The New Orleans Saints (6-2) have won six straight overall and three straight on the road, and the road victories have been by an average score of 27-10. Nos. seven and four, respectively, will be difficult. Buffalo (5-3) is undefeated in four home games and while the Bills have had difficulty scoring on the road (16 points per game), that hasn't been a problem at New Era Field, where they've posted two 30-point games and average 28 points per game. Here are a few keys to victory for the Saints:
- The Bills don't place an overbearing burden on quarterback Tyrod Taylor (154 of 236 passing for 1,628 yards and 10 touchdowns, with two interceptions, and 50 runs for 210 yards and two touchdowns). But Taylor has a strong arm and he can extend plays, or simply flat-out scramble, better than any quarterback the Saints have faced this season. His running is a big concern. But he has been sacked a whopping 26 times, and the Saints have been feasting during their winning streak. Defensive end Cam Jordan has six of his seven sacks and two forced fumbles during the run, and Alex Okafor has 3.5 sacks and two forced fumbles from the other side in the same span of games. Taylor was sacked seven times in his last game, against the Jets on Nov. 2. The extra time may have given the Bills a chance to shore up their pass protection, but the Saints have to like their chances if they're disciplined and maintain their rush lanes.
- One of the things New Orleans did best against Tampa Bay in its 30-10 victory was to make the Buccaneers one-dimensional. Tampa Bay ran 25 times for 87 yards (3.5 yards per carry) as the Saints not only properly addressed some previous run-fit busts, but also tackled well when they got to the ball-carrier. Buffalo is another challenge altogether. The Bills run for 116.9 yards per game on 31.3 carries per game, and LeSean McCoy (149 carries for 546 yards and three touchdowns) may not have the flashy numbers we're accustomed to seeing, but he isn't any less dangerous than he ever has been. He's a get-population-to-the-ball back, so linebackers Craig Robertson and A.J. Klein, and safeties Vonn Bell and Marcus Williams will be among the defenders challenged with keeping McCoy surrounded as a runner and receiver (he's Buffalo's leading receiver with 38 catches for 242 yards). The Saints don't have to stop him cold, but he can't be allowed to take over the game.
- In the We-haven't-seen-this-in-a-long-time category for the Saints, here's today's entry: during the six-game winning streak, New Orleans has 190 rush attempts (for 841 yards, an average of 4.4 yards per carry on 31.7 attempts per game, including a few kneel-downs in victory formation)) and 193 pass attempts. It's easy to stay balanced and dedicated to the run game when you're playing with a lead (or the score is close) and the running game is being effective. So while Drew Brees (197 of 275 passing for 2,214 yards and 13 touchdowns, and four interceptions) is on pace for his lowest passing yard total since he threw for 4,388 yards in 15 games in 2009, the Saints are off to their best start since they won six of their first eight to open the '13 season. The Bills aren't allowing much on the ground (94.4 yards per game, 3.7 yards per carry on 25.3 carries per game). The Saints will see if they can stretch out those numbers a bit. That means Mark Ingram (123 carries for 541 yards and four touchdowns, and 31 receptions for 192 yards) and Alvin Kamara (52-311-3 rushing, 37-341-2 receiving) could play huge roles, as they have in recent games.
- Receiver Michael Thomas has had a string of solid showings (22 catches for 224 yards in the last three). Just a hunch, but I think he's due for a big one.
- The special team units again bear watching, especially if weather conditions are poor. The Saints muffed two punts (lost one), had a PAT blocked and missed a field goal against Tampa Bay. Justin Hardee's blocked punt and recovery for a touchdown went a long way toward balancing the scales, but New Orleans is flirting with danger. Hopefully, this is the first in a string of weeks that it is completely clean on special teams.