Jets to open the season. They suffered one of the worst second half collapses ever against the Patriots. They were embarrassed by the 49ers the next week. Yet, somehow the Bills are one win away from becoming legitimate contenders for the Wild Card. In a down year for the AFC, the Bills currently sit two games behind the Colts for the final Wild Card spot. Andrew Luck has led the Colts to heights nobody thought possible this year, but their dismantling at the hands of the Patriots last week proved that this team still has a way to go. If the Bills can help reinforce that message, they can reshape their entire season.
They might be able to achieve that goal if they can find the answers to the following questions…
Question One: Can the Bills secondary contain Andrew Luck?
Andrew Luck is the reason the Colts are good. Sure, the defense makes some plays, and the team has added motivation to play hard for their head coach as he deals with a tough illness, but the Colts rise and fall with Luck. As a rookie, he’s already thrown for 2,965 yards and 12 touchdowns. He’s proven that Reggie Wayne is not yet done and made Donnie Avery relevant again. However, he’s still a rookie, which means mistakes. He has 12 interceptions and eight fumbles. When teams are able to pressure him, like the Patriots did, Luck can try and force too many passes and give the defense opportunities to grab momentum. The Bills secondary is a bit beleaguered right now, but the opportunities should be there to force a couple turnovers.
Question Two: Can Mario Williams and Co. get to Luck?
Since having wrist surgery, Mario Williams has looked like a completely different player. He might only have five and a half sacks on the season, but he’s been playing with a power that was not present in the first half of the season. He’s been pushing the pocket regularly and attracting attention that’s given Kyle Williams and Kyle Moore the one-on-one match-ups that they’ve continued to beat in recent weeks. It’s a situation that should be repeatable on Sunday against a team that ranks 16th in the NFL with 22 sacks allowed.
Question Three: Will the rushing attack change with CJ Spiller in front?
Over the last two seasons, CJ Spiller has flourished when Fred Jackson is out of the lineup. It continued again last week against a tough Miami rushing defense. Spiller showed elite elusiveness and the ability to cut and run between the tackles that was lacking when he came out of college. Now that Fred Jackson is back from a concussion, Chan Gailey says that Spiller will still carry the majority of the load. It’s a timeshare that has been confusing at times this season, but one that is crucial to the Bills success. Both runners are tough to tackle and bring skill sets that compliment each other well: Spiller’s speed and Jackson’s toughness. If Gailey can still find meaningful carries for both in the right situation, the Bills offense should continue to put up points.
Question Four: Can the Bills prevent Dwayne Allen from making plays?
On the surface, this doesn’t seem like a match-up worth writing about. Allen has 349 yards and two touchdowns on the season; not numbers that keep defenses up at night. However, he also has impressive athleticism in his 6‘3” 260 pound frame, and we know how much the Bills struggle against athletic tight ends. Playing against a rookie quarterback, the Bills defense is going to succeed if they can get Luck out of rhythm. One of the best ways to do that is to take away the safety blanket. If Luck is able to convert third downs to Allen, it’s going to keep the Colts offense on the field and in a rhythm that might be dangerous.
Question Five: Can Fitz attack a beat-up secondary?
With Vontae Davis out, the Colts will be without their top corner back. It’s a tough blow for a secondary that has already been inconsistent throughout the 2012 season. It makes the match-up for Stevie Johnson and Scott Chandler even more appealing. If Fitzpatrick can minimize his mistakes and take advantage of the attention that will be paid to Spiller and Jackson, there will be some big plays to be had on the field.
Question Six: Will penalties continue to haunt the Bills?
This one is simple: two games in a row the Bills have accrued over 100 yards in penalties. It didn’t hurt them against the Dolphins,; it hurt them significantly against the Patriots. Chan needs to fix the false starts and dumb personal fouls during the practice week. Penalties come down to discipline and the Bills need to find some quickly.
Question Seven: Will Chan Gailey continue to make questionable play calls?
Chan Gailey is supposed to be an offensive mastermind, but the Bills offense has been inconsistent throughout this whole season. At first he couldn’t find a way to get both Spiller and Jackson in the flow of the offense. Then he ran the ball only six times in the second half of the Patriots game. Then, against the Dolphins, he started splitting Chandler out wide and taking Spiller out of the game on goaline situations. For my money, Gailey is simply getting too cute in crucial situations. The Bills need an identity, and their best bet is pounding the ball on the ground.
Prediction: Bills 26 Colts 17
The Bills passing defense is going to allow a big play or two, but I think the gameplan calls, or should call, for stopping the deep ball, so they won’t let Luck throw all over them. Additionally, the run defense has been playing well enough to keep the Colts mediocre rushing attack in check. That means that as long as the Bills offense can move the ball consistently, they should be able to take the win.