The Buffalo Bills head west this week to take on the Arizona Cardinals. For each team, this will be the second consecutive game played against a team from their opponent’s division. Buffalo defeated the Seattle Seahawks last week, while Arizona dropped a tight contest to the Miami Dolphins.
The Bills could win eight of ten games for the first time since 1991, when they began the year 10-1 on the way to a 13-3 finish. The Cardinals are 5-3, but a loss to the Bills prior to a road date against the Seahawks would put a rather large dent in their playoff aspirations.
In order for Buffalo to make it two straight losses for the Cardinals against AFC East teams, they’ll have to control these five players this week.
QB Kyler Murray
The second-year quarterback has just been incredible all year. He makes plays with his legs, but he also has the arm strength and accuracy to make every play from within the pocket, as well. Murray has completed 68% of his passes this year for 2,130 yards, 16 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. He also leads the Cardinals in rushing with 543 yards and eight rushing touchdowns. Against the Dolphins last week, Murray carried 11 times for 101 yards and a rushing touchdown, adding three passing touchdowns and 283 yards through the air, as well. The Cardinals will use plenty of zone-read concepts, and they’ll look to move the pocket for the hyper-athletic passer. Sometimes, Buffalo chooses to play contain and sit in coverage against more mobile quarterbacks. Against Russell Wilson last week, Buffalo brought a blitz-heavy look that forced Wilson into four turnovers. It will be interesting to see what they choose to do this week, but I’m more in favor of bringing some big blitzes early and forcing Murray to prove he can beat it before sitting in coverage and letting him find a rhythm while the defense plays contain. Be aggressive early and force the 5’10” Murray to throw quickly from the pocket.
WR DeAndre Hopkins
Hopkins is, for my money, the best receiver in the game, and after his battle in last season’s playoffs with Tre’Davious White, Sunday’s matchup should be fun to watch. Hopkins leads the Cardinals in targets (76), receptions (60), and receiving yards (734), and he’s second on the team in receiving touchdowns with three. In the Wild Card round last season, White held Hopkins without a catch in the first half, so the Houston Texans started moving him around the formation and into the slot, where White wouldn’t follow him as much. Hopkins caught six passes for 90 yards in the second half, including a 41-yard grab over White. After injuring his ankle in last week’s win, White sat out of practice on Wednesday, but participated on Thursday. Containing Hopkins will be of the utmost importance on Sunday, even though the Cardinals have a tremendously talented receiving corps that also includes future Hall of Famer Larry Fitzgerald and super slot wideout Christian Kirk. Hopkins is the top dog here, so White needs to do his part.
DT Jordan Phillips
Hello, old friend! Big number 97 was a revelation in Buffalo last year, amassing 31 tackles, 13 tackles-for-loss, 16 quarterback hits, and 9.5 sacks during the 2019 season. Phillips parlayed that success into a lucrative free-agent deal with Arizona, signing a three-year pact worth $30 million in March. He hasn’t come close to matching the numbers he put up in Buffalo, notching only ten tackles, two sacks, two forced fumbles, one tackle-for-loss, and three quarterback hits thus far. While Buffalo has definitely missed Phillips’s energy this year, they were wise not to pay $30 million to retain his services. Phillips will certainly look to make the Bills regret their decision-making this weekend, however. Look for him to be extra fired-up on Sunday.
CB Dre Kirkpatrick
With superstar Patrick Peterson set to shadow Stefon Diggs, the matchup on the other side between Kirkpatrick and former Arizona speedster John Brown will be huge. That’s not to say that Diggs can’t beat Peterson—he can—but the Bills have the upper hand in the Brown vs. Kirkpatrick matchup, and Josh Allen would be wise to exploit it. Brown will probably want to show his former employers that they made a mistake in letting him go following the 2017 season, and Kirkpatrick is eminently beatable, especially this season. He’s allowed 33-of-44 targets his way to be completed for a total of 361 yards and two touchdowns. Look for offensive coordinator Brian Daboll to put stress on Kirkpatrick this week.
S Budda Baker
The man who DK Metcalf caught is among the league’s best safeties—this game will be a great showcase for elite safeties, with Buffalo boasting Jordan Poyer and Micah Hyde in their secondary—and he’s also Arizona’s leading tackler this year. Baker has 51 solo tackles, but he does trail linebacker Jordan Hicks in overall tackles by two. Baker also has two sacks, two interceptions, three pass breakups, four tackles-for-loss, three quarterback hits, and one forced fumble on the year. Trying to pull him out of position will be a goal of the offense, so they can try to hit on some big plays down the field.