1. Run it right at them.
The Colts’ rushing defense finished 18th in the NFL last season, and was particularly generous right up the gut. On 120 running plays up the middle, the Colts gave up 4.27 yards per rush, which ranked 23rd in the NFL. Not surprisingly, they’ve made significant changes up front. Two projected starters, nose tackle David Parry and defensive tackle Henry Anderson have yet to play in an NFL game. Outside of defensive end Kendall Langford, who has 90 career starts, the rest of the players on the Colts’ defensive line have just 12 total games of NFL experience. The Bills were bad at running it up the middle last season, gaining an average of just 3.11 yards per rush on 157 attempts up the middle. They hope the addition of new starting guards Richie Incognito and John Miller can help better open some holes.
2. Give Ronald Darby some help.
One of the interesting chess matches Sunday will be how the Bills decide to use cornerback Stephon Gilmore. The Colts have a pair of receivers in T.Y. Hilton and veteran free-agent addition Andre Johnson who are both worthy of being covered by a No. 1 cornerback. Gilmore will be expected to handle whoever he matches up against, which will allow the Bills to give Darby, their rookie second-round draft pick, some help. In three preseason games, Darby was thrown at 12 times and allowed eight receptions for 179 yards and a touchdown, according to the analytics website Pro Football Focus. Surely, Colts quarterback Andrew Luck noticed and will have a bull’s-eye on No. 28.
3. Colts play musical chairs up front.
For as great as quarterback Andrew Luck is, the Indianapolis Colts certainly don’t do him any favors. The Colts’ offensive line has also played musical chairs for three years running. Last year, Football Outsiders gave the Colts a “continuity score” of 19 for the offensive line, the worst in the NFL. The metric measures the number of starters used, number of times the starting lineup changes and the longest stretch of starting the same five players in the same five spots, with a maximum score of 48. The Colts’ 19 is the worst score since the 2007 Rams had a 17. Indianapolis used 10 different starters last season, and changed the line 11 times. The Bills’ defensive line needs to dominate their matchups and make Luck throw the ball before he’s ready.
4. Get Charles Clay involved early.
The Bills’ big-money tight end had a low-key preseason, with the exception of a 67-yard touchdown catch against Pittsburgh. Clay, though, is being counted on to play a big part in the Bills’ offense. The Colts finished 26th in Football Outsiders’ rankings of defending tight ends, giving up 58.3 yards per game to the position. If the Bills can get Colts inside linebacker D’Qwell Jackson into coverage, either on Clay or a running back, it should work in their favor. Jackson gave up 55 receptions for 573 yards and seven touchdowns last season, according to Pro Football Focus.
5. Give them something to cheer about.
Just once in the past four seasons have the Bills started the year at home. With expectations sky high, fans “have to make it miserable when people come in here,” Bills coach Rex Ryan said. “I’m calling our fans out: We need you.” The 12th man will show up Sunday in a big way. The Bills need to reward them with something to cheer about.
The unknown of Tyrod Taylor is intriguing. The Colts’ lack of tape on him, along with Ryan having all summer to prepare for Luck and Co., should work in the Bills’ favor.
Bills 27, Colts 20