Here are my five takes on the Buffalo Bills’ game against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field on Sunday:
1. Let’s not make the same mistake as a week ago and give the opponent too much credit, or at least far more than it probably deserves.
Let’s also not make the same mistake of giving too little credit to the Bills, who appear to be finding their way after a sluggish couple of games that, to some degree, served as an extension of the preseason.
A week ago, the Minnesota Vikings proved that, for all of their talent, they had enough vulnerability on both sides of the ball to hardly qualify as a rare two-touchdown-plus favorite.
Sure, the Packers have perhaps the greatest quarterback of them all in Aaron Rodgers. But he’s still bothered by a sprained knee he suffered in Week 1. He’s also playing behind a line whose ability to protect him is compromised by its own health issues.
There’s something to be said for the considerable momentum the Bills have going for them. Josh Allen’s Week 2 promotion to starter provided a clear boost of energy and enthusiasm for everyone around him. His dynamic playmaking against the Vikings showed his teammates that they have the kind of quarterback and leader who can, in fact, put the team on his back if necessary.
The Bills are playing with more confidence and an aggressive mentality that wasn’t apparent at the outset of the season. They’re more than willing to take the fight to the opponent, something that should serve them particularly well on the road.
2. The defense has awakened from its six-quarter slumber.
The secondary deserves major kudos for its ability to throw a figurative blanket over the Vikings’ dangerous receivers. The ultra-tight coverage throughout the game frustrated Kirk Cousins and caused him to hold the ball longer than he wanted. That allowed the Bills’ pass-rushers to apply considerable pressure that resulted in four sacks and an astounding 40 pressures, according to Pro Football Talk.
Tre’Davious White is steadily establishing himself as one of the NFL’s better lock-down corners. Phillip Gaines more than held his own on the other side, and Micah Hyde and Jordan Poyer are back to the form that made them one of the league’s better safety combinations in 2017.
That collective effort on the back end had everything to do with end Jerry Hughes having one of his better games as a Bill. Another factor in Hughes’ dominant showing was Trent Murphy drawing extra blocking attention on the other side, which was exactly what the Bills had in mind when they signed him as a free agent. Kyle Williams, Star Lotulelei and Harrison Phillips had their best showing of the season in the middle of the line, and there is every reason to believe that will continue against the Packers, whose interior offensive line is a weakness.
3. Aaron Rodgers can still do Aaron Rodgers things.
Face it. At some point, Rodgers is going to make a big play. Or two. Or three. That’s what he does, even when he’s dealing with a sore knee.
The key for the Bills is to not allow him to break their will even when he wills himself and the Packers to success, especially late in the game when he tends to make the impossible look possible.
Hyde’s knowledge of Rodgers and the rest of the Packers’ offense, which he gathered during his four seasons in Green Bay (2013-16), will be invaluable to Buffalo’s defense. He will have his fellow defenders well-schooled on what is and isn’t real from Rodgers’ signal-calling and the Packers’ offensive formations and presnap movement.
4. Josh Allen is more than capable of providing an encore to his Minnesota breakout.
What happened at U.S. Bank Stadium was no fluke. Taking over a game is what the kid can do, especially against a defense that has shown itself to be vulnerable to allowing big plays throughout a 1-1-1 start.
Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine is going to attack Allen with a package of actual and simulated blitzes. The idea will be to not only get him on the ground or cause him to run for his life, but to be confused about what is or isn’t coming at him. There will be plenty of coverage disguises as well.
Allen can combat both by trusting his eyes and making the most of his hot reads, firing short and intermediate passes to his backs and tight ends. Look for an expanded package of screen passes in Brian Daboll’s game plan to take advantage of the over aggressiveness of the Packers’ defensive front.
Allen also is able to make the Packers pay for their frequent blitzing with his ability to run for long gains. He doesn’t necessarily have to hurdle defenders, as he did last week, but he does need to make it clear to Pettine that there can be a price for going overboard to rattle a rookie quarterback.
Having four offensive players questionable for the game – running backs LeSean McCoy (rib) and Marcus Murphy (rib), and tight ends Charles Clay (shoulder/hip) and Jason Croom (knee) – is hardly ideal for the Bills. But McCoy is vowing to return to action after sitting out of last week’s game, and Allen still can make enough plays to get the most of what he has at his disposal.
5. If Sean McDermott deserves blame for not having his team ready to play its first two games, he should also be praised for how incredibly well he got it to rebound against the Vikings.
Last Sunday, the Bills looked as prepared as they have for any game since McDermott became their coach. They correctly anticipated pretty much everything the Vikings were doing on both sides of the ball.
Daboll smartly entrusted Allen with more of the offense than he gave him the previous week against the Chargers. The aggressive play-calling was a key factor in exploiting the many holes in the Vikings’ defense, especially through the first half. Allen has the intelligence and the swagger to handle a game plan that goes for the jugular.
After having his play-calling stripped of him at halftime of the Chargers’ game, defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier got those duties back a week later and earned a game ball with his scheming against the Vikings. That gesture on the part of McDermott was crucial, because Frazier is popular with members of the Bills’ defense and his performance enhanced their trust that he will usually put them in the best position to succeed.
Frazier and McDermott have also taken steps toward eliminating many of the communication problems for the defense through most of the first two games. Players say there has been more thorough dialogue in meetings of the entire defense, with members of the front seven and secondary making a greater effort to understand each other’s responsibilities and how what happens at one position impacts another.