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Visions of Brees haunt Fewell

Like most NFL coaches, Perry Fewell is a light, fitful sleeper during the season. The Buffalo Bills' defensive coordinator will often bolt awake in the night and start scribbling down ways to stop an upcoming opponent.

"Yesterday was a very short night," Fewell said Wednesday. "I'm sure the rest of the evenings will be short, too."

You'd lose sleep, too, if it was your job to stop Drew Brees and the Saints offense on Sunday. Maybe "stop" isn't the right word. Stop the Saints? You can no sooner stop them than you can stop your teenager from sending text messages. All you hope to do is limit the damage.

Brees is the talk of the league. The operative words are "frightening" and "intimidating." Brees has completed 75 percent of his passes for 669 yards and nine touchdowns. The Saints (2-0) are averaging 46.5 points a game, on pace to shatter the league's scoring record.

"Trying to get the proper matchups and trying to disrupt the timing of that offense is going to be a challenge for me and my staff all week long," Fewell said.

My advice, Perry? Toothpicks in your eyes at bedtime. This is no two-week phenomenon. Since the start of the 2006 season, Brees leads the NFL in passing yards, attempts and completions. He has 23 300-yard games during that time. The Bills haven't had one in three years.

The Saints are rushing for 145 yards a game this season, too. Brees has been sacked twice. He was sacked 13 times all last season. How do you disrupt an offense when you can't lay a hand on the quarterback?

That's the quandary facing Fewell. Should he blitz Brees, as he did Byron Leftwich last week, knowing Brees gets the ball out so quickly? Or does he sit back in a soft Cover 2, forcing Brees to settle for throws underneath and trusting his front four to get pressure?

We're all aware of the potential pitfalls. The Bills sat back in the opener and Tom Brady carved them to bits in the second half. But if you blitz Brees and don't get there, the Saints have the weapons to kill you with big plays.

The Eagles blitzed nine times last week and Brees went 7 for 7 on those plays. It didn't seem to matter what Philly did in a stunning 48-22 loss.

"Not many people blitz [Brees]," Fewell said. "He's a real cerebral guy. He knows where it's coming from. He gets it out quick. In two games, there were a total of 17 pressures against him. He's a coach on the field with a great arm.

"I don't think you surrender and say, 'We're not going to pressure this guy.' You have to execute and create turnovers when the opportunity presents itself."

Fewell said he's confident the Bills can get pressure from the front four. The defensive line has played well so far, with Aaron Schobel healthy again, and tackles Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams pushing the pocket up the middle.

The Bills haven't gotten a consistent rush from the front four in recent years, which is why their sack totals and takeaways have been so low. If the defensive line can't hurry Brees and get him out of his comfort zone, the Bills are in trouble.

Of course, that's Dick Jauron's way: Sit back, keep receivers in front of you, give up yards in chunks and hold teams to field goals. It works against weaker offenses. But you don't beat the great QBs with a soft approach. At some point, you have to attack and dictate to them.

There are other risks in playing soft. The Bills are running a no-huddle. Even when it's run at a slower pace, it can cause the defense to spend an inordinate amount of time on the field. If the Bills' offense struggles, it could be a very long day for the defense in the Cover 2.

So if Fewell is smart, he'll mix in some blitzes to rattle Brees. Sometimes, a great QB defies the best-laid plans. But let him stand back in the pocket all day and he'll turn into your biggest nightmare.

e-mail: jsullivan@buffnews.com

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