NFL Preview - Buffalo (3-4) at New Orleans (5-1)
By Michael Rushton, Contributing NFL Editor
(SportsNetwork.com) - Hoping to rebound from their first loss of the season, the New Orleans Saints look to win for a fifth straight time out of the bye week as they play host to the Buffalo Bills on Sunday at the Superdome.
The Saints opened up the 2013 campaign with five straight victories before visiting the New England Patriots ahead of the off week. New Orleans went into its break disappointed after dropping a 30-27 decision.
The Saints trailed 17-7 at the half and 23-17 midway through the fourth quarter before a Drew Brees 34-yard touchdown pass to Kenny Stills with 3:29 to go put New Orleans up by a point.
New England then failed to convert on a 4th-down try, but New Orleans was unable to pick up a first down and settled for a 39-yard field goal by Garrett Hartley with 2:24 to go.
The game then looked locked up after the Saints picked off Patriots quarterback Tom Brady on the ensuing possession, but New Orleans went three- and-out again, giving Brady enough time to complete a go-ahead 17-yard TD pass with five seconds to go.
"New England did a very good job containing us," said Saints head coach Sean Payton. "Offensively, we had too many three-and-outs early on."
Brees threw for 236 yards with two touchdown passes along with an interception, while running back Darren Sproles led the club with six catches. Tight end Jimmy Graham was targeted six times, but was held without a catch.
Graham was looking to heal up during the bye week, but was still unable to practice on Wednesday because of a leg injury.
The Bills will take any advantage they can get as they try to win back-to-back road games for the first time since Weeks 6-7 of the 2009 season. They took on a Miami Dolphins team last Sunday that was coming out of their bye, and used a late defensive surge to claim a 23-21 win.
Down by four in the fourth quarter, Dan Carpenter supplied the only points of the final frame with two field goals. His second with 33 seconds to go put Buffalo ahead after Mario Williams had a strip-sack of Miami quarterback Ryan Tannehill.
Lineman Kyle Williams recovered at the Miami 34-yard line and Fred Jackson had a key 10-yard pick up on 3rd-and-4 to keep the drive going.
"I came through clean and realized I had a shot at it (stripping the ball) and was going for it all the way," said Williams. "This was a big win for us, a tough division road game and it feels great to come out on top."
Miami-area native Thad Lewis, making his second start while EJ Manuel recovers from a knee sprain, passed for just 202 yards with an interception but the Bills snapped a two-game losing streak and got their first win against an AFC East opponent in three tries this season.
Jackson shook off a leg injury to rush for 36 yards on 11 carries, including a three-yard score in the opening quarter and rookie quarterback Nickell Robey opened the scoring with a 19-yard pick six 93 seconds into the game.
The Saints lead the all-time series 5-4, winning each of the past three meetings. Buffalo has not won in this series since Dec. 27, 1998 in New Orleans and the clubs are meeting for the first time since 2005.
Doug Marrone was hired as the Bills' head coach in January after four seasons as the head coach at Syracuse. Prior to that college stint, he served as offensive coordinator for the Saints from 2006-08.
A victory this weekend would be the biggest one of his brief Buffalo tenure.
"We're trying to get better and take it game by game," Marrone said. "Going back on the road again, playing another team coming off a bye, our players know those circumstances and I think it's important. We're going to go down there and try to win a game."
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Saints' offense would have a much different look if Graham can't go due to his injury. Graham was one of the NFL's leading receivers heading into New Orleans' bye and tops the club with 37 catches, 593 yards and six touchdowns.
Graham demands a ton of attention from the opposing defense, but Brees usually finds a way to get him the ball. If not, running backs Sproles and Pierre Thomas have been his safety net, ranking second and third, respectively, on the club in catches with a combined 61.
Marques Colston is third on the club with 324 receiving yards and while tight end Benjamin Watson would get a bigger role if Graham can't play, Brees could also benefit from the return of wideout Lance Moore.
Moore has missed the past three games with a hand injury, but was a full participant in practice on Wednesday.
Brees on Wednesday called Moore the best overall route runner on the team.
"The way he can study guys and know the certain techniques to kind of play against different corners, his ability to get separation, especially on some of the intermediate routes, you're talking about a team that's a heavy man team like Buffalo, that's a great asset to have," said Brees of Moore.
While New Orleans ranks sixth in scoring and total offense, it also comes into this game letting up just 17.2 points per game, fourth best in the NFL. Defensive end Cameron Jordan has been a big part of that with five sacks in his last five games, but also missed practice on Wednesday due to an ankle issue.
Saints linebacker Junior Galette has three sacks on the year, while Kenny Vaccaro is one of two rookie safeties with a sack and interception on the season.
New Orleans will look to contain a Buffalo offense that ranks 20th in the NFL with 333.3 yards per game, but is one of only two teams to have scored at least 20 points in each of its first seven games this season. The other is the Denver Broncos.
Buffalo has used a 1-2 punch of Jackson and C.J. Spiller in the backfield and is fifth in the NFL with 140.4 YPG on the ground.
Spiller has been limited on the field the past three weeks with a nagging ankle injury and though he wants to play this weekend, Marrone may finally be forced to rest him for a week.
"C.J. wants to go. He definitely wants to go. I think that we're going to have to evaluate that during the week because I think we'll have to make a good decision," said the coach. "He's working hard, he wants to come back and he wants to play. At the end of the day we've got to make a good decision to see where he's at. We just have to get him over this hump and we haven't been able to do it for three weeks."
Spiller had just 11 yards on six carries last weekend, while Jackson scored his fifth rushing touchdown of the campaign. He is also second on the team with 25 receptions and has been a positive influence on the club.
"From the standpoint of leadership, really the best part about leadership or the best trait about leadership that you can have is by example. I think Fred is an outstanding pro and he leads by example. There's a lot of youth in him which we're very happy with," said Marrone.
Williams has also been a leader as his two sacks versus the Dolphins gave him his fourth career 10-plus sack season. His 10 sacks through the first seven games are the most by a Bills player since 1982.
Thanks to pressure from Williams, rookie linebacker Kiko Alonso (70 tackles, 4 INT) and company, the Bills are tied for fourth in the league with 23 sacks and lead football with 12 interceptions this season.
"It feels good just to be able to go out there, compete, but the biggest thing is our mentality as a team, as a defense, and just going out there and getting after it. It's just something I look forward to and feel really good about," said Williams.
Lewis will make his third start of the season and has completed 62.5 percent of his passes while accounting for three touchdowns and two turnovers.
Playing in New Orleans is never easy and it doesn't help the Bills that the Saints have an extra week of rest.
On a more even stage, the Bills' turnover-producing defense may provide a challenge for Brees, but the additional preparation will have one of the league's top quarterbacks ready to go come Sunday. Buffalo should hang around but will likely have issues keeping pace.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Saints 28, Bills 20
10/24 16:13:35 ET