Colts vs. Bills preview: 5 key players to watch in Week 11

Buffalo Bills quarterback Josh Allen (17) runs away from Indianapolis Colts' Al-Quadin Muhammad (97) during the first half of an NFL wild-card playoff football game Saturday, Jan. 9, 2021, in Orchard Park, N.Y. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes)

Written by John Sparaco

If there is one thing that football fans have learned this season, it is that the NFL is truly a week-to-week league.

In a season with so much parity, perhaps more than ever before, there seem to be multiple upset victories every single week. Unfortunately for the Bills, they were on the wrong side of one just two weeks ago, falling to the 1-6 Jaguars in a shocking 9-6 loss.

Buffalo responded well by putting that loss behind them immediately and recording their single highest scoring output of the season the following week, crushing the Jets 45-17 at MetLife Stadium.

The Bills’ passing offense flourished as the Allen to Diggs connection was on point. Given time to throw, Allen found Diggs eight times for 162 yards and a touchdown in the duo’s best performance together this season.

A key factor in the success of the Bills’ offense was the return of rookie lineman Spencer Brown in the lineup at right tackle. The 6-foot-8 tackle changed the dynamic of Buffalo’s offense, pummeling defenders in the run game while making everyone around him better in pass protection.

In an unfortunate turn of events, Brown will not be available for the Bills this Sunday after he was placed on the Reserve/COVID-19 list on Thursday. Once again absent from the lineup, Buffalo will have to shuffle their offensive line around to make up for the loss of arguably their best performer in the trenches this season, which has not been easy in the past.

The (5-5) Indianapolis Colts travel to Orchard Park to take on the (6-3) Bills in a rematch of last year’s AFC Divisional Playoff game. Now led by a new quarterback, Carson Wentz, the Colts look to potentially win their fifth game in six weeks against the team they came dangerously close to finishing off in January last season.

Players to watch:

Tyler Bass

Somewhat casually, Bills kicker Tyler Bass is having just about as elite of a season as one can have at his position.

In just his second year in the league, Bass has been automatic for Buffalo, converting on 19 of his 20 field-goal attempts as well as all 29 of his extra points. As of this week, Bass is second in the NFL in points scored this season.

Buffalo has been able to count on Bass in essentially any situation thanks to his sky-high confidence, powerful leg, and consistency from his holder and longsnapper, Matt Haack and Reid Ferguson. Star quarterback Josh Allen had this to say about Bass on Nov. 4:

“He’s got a lot of confidence in himself, and when you got a kicker that has confidence in himself, everybody can feel it, everybody can see it,” Allen said. “Guys can tell. He’s got it. You can just feel it”

This week’s opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, got a first-hand look at the swagger of Buffalo’s kicker in the AFC Divisional Playoff game in January.

Leading by just one possession with 8:13 left to go in the fourth quarter, Bass lined up for a 54-yard field goal attempt in the freezing cold conditions. Everyone could hear the boom of the kick in the stadium and on the broadcast as the ball exploded of Bass’ foot and sailed between the uprights.

Bass, rocking his signature single eye black look under his left eye, flexed emphatically after drilling the biggest kick of his NFL career to that point. That field goal ended up being the difference as the Bills narrowly defeated the Colts by a score of 27-24.

Bass can swing the momentum of a game with one big kick. If the score ends up being close yet again this Sunday, he could be the difference yet again.

DeForest Buckner

The Bills’ interior offensive line has been a concern all season long, especially in pass protection. Once DeForest Buckner lines up across the struggling unit on Sunday, it will only exacerbate those issues.

There is a clear reason why the Colts traded a first-round pick to the 49ers to acquire Buckner before making him the second-highest-paid player at his position last offseason. Buckner has been a terror for opposing linemen ever since he stepped foot into the NFL back in 2016, recording 42.5 sacks from the interior in his career, including 4.5 so far this season.

Buckner’s dominance cannot be understated, which is why the 6-foot-7 pass rusher is an extremely worrisome matchup for Buffalo. 

The Bills have numerous question marks on their offensive line right now. Will Daryl Williams return to right tackle or stay at right guard? Will Cody Ford get another shot? After signing Bobby Hart from the Titans practice squad on Friday, there is also the question of whether he will play after spending training camp with the Bills.

Whatever lineup the Bills decide to roll with on Sunday, they will have a very challenging test waiting for them.

Josh Allen

Two weeks ago, Josh Allen was forced to run for his life on most of the snaps he took behind a depleted Bills offensive line. That was not necessary last week, but with Spencer Brown out yet again, Buffalo may need a Superman-caliber performance from Allen. 

Allen has been capable of those performances in the past, recently coming off a game in which he passed for 366 yards and two touchdowns. The key this week for Allen will be getting the ball out fast to avoid hits from Indy’s defensive line.

There is reason to believe the Bills’ passing offense can have success this weekend. The Colts have allowed 23 passing touchdowns this season, the most in the NFL.

Allen burned the Colts through the air in the playoffs last season, completing 26 of his 35 pass attempts for 324 yards and two touchdowns. He especially found success targeting Diggs, so do not be surprised if he tries to force-feed his top wideout just as he did last week.

Jonathan Taylor

Jonathan Taylor is making his case as a top-three running back this season. The University of Wisconsin product broke records in college, gaining him lots of attention before he entered the league. It took a while for the Colts to hand Taylor the keys to the offense as a rookie last season, but once they finally did, there has been no looking back.

The J-Train is currently tied with Tennessee’s Derrick Henry as the NFL’s leading rusher with 937 yards, granted Henry has not played since Week 8 after fracturing his right foot. Still, the next closest on the list is Cleveland’s Nick Chubb with 721 yards, showing just how impressive of a pace Taylor is on this season.

Former Bills running back LeSean McCoy gushed over Taylor in a recent appearance on Good Morning Football, ranking him as the third-best at his position right now.

“When I look at a running back, he’s everything you want,” McCoy said. “If I had to draft or I had to pick a running back or even make a running back, it would be a guy like him. He’s fast. He’s shifty. He is so strong, he breaks tackles and he has great feet and great eyes. He can catch the ball and he stays in the game all the time.”

Taylor’s combination of speed, strength, and physicality has worn down opposing defenses just about every single week, scoring at least one touchdown in each of his last seven games. Bills safety Jordan Poyer is prepared for the challenge the lies ahead.

“It’s like going into a fight,” Poyer said. “The fight’s gonna be physical. You gotta be the one to attack and that’s just the way you got to look at it, you got to be the one that sets the tone early. You might get hit but you gotta get back up and continue to throw punches.”

AJ Klein

Starting middle linebacker Tremaine Edmunds was ruled out with a hamstring injury last week, leaving the Bills to hand his responsibilities to AJ Klein.

The Bills’ defense did not miss a beat. In fact, Klein the team with six tackles last Sunday, flying all over the field while displaying great instincts and physicality.

“When we play well as a defense, we win,” Klein said after the game.

One of the Bills more underrated free agent signings of last offseason, Klein has shown the ability to fill in for both Edmunds and Milano when necessary, proving to be a valuable conductor in the Bills defense.

Edmunds did not practice this week until Friday, where he was a limited participant. As a result, Edmunds’ game status is questionable against the Colts. Whether Edmunds suits up or not, Klein should get plenty of action this Sunday, especially in run sets.

Kickoff is scheduled for 1 p.m. ET at Highmark Stadium, where the Bills will be wearing their home blue jerseys and white pants. The game will air on CBS where Kevin Harlan and Trent Green will be on the call with Melanie Collins reporting from the sidelines. Rain is expected in the forecast, which is nothing new for the Bills, who have already played in three rainy games this season.

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