TEMPE, Ariz. — The Buffalo Bills’ defense is at a crossroads.
They’re at the intersection of Do Street and Die Avenue.
After two weeks of getting bombed back to the leather-helmet era in terms of statistical ineptitude, the Bills need to make a statement Sunday against a vulnerable Arizona Cardinals offense in University of Phoenix Stadium.
“A lot of people in their business or their lives don’t have another opportunity to go out there and turn it around or go redeem themselves,” Bills linebacker Nick Barnett said after Wednesday’s practice on the Arizona State campus.
“I’m excited about this week. I think we’ll do very well with the game plan. We’ll see what happens.”
The Bills have allowed 90 points and acres of real estate over their past six quarters.
But the Cardinals might present the perfect opponent. They have a seemingly inflated 4-1 record and weaknesses to exploit.
Their top two running backs, Beanie Wells and Ryan Williams, are out with injuries. The St. Louis Rams sacked Cardinals quarterback Kevin Kolb nine times last week. The Miami Dolphins sacked him eight times the week before.
Arizona’s offense ranks near the bottom in several stats: 31st in total offense, 31st in rushing offense, 25th in passing offense, 32nd in yards per play and 26th in third-down conversions.
Arizona averages 2.7 yards per run and 4.7 yards per offensive snap, dead last in each category. Only three teams have fumbled more often. No team has allowed more sacks.
By all measures, Arizona looks like a wonderful opportunity for Buffalo’s defense to come alive after two weeks of zombified performances.
But the Bills can’t make any assumptions.
“If we go out there and think, ‘Oh, well, it’s going to be this easy because the last two teams did this,’ we could be in for a rude awakening,” Bills defensive end Mario Williams said. “We have to go out and do it ourselves.”
The company message this week has been to get more aggressive on defense. Bills coach Chan Gailey said Wednesday he wants his defense “to play loose, play fast.”
General Manager Buddy Nix proclaimed he wants to see a greater sense of urgency.
To that end, there’s less emphasis being placed on tailoring a game plan for the Cardinals than dictating the terms, a philosophy that has been difficult with a collection of young and new players in defensive coordinator Dave Wannstedt’s 4-3 scheme.
“Sometimes we get so caught up in evaluating what other people are doing,” Gailey said. “You need to be more worried about what your team’s doing, where your team is and what we need to do to get better.”
The players seem to agree.
“It means to play on the edge, don’t be too tight or too worried,” Barnett said. “That’s what a playmaker is. You shoot the gap when you see it and don’t second-guess yourself. You see a play to be made, go make it.
“Sometimes you make a mistake when you play that way, but you make a lot of plays, too.”
None of the players tipped off the game plan, but one got the impression in speaking with them that they approve of whatever approach will be implemented.
“You can’t be good at this game if you’re not having fun,” Barnett said. “If you’re not enjoying it and you don’t wish to be out there, you can’t be good.
“We just have to have fun and relax and ball. That’s what it comes down to.”