In the last few weeks of doing these columns, I’ve gotten heavily into stats/rankings, as I became aware of how they can accurately depict the genre of movie the Saints and opposing team will be filming. This week vs. the Bills, we should be in-store for a black & white silent movie.
By that, I mean this should be a classic throwback game: A game that the Saints during the SP era have been notorious for being over-matched in.
The Bills have a commitment to the run game that can keep Drew Brees off the field on top of having a good pass defense that can stifle him when he’s on it. So, this game will require patience, consistency, and some perseverance - something the more explosive Saints teams of old were not really good at.
Not this team.
Nope, this bunch has proven they can play a patient game like they did against the Bears. They scored early, then just kept chipping away - creating problems for themselves, but at no point did they not appear in control.
As I’ve looked closely at this Bills team, they are built to beat the current Patriots or the 2011-2013 Saints. They would have been a great matchup in our division about 5 years ago when Brees passed the ball 40+ times a game on repeat.
Problem is that’s not how the Saints are winning games now. They’re outscoring teams in the 2nd half behind good defense (9th Scoring - 19.4 PPG) and a dominant running game (5th overall) versus outscoring teams in the 1st half with elite offense and a passing game.
That segues us perfectly into the Saints Keys to Victory this week against Buffalo.
Tale of Two Halves
Both the Saints and Bills are 2nd half teams. In the first half of home games, the Bills are scoring 10 points and allowing 8. They keep things close and play mistake-free football. Then after wearing down the defenses, they breakout for 16 points in the second half while only allowing 9. When the opposing QB ends the game with 40 passing attempts, they typically win as their secondary is great at forcing turnovers.
Conversely, in the 1st half of away games the Saints are scoring about 8 points while allowing only 9. Like the Bills in the 2nd half, they are upping their total to 16.5 points while only allowing 5.
Even with it being a home game, it doesn’t give the Bills a decided advantage because the Saints are good at playing that style of game on the road - exactly the style of game they’ll play against Buffalo. Keeping the game close early gives them a chance at the end, but going into the half up by 3 or more almost guarantees a win as they have the 2nd half advantage on offense (points scored) and defense (points allowed).
When the Bills have lost, LeSean McCoy is usually under 4 yards/carry. You shut down Shady, you shut down their offense. Tyrod Taylor is a caretaker who isn’t quite as dynamic with the ball as Cam Newton, but he’s more careful which makes him the perfect fit for their vision (built similarly to Panthers).
The Saints are coming off a week where they held the Bucs to 87 yards rushing and more importantly the guy they had to key on - Doug Martin - to 8 Carries for 7 yards. If they can give a repeat performance in stopping McCoy, the game plays right into the Saints hands, as Taylor will be forced to pass against the secondary.
After nearly breaking a record for most consecutive games without a turnover, the Saints have since become sloppy with the ball having at least one in each of their last five games. It hasn’t been much of a problem against those teams, but against the Bills it could cost them big.
Here are some numbers that reaffirm that view. The Bills Defense is 2nd in INTs (13), 1st in Forced Fumbles (12), and 2nd in Pass Deflections (61). Their opportunistic defense combined with a ball control offense (31 rushing attempts per game - 4th) has them as the best team in the league in Turnover Ratio (+11).
On top of that, the Saints are having issues with protection on Field Goal Attempts. And despite Sean Payton pointing out in successive weeks they need to get it cleaned up, we still saw one blocked vs. the Bucs. This is the “big” game the sloppiness costs them if they don’t get it cleaned up.
Player to Watch vs. Bills - Coby Fleener, TE
The Bills are a heavy Cover 2 team, and one of the best ways to exploit them are Seam Routes and Corner routes in front of the Safety/Behind the CB. Against the Vikings,(similar scheme) Fleener was efficient in both areas and this should be a game he sees winnable matchups. They also have a smallish secondary and gave up 6 receptions for 98 yards and 2 TDs to O.J. Howard. I’ll look for Fleener to make his presence known after what has been an extended hiatus.
It’s like this. The Saints’ strength right now is their running game and the Bills strength is their passing defense. If the ground game shows up for us and Drew throws the ball under 40 times, it’s a win. The only way the Saints lose this game is if they come out sluggish and play at a level below what they’ve shown to date. They have an advantage even as an away opponent. On the flip side, the Bills have played only one defense that was a top 10 scoring unit (Panthers) and they managed only 3 points. Once the run is established, the Bills become susceptible to Play Action, opening up holes in their zones. Meaning when the Saints decide to pass against the Bills defense, they shouldn’t get much pressure, as they are ranked just 27th in Sacks. At the end of the game, show me who won the turnover margin and I’ll tell you who won the game.
My Prediction? 20-16 Saints. Who Dat!