The Buffalo Bills return to the friendly confines of New Era Field in week 10 for a game against the New Orleans Saints. It marks just the 11th meeting all-time between the two teams and the first in Buffalo since September 27, 2009.
The Saints hold a narrow 6-4 advantage in the overall series, but have enjoyed quite a bit of recent success. They’ve won the last four meetings dating back to 2001, with the Bills’ last win coming at the SuperDome on the final week of the 1998 season. Buffalo’s last home triumph against the Saints came all the way back on October 30, 1983.
Sunday’s matchup is the first since 1992 where both teams sported a winning record. The Bills are in search of a bounce back performance after last Thursday’s nationally televised debacle against the New York Jets. Meanwhile, the Saints are winners of six straight after starting the season 0-2. The previous two teams to accomplish that feat (2007 New York Giants, 1993 Dallas Cowboys) went on to win the Super Bowl.
What do the Bills need to do to get back to winning ways while sending the Saints back to New Orleans with their first loss since September 17? The answers can be found below in this week’s keys to victory.
Week 10 Buffalo Bills Keys to Victory
Pressure Drew Brees
Tom Brady garners a great deal of praise for his continued high level of play late in his career. And rightfully so. But Drew Brees also deserves plenty of high marks as well. The 38-year-old’s proficiency at the helm of the Saints pass game is a major reason why they’re atop the NFC South Standings. Brees’ 2,214 passing yards ranks fifth among NFL quarterbacks, while only two have a higher passer rating.
What’s interesting about that yardage total is that at his current pace, Brees would finish with his lowest output since 2009. While that may connote something negative at first glance, Saints fans are well aware that he helped lead the team to its lone Super Bowl victory that year. Though Brees’ is well known for his five seasons of 5,000+ passing yards, it appears quality over quantity is a key component to this team’s success.
That’s certainly the case in 2017. Halfway through the season, Brees is putting together an immensely efficient and mistake free campaign. He’s completing 71.6 percent of his passes which not only leads the league, but would be a career high if it stays at its current level. Only three quarterbacks with at least 150 completed passes have fewer than his four interceptions. And opposing pass rushers have sacked him just eight times thus far.
That final statistic is of great concern for the Bills. Their 14 sacks on the year currently ranks sixth worst in the NFL. It’s part and parcel of an inability to capitalize on pressure, especially in legit passing situations. Per Pro Football Focus, they’re turning less than ten percent of their late down pressures into sacks, something only two other teams are managing. That has to change on Sunday for the Bills to realize success.
A corollary to rendering Brees less effective is making sure that players he targets are adequately brought down on first contact. This is true not only in preventing yards after catch on passes downfield, but also on screen plays. In Alvin Kamara, the Saints suddenly have a potent weapon in their short passing game. The rookie out of Tennessee broke out in last week’s win over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, especially with respect to catching passes out of the backfield.
That became readily apparent late in the first half of the game. Brees dumped it off to Kamara who proceeded to scamper down the sidelines, breaking multiple tackles en route to the end zone. It’s a function of how important his presence is as an underneath release valve for Brees. Kamara ranks sixth among running backs in receptions, 11th in yards per reception and is top 20 in yards after catch.
If the Bills don’t improve their tackling, Kamara among other players are in line to gash them both on the ground and through the air. Part of what precipitated Buffalo’s woeful performance against the Jets in week nine was a shocking inability to effectively wrap players up. All in all, the Bills missed 20 tackles. That’s a problem against a Saints team forcing six missed tackles per game during their current six-game winning streak.
That ability to gain yards after contact is a big contributor to a Saints’ top ten rushing attack, a far cry from previous years. In theory, it makes Sunday’s game a strength upon strength matchup, with the Bills having given up under 100 yards in five of eight games this year. But they conceded a whopping 194 against the Jets, in part due to a meltdown in the tackling department. On Sunday, they must prove that was an aberration rather than a troubling trend.
Win the Battle of Rookie Corners
Throughout the first half of 2017, two players are generating discussion with regard to rookie of the year on defense. Both of them, Buffalo’s Tre’Davious White and New Orleans’ Marshon Lattimore, will be on display in Orchard Park on Sunday. The former took home defensive rookie of the month honors in September, while the latter did so a month later. Early on in their pro careers, these two young talents have the look of potential shutdown corners for years to come.
White certainly has the biggest challenge having to provide coverage against a future Hall of Fame quarterback in Brees. But when he’s on, he’s proven highly effective at keeping the ball out of opposing receivers’ hands. White’s 12 pass breakups is tied for tops in the NFL, while he also has an interception, two forced fumbles and a fumble return for a touchdown. But he has been susceptible to getting beat over the top and he’ll need to be better in that phase of coverage against Ted Ginn, Jr. According to Pro Football Focus, he’s third among eligible receivers in catch rate on deep passes.
In Lattimore’s case, not much thrown his way ends up as a completed pass. It’s a major reason why he currently owns the highest PFF grade among all NFL cornerbacks. The advanced analysis site noted in their Bills-Saints preview that the Ohio State product “has so far had the best season PFF has ever seen from a rookie.” Tyrod Taylor, who’s only thrown two interceptions this year, will most definitely have his hands full. Lattimore already has a pick six this year and still has yet to allow a passing touchdown in his coverage.
White may have help if E.J. Gaines can make it back from injury. It would return a Bills secondary to full strength along with Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer. Together, those four have combined for nine interceptions, a major reason why the Bills still lead the league in turnover margin. Ultimately, if White can somehow outduel his rookie counterpart in Lattimore, against an NFL quarterbacking legend no less, Buffalo may yet put an end to the second longest winning streak in pro football.