Five Things Learned

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5 Things Learned: Colts vs. Bills, Week 11

The Colts thumped the Buffalo Bills, 41-15, on Sunday at Highmark Stadium. Get inside the Colts' victory with this week's installment of 5 Things Learned. 

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1. Inside the numbers of Jonathan Taylor's huge day.

Jonathan Taylor entered Week 11 averaging 5.8 yards per carry — second best in the NFL among running backs. 

The Buffalo Bills entered Week 11 allowing an average of 3.8 yards per carry — third best in the NFL. 

Taylor averaged 5.8 yards per carry in Week 11. 

It might've been easy to forget as Taylor carved up the Bills on Sunday, but Buffalo has — present tense — one of the best defenses in the NFL. As a team, they had only allowed seven rushing touchdowns all season before Taylor had four; Taylor's 23-yard receiving touchdown was the second-longest passing score allowed by the Bills this season. 

The Bills had allowed only 19 rushing plays of 10+ yards in their first nine games; the Colts on Sunday had eight. 

And the Bills loaded the box with eight or more defenders 11 times outside of goal-to-go situations on Sunday, per Pro Football Focus. Taylor still gained 54 yards — nearly five yards per carry — against fronts designed to limit his effectiveness. 

The combination of Taylor, the offensive line and tight ends — Jack Doyle and Mo Alie-Cox had impactful run blocking games — allowed the Colts to continue pounding the run no matter what the Bills did on the other side of the line. 

"Establish the line of scrimmage, that was kind of the mindset early," quarterback Carson Wentz said. "The big guys up front did that both in the passing game, and obviously in the running game. Then obviously, we just kept running the ball. The guys did a great job but that was definitely the key, was just establish the line of scrimmage."

So that's why Taylor, after the game, deflected when asked if he was the focal point of the Colts' offensive identity. 

"The Colts' offensive identity is all of us all together," Taylor said. "Everything that you saw today was a culmination of the defense getting the ball back to us, creating turnovers, and then the offense being on one accord, being able to communicate no matter what front, what pressure they bring, being able to execute."

2. The narrative that the Colts can't beat good teams is over.

The Colts opened the season 0-5 against 2020 playoff teams (Seahawks, Rams, Titans twice, Ravens), and dating back to Week 12 of the 2020 season had lost eight consecutive games against playoff teams, including a Wild Card loss to the Bills. 

That streak came to a resounding end on Sunday at Highmark Stadium. The Colts' 41-15 win was the sixth-largest margin of victory in the Frank Reich era; the other five came against teams ranked 30th, 32nd, 29th, 28th and 21st in Football Outsiders' DVOA. 

The Bills entered Week 11 ranked No. 1 in DVOA. 

Reich didn't want to overstate the importance of Sunday's win in the context of a 17-game season, and internally the Colts didn't need to prove to the outside world they could beat a team as good as the Bills. 

"I feel like we have a certain picture that everybody has in their heads but I think as a team we just gotta believe in each other and keep our beliefs to ourselves," cornerback Kenny Moore II said. "There's nothing we have to prove to the world, we just gotta it to each other, we gotta prove each other right."

The Colts have a difficult schedule ahead with home games against the Buccaneers, Patriots and Raiders and a Christmas trip to Arizona to face the Cardinals. And at least to the outside world, Sunday showed the Colts can beat one of the NFL's top teams — and beat them resoundingly, too.

*3. The Colts continue to dominate the turnover battle. *

The Colts won the turnover battle 4-0 against the Bills, and the only time they didn't score a touchdown off a turnover came with most of the offense's starters on the bench following Zaire Franklin's interception of Mitch Trubisky in the fourth quarter. The Colts now lead the NFL in:

  • Takeaways (25)
  • Turnover differential (+15)
  • Points off turnovers (98)

The Colts' 10 giveaways are tied for the fifth-fewest in the NFL, too. In 11 games, the Colts have won the turnover battle seven times, tied three times and lost just once. 

This has been a trend all season, one that's backed up the Colts' internal confidence even when they were 0-3 and 1-4. 

"With our roster, we think we can play with anybody," running back Nyheim Hines said. "So it doesn't matter who we're playing against, we know we got the guys in the locker room and the people in the building, the players at our position to beat anybody."

4. George Odum and Andrew Sendejo played disciplined and kept a lid on the Bills' offense.

Bills quarterback Josh Allen only attempted four passes with a targeted depth of 20 or more yards, per PFF, with two completions for 51 yards and one interception — a pass picked off by George Odum. 

The Colts successfully kept a lid on the Bills' offense by doing a tremendous job disguising their coverages in the back end, especially with Odum and Andrew Sendejo – two reserves who started because of injuries to Khari Willis and Julian Blackmon. 

"Showing two-high and moving on the snap, our disguises were going to be a very important thing for today," Moore said. "Pre-snap we were going to show a certain play, post-snap we were going to show a different one. It was just all about the communication and talking to each other each play."

It's a testament to Odum, Sendejo, safeties coach Alan Williams and defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus that the Colts were able to so successfully rotate and disguise their coverages against this high-powered Bills passing attack — especially when the Colts generated pressure on only 10 of Allen' 39 dropbacks.

5. The Colts handled the elements better than the Bills — and that game in San Francisco might've helped.

The Bills dropped six passes, per PFF, amid the cold, windy, wet conditions Sunday in western New York. The Colts had one drop. 

And Bills returner Isaiah McKenzie lost a fumble on a kickoff, with the ball squirting out of his hands without a Colts defender knocking it out. 

The Colts beat the San Francisco 49ers in Week 7 amid a bomb cyclone that drenched Levi's Stadium, and that experience might've given the Colts a little boost to work through Sunday's suboptimal conditions at Highmark Stadium. 

"I would say yeah, I'd say it gave everyone a little bit of confidence when you've already played in a rain game like that, it definitely gives you confidence to go out there and do it again," Doyle said. "We have such a great equipment room, guys that take care of us — every time you come on the sideline there's a dry towel ready for you, a coat ready for you. They do an incredible job in making our lives very easy out there."

What also helped? 

Being able to run the ball the way the Colts did. And that's important, because if the Colts make the playoffs and have to play on the road, being able to lean on a powerful run game is a great way to be competitive in January. 

"It wasn't terrible conditions out there, but it was pretty windy, a little wet," Reich said. "Man, when you can run the football, it makes a huge difference. You've still got to be able to make plays in the pass game and we made a couple today that were significant, but that's the way to run the football."

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