By BBD Writer Eric Samulski
The Bills head into Arizona teetering on the brink of becoming the laughing stock of the league. In two incredible beatdowns they’ve displayed little heart and almost no defensive capabilities. If they have any hope of turning this season into a positive one, they need to make a statement against the Cardinals. After staying on the west coast all week, the team has no time difference to deal with and one less excuse to use. Quite simply, it’s put up or shut up time for Buffalo.
If they can successfully answer the following questions, then the critics might be the ones shutting up.
Question One: Can the Bills respond to fan/league criticism?
This is almost the only question that counts this week. After myself, other fans, and news outlets came down hard on the Bills for showing a lack of effort, this is the key area where we’d like to see improvement. The Bills have seemed almost disinterested of late and simply rolled over when they went down by more than two scores. If they show some grit and toughness in this game, it might start to put the season back on track, regardless of the outcome. If they lay another egg people are going to jump ship.
Question Two: Can the Bills stop even the weakest running game?
Heading into the New England game the Bills had done a decent job of containing opposing rushers. Greene, Charles, and Richardson all had little impact against the Bills front seven. Then the wheels fell off. If ever there was a week to right the ship it’s against a Cardinals team that’s without it’s top two rushers. Likely to be lead by a combination of LaRod Stephens-Howling and William Powell, the Cardinals rushing attack should be easy for the Bills to keep in check. Being able to do that will simplify the responsibilities for the defense and allow the linebackers to help in coverage. One of the benefits to Mark Anderson’s injury is that his replacement, Chris Kelsay, is a far superior run defender. If the rush defense can’t step up this week, then we’re in for a very long season.
Question Three: How will the offensive line respond to the string of injuries?
Injuries to the offensive line are nothing new for the Bills. In fact, they’re becoming far too common and leading many people to question the team’s strength and conditioning program. However, the Bills will come into the week without their starting left tackle and their top three right guards. This means that back-up right tackle Sam Young is likely going to find himself inside at right guard a lot. He needs to play well because the Cardinals defensive line is no joke. They can consistently bring pressure. If they are able to control the line of scrimmage then the Bills stand no chance in this game. If the offensive line can keep Fitz (mostly) upright and open some running lanes, the offense can get into the rhythm it needs.
Question Four: How will Stephon Gilmore handle Larry Fitzgerald?
With the exception of last week against the 49ers, Stephon Gilmore has had a pretty solid rookie season. The best receiver that he faced so far this year was Brandon Lloyd, and he was draped all over him from start to finish. He’s going to have a much tougher go of it against Fitzgerald this week. The truth of the matter is, Fitzgerald is going to get his yards. If Gilmore can just limit big plays and use his size in the red zone to try and neutralize Fitzgerald then the Bills stand a chance of getting the Cardinals offense off the field. 80-120 yards receiving can still be considered a successful day if they can keep Fitzgerald out of the end zone and ensure that chunks of those yards aren’t picked up on one play.
Question Five: Can Chan Gailey get Spiller and Jackson going?
Since both runners returned from injury the timeshare has been relatively equal, and neither player has done anything of value. Yes, the Bills were facing solid defensive teams and were down early, but they need to rely on Spiller and Jackson in order to win. It’s very likely that they are the two best playmakers that the team has. If Gailey is such an innovative offensive mind then he needs to start finding a way to get them on the field together and have them both be effective at the same time. With the holes on the offensive line it might make sense to start using Spiller like Darren Sproles and have him be a safety net for Fitz in the passing game.
Question Six: Can Fitzpatrick limit his turnovers?
This is really the biggest question for the offense every week. When Fitzpatrick doesn’t turn the ball over, the Bills can put pressure on defenses and win games. When he forces passes, throws ill-advised balls off of his back foot, or just flat out misses his receivers, the Bills constantly find themselves at a disadvantage.
Question Seven: Will the Bills attack Peterson with Stevie Johnson?
Many people think that the best way to attack the Cardinals through the air is to avoid Patrick Peterson. Or at least they thought that until Brian Hartline destroyed him two weeks ago. What Hartline revealed is that, despite being a tremendous athlete, Peterson is still not elite in terms of his coverage skills. He’s able to stay with most receivers because of his size and strength, but he can be beaten by good routes. Stevie Johnson is a solid route runner, and he’ll likely be able to gain separation from Peterson. If Fitz can get into a rhythm with him, they might be set up for a nice day.
Prediction: Bills 20 Cardinals 17
I might be at the end of my rope in terms of trust and faith, but there’s still a little bit of that rope left. The Cardinals may have a strong defense, but with zero running game and only one legitimate weapon on offense, they should be an easy match-up for the Bills defense. Since the Bills were able to score on every offense with the exception of San Francisco, I believe that they should be able to put up at least two touchdowns. In the end, it really comes down to execution. I have to hope that the players have enough pride to stop this before it spirals out of control.