On Saturday, the Buffalo Bills suffered a significant COVID-19 blow that the Arizona Cardinals will certainly look to exploit on Sunday. With Josh Norman testing positive for the coronavirus, the Bills will have to find a way to slow down Kyler Murray without one of their top cornerbacks.
Can Buffalo earn a road victory against one of the most improved teams in football? Or will a razor-thin cornerback group get exposed by an offense led by a top MVP candidate?
The Bills have shown some struggles on defense this season
Although the Bills have shown marked improvement on offense, they have experienced a steep drop-off on the other side of the ball. Last season, Buffalo boasted the second-best scoring defense in the NFL. This year, they rank just 18th in points allowed.
Most of that has to do with a putrid run defense that has surrendered 13 touchdowns. However, Buffalo’s secondary has also gotten exposed on a few occassions.
In Week 2, Ryan Fitzpatrick completed 31-of-47 passes for 328 yards and two touchdowns against the Bills. The following week, Jared Goff threw for 321 yards, two touchdowns, and one interception.
Patrick Mahomes threw just five incompletions on 26 attempts in a 26-17 victory against the Bills in Week 6.
Despite some inconsistencies on defense, the Bills still sit in first place in the AFC East with a 7-2 record. However, they may struggle to earn their eighth victory due to personnel problems brought on by COVID-19.
Buffalo suffers a significant COVID-19 blow
With a chance to extend their winning streak to four games before their bye week, the Bills just suffered a major setback in accomplishing that mission.
According to a statement released by the team, cornerback Josh Norman tested positive for COVID-19. He will be placed on the reserve/COVID-19 list and will not travel and play against the Cardinals.
In addition, tight end Tyler Kroft, cornerback Levi Wallace, and safety Dean Marlowe will also go on the reserve/COVID-19 list. Per NFL contact tracing protocols, those three players were determined to have been in close contact and must also miss Sunday’s game.
For Buffalo, losing Norman represents a significant blow. Although injuries have kept him in and out of the lineup, he was expected to start on Sunday. The 32-year-old has recorded 18 tackles, two passes defended, two fumble recoveries, and one forced fumble on 205 defensive snaps.
But with both Norman and his backup (Wallace) unavailable, the Bills will have a much more difficult time trying to stop the Cardinals’ high-powered offense.
Can Buffalo beat Arizona without Josh Norman?
Nobody would call Josh Norman a star, but the veteran corner certainly makes the Bills a better team. Without him in the lineup, will Buffalo be able to stop one of the most explosive offenses in the NFL?
Kyler Murray has taken his game to another level in just his second season in the league. The former No. 1 pick has completed 68.1% of his passes for 2,130 yards, 16 touchdowns, and seven interceptions. Arizona’s franchise quarterback also leads his team with 543 yards and eight touchdowns on the ground.
Murray also has some fantastic weapons at his disposal. DeAndre Hopkins has caught 60 passes for 734 yards in his first year in Arizona. Larry Fitzgerald ranks second on the team with 33 catches for 261 yards. Third-year running back Chase Edmonds has impressed with his dual-threat skill set and underrated toughness.
The Bills still have Tre’Davious White as their top corner, and he should follow Hopkins around the field all day. But with Norman and Wallace out, Buffalo will have to dig deep down its cornerback depth chart against the NFL’s sixth-ranked scoring offense.
Once again, COVID-19 has dealt a significant blow to an NFL team just a day before a game. Let’s see if the Bills can overcome their personnel losses and earn a win on Sunday.
All statistics courtesy of Pro Football Reference.