It’s a desperate time at One Bills Drive. Already suffering two losses in the first two games, the Buffalo Bills simply can’t afford another loss to start the 2016 season. If they have any hope of turning the year around under head coach Rex Ryan, a win over the super-talented Arizona Cardinals is what they must accomplish.
How does the matchup look from one side to the other? Five things to watch for when the Bills take on the Cardinals:
1) A new look offense?
- Undoubtedly, this is one of the biggest things that the Bills have going for them heading into their Week Three showdown with the Cardinals. Greg Roman was fired as offensive coordinator, Anthony Lynn was promoted from within, and now Arizona has no idea how the shape of the Buffalo offense will look with Lynn calling the plays. I suspect we’ll see a lot of quick-hitting plays — perhaps a few more screens, and giving some of his players the opportunity to gain yards after the catch. I also think they could utilize Tyrod Taylor as a runner a bit more, which would bring more focus toward the middle of the field — which is an area that many teams that have played against the Bills have left a bit more susceptible based on their passing attack. In the passing game, Tyrod Taylor needs to attack the middle of the field. It is the key to unlocking the passing game outside the numbers, which is really his strength as a pocket passer. I would expect Lynn to keep it simple for the most part in his first week, and then as the season wears on, he’ll start to implement his identity a bit more. This week, though, simple might be what it takes to get the offense back on track.
2) Watkins Watch - Part Two
- Although, for Lynn and the Bills, it would mean a great deal if they had a healthy Sammy Watkins on the field. Simply, that is just not the case that the Bills will be dealing with. Watkins, who had his foot stepped on early in the week that forced him to miss the entire slate of practices, is probably more likely to sit this game out than to play. That said, the Bills have essentially given the wide receiver the green light to play if he really wants to — even if it’s not the most logical decision from a longterm perspective. If he is on the field, he commands attention from the defense. If he isn’t, the Bills will need to rely on the running game — whether it be LeSean McCoy or Tyrod Taylor — to lead the way. All things considered, I would sit him, but we’ll just have to wait and see.
3) What to do with Fitzgerald, especially with Darby situation
- Considering the weapons that Arizona has on the offensive side of the ball, specifically with the passing attack, the Bills have their work cut out for them. The Cardinals have three legitimate threats at wide receiver, and a quarterback that can dice up a defense as well as anyone with enough time in the pocket. Carson Palmer will take his pick of throwing it to Larry Fitzgerald, Michael Floyd, and the speedy John Brown. Even with the defensive backs fully healthy, the Bills would have some interesting matchups to decide on — namely, who they would want covering Fitzgerald, He operates mostly in the slot, and that would be a major disadvantage for normal nickel cornerback Nickell Robey-Coleman. It would probably make the most sense for the Bills to have either Stephon Gilmore or Ronald Darby on the stronger Fitzgerald, and stick Robey-Coleman on the smaller John Brown. Complicating matters even more is the fact that Darby has a hamstring injury, and there’s at least a chance he won’t play. If he can’t that means rookie Kevon Seymour would be getting quite a bit of time on the field, and would draw a ridiculously tough matchup against one of the best vertical passing attacks in the NFL. If Darby can’t play — or if the injury really hinders how much he can do out there — it could swing the game completely into the Cardinals’ favor.
4) Jerry Hughes could take over the game
- Through the first two weeks, outside linebacker Jerry Hughes had matchups against right tackles he could exploit. Not only was he one of the best players on the field for both games and the best performer for the Bills through the first two weeks of the season, he has been one of the best edge defenders in the entire league. While not much has gone right for the Bills and their fans through the first two weeks, here is your most optimistic point to the Week Three contest with Arizona: Hughes has the chance to flat out dominate Cardinals right tackle D.J. Humphries. Opposing defenses have been able to get to Carson Palmer through the first two weeks of the season, and Humphries has been a big reason for it. With how well Hughes has been playing, and how poor a start Humphries is off to in 2016, Hughes is the key that can swing this game in the Bills’ favor. If he can get in the backfield against the pass as quickly as I think that he can with this matchup, he can be the driving force of some turnovers and shortened fields for the Bills. Starting right guard Evan Mathis being ruled out for this game is big, too, because it brings in another poor performer in Larry Watford right next to Humphries. When the Bills pulled their massive upset of the Green Bay Packers two years ago, it was all due in part to getting pressure on the quarterback and forcing turnovers. That’s really the best shot the Bills have here.
5) Chandler Jones an X-Factor
- Just as Hughes is huge in this contest, so is Arizona pass rusher Chandler Jones. He’s had some battles over the years against starting left tackle Cordy Glenn, but due to an ankle injury, it will be Cyrus Kouandjio getting the start against the Cardinals. Kouandjio more than held his own last week against the Jets as a pass blocker, but that was against Lorenzo Mauldin for much of the time, who leaves a lot to be desired as a pass rusher. That said, now Kouandjio will be up against the accomplished Jones, who has been one of the best pass rushers this season. Kouandjio has come a long way in 2016, but this will be the ultimate test for him. Tyrod Taylor has shown the tendency to panic in the pocket through the first two weeks, so Kouandjio has to be on his game to help provide a clean pocket for the Bills quarterback so that potential positive offensive plays aren’t automatically dispelled.
OUT: S Colt Anderson (foot), T Cordy Glenn (ankle)
QUESTIONABLE: TE Charles Clay (knee), CB Ronald Darby (hamstring), QB Cardale Jones (right shoulder), WR Greg Salas (groin), WR Sammy Watkins (foot)
OUT: G Evan Mathis (foot, toe)
DOUBTFUL: LB Kareem Martin (knee), DT Frostee Rucker (knee)
QUESTIONABLE: CB Justin Bethel (foot), DT Robert Nkemdiche (ankle)
Prediction: Cardinals over Bills
- This matchup, for whatever reason, is reminding me a lot of that 2014 game against the Green Bay Packers. The Bills were just coming off a heartbreaking loss to the Denver Broncos, and found a way to beat a Packers team that was heavily favored. It helped keep their season alive another week, when many thought them to be dead. With that game in mind, and the potential takeover by Jerry Hughes, I think this game is going to be close… really close — especially with it being at New Era Field and the motivation the Bills have to prove everyone wrong. However, at the end of the day, I look at the talent Arizona has all over the field. The only two weak links they have are at right guard and right tackle on the offensive line. Their quarterback, running back, wide receivers, defensive line, pass rushers, linebackers, and secondary are all playing extremely well. Combine that, with a hobbled Sammy Watkins and perhaps even Ronald Darby, too, I just don’t think the surprise factor of Anthony Lynn’s offense, and the Hughes attack on Carson Palmer will end up being enough to pull the upset.
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