In Buffalo’s games, losses to the New England Patriots and San Francisco 49ers, the Bills defense surrendered an astonishing 643 yards and six touchdowns through the air. That's including a surprising 303-yard, three-TD performance from San Francisco’s Alex Smith last week.
Surprising because it is only the third time in Smith’s career he has surpassed 300 yards and the first time since October 10, 2010 against the Philadelphia Eagles—a game started by then-Eagles starter Kevin Kolb and won by then-Eagles and current 49ers kicker David Akers.
It led to Kolb’s first fourth-quarter comeback victory in Cardinal Red, but it also led to him being sacked 17 times—the opponents’ big plays creating scoring opportunities, putting Arizona in a hole and leading to more passing from Kolb behind the worst offensive line in football.
Here are this week’s three keys to a Cardinals victory over the Bills. Enjoy.
Define the Rushing Attack
The past three weeks have not been kind to the Arizona backfield. Beanie Wells (turf toe) is on the temporary IR list while Ryan Williams (coracoid process fracture) will miss the remainder of the season.
For Williams, it is his second consecutive season-ending injury. His career has yet to get off the ground, and it is leaving the Cardinals reeling for answers.
As of now, the plan seems to be to go with what they have.
ESPN’s Adam Schefter reported Wednesday morning on SportsCenter that William Powell will likely get the first shot to replace Williams Sunday against the Bills. Powell brings a different element than does LaRod Stephens-Howling: his size.
Powell stands just 5’9”, but at 208 pounds, he has the size LSH (5’7”, 185) does not. The logic, of course, being Powell can withstand the onslaught of hits one receives over the course of an NFL game better than the undersized Stephens-Howling.
Buffalo ranks 30th against the run, allowing 171.8 yards per game on the ground and a whopping 5.7 yards per carry. Arizona ranks 30th at rushing the ball, averaging just 63.4 yards per game and a minute 2.7 yards per carry.
If it indeed is Powell Sunday, coordinator Mike Miller must tailor the run game to what he does well. He is different from Wells and Williams; he does not have Wells’ power or Williams’ shifty moves and vision, but he is every bit as athletic as they are.
Helping him succeed also means blocking for him—something the line has yet to do for any Arizona running back this season.
Help Bobby Massie
Yet another premier pass-rusher from the AFC East is coming to town. Against Miami and Cameron Wake, Bobby Massie had a rough go of it, to say the least.
Wake began the afternoon with zero sacks on the season. This is what I wrote of the Pro Bowl defensive end in my preview of the game (Massie vs. Wake was my matchup to watch):
This will be rookie right tackle Bobby Massie’s biggest test to date. Cameron Wake is one of the best pass-rushers in the NFL, and he has been held without a sack through the first three games. He is hungry for that opportunity, and if he gets one early, it could be a long day for the rookie.
Wake is like a shark in the water. Once he smells blood, a right tackle can kiss his hopes at protecting his quarterback goodbye.
Cam got one early. He left University of Phoenix Stadium with 4.5 sacks on the day.
Mario Williams now resides along the left side of Buffalo’s defensive line. He started his Bills career with a disappointing debut against the New York Jets, who routinely use extra offensive linemen to help with superior pass-rushers.
He enters Sunday’s game with just one sack through five games. Unless they want a repeat performance of the Miami game, the Cardinals must employ the Jets’ game plan of double-teaming Williams to stop him from getting to Kolb.
Spread the Wealth
The Bills are stacked at safety. George Wilson and Jairus Byrd form one of the NFL’s better safety tandems. Wilson is the strong safety and is very capable of playing close to the line of scrimmage, while Byrd is great in pass coverage as the free safety.
Buffalo’s cornerbacks, however, can be had. They have struggled as a group to stop passers from lighting them up this season, and the right play-calling can assure they are beaten once again.
Rookie CB Stephon Gilmore has been covering opposing No. 1 receivers for the most part and likely will be tasked with the chore of trying to contain Fitzgerald at least part of the afternoon, with the assumed help of Byrd.
That should leave everyone else with multiple one-on-one chances, and Kolb must find the open receivers this week.
Andre Roberts, Michael Floyd, Rob Housler. These are the receivers who will benefit from the attention Fitzgerald will receive.
While 17 sacks allowed by the offensive line over the past two games is unacceptable, there were opportunities to hit plays for big yards against Miami and St. Louis. Missing those chances is not an option if the Cardinals are to get back in the win column Sunday.
Matchup to Watch: Cards WR Michael Floyd vs. Bills Secondary
With a weakened secondary, Arizona’s rookie receiver could be on the verge of a breakout game. Through five games, Michael Floyd has just six receptions for 60 yards and one touchdown.
Getting a chance to showcase his athletic ability could be just what he needs to get his rookie season going.
The Bills defense allows 277.6 yards passing per game. They are young, and their struggles have been well-documented. Floyd should benefit from the confusion Fitzgerald will create within the secondary and have the best game of his young career.
Expect to see Floyd take advantage of the one-on-one chances he gets both from the slot and from the outside. Many times when he enters the game, Roberts slides to the slot to allow him a better matchup athletically.
But this week, it may be best to leave Floyd inside and drag him across the middle, use him in receiver screens and work those into double-moves to get him behind the secondary.
Another big, athletic receiver to pay attention to is the last thing Buffalo needs. A big game from him could go a long way in the final box score.
Prediction: Cards 27, Bills 16
**Breast Cancer Awareness Update**
Larry Fitzgerald has vowed to donate to breast cancer awareness $1,000 for every reception and $5,000 for every touchdown he scores during the month of October.
Week 5: Eight receptions
Up-to-date total: $8,000