NEW ORLEANS - One thing that was imperative for the Buffalo Bills Thursday night was to establish their superiority as soon as possible.
The Bills knew they were playing a wounded New Orleans Saints team with a pop gun offense and a defense that had been struggling the past few weeks.
But they also knew the Superdome is not an easy place to play, and there was going to be plenty of emotion on the night the Saints were honoring all-time great Drew Brees. The Bills needed a fast start, and man, did they get one.
Great coverage on the opening kickoff, a three and out for the defense, and a 65-yard touchdown drive for the offense and from that point forward, it was never really a contest as the Bills rolled to a 31-6 Thanksgiving laugher.
“That's just the type of complimentary football that we need to play,” quarterback Josh Allen said. “Coach McDermott preaches it all the time. Our guys did that. And that's why you see such a high level of execution when all three phases are firing and doing what they're supposed to do. It was a good night.”
Sure was, and my grades for the performance reflect that.
Here’s how I graded the Bills’ performance:
— NFL (@NFL) November 26, 2021
PASS OFFENSE: B-
Josh Allen threw two interceptions and that has become a nagging problem for him as he now has seven in the last four games. However, there is an extenuating circumstance. The offensive line continues to be a problem as it tries to get by without Spencer Brown and Jon Feliciano.
The first pick came when Allen made a bad decision and throw as he tried to feed Stefon Diggs, but that was partially because he was getting pressured and seemed almost panicked. The second at the end of the first half was due to more pressure and his arm was hit just as he threw. It didn’t end up mattering at all, but he needs to take better care of the ball.
LT Dion Dawkins had a particularly bad night, and that has continued a trend for his season because he has not been very good. When your left tackle is struggling, that really creates trouble for the QB.
As for Diggs, he was outstanding as he caught seven of nine targets for 74 yards and ran an ankle-breaking route on his five-yard TD. Dawson Knox got back involved as well and he caught a pair of touchdown passes. Allen was 23 of 28 for 260 yards and four TDs. That works.
RUN OFFENSE: C+
Matt Breida gave the offense a spark on the first possession which ended in a Knox TD, but then he seemed to disappear from the plan for a while, re-emerging again in the second half. He only had 26 yards on nine carries, but he also made a really nice play to score on a 23-yard screen pass.
Devin Singletary showed a little life with runs of 11 and 15 yards on the TD drive to start the third quarter, but for the most part, there was a lot of nothing. Take those two runs out and he had 18 yards on his other 13 carries which, yes, is pathetic. Allen was more involved in the run game this week and he had 43 yards on eight attempts, the product of film study watching how Eagles QB Jalen Hurts ran roughshod over the Saints.
Again, I say it every week: This team really can’t run the ball when Allen hands it off. It was a little better in spots, but there’s a long way to go. We can assume getting Brown and Feliciano back should help.
PASS DEFENSE: A
Another outstanding performance for the secondary, and this time they had some help from the front line that put some pressure on Trevor Siemian and never allowed him to get comfortable.
But as has been the case often this year, we have to take the opponent into consideration. This Saints offense is anemic. With Siemian at QB and no standout WRs for him to throw to, plus the injuries that depleted them at running back, the Bills had almost nothing to worry about when Siemian tried to pass.
They did their usual fine job of disguising coverages, and that paid off in an interception by Jordan Poyer. Up front, Ed Oliver (half sack) and Mario Addison (full sack) were on a mission all night and each may have played their best game of the season. Oliver has really come on this season and he was a wrecking ball.
All the good that happened was certainly muted by what could be a serious knee injury suffered by Tre’Davious White. It did not look good, and it looks like the Bills won’t have him for the foreseeable future, so Dane Jackson will have to step into those huge cleats.
— NFL (@NFL) November 26, 2021
RUN DEFENSE: A+
Not having Alvin Kamara and Mark Ingram spelled doom for the Saints. Their replacements, Ty Montgomery and Tony Jones, never had a chance and they were held to a combined 41 yards on 22 attempts, less than two yards per carry. The Saints were also missing their starting RT and TE, so blocking was an issue all night and the defensive line won the majority of the reps.
Tremaine Edmunds returned to the lineup and he and Matt Milano led the Bills with eight tackles apiece. Edmunds was strong in the middle of the field, and Milano had a heck of a short week in the film room because he seemed to sniff out several plays the Saints called, using his speed to blow them up.
SPECIAL TEAMS: A-
Sean McDermott gushed about his kickoff coverage unit, as well he should. The Bills made the decision to have Tyler Bass kickoff short of the goal line so that the coverage team could get down and try to pin the Saints inside the 25 and it worked four times thanks to Bass’ placement, plus the athleticism and tackling of Taiwan Jones, Andre Smith and Tyrel Dodson.
When the Saints tried a pass off a fake punt, Siran Neal realized what was going on and held up in coverage when Saints gunner Lil’Jordan Humphrey tried to catch punter Blake Gillikin's pass.
Marquez Stevenson stepped in for benched Isaiah McKenzie and returned five punts for 49 yards with a long of 18, though he did muff one catch before recovering it. That’s what got McKenzie benched, so he has to clean that up.
After missing two kicks in lousy weather last week, Bass was back in the groove as he made one field goal and all four of his extra points.
McDermott has had to do this a couple times now, getting his team back on track after an egregious loss, and he’s 2-for-2 following the Jacksonville and Indianapolis games. And this time he had to do it on a short holiday week on the road. That’s impressive. One thing I didn’t like was his wasted timeout in the fourth quarter when all he was doing was trying to draw the Saints offside before punting.
Leslie Frazier had a nightmare last week when his defense was steamrolled by the Colts. But he had his guys breathing fire from the opening possession and they never really let up. It was a dominating beat down against an inept offense.
Brian Daboll tried to run the ball and while the 3.5 average on 32 attempts wasn’t great, the running game opened some things up in the pass game, and it certainly chewed up the clock as the Bills had possession for more than 34 minutes.
Sal Maiorana can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow him on Twitter @salmaiorana.
— Buffalo Bills (@BuffaloBills) November 26, 2021
This article originally appeared on Rochester Democrat and Chronicle: Bills report card: Buffalo feasts on New Orleans in Thanksgiving blowout