To his left is a seventh-round pick from Hofstra. To his right is a 5-foot-11, one-dimensional deep threat. In the slot, is a 5-9 no-name from Toledo. And splitting the seam is the most disgruntled tight end ever.
Drew Brees is not flanked by Canton-bound weapons. Rather, he has a Midas touch. Marques Colston, Devery Henderson, Lance Moore — guys that may be irrelevant on other teams — are blistering opponents with the New Orleans Saints.
Through two games, Brees has been automatic and unstoppable. Inflated by that six-touchdown parade against Detroit, he's on pace for a laughable 5,352 yards and 72 touchdowns. The Bills have undoubtedly spent multiple late nights trying to devise some sort of gameplan — looking for any chink in the armor.
Like trying to stop any juggernaut quarterback, the key is pressure. That's how the New York Giants mortalized Tom Brady in the Super Bowl two years ago. Constant, relentless, unforgiving pressure. If Buffalo harbors any hopes of an upset, it must get after Brees.
"The guy is intelligent," safety John Wendling told BuffaloFootballReport.com Saturday. "You know that he knows what you're going to do. A lot of it is getting him out of his comfort zone."
As we discuss in this week's BFRcast and "Three Keys," the Bills have the ammo to disrupt Brees. Linebackers Kawika Mitchell and Keith Ellison have been ultra-active against New England and Tampa Bay. Both, while undersized, have the speed and tenacity to rattle any quarterback's pocket. They're shooting through new gaps in new ways not seen last season.
Schematically, Buffalo should be able to confuse Brees with its blitzing packages.
But maybe more importantly is the team's attitude this season. The Bills' near win in Foxborough proved that they aren't flustered by scrutiny. Everyone wrote Buffalo off in Week One. Well, actually, everyone wrote this team off for the season. The Bills entered 2009 as a team in disarray without much upside.
Clearly, the preseason was meaningless. Clearly, this is a different Bills team that is immune to expectations. Internally, they're tighter than many believed. The Bills aren't rallying around any so-called "underdog" role this weekend. The media's widespread obsession with Brees hasn't fazed them.
"A lot of that stuff doesn't really affect guys," Wendling said. "We're going out there to win a football game and that's what we're concerned with. We know we're going in to play a very good team so we're excited about the opportunity."
Brady and Byron Leftwich both moved the ball on Buffalo's secondary. The pass defense currently ranks next to last in the NFL. Brees should be able to breeze up and down the field. He doesn't pick favorites, cunningly finding the open man with numbing consistency. Against the Lions, eight different Saints receivers caught a pass. Against the Eagles, nine. Despite the absence of tackle Jammal Brown (sports hernia), Brees has had plenty of time to survey the field and slice a pass to the open receiver with his lightning-quick release.
So this is how any defense must attack the Saints. Disruption leads to discomfort which leads to turnovers which leads to a fighting chance for the Bills. One year after nobody on the entire defense recorded more than four sacks or three interceptions, the Bills have been Ravens North.
Two interceptions for touchdowns. Eighteen quarterback hits. Eight tackles for loss. Three picks total. Things are definitely different defensively.
Wendling attributes the change to players simply approaching the game differently.
"I think guys are just having fun," Wendling said. "Even through practice and things like that, guys are just having fun. This seems like a really close group. The way guys prepare and everything is really close-knit."
And who knows, maybe a game-changing turnover on special teams shakes this game up. Wendling hasn't cracked the rotation in deep center yet, but has become a stalwart on Buffalo's league-best special teams units the past few years.
One play could easily whip Sunday's tilt in Buffalo's favor.
"Definitely. Football is such a game of field position and on special teams is where we can turn it around," Wendling said. "We can really help our offense and defense out in those situations. Obviously getting a turnover is huge. Those are huge, big-time changes in the game."
Tyler Dunne is the Publisher of BuffaloFootballReport.com. Contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
For a feature on Wendling from the offseason click here.
For this week's premium "Three Keys" analysis click here.
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