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From the booth: Bills at Saints

Posted Oct 29, 2013

Some leftover observations from the radio booth after Buffalo’s loss in New Orleans.

-The Bills were ready for Saints TE Jimmy Graham, not knowing whether his injured foot would prevent him from taking the field. He did, for a total of 18 plays. Graham only played 26-percent of the Saints offensive snaps, but he made his presence felt.

Buffalo assigned cornerback Stephon Gilmore to cover Graham when the Bills lined up in man to man defense, which they typically do. And Gilmore did not surrender a reception.

Graham was targeted three times, caught all three passes, two of them for touchdowns. All three of his targets came in the red zone, when the Bills backed into zone coverage (which is typical for most teams in the red zone). Gilmore said Monday morning, on The John Murphy Show, he thought he had a good day against Graham.

“Whenever he was in the game and we were in man coverage, they put me on him,” Gilmore said. “When we were in zone, I had to go outside. I think I did all right against him.”

Gilmore said he didn’t really get caught up in the pregame speculation regarding Graham’s health and whether the Saints would put him on the field.

“I approached it that he was playing,” the second year cornerback said. “I didn’t really listen to the speculation on whether he was playing or not playing. I just watched film on him. He’s a good receiver, but mostly he makes plays when he’s on a mismatch, a linebacker or a safety. When you put a corner on him, that’s when he struggles.”

-It used to be one of the most exciting plays in pro football. And with return specialists like Leodis McKelvin and Marquise Goodwin on the roster, the kickoff return should be must-see viewing for Bills fans.

Goodwin got his hands on exactly no kick returns Sunday against the Saints. All six New Orleans kickoffs were touchbacks. For the season, the Bills have only had 11 kickoff returns after eight games. Opposing kickers have put 96-percent of their kickoffs into the end zone for touchbacks against Buffalo, the highest touchback rate in the AFC. Obviously, the league has succeeded in taking kickoff returns out of the game with an eye on preventing injuries. But it hasn’t helped the Bills at all this year.

-It was another strong game for rookie ILB Kiko Alonso. He led the Bills with 11 tackles, one of them for a loss. Among the many things Alonso seems to do well, his ability to quickly read and diagnose what he’s seeing on the field may be his strongest attribute. On two early plays in the game, he immediately figured out what the Saints were doing and ran to the ball to make the tackle.

With six minutes left in the first quarter, New Orleans started a drive with a Pierre Thomas run off left tackle. It took Alonso just a split second to see where the play was going, and he dropped Thomas for a one yard loss. Later on in the quarter, Alonso and Kyle Williams stoned Thomas for no gain on a first down play at the Buffalo 20. Again, he made a great read and showed tremendous football instincts in making the play.

Alonso is athletic, fast and intense. But maybe more than anything, he’s football smart. The sky’s the limit for this talented linebacker.

-Here comes my weekly rant about other NFL venues and fans. Last week, it was the Dolphins fans. This week-no complaints about the loyal Saints Krewe. They’re loud when they have to be, quiet when they should be. And when the Saints were up in the fourth quarter, on the verge of their sixth win, the party started in the stands of the Superdome. As if it ever ends in that city.

The problem is the Superdome itself. It’s a massive, dark, sloppily designed mishmash of several different renovations. It’s a mess and it should be knocked down. Don’t hold your breath, though. The Superdome is a cash cow for one of America’s premier party and convention cities. The Saints will continue to make cosmetic updates to the building until it crumbles.