After two straight losses to start the 2016 season, the Buffalo Bills bounced back with an upset win at home over the heavily favored Arizona Cardinals 33-18.
With Greg Roman out as offensive coordinator, the Bills looked more decisive offensively with Anthony Lynn taking charge. Before the Arizona game, Rex and Anthony emphasized the need to get the ball into your ‘playmakers hands’. It appeared the newly anointed offensive coordinator, Lynn, got the memo.
With receiver Sammy Watkins and Greg Salas out for the matchup, the Bills had to rely on their ground-game to jump-start their offense. Enter LeSean McCoy. Lynn used an up-tempo pace for a good portion of the Bills offensive snaps to throw the Cardinals defense off. Especially in the running game, as the Bills dominated the Cardinals in the trenches through 208 yards rushing.
Here on the Bills first touchdown drive, Robert Woods makes a big play over all-pro cornerback, Patrick Peterson, for a 24-yard gain on 2nd & 20:
Although the catch by Woods was questionable due to the point of the ball hitting the turf via replay, Peterson was also called for defensive pass interference. The very next play, Lynn’s up-tempo offense payed off with a 24-yard touchdown run by McCoy—canceling any opportunity for the Cardinals to challenge the Robert Woods catch:
The play presented excellent blocking up-front with guard Richie Incognito pulling out to the right and absolutely ‘pancaking’ Corey Peters to spring McCoy to the end-zone.
The dominance in the run game continued on the next Bills touchdown drive. In Cardinals territory, McCoy runs for 18-yards. There was another ‘pancake’ this time by second-year right-guard, John Miller (#76), while Ryan Groy (#72) did a nice job sealing the edge enabling McCoy to the second-level:
Here’s another example of good run-blocking by the offensive line featuring fullback Jerome Felton sealing outside linebacker, Chandler Jones (#55) for a pick-up of seven on the play:
It was an effective counter-run to flank the Cardinals blitz to set-up the ensuing five-yard touchdown run for McCoy on the next play:
Another ‘pancake’ is present here with receiver Walt Powell eliminating the safety Tony Jefferson (#22). It’s a toss play to the left, McCoy appeared to have the advantage running to the edge until Chandler Jones—thanks to a push by Bills tackle Cyrus Kouandjio—meets him at the sideline, but McCoy makes a nice cut-back to the inside and dives for the pylon for his second touchdown of the day.
The Bills added another rushing touchdown at the start of the second-half via Tyrod Taylor. On 3rd & 4 at the Arizona 20-yard line, the Cardinals brought a man-blitz which opened up the opportunity for Tyrod to scramble out of the pocket and high-step into the end-zone to extend the Bills lead 23-7 (Carpenter missed the extra-point). The problem with man coverage against a mobile quarterback is no one is covering him. It’s evident here:
The dominant rushing attack paved the way for the Bills offensive success. The passing attack, however, left a lot to be desired. With only 119 yards through the air, there were two plays I’d like to address.
The first play here is 1st & 10 at the 50-yard line. The play-call is ‘Dagger’—consisting of the slot receiver running a ‘Go’ route to clear out the safety, the left outside receiver runs a ‘Dig’, and the tight-end runs a shallow ‘Crossing’ route underneath. Watching the play develop, it appears Tyrod has enough protection to step-up in the pocket and hit Robert Woods running the dig route coming across the middle. Instead, he opts for Charles Clay running the crossing route, missing on a big play. You be the judge:
This is a reason for concern because Tyrod is not exploiting the middle of the field. Game-after-game, there are plays left on the field due to his lack of awareness, and probably height? It appears without Sammy Watkins, receivers are still finding ways to get open. It’s all about being able to locate those receivers. This was a good example of Tyrod not identifying the open target.
My second example is another 1st & 10 situation in Cardinals territory. It’s 11-personnel on the field (3 WR x 1 TE x 1 RB), Tyrod takes the snap under-center, he looks right then left, and takes off for a 10-yard gain. If you notice however, the Bills run a ‘Smash’ concept to the left side of the formation, and it appears the slot receiver running the ‘Smash’ is available for a pass. Take a look:
Once again, Tyrod’s lack of awareness, and ability to navigate through progressions negate a potential touchdown, let alone a chance to get inside the Cardinals 10 yard-line. The receivers are doing their job running good routes and getting open, but Tyrod needs to do a better job looking off receivers and locating the open guy.
Tyrod is still displaying the same pass deficiencies that plagued him last season. Therefore, the Bills passing attack won’t progress unless he progresses. Right now the Bills rank last in passing yards and last in passing attempts. Although, when the running game is functioning that’ll offset any thoughts of hoping the passing game will improve. However, you can’t escape the norm which is that the NFL is now a passing league, and there will be games in which Tyrod and the Bills will have to win through the air. The Bills can’t afford Tyrod missing open receiver’s like this going forward.
Nevertheless, the Bills generated 208-yards rushing against a legitimate Cardinals defense despite the passing woes without Watkins and Salas. With Anthony Lynn taking over the reigns of the offense, expect Lynn to continue his up-tempo-like pace and find ways to keep feeding McCoy, and hopefully playmakers like Sammy Watkins when he returns, the ball to get the most out of the offense. Overall, the Bills did enough offensively to find a way to win, and that’s what matters in the end.
After getting carved-up by Ryan Fitzpatrick for 374 yards passing, the Bills defense bounced back tremendously recording four fourth-quarter interceptions along with five sacks on Carson Palmer. Palmer threw no touchdown passes and for 287 yards with a receiving core that includes future Hall of Fame Larry Fitzgerald, and studs in Michael Floyd and John Brown. John Brown was the leading receiver with six receptions for 70 yards. The Bills, for the most part, contained running back David Johnson with only 83 yards of rushing, but allowed two rushing touchdowns. Otherwise, the Bills allowed only 89 yards rushing total. With the Cardinals trailing the entire game, a good portion of their yardage wasn’t gathered until the end of the game (Garbage-time stats).
Rex Ryan deserves a lot of credit for drawing up an amazing game-plan. As with always a Rex Ryan defense, the goal is to stop the run, and the Bills were on that early as the Bills defensive front was disruptive all game.
Here on 2nd & 10, Kyle Williams (#95) begins his productive day breaking through the tight-end and offensive line tripping David Johnson who stumbles for a minimal gain:
This clip shows the Cardinals in ‘Heavy’ personnel, but they still couldn’t muster any significant yardage on the ground with Williams, Corbin Bryant, and Adolphus Washington holding their ground up front. With the three linemen eating up blocks, it allowed linebackers Preston and Zach Brown to flood to the ball-carrier:
The rushing problems for Arizona continued as Kyle Williams kept on being disruptive. Here, he gets the tackle-for-loss:
Jumping ahead to the third-quarter, the Cardinals faced a 3rd & 1 in the red-zone. The combination of Jerel Worthy and Kyle Williams go unblocked to create a big stop. This forces the Cardinals to attempt a field goal:
A high-snap goes off the holder’s hands, and the ball fumbles out to midfield where Aaron Williams takes it all the way back for a critical touchdown to put the Bills up 30-7.
Not establishing the run led to Arizona facing a multitude of down-and-distance situations, in which they were forced to throw the ball down field. This is where Rex’s game-plan comes into effect. Rex utilized seven defensive backs to shut down the Cardinals dangerous vertical attack. Rex used a lot of three man rushes while dropping eight in coverage. As a result, there was no room for exploitation in the Bills secondary.
A good illustration of this is here on 3rd & 8 where the coverage for the Bills was everywhere. Often times there was absolutely nowhere to go. This time it’s a dropped pass:
The great coverage by the Bills defensive backs paid dividends as the pass rush got ‘home’ on five different occasions. Here, the Bills first sack of the game comes from Kyle Williams. Notice he is the only defensive lineman on the field as the Bills played a lot of quarter (1-3-7) coverages. The speed of Jerry Hughes gets around the right tackle, D.J. Humphries, which forces Palmer to step up in the pocket where he is met by an incoming Kyle Williams:
Corey Graham comes down on a safety blitz to sack Palmer, adding to his spectacular day:
Even though this was the last drive of the game, Kyle Williams and the rest of the Bills defensive line is still working hard, and No. 95 brings Palmer down. He finished the day with 1.5 sacks:
Arizona became desperate as the game wore on with taking several shots down the field. The Bills defensive backs made great efforts to breakup deep passes in one-on-one situations.
Corey Graham makes a great play on the ball here:
Graham breaks up another deep pass intended for the speedy John Brown:
Another deep ball for John Brown gets broken up by Aaron Williams, who made a heck of an effort to chase down the ball:
Under seven minutes to go, only down by 14, Palmers interceptions start with this amazing play by Stephon Gilmore to dive for the ball before it hits the ground:
Under five minutes to go now, Palmer throws another dagger of an interception. Who else than Corey Graham—Reading the wheel route and going up to make the great interception:
Overall, the Bills defense made a fantastic comeback, and it was a tremendous effort from the defensive line, linebackers, and defensive backs in a collaborative effort to shut down of the best offenses in the league in the Arizona Cardinals.
What They Said:
Q: Rex, with what happened to the secondary last week and with Ronald Darby out, did you go into this game thinking you had to apply more pressure with different creative schemes to protect the secondary a little bit more?
A: No, we just had to do a better job of mixing things and like I said, Dennis Thurman did an unbelievable job calling the game. But then also, hey, we’re going to leave you one-on-one because we believe that you can get it done and that’s what we did. I thought Corey white had a great pick, Corey Graham was outstanding, so there was a lot of guys. It was great to see (Stephon) Gilmore get a pick also and I’m sure I’m forgetting someone else but you guys know who it is, I don’t know.
Q: Rex, when that ball was in the air, guys were a lot better today making a play on the ball. What was the difference in four interceptions versus last week you weren’t getting those balls?
A: We were ready for it man. I mean we wanted to be challenged, we wanted to have the ball thrown at us and that was it. And don’t be afraid to make a play. It was, as I mentioned, it wasn’t time to feel pressure, it was time to apply pressure, and that’s what I told our team before the game because that’s exactly what we needed to do and believe in each other, believe that we can make plays, and that’s what we did.
Q: Rex, the run game obviously came back in a big way today. At first glance, what made the run game so much more productive today?
A: Well we really did a great job up front. That offensive line did a great job blocking against an outstanding front. We were creative in some of the things that we did. Obviously when you have a quarterback as talented as Tyrod, able to get him out there. Albeit that kid (Tyrann Mathieu) made an unbelievable play on that pitch, like, oh my god. I think we were all like, ‘are you kidding me?’ I was saying the same thing after we gave up the safety. Like you gotta be kidding me. But really, that was it and Shady’s (LeSean McCoy) always—he’s got that. We just got to block for him and he’ll do the rest.
Q: How important was it to play well today?
A: It was good to see everyone come together and do whatever it takes … offense and defense, to get a win. Definitely a lot going on earlier in the week, and we were able to move past that and like I said, come together and get a win.
Q: Was the offensive strategy keeping the defense on their heels?
A: I think the way we mixed in our no huddle definitely was beneficial … definitely with the touchdown that Shady (Lesean McCoy) had off the trap. That was definitely a big one in the game. You have to pick and choose when you use it, because sometimes you get stuck on a personnel, and it is not the personnel that you can run your whole offense from. But I think we did a good job of mixing it and it also, like I said, forced them to play certain coverages and stay in certain things and give us decent looks to run our plays.
Q: Did you feel confined in the pocket in the first two games of the year?
A: Like I said, each and every game is going to determine how much I run. I mean last week wasn’t that much opportunities to run, I had to stand in the pocket, threw for almost 300 yards. But that wasn’t the winning formula for that game. We were able to have a balance today. But me running for 80 yards a game … is that realistic to see every week? Not sure. But this week it helped us win and whatever it takes us to get a win and I’m for it.
Q: How important was it to play that well after losing the first two games?
A: I mean it’s very important for us just in general to get going. We always want to help out the defense. The way this team was built, was defense, that’s Rex and his family. They go out there and make stops, they make pressure no matter who the team is. And on offense, we’ve got to put the points up. I think the way they play their game on the other side by making plays and putting points up on offense, we have the easy job, just put a couple points up. That’s when we’re most effective, when we’re playing on the same cylinder. Making plays together; defense, offense, special teams. That’s what a team is based on, so it was very important for us to come out there and put some points up.
Q: What did you see with that first touchdown play?
A: Oh man! They blocked that up! It was a trap, quick trap up the middle. The safety was deep to the left, so I knew that I could run at them, but they got me to the secondary and that was it. It was a play we went over; hitting them, hitting them, hitting them. You know, and get something quick, so it worked out well.
Q: They seemed to be an over pursuing defense, did you guys see some of that?
A: Cause they’re fast, so the idea of the game plan was more a little misdirection, a little “I” formation, a little option, so yeah. Option out of the pistol. So much to defense so I knew we would run the ball today. I didn’t know if we would run this well.
Q: There seems to be some crispness in the offense since getting the plays going, getting them going faster. What do you attest that to?
A: Yeah, oh no it’s tempo. I knew we would run the ball well because he’s big on that. The urgency to get in and out of the huddle. Get up on the ball. There were some times where we would snap the ball when they were just kind of lining up and that helps out. Defenses can’t structure their blitzes how they want. They can’t see what formations we’re in so they can line up everything and get it correct. You know, cause defense, all that is, is they just react to the offense. Okay the ball goes left, they react to the left. So when they line up they try to find out who’s who, they have their keys, when you snap the ball fast it’s kinda hard to get everything together. I don’t know if you noticed, but we ran some quick two-minute type of plays early in the game, so there is a lot of different things to prepare for.
Q: Has to feel good after this one?
A: Love this, love this energy, love this mood. It is a great way to bounce back from a disappointing week last week (that) we had. We told guys lets get over last week and prepare for a great Arizona Cardinal team.
Q: How good was it to have a complete game as a defensive unit?
A: It was great all the way around with communication, guys running to the ball and making their tackles. As long as we had those and we were on the same page, guys were giving their effort a 100-percent each play. It is going to be hard to beat us.
Q: Was this the game you guys were waiting to play?
A: Yeah, we knew it. We knew it coming into this game that it was a very important game especially us as DB’s. Last game we didn’t play that well and you never like that feeling. So we were just, couldn’t really wait for this game to come, so we could go out there and show everybody what we are really capable of doing.
Q: As a unit you had four interceptions that it pretty impressive?
A: Yeah and if you want to be real it should have been six. So we lost, missed some opportunities, me personally, Stephon (Gilmore) we missed some. But it is a good day, it is a good day, whenever we go out there we pride ourselves on making plays. Last week we weren’t able to do that so today we wanted to make sure we did that and I feel like we did a good job.
Q: They are one or two in throwing deep down field, what was your plan going in?
A: Yeah we knew that. We knew that they take a lot of shots. He did a good job, his accuracy is actually very good. We knew that he was going to take shots downfield so we had to keep the ball in front of us. I think guys did a very good job today, they made the plays when they had the opportunities to and that is what you go to do. As a defense and a defense back you got to make the plays when you get a chance too.
Q: What does this mean to you to rebound the way you did?
A: I mean I knew I was going to rebound and bounce back. I mean sometimes it happens like that. The best corners get beat it is just how you bounce back. I want to thank Rex (Ryan), DT (Dennis Thurman) and T Mac (Tim McDonald) and all our defensive coaches for putting us in position to make plays. It was a great game plan and we just had to go out there and execute it.
Q: How significant is this performance for this team?
A: It is not always going to happen easy. You are not going to start as good as you want to start. It is how you bounce back. Offensive did a great job, defense and special teams so we believe in each other that is all that matters. I mean anybody on the outside that don’t believe in us, we believe in each other. As long as it is like that, we are going to win games.
This was a huge win for Buffalo nonetheless. 1-2 is definitely better than dropping to 0-3. In my previous columns, I had high praise for this Arizona Cardinals team. I like their offensive scheme and personnel, and I personally like some of their defenders in Patrick Peterson and Chandler Jones. I initially thought thought he Bills had very little chance of winning this game (as did everybody else), but you gotta give credit to the entire team—Players and Coaches—for preparing and executing against a good all-around team like the Arizona Cardinals.
So far, the promotion to Anthony Lynn as offensive coordinator looks promising. I like the idea of an up-tempo offense to set the pace and dictate the game. The running game and LeSean McCoy reaped the benefits by keeping the Cardinals defense on their toes through quick snaps and misdirection. The passing game is still struggling, but with two key receivers out in Watkins and Salas, I believe the passing attack will rebound when the offense is finally healthy. Finally, one thing I truly liked on offense was the utilization of Tyrod’s athleticism. His 49-yard run in the first-half, along with the implementation of other option plays can open things up for the ground game. With Lynn’s former title as ‘Running Backs Coach’, he’ll continue to revitalize last year’s top ranked rushing attack, while also improving and simplifying the passing game, as well.
I’m mostly impressed with the performance of the defense. After getting shredded by Ryan Fitzpatrick, one would think Carson Palmer could do the same, let alone more damage with arguably a better skills-position core around him. Yet, the Bills showed up in a big way Sunday, playing up to the billing of a Rex Ryan defense through exotic, multiple defensive looks—Confusing opposing quarterbacks—All while executing play-calls and understanding each of their assignments. The defense has already collected 10 sacks in three games, almost half of the total from last season (21), and they’re tied for 3rd in the NFL. The secondary redeemed themselves this week as they began to capitalize on inaccurate throws in traffic via pass breakups and interceptions. All-around it was a total team-effort that generated a true team-win.
- The Bills are now 6-1 in the last seven games against the Cardinals. They’re now 4-0 when playing Arizona at home.
- Bills defense vs Cardinals: Five sacks, four interceptions, four tackle-for-loss, 10 QB hurries, 10 passes defended, one forced fumble, one fumble recovery.
- Pro Football Focus has the Bills rated the 3rd best defense in the NFL.
- The Bills are the first team since 2013 to tally four fourth-quarter interceptions.
- Tyrod Taylor’s 49-yard run was the longest by a Bills quarterback in franchise history. The previous game he set the longest passing touchdown to Marquise Goodwin for 84-yards.
- Stephon Gilmore produced his first multi-interception game of his career. He now has 11 career interceptions.
- Nickell Robey-Coleman and Aaron Williams fumble return touchdowns in back-to-back games is the second time that has happened in franchise history (1987).
- Bills released kickoff specialist Jordan Gay.
- Shaq Lawson is scheduled to return to practice week seven. He’ll remain on the PUP list.
Next Game: Sunday, October 2nd at 1:00 PM EST in Foxborough-Gillette Stadium versus the New England Patriots.
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