Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano played his two best games of the season against Tennessee and Houston. His excellence streak came to an end in Sunday’s loss to the Indianapolis Colts.
Both Milano and fellow linebacker Tremaine Edmunds were victimized in the run game in the 37-5 loss. Both failed numerous times to shut down running lanes when they were in weak-side fill positions.
The Colts were able to take advantage of the aggressiveness of the Bills’ young linebackers. The Colts have young, aggressive linebackers, too, but the Bills’ offense was not able to exploit them. That was one of many differences in the game.
Milano had played strong games five of the first six weeks, with the loss at Green Bay being the only exception. Edmunds has been up and down against the run. He was superb in Minnesota and Houston. But he took a step back vs. the Colts.
Credit the Colts with good game-planning. They fooled the Bills with some “window dressing” — misdirection action. They seem to have noticed the Bills might let a late-releasing blocking back go free. They challenged the Bills’ zone coverage discipline by running a lot of middle of the field crossing patterns that the Bills defenders had to pass off properly.
They also succeeded in running out of two- and three-tight end sets. The Colts ran 15 times for 111 yards out of multiple tight end sets (a 7.4-yard average). All of those plays were against the Bills’ “big nickel” personnel, with safety Rafael Bush as the fifth defensive back. The Colts ran 15 of 19 plays with multiple-TE sets. They had passed more from those sets the first six weeks.
Milano lost track of Marlon Mack on the 29-yard TD pass. Milano got tied up by center Ryan Kelly on a 23-yard run by Mack in the second quarter and by Quenton Nelson on a 15-yarder in the third quarter. Edmunds got fooled on the first jet sweep and caught up in the blocking trash on runs of 15 and 5 yards in the third quarter.
Of course, in the modern NFL, even the best defenses are going to give up 28 points on occasion. The Bills’ offense is averaging 11.6 a game. The Bills’ defense doesn’t have the luxury of winning in a shootout.
Here are the position-by-position grades for the Bills, based on video review and on a scale of 1 to 5:
Quarterback (1.0): Derek Anderson was in a tough spot, starting on short notice. He overthrew Kelvin Benjamin on the first-half interception instead of hitting a wide-open Zay Jones underneath and was late over the middle for Jones in the fourth quarter. He only threw two passes 20-plus yards downfield.
More play-action throws would have been nice. Anderson was 5 of 7 for 58 yards on play-action passes. The Colts’ linebackers were playing downhill. On second and 2 from the Colts’ 38 in the third quarter, linebacker Anthony Walker stuffed a run. That would have been a perfect time to go downfield on play-action.
Running back (3.0): Chris Ivory averaged 5.1 yards a carry, excellent given the lack of respect the Bills’ pass game gets.
Receivers (0.5): Not enough quick separation, no downfield threats. Charles Clay had a critical fumble. Rookie Cam Phillips played 16 snaps.
Offensive line (2.0): Dion Dawkins gave up the sack-fumble to Kemoko Turay and three other hurries. He and tackle Jordan Mills weren’t that bad in pass protection. The middle three fared a bit better pass blocking than run blocking.
Defensive line (1.5): The Bills needed more pressure and penetration from Trent Murphy. Jerry Hughes was the best of the front four but was mostly neutralized by left tackle Anthony Castonzo. Star Lotulelei was reasonably effective in just 26 snaps. Eddie Yarbrough got fooled on the reverses.
Linebackers (1.0): A tough day for Milano and Edmunds. Lorenzo Alexander all but one of his 18 snaps on the defensive line.
Defensive backs (1.5): Jordan Poyer missed a tackle in the hole on the fourth-and-1 run, had a tough coverage assignment in yielding the first TD pass and lost track of T.Y. Hilton on the third TD. Micah Hyde missed a tackle on the double reverse that gave the Colts 11 extra yards. Dontae Johnson got caught staring in the backfield and abandoned his outside contain position on the 20-yard TD run in the fourth quarter.
Special teams (2.5): Corey Bojorquez had a good day, punting for a 46.3 net average with hang times of 4.6, 5.1 and 4.9 seconds.