ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. (AP) — Don’t bother asking Sean McDermott if he’s glanced where the Bills are in the standings after matching their best first-half record in 17 years.
Buffalo’s rookie coach shook his head, no, before saying he’s far too consumed with preparing to host the NFC South-leading Saints on Sunday. New Orleans has an offense that gave McDermott fits during his previous six years as Carolina’s defensive coordinator.
“Drew Brees, Sean Payton,” he said, referring to the Saints quarterback and coach, while rolling his eyes. “How’s your week look?” in suggesting his is filled.
New Orleans (6-2) has won six straight and features an offense that ranks second in the NFL in yards gained.
Buffalo (5-3) has been one of the league’s midseason surprises in overcoming a major offseason overhaul.
The Bills, however, remain a work in progress, particularly on defense, where they feature six new starters from last year and are coming off a sloppy 34-21 loss at the New York Jets on Nov. 2.
McDermott’s focus is solely on the Saints, a team he faced twice a season and enjoyed a 7-5 record against while with the division rival Panthers.
The challenge in prepping a non-conference opponent such as Buffalo is getting his players to appreciate how dynamic the Saints are under Brees.
“Seeing it on TV is one thing, seeing it live is another,” McDermott said. “One of the hardest parts to get people to understand, especially your first time going against this type of offense, is what it takes to have any type of success against it.”
Brees has been efficient in completing nearly 72 percent of his passes with 13 touchdowns with four interceptions, while being sacked a league-low eight times. The Saints also feature a productive duo at running back. Veteran Mark Ingram and rookie Alvin Kamara have combined for 852 yards rushing and seven touchdowns, and another 533 yards receiving and two touchdowns by Kamara.
If it’s any consolation to McDermott, Payton joked he was happy to see the Panthers coordinator leave the division upon being hired by the Bills in January.
“Once every four years is better than (facing him) twice every year,” Payton said. “He’s done a fantastic job as a defensive coordinator, and now you can see his imprint on this team very quickly.”
Some things to watch out for Sunday:
PREACHING PATIENCE: Bills linebacker Lorenzo Alexander says the defense can’t hit the panic button against the Saints as happened against the Jets. Missed tackles led to Buffalo surrendering a season-high 194 yards rushing against New York.
“Having experienced that, we just want to make sure nobody panics and we don’t lose our confidence,” Alexander said. “They’re a good team, understand that, but let’s go back there and hit them in the mouth and get something going for us and not dwell on that last drive.”
SHUFFLED LINE: The Saints’ offensive line has been in constant flux because of injuries to left tackle Terron Armstead, right tackle Zach Strief, and right guard Larry Warford. Rookie Ryan Ramczyk has had to start at both tackle spots. Andrus Peat has moved back and forth between left guard and left tackle. Senio Kelemete has had to play left and right guard.
Center Max Unger has been the stabilizing force, playing all eight games since having offseason foot surgery.
“We’ve had a tough run,” Unger said. “It is kind of a testament to the depth that we have and the depth we have been able to build here, and have guys come in and play out of position and not really have a drop in production.”
BIG BENJAMIN: Receiver Kelvin Benjamin is set to make his Bills debut after being acquired in a trade with Carolina on Oct. 31. He has 17 catches for 192 yards and touchdown in five career games against New Orleans, including two catches for 8 yards in September before leaving with a left knee injury.
At 6-foot-5, Benjamin presents a matchup problem, something quarterback Tyrod Taylor hopes to exploit.
“If you look at the plays he’s made over his career, he’s definitely made a bunch of contested throws,” Taylor said. “Just give him a chance, his ball or nobody’s.”
TAKEAWAYS: The Bills’ 17 takeaways (11 interceptions, six fumbles) rank second in the league, though they turned the ball over a season-high three times against the Jets.
The Saints have 12 takeaways (nine interceptions, three fumbles). New Orleans, however has committed nine turnovers, all coming in its last four games.
MISHANDLED PUNTS: Saints receiver Ted Ginn Jr. has mishandled a couple punts recently, though he was fortunate not to turn any over. Last week, Payton replaced Ginn with receiver Willie Snead, who proceeded to muff a fair catch.
Another switch might be in the works.
“We have to be able to catch that ball 100 percent of the time, and we will find someone that can,” Payton said.