Colts Mailbag

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Colts Mailbag: Slowing Down Josh Allen & Bills' Passing Attack, Leaning On Jonathan Taylor, Philip Rivers' Postseason Experience

In this week’s Colts Mailbag, readers inquire about how the Colts can try to slow down Josh Allen and the Buffalo Bills’ potent passing attack, why it’ll be important to keep leaning on rookie running back Jonathan Taylor, the importance of Philip Rivers’ postseason experience and much more.

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INDIANAPOLIS — Each week, Colts.com readers can submit their questions to have a chance of them being answered in our Mailbag series.

Missed out on the party this week? Not a problem — you can submit your question(s) for next time by clicking here, or by taking part in the Colts.com Forums and the Colts' Reddit.

Let's jump right into this week's questions:

josobeastly on Colts Reddit: "What is a bigger threat buffalos pass game or our run game"

Walker: Well, if you had asked this question a couple months ago, I would've said without question the Bills' passing attack was clearly more potent than the Colts' running game. But since Week 11, Indianapolis has really made major strides on the ground, ranking fourth in the league in rushing yards (1,044), fifth in yards per attempt (5.07) and tied for fifth in rushing touchdowns (10) over that span. When looking at Buffalo's passing game, since Week 11, the Bills rank eighth in the league in passing yards (1,831), fourth in passing touchdowns (15), are tied for the eighth-fewest interceptions (four) and are third in quarterback rating (113.8). So, of course, you could look at the entire body of work throughout the 2020 regular season and give Buffalo's passing game the edge due to its consistency, but over the last six or seven weeks, the Colts and their run game have been just as good, and has made this a very interesting storyline for Saturday in the Wild Card Round matchup.

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Dahllywood12 on Colts Reddit: "The majority of the last 8 games have felt like "The Tale of Two Halves", from both the defensive and offensive units. If the offense is on fire in the 1st half, they die down in the 2nd. If the defense gives up 28 points in the 1st half, they're lights out in the 2nd. I understand it happening for a couple of games, but why do we continue to struggle to have 4 complete quarters? My blood pressure has only been stable for the 11/12 Titans and 12/13 Raiders games these past 8 weeks."

Walker: I wish there was something I could put my finger on when it comes to the inconsistencies on both sides of the ball these last several weeks. I feel like the one constant has been a strong start by the offense — the Colts scored touchdowns on opening drives better than just about any other team in the league in 2020 — but, beyond that, you just never really knew when the Indy offensive or defensive units would be hot, or when they would struggle. I know that isn't exactly comforting to hear as a fan, but I think what shouldn't be lost is the fact this team still figured out a way to come out on top in 11 games this season and earn a spot in the playoffs. Here's what I'd love to see take place on Saturday at Bills Stadium: the Colts' offense play a first half like they did Week 14 against the Steelers and a second half like they did Week 10 against the Titans, and a first half defensively like they did Week 9 against the Ravens and a second half like they did Week 5 against the Browns. Wouldn't that be something?

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bengoretner on Colts Reddit: "The Bills are probably loading the box against us, which has shown to work pretty well against us. With a full week of prep, what can Reich do & how much do we trust him?"

Walker: It's not like the Colts struggled against a loaded box in 2020. According to Pro Football Focus, Indianapolis averaged 3.9 yards per carry when the opposing defense had seven or more players in the box this season, which ranked smack dab in the middle of the league at 16th. They also ranked 13th in explosive run percentage (11.3) and eighth in first downs rushing (98) against a loaded box. But this has simply been a different rushing attack since Jonathan Taylor turned into one of the best backs in football starting in Week 11 against the Packers; since that time, against a loaded box, the Colts rank ninth in yards per attempt (4.5), seventh in explosive run percentage (14.5) and fifth in first downs rushing (50). So what would I change? Nothing. I'd keep doing what's been working, especially against a Bills defense that ranks 25th in the NFL in rushing yards per attempt allowed (4.6), 29th in explosive run percentage allowed (15.2) and 25th in rushing first downs allowed (126).

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grapplerone on Colts Reddit: "It seems our defensive secondary has been exposed in recent games, allowing chunk plays get over the top. Do you think it's due to not enough pressure at the line (rush), lack of talent at corner & safety, play calling or miscommunication? I know I'm hitting several points but teams are beginning to target our secondary and winning that battle."

Walker: After Week 7, the Colts' defense had allowed 33 passing plays of 15 or more yards, which was tied for the sixth-fewest in the NFL. Since Week 8, however, the Colts have allowed 59 pass plays of 15 or more yards, which ranks tied for the fifth most in the league. I swear this isn't a cop-out answer, but I personally attribute this to all three levels of the defense. In a system that's so dependent on the "rush and cover" mindset, if you have those games in which you don't have much of a rush to speak of, it makes it much harder to cover; conversely, if a quarterback is having success getting rid of the ball and finding holes in your secondary, it makes it much harder to produce any sort of consistent pass rush. I will say, though, at the end of the 2019 season, I thought the Colts' defense, particularly the back end, had really had some major communication lapses that led to several big passing plays over the top; I don't really see that being a major theme this time around. The Indy defense just needs to do a better job at all three levels playing in sync, which will be easier said than done on Sunday against Josh Allen and this potent Bills passing attack.

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Andy_and_Vic on Colts Reddit: "I think our best chance of winning this game is slowing it down and having fewer total drives. How can we more consistently get first downs? Do we need to run it a ton, since Buffalo has strong pass coverage guys?"

Walker: I think you're on to something. To me, there was a blueprint to facing a potent passing attack like the Bills for the Colts back in Week 11 against Aaron Rodgers and the Packers. Green Bay's offense finished the season No. 1 in the league in average time of possession at 32:31, but in that game against the Colts, the Packers possessed the football for just 27 minutes and 49 seconds, compared to 35 minutes and one second for the Colts' offense. Think about that: that's about five fewer minutes Rodgers, a top MVP candidate, had the ball in his hands, and Indy ended up earning a last-second overtime victory. I think if you're the Colts, you try to do the exact same thing on Saturday against the Bills, whose offense ranks third in the league in average time of possession at 31:45. I will say, however, that Buffalo in 2020 fared pretty well in games in which it possessed the ball less than 28 minutes; the Bills were 2-1 in those games, including their 35-32 Week 3 win over the Los Angeles Rams (27:48 TOP) and their 56-26 Week 17 win over the Dolphins (27:22); their loss was in Week 6 to the Chiefs, 26-17, in which Buffalo possessed the football for just 22 minutes and 15 seconds. Nevertheless, I don't think it's ever a bad idea to try to keep Josh Allen & Co. on the sideline as much as possible. How do you do that? To your point: run it a ton, in my opinion. As mentioned above, Buffalo doesn't exactly have the best of run defenses. They're not Jaguars-bad, but they've been among the worst in the league regardless. Unless time and score dictates the need for a heavy passing attack, I think the Colts have a path to success with Jonathan Taylor and Nyheim Hines in this one.

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bodiepartlow on Colts Reddit: "How can the Colts slow down the quick pass game that has been so effective for Allen, especially with Diggs and Beasley? Also, thoughts on the Bills bringing in Kenny Stills?"

Walker: Not trying to "well, actually" your question, but Josh Allen in 2020 hasn't exactly led a quick-passing offense — at least that's not what the analytics say. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Allen had an average time-to-throw figure — the average time from the snap to the time the ball leaves the quarterback's hands, sacks excluded — of 3.04 seconds in 2020, which was the third-slowest of all qualifying NFL quarterbacks. To compare, Philip Rivers had an average time-to-throw figure of 2.52 seconds, which was sixth-fastest. Now, obviously Allen did just fine throughout the season, and it's not like he can't get the ball out of his hands quicker, but a lot can happen in that half of a second difference. I'll be interested to see, however, if Allen sees the success of other quarterbacks who have utilized a quick-passing attack against the Colts' defense this season and incorporates more of that into his plan on Saturday. When you've got Stefon Diggs, who led the NFL in receptions and receiving yards and can be effective lined up virtually anywhere and running pretty much any route against any coverage, that sure helps matters. To me, it's going to take DeForest Buckner and Grover Stewart getting a consistent, and quick, push in the interior throughout the ballgame; let Allen know that from the snap he won't be comfortable in the pocket. As for Kenny Stills, I haven't given it much thought. I'm not saying he can't come in and be signed to the active roster by Saturday and make some plays, but I think most of your focus needs to be on stopping Diggs.

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Aleph_Alpha_001 on Colts Reddit: "In a matchup of an experienced but aging veteran versus a talented but less experienced youngster with athleticism to spare at quarterback, who gets the edge? Will Rivers's playoff experience and competitiveness help him to overcome father time in the playoffs?"

Walker: To be honest, I don't think "Father Time" was much of a factor for Philip Rivers throughout the 2020 regular season, so I don't see that being a factor in the postseason, starting Saturday against the Bills. Yeah, Rivers isn't very mobile, and that attempted tackle attempt while he was on the ground against the Ravens' Chuck Clark didn't look … great … but, really, I think Frank Reich was spot on when he said he didn't notice any physical issues with the veteran quarterback when he watched his game film from the 2019 season and the Colts were initially exploring the idea of signing Rivers in free agency. Now, to your point, Rivers is an experienced, but aging veteran, and Josh Allen is a talented, but less experienced youngster with athleticism. I'll just go back to what Frank Reich said earlier in the week: the Colts should feel zero pressure in this game. All the pressure is on the Bills; they're the No. 2 seed, they've won six straight, they're hoping to set up a Divisional Round matchup against the defending Super Bowl champion Kansas City Chiefs. I really like a loose Philip Rivers and all of his playoff experience in this one.

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csmopar on Colts.com Forums: "With all the teams approaching the Colts for interviews of their front office and assistant coaches, do you feel this creates any type of distraction for the team during this time?"

Walker: I think this is a totally fair and relevant question, but I just don't worry about this when it comes to the Colts and their staffers, whether it's front office folks or members of the coaching staff who are getting interviews elsewhere. I think everyone in the Indiana Farm Bureau Football Center knows what's at stake: the team is preparing, on a short week no less, to go on the road and face arguably the hottest team in the NFL in the first round of the postseason. I think it can also be true that those being interviewed by other teams should get every opportunity to have a shot at advancing in their careers, and it's not every day you're among those being considered for NFL general manager or head coach jobs. Just like the players in the locker room, the Colts hire quality people in their front office and on their coaching staff who are mature enough to understand what's at stake, but who also can handle these rare outside opportunities when they arise. If you're Chris Ballard and Frank Reich, you're nothing but proud of those on your staffs who have done their respective jobs so well in Indy that they're in consideration for a bigger role elsewhere (as much as you would hate potentially losing them).

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Dogg63 on Colts.com Forums: "Patmon was active for week 17 and appears to have played 2 snaps. Did you happen to notice whether those were run or pass plays and what his assignment was on those plays?"

Walker: Dezmon Patmon did, indeed, make his NFL debut last Sunday against the Jacksonville Jaguars, and did log two offensive snaps. His first play came at the 12:24 mark of the first quarter; on 1st and 10 from the Indianapolis 33, Patmon was lined up in the slot on the left side and was actually open on a little curl route; Philip Rivers ended up misfiring a quick pass to his left to Ashton Dulin on the play. Patmon's second play came at the 11:43 mark of the second quarter, when the Colts were facing 1st and Goal from the Jacksonville 1-yard line, which was when Jonathan Taylor hopped over the line for a one-yard touchdown run. Patmon was lined up wide to the left on the play, so all he had to do was make sure he got his hands on his defender long enough to ensure Taylor could get into the end zone.

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compuls1v3 on Colts.com Forums: "Now that we are in the big dance, do you feel we will start to show more pressure looks during post season games? I found a Next Gen stat that Leonard had the fastest sack time of 2 seconds. I'd like to see more of that!"

Walker: Darius Leonard has had a couple of those "shot out of a cannon" type sacks this year, much like his sack-forced fumble on Mike Glennon last Sunday against the Jaguars. It's amazing how well Leonard, at 215-ish pounds, is able to time his blitzes so perfectly to wreak so much havoc without the opposing offense even laying a finger on him. He's one of the best defensive players in the NFL; one would think he should be identified and accounted for before every play. But I digress. I absolutely think Matt Eberflus is going to try to dial up some added pressure on Saturday. I would really enjoy if he sends Kenny Moore II in on several blitzes, much like he did back in that Wild Card Round win on the road against the Texans back in 2018. Obviously you don't want to be careless leaving guys out of position too much, and Josh Allen did a solid job against pressure season, with a 99.8 quarterback rating against the blitz, according to Pro Football Focus, which ranked tied for ninth in the NFL with … Philip Rivers and the Colts, coincidentally. But there will be opportunities to unleash Leonard and Moore II and even your safeties from time to time; it'll obviously be up to Eberflus to decide when that time is right.

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chad72 on Colts.com Forums: "What precautions are the Colts implementing to ensure players don't chance a Covid positive at any point during the playoffs?"

Walker: Here's what Frank Reich had to say when asked what he told his team in regards to COVID-19 protocols and procedures heading into the postseason:

"Just an emphasis not to let your guard down. Don't let your guard down. We tell the guys, 'Hey, even more – if you think you feel anything. Let us know, we'll keep you home for the day and we'll come in and get you another instant test.' For two reasons, one to keep them healthy but two so that there are no close contacts that are eliminated from the game. Our guys have obviously been good about it all year, but it can strike you at any time. So it will just be keeping our guard up. Even with Jordan Wilkins the other day, the moment we had word of that – boom, don't come in. Let's just kind of get this thing locked out. Our guys have been doing a great job of it."

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