Colts at Bills: What to watch for Sunday

CINCINNATI, OH - OCTOBER 29: Jacoby Brissett #7 of the Indianapolis Colts throws a pass against the Cincinnati Bengals at Paul Brown Stadium on October 29, 2017 in Cincinnati, Ohio. (Photo by Andy Lyons/Getty Images)

INDIANAPOLIS, Ind. – Areas of interest in the Indianapolis Colts’ Sunday meeting with the Buffalo Bills at New Era Field in Orchard Park, N.Y.

Kickoff: 1 p.m.

Broadcast: CBS4.

  • Weather whatever the weather: The Colts should brace for the worst afternoon of their season. From an elements standpoint, that is. The forecast for Orchard Park calls for temperatures in the mid- to upper-20s and snow with some level of accumulation.

One of Chuck Pagano’s first messages to his players this week dealt with handling the elements associated with New Era Field. That includes a fan base that’s generally amped up after hours of tailgating, and the weather.

“You’ve got to deal with it,’’ Pagano said.

We’re expecting the Colts to take a somewhat conservative offensive approach. They’ll want to ease Jacoby Brissett’s workload in less-than-ideal conditions by leaning on Frank Gore and Marlon Mack. The Bills’ defense has been susceptible to the run, ranking 25th in yards per game (120.4) and 20th in yards per attempt (4.3).

But will the Colts be able to exploit that? There’s no indication Gore is wearing down. He’s had at least 16 carries in four of the last five games and is coming off a 13-carry, 61-yard outing (4.7 per attempt) at Jacksonville.

“He’s amazing,’’ coordinator Rob Chudzinski said, adding Gore told him “‘Man, I want to finish this thing out right. We’ve got to win some games.’ That’s what his mind is on, and that’s why he’s great.’’

  •  Be special: If it’s windy and the turf is frozen or slippery, look for special teams to play a key role in the game’s outcome. Field position figures to be paramount and special-teams turnovers always are killers.

For rookie punter Rigoberto Sanchez, it’s a matter of pinning the Bills deep and forcing them to sustain drives. He’s the NFL’s top rookie punter. His 45.8 average ranks 14th in the league, but his 43.3 net ranks 5th. Opponents have returned only 16 of his 66 punts and the Colts’ coverage unit has allowed just 83 return yards, a 5.2 average.

Adam Vinatieri has seen everything there is to see in terms of poor kicking conditions. He’s more concerned with the wind and possible accumulation of snow than the temperature. While he’s 22-of-23 on the season, he’s never found his comfort zone at New Era Field. In 11 appearances, Vinatieri is 11-of-20 with a long of 46.

  • Which QB will it be?: It was divided preparation for the Colts, but common sense tells us they spent more time focusing on Tyrod Taylor than Nathan Peterman.

Taylor was limited in practice this week after sustaining a bruised patellar tendon in his left knee last Sunday against the Patriots. It’s entirely possible Buffalo starts Peterman, but has Taylor active and ready to step in if Peterman once again falters on centerstage.

“We’ll see how it goes,’’ Bills coach Sean McDermott said Friday.

Taylor is the much bigger threat, when he’s healthy. He’s completing 63.2 percent of his passes for 2,090 yards with 12 touchdowns and four interceptions. He’s also the Bills’ second-leading rusher with 334 yards and three TDs on 69 carries. The bruised knee, though, undoubtedly would limit his mobility.

And we’re guessing everybody remembers McDermott’s decision to bench a healthy Taylor in favor of Peterman Nov. 19 against the Chargers. The rookie QB’s first NFL start lasted one half. He attempted 14 passes and completed six passes to his teammates and five to the Chargers. McDermott came to his senses and re-inserted Taylor into the lineup for the second half.

  • ‘Shady’ day?: Let’s forget about which QB plays. Let’s focus on the Bill who presents the clearest threat to the Colts. And that would be LeSean “Shady’’ McCoy. He’s one of just two players – San Francisco’s Carlos Hyde is the other – who leads his team in rushing and receiving. McCoy is versatility personified, rushing 207 times for 851 yards and four TDs and catching 48 passes for 304 yards and one TD. The Bills’ ground game ranks 8th in the NFL (122.0).

“He’s unique,’’ coordinator Ted Monachino said. “Their usage of him is any way they can get the ball in his hands, they’re going to do it as often as they can. The situation doesn’t matter. He’s the short-yardage and goal-line back. He’s the third-down back.

“He’s the featured running back on first, second and third down. He’s special.’’

On the flip side, the Colts’ run defense has been a strength much of the season. It ranks 13th in yards allowed per game (108.4) and 11th in yards per attempt (3.9). It hasn’t allowed a team to reach 100 yards in five straight games. The last time that happened was 1971.

One more statistical plus for the Colts’ run defense: it’s allowing a league-low 2.9 yards on first down.

  • War of attrition: It’s December, which often means who’s still available? The Colts list of front-line players lost to injury this year is long, and Sunday they’ll be without center Ryan Kelly (concussion), wideout Donte Moncrief (ankle) and cornerback Rashaan Melvin (hand).

The Bills, who remain in the thick of the AFC wild-card chase at 6-6, placed defensive end Shaq Lawson (ankle) and wideout Jordan Matthews on IR this week. Lawson is the team’s top pass-rush threat with 4 sacks while Matthews had 25 receptions for 282 yards and one TD.

  • And the winner is: Colts 19, Bills 17. Just a hunch with very little evidence to back it up.

You can follow Mike Chappell on Twitter at @mchappell51.

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