5 Things To Watch

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5 Things To Watch: Colts At Bills, Week 11

Get inside this week's Colts-Bills matchup with a look at both sides of the line of scrimmage and how last season's playoff loss in Buffalo lingered in a positive way. 

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1. Jonathan Taylor and the Colts' run game against the Bills' run defense.

Jonathan Taylor has been the NFL's best home run hitting running back, with an NFL-best nine rushes of 20 or more yards and the league's two longest running plays of the season (83 and 76 yards). The Colts are third in rushing yards per play (5.1) in large part because of Taylor's consistent explosiveness. 

The Bills, meanwhile, enter Week 11 tied for lowest number of 20+ yard rushes allowed this season with two — and one of those was a 23-yard scramble by Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes (the other was a 76 yard touchdown run by Derrick Henry). 

Buffalo's defense is third in yards allowed per run 3.8) and does a tremendous job tackling — only two teams are allowing a lower yards after contact average per run than the Bills. 

"Those guys are really solid," Taylor said. "Obviously, we played them last year — linebackers really play downhill. It's really going to be a challenge. It's going to be a challenge in order to really get our hands on these guys, in order to get some displacement. They play physical. 

"You guys even see the numbers too, they're playing well at this point. Similar to going into the Jets week, we're going to have to accept the challenge. Similar going into the Jacksonville week, we're going to have to accept the challenge of just playing a defense that's playing pretty well."

Taylor has a good point there. The Jets and Jaguars each entered their games against the Colts with top-10 rushing defenses; Taylor blasted over 100 yards in each game. The Colts have shown they're up to the challenge. Can they win a strength vs. strength battle on the ground again on Sunday?

2. The Bills' pass rush vs. Colts' protection.

The Bills' leading sack-getters are Mario Addison and Gregory Rousseau, who each have three sacks. But make no mistake, the Bills' pass rush is effective and productive – 13 players have at least half a sack, and Buffalo is sixth in the NFL in pressure rate while being 24th in blitz rate, per Pro Football Focus.

Meaning: This is a Bills front that consistently gets after quarterbacks on its own.

"What's unique about their front is they rotate their guys more than any other team in the league," head coach Frank Reich said. "Their highest play percentage by a d-lineman is like 58 percent (DT Ed Oliver). That's the lowest in the NFL of any four-down front.

"That just speaks to the fact that they have a lot of confidence in their depth. They're extremely good players, they're very well-coached, they're very synced up. I've got a lot of respect for (head coach) Sean McDermott. I know him personally, I know his as a coach. Him and (defensive coordinator) Leslie Frazier are two of the better defensive coaches in the league."

Sunday's game will be a full four-quarter challenge for the Colts' offensive line given how fresh Buffalo's front usually is because of their ability to rotate players so well.

And it's no wonder the Bills have the NFL's No. 1 pass defense – it's not just that they lead the league in interceptions and are allowing a league-low 60.7 passer rating. Their pass rush and coverage are excellent working in tandem, and that's how they've become the toughest team to throw the ball against in the NFL in 2021.

3. The Colts' pass rush vs. the Bills' protection.

One other matchup on the line of scrimmage flips to when the Colts are on defense. The Bills are 1-3 when Josh Allen is pressured on 20 or more dropbacks, per Pro Football Focus; when the Bills' quarterback is under pressure, he has a passer rating of 85.3.

Of course, it's one thing to pressure Allen and it's another to actually bring him down for a sack. Allen has 17 scrambles when under pressure for 105 yards and one touchdown, and his ability to escape opposing defenders and then make plays off platform with his arm and legs is part of what makes him one of the most explosive quarterbacks in the NFL.

So the Colts will, too, need to play sticky coverage in the back end – as they did last week against the Jacksonville Jaguars – to combat Allen's ability to get outside the pocket and keep his eyes downfield.

"With every opponent that he plays, he's their I want to say leading rusher or close to that," defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus said. "He has the ability to extend plays. He looks down the field to throw the ball, which he's done a great job of this year once he extends those plays and guys either work open or get open, and certainly he can run the ball too. So, he's certainly a weapon that way."

4. Briefly: How last season's playoff loss to the Bills motivated the Colts.

For the Colts, the sting of losing to the Bills in the AFC Wild Card round last year lingered in the aftermath of that 27-24 loss. But it wasn't counter-productive – it was "offseason fuel," Taylor said.

Meaning: "Times during hard workouts when you're kind of coming toward the end and you're like, I have to finish strong," Taylor said. "Even though there are a lot of times where you're finishing a workout and you may not burst through the line just b because you've burst through the line the past 10 times. But just thinking about that feeling, whatever it takes to be able to burst through that line on the last rep because that's what it's going to take to win that last game that we didn't win last year."

5. The Colts are healthy heading into Sunday.

You won't see many practice reports cleaner than this heading into a massive Week 11 game:

Reich said the Colts would still have to wait and see on Leonard, who when asked how his ankle was doing on Thursday deadpanned "it's attached." But if he plays, the Colts will have all 53 members of their active roster available – hardly a given at this stage of the season.

With Rhodes, too, Reich said the veteran corner will be part of a rotation in his return from a calf injury – which is more the product of guys like Isaiah Rodgers and T.J. Carrie playing well in his absence.

"We'll probably have some sort of rotation," Reich said. "With the schemes and the things that we have called, it would naturally work itself out that there will be rotation and that they'll all play."

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