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Bills' lack of QB pressure will be put to biggest test vs. Saints

The numbers tell a fairly daunting story for the Buffalo Bills as they prepare to face Drew Brees, one of the NFL's all-time great quarterbacks.

Their defense ranks 28th in the league with 14 sacks. Brees' team, the New Orleans Saints, is first in fewest sacks allowed with eight.

If those respective trends hold up Sunday at New Era Field, the Bills could very well be in for a second miserable game in a row.

"We've got a good quarterback coming to town and a big challenge," Sean McDermott said Wednesday. The Bills' coach should know, having seen plenty of Brees the last six seasons as NFC South rivals when McDermott was defensive coordinator of the Carolina Panthers.

Brees owns the NFL record with 108 career 300-yard passing games. He has the league's best completion percentage at 71.6 and third-best passer rating at 105. He's also fifth in passing yards (2,214) and tied for eighth in touchdowns (13).

Even a journeyman such as Josh McCown, who is 10th in passer rating, showed how much more effective he could be against minimal pressure (one sack, four hits) in helping the New York Jets avenge their season-opening loss against the Bills last Thursday night.

Almost every quarterback the Bills have faced since putting Carolina's Cam Newton on the ground six times in Week 2 has generally found more comfort than duress in the pocket.

"It's been a little frustrating for us up front," defensive tackle Jerel Worthy said. "One thing, the ball's coming out faster than it did the first few weeks of the season. Everybody's watching tape. We play hard on defense, we try to get 11 guys to the ball, it's noticeable. So at the end of the day, they're going to get the ball out. We've seen more seven-, eight-man protection than we have in the past, as far as first and second down."

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That becomes particularly difficult given that the Bills insist on generating quarterback pressure mostly with a four-man front in order to avoid compromising their pass coverage through blitzing. Whether they'll continue to take that approach Sunday remains to be seen, although it has long been a core part of McDermott's defensive philosophy.

"You've got to be able to affect the quarterback with the front four," McDermott said. "There's times we've done that, there's times when we haven't done it as much as we need to and we know that. So that'll be a big challenge this week, just like it is every week."

Is the challenge too big, perhaps? So big that the Bills simply should concede they aren't going to be able to sack Brees?

That was what one reporter asked the coach Wednesday.

"Concede? Help me with that word concede?" McDermott said. "I'm not sure that's in my vocabulary." However, he did add, "Every game you look at — and I've gone up against Drew a lot and I've got all the respect in the world for him — his quarterback rating's going to be high and sacks are going to be low."

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The Bills have faced quarterbacks with some of the quickest releases in the league. McCown, whom the Bills also only sacked once in the season-opener, is one. Oakland's Derek Carr, whom the Bills didn't sack, is another.

Perhaps McDermott won't ever "concede" the Bills might get shut out of sacks against certain quarterbacks, but some of his players are a bit more pragmatic on that topic.

"As I watch (opponents' videotape), I kind of deal with what's real," defensive tackle Kyle Williams said. "If the guy's getting the ball out between 1.7 and 2.1 seconds, you're not going to get a whole lot of sacks. You're not even going to get a sack if you get a free runner. You might affect him or hit him or something like that, (but) he's still going to get the ball out."

Still, the Bills aren't showing any signs of panic.

They've spent a good portion of their extra-long preparation for the game working on various ways to improve their pass rush. They've also done a thorough study of Brees, recognizing that, as great as it has been, his protection — especially from his tackles — will be challenged by crowd noise Sunday. Not only will the Saints likely have a hard time avoiding false-start penalties, but their use of a silent-count system won't always allow for blockers to get into a proper pass-protection stance as quickly as they prefer.

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The Bills also are looking to focus more of their attention on disrupting Brees in ways that don't always involve getting him to the ground. At 6-foot, he is one of the shorter quarterbacks in the league, so pass-rushers are going to make a point of getting hands in the air in an effort to deflect his passes.

Additionally, they've been stressing the importance of collapsing the pocket with a stronger push up the middle than they've gotten through most of their games.

"What we can't do is continue to kind of run up the field and try to turn the corners," linebacker Lorenzo Alexander said. "We have to really try to push the pocket, make it close in on him and then, hopefully, he steps lateral or tries to escape. And when he does that, his (completion) percentage goes way down. If we can do that as a front, that'll be huge for us."

"You've just got to continue to get better, number one, fundamentally, and make sure we've got a coordinated plan, which we have," McDermott said. "And the execution's got to be fast and physical. Hand violence is a big part of this game, with getting off blocks, with rushing the passer, with tackling. We've got to play violent football."

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