Weekend Look Ahead

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7 things to watch for in Bills vs. Colts | Super Wild Card Weekend

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1. Big name players questionable

Both the Bills and Colts have big name players who are questionable for Saturday's Wild Card game. For the Bills their top two wide receivers are question marks for the playoff game. Stefon Diggs has an oblique muscle injury and was limited in practice on Thursday as was Cole Beasley who is working his way back from a knee injury.

When asked about his injury in a Zoom interview with the media Wednesday, Diggs offered the following.

"I'm cool. No major issues," he said. "I mean it's only been around for a little while, but I'm fine. I'll be alright."

Beasley meanwhile missed last week's regular season finale with a knee injury suffered late in the team's Week 16 win at New England.

For the Colts their reigning AFC Defensive Player of the Month, DeForest Buckner is listed as questionable for the game with an ankle injury. He sustained the injury in a Thursday practice in Week 15 and though he was limited in the game against the Texans, his snap count has increased each of the last two games.

"I don't think it's a huge issue," said Colts play-by-play broadcaster Matt Taylor, in an appearance on 'One Bills Live' this week. "I think at this stage of the game everyone is dinged up. He had the ankle injury a couple of weeks back, but he fought tooth and nail to get back on the field for the Houston game where he had a limited role. The guy is a gamer."

Buckner has made a giant difference on the Colts defense with 9.5 sacks and a team-leading 10 tackles for loss. He's been instrumental in helping the Colts rank in the top five in run defense for the first time since 1971.

2. Top 10 point producers

The Bills and Colts Wild Card matchup represents the only game featuring two teams that are each ranked in the top 10 in scoring. Buffalo ranks second in the league in points per game (31.3) and the Colts rank ninth (28.2).

Indy's offensive success has been rooted in a resurgent rushing attack led by Jonathan Taylor, who since Week 11 is averaging 123.5 rushing yards per game, with a pair of 200-yard rushing efforts, including the regular season finale against Jacksonville. Only Tennessee's Derrick Henry has rushed for more yardage over that span.

It's given the Colts attack some much needed balance and made Philip Rivers operate more efficiently. Their quick passing game enables Rivers to get the ball out at an average of 2.52 seconds to avoid any pass rush, knowing he's a strict pocket passer.

The results have been encouraging as the Colts have scored at least 24 points in each of their eight games. The Bills are one of only two teams in the league with a longer streak (9 games) with that kind of scoring output. Green Bay is the other.

Buffalo has increased their scoring average by almost 12 points a game from last season (11.7). That increase is the largest points per game improvement in the league this year and the seventh largest this century.

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3. Fast starters

The Colts have been fast out of the gate this season. Their 107 first quarter points ranks second most in the league behind only Baltimore (118). What makes them so effective at the outset of games is head coach Frank Reich's opening game scripts.

Sixty-six of the Colts 107 first quarter points have come on their opening possessions. Their average of 4.13 points on opening possessions ranks second in the league.

Indianapolis also doesn't get chased off the field often after three plays. The Colts are first in the league in three-and-out percentage on offense, as they're sent off after three offensive plays just 11.6 percent of the time. The lowest rate in the league.

Buffalo hasn't been bad in the first quarter either. Their 90 points scored in quarter number one ranks 10th in the NFL. Their three-and-out percentage on offense ranks third best in the league at just 12.6 percent.

Scroll through to see the best photos from Buffalo's practice in Bills Stadium as the team prepares for this Saturday's wild card playoff game against the Indianapolis Colts, presented by Pepsi.

4. Screen game a staple for Colts

Knowing their quarterback is strictly a pocket passer, the Colts have designed elements of their offense around neutralizing pass pressure. Philip Rivers cannot extend plays with his legs, so instead the Colts have relied on a potent run game, a quick pass game and a good deal of screens.

In fact, according to 'The Athletic,' from Weeks 10 to 17, 335 of Rivers' passing yards have come on screens to running backs and tight ends. It's the highest passing yardage total over that span for any quarterback.

It's a big reason why RB Nyheim Hines leads Indianapolis in receptions this season with 63. The Colts also make use of tight end screens as they line up in two or three tight end sets on more than 25 percent of their plays (27.6%).

"The screen has definitely been a big part of their offense," said head coach Sean McDermott. "They've got a Hall of Fame quarterback. We know what Frank (Reich) does as a coach. So, they've got a lot of ability on that offensive side of the football and certainly the screen has been a big part of their offense so we've practiced that this week and we'll continue to work on it."

Buffalo saw a few screen plays from the Dolphins in Week 17. LB Tremaine Edmunds said the key is to swarm to the football knowing screen plays usually provide the ball carrier with a convoy of blockers.

"We preach all the time about how guys have to run to the ball," Edmunds said. "And I think that's the biggest thing because the screen sometimes they have more blockers than we do defensive players so sometimes you count on those guys coming out of the stack and running the ball down. I think that's the biggest thing that helped us, that we see on tape. Our whole defense has to run to the ball."

5. Colts pass defense sliding

The Indy pass defense has been up and down this season and of late it's been on a bit of a slide. After giving up the sixth-fewest passing yards per game in the league (209.9) through the season's first 12 weeks, the passing yardage allowed by the Colts over their last five games has ballooned to 311.4 yards per game. That figure ranks 31st in the league over that span.

During that five-game stretch, the Colts pass defense has also allowed a completion rate of 69.9 percent to opposing quarterbacks, the fifth highest success rate surrendered since Week 13.

"Earlier this season they were doing things like shutting down the Tennessee Titans and it was very impressive," said Stephen Holder, Colts beat reporter for 'The Athletic' in an appearance on 'One Bills Live' this week. "Their lack of consistent edge rush has really come home to roost. They have a superb defensive tackle in DeForest Buckner. They don't have the talent on the edge to take advantage of his presence inside. So the corners and defensive backs have been asked to do too much.

"They like to play zone, but you've got to get some heat on the quarterback because the receivers are going to find the soft spots. They have played more man recently, but that hasn't worked either. Hopefully with Khari Willis coming back to the lineup will help them. He's a great safety."

Perhaps even more alarming is the Colts pass defense has allowed half of the deep passes attempted against them to be completed (50%), which is the highest rate surrendered in the league. Their also allowing 17.7 yards per attempt on such passes and opposing QBs have a passer rating of 123 on such throws. Both of those figures rank in the bottom two in the league as well.

Josh Allen has improved his deep ball passing accuracy from a completion percentage of 22.2 percent in 2019 to 40.6 percent this season.

Aligning his passing numbers with this recent Colts slide in pass defense, he has 15 passing touchdowns and two interceptions since Week 13 with a 117.5 passer rating. He's also 6-1 against top 10 defenses in points allowed. The Colts rank 10th in scoring defense.

6. A teammate reunion

Two former teammates will square off against one another on Saturday. Stefon Diggs is listed as questionable for Saturday's game with an oblique muscle injury, but provided he plays he'll be lining up at times opposite former Minnesota Vikings teammate, Xavier Rhodes.

The veteran cornerback has had a renaissance type season in Indianapolis after being allowed to walk in free agency by the Vikings last offseason, and Diggs credits him with readying him for NFL cornerbacks.

"He's definitely one of the bigger corners in the league," said Diggs. "I went against him every day, so it was my first time, even when I was a young player, like my rookie year when I was on scout team like my first three games and he was the only person I was going against.

"He was someone who helped me with my success, as far as like going against a big corner that's fast and can move and be active. So I feel like he played a huge part in my development as a young player.

Rhodes has a pair of interceptions this season, one of which he returned for a touchdown. He's also tied for the team lead in pass breakups with 12.

"To watch him on tape now is, he's having a good year," said Diggs. "He still can get active and have success on the field. Xavier has always been a grinder and a guy who takes practice super serious and he's the same now."

7. Rookie kickers square off

The Bills and Colts will both bring rookie kickers into their Wild Card playoff game on Saturday. To their credit, both have performed admirably in 2020. Bass finished the season 28 of 34 on field goal attempts for a success rate of 82.3 percent.

Meanwhile Blankenship, Indianapolis' undrafted rookie, went 32 of 37 (86.5%).

"He missed only five field goals all season," said Taylor of Blankenship. "It is worth pointing out that most of Rodrigo's production has come within 40 yards. He only made one kick over 45 yards this season."

That was a 53-yard attempt by Blankenship, who went 1-3 from 50 yards or more. Bass went four for six from 50 yards plus, with one of those misses being a 61-yard attempt.

Bass clearly has the edge in leg strength as evidence by his 71 touchbacks on kickoffs this season, which tied for third most in the league. Blankenship had just 13 touchbacks and kicked indoors in more than half his games.

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