On Sunday afternoon in Buffalo, New York, the New Orleans Saints offense will face a different defense than they've seen the past two weeks. They'll see a defense that relies a lot on speed and physicality, keeps their package relatively simple—although not as simple as their offense—and just flat-out executes.
Of course the Saints offense is a model of precision and execution. They too rely more on execution than flare. They are a complicated offense and much of the time creative, but the plan week-to-week is never tremendously different.
But that doesn't mean Sean Payton and Pete Carmichael, Jr. are not fervently watching film of the Buffalo defense to pick up tendencies. In fact, what it means is they are trying to figure out the right down and distance to run what formations and plays.
But before I get too much into that, allow me first to tell you a little more about the Buffalo defense.
Buffalo Defensive Personnel and Scheme
Big Marcus Stroud is quite a load inside at the defensive tackle position. He allows for the rest of the offensive line to consistently win one-on-one battles against the other offensive linemen. Former LSU star Kyle Williams joins him on the inside of the line to provide a nice interior on the defensive line.
On the ends are Chris Kelsay and Aaron Schobel. Aaron Maybin, the No. 11 pick in the 2009 draft, also rotates quite often in that group to give them some explosion off the edge.
The middle three—also known as linebackers—are Kawika Mitchell, Marcus Buggs, and Keith Ellison. Mitchell is a very aggressive player who is effective in coverage, even man-to-man against TEs and RBs. Buggs is a small guy for MLB position, but has very good range and ability to cover. Ellison is kind of a mix of the two.
In the secondary, the Bills start Leodis McKelvin and Terrance McGee on the corners and Donte Whitner and Brian Scott at the safety spots. McKelvin is a wonderful athlete, but often gets turned around in man-to-man coverage. McGee is a very solid corner who excels in zone coverage, but can cover man-to-man as well.
Brian Scott often walks up to add an extra defender to play the run, much like Roman Harper does for the Saints. Donte Whitner plays a lot of the deep safety spot in Cover Three or One. Occasionally, they will change it up and switch the two. Reggie Corner is the nickelback (appropriate name, don't you think?), who actually stays outside and McGee or McKelvin play the slot.
From a scheme perspective, the Bills do not blitz a ton. When they do, it is generally out of a stack look, where they bring all three backers up and put them right in the line's face. From that they will still usually drop one or two, sometimes with a zone blitz.
In base packages (first and second down, normal game time), the defensive ends play outside shade of the tackle, or if there is a tight end, outside shade of him. This of course works well to get a rush upfield on the QB. But it leaves them vulnerable to the off-tackle run.
To make up for this, they either slant their DTs into the B or C Gap, or run-blitz their linebackers into those gaps that would otherwise be occupied by defensive ends.
The Bills play a lot of Man-One, meaning the corners play man-to-man, as well as the linebackers, who grab a TE or RB in coverage. This is where Whitner plays that deep safety spot.
Occasionally, they'll play some two-man—two deep safeties with man coverage underneath. They'll also play Cover Three, with the corners playing zone coverage as well the deep safety.
What The Saints Will Do To Combat This
I already mentioned the defensive ends playing outside shade of the tackles or tight ends. Because of this, look for Sean Payton to call a lot of plays that go off tackle, primarily the Power O (or even inside zone, but without the cutback option for the tailback). Lead up the hole with the playside guard and fullback to get the linebackers, who are crashing through the vacant hole left by the DE.
Because the linebackers take the running backs out of the backfield, look for Reggie Bush, Heath Evans, and Pierre Thomas to be active in the passing game.
Formation-wise, I expect to see Reggie and Jeremy Shockey to line up out wide quite a bit, to see if in fact, they do get a linebacker in man-to-man coverage. If indeed they do, obviously they become option No. 1 for Brees at the snap of the ball.
This could be especially effective in the red zone, and can also be effective for eliminating a linebacker in the running game.
Because of their wide arrangement along the line and being cramped up as linebackers, the swing screen also becomes a great option this week, although Tampa Bay tried it a few times last week, to little avail. Nonetheless, it is worth a shot with some guy named Reggie Bush.
And by spreading the Bills out with four receiver sets, even if that includes Bush and Shockey, you force them into defensive personnel groupings that they are not very comfortable with. This opens the field way up.
Also, because they play so much with the one-high safety look, expect to see a lot of post-dig, post-cross type combo routes. The middle of the field will open as wide as the Red Sea with the passing schemes the Saints use. Even a post running at the safety alongside a post-corner running at the corner, in cover three, should be wide open.
In truth, this is a physical defense, and that is how they are successful. This game will be less about scheme, and more about coming out and not backing down to the Bills' toughness. If the Saints can do that, they should have no problem scoring points. I doubt it will be another 45-plus point outing, but I would expect four or five touchdowns.
Enjoy the game, and Geaux Saints!