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PlayAction: Bills can expect two-man coverage from Saints' quality secondary

PlayAction: Bills can expect two-man coverage from Saints' quality secondary

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Bills Stefon Diggs

Bills receiver Stefon Diggs faces a tough Saints secondary this week.

The New Orleans Saints are good at two-man coverage – two safeties protecting deep and man-to-man underneath.

It will be a challenge for the Buffalo Bills’ offense Thursday.

The Saints have the talent at cornerback to play man coverage and take away quick throws. They have veteran safeties adept at playing two-deep on the back end. They play two-man a lot against good quarterbacks.

It forces the quarterback to be ultra patient, and it helps a lot of the offense can run the ball to force one safety to eventually play closer to the line of scrimmage.

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.

“They’ve had some of the best backends for a while now,” said Bills receiver Stefon Diggs. “They're well-coached, they got great athletes, so it's definitely gonna be a challenge for us as usual.”

The Saints’ defensive backfield is led by Marshon Lattimore, who was picked 11th overall in 2017, 17 picks ahead of Tre’Davious White. He’s a three-time Pro Bowler and the second-highest paid cornerback in the NFL at $19.5 million a year. (White averages $17.25 million, fourth highest.) The Saints use both 2014 first-rounder Bradley Robey and 2021 third-rounder Paulson Adebo on the other side. The strong safety is three-time former Pro Bowler Malcolm Jenkins, who has the most career starts of any safety in the league (185). At free safety is fifth-year starter Marcus Williams.

“Lattimore, obviously everybody knows who he is, and whether he follows or doesn't follow Stef, we'll find out,” Josh Allen said. “But they’ve got playmakers all around that defense so we're gonna have our hands full and we got to put together a game plan and execute it.”

The Saints have shown the ability to make offenses be methodical.

New Orleans used two-man coverage a ton in the season-opening, 38-3 win over Green Bay. A lot of things went wrong for the Packers that day, including losing the turnover battle, 3-0. But the Packers were held to 186 passing yards.

P.J. Williams, a nickel safety/cornerback, beat Tom Brady for a 40-yard interception for a touchdown out of two-man coverage four weeks ago. He was deep safety on the weak side, and he cheated up to undercut a crossing pass for the Bucs’ Chris Godwin. Allen will have to watch for that.

The Saints’ defense is not impenetrable. It ranks 22nd against the pass and 14th on third downs. Atlanta’s Matt Ryan passed for 343 yards vs. the Saints three weeks ago. New Orleans could be missing edge rusher Marcus Davenport, who leads the team in sacks with 5.5. He hasn’t practiced due to a shoulder injury.

The Saints’ defense is built a lot like that of the Pittsburgh Steelers, who stymied the Bills in the season opener with two-deep coverage. The Steelers were able to create havoc in the Bills’ backfield with only a four-man pass rush. Pittsburgh blitzed Allen just once. Without Davenport, you wouldn’t think the Saints’ four-man rush would be as effective. If it is, the Bills’ offense will have a long day.

Key matchup. It will be interesting to see if the Saints put Lattimore on Diggs. Some weeks they leave Lattimore on the right side. Sometimes they match him up. Against Tampa Bay, Lattimore usually follows Mike Evans everywhere. In the last five meetings with the Saints, Evans has averaged only two catches for 36 yards a game.

“He’s one of the best corners in the league,” Diggs said. “I get challenged each and every week. I get the best guys every week, and it's never any surprise. So it’s something that we all look forward to, especially myself and you just try and come up with the win.”

The 30,000-foot view. Saints coach Sean Payton is 22nd all-time in NFL coaching victories (148) and is fifth among active coaches, behind Bill Belichick, Andy Reid, Mike Tomlin and Pete Carroll. ... The Saints have lost three straight. Their last four-game losing streak was six years ago, in the middle of the 2015 season. ... This year’s offensive struggles, in the wake of Drew Brees’ retirement, are unprecedented under Payton. The Saints have ranked in the top 12 of the NFL on offense 15 years in a row.

Stop the run. The Bills’ defense should be able to focus on stopping the run. The Saints rank 26th in passing yards, 31st in completion percentage and tied for 29th in explosive pass plays (with 25 of 20-plus yards).

When is a drop not a drop? Sports Info Solutions credited the Bills with seven drops vs. the Colts. Pro Football Focus had six. The Buffalo News had four. Every ball a receiver gets his fingers on is not a drop. The pass late in the second quarter for Zack Moss was too short. The slant for Cole Beasley on a slant early in the third quarter was too high. Nevertheless, the Bills had only 10 drops the previous nine games combined.

Go for it. Payton has had some dubious fourth-down calls of late. Two weeks ago against Tennessee, he opted for a field goal on fourth and goal from the 1 late in the game, trailing by 11. He squandered 7.5% game-winning chance, according to Football Outsdiers. On Sunday in Philadelphia with his team down 14 and 7:14 to go, he kicked a field goal on fourth and 7 from the 10. That also ran afoul of analytics.

Stats for the road. Before giving up 242 rushing yards to the Eagles on Sunday, the Saints were No. 1 in the NFL in rush yards allowed and yards per rush allowed. The Eagles are a strong running team, and quarterback Jalen Hurts rumbled for 69 yards on 18 carries Sunday. ... Saints backup defensive tackle Shy Tuttle is the nephew of ex-Bills first-round draft pick Perry Tuttle (1982).

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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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