The New Orleans Saints travel north again this weekend, this time to take on the surprising 5-3 Buffalo Bills. The Saints are looking for their 7th win in a row against a Bills squad that is undefeated at home.
Today, let's take a look at some of the important match ups to watch when a surging Saints defense takes on what some consider to be a one-man show on the Buffalo offense.
Saints run defense vs. Bills run offense
The New Orleans run defense has most certainly had it's ups and downs in the 2017 season. Currently ranking 19th, giving up 116 yards per game on the ground and 4.7 yards per carry, it may appear as if the Saints are unable to control their opponent's running attack. The New Orleans defense has actually given up less than 100 yards rushing in 3 of their last 5 games, and held the Packers and Bears in check over the second half of their games.
The Saints defensive line has done a solid job of holding up at the holding up the line of scrimmage, while second level defenders such as linebackers A.J. Klein and Craig Robertson along with safeties Kenny Vaccaro and Vonn Bell have been attacking the offensive backfield, and the entire defense has been solid on 3rd and short yardage. The biggest problem the Saints defense has had is giving up one or two big running plays each game, particularly in first halves, due to lapses in containment and gap assignments.
Bills running back LeSean McCoy is one of the most explosive backs in the league, and can take it to the end zone in the blink of an eye if not contained. McCoy is the Bills offense, leading the team in rushing (546 yards), receptions (38), total touchdowns (3, all rushing), and his 242 receiving yards are second on the team. Buffalo's rushing attack ranks 11th in the league, but they average just 3.7 yards per carry. Quarterback Tyrod Taylor is the team's second leading rusher, with 50 attempts for 210 yards (4.2 yards per rush) and 2 scores, and will keep a defense on it's heels with his running ability.
Saints pass defense vs. Bills pass offense
The most noticeably improved area on the Saints entire team from recent seasons may be the play of it's pass defense. After getting torched by the Vikings and Patriots in the season's first two games, New Orleans has risen all the way to 12th in pass defense. The Saints have intercepted 9 passes, returning two for touchdowns, and sacked the quarterback 23 times while giving up just 152 passing yards per game since the New England debacle in week two. They've done it with an attacking, sometimes blitz heavy philosophy and tight aggressive coverage scheme.
First round pick Marshon Lattimore is not only a strong rookie of the Year candidate, but is arguably the Saints team MVP over the first half of the season. Lattimore and fellow cornerback Ken Crawley have all but taken opposing wideouts completely out of relevance during the Saints winning streak, and allowed the remainder of the New Orleans secondary and linebackers to focus on opposing tight ends and running backs.
Only 3 wide receivers, Detroit's Marvin Jones and Golden Tate and Chicago's Tre McBride, have had over 90 yards receiving against the New Orleans defense. Cam Jordan leads the team with 7 sacks, but the Saints have gotten good pass rush production from the defensive end position, accounting for 15 of their 23 sacks. Offseason acquisition Alex Okafor has arguably been the Saints best offseason signing, with 3.5 sacks along with playing outstanding run defense.
Despite Tyrod Taylor's mobility, Buffalo has had a difficult time protecting their quarterback, allowing 26 sacks. Left tackle Cordy Glenn may possibly miss this game with injury, further challenging their protection against the Saints outside rushers. The Bills offense throws for an average of only 187 yards per game, ranking 30th in the league. Tight end Charles Clay, coming off MCL surgery but likely to play in this game, is the next most productive receiving target after McCoy, with 20 receptions for 258 yards. He and fellow tight end Nick O'Leary will be a challenge for Saints linebackers and safeties.
Wide receivers Zay Jones and Jordan Matthews can make big plays down the field, and Taylor looks for them deep on play action fakes. The Bills made a deal just before the trading deadline to acquire a familiar foe to Saints defenders, former Carolina wideout Kelvin Benjamin. Benjamin will likely see his first action with Buffalo this Sunday, and the Bills hope he will add a big bodied threat down the field. Taylor will not hesitate to run if his initial reads aren't there, and the Saints have been allowing big scrambles from quarterbacks in recent weeks due to the lockdown downfield coverage and poor containment in the middle.
What to Look For
The Bills are dependent on McCoy and their run game to move the ball. The Saints defense has gotten good push from their front line defenders, but will need to have more disciplined pursuit to eliminate cutback lanes. The New Orleans cornerbacks should be able to easily shut down a mediocre group of Bills wideouts, but cannot be complacent against the deep shots down the field. Buffalo will try to use their tight ends and McCoy to stretch the Saints linebackers and safeties, hoping that their line can buy time for their quarterback against a tenacious Saints pass rush.
Safety Kenny Vaccaro has been limited with a groin injury, putting extra emphasis on Bell, rookie safety Marcus Williams, and reserves Chris Banjo and Rafael Bush. New Orleans may use Robertson or Klein to shadow Taylor on obvious passing downs to prevent the athletic quarterback from making plays with his legs. Barring breakdowns in assignments, the 15th ranked New Orleans defense should continue their rise and shut down a limited Buffalo offense.
Which group has been most impressive on the Saints defense over the first half of the season?
This poll is closed