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Buffalo Bills

Bills’ talented secondary shines in rout over Cardinals

03 January 2016 Buffalo Bills head coach Rex Ryan during the NFL Football game between the New York Jets and Buffalo Bills on Sunday, January 3, 2016 at Ralph Wilson Stadium (Photo by Alan J Schaefer/Icon Sportswire)
Alan J Schaefer/Icon Sportswire

Just 10 days ago, the Buffalo Bills were the butt of practically every joke around the NFL. After falling to 0-2 and firing offensive coordinator Greg Roman, questions were raised about the Buffalo offense, but close followers of the Bills could infer he was a “sacrificial lamb” and that the defense was at least equally at fault, if not the real problem.

On Sunday, the Buffalo Bills answered all their critics, particularly in the secondary, as the Bills throttled the Arizona Cardinals, 33-18.

Buffalo’s defense set the tone early, forcing Arizona to punt on each of its first five possessions. The Cardinals didn’t record a first down until there was 9:33 left in the second quarter, and at that point, the Bills had yielded just 12 yards.

In Week 2, the deep passing game, particularly the go-route, was highly successful for Ryan Fitzpatrick and the Jets’ offense versus Buffalo, which many believed Arizona would take advantage of Sunday. Last Thursday, Fitzpatrick completed 10 passes of at least 15 yards and five passing plays of at least 25 yards.

On Sunday, the Cardinals vertical attack was kept at bay, as Carson Palmer had just three completions for over 15 yards, and one of those came in garbage time.

Arizona is a dangerous team to play against because head coach Bruce Arian isn’t afraid to take shots down the field, but his aggressive nature hurts him sometimes. When the splash plays aren’t coming for the Cardinals’ offense, it’s hard for them to sustain any drives, and that was quite evident against the Bills.

At one point in the middle of the second quarter, Palmer was just 3-of-12 passing. He completed just 52.0 percent of his passes and averaged 5.2 yards per attempt overall. With the coverage so good down the field, Buffalo also recorded five sacks from five different players. The five takedowns of the quarterback Sunday equals nearly 25 percent of the team’s sacks from a year ago.

With a 14-point lead and half a quarter to go, the Cardinals started taking even more chances down the field. Buffalo wasn’t able to truly put the game away on offense, but the Bills’ defense stepped up big again and finished the job.

Buffalo intercepted Palmer four times in the final six and a half minutes. Again, Arizona was desperate, so Palmer likely wouldn’t have taken those chances had it been a one-possession game, but the fact that the Bills walked away with five takeaways and five sacks is a huge success, especially when considering nose tackle Marcell Dareus and cornerback Ronald Darby didn’t play.

Former top 10 pick and cornerback Stephon Gilmore had a huge final few minutes, picking off two passes. The Jets burned Gilmore early and often in Week 2, so it was a nice bounce-back performance.

Buffalo wasn’t able to muster up much offense in the second half or any threat in the passing game, but the rushing attack was vastly improved in new offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn’s first game. The Bills rushed for 172 yards in the first half, which was their most since their last playoff victory in December of 1995.

LeSean McCoy finished the day with 110 yards and two touchdowns on 17 carries. Tyrod Taylor also had a rushing score and 76 yards on the ground.

Critics can place the blame for Buffalo’s poor start wherever they like, but the truth is both units were at fault.

When Buffalo’s ground-and-pound game is working as it was Sunday, the defense’s job is infinitely easier, and when the secondary is on lock-down mode as it was against Palmer, sacks are more frequent, too.

Of course, the new balanced Bills attack will truly be tested in a crucial early season game next week in Foxboro.

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