Buffalo Bills (4-0) at Arizona Cardinals (2-2)
You've heard them, you know them by heart, and you're either irritated by or embrace their simplicity. NFL teams spout cliches at you - their favorite being "we're taking things one game at a time" - because they're tested theories that have proven to work most often in this league. Good teams live by and excel at these cliches. When the Buffalo Bills make a cross-country trip to take on the Arizona Cardinals this coming Sunday, two good football teams will take the field, elevating the importance of the cliches.
How adept are the Bills and Cardinals at fulfilling some of today's most popular cliches? Let's examine...
Cliche 1: "Run and stop the run"
Both Buffalo and Arizona are surprisingly similar in this department. Both teams have two-back systems that they employ, with Arizona relying on contributions from Edgerrin James and rookie Tim Hightower, and the Bills leaning on Marshawn Lynch and Fred Jackson. Neither team is particularly adept at rushing the football, however; the Cardinals are averaging 3.2 yards per rush on the season, while the Bills aren't much better at 3.5 yards per rush.
Even defensively, both teams are strikingly similar. Though they've been missing their top two nose tackles (Gabe Watson and Alan Branch), the Cards are surrendering 4.0 yards per rush; that's actually a tick better than the Bills at this point, who are giving up 4.1 yards per rush despite a more consistent defensive attack led by Marcus Stroud and Kyle Williams. Advantage: Push
Cliche 2: "Get off the field on third down"
Buffalo's third down defense has been one of the biggest factors in the team's fast start. Through the first four games, the Bills have allowed opponents to convert just 10 of 52 third down attempts, a 19.2% clip. This has been more of a problem area for the Cardinals, who give up first downs at nearly double the rate (16/44, 36.4%). Advantage: Buffalo
Cliche 3: "Convert third downs offensively"
The Bills have become much more adept at sustaining drives this season, and it's a big reason that the team's offense is putting up 22 points per game by themselves. Buffalo, led by Trent Edwards, has converted 18 of 52 third downs offensively, a 34.6% conversion rate.
Arizona, however, treats this as a strength of their team. Behind a potent passing attack led by Kurt Warner, Arizona has converted 22 of 51 third down opportunities, good for a 43.1% conversion rate. The Cardinals are one of the best teams in the league at sustaining drives. Advantage: Arizona
Cliche 4: "Control time of possession"
Even though they're 4-0, the Bills have only held narrow time of possession margins over their opponents each week. Through four games, the Bills have had the ball for 53.5% of field time. This is only narrowly ahead of the Cardinals, who have had one dominant T.O.P. game to "pad" their stats (they held the ball for over 37 minutes in their opening day win over San Francisco). Arizona possesses the ball for 52.9% of field time. Advantage: Push
Cliche 5: "Don't shoot yourself in the foot"
Buffalo was the least penalized team in the league in 2007 despite their 7-9 record; that's why through four games, the 14 penalties that the Bills have accrued - most of them from the offensive line - have irritated Bills fans to no end.
Believe me when I say it could be worse - in fact, it could be twice as worse, as it is in Arizona, who have committed 29 penalties through the team's first four games this season. Ouch! Advantage: Buffalo
Cliche 6: "Don't settle for field goals"
Arizona's offense is a touch more potent - they're averaging 26.5 points per game as compared to Buffalo's 22 - but it's actually the Bills who are more efficient in the red zone by a hair (translation: Arizona makes a few more big plays). Arizona scores 52.4% of their red zone trips; the Bills score on 54.3% of theirs. Advantage: Push
Cliche 7: "Make your opponent settle for field goals"
Red zone defense is key to winning games in this league; in particular, it's key to keeping your team in games, and good defense in the red area is exactly why the Bills have been able to stage some fourth-quarter comebacks this season. The Bills have allowed touchdowns on 2 of 9 opponent trips into the red zone this season, a 22% clip. For Arizona, this area is a weakness; Cardinals opponents have put up six on seven of 12 trips into the red zone, a 58.3% clip. Advantage: Buffalo
Cliche 8: "Win the turnover battle"
This area is far more even than I anticipated, considering Kurt Warner's performance at The Meadowlands this past weekend. Arizona has turned the ball over nine times in four games while forcing six themselves for a -3 differential. The Bills have overcome some turnover issues themselves (particularly in the Oakland game); they've committed five and forced six, a +1 differential. Advantage: Buffalo
Cliche 9: "Protect your home turf"
In the past two seasons, Arizona has proven to be a much different team at home (7-2) than on the road (3-8). In the past two seasons, the Bills are 5-5 on the road, including 2-0 this season. Arizona's prowess in the desert gives them a distinct advantage here, and it's one that Buffalo could have a hard time overcoming. Advantage: Arizona