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Joe B: 7 observations from Bills - Cardinals (9/25/16)

Posted at 8:00 PM, Sep 25, 2016
and last updated 2016-09-25 20:00:55-04

At long last, the Buffalo Bills claimed a victory in the 2016 regular season. While it wasn’t against the opponent everyone expected it to be, the Bills put together the most complete effort of the young season, and dominated the Arizona Cardinals on the way to a 33-18 victory.

The offense, defense, and special teams all chipped into the overwhelming victory, allowing the Bills to head into another big divisional game with a chance to get back to .500. How did it all come together?

Seven observations from the Bills’ first win of the season:

1) Hughes dominates again
- Yes, I know he took the roughing the passer penalty that extended the Arizona drive near the end of the first half, and ultimately led to the Cardinals first touchdown. It could have changed the complexion of the game, and he needs to be a lot smarter than that. That said, this is who Jerry Hughes is at this point — not saying it’s right, but he’s been delicately balancing ‘the line’ for years now with the Bills. Plus, if he continues to play at the same level he’s started the 2016 season with, those type of penalties will just be something they don’t do anything more with than to say to him ‘Hey, Jerry, try not to do that next time.’ Hughes has been such a force off the left side of the defense that he has consistently taken up residence in the opponent’s backfields. He’s been so good, that he’s in the conversation as one of the league’s best pass rushers in 2016, and he did it again versus Arizona. The Cardinals had no answer for him, whether it was on stunts up the middle, one-on-one against right tackle D.J. Humphries, or with help. Hughes helped win the Bills the game against Arizona. The penalty was an awful one to take, but, it was merely an exception to the following rule: Hughes dominated the Arizona offensive line.

2) Kyle Williams has a typical Kyle game
- Right there with Hughes was another familiar face that helped create havoc in the backfield: defensive lineman Kyle Williams. Williams has been good through the first two weeks, but he wasn’t that overwhelming presence that we’ve come to know throughout the majority of his career. This week, he returned to ‘great’ on Sunday, consistently making his presence felt on the line of scrimmage and in the backfield against the Arizona Cardinals. The Bills were able to be as dominant as they were defensively in the first half of the game because of the way Williams and Hughes each set the tone up front. It gave them the versatility to do some unique things and ultimately helped the Bills to a victory.

3) Lynn utilizes the art of surprise
- One of the major things working in the Bills favor coming into the week all had to do with new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn, and the Cardinals not really having any body of work to game plan the Bills for. Lynn took full advantage of that fact, consistently calling a game plan that we have yet to see from the Bills with the current personnel. He moved the pocket for Tyrod Taylor and got him in space, he designed plenty of runs to the outside for LeSean McCoy, he put an emphasis on efficiency with the short passing game, while still taking some shots down the field. McCoy, with over 100 total yards, had the type of impact that the Bills envisioned for him when the year began. The triple option even snuck its way in there, too. Perhaps most importantly, he helped utilize Taylor as a mobile threat — a facet of his game that wasn’t used all that much for fear of losing him for an extended amount of time. Lynn, though, had his quick quarterback into space and trying to gain big yardage for much of the game… and it worked: Taylor ended the game with 76 yards rushing and a touchdown. Another great component of the offensive game was that, unlike the first two games, the Bills were able to sustain some drives, and in turn, that helped take some pressure off from the defense. Now, the big test for Lynn will be how he calls a game, and what counter-moves he has up his sleeve when an opponent — especially one like Bill Belichick and the New England Patriots — has a bit of a book on him. It was a nice debut, however.

4) Bills de-emphasize Tyrod’s quarterbacking
- For the first two weeks, we saw the Bills really push the idea that they were trying to make a pocket passer out of Tyrod Taylor. Perhaps that was part of the reason why Greg Roman was let go after the first two weeks, but Taylor just wasn’t getting to where they needed him to be. We saw less examples of them trying to utilize his legs, other than when plays broke down in the pocket and he went into scramble mode. Under Lynn’s design, Taylor was just as much a running threat as he was a thrower, and that was the underlying theme through the quarterbacks day. Taylor ended up with only 14 completions, 119 passing yards, and a yards per attempt average of 4.8. It’s clear the Bills quarterback still has a ways to go to be the prototypical pocket passer that reads the defenses and diagnoses the play pre-snap (he missed at least two more targets over the middle of the field by my count), but the Bills think they can win with him as a running threat — and they’re probably right. It gives them an offensive attack with more dimensions than what we had been seeing.

5) Green Bay 2014 all over again
- This is just par for the course for the Bills over the past several seasons. The Bills go through, suffer a crushing loss the previous week that makes everyone write them off and think they’ll get blown out the next week. Then the next game comes, the Bills cherish the ‘everyone is against us’ mindset, and they come through and get an unexpected win. The one it most closely relates to is the 2014 victory over the Green Bay Packers at home. The Bills just suffered a heartbreaking loss to Denver the week before and with the Packers approaching, many believed them to be dead in the water. Now, Bills fans will have to hope what happened after the Green Bay win doesn’t repeat itself: a loss to an Oakland Raiders team that they should have beaten. This time, it’s the 3-0 New England Patriots who potentially have wide receiver Julian Edelman as their starting quarterback. At the very least, the win over the Cardinals inspires some cautious optimism in the fan base, especially with the upcoming schedule: at Brady-less New England, at Los Angeles, home against San Francisco, and then on the road against Miami.

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6) Unique defensive formations
- Just like they did on offense, the Bills also broke the mold of what they’ve been doing defensively — at least in certain situations. When the Cardinals went to an obvious passing down, the Bills put seven defensive backs on the field with only one defensive lineman to try and counter the Cardinals high-powered passing attack. It worked for the most part, disguising coverages from Carson Palmer and the Cardinals with athletic players on that side of the ball, and almost coming away with interceptions just based on being schematically superior. It was a fantastic game plan by Rex Ryan and his staff, and they deserve a lot of credit for devising one well enough to stop the amount of options that Arizona has that can take over a game.

7) Secondary answers back
- After last week’s dud against the New York Jets, the Bills put to bed the notion that their secondary would be a weak point in 2016. Even without Ronald Darby, which was a humongous blow in this contest, the defensive backs on the Bills roster all came to play. Whether it was Aaron Williams booking it fifteen yards to break up what should have been a completion, Corey Graham seemingly being everywhere against both the run and the pass, Corey White stepping up and grabbing an interception late in the game, or with Stephon Gilmore returning to the level of play that we’ve grown accustomed to, everyone played well. The Bills also made another pretty interesting switch: When the Cardinals were in three wide receiver sets, rookie Kevon Seymour, not Nickell Robey-Coleman was the man playing nickel corner. This was likely a switch based on the matchup, because the much bigger and more physical Larry Fitzgerald primarily lines up in the slot for the Cardinals. Robey-Coleman also got some time on the field in those seven defensive back looks the Bills threw at the Cardinals. Even if it’s only a matchup-based switch, it’s at least a situation worth watching as the week goes along — now that Seymour is fully healthy. They have a lot of hope that he can develop into a solid and regular contributor for the Bills.

Bills MVP: DL Kyle Williams
- He set the table for most everything in the first half when the Bills were shutting down the Cardinals left and right. This was the “Kyle’s back,” game.

Bills LVP: TE Charles Clay
- Two targets, no receptions, no yards. It might not be his fault, but without Sammy Watkins on the field, you would have thought the Bills could manufacture some touches for their athletic tight end. Instead, he was completely shut down.

Up Next: The Bills (1-2) take on the New England Patriots (3-0) on the road at Gillette Stadium. Kickoff is set for 1 p.m.

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Final Thoughts:
- This was as close to a must-win game near the beginning of the season as you’ll find. The Bills, with a loss, were going to get dangerously close to losing the season completely had they fallen to an 0-3 start. Instead, they put together their most complete effort to date. They set the tone defensively, took pressure off of the offense to lead the way and instead allowed them to be more of a complementary facet to the team, and it led to a dominant victory over an extremely talented Arizona team. Is this team back yet? Let’s not go that far, at least not so soon, anyway. The Bills actually do have a potentially winnable matchup against the New England Patriots if the division rivals are without a real quarterback, or at the very least, a fully healthy one.  If the Bills can manage to sneak out a victory in Foxboro, with Los Angeles, San Francisco, and Miami on the docket afterwards, then we can talk. But for now, the Bills got themselves on the board — and it was sorely needed. Now, they just need to find that similar consistency they found all afternoon long against Arizona, so they can get to the places that they believe to be possible.

Twitter: @JoeBuscaglia