First and Five: Arizona Cardinals
First and Five: Arizona Cardinals
Last week was another blow out loss. Take your pick of problems and areas to improve. In their last two games, the Buffalo Bills have left much to be desired. Chan Gailey finds himself on the hot seat and the Bills are looking to find a way to win on the round. Bills fans like to forget the last time that Buffalo headed out to Arizona to take on the Arizona Cardinals. On a winning streak, Buffalo’s quarterback Trent Edwards was knocked out of the game after a brutal hit from Adrian Wilson and was never the same after that hit. Buffalo went on to lose that game 41-17 and lose the rest of the season, missing the playoffs yet again. What’s worse is Buffalo had to suffer through another year of Edwards as he tried to handle his nerves and was eventually cut by the Gailey crew in 2010.
In 2008, the Cardinals and Kurt Warner went on to the Super Bowl and lost to the Pittsburgh Steelers. Since the retirement of Warner, the Cardinals have struggled to regain composure and have struggled to win games and find a dependable quarterback. Sounds eerily familiar doesn’t it? The Bills hope to pick up where the St. Louis Rams left off last week and show people that the Cardinals hopefully are not as strong as their record indicates. With the Cardinals weak running game and an inconsistent quarterback, the Bills will need to capitalize on those weaknesses. The Bills are in a must win situation this week and cannot afford to come back to Orchard Park on a three game losing streak. If Gailey doesn’t want fans screaming for a quarterback controversy, he needs to pull out a victory on the road. Read on to see how the Bills can pull off a victory.
1- Team needs to stay healthy
As per usual, the Bills have battling injuries that have affected their play. Although the Bills were lucky enough to have a strong running back in C.J. Spiller, once Fred Jackson and Spiller were injured and questionable to play, the running game has not been as explosive. In the last two games since Jackson’s return, he has had 58 yards and has not been able to find the end zone. Spiller also has not been able to bounce back since his shoulder injury that he suffered against the Cleveland Browns in week three. In three games, including the game that he left due to injury, he has run for a total of 73 yards and his only touchdown was off a pass play. This comes after rushing for 292 yards and getting three touchdowns. With a deleted offensive line, the running backs need to find a way to pound the ball and get the ball going on the ground. One the other side of the ball, defensive tackle Kyle Williams has missed practice for a second consecutive day which is very worrisome for this team. Mark Anderson and Spencer Johnson are also confirmed out for the game this week. With Mario Williams also fighting through a nagging wrist injury, the front line is really battered. Luckily, the Cardinals are not a strong running offense but then again, no one thought the New England Patriots had a running game either until they exploded on the Bills. The Bills cannot afford any more injuries this season.
2- Defense needs to stop the run
The Cardinals running game is nothing to write home about. However, already noted, the Bills make a running game look better than it really is at times. In this game, everyone knows the Cardinals struggle to run the ball so if the Bills allow Arizona the chance to run, it will really be a disappointment. The Cardinals lost their two strongest options in running backs with both Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams both out. Williams is out for the season but Wells is expecting to return later in the season. This week, the Cardinals will be starting three running backs--LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith. Stephens-Howling will be featured back and so far this season has only net 1 total yard and 1 touchdown. The Bills have seen how difficult it can be to get a running game going with more than one featured back so if they are able to stop the three running backs early, it could be very beneficial to this hurting Bills defense.
3- Fitzpatrick needs to get the ball to his number one receiver
Stevie Johnson has shown that he is capable of being a number one receiver. He can beat the coverage and get open against the top corners in the league, including one of the best, Darelle Revis. Last week Johnson was open on two potential touchdown catches but quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick failed to reach him. This week, Stevie let his emotions begin to get the best of him showing frustration both on and off the field, whether it was throwing the ball or tweeting to his “haters”, it is obvious that he knows he should be getting the ball much more. Referencing his old ways, Stevie says he is going back to his old self and showing his emotions good or bad. I doubt that Gailey will have the upper hand this time around and be able to bench a player who is showing some emotion for once. This season, his numbers have drastically downward spiraled. In the 2012 season, he only has 234 yards total with three touchdowns. These numbers pale in comparison to his last two seasons where he has been able to record 1000 yards in both 2010 and 2011, along with 17 touchdowns. If the Bills expect to win games, Fitzpatrick needs to find Stevie when he is open and based on the film, it is quite often. Expect Johnson to either explode on the field in this game or explode off the field if Fitzpatrick is not able to capitalize on his receiver’s ability. Either way, this is going to be an interesting weekend for Stevie.
4- Force the Cardinals to punt the ball
If the Bills are doing anything well, surprisingly it involves Leodis McKelvin. McKelvin leads the league in punt return yardage. He has 206 punt returns yards and is averaging 29.4 yards per punt return. He should have three touchdown returns on the season already, but two were brought back due to penalties, including the first possession for the Bills last week against the San Francisco 49er’s. In order for Fitzpatrick to get into the end zone it is obvious it needs to be as easy as possible. If McKelvin can get returns up to midfield, than Fitzpatrick would have a major advantage and his receivers do well in the red zone finding ways to get into open space. Buffalo ranks 11th in the league scoring when in the red zone compared to the Cardinals ranking of 23rd. Only being able to score three points total last week in their loss to San Francisco, the Bills must find ways to score and special teams will play a major role in that.
5- Better decision making from the coaching staff
The coaching staff of the Bills has found themselves in hot water this week. High expectations by both the team and the fans have led to looming questions and possible job changes. Buffalo has shown in the second half of their games that they are unable to make the correct adjustments to the problems they are having in the first half. Other teams are making adjustments and coming on and putting a beating on this team after halftime. In the last two games, of the 97 total points scored on the defense, 73 of those points came in the second half. In an interesting interview with 49er’s safety Donte Whitner, former Bills safety, he was asked what it is like to play for Jim Harbaugh in comparison to coach Gailey. His response spoke volumns and then was reflected on the field. He said, “You never go out there and feel like you’re in control of the football games…I think that comes from upstairs and I think that comes from just getting the right players in place. A lot of times when I was there, we struggled a lot. We wanted to win football games. We went out there and did everything they asked us to do and it didn’t happen.” All of the blame can’t be placed solely on the coaches, but with the team not looking any better since Gailey started, I’m not quite ready to blame players regression on a curse. Are you?
What does this game mean to the Bills? Is it make or break time? You can also find my articles on twitter @christynepolle.