As the Thanksgiving slate of games comes to a close, fans will have one more great matchup to feast on with the Buffalo Bills traveling to Louisiana to take on the New Orleans Saints. The Bills are coming off of a loss to the Indianapolis Colts, while the Saints are looking to rebound from a loss to the Philadelphia Eagles. With both teams losing the outcome of this game holds more stakes with playoff contention on the line. Before the two hopeful playoff contenders face each other here is how the teams stack up against each other.
The Bills run defense that had been the third-best in the league showed no signs of knowing how to slow down Colts running back Jonathan Taylor. Taylor rushed 32 times for 184 yards with 136 yards being after contact and had four rushing touchdowns and a passing touchdown. Now the running back that the Saints roll out on Thursday will play a huge factor. If it is Alvin Kamara, he possesses the run after contact ability that Taylor and even Derrick Henry have, both backs the Bills have struggled against. Over the eight games Kamara has played this season there was only one game he did not have more than 15-yards after contact and that was in week two against the Carolina Panthers. Out of his total 530 rushing yards, 217 of them have come after contact. His ability to generate yards after contact has led him to breaking 12 tackles which ranks as the seventh most in the NFL. Kamara did not play for a second straight Sunday with a knee injury, and instead it was Mark Ingram who got the start. If Kamara is still not healthy it will again be Ingram the Bills will need to prepare for.
Although the Bills defense could not slow down the run, they were able to do better against the pass and generate pressure in pass scenarios. The Bills tallied 15 pressures and held Carson Wentz to completing only 11-out-of-20 passes for 106 yards. This week they will be facing a Saints offensive line that is also injury-plagued. Both left tackle Terron Armstead and right tackle Ryan Ramczyk were out Sunday with knee injuries and their status for Thursday is unknown. If they are not healthy enough on a short week it will be the same offensive line from Sunday that although did not allow a sack they did allow multiple pressures. On the outside, where this Saints offensive line is injured, New Orleans will have to defend against Jerry Hughes and Greg Rousseau, both of which have been able to make their presence known throughout the season. Rousseau has generated 14 pressures on the season, and Hughes has had 18. Stopping these two won’t be easy and the Saints will need to find a way to if they want to give Trevor Siemian any type of a chance.
At quarterback for the Saints, it will not be Jameis Winston as expected at the beginning of the season, and instead will be Trevor Siemian. Through his first three games, Siemian had been efficient with not turning the ball over but that changed on Sunday. He threw not one, but two interceptions and had his lowest completion percentage with 55%. Siemian will be going up against a Bills secondary that is one of the best in the league at creating turnovers with 24. The Bills secondary will also be facing a Saints receiving core that has struggled with getting on the same page with Siemian until late in the game. In the first quarter outside of Ingram, none of the receivers caught a ball. Then in the second and third quarters as according to PFF only put together a combined 20 yards.
It would not be until the fourth quarter where the receivers and Siemian clicked for 85 yards. Wide receiver wise it was Tre’Quan Smith who led the receivers in targets with eight, and receptions with five. This would be the second week in a row outside of Ingram and tight end Adam Trautman, that Smith would be the guy attracting Siemian’s attention. Smith plays primarily out of the slot and will be facing Bills cornerback Taron Johnson. Johnson has allowed only 12 total completions on the season outside of the game against Kansas City where he allowed nine. He also has not allowed a touchdown on the season. So with Smith being taken away as an option, Siemian will most likely be targeting either Kamara or Ingram. Trautman would’ve been another top target but he is out four to six weeks with an injury he suffered against the Eagles.
Offensively for the Bills, the somewhat of a run game they had started to establish against the New York Jets the week prior was almost non-existent last weekend. Against the Colts, the leading running back was Matt Brieda who led the team in carries with five and yards with 51. Yet it must’ve been a bad day on Sunday for the top rushing defenses to not do well as the Saints who had the best run defense in the NFL didn’t do well either. The Eagles running back core that consists of Miles Sanders, Jordan Howard and Boston Scott rushed for 173 yards. The dual-threat ability of Josh Allen should come up huge on Thursday if the struggles continue. Eagles quarterback Jalen Hurts really hurt the Saints by rushing for 69 yards and three rushing touchdowns. From the beginning of the season where Allen was running anywhere from four to 11 times a game has only rushed two times in both of the last two games. With seeing how much the Saints struggled with Hurts, it would not be surprising to see Brian Daboll throw in more designed runs for Allen and have him utilize one of his strengths.
The Bills offensive line struggles continued against the Colts where they allowed 16 pressures on Allen. The offensive line on a short week could get their left guard back in Jon Feliciano. The right side of the line though will pose the biggest question mark. With their right tackle Spencer Brown being on the Covid-19 list and his vaccination status unknown he may not play. If Brown can’t play the right guard Darryl Williams will stay in the right tackle position and have backup offensive lineman Cody Ford fill in for Williams. On the right side of the line, Ford and Williams will have to slow down Shy Tuttle and Cameron Jordan. Jordan has the sixth most tackles on the team with 33, and the second-most sacks with three. They will also have to deal with linebacker Demario Davis who the Saints like to send in on blitz packages. The Saints have sent Davis in on a blitz 38 times this season, and when they have him out in space he leads the team in tackles with 66.
When it comes to the Saints passing defense it is not as strong as their run defense, as they have given up the twelfth most passing yards with 2,522. In the secondary, it will most likely be Marshon Lattimore guarding former teammate Emmanuel Sanders. Lattimore has been targeted 61 times this year and has given up 34 completions for over 550 yards and only has one interception. Sanders on the other hand has emerged as the Bills second-best wide receiver with 531 yards, and four touchdowns over 33 receptions. It will also more than likely be a huge day for the Bills offense to get Stefon Diggs involved as it will be Paulson Adebo guarding him. Adebo has allowed over 400 yards on 33 completions with an average of 12.5 yards per target, and 164 yards have come after contact. Diggs is still the leading receiver for the Bills with 773 yards and is averaging 12.88 yards per reception. The Saints do have a good safety tandem with Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins to run the cover two-high shell that Allen has struggled with this year. If Allen can take what the defense gives him and throw more underneath passes allowing his receivers to generate the yards after catch it should lead to a good day for Allen on offense.
The Bills, as Allen said in his post-game interview “we know who we are, what we just put on the field is not who we are” will be looking to show who they are on Thursday. That motivation in addition to knowing how tight the AFC Playoff picture is will give the Bills enough fuel to get past a Saints team that has had its struggles against the pass and with Winston not there to lead the offense. The Saints will get something going in the fourth quarter but it will be too late as the Bills pull away with a 36-21 victory.
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