ReFo: Bills @ Colts, Week 12
Believe it or not, both of these teams entered this game with legitimate eyes on a run down the stretch that could earn them a Wild Card berth, but that dream likely ended for Buffalo with the loss. Indianapolis, on the other hand, continued its remarkable season and is looking more and more likely to make the playoffs.
This game ended up being a defensive battle with a few key turnovers making the difference, and when Buffalo’s Stephon Gilmore was flagged for a defensive pass interference penalty on third down with 1:48 to go in the game, the Bills’ hopes disappeared as the Colts could then kneel out the clock.
The score may not have suggested a riveting game, but there were some big plays and great performances on both sides, so let’s take a deeper look at a few that stood out.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Stevie’s Biggest Play
The Bills targeted their top receiver, Stevie Johnson, a huge amount in this game, aiming his way on 14 occasions. He finished the day with six catches for 106 yards, and dropped one pass, but the biggest play of his day came on a pass that never had a chance of reaching him. With Ryan Fitzpatrick cocked to throw he was hit by Dwight Freeney which turned him around and took all of the power from the pass and caused it to die a good 5 yards short of Johnson’s route — right into the waiting arms of Tom Zbikowski, who set off on a return.
Rather than just watching it happen Johnson gave chase, wrapped up Zbikowski and pounded the ball out before diving on the loose fumble to recover the ball for the Bills. It didn’t earn him any yards, or receptions, or touchdowns, and the Bills weren’t able to capitalize on it by getting back on level terms, but this was a fantastic play by Johnson and demonstrates a great effort that wouldn’t normally show up on any stat sheet.
The Return of Super Mario?
Much was made of the three-sack performance from Mario Williams, but the majority of people lauding his return presumably weren’t watching how he got those sacks. On only one of them did he actually beat an offensive lineman, when he took down Andrew Luck with 48 seconds to go in the first quarter. His second sack came when Luck started to move in the pocket and simply ran into the path of the big defensive end, and his third was entirely unblocked as Luck rolled right into him after a play-action fake. In truth, Williams was best in run defense in this game, squeezing the edge and dominating when he was blocked by tight ends. He also batted down a pass, but given that he rushed the passer 40 times this game, the amount of plays on which he actually recorded pressure was far from fantastic. Do not be led by the raw number of three sacks.
Pressure Around the Edge
Facing Indianapolis in past seasons you could be guaranteed that your offensive tackles would have bad days trying to contain Freeney and Robert Mathis around the edge. This season neither player has been the force they once were in the Colts new system, but both had success in this game against the Buffalo tackles. Cordy Glenn and Chris Hairston combined to surrender 10 total pressures, or two-thirds of the pressure the Bills gave up all game.
Mathis and Freeney have always been a leverage nightmare for big offensive tackles, and this pair was exposed in the game for speed and leverage like we were watching the Colts of old. The good news, at least, is that both players run blocked pretty well and neither was penalized.
Indianapolis – Three Performances of Note
The Tale of Three Receivers
I’ve said before that the Colts are at their best when they have a second target emerge for Luck to throw to, and when Donnie Avery has big days the Colts tend to look much better. In this game he didn’t have a good day at all. While Reggie Wayne was his usual excellent self, snagging eight catches for 102 yards, he was thrown at a massive 14 times. Avery was targeted seven times and caught just three passes for 36 yards, while dropping two. T.Y. Hilton began the game well, catching all three of the balls thrown his way for 33 yards and a touchdown, but he was injured on a punt return and didn’t notch a single catch in the second half. Between his touchdown catch and punt-return score, Hilton was responsible for both trips to pay dirt for the Colts.
Though most of the Colts’ linemen had their hands full in this game, two struggled particularly badly, and they lined up right next to each other. Samson Satele and Mike McGlynn were handled in the run game all day by Kyle Williams in particular, who tossed each player aside on more than one occasion. Satele also coughed up a sack and two more hurries, while McGlynn gave up a pair of hurries himself. The Colts are riding on the arm of Luck at the moment, but things will get immeasurably easier for the team if they can establish a run game and be confident attacking teams right up the middle. They couldn’t do that in this game, and had just one attempt go between these two players.
This game will have brought back memories for Colts fans used to seeing Mathis and Freeney tear around the edge and disrupt the opposition’s passing game. Jerry Hughes has been seeing a reasonable amount of time this season, and playing well, but he managed just 14 snaps in this game as the starters combined for 102. Mathis was the only one of the two to get a sack, adding four hurries as well, but Freeney knocked Fitzpatrick to the ground twice and was directly responsible for the interception we mentioned earlier. He also recorded four hurries of his own. The Colts had impressive performances from most of their defense, but the sight of these two rediscovering their best form was too good not to focus on.
— Two Indianapolis cheerleaders had their heads shaved during the game in support of Chuck Pagano’s leukemia battle. Pagano was in attendance at the game and received a standing ovation.
— Rookie Stephon Gilmore had a mixed day, shadowing Reggie Wayne reasonably well, limiting him to two catches from six targets in his coverage, but was flagged for the pass interference call that ended the game, in essence.
— Under pressure, Andrew Luck had a passer rating of just 7.8, completing just two passes and throwing an interception.
PFF Game Ball
This was a close run thing between several players, but in the end Dwight Freeney gets the nod.
Follow Sam on Twitter: @PFF_Sam