The Indianapolis Colts return home to Lucas Oil Stadium, the place where Andrew Luck and the offense feel most comfortable. Indy needs a win over the Buffalo Bills at 1 p.m. Sunday to keep pushing toward a playoff berth and put last week's blowout loss to the Patriots completely in the past. Here are five pivotal factors:
Avoid the gift-wrapped packages
Luck threw three interceptions (two were returned for touchdowns) and fumbled on a sack in the loss to the Patriots. He has been much better at protecting the football at home than on the road (only two of his 12 interceptions have come in Lucas Oil Stadium). The Bills are decent but not great against the pass, ranking 18th in yards allowed per game. Old Colts foe Mario Williams, if healthy, will try to bring some heat.
Slow down the run
The Colts need to find a way to contain C.J. Spiller, the Bills' top big-play back. Spiller had a slight shoulder injury while rushing for 91 yards in his last game against the Dolphins, but is expected to start and carry the bulk of the load. The Colts remain unsure whether Cory Redding will be full go for the game, but much of the defensive responsibility for slowing the run game will rest on linebackers Jerrell Freeman, Pat Angerer and Kavell Conner.
Take it away
The Colts continue to struggle in finding ways to earn the upper hand in the battle of turnovers. They had a strong game at Jacksonville, led by opportunistic cornerback Darius Butler, but couldn't gain any traction against the Patriots. It's imperative they find a way to get some pressure on Bills quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick, who can be rushed into bad throws and interceptions. He has 17 touchdowns, 10 interceptions and has been sacked 18 times. A return to form by Colts outside linebacker Robert Mathis would be much welcomed. He's overdue for one of his patented sack/strip forced fumbles.
Get a lead and use it
The Colts were up early in the Patriots, but a punt return and a pick six put them on their heels. It became a problem because Luck was forced into throwing more, and the Colts had to abandon what had been a strong start to the running game. Donald Brown is questionable again with an injury, but Vick Ballard and Delone Carter continue to show signs of improvement and increased confidence. The Bills rank 31st in run defense, so the opportunity is there.
Special teams sharpness
The good news is the Colts don't have to deal with Patriots return man Julian Edelman, who ripped them apart last Sunday. The bad news is Buffalo has a strong returner in Leodis McKelvin, who scored on a return against the Dolphins. McKelvin has two punt return touchdowns this season. So, the Colts need some big plays in return coverage to assure no quick points. Time for Joe Lefeged and friends to make something happen.