Buffalo Bills at Arizona Cardinals
Sunday, October 5, 2008
Buffalo is shooting for its first 5-0 start since 1991 this weekend in sultry Glendale, Ariz. While the tendency will be to chalk this one up with a ‘W' after Brett Favre used and abused the Cards for six touchdowns last week, the Cardinals are a completely different team at home. In the heat, they're hard to beat.
Arizona is 7-2 in their last nine home games (7-1 if you discount the titantic clash between Tim Rattay v. Vinny Testaverde).
In his element, Kurt Warner may be the best quarterback in the NFL. Sure, the immobile Warner has his careless sprees, as his six turnovers overshadowed a 472-yard effort last week. But in the safe confines of the desert – with possibly the best receiving corps of this generation – the 37-year old is unstoppable. In his last six full games at home, Warner has 16 touchdowns, only six interceptions and averages 324 yards a game.
Warner's No. 2 wideout Anquan Boldin will most likely to miss Sunday's game after getting smashed in an ugly head-to-head collision that cost New York Jets' safety Eric Smith $50,000. But Arizona's passing game is a well-oiled assembly line. Steve Breaston, who went for nine catches and 122 yards last week, has developed a quick rapport with Warner. Also, expect for supplementary weapons Jerheme Urban, Leonard Pope and Ben Patrick to get increased roles in the passing game.
The Bills must blitz Warner into oblivion. No quarterback in the league is more welcome to sacks. Warner routinely freezes like an ice sculpture in a collapsing pocket, waiting for deep receivers to break on long routes, waiting for an open space, waiting and waiting and waiting - all with a suspect offensive line. This leads to yardage explosions (Warner's on pace for nearly 5,000 yards this year). But it also leads to a charade of giveaways (Warner's also on pace for 28 turnovers). And you thought Drew Bledsoe was a statue…
Thing is, this statue can torch you. The Bills will probably be without No. 1 corner Terrence McGee Sunday. A sprained left knee has held McGee out of practice the past two days. Don't expect Buffalo to force-feed playing time at this point. Jabari Greer, Ashton Youboty and Leodis McKelvin must be ready. The Cardinals will lean on a pass-heavy game plan. While the Bills have the sixth-best pass defense statistically this season, their secondary hasn't truly been tested yet. With a constant pass rush (the Cards also allowed five sacks last week), Buffalo should make life easier on a green secondary and turnovers will be there for the taking.
Let balance drive unpredictability
It had the excitement of a WNBA game and the predictability of CSPAN. Steve Fairchild's dizzying run-run-pass-punt last year seemed inescapable.
But under Turk Schonert, it's been night-and-day this year. The Bills have maintained numbing balance (120 passes, 116 runs). Unlike last season, balance has opened the door to unpredictable back-breaking plays. Defenses have stacked the box, Buffalo consistently churns out four yards a clip with a run-heavy scheme in the first half and then Schonert takes shots downfield when the game's in doubt late. Sounds oversimplified. But opponents have let Lee Evans roam loose on one-on-one coverage and paid for it late.
Against the Cardinals, this may be the biggest difference. Buffalo knows Arizona (144 passes, 108 runs) is going to pass, pass, pass. Conversely, Arizona may have trouble anticipating the Bills' next move. Schonert must establish Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson and continue to take unpredictable shots downfield to Evans in running situations. Trent Edwards hasn't put the Bills in bad situations with only two interceptions in four games. With timely wit in the passing game complementing a steady diet of Lynch and Jackson (393 combined rush yards, 5 TD).
Schonert's game plan will be distinctly different than Ken Whisenhunt's. Arizona's shaky pass protection, Warner's rhythm and Edwards' timely deep ball will determine the outcome.
Fantasy Football Predictions
Kurt Warner – 315 yards, 2 TD, 2 Int.
Edgerrin James – 43 rush yards
Larry Fitzgerald – 125 rec. yards, TD
Steve Breaston – 70 rec. yards, TD
Trent Edwards – 200 yards, 2 TD, 0 Int.
Marshawn Lynch – 125 yards, 2 TD
Fred Jackson – 65 yards
Lee Evans – 90 yards, TD
Josh Reed – 45 yards, TD
Bills 31, Cardinals 28