The Buffalo Bills are in Louisiana for Thanksgiving, taking on the New Orleans Saints in what is as close to a must-win game as an interconference game in November can be. After a demoralizing loss to the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday, the Bills need to bounce back. The Saints are sure to be in the same frame of mind, as they also dropped a game to a conference opponent.
For Buffalo, the team needs to establish its own identity early by incorporating its playmakers into the action right from the jump. To do that, offensive coordinator Brian Daboll is going to have to draw up some plays to isolate his top dogs in the passing game.
Here’s the Bills players we’ll be watching this week in New Orleans.
QB Josh Allen
Allen has thrown 18 interceptions over his last 26 regular season games. Five of those picks have come in the last three games, so just under one-third of his interception total for the last two seasons has come within the last month. This is the worst stretch of interceptions that Allen has had since he threw five over three games early in the 2019 season. It’s up to Daboll to scheme some easy open looks for his young quarterback, but it’s also up to Allen to take what the defense gives him and trust his guys to make plays. Too often, he’s looked as if he’s been caught in-between this year, whether it’s been firing balls too hard that need touch or he’s held on to the ball a little too long while eschewing an open check-down. Some of this feeling is created by fan expectations, as Allen was so good last year that any ding in his armor seems magnified now, and some of these issues have also been exacerbated by an offensive line missing two starters. I expect some play-action calls from under center, and I also hope that Daboll mixes in some more pre-snap motion and jet-sweep looks to give Allen some players in motion to create space. Since Buffalo’s bye, Allen has alternated strong games and weak ones, and this week is one where he’s due to perform well. Hopefully, it starts a streak of more consistent play from QB1.
RB Matt Breida
I almost left him off this week, but I’m going to venture into bold prediction territory. Not only do I think Breida will be Buffalo’s leading rusher again this week, but I also think that he’ll run for 100 yards in the game. Some of you may be thinking that Buffalo won’t run it enough for him to hit that number, but Breida’s speed makes it so that he doesn’t need 20 carries to eclipse the 100-yard mark. He’s going to break at least one big run on the ground, and while it seems unlikely that the league’s No. 3 rush defense would allow a 100-yard rusher against the league’s No. 12 rushing attack, just call it a hunch. The Bills are going to break tendency this week, which is going to catch New Orleans off guard.
WR Stefon Diggs
It is inexcusable for a team to target its best player just six times in a game where they never led. I don’t care what kind of coverages the Colts are running. It’s the job of the offensive coordinator to scheme the ball into his best players’ hands. Perhaps he tried to and Allen followed my advice from above by “taking what the defense gives him,” but it often seems as if teams can take Diggs away and the Bills will let them do it. That’s not what the Green Bay Packers do with Davante Adams, nor is it what the Arizona Cardinals do with DeAndre Hopkins, nor is it what the Kansas City Chiefs do with Tyreek Hill...the list goes on, really. The Bills need to move Diggs around, playing him outside and in the slot, putting him in motion, running him as the jet-sweep guy, whatever it takes, but they need to scheme him looks.
LT Dion Dawkins
Lost in a lot of the talk about how bad Buffalo’s offensive line has been is the regression for the cornerstone of the whole unit. Dawkins may be suffering from the aftereffects of his bout with COVID-19 from the summertime, or he could also just be playing worse than he did last season. With other holes along the front five, Buffalo is forced to leave Dawkins on an island, since they have to help out either at left guard with Ike Boettger, right guard with Cody Ford, or right tackle with Daryl Williams. A return from the COVID-19 list for Spencer Brown would be helpful, but there’s no guarantee that he’ll be full strength right away, either. Dawkins needs to be the rock that he’s paid to be along the offensive line. He has a tough task this week regardless of which defensive end is across from him, as Marcus Davenport (five sacks) and Cameron Jordan (4.5 sacks) are both formidable pass rushers.
LB Tremaine Edmunds
It’s definitely a plus that Buffalo’s ultra-talented middle linebacker looks to be set to return this week. While veteran A.J. Klein preformed admirably in his absence, Klein isn’t even close to the impact player that Edmunds is. Without starting tight end Adam Trautman, and possibly All World running back Alvin Kamara as well, Edmunds will be freed up to fill gaps against the run, something that was missing last week against the Colts. His presence makes the team much better. Now, if only defensive tackle Star Lotulelei could return, as well...