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Scouting report by Jay Skurski: Bills’ run of close games in jeopardy vs. Saints

1. Slow it down. Bills coach Doug Marrone gave an interesting answer this week when asked whether his team might alter its offensive philosophy of playing fast in an effort to limit the amount of time the Saints and quarterback Drew Brees are on the field. “Strategically, when you think about it, you want to be able to possess the ball more than they do,” the coach said. That doesn’t prevent the Bills from going away from the no-huddle approach, it just means using more of the play clock before snapping the ball. It also means converting on third down, which the Bills did better last week against Miami, going 9 of 19. Buffalo’s time of possession is 27:43 per game, which ranks 27th in the NFL. The Saints, meanwhile, lead the NFL in time of possession, at 33:33 per game.

2. Get better on the early downs. Converting third downs means improving on first- and second-down plays. The Bills struggled against the Dolphins in that respect, particularly on second down. Buffalo gained just 12 net yards on 21 such plays against the Dolphins. New Orleans is allowing 5.1 yards per carry, which is second most in the NFL, so the Bills’ running game will have an opportunity to put the offense in favorable third-down situations by picking up good yardage on the early downs. The Bills ran a couple successful read-option plays with quarterback Thad Lewis in Miami, something they can go back to today.

3. Brees spreads it around. Neither of the Saints’ two leading receivers are, well, receivers. Tight end Jimmy Graham (37 catches, 593 yards, six touchdowns) and running back Darren Sproles (32 catches, 366 yards) are Brees’ favorite targets. Graham’s availability is in question because of a foot injury, but the Saints still have plenty of weapons. Brees has completed passes to 11 different players in 2013. He’s expected to have receiver Lance Moore, who has missed the last three games with a hand injury, back in the lineup. Middle linebacker Kiko Alonso will likely be matched up frequently with Sproles. Alonso has allowed a reception just once for every 20.8 times he’s lined up in coverage, according to advanced stats compiled by the website Pro Football Focus, which grades every play of every NFL game.

4. Jordan becoming a star. The Bills will have the best pass rusher on the field today in Mario Williams, but New Orleans’ Cameron Jordan isn’t far behind. The 2011 first-round pick has five sacks and has created 24 hurries, according to Pro Football Focus. At 6-foot-4, 287 pounds, Jordan is close to the physical stature of Williams and will be a challenge for Bills left tackle Cordy Glenn. Jordan has helped the Saints rack up 20 sacks through six games.

5. Embrace the underdog mentality. Marrone joked this week that he couldn’t use the fact the Bills are a double-digit underdog as a motivational ploy today, because Buffalo hasn’t been favored yet this season. “If you play that underdog card, you’d play it every week,” he said. Nevertheless, the Bills will need to embrace that “us against the world” mentality against a team that is a Super Bowl contender.

Outlook: Brees is incredibly efficient in the comforts of the Superdome, throwing for 64 touchdowns and only 16 interceptions at home since 2011. In that time, the Saints are 15-4. Buffalo’s streak of playing seven straight close games to start the season is in jeopardy today against a future Hall of Famer.

Prediction: Saints 41, Bills 20.

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