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Indy's struggles against Buffalo stem from offensive line

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The Indianapolis Colts offense went stale on Sunday, but which unit underperformed the most?

Timothy T. Ludwig-USA TODAY Sports

The television announcers precisely summed up the Indianapolis Colts’ effort against the Buffalo Bills on Sunday: they flatlined. Andrew Luck and the offense did not cross midfield until the 9:53 mark of the second quarter, and only passed the 50-yard mark two other times. Just to get a glimpse at how bad things got, Adam Vinatieri even missed a field goal before halftime.

The weather was no excuse because the Bills ran all over Indy in the same conditions, averaging 4.6 yards per carry. So what was the ultimate difference that resulted in a convincing Buffalo win? The Bills destroyed the Colts in the trenches, which provided Luck with almost no time to find his targets downfield. His longest completion of the day was only for 30 yards and he averaged his fourth-worst YPA (5.0). One could have even counted the number of times Luck attempted a deep pass on their hands. Give the Buffalo secondary and front seven credit, though, because they overwhelmed Indy’s offensive line and smothered the Colts receivers all day long.

Even though Luck played one of the most forgettable games of his career, the Colts’ offensive woes stemmed from inconsistent play from the linemen. This was disappointing given the amount of buzz that surrounded Luck’s protectors and the recent four-year extension that left tackle Anthony Castonzo signed. Overall the unit’s play was sloppy, uninspired and undisciplined. 34 yards were lost mostly because of blatant holding calls. Buffalo’s front seven was just too quick and blitz-heavy for Indy to handle, a product of Rex Ryan’s reliance on constantly pressuring quarterbacks. Even though the Colts passed (mostly unsuccessfully) over 70 percent of the time, their backfield was too thin to even record 30 touches.

So the Colts decided to go with their usual air-heavy attack, and Ryan’s defense wreaked havoc. The secondary deflected 12 passes, Luck was taken down twice and he threw two interceptions. His throws were not errant, they were just rushed and against the blanketing Buffalo corners. They played scrappy, and it prevented Luck from forming any sort of rhythm. Luck could not play to the Indy receivers’ greatest strength: their speed. But even when Luck went deep he was still throwing against Buffalo’s tight secondary play.

Take for instance this chance that Luck took late in the first quarter. With T.Y. Hilton’s ability to smoke corners and safeties, he decided to attempt to squeeze a pass to his favorite receiver. Here is a still-frame giving you the idea of how much space the Buffalo secondary was giving the Colts:

Hilton blanketed by Buffalo seconday

T.Y. Hilton is being covered by three Buffalo cornerbacks, resulting in an easy interception for Ronald Darby. (photo obtained from espn.com)

Ronald Darby was stride for stride with one of the NFL’s quickest receivers and a 2014 Pro Bowler, T.Y. Hilton. So Luck strayed away from going deep after the aforementioned failed pass for a few reasons: the weather was clearly bothering his ability to throw the ball straight, the offensive line was giving Luck two to three seconds to work with, resulting in a lot of short slant routes, and the corners had enough time to hang tight with their man, so a wideout like Hilton could not bust through the secondary. Indy has the ability to be an offensive juggernaut, as we saw last season, but Luck and company need time for plays to form downfield. It is only the first game of the season, but the o-line’s play was concerning.

Buffalo will serve as a wakeup call for a team picked by many to make it to Super Bowl 50. Although the offense started to have a pulse in the second half, there was still nearly not enough time given to Luck for Indy to pick up big chunks of yardage. The team averaged a paltry 4.5 yards per play, and to make matters worse, became one-dimensional once Frank Gore was taken out of the game.

The Indianapolis Colts defense was desperately looking for a turnover on Sunday, any sign of life to build momentum for a comeback. With 10 minutes remaining in the game and Indianapolis within two scores of Buffalo, defensive tackle Clinton Geathers tipped a ball at the line of scrimmage and nearly intercepted his own deflection. Instead Buffalo punted the ball away to rookie punt returner and wideout Phillip Dorsett, who proceeded to fumble away the Colts chances of stealing a week one victory from the Bills. Indianpolis flat-lined once again.