ReFo: Bills @ Saints, Week 8
Coming out of a bye week, the Saints were unexpectedly sluggish at home, particularly on offense to start off. They did come away with a comfortable 35-17 victory on the back of a couple of big passing plays and two touchdowns from the hobbled Jimmy Graham. Perhaps facing former offensive coordinator Doug Marrone had something to do with that, though his offense helped ensure the Saints had ample opportunity to turn it around with three turnovers. In the end, this was an entertaining, if somewhat sloppy, inter-conference matchup.
With the win the Saints are now at 6-1, but have a tough five games ahead of them, starting with a trip to face the Jets in Week 9. Conversely, the Bills are now at 3-5 with a home game against the undefeated Chiefs on the way.
Buffalo – Three Performances of Note
Monsters in the Middle
Though it was in a losing effort, the Bills got a pair of monster performances out of their defensive tackles Kyle Williams and Marcel Dareus. Both terrorized center Brian De La Puente all game, with the Saint finishing the day at -4.6 for his efforts. Williams did his part early forcing a punt on New Orleans’ second drive (1Q, 8:36). De La Puente didn’t have much of a chance on the reach block as Williams exploded through the lane vacated by the pull blocker and tackled the running back for a two yard loss. He also had success against left guard Ben Grubbs (e.g. 1Q, 1:16 and 3Q, 13:15), and finished at +4.8 with two sacks, two pressures, and a stop on all three of his tackles.
As with his counterpart, it’s difficult to pick out just a few plays for Dareus (+4.5). He made plays in both run defense and pass rushing against De La Puente as he stopped Khiry Robinson for a short gain at 3:30 of the first. Also at 1:27 of the second quarter Dareus came away with a QB hit (though the play was nullified).
Not much went right for Thad Lewis in this game at all. On the opening play he appeared to have a decent gain on an option keeper, when a hit from David Hawthorne jarred the ball loose and gave the Saints a possession just outside of the red zone. Though Lewis suffered an injury on the play, it wasn’t enough to keep him out of the game, though perhaps he would have been better off leaving. In addition to the aforementioned hit, the Saints sacked him four times and knocked him down an additional five times. Clearly the hits had some effect as despite running a number of option plays throughout the game, Lewis didn’t keep the ball a single time after that opening sequence. He had trouble holding onto the ball as well, fumbling on two of the sacks.
As a passer, Thad didn’t have the worst performance we saw this week, though it wasn’t great as he completed just 58% of his aimed passes. Also in typical young QB fashion, he didn’t handle pressure well, with just a 33% completion rate and 2.8 YPA on 13 drop backs under pressure. It won’t get any easier either, with a matchup against the Kansas City defense on the way in Week 9 but at least it will be at home.
Two in a Row
UDFA nickel corner Nickell Robey followed up his +2.5 grade last week (which we mentioned in our Refocused article) with another solid display against the Saints. Now, you may be asking how he could finish at +3.2 despite having primary coverage on two Drew Brees touchdown passes, and picking up an illegal contact penalty as well? Regarding the two touchdowns, Robey was actually in decent position on both, but was beaten by a perfect throw, as was the case on Lance Moore’s reception (1Q, 4:50). This also occured at 7:44 of the fourth, when he was simply outmuscled by Kenny Stills in the end zone on another great pass. Apart from those plays, though, he played well with a stop on all three of his tackles – including his play to take down Darren Sproles for a six yard loss on the Saints’ first drive, which forced a difficult field goal attempt. Robey also defensed three passes as well. He tipped the ball away on a seam route late in the first half (2Q, 1:32), and forced a punt with close coverage on Moore in the fourth quarter (11:57).
New Orleans – Three Performances of Note
Concerns on the Offensive Line
While Zach Strief has been back to his 2011 form after a +4.2 showing in this game, the rest of the offensive line continued their sub-par season with the remaining four starters grading negatively overall. As mentioned, De La Puente and Grubbs had rough games against one of the NFL’s best interior lines but Charles Brown and Jahri Evans also struggled. Evans is probably the more concerning case, as he’s seen a big drop from his Pro Bowl level of recent seasons, and is now at -4.7 on the season. Outside of getting pushed around by Johnathan Babineaux in Week 1, he hasn’t played terribly in any of his games, but we also haven’t seen much sign of the consistency or dominance that he’s shown before.
At left tackle, Brown (-1.8) allowed four disruptions in 45 pass blocks, though two more (1Q, 1:22 and 2Q, 0:49) were called back due to penalties. His worst play came on the team’s second offensive play (1Q, 14:18) when he let Jerry Hughes inside less than two seconds after the snap, with the play ending in a sack. Much of his problem is seemingly technique-related, as he struggles to get his hands on opposing rushers, with a noticeable tendency to drop back and let the defender come to him, rather than engaging them immediately. As a result, his attempt to stop Mario Williams at 10:32 of the third was particularly bad.
Perhaps the loss of Aaron Kromer is having a significant impact, though the Saints’ line certainly hasn’t been terrible. The unit ranks fifth in Pass Blocking Efficiency through eight weeks of play. However, it just hasn’t been quite as good, particularly in run blocking as we’ve seen before and the team’s 3.4 YPC ranks in the league’s bottom third.
A big factor in the Saints’ defensive turnaround has been the play of Junior Galette, who’s providing further evidence that the Saints should have given him more snaps a year ago after his flashes in limited playing time. Usually known for his pass rushing more than run defense, Galette (+5.2) made big plays in both facets to slow down the Bills. He opened the game well with a fumble recovery on the first play giving the Saints great field position, and later in the quarter (4:14), his first of three pressures against RT Erik Pears forced an errant throw from Lewis. It was when the Bills made the mistake of blocking him with a TE that he did most of his damage, though. First, at 7:55 of the second quarter, he turned the corner against the overmatched Scott Chandler to pick up a sack-fumble. And facing Chandler again in the second half (3Q, 3:15), he forced a holding penalty that nullified a 55 yard touchdown pass. As was the case there, many of Galette’s big plays came on first down, setting the Bills back early in their drives, including on one of his four stops at 3:43 of the second, when he got inside to drop Fred Jackson three yards deep in the backfield.
Though his grade maybe doesn’t do it justice, the Saints have gotten a big year so far from rookie safety Kenny Vaccaro. He’s had some issues in coverage, particularly getting beaten off of the line. Stevie Johnson gave him trouble there in this game, including on his touchdown reception at 10:49 of the second quarter. Still, given the versatile role he’s playing, being asked to line up at corner 31.5% of the time (contrast that with another rookie safety, Eric Reid, who’s lined up at corner on just ~5% of his snaps), the Saints will take some growing pains in the transition to covering NFL receivers. Likewise with his pass rush skills – he’s gotten just a single sack this season despite only one defensive back having rushed the passer more than Vaccaro’s 31.
Run defense is an area where he’s played well with a +2.3 grade there against the Bills. All three of of his tackles were stops that constituted a failure for the offense, including his play to get inside of tight end Chris Grabb in the second quarter (5:29). Perhaps the most important statistic for the Saints is that Vaccaro has missed just one tackle so far this season (none in this game), despite playing 445 of a possible 452 defensive snaps.
– Drew Brees had a perfect QB rating when pressured and blitzed.
– Stephon Gilmore was one of two cornerbacks this week who played at least 25% of defensive snaps and didn’t give up a single yard in coverage (34 snaps). The other was Darrelle Revis.
– 70.9% of Thad Lewis’ yards came through the air, the highest percentage of all QBs this week.
PFF Game Ball
Despite a compelling case from Kenny Stills with a pair of huge plays on offense, this goes to Junior Galette whose huge day helped spark the Saints D.
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