Buffalo Bills – Strategy Session Week 3 Opponent – New Orleans Saints

 

By PFC Bills Writer Jay Kommuru

Drew Brees is coming to town folks, and he’s bringing his NFL best 9 passing TDs and a ridiculous 9.8 yards per attempt with him. If you thought stopping the Patriots was hard, wait till this Sunday. But the Bills are capable of pulling out an upset – if they do most of the following things right.

DEFENSE

The defense has an enormous task this week, and really their challenge will depend partly on how the offense does. In any case, the Bills will be going against one of the best QBs in the game. And what’s worse is that he has no favorite target. Sure Colston is his #1 WR, but Brees does a great job of spreading the ball around. Oh and they have some guy named Reggie Bush also. However there are a few things that the Bills can focus on defensively to slow down the Saints.

Stop the pass, force the run.

RB Mike Bell has been ruled out for Sunday’s matchup. And so is WR Lance Moore. RB Pierre Thomas is still recovering from his sprained MCL. Reggie Bush is not an every-down RB in the NFL. All these things add up to a defensive philosophy for this Sunday’s matchup – Play the pass and make them run. As of now Thomas, Bush, and RB Lyndell Hamilton are slated to share carries against the Bills. Thomas is pretty close to 100% according to Head Coach Sean Payton. The Saints are going to try to come out passing the ball. And why shouldn’t they? They have the NFL’s best passing attack, notwithstanding the injuries to the RB position. Which is precisely why the Bills need to expect the pass early and often, and key in on it. So how do you defend the pass against Brees? Its easier said than done, but step 1 is to blitz him. Brees was sacked a grand total of 13 times last year – best in the NFL.

So I’m not expecting a lot of sacks for the Bills, if any. But every QB is less accurate with a blitz in his face. Brees is extremely accurate and he relies on timing with his receivers more than anything else. If the Buffalo defense puts some pressure on him, he is going to be forced to make quick decisions. But Brees also happens to be excellent against the blitz, so this game is really going to challenge the creative thinking of Perry Fewell. He needs show some new pre-snap looks, and try to make it somewhat unpredictable for Brees. Step 2 would be to jam their receivers at the line of scrimmage. As I noted earlier Brees relies on timing heavily and yet another way to disrupt this timing is to dislodge the Saints receivers off of their routes early on.

There is a problem with that of course as the Bills suddenly become susceptible to the big play if the receiver avoids the jam. But with no Lance Moore this week, and as long as there’s safety help over the top, McGee and his fellow CBs should be able to have some success by jamming the Saints WRs. Make in-game adjustments to defensive philosophy Sure playing the pass early on sounds like a good strategy, but Head Coach Sean Payton is no slouch when it comes to game-plan. Rest assured if the Bills are able to slow down the Saints early on by playing the pass, then Payton and Co. are going to change their strategy and play-calling.

You can expect more draw plays and runs from 3-wide sets to catch the Bills off-guard. Fewell needs to adjust to this during the game – an area where the Bills coaching staff have been devoid. So essentially Fewell needs to mix in some run blitzes to keep the running game in check. But the trick is to call the right plays at the right time which will be pretty tough against Brees and co. The Bills run defense has done very well in the first 2 weeks. So well, in fact, that teams have mostly abandoned the run in favor of the pass which has led to Buffalo’s pass defense statistics seem somewhat inflated.

Stay aggressive throughout the game.

If the Bills do find themselves ahead late in the game, the last thing that Fewell should be calling for is the soft Cover-2 zone. The Patriots and the Buccaneers exploited the deep middle of the field when they faced the Cover-2, and Saints TE Jeremy Shockey is not a bad option to have in that area. I’m sure Brees and co. are licking their chops at the prospect of picking the Bills’ zone based scheme apart. In response to this, the Bills need to adjust and keep blitzing Brees even late in the game.

The Prevent defense is exactly what cost them a victory against New England, and they rightly corrected that against the Buccaneers and squashed any attempt at a comeback. They need to stay on that course against the Saints if they are to have a shot. Brees is a rare QB and that offense is firing on all cylinders right now. Anyone watching the Colts-Dolphins game last Monday night saw just how quick elite QBs can put up points on the board. Experience has revealed that one cannot sit back and try to play prevent defense against QBs like Brees and Manning. The only effective way to contain them is to have constant pressure in their face for the entire game.

OFFENSE Control the time of possession

The Dolphins (last Monday night) had a perfect strategy to keep the Colts at bay – control the time of possession, avoid turnovers, and double-cover Reggie Wayne. It seemed to work for the most part, and it can be argued that if not for a costly drop by Ted Ginn Jr. in the endzone they would have won. The Bills need to do the same against the Saints. The no-huddle is good, and it will keep the defense on its heels, but the Bills need to control the time of possession and keep Brees and the Saints off the field. This is going to be the biggest help the Bills defense can receive. Lean on Fred RB Fred Jackson has been amazing for the first two weeks so far. The Saints rush defense is somewhat of a mirage – they’ve only allowed 56 yards per game, but a lot of this has to do with opponents having to play from behind and abandoning the run.

On the other hand the Saints have given up 291 yards per game through the air – this statistic is again a mirage because of the same fact that their opponents have had to abandon the run early on. In any case, look for Jackson to get a lot of looks in the passing game as the Saints will try to blanket Evans and Owens and take their chances with Fred. But the Bills don’t want big plays as much as they want to steadily march down the field and control the tempo and the clock on the way to a score. Utilizing Jackson is going to be the best way to do that.

Score TDs not FGs

 The Bills offense simply cannot afford to sputter in the red zone as it has in previous years. They need to score a TDs and that may even mean taking some gambles on 4th downs. Some points are always better than no points, but FGs are not going to help the Bills against the Saints. The ultraconservative Dick Jauron showed some signs of life last week when he chose to keep his offense on the field and convert a 4th down. I hope he does the same this Sunday if/when the Bills are in that situation. Of course I’m not advocating going for a 4th down conversion every time, but in certain situations it makes a lot of sense to go for it instead of punting (anything from the Saints 40 yd line to the goal-line to me is potentially 4 down territory).

Avoid turnovers.

 The Saints pass defense have already displayed a knack for the ball so far this season (6 INTs including a 97 yard return for a TD last week). Trent Edwards needs to be smart with the football and take what the defense gives him – so far this year he has displayed just that. Avoiding turnovers is always a priority for a QB, but it comes to the forefront this Sunday because of the opponent and how quickly they can score. No need to help out Brees and co. with good field position.

CONCLUSION

Overall the Bills need to be near perfect this Sunday to beat the Saints. And that includes Special Teams. The Bills unit has been near the top of the NFL for the past 5 years and this is a great opportunity for them to change the game. The early weather forecast for Sunday is mid 60’s with a 40-50% chance for rain which will be very advantageous to the Bills in trying to slow down Brees.

The return of CB Drayton Florence will also help the secondary which has been dealing with a few injures at the CB position (McGee and McKelvin were both somewhat limited this week in practice). Buffalo has the personnel, now it comes down to execution. If the New England game has taught them anything, it is to stay aggressive for 60 minutes – especially against elite QBs.