The Buffalo Bills host the New Orleans Saints this weekend at New Era Field as they finish off their slate of NFC South match-ups. Since we only see the Saints once every four years, we are bringing in the big guns to give us some insight. For this, we turn to SB Nation blog Canal Street Chronicles and Chris Dunnells, who answered five questions for us.
1.) The reputation for the Saints the past few years has been great offense and terrible defense. How was the defense turned it around in 2017?
After years of making a mockery out of the NFL's offseason with horrible scouting leading to draft pick busts and head-scratching free agent signings, for the first time in years the Saints actually looked to have made a lot of good decisions this past offseason. Free agent DE Alex Okafor has been an incredible value rushing opposite Cam Jordan. The Saints revamped their entire starting linebacking corps this offseason, signing cheap veterans AJ Klein and Manti Te'o. They drafted LB Alex Anzalone who showed signs of promise before succumbing to a season-ending injury. And then you look at what 2017 first-round rookie CB Marshon Lattimore has done this year. I'm not sure how much stock you put into Pro Football Focus grades, but he has graded out as the best CB through the season's first half; not just among rookies, ALL cornerbacks. Statistically, opposing QBs have a better QB passer rating if they just throw the ball in the dirt than if they target Marshon Lattimore. Lattimore's presence has allowed New Orleans defensive coordinator Dennis Allen to feel more comfortable playing man coverage, leading to more creative blitz packages, leading to an uptick in sacks and QB hits that hadn't really been seen since the 2009 Super Bowl season.
2.) How can the Bills offense attack the Saints defense to gain yards?
This is one of the points that scares me the most about this game. The Saints have had a hard time containing scrambling quarterbacks, especially on third downs. Even last week, the not-so-fleet-footed Ryan Fitzpatrick took a designed run for a 15-yard gain and first down. The Saints defensive front is young and still prone to give up gap integrity and lose contain. In those instances, Tyrod Taylor could have himself a very strong game on the ground. Also, I wouldn't be surprised to see LeSean McCoy heavily involved in the passing game if the Bills can get him lined up against a Saints linebacker. The aforementioned Anzalone was the Saints lone speedy linebacker, and his replacement, Craig Robertson, along with Te'o and Klein, struggle in coverage.
3.) Which Saints offensive player is the most dangerous, outside of Drew Brees?
How could you not say Alvin Kamara at this point? He's been absolutely incredible. I keep hearing in the news and media that Kamara represents the best Saints pass-catching back since the days of Reggie Bush or Darren Sproles. The problem is, that's only partially true. Kamara is a great route-runner and patient pass-catcher on screens. He's elusive and slippery and has great balance to keep his feet under him. Kamara can be so much more than that, though. He averaged 6.5 yards per carry his junior year at the University of Tennessee. He's built more like Mark Ingram (both listed as 5'10, 215 lbs) than Darren Sproles (5'6, 190 lbs). He could very well be the running back of the future in New Orleans, not just limited to catching passes out of the backfield, but also running between the tackles.
4.) Brees only has one 300-yard passing game during the team's six-game winning streak. Is he still the focal point of the offense at age 38?
The fact that opposing teams see the name "Brees" on the back of the jersey, defenses still have to respect the passing game. That has led to more holes being opened up in the running game, especially after the trade of Adrian Peterson to Arizona. Brees is still the focal point of the Saints offense, but not to the disparity of years past. Before, the Saints would have to rely on Brees slinging the ball for 400+ yards each game if they wanted to keep pace with what their defense was allowing. Now, with a more balanced offense and a much improved defense, less is asked of Drew in the passing game. The offense still runs through Drew's golden arm, but in a game where Drew might not be his best, the rest of the team could step up and carry the Saints to a victory.
5.) Put your name on it; final score prediction.
Everything points to a Saints loss here. The Bills will be angry, coming off a disappointing loss to the Jets. They've had an extra three days to prepare. They'll be playing at home. The Saints will be on the road, outside, in the cold, possibly in the rain. They'll likely be without three of starting offensive linemen (Zach Strief and Larry Warford definitely, and Terron Armstead most likely) and are likely to be without their second-best defensive back Kenny Vaccaro. I say the Saints 6-game winning streak, as nice as it's been, comes to an end. 17-24 Buffalo.
Thanks to Chris and Canal Street Chronicles for the information. We’ll keep cross-posting some of their articles on Buffalo Rumblings so check them out.