TEMPE, Ariz. — The numbers say this is a week for the Cardinals offense to get well.
Buffalo ranks dead last in scoring defense, allowing 35.2 points per game. The Bills rank 31st in the 32-team NFL in yards allowed per game (449.4). They are 30th against the run (171.8 yards per game), they have surrendered 12 touchdown passes and opponents are converting an impressive 48 percent of their third-down plays, the fourth-worst mark in the NFL.
But there is another lens through which to view this matchup – one the Bills are no doubt using this week. The Cardinals rank 31st in total offense (273.2 yards per game), 25th in points per game (18.8) and dead last in yards per rush (2.7). Toss in the fact that Arizona is without two offensive linemen (Levi Brown, Jeremy Bridges) and its top two running backs (Beanie Wells, Ryan Williams) and you’ve got a matchup rife for comedic riffs.
“I’m sure we’ll both play with chips on our shoulder,” quarterback Kevin Kolb said. “I don’t care if it’s 6-3 or 60-53. At this point in my career, I want to win football games, regardless of how it looks.”
How it looks may depend on the performance of several inexperienced Cardinals. How will running backs William Powell and Alfonso Smith react to an increased workload? How will beleaguered right tackle Bobby Massie react to Bills defensive end Mario Williams, who is anxious to justify the big contract the Bills gave him in the offseason after a subpar first five games? How much can dinged tight ends Todd Heap and Jim Dray aid the passing and blocking game? And how will LaRod Stephens-Howling react in the mostly unfamiliar role of lead back, especially coming off a hip injury that has sidelined him the past two weeks?
“I felt good all week and I haven’t practiced in a while, so it was good to be back,” said Stephens-Howling, who has played a few games as the lead back throughout his career due to other players’ injuries. “Past experience just helped me with my confidence. I already thought I could do it, and I’ve proven it before. But it’s just a regular work week, preparing to get most of the load.”
When asked to estimate how many touches he might get Sunday, Stephens-Howling guessed 30. That would be a shocking workload, even though he added some weight (he’s generously listed at 185) in the offseason.
“I don’t care about that weight,” Stephens-Howling said, joking. “I’ve got to run away from guys.”
There is another danger in assuming this might be the week for the Cardinals offense to get well against what has been a terrible defense. Aside from the Cards’ offensive struggles and injuries, the NFL is a highly unpredictable animal from week to week.
“We don’t look at numbers or stats,” center Lyle Sendlein said. “We expect to have the same kind of stats each week, no matter if they’re the 32nd-ranked defense or the first-ranked defense. We obviously watch film and try to give ourselves the best chance to have a successful plan.”
Success would seem a necessity this week. Although the Cards are 4-1, the schedule gets brutal over the next four weeks – a game at Minnesota, a Monday-night home game against San Francisco and road games at Green Bay and Atlanta sandwiched around the Cards’ bye week.
In that light, a loss to the Bills could do serious damage to the Cardinals’ playoffs hopes.
“We understand what’s at stake every week,” linebacker Paris Lenon said. “But after last week’s (loss in St. Louis), it will be good to get back on the field and put that one behind us.”