INDIANAPOLIS — Josh Allen’s elite arm talent was supposed to be a major point of emphasis for the Indianapolis Colts’ defense this week, as the unit prepared for Sunday’s Week 7 matchup against the Buffalo Bills at Lucas Oil Stadium.
That was, until the third quarter of last Sunday’s Bills game against the Houston Texans.
Allen was injured when his right throwing elbow apparently struck the helmet of a Houston defender after completing a 39-yard pass to wide receiver Kelvin Benjamin. Allen — the No. 7-overall pick in this year’s NFL Draft — tried to stay in the game, but exited after just one more play.
That left Bills head coach Sean McDermott with a couple options — both to finish out the game against the Texans (which was still winnable midway through the second half), and then more in the short-term to fill in while Allen was out. They were second-year quarterback Nathan Peterman, whose struggles during previous opportunities were well documented, or veteran Derek Anderson, who had literally just been signed by the team five days prior.
Against the Texans, McDermott went with Peterman, and the immediate results were promising, as he led the Bills to a field goal and a touchdown on back-to-back drives, putting Buffalo ahead, 13-10, with 13 minutes left in the fourth quarter.
But the final two drives of the game for the Bills? Interception; interception — the second of which was returned 28 yards for a touchdown by Texans cornerback Jonathan Joseph with just 1:23 left on the clock in the fourth quarter, breaking a 13-13 tie and giving Houston a 20-13 victory.
So this week, knowing Allen would be out, McDermott decided to go with Anderson against the Colts, despite the fact he’s had barely any time to learn and digest the team’s playbook.
But it was Anderson’s previous experience in current Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll’s system that led to McDermott going with the veteran Anderson over Peterman this week.
“That’s a natural part of it; that’s part of what factored into the decision in terms of making sure he was able to get up to speed,” McDermott told reporters on Wednesday. “If it was a guy that — and every situation is different — but if he was a quarterback who hadn’t been around the system, it would’ve been awfully hard to get him up to speed in the short amount of time.”
Anderson certainly has a wealth of experience from which he can draw to get himself ready for Sunday’s game.
A sixth-round pick by the Baltimore Ravens out of Oregon State back in 2005, Anderson has played for three teams over the past 12 seasons. His best overall performance came his second season in 2007, when he led the Cleveland Browns to a 10-5 record in his 15 starts and was selected to his first and only Pro Bowl after completing 298-of-527 passes for 3,787 yards and 29 touchdowns to 19 interceptions.
Anderson’s most-recent — and longest-lasting — role, however, was serving as Cam Newton’s backup with the Carolina Panthers from 2011 through 2017. Anderson started sparingly during his seven years in Carolina — four starts in all — but was mostly utilized as a trusty resource on the sideline and in the film room.
And it was that role the Bills envisioned for Anderson when they signed him to a free agent deal last week — that was, until Allen went down against the Texans.
“Physically, I feel good,” the 35-year-old Anderson told reporters this week. “Last week, I pushed myself quite a bit just to kind of see where I was at, and I knew where I was at and what I was doing. [I] pushed myself pretty good through the week, ran pretty hard, [on] Sunday did all my normal stuff. [I] felt good on Sunday, today I felt good. Legs feel good, arm feels good.
“Mentally, we’re working on it,” he continued. “[I’m] putting a lot of hours in just trying to catch up with these guys. They have obviously all been together and doing things since April. It’s my job to do what I can to catch up to where they’re at.”
Anderson inherits a Bills offense that has struggled to this point of the season. Buffalo (2-4) ranks 31st in the league in total yards (222.5 per game), is dead last, 32nd, in points scored per game (12.7), is last in passing yards (123.0 per game) and is 20th in rushing (99.5 yards per game).
As it pertains to the Colts (1-5) — who enter Sunday’s game looking to snap a four-game losing streak — they aren’t really worried about which quarterback is under center.
“I think we are more preparing for their system,” head coach Frank Reich said. “I think we are more preparing for their system and what we have seen on tape, what they like to do.”
But the offensive-minded Reich is well-aware that Buffalo is going to do what it can to get Anderson as comfortable as possible on Sunday afternoon once kickoff arrives.
It’s the Colts’ job to ensure that comfort doesn’t last long.
“It’s a big game for us obviously — backs against the wall and pretty much from here on out we got to win out,” said safety Malik Hooker, who grabbed his first interception of the season last Sunday against the New York Jets. “That’s all that there is to be said, we got to win out. We got to put our best football out there and I know we got the guys in the locker room to do so.”