After months of anticipation, a new-look Buffalo Bills team led by the fiery Rex Ryan will play host to the Indianapolis Colts in the 2015 NFL Season’s opening day this Sunday. The Bills made several big-impact moves throughout the offseason (acquiring Tyrod Taylor, LeSean McCoy Charles Clay, Percy Harvin, Richie Incognito, John Miller, Ronald Darby. who will all make their first start as a member of the Bills on Sunday, along with Karlos Williams who will see time as McCoy’s backup.) that have many “outside” media members predicting big things for the 2015 Bills.
Let’s take a look at the opponent, the Indianapolis Colts, how the Bills lineup stacks up against theirs, which individual player matchups to watch, as well as some under-the-radar role players that could have an impact on the game.
Colts’ New Faces
This offseason, the Colts abided by the “make your strength an even bigger strength” philosophy, by selecting Miami wideout Phillip Dorsett in the first-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, in addition to signing long-time veteran Andre Johnson to replace Reggie Wayne on the outside. The team also signed running back Frank Gore to provide some stability in the run game. While Gore may be on his last legs, he’ll see far more five-man boxes in Indy than the eight-man boxes he was used to during his time with the 49ers.
Colts CB Vontae Davis vs Bills WR Sammy Watkins
Despite playing through several nagging injuries and a vanilla offensive scheme under Doug Marrone and Nathaniel Hackett, Sammy Watkins still managed to catch 65 passes for 982 yards and six scores in his rookie campaign.
Watkins flashed the explosiveness everyone saw at Clemson, but also began to show an understanding of how to use his hands to get off press coverage, among other subtle nuances of the game.
This week he’ll face off with Vontae Davis, a 5’11” 207-pound man-cover specialist that allowed just 43.7% of passes in his direction to be caught, surrendering just 405 yards and zero touchdowns, while intercepting 4 passes and breaking up 19 more. ProFootballFocus (Subscription Required) graded Davis as the No. 2 overall cornerback for the 2014 NFL Season.
Watkins looked utterly dominant at times throughout this summer’s training camp, but now he’ll have to prove that he can do it against one of the league’s premier players.
Colts Offensive Line vs Bills Defensive Line
The Bills will be without Marcell Dareus for the first week, as the fifth-year all-world defensive tackle was suspended for violating the league’s substance abuse policy. Nonetheless, the Bills will look to Corbin Bryant to fill the large void left by a player of Dareus’ caliber. During the preseason, PFF graded Bryant as the No. 18 overall defensive tackle out of 100 qualifying players at the position. Alongside Bryant will be the usual suspects—Jerry Hughes, Mario Williams and Kyle Williams—a trio who terrorized opposing quarterbacks last year, combining for 170 total pressures (36 sacks, 28 hits, 107 hurries).
The Colts offensive line has been bad for the last few years, but having a quarterback like Andrew Luck that can get the ball out of his hands quickly, the issue is often glossed over. Luck was sacked 27 times last season, was hit six times and hurried 35 times. In the run game, they weren’t much better. Colts’ running backs averaged 3.8 yards-per-carry on 350 rushing attempts last season, scoring just six touchdowns.
Buffalo’s front four can provide pressure in the trenches by itself, but now with Rex Ryan bringing his exotic, pressure-based defense with him, it could be a long day for the Colts’ offensive line.
Colts WR T.Y. Hilton/ Andre Johnson vs Bills CB Ronald Darby
Without a first-round pick in the 2015 NFL Draft, the Buffalo Bills made FSU cornerback Ronald Darby their first selection in the second-round. A freakish athlete with track-star speed, Darby has everything you want from a cornerback—from a physical standpoint. From a mental and technique standpoint, Darby has struggled through his first training camp and preseason. Veteran starter Leodis McKelvin missed the entire offseason with a foot injury and isn’t expected back for another several weeks.
This forced Darby into the fire, as opposing teams targeted him early and often throughout the preseason. Darby was targeted 12 times and he allowed eight receptions for 179 yards (22.4 yards-per-catch) and one touchdown.
This week, he’ll make his start against one of the most explosive passing offenses in the game. It’s not clear whether Stephon Gilmore will be trailing T.Y. Hilton or Andre Johnson on Sunday, but both pose major matchup questions for the young, inexperienced rookie.
Hilton, who stands 5’9” and weighs 183-pounds seems like a better matchup for Darby than the 6’2” 230-pound Johnson from a physical standpoint. However, Hilton is one of the best deep threats in the league and runs fantastic routes that can turn a defensive back around with ease.
Johnson, on the other hand, is your prototypical possession receiver. He exhibits great body control and will use his size to box his defender out in order to make tough catches. Darby has his work cut out for him.
Bills Sleeper to Watch
RB Karlos Williams
The Bills selected Karlos Williams in the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft, and the former Seminole had a great training camp and looked like he belonged in the team’s preseason opener against the Carolina Panthers. Unfortunately, a freak injury sidelined him for the rest of the offseason, but Williams is expected to play on Sunday as LeSean McCoy’s primary backup. Running Backs coach Anthony Lynn stated that Williams won the “No. 2” job during camp, which was part of the reason the team let Fred Jackson go. Williams will get eased in on special teams, where he excelled in college, but he could see a handful of carries in the right situation as well.
Colts Sleeper to Watch
EDGE Johnathan Newsome
Jonathan Newsome was selected in the fifth-round of the 2015 NFL Draft after recording 115 tackles, 23.5 tackles for loss and 16.5 sacks in two seasons at Ball State. Newsome stands 6’3” weighs 250-pounds and possesses long arms that allow him to set the edge against the run, while maintaining leverage and distance between lineman when rushing the passer.
As a rookie, Newsome played 531 defensive snaps (41.5%), recording 28 tackles and three forced fumbles. As a pass-rusher, Newsome racked up seven sacks, five QB hits and 13 QB hurries. His 25 total quarterback pressures in 189 pass rushing snaps gave him a “Pass Rush Productivity” number of 10.8 from ProFootballFocus, making him the 12th most efficient pass rusher among 47 qualifying 3-4 Outside Linebackers