Bills vs. Cardinals | On the Fly


There is doubt that the win versus the Arizona Cardinals was biggest win in the Rex Ryan era. It was the first win of the Bills season and by all likely accounts was a must win. Like many games the outcome was decided by how well each coach adjusted to what the other was doing. Each quarter felt like a heavy weight boxing match pitting Bruce Arians versus Rex Ryan.

Last weeks defensive scouting report.

How well did the Bills scout the Cardinals offense? 

After the game, news broke that Dennis Thurman actually called the game. Of course, the game planning was a joint effort, either way the defense was quite multiple. The staff played just about every safety on the roster. Corey Graham led with 83 snaps, Aaron Williams 69, Duke Williams 35, Robert Blanton with 31 and even Jonathan Meeks saw 12 snaps. The safeties were utilized in areas of the field and situations to combat the big receivers Michael Floyd and Larry Fitzgerald.

Once you turn on the film, you can see that priority number one was to contain Larry Fitzgerald. He is a guy that Palmer targets frequently, especially on critical downs.

The staff did a phenomenal job of mixing up coverages. Coverages to slow down Fitzy but to also confuse Palmer. Take a look.

Here are the plays in the following video. The plays are in chronological order, pay attention to the personnel groupings utilized by both teams. Both coaches did a good job of mixing things up and adjusting.

1st quarter

  • 3rd and 8-zone coverage but Aaron Williams manned up with Fitzy. Incomplete pass.
  • 3rd and 13-cover 2 man, Aaron Williams uses great technique to shut Fitzy down. Incomplete pass.
  • 2nd and 10-defensive tackle Adolphus Washington drops into coverage to close down the crossing route by Fitzy. Incomplete pass.

2nd quarter

  • 3rd and 15-Fitzy is boxed in by four defenders. Dump down to David Johnson.

3rd quarter

  • 1st and 10-cover 2 with Seymour manned up with Fitzy with help from Preston Brown. Incomplete pass.

Bruce Arians adjusts and finds ways to get the ball into the future Hall of Famer’s hands.

3rd quarter

  • 3rd and 11-zone coverage-Cardinals adjust and move Fitzy outside and have success doing it. Twelve-yard completion.
  • 1st and 10-cover 6-Fitzy lines up outside and again picks up a first down on the deep out route.

4th quarter

  • 1st and 10-cover 2 man-Fitzy motions into slot and Cardinals run a rub route to get him open.
  • 1st and 10 in the red zone-Fitzy doubled. Rex Ryan doesn’t let Fitzy run free, the coverage forces Palmer to hold and Hughes gets the sack.


As you can see the Bills did a fantastic job of limiting Fitzgerald’s touches early in the game. They forced the Cardinals offense to look elsewhere. Of course, Arians went into halftime and made adjustments. They moved him outside which kept him away from being double teamed in the slot. Double teams that were coming from safeties and linebackers. Putting him wide often gave Fitzy one on one coverage. In the end, the Bills kept Fitzy under wraps and played enough coverages to confuse Carson Palmer. Fitzgerald finished the game with 11 targets, 7 receptions, 60 yards and zero touchdowns.

But Arians and his staff made other adjustments. He noticed a personnel package that he wanted to exploit right around the end of the 1st quarter. It was the 5 wide formation. The Bills answer was to play coverage. This was important because the Bills often dropped eight into coverage. They forced Palmer to dink and dunk their way down the field, which ate up clock and took away their vertical passing game. Palmer was 1/7 for 25 yards on passes over 20 yards. By spreading out the Bills defense it took stress off of the Cardinals offensive line. A line that gave up four sacks.

The Bills ran several coverages versus the Cardinals 5 wide formations, take a look.


The multiple defensive personnel groupings caused Palmer finish week three with the third-worst completion percentage (52%), second worst NFL QB rating (36) and the second most interceptions (4). Kudos goes out to the staff for that win.

Football is a team game and the win wasn’t just because the defense played well, the offense complemented it. New offensive coordinator Anthony Lynn also put together an efficient game plan.

Last weeks scouting report on Cardinals defense.

How well did the Bills scout the Cardinals defense based on those keys?

Bills fans were excited to see the new-look offense. Lynn had ten days to prepare for this Arizona Cardinals defense and he introduced some new wrinkles in the Bills rushing attack. The Bills used misdirection in the run game which led to some big plays. This plan was perfect because the Cardinals have some amazing athletes at the inside linebacker and safety positions. Linebacker Deone Bucanon, safeties Tony Jefferson and Tyrann Mathieu are guys that are always around the line of scrimmage. They are fast flow players who are always around the ball. Check out the ways in which Lynn got the run game jumpstarted.

Shady starts right but then bends it back. As Jones squeezes the gap Mccoy bounces it wide for a 17 yard gain.


Lynn ran misdirection out of different personnel groupings and with different blocking concepts. The prior play was more zone run blocking, the following play’s blocking concepts are gap principles. Much like the pin and pull concept from 2015. Mills and Groy down block and Miller leads wide and eliminates the defender.


A formation that the Cardinals didn’t have an answer for was the wildcat. Lynn again ran misdirection but with power run blocking principles. A fullback and guard counter trey. Center Eric Wood blocks down and Richie pulls for an 8 yard gain for Shady.


The Bills running attack through two games wasn’t on par with last season. They were struggling to get the ball to the edge successfully. Lynn did a fantastic job of tweaking the run game. He used misdirection as the core plan of attack but used several personnel grouping and concepts to beat the talented Cardinals defense.

The Bills finished with 31 carries for 204 yards and three touchdowns. They were able to run outside (103 yards) but they also carved up the interior of the Cardinals defense.

The Bills used the Cardinals speed and aggressiveness against them. Not a bad first game plan by Anthony Lynn.

It will be interesting to see how Lynn attacks another talented defense on the Bills schedule. The Bills need to steal a win versus the Tom Brady-less Patriots this coming Sunday.