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Mark Gaughan: Defense needs to be Bills' firewall in New Orleans
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Mark Gaughan: Defense needs to be Bills' firewall in New Orleans

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Jordan Poyer

Buffalo Bills free safety Jordan Poyer (21) celebrates an interception with his teammates in the third quarter of the game at the New York Jets.

In baseball, the superstar pitcher sometimes is referred to as the firewall.

When the team is slumping, it can count on the ace to take the mound and stop the bleeding. Shut ‘em down. Get a W.

The Buffalo Bills need their defense to be the firewall in New Orleans on Thanksgiving. Rise up from the butt-whipping against the Colts, bounce back against the Saints and save the Bills’ season.

“They’ll be ready,” Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier said of his players. “That game was disappointing, and that really lights a fire under you as a professional.”

PlayAction is new to The Buffalo News' extensive NFL coverage. Each week, Mark Gaughan, who has covered the league throughout his 38 years at The News, distills X's and O's and strategy relating to how the Bills match up with their next opponent. All in about two minutes.

This isn’t to let Josh Allen and the offense off the hook. The Bills need better from them, too, after a 41-15 loss to Indianapolis.

But this is a game in which the Bills need the defense to lead the way, because the defense clearly has the easier task on Thursday.

The Saints have lost their starting quarterback, Jameis Winston, to injury. It’s not like Winston would have struck fear into the hearts of Bills fans, but he was their starter. His replacement is Trevor Siemian, who’s on his fifth team in seven years. He has started the last three games for the Saints – all losses. Thursday would be only his fourth start in the last four years. He’s 2-8 in his last 10 starts.

The Saints are without their star receiver, Michael Thomas, who set an NFL single-season record in 2019 with 149 catches. He’s out for the year.

New Orleans might be without star running back Alvin Kamara, who missed the past two games with a knee injury and who didn’t practice Tuesday. His backup, quality veteran Mark Ingram, didn’t practice either due to a knee injury. It looks like they may be without All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, who didn’t practice Tuesday. Top tight end Adam Trautman was put on injured reserve on Tuesday.

They’re far more banged up than the Bills.

Yet after the loss to lowly Jacksonville three weeks ago, the Bills can’t afford to take anything for granted.

The Saints are 5-5. Their head coach, Sean Payton, is an elite play-caller. Despite all their injuries, the Saints managed to score 29 points last week, two touchdowns more than the Bills scored. Who knows? Maybe Payton will throw the Bills a curveball and switch to Swiss-army knife Taysom Hill at quarterback, if he’s healthy. Hill, who has thrown eight passes all season, sat out last week with an ankle injury.

Whatever. It doesn’t matter if Kamara, Ingram and Ramczyk all miraculously recover, or if the great Drew Brees steps out of the NBC broadcast booth and lines up under center. The Bills’ defense needs to make a statement that it is not overrated.

“Listen, adversity always tests your character,” coach Sean McDermott said. “I would hope that we've got the right character people on this team. You get tested. And to me inside the challenge, there's an opportunity to show who you really are individually and as a team. So I think this is an opportunity for us to step to the forefront and for people to take charge and improve in the areas that we need to improve.”

The Bills still have allowed the fewest yards in the league and the second fewest points.

It can’t be a mirage, can it? I can’t believe it was a mirage. We’ve seen this same Bills defensive cast play too good over the past two years to think they’re not a quality group. Maybe they’re not truly as good as the No. 1 ranking suggests, due to the number of weak quarterbacks they faced the first half of the season. But they’re a good group.

It’s time to rebound.

“It’s the 24-hour rule, and in this league, we're lucky enough to have a short week and be able to play on Thursday night,” safety Jordan Poyer said Tuesday. “We got to play well in order to beat the Saints, and nobody wants to lose, especially in the fashion we did. ... It's a short week so we're able to forget and move forward. I thought we had a really good day of practice today. Energy was high and we're excited for the opportunity to play on Thanksgiving.”

The Bills’ offense is facing one of the better, deeper defensive secondaries in the NFL. Saints defensive end Cameron Jordan could be a nightmare for the offensive line. Job One for the offense is to get out of its own way. Play a clean game. Stop killing itself with turnovers and penalties. Then see what happens.

The job for the defense is to lead this team to victory.

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Bills/NFL writer

Gaughan's insight is featured in the "PlayAction" video series, providing analysis to get Bills fans ready for the next game. He is past president of the Pro Football Writers of America and served as a Pro Football Hall of Fame selector for 12 years.

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