The Indianapolis Colts are back in the playoffs. After missing the postseason last year, Indy finished the regular season 11-5 and got the help they needed to sneak in. Entering the playoffs as the seventh seed, they will face the two-seeded Buffalo Bills in the wild-card round.
The Bills have been one of the NFL’s hottest teams coming down the stretch. Led by Josh Allen, Buffalo’s offense has been lethal, scoring on opposing defenses at will. The Colts’ defense has been a stout unit all season, but even they will be put to the test against Buffalo’s high-powered offense.
The Indianapolis Colts defense has been one of the NFL’s best in 2020
Last offseason, the Indianapolis Colts prioritized the defensive side of the ball, trading for Deforest Buckner, signing Sheldon Day, and signing veteran cornerback Xavier Rhodes. They also drafted Julian Blackmon. They all joined Darius Leonard, Kenny Moore, and crew. The Colt’s commitment to defense in the offseason has paid off, as they have been one of the league’s top defenses all season.
The strength of Indy’s defense has been their run defense. They have allowed 90.5 yards per game on the ground, second-fewest in the NFL per ESPN. The Colts are one of five teams in the NFL this season to allow less than four yards per carry. The ability to stop the run has allowed Indy to be more aggressive in the passing game, which is positive and negative.
The Colts passing defense started strong, but they have had their struggles down the stretch. They average 241.6 passing yards allowed per game, which is in the bottom half of the league. The last four quarterbacks the Colts have faced thrown for at least 225 yards and two touchdowns per footballguys.com.
One thing about the Colts defense is that they force turnovers. Their 25 total takeaways have them tied for the fifth-most in the NFL. Even though their pass defense is struggling, they have 15 interceptions, ninth-most in the league. The Colts defense has been lights out, but they could be in for a long day against the Bills.
The Bills offense could exploit the Colts’ weakness
The Buffalo Bills offense is something scary. Josh Allen has been on fire, and that should strike fear into the hearts of Colts defenders. It was mentioned their pass defense had become suspect late in the season, which plays right into the Bills’ hands—particularly Stefon Diggs’ hands, who has become Allen’s favorite target.
Diggs’ ability to create separation from defenders could cause issues if the Colts revert to man coverage. They primarily play zone, which could also spell trouble for them. Their cover two scheme relies on pressure from the front four. Josh Allen has only been sacked 26 times this season. Indy can create pressure with Buckner, but the Colts’ secondary will be in the spotlight.
Pass interference calls have hurt the Colts in crucial situations. That cannot happen against Buffalo. Having discipline while in coverage will be difficult because of Allen’s mobility. If the Colts can defend Allen and Buffalo’s passing offense, it forces the Bills to run the ball. The Bills average 107.7 rush yards a game, which is mediocre.
Stopping Diggs, Allen, and that offense is easier said than done. They have averaged 42 points in their final four games and rank third in the NFL with 288.3 passing yards a game. Diggs is the league’s leading receiver in yards and receptions. Indianapolis’ pass defense could be exploited by Buffalo, which can end up killing the Colts.
Consistency is the key to Colts’ playoff success
Finishing the season with an 11-5 record and a playoff berth would be cause for celebration. Not for the Colts. They have ended the season with inconsistent performances, squandering a 17-point lead against the Pittsburgh Steelers and struggling to put away the lowly Jacksonville Jaguars. When it’s playoff time, those inconsistencies can’t happen, and head coach Frank Reich knows it.
“At this next level, there’s no room for some of the inconsistencies that we’ve shown…We have to be better going on the road playing playoff football against really good teams,” said Reich per ESPN.
The Indianapolis Colts defense has had its struggles the last month of the season. Nevertheless, they still are a unit to be respected entering the postseason. They will need to fix their issues in the passing game or face Josh Allen and Stefon Diggs’ wrath. It will be a challenging game for Indy’s defense, but they need to show up and shut down the red hot Bills to have a shot at winning this wild-card matchup.
All stats courtesy of ESPN