Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at Lucas Oil Stadium:
1. Just in case there were any thoughts to the contrary, Derek Anderson shouldn’t be expected to perform miracles.
At this point, a good showing by Anderson might qualify as exceeding expectations given the circumstances surrounding his start at quarterback. Although he has 13 years of experience and Sean McDermott is impressed with the command he shows in practice, Anderson still has plenty of limitations. The biggest are that he hasn’t played in a regular-season game in two years and has only been on the Bills’ roster for a little more than one week after nearly 10 months of non-football activity.
Anderson’s general understanding of the scheme of offensive coordinator Brian Daboll, going back to when they were together in Cleveland in 2009 while Daboll was the Browns’ OC, should help. But the greatest challenges for the 35-year-old Anderson are his capacity to physically handle the demands of facing defenders who are much younger, faster and stronger, while being able to keep pace with the sheer speed of the NFL game.
There are bound to be some ugly moments. If the Bills are to have any chance of being competitive, Anderson must keep them to an absolute minimum.
2. One of the most obvious ways the Bills can help minimize Anderson’s exposure to potential disaster is to pound the football.
Granted, the Bills have shown they don’t have a whole lot going in the way of a running game. They rank 20th in the NFL in that category. But it’s better than where their passing offense ranks, which is last with rookie Josh Allen making five starts before injuring his elbow.
Daboll must push himself to stay committed to the run, even if/when there are early failures. The Colts rank 16th in the league in run defense, so opportunities for success exist as long as the Bills make a legitimate effort to find them.
This game plan should closely resemble what was implemented for the Tennessee game two weeks ago. The goal should be to have LeSean McCoy and Chris Ivory combine for at least 40 carries, if not more, while having Anderson throw sparingly. The Bills’ offensive line is healthy and, as it demonstrated against the Titans, more than capable of carrying the load that comes with a run-heavy approach.
Daboll also should incorporate as many screen passes as possible, which would put Anderson in a position of getting the ball out of his hand quickly while using those throws to help supplement the running game.
3. Another way for the Bills to help reduce Anderson’s chances of getting into trouble is to continue to play lights-out defense.
Of course, that didn’t prevent Nathan Peterman from throwing the pick-six or the interception that followed shortly thereafter at Houston last week, thus prompting the desperate move to Anderson.
Still, the Bills have the NFL’s third-ranked defense and are sixth against the pass and eighth against the run. Their front seven is doing a remarkable job of consistently pushing and collapsing the pocket. Kyle Williams is showing he still has plenty of good football left in his 35-year-old body, and his play is inspiring his younger fellow linemen who are also performing well.
Andrew Luck is the best thing the 1-5 Colts have going for them. He leads the NFL in pass attempts and completions, and is second with 16 touchdown passes (behind the 18 of Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes). But Luck’s eight interceptions, which are tied for second, reflect his tendency to force throws. He also doesn’t have much of a receiving corps with which to work.
The Bills have the considerable talent in their secondary that can take advantage of that, provided the pass rush gets after Luck the way it did in sacking Deshaun Watson seven times last week.
4. Whatever went sideways with the Bills’ special teams last week cannot resurface.
The Bills have no margin for error against any opponent, including one that shares the NFL’s worst record with Arizona, Oakland, San Francisco and the New York Giants.
Peterman’s blunders got most of the attention, but the Bills severely crippled their chances to reach .500 by handing the Texans 10 points via a punt that was muffed and one that was blocked. Special teams coach Danny Crossman has to be feeling some heat, because with so many problems on offense, his unit takes on more of the burden of being as close to perfect as it can.
Besides Stephen Hauschka’s tremendous reliability on field goals and extra points (that is, whenever the offense actually reaches the end zone), the Bills must not only avoid giving an opponent cheap points, but make every effort to stay on the right side of the field-position battle.
5. By making the proper decision at quarterback, Sean McDermott did his part to maintain what appears to be a fairly decent grip on his locker room.
It’s hard to say whether the coach, per an ESPN report earlier in the week, was ever truly in danger of losing the confidence of many of his players if he made Peterman the starter. But he was better off not taking the chance, especially against a beatable opponent.
McDermott makes no secret about leaning heavily on his senior leaders, such as Williams and linebacker Lorenzo Alexander, to make sure the team’s cohesion survives the stress of crushing losses such as last week’s. They’ve been doing their part to try to keep things together, and having the offense in Anderson’s experienced — albeit somewhat shaky — hands had to help their cause to some extent.
“Our locker room is great,” Williams said. “We have guys that work hard, we have guys that care about one another, that care about the game, and you see that through the way that they prepare, the way that they carry themselves through the week. And that’s not always the case.
“So it’s a bit of a reach to say that we’re going to lose the locker room because one guy may or may not be playing at quarterback.”