Gameday! The long drawn out bye week experience is finally over and we can get back to watching some Saints football. This is a very winnable game at home against a beat up Bills team that comes in as a 12.5 point underdog. But in the NFL anything can happen so the Saints will need to be ready. The Bills are trying to get their record back to .500 while the Saints are trying to move to 6-1 and put themselves in a better position down the stretch for playoff seeding. Here are five things I'll be looking for:
1. Can the Saints stop the run?
The Bills' offense is all about C. J. Spiller and Fred Jackson on the ground. With Thad Lewis at quarterback they are going to keep things simple and lean on their strong running game to stay competitive. If the Saints can shut down the Bills' run game down, I don't see Buffalo putting up many points.
2. Can the Saints' offensive line protect Drew Brees?
The Bills are fourth in the NFL in sacks, led by $100 million man Mario Williams who already has 10 (!!!) sacks. They are a major threat getting to the quarterback. The Saints may not see a pass rush this scary again all season. The Saints will need to run the ball effectively to keep the Bills from going after Brees all day. I have a feeling the Saints will also screen the Bills to death with Pierre Thomas to keep them honest too. Most of all, though, the offensive line is just flat out going to need to play better. The Patriots' game was a step in the right direction, they just need to improve off that.
3. Can the wide receivers get involved?
Only ~27% of the Saints' completions have been to wide receivers this season. The previous low in the Sean Payton era was around 43%. That is too low. The Saints need more out of Colston, Moore, Meachem, Toon and Stills. Someone needs to step up and start making some plays. If Jimmy Graham can't go, that may force Brees to naturally go their way more. If Graham can play, then Brees needs to be careful about forcing the ball to him and Sproles too much. I'd love to see better ball distribution in this game. Something Brees hasn't really done this season. It goes hand in hand with the offensive line playing better.
4. How will the bye week affect the Saints?
The Saints are on a roll in post bye week play looking for their fifth straight win. But before this four game win streak they are currently on, they started 0-3 in the Sean Payton era. Whatever the previous issues were they seem to have been corrected, but the team is still coming off that gut wretching loss to the Patriots and they've had to sit on that for a while. How will they respond? Will they look a little rusty from time off or will they be motivated and fire on all cylinders?
5. Mark Ingram or Khiry Robinson?
We know Thomas and Sporles will be used as backs, but with Ingram practicing a little last week and potentially on the mend, would the Saints dare go back to him or stick with the hot hand in Robinson? If both are healthy, which one do the Saints go with? No way they activate both, right? Could Ingram possibly be a healthy scratch for the first time in his career? Or do the Saints give him another shot if he's ready to go over Robinson who with a small sample size has looked infinitely better.