Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills' game against the New Orleans Saints Sunday at New Era Field:
1. Let go of the nightmare against the Jets.
Their instincts likely will tell them otherwise. You don't easily shake off as poor a performance as the team has had in a long time, especially when every player and coach contributed to the prime-time embarrassment.
It would make sense if more than a few members of the roster and coaching staff wondered if what happened on Thursday Night Football at MetLife Stadium was less an anomaly and closer to a true indication of the team's competitiveness. On top of that, there's the distinct possibility, if not likelihood, of second-guessing of the offensive and defensive game plans and adjustments that were or were not made.
The Bills just can't allow any of those doubts and questions to get in the way of their efforts to redeem themselves.
This figures to be the biggest challenge of Sean McDermott's slightly more than half-season as a head coach. It's his job to make sure that no one's confidence is waning, beginning with his own, and that his players still trust in what he and his assistant coaches are doing – especially in response to all that went wrong against the Jets.
2. The defense proves that it actually can tackle.
Of all of the many reasons the Bills should have felt ashamed about suffering their third loss of the year, the biggest was their horrendous tackling.
The team's fortunes rest on its defense. That's how McDermott has built his program. But nothing can undermine it faster than having something as fundamental as tackling fall off the proverbial cliff as it did against the Jets.
Even the shock/disappointment of seeing the turnover-ratio edge they held for most of their previous seven games dramatically reverse itself doesn't compare with showing almost no desire to wrap up ball-carriers and bring them down. That has to change in a big way Sunday if the Bills' D has any hope of climbing from 22nd in the NFL, three spots lower than where it ranked the past two seasons under Rex Ryan.
Although they have one of the NFL's all-time great and prolific passers in Drew Brees, the Saints won't hesitate to test the Bills' run-stopping ability with the dynamic backfield duo of Mark Ingram and Alvin Kamara, who have rushed for a combined 852 yards and seven touchdowns. Ingram and Kamara also are highly effective in the Saints' screen game, details of which newly acquired Bills running back and former Saint Travaris Cadet should be able to share with Buffalo's coaches.
3. The offensive line demonstrates it can actually keep Tyrod Taylor upright.
The Jets' dominant pass-rush left an indelible mark on the Bills' O-line, something it will struggle to live down for a long time.
It wasn't only that the Bills allowed Taylor to be sacked seven times. It was that they had zero answers for the blitzing the Jets did that did plenty to cause the quarterback to spend most of the night running for his life. On top of that, most of the Bills' offensive linemen simply lost their one-on-one battles.
Sunday is a chance for atonement. If the Bills have any prayer of keeping pace with the scoring prowess of Brees and the rest of the Saints' offense, Taylor needs to work from the most secure pocket his line has provided all season.
4. Kelvin Benjamin makes a splash in his Bills debut.
It doesn't necessarily have to be a big splash, but there needs to be one from the team's lone difference-making receiver and arguably its second-most impactful offensive player after LeSean McCoy. And, perhaps, he will even surpass Shady for that distinction.
The Bills delayed Benjamin's first game with them to make sure the former Carolina Panther had sufficient time to get familiar with their offense and his role in it. Although he might not have it all down, he should have digested enough to show why General Manager Brandon Beane felt he was worth a third-round draft pick.
The 6-foot-5 Benjamin has to immediately begin to command extra coverage attention, something Taylor can help facilitate by throwing contested passes in his direction. His contribution will be measured as much by the production of the other receivers as his own.
5. The run game shows it has life … unless it doesn't.
Maybe this is a lost cause. Most of the Bills' opponents have done a good job of stifling McCoy's rushing, which has been exceptional in all of three of the Bills' eight games.
He was unable to find much room to run against the Jets before the Bills fell into a deep enough hole to end their efforts to attempt to move the ball on the ground. Some, if not most of it, was due to the failings of the offensive line. Some resulted from the failings of offensive coordinator Rick Dennison.
Nevertheless, McCoy needs to do his share to make more yards on his own. That's what the great backs do. That's what McCoy has done to establish himself as an elite player at his position.