The Buffalo Bills face the New Orleans Saints this week in what could be their most challenging non-divisional game of the season. Coming off a decisive victory over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Bills will be trying to shut down the league's number one offense, led by Drew Brees. It will be a difficult challenge, and one we all hope Perry Fewell and the Bills' defense is up for.
This is a very winnable game - one that would surprise the entire country based on how well the Saints have played thus far. The Bills don't have to be perfect, but they do need to execute and avoid critical errors. How will the Bills beat the Saints? Check out my keys to a Bills victory after the jump.
Get the ball into the end zone: It's so simple, but it's so critical for the Bills to win this week. They need to get the ball into the end zone at a better rate than we've seen. So far this season, the Bills have scored four offensive touchdowns - two in each of the first two games against the Patriots and Bucs. I don't think that's going to cut it this week. A week after Rian Lindell booted four field goals - including three after the Bills reached the Bucs' red zone - they need to be able to finish their drives and put touchdowns on the board. The Saints' offense isn't going to be shut down easily, so it's important for the Bills to keep pace. Those drives that have ended in field goals will likely need to end in touchdowns this week. The red zone offense will be one of the most important deciding factors for this week's game.
Score early, don't get behind: To piggy back the last key to victory, the Bills would be much better off if they can score early and even get a lead. I don't think this offense is built to come from behind to beat a team like New Orleans. Getting ahead early, and/or keeping the game close, will allow the offense to run through Fred Jackson again. That's probably the best way for the Bills to keep the game at their pace.
Control the clock, and the game: And to piggy back on the last two keys to victory, the Bills need to control the tempo of this game. Getting into a shootout with Brees probably isn't the smartest game plan. As they did last week, if the Bills can get the ground game going and sustain drives, they can keep this game going at a more manageable pace. Keeping Brees and the Saints' offense off the field might be the best result of this, if it were to occur. They can't score if they don't have the ball. I know this strategy didn't give the Dolphins a victory over the Colts, but their loss sure wasn't on the offense in that game. If the Bills are able to keep their running game going for the entire game, which allows them to really build on play-action, they will have a great chance to keep the fans in it, and keep it at the pace they need.
Get TO involved and keep him interested: Terrell Owens has been held in check thus far, but the Bills really need that to change this week. Whether or not this was truly the case, T.O. looked frustrated and disinterested at times last week. That doesn't help us and really won't help us this week. The mercurial receiver will be at his best when he's a focal point in the offensive game plan. I don't think Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter can keep up with Owens and Lee Evans this week, and there will be opportunities to hit the big play. Getting Owens the ball early will only help open the offense up. I fully expect the Saints to key on Fred Jackson early, trying to shut him down. If that does occur, Trent Edwards has to get the ball to T.O. Look for quick slants, drag patterns across the field and maybe even a reverse again. The ball needs to get to the team's best playmaker at a better clip than it has thus far. A big game from T.O. would be tremendous this week.
Keep going to Jackson: Even though I expect the Saints to really key on Fred Jackson early and often this week, the offense still needs to roll through him. The offensive line has proven capable of giving him lanes, and he's proven more than capable of picking up chunks of yardage. If the Bills can establish the run early, the entire offense will open up around Jackson. We didn't see many (any?) screen passes last week, but that would be a good play to go back to this week. Jackson has been one of the best RBs in the NFL so far this season; let's keep going to the guy that's been producing until he gets slowed down.
Slow Drew Brees down: I think it's safe to say Buffalo's defense isn't going to shut Brees down. They can, however, slow him down a bit and keep his production manageable. He's been incredible this season. Brees is averaging a whopping 9.8 yard per attempt so far this season, to go with his 9 touchdowns. That needs to be reduced this week if the Bills want to pull the upset. Last season, Brees was a much different QB on the road than he was in the comfy confines of the Superdome. He averaged two yards less per attempt, threw 12 fewer touchdowns, seven more interceptions and had a QB rating 35 points below his home rating. He can be slowed and probably won't put up his patented 350-yard, 4-TD game this week. The Bills needs to make sure that that, indeed, doesn't happen.
Limit mistakes: This applies specifically to the offense. So far this season, the Bills have turned it over three times (not bad), but have committed 19 penalties. That second number just can't continue. Demetrius Bell has been the main culprit, as he's been flagged five times in two games thus far. After four penalties against the Patriots, Bell reduced his output to just one against the Bucs. It needs to be zero this week. He's also gotten beat a handful of times by his man. If the Bills' offense is to control the clock/tempo and punch the ball into the end zone this week, Bell and his fellow linemates need to cut down on the mental errors. This isn't a game that the team can afford too many mistakes.
Force mistakes: On the flip side, the Bills' defense needs to force some mistakes this week. A pair of Byron Leftwich interceptions last week really set the tempo and gave the Bills a comfortable lead early in the first quarter. It'd be nice to see something like that again. Forcing a Brees interception or two, maybe a fumble here or there, would really give the Bills the advantage they need. If the Bills sit back hoping the Saints make mistakes this week, they'll likely be out of luck pretty quickly. Perry Fewell needs to get his cornerbacks up in press coverage more this week, which he probably will, hopefully forcing Brees into some tougher passes. We can hope, right?
Dominate Special Teams: It goes beyond winning the special teams battles this week; I think we might need to dominate the Saints in this area. New Orleans doesn't have a great special teams unit, and can really be exploited. Unfortunately, Bobby April's units haven't been their usual selves thus far this season. It'd be great if they could turn that around this week. A big Leodis McKelvin or Roscoe Parrish return could go a long way this week. The coverage units improved last week against Tampa and will need to remain stout this week. Giving Drew Brees a short field isn't the smartest idea. I know I speak often about getting a big return out of McKelvin, but this week would be such a great time for one.
No doubt about it, this one is a tough game. Brees and his cast of quality offensive pieces will be a great challenge for our defense. Brees is beatable on the road, but won't be easy to stop. This is not a game to come out flat, because the Saints could make it a double-digit lead in no time. Let's hope for a little weather to help slow Brees down and a huge performance out of the defense. What are your keys to a big Bills win?