The Buffalo Bills kicked off their highly anticipated 2015 season with a bang, defeating the Indianapolis Colts handedly by a score of 27-14. Heading into the game, there was serious concern surrounding Buffalo’s ability to defend Andrew Luck and the high-octane Colts offense without Marcell Dareus and Leodis McKelvin on defense, as well as how the offense would fare with Tyrod Taylor making his first professional start under center. Those concerns were concerns were put to rest early, as the Bills lived up to the hype surrounding their high-profile offseason moves.
Defense Swarmed Andrew Luck
Rex Ryan crafted an excellent gameplan on defense, overwhelming Indianapolis’ offensive line with blitz after blitz– sending additional pass rushers on 30 of the Colts’ 53 dropbacks—preventing Andrew Luck from getting comfortable in the pocket. The Bills sacked Luck just twice, but they hit him four times and added another seven hurries. According to ProFootballFocus, Luck had an average of just 2.4 seconds to throw, which allowed the Bills’ secondary to make plays against a quick passing attack. He completed just 53% of his passes and averaged only 5 yards-per-attempt through the air, tossing two touchdowns and two interceptions.
The Bills’ defense crowded the line of scrimmage with linebackers, safeties and cornerbacks all game, disguising where the pressure was coming from. This forced Luck into a handful of bad decisions or errant passes.
Rex Ryan was only able to dial up so many blitzes because of the outstanding cornerback play, particularly by Stephon Gilmore, who surrendered just five receptions on 12 targets for 65 yards, while breaking up four passes.
Rookie cornerback Ronald Darby struggled mightily throughout the preseason, but looked like a different player on Sunday, allowing just five receptions on seven targets for 41 yards. He allowed just six yards after the catch and recorded his first career interception and broke up another pass.
The Bills’ defense continued it’s dominance against the run, even with Corbin Bryant filling in at defensive tackle for Marcell Dareus, surrendering just 64 yards on 17 carries—an average of 3.8 yards-per-carry.
Defensive MVP: LB Nigel Bradham
Stephon Gilmore, Jerry Hughes and Preston Brown all had great outings on Sunday, but it was Nigel Bradham who stole the show. Bradham recorded eight tackles, one tackle for a loss, a sack and registered two QB Hits. Seven of his eight tackles qualified as “stops” according to ProFootballFocus and he generated three pressures in the 16 snaps in which he was a blitzer.
He was lightning-quick reacting to rushing plays and made several plays in the backfield.
In coverage, Bradham allowed four receptions for 23 yards, but one of those was an 18-yard gain. He was all over the field and should be an important cog in the Bills’ defense going forward.
Offense Shows Versatility and Potential
On offense, Greg Roman stayed true to his “ground and pound” philosophy, dialing up 39 rushing attempts to just 19 passes. Tyrod Taylor went 14-of-19 for 195 yards and a touchdown, while adding another 41 yards on nine carries.
The offensive line was inconsistent with it’s run blocking, as rookie right guard John Miller had an up-and-down game (one QB hit, two hurries), but new left guard Richie Incognito played incredibly, showing the ferociousness and power that the Bills hoped he’d provide when they signed him.
The unit was solid in pass protection and kept Tyrod Taylor clean, allowing zero sacks and eight total pressures. LeSean McCoy didn’t have the production that many expected him to, gaining just 41 yards on 17 carries, but he flashed some of the incredible moves that the team envisioned him making when they traded Kiko Alonso for him and signed him to a lucrative contract extension.
McCoy proved to be a threat in the passing game also, adding another 46 yards on three receptions.
Last year’s first-round pick Sammy Watkins wasn’t a factor in the passing game, as he ran go routes on 16 of his 21 routes, acting as a decoy against Vontae Davis, clearing out space for Percy Harvin and Charles Clay in the middle of the field and on underneath routes.
Percy Harvin was the featured weapon on offense for Buffalo, catching all five of his targets for 51 yards, including a 51-yard score on a go route against Darius Butler, in which he showed off his world class speed.
He added another nine yards on an end-around, flashing the explosiveness that fans should get used to with a creative mind like Greg Roman drawing up plays this season.
Offensive MVP: LG Richie Incognito
In his first start with the Bills, Richie Incognito was dominant as a run blocker and in pass protection. Used as a pulling guard on numerous power runs, Incognito consistently got around the edge and sealed his man.
In pass protection, he showed the ability to anchor against the rush and keep a clean pocket for Tyrod Taylor– something the Bills’ offense wasn’t able to do on a regular basis last season.
Overall, this was a huge win for the Bills, who were able to dominant the Colts on both sides of the ball. This is a team that just competed for the AFC Championship and Buffalo proved that they can stymie a prolific passing attack. Next week, they’ll host the New England Patriots in a highly anticipated divisional matchup.