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Red zone defense is key to slowing mighty Saints

New Orleans Saints quarterback Drew Brees has passed for 300 yards or more 19 times in his last 38 games.

The number of 300-yard passing performances by the Buffalo Bills in the last 38 games?


Such is the severe task facing the Bills today when they meet the hottest quarterback on the planet at Ralph Wilson Stadium.

"I don't know how many points underdogs we are, we don't care about that," said Bills safety Donte Whitner. "We understand that we have a football game to play, and games are not played on paper."

On paper, the Bills' offense can't match the Saints.

The Bills, averaging 28.5 points and 357 yards, are six-point underdogs to the Saints, averaging 46.5 points and 468 yards.

So the two biggest keys for the Bills today are:

1. Play great defense in the red zone.

2. Avoid turnovers.

The Saints went 8-8 last year. But even in their losses, they rolled up yards -- 417 in a two-point loss to Carolina, 502 in a two-point loss at Denver, 521 in a 14-point loss at Atlanta.

The Bills' defense must get tough when the Saints get inside the 20-yard line. It must play physical with Saints receivers after the catch, something NFC South teams Atlanta and Carolina have done with a bit of success.

"They're going to move the football, and we have to prevent them from scoring," said defensive coordinator Perry Fewell.

Buffalo has ranked fourth in the NFL each of the last two seasons in preventing touchdowns once opponents get inside the 20.

"You just try to change it up," said Bills coach Dick Jauron. "You try to keep them guessing and you try to disguise."

Brees is one of the hardest quarterbacks in the league to sack, with just 13 takedowns last season. Still, the Bills need to make him feel uncomfortable in the pocket.

"You have to get him off his launch point, get guys in his face, make him throw short rather than those 12-, 14-, 28-yard plays downfield," said defensive end Chris Kelsay.

That probably does not mean a lot of blitzing. In the first two games, Brees is 11 of 15 for 209 yards and two touchdowns on plays when the defense sent five or more rushers at him, according to ESPN. Brees is exceptional throwing on the move, especially to his right.

Asked this week about his success versus the blitz, Brees said:

"It's just having a plan when they pressure you and understanding why they're pressuring you. . . . You have to have the ability to kind of flip the switch in your head of urgency when they're pressuring and then patience when they're dropping eight into coverage. I'm going to have time, the windows are smaller, so make sure that I'm throwing the ball accurately and perhaps get it to a checkdown. It's always about managing the situation."

In Week One the Bills blitzed Tom Brady on 27 percent of pass plays. In Week Two they blitzed Byron Leftwich 63 percent. Don't expect the figure to be above 30 percent (or maybe even 20 percent) today.

On offense, the Bills can't give New Orleans extra scoring chances by making turnovers. Buffalo got away with two turnovers deep in Tampa territory last week. It probably can't afford that versus the Saints.

New Orleans' defense ranked 23rd in the NFL last season. But the Saints' defense is under the direction of new coordinator Gregg Williams, the former Buffalo head coach.

Expect Williams to test the cohesiveness of Buffalo's young offensive line by throwing plenty of four- and five-man zone blitzes at the Bills. Can the Bills' offense keep up its improved pace -- it averaged only 305 yards last year -- despite an offensive line that has a combined 41 NFL starts?

"He's a pressure-style defense coach," said Bills quarterback Trent Edwards. "He likes attacking young quarterbacks like myself, and I think what he did to [Detroit's] Matthew Stafford in their first game is probably what we're going to get. He's going to come after you, he's going to give you different looks, he's going to drop into coverage when you think he's going to come after you."

New Orleans is out to prove its revamped defense is playoff-caliber. The Saints have a new cornerback combination in former Bill Jabari Greer and Tracy Porter, a second-round pick in 2008.

The Saints ranked 22nd in sacks and 19th on third downs last year. They need to do better. So far so good for their revamped secondary. Foes have converted only 33.3 percent on third down in two games.

"I have to make sure that we convert on third downs, we score touchdowns when we're in the red zone, and obviously we can't keep our defense out there too long," Edwards said. "So we need to make sure we're doing all those things, and I think that's the reason they've won the past couple weeks is because the other teams' offenses can't stay on the field."


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