INDIANAPOLIS – Practicing out in the elements in the month of January is usually a good sign that your season is in one and done football.
That’s the case for the Colts, as they were outdoors on Thursday for their lone practice of the week.
What did we learn from the Colts at their final prep for Saturday’s playoff game in Buffalo?
- Safety Khari Willis has cleared concussion protocol and is good to go for Saturday against the Bills. This is huge for the Colts in the steadiness Willis brings to the safety spot next to Julian Blackmon. Willis is a big part of the Colts disguising things, particularly pre-snap in the red zone.
- With Rock Ya-Sin (concussion) missing a second straight game, it’ll be veteran T.J. Carrie filling out the nickel personnel grouping again this weekend. While Ya-Sin is technically a ‘starter,’ Carrie had been playing more than him as of late. So, Xavier Rhodes and Kenny Moore will be the corners when using base personnel. And then when nickel is needed, Moore will slide inside and Carrie will be inserted as the outside corner.
- Just like last week, DT-DeForest Buckner (ankle) practiced only limited at the final session of the week. Despite the limited practice time, it’s expected that Buckner’s ankle injury will not hinder his playing time on Saturday. “Every game it gets aggravated a little bit, but feel like every week it’s getting better because the trainers are doing a good job and he’s doing a good job taking care of it,” Reich said on Thursday. “We feel like we are making good progress.” Officially, Buckner is listed as questionable, but he’s fully expected to play.
- Running back Jonathan Taylor (shoulder) participated all three days this week, but was wearing a red non-contact jersey at Thursday’s lone practice of the week. Taylor said on Wednesday that he’s “ready to roll” and feels better than he thought he would after an NFL regular season.
- Frank Reich’s 2 biggest keys to victory on Saturday? Turnover battle and red zone efficiency on both sides of the ball. “I feel like both teams are good at moving the ball and I really think red zone defense will be key this game.”
- The Colts elected to have just 1 practice this week (Thursday), and then 2 walk-throughs (Tuesday and Wednesday). Typically, teams practice 3 times in a week (the Bills practiced twice with a short week). Why the reasoning for just 1 practice? “I just felt with the short week we can get so much done in the walk-throughs,” Reich said. “We did extend (Thursday’s) practice a little bit, not a lot. We got a few more plays and a little bit more of an individual period. We felt at this point of the year, with all the accumulated reps we had…you can’t do it all the time or too much, but one advantage of walking through both days is we actually get more reps when we walk-through. You can clean up little things. Talk through more things. I felt really good about it. It played out how I wanted it to in my mind, as far as the feel that those walk-throughs had and as far as (Thursday’s) practice had.”
- Among things that give Colts fans hope in making a run in January comes from this team’s balanced compared to the rest of the AFC field. The Colts are the only AFC playoff team to rank top-10 in both offense (10th) and defense (8th).
- Part of the Colts’ potential recipe to upsetting the Bills comes from this: The Colts finished this season with the lowest three-and-out percentage in the NFL. They also ranked second in having the most 10-play drives. If the Colts can continue that trend, they should theoretically have the ability to maintain possession and limit the time Josh Allen has touching the football.
- Buffalo finishing the year ranked 26th in yards per carry allowed (4.62 YPC) is something the Colts like to see. It’s interesting to note that the Bills played just 2 of the NFL’s top 10 runners from last season, but were terrific against them. Titans running back Derrick Henry had a season-low 19 carries for 57 yards, with a season-low 3.0 yards per carry. Raiders running back Josh Jacobs had one of his quieter games of the year with just 48 yards on 15 carries (3.2 yards per carry).
- Frank Reich is extremely fond of his time in Buffalo and what that city means to him. Two of his three daughters were born there, as Reich played for the Bills from 1985-94. Reich was a head coaching candidate when the Bills had openings in 2015 (they hired Rex Ryan) and again in 2017 (they hired Sean McDermott). On the Buffalo front, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier was actually someone the Colts interviewed (along with Reich and Saints assistant Dan Campbell) after Josh McDaniels turned his back on Indianapolis. Frazier was an assistant under Tony Dungy in Indy back from 2005-06.
- As the Colts once again lack enough edge rushing, the Bills have two former Colts doing plenty of that. Jerry Hughes (Colts 1st round pick in 2010, playing three seasons in Indy) and Mario Addison (played for the Colts from (2011-12) have had quite the production, outside of their time with the Colts. Hughes had 5 sacks in 3 years in Indy. He’s got 51 sacks in 8 years with Buffalo. Addison had 0 sacks in 6 games in Indy. He’s had 55.0 sacks in 111 career games elsewhere.
- When you get into the playoffs, I guess it’s time to take a close look at the officiating crew. Brad Allen is the head referee for Saturday and his crew ranks near the bottom of the league in penalties called. Now, the crew does rank near the top of the NFL in calling penalties in the secondary, particularly in the defensive pass interference world.
- We know the Colts played the easiest schedule in the NFL this season. The Bills played the 17th easiest schedule. Buffalo has won 9 of their last 10 games, with the only loss coming on a Hail Mary to the Cardinals. Of those 9 wins, only 1 was by fewer than 8 points.
- How impressive is the Bills offense in 2020? They rank 2nd in yards per game, 3rd in passing yards per play, 1st on third down and 2nd in points per game.
- The weekly/monthly awards continue to pour in for the Colts. On Thursday, Jonathan Taylor was named NFL Offensive Rookie of the Month and DeForest Buckner was named AFC Defensive Player of the Month. Taylor had 651 total yards and 8 touchdowns, with 3 multi-TD games in the final month of the season. Buckner had 7 sacks, 6 tackles for loss and 1 forced fumble in the last month, including 3 separate 2-sack games.
- The Colts will have one final walk-through on Friday morning, before traveling to Buffalo for Saturday’s kickoff at 1:05 PM.
Final Injury Report
-OUT: OT-Will Holden (ankle), CB-Rock Ya-Sin (concussion)
-QUESTIONABLE: DT-DeForest Buckner (ankle)