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Monday, May 16, 2022

Bills vs. Saints preview: 5 key players to watch in Week 12

Written by John Sparaco

Nearing the end of November, the Buffalo Bills sit with a record of 6-4, trailing a half-game behind the New England Patriots, led by rookie quarterback Mac Jones, for first place in the AFC East.

If that is not a wake-up call, what is?

The Bills were obliterated by the Indianapolis Colts on Sunday by a score of 41-15, ten months removed from defeating them in the AFC Wild Card game. There were hardly any positives to take away from Buffalo’s performance as they were seemingly unprepared, unmotivated, and outclassed in every phase of the game.

This is not the first instance of this type of lackluster performance from them this season either. However, that has not always been the story. Some weeks, the Bills look like the dominant contender they are supposed to be, yet that identity seems to fade against more physical football teams.

The old saying goes, “you don’t lose, you learn,” but at this point, the Bills have little room left for a learning curve. Currently clinging onto the final playoff spot, the formerly hunted are once again the hunters as the Bills attempt to claw their way back into the top seeding.

Bills fans are starving for a win, and there is not a better time to fill that appetite than during a nationally televised Thanksgiving game. Only four days removed from a brutal loss, Buffalo gets the chance to quickly redeem themselves against a banged-up (5-5) Saints team in New Orleans.

Notable Saints players listed on the injury report this week include running backs, Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram, All-Pro right tackle Ryan Ramczyk, and current team sack leader Marcus Davenport. After already losing star wideout Michael Thomas and starting quarterback Jameis Winston for the remainder of the season, the Saints have certainly had unfortunate luck with injuries.

Players to watch:

Matt Breida

Buffalo’s offense has lacked a true speed threat all season long, especially at the running back position, but they may have found their answer in Sunday’s game.

After the coaching staff was previously reluctant to give Breida significant touches, he ended up receiving more snaps (18) than Zack Moss (16) and more carries (5) than Devin Singletary (3) on Sunday. When Breida touched the ball, he made the most of his opportunities, rushing for 51 yards while adding 16 more yards on one reception. This sudden jump in usage for Breida could potentially be a sign of more to come in the near future.

Even Breida’s teammates have taken notice of his recent contributions. When speaking to the media on Tuesday, Bills wide receiver Stefon Diggs said that Breida has added some “spice” to the Bills’ offense

Buffalo’s offensive line has its fair share of deficiencies, however, Breida’s speed makes up for some of that in a way Singletary and Moss simply cannot right now. How Buffalo chooses to utilize all three moving forward will be something to monitor.

Cameron Jordan

Speaking of deficiencies on the offensive line, Saints pass rusher Cameron Jordan is not exactly a welcome sight for Buffalo right now. Having made six Pro Bowl appearances and earning All-Pro honors in the past, Jordan has established himself as one of the best in the game for a long time.

From 2017-2019, Jordan accumulated 12 plus sacks in each season, recording as high as 15.5 sacks in 2019. Those numbers have dropped a bit in the past couple of years, but he remains an effective presence on the edge.

If Bills head coach Sean McDermott needs any additional bulletin board material to fire up his team, he can easily point to a quote from Jordan when he was asked the first three things that come to mind when he thinks of Buffalo.

“Would. Never. Ever,” Jordan said, according to an article published by Tim Graham in The Athletic prior to the Pro Bowl in 2020.

Jordan has been outspoken about his negative attitude towards ever playing in Buffalo or Cleveland in the past, so perhaps his comments can spark some fire under a Bills team that has heavily embraced their community.

Tre’Davious White

For the first time in his professional career, Bills cornerback Tre’Davious White will play an NFL game in his home state of Louisiana.

The Shreveport native and proud LSU alum grew up a Saints fan along with the rest of his family before getting drafted by Buffalo. Thanksgiving is a fitting time for White to make a homecoming. Although his loved ones may still have black and gold in their hearts, it is tough to imagine them not cheering on number 27 in red, white, and blue this Thursday.

White is quietly putting together a strong season despite rarely getting targeted. So far this season, White has one interception, one forced fumble, and one fumble recovery. Assuming his family and friends will be in attendance, White should be extra motivated to pad those stats in some capacity if presented the opportunity.

Marcus Williams

Bills quarterback Josh Allen has thrown five interceptions in the last three games. He has been especially prone to throwing picks to safeties recently, making New Orleans’ safety duo one to be wary of.

Marcus Williams and Malcolm Jenkins communicate very well in the back end of the Saints’ secondary, combining for three interceptions so far this season. However, this section will primarily focus on Williams.

Williams has arguably been the Saints’ best defender this season, displaying great range to make incredible pass breakups on a weekly basis. So far this season, Williams has broken up seven passes, which already matches his total from all of last season. Ironically enough, Williams is remembered by most NFL fans as the player who whiffed trying to tackle Stefon Diggs during his game-winning 61-yard touchdown as time expired in the 2018 NFC Divisional Round, forever known as the Minneapolis Miracle. Heavily criticized at the time, Williams has done an exceptional job not letting one mistake define him since. Allen must be aware of where Williams is at all times on Thursday.

Ed Oliver

Even if his stats do not reflect it, Ed Oliver has been very disruptive at defensive tackle for the Bills this season. Still without an official sack recorded on the stat sheet yet this season, Oliver has been on the verge of ending his drought, catching unfortunate breaks by having a couple of sacks called back by penalties in recent weeks.

Two years ago, Oliver’s best game as a rookie happened on Thanksgiving in his home state of Texas. Oliver recorded two sacks and two tackles for a loss, showing the first signs that the game was beginning to slow down for him.

Placed in a similar situation almost exactly two years later, will history repeat itself for Oliver?

Kickoff at Caesars Superdome is scheduled for 8:20 p.m. ET on NBC, where Mike Tirico and legendary Saints quarterback Drew Brees will be on the call with Michele Tafoya reporting from the sideline. This is eerily similar to when former Cowboys quarterback called the game when the Bills played his former team on Thanksgiving.

The Bills are wearing the same uniform combination they wore the last time they played on the holiday, blue jerseys and blue pants with white facemasks, which are now the primary facemasks. In those same uniforms, Josh Allen and the Bills put together a statement performance in a 26-15 win against America’s Team in Dallas last time around, ending the game by sharing a turkey leg with his teammates in front of the camera. If the Bills are able to do the same after Thursday’s game, it could be a nice morale boost to help them move forward.

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