The start was sloppy. The finish was dominant. And in the end the Saints improved to 6-1.
Here are my five takes from the tape.
1.) The Winning 13:38
A word that's often been used at Saints camp to describe their successful start has been ‘complementary,' basically all three phases working together at the right time.
A perfect example of this came Sunday.
At the 3:53 mark of the second quarter, the Saints trailed 10-7 and looked sloppy. At that time, Drew Brees found Kenny Stills for a 69-yard touchdown strike. By the time the game reached the 5:15 mark of the third quarter Brees hit Jimmy Graham for his second of back-to-back touchdowns and the Saints were up 28-10.
During the 13:38 time span, the Saints outscored the Bills, 21-0, forced two three and outs, had a 20-6 edge in plays run and out-gained them 228-2 in yards.
The sequence showed just how quickly the Saints can strike and change momentum. It was also a case in point in complementary football.
2.) Offensive Line Overreaction
I've been focused on this unit for seven games now and I think I've finally reached my ultimate conclusion with them. This is a middle-of-the-pack group and when they face upper-echelon defensive lines they will win some battles and lose some battles.
That's exactly what happened Sunday. Buffalo may have the most underrated defensive lines in all of football. It's easy to look at Brees getting sacked four times and say the line struggled, but after watching the tape I don't think that's the case.
Brees was able to complete 26 passes to ten different receivers for 332 yards and five touchdowns. I don't care how elusive Brees is, there's no way that happens without decent protection.
Take the 69-yard strike I mentioned above. On that play, Brees ran a play action fake to Pierre Thomas and had a seven-step drop. The Bills blitzed on the play but Brees still had a clean pocket long enough for Stills to run an out-and-up route from the slot to pop wide open down the sideline. The play was a long developing one and would've had no chance if there was bad protection.
Overall, I gave them an above average performance. I thought they held a very talented d-line at bay. The problem was when they lost, the Bills made them pay. Good lines are going to do that and I would expect this to be the scenario from here on out with this group.
3.) Getting Physical
From the game's first play, the Saints defense came to play. They clearly wanted to hit hard and often.
They relentlessly attacked Thad Lewis all game long. Kudos to Lewis for consistently getting back up after every big knock, but this was one of those games where the defense set the tone. They got to him four times and hit him multiple times without actually getting the sack.
In all they blitzed a season-high 16 times. Lewis was 7/11 with 50 yards, sacked twice and fumbled once on those plays. The blitzes also drew two personal foul calls on Corey White and a holding penalty by Scott Chandler that wiped out a Bills touchdown pass.
Defensive coordinator Rob Ryan is also getting deeper into his playbook .He flipped back and forth between three-man and four-man lines all game.
By the end of the game, Lewis was thinking twice when he would take off to run and was quickly hitting the deck to avoid any more contact.
They also did a solid job of holding a good rushing team to 88 yards on 25 carries.
4.) Telling Stats
- Adjusted Run Stat
Keep on telling me how much the Saints need to improve their ground game, and I'll keep on telling you how wrong you are. The Saints official run stats were 26 carries for 77 yards. But their ARS was 30 touches for 126 yards for 4.2 yards per touch. I'll go back to my original feeling on the Saints run game. They run to FINISH games, not to win them. On Sunday they only had two negative runs and converted four first downs by rush, three of those were within two yards. The only game the Saints had over one hundred yards on the ground was their lone loss of the season.
- Field Position
Chalk this up to turnovers and three and outs forced by the defense. The Saints held a 16-yard edge in field position. Their average starting point in a drive was their own 39-yard line, Buffalo's was at their own 23-yard line. The Saints didn't always take advantage of it, but in the end it played a factor in the victory.
-Spreading the Wealth
This had to be my favorite stat of the game. I mentioned Brees completed 26 passes to ten different receivers Sunday. I'll take it one step further. On Sunday, 12 players were eligible to touch the ball, 11 of them did. Nick Toon was the only active player who did not.
5.) Other Observations
- No one picks up a blitz better than Pierre Thomas. There were four different blitzes where he gave Brees extra time to complete a pass. It's a skill that often goes overlooked, but the Saints depend on it often
- Jimmy Graham had a foot injury?
- LSU product Kyle Williams may be the most underrated player in the entire NFL. I thought he was the best player on a very talented defensive line Sunday.
- Garrett Hartley's two missed field goals didn't have his normal look of missed kicks. It appeared to come off his foot properly, it just moved on him. Nonetheless, he's back on the Who Dat Nation's hit list. At least until he kicks a game-winner. Oh, the life of a kicker.
- I thought it was interesting that of the 14 total penalties called in the game, nine of them came from behind the line of scrimmage. Umpire Scott Dawson was incredibly flag happy.
- Speaking of those calls, two of the most bizarre had to be the consecutive false start calls on Brees. I've watched the plays at least twenty times and still am not sure what caused him to throw the flag. It didn't appear Brees made any sudden hand or head gestures, certainly none more than normal.
- Junior Galette had his best game as a pro Sunday. He finished with a sack, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery on the first play. He actually played a key role in the fumble by playing the read option perfectly.
- Speaking of that play, how about that hit by David Hawthorne!? Hawthorne has become a consistent playmaker for this defense.
- Keenan Lewis had one interception his entire before he got here. He has three already. Lewis has been a huge addition to the Saints secondary.
- Kenny Stills is on the verge of being big time. He's the Saints 2013 version of Devery Henderson but with more natural receiving ability. That catch on the 3rd&20 was a receiver on a corner and go up and get the ball. For the second game in a row, Stills delivered. I have a feeling his ability to blow the lid off a defense is going to be featured more and more as the year goes on. Not bad for a fifth round choice.
- Happy to see Robert Meachem get a catch Sunday. I don't think there's a more selfless player on the team. Meachem runs more clear-outs routes than any player on the roster. For those that don't know that's basically him running full speed downfield knowing that he won't catch the ball just to vacate the area where another receiver can get the grab.
- Just to remind everyone, throwing for 332 yards and five touchdowns is not an easy thing to do. Brees just makes it look that way. He has ALL of us spoiled.