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Bills need big plays, ball control to counter Saints' flying circus

1. Cool Brees.

QB Drew Brees is well ahead of last year's 5,000-yard pace and has nine touchdown passes while operating an offense that has looked unstoppable in two wins. He spreads the ball around to a deep receiving corps led by WR Marques Colston, TE Jeremy Shockey and RB Reggie Bush. Deep threats Devery Henderson, Robert Meachem and Lance Moore average more than 20 yards per catch. The Bills had great success blitzing Tampa Bay QB Byron Leftwich. But that won't be as easy against the poised Brees, who gets rid of the ball quickly. He was sacked only 13 times in 635 pass attempts last season. But Bills DE Aaron Schobel draws a favorable matchup in inexperienced LT Jermon Bushrod, who replaces injured Pro Bowler Jammal Brown. Generously listed at 6-feet, Brees sometimes has trouble seeing over linemen, so the Bills must get their hands up while they push the pocket.

2. Lost and found.

The Bills finally got the ball downfield to WRs Terrell Owens and Lee Evans last week. But after his 32-yard first-quarter touchdown, Evans didn't catch another pass, and Owens was a non-factor before getting open on a 43-yard TD in the fourth quarter. Either O-coordinator Alex Van Pelt hasn't been able to get his top receivers involved or QB Trent Edwards isn't looking in their direction enough. The Bills can't afford prolonged disappearing acts by Owens and Evans today. Big plays might be available against Gregg Williams' aggressive, blitz-happy Saints defense, which has forced six interceptions but has given up a 60-yard pass play in each game.

3. Shorten the game.

Perhaps the best way to slow the Saints' offense is keeping it off the field. RB Fred Jackson is capable of doing that. Should the Saints keep their safeties deep, as New England and Tampa Bay did against the Bills, Jackson could find creases in the defense. If he can grind out yards and keep the chains moving, the Bills can control time of possession. The Saints' front seven isn't super stout, but MLB Jonathan Vilma is a playmaker. The Bills might use the wildcat formation, which Philadelphia used with some success against the Saints last week.

4. The bell tolls for Thomas.

RB Mike Bell, who rushed for 229 yards in two games, is likely out with a sprained knee. RB Pierre Thomas, last year's leading rusher, is back from his own knee sprain and must shake off the rust so he, Bush and possibly first-year backup Lynell Hamilton can give the Saints' offense some balance. The Bills' run defense has been stout, particularly inside with DTs Kyle Williams and Marcus Stroud, who will face talented Saints RG Jahri Evans in a must-see matchup.

5. Return threats.

Bills return aces Leodis McKelvin and Roscoe Parrish are overdue for big games, and it could happen against a Saints coverage team that allowed an 87-yard kickoff return and a 43-yard punt return in the season opener against hapless Detroit. The Bills' coverage unit has its hands full with Courtney Roby and Bush, who has just 8 yards on five punt returns this year but is always a threat to break a big one.

Prediction: It could go either way, but Brees brings more big guns to this shootout. Saints, 34-28.

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