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NFL Preview - Buffalo (2-3) at Arizona (4-1)
By John McMullen, NFL Editor
(Sports Network) - A Buffalo Bills team which has fallen off a cliff over its last six quarters visits the desert to take on an Arizona club aiming for its ninth straight home win.
The Cardinals, who are 11-3 in their last 14 games dating back to last season, have problems of their own, however.
Arizona was off to its best start in 38 years before tasting defeat for the first time back on Oct. 4 in St. Louis, falling to the Rams 17-3.
Kevin Kolb went 28-for-50 through the air for 289 yards but was sacked nine times for the Cardinals. Larry Fitzgerald paced all receivers with eight receptions for 92 yards in the setback.
"Not a very good effort by us," Cardinals coach Ken Whisenhunt said. "We had our chances, but we didn't capitalize on our opportunities."
Kolb has now been sacked 17 times over the past two games and Arizona, which was already without Beanie Wells, lost oft-injured running back Ryan Williams for the season with a fractured coracoid process in his shoulder.
A ruptured patellar tendon in his right knee cost Williams his entire rookie season after the Cardinals selected him in the second round of the 2011 draft. The 22-year-old had run for 164 yards on 58 carries and caught seven passes for 44 yards this season.
Arizona, which ranks a dismal 31st in the NFL i rushing, averaging just 63.4 yards per game, now must rely on LaRod Stephens-Howling, William Powell and Alfonso Smith moving forward.
"I feel good about the guys that we've got," Whisenhunt said.
The Bills, meanwhile, have been outscored 90-17 over their last 90 minutes of football, following up a second half collapse against New England with a dismal effort in a 45-3 shellacking at the hands of the San Francisco 49ers.
Ryan Fitzpatrick finished with just 126 yards passing and an interception for Buffalo, which came in with an NFL-high 16 touchdowns but gained just 10 first downs in its second straight debilitating setback.
The Bills gave up 45 second-half points their loss to the Patriots and again had no answer for a 49ers team clicking on all cylinders.
"Obviously there's something I'm not doing correctly with this football team in the second half, because we've played extremely poorly, and that's as nice as you could put it, in the second half," Bills head coach Chan Gailey said. "I don't have the answers today. I have to find the answers."
Buffalo leads the all-time series 5-4 and has won four of the past five between the two teams. The Cards won the last matchup, however, a 41-17 rout on Oct. 5, 2008 behind Fitzgerald's two receiving touchdowns.
WHAT TO WATCH FOR
The Rams' game was inevitable for Arizona, one that Kolb called "sickening" after being sacked nine times. Simply put, the Cardinals are going to struggle with consistency issues until a number of questions are answered on the offensive side of the ball.
First and foremost is pass protection. A fluid thing, protecting the quarterback is almost a living organism, one that requires the signal caller, backs, tight end and offensive line to be on the same page. Heck, even the receivers are asked to do their part in certain blocking schemes which require a chip before heading out into a route. And then there are the sight adjustments each has to diagnose as the potential hot-read on a blitz. Any breakdown by any player could result in disaster.
The Cardinals pass protection was dismal in the Gateway to the West. Kolb held the ball too long at times, there were mental mistakes all over the field and left tackle D'Anthony Batiste just couldn't handle the speed and quickness of Rams defensive end Robert Quinn, who finished with three sacks and countless more hurries.
"We'll look at a lot of things that we've got to do, but I'm not going to panic," said Whisenhunt, whose team has allowed an NFL-high 23 sacks. "We've got a team that's tough mentally. They'll bounce back from this."
Buffalo has plenty of big names on its defensive line but doesn't have the quickness to crash the edges like St. Louis does. That said, it's time for Mario Williams and Mark Anderson to start earning their ducats because Batiste and right tackle Bobby Massie are both weak links.
The Bills defense allowed 1,201 total yards in its last two losses, the most in any two-game span since the New York Yanks (1,227) in 1950. Buffalo also allowed a franchise-worst 621 yards against the 49ers, becoming the first team in NFL history to allow 300 yards passing and 300 rushing in the same game.
"I think this is a perfect week to get things fixed," Buffalo center Eric Wood told the team's website. "We've got an isolated setting. We don't have a whole lot of distractions out here and it's time to get it straight."
For the Bills on offense, Fitzpatrick, a native of nearby Gilbert, Ariz, seems to go through these funks every year and has to start showing more consistency and take fewer chances with the ball. Now that Fred Jackson and C.J. Spiller are back, he has all his weapons to work with.
"We have the talent," Fitzpatrick said. "That's something we know we have."
This game features the NFC's lowest ranked offense, Arizona (273.2 yards per game) against the AFC's lowest-ranked defense, Buffalo (449.4).
The Cardinals were due for a market correction so to speak and how they handle their first loss will be a key to their season moving forward.
Having a shaky running game paired with a questionable quarterback doesn't seem like a recipe for success but look for a lot of max protection by the Arizona offense since Fitzgerald, who needs just 48 receiving yards to become the second youngest in NFL history with 10,000, should be able to get loose pretty frequently, even when he's out in two- or three-man routes.
Sports Network Predicted Outcome: Cardinals 24, Bills 21
10/12 09:56:51 ET
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