After pulling off one of the biggest upsets in NFL history at Minnesota, the Buffalo Bills take their act, and rookie starting quarterback Josh Allen, to Green Bay, where the Packers and their formidable quarterback, Aaron Rodgers, are in a foul mood coming off last week’s loss in Washington.
Not surprisingly, the Packers’ No. 1 mantra is — don’t underestimate the Bills.
Buffalo was a 17-point underdog going into Minnesota, where the Vikings had the No. 1 defense in the league ready to play the Bills’ rookie quarterback. Or, maybe it wasn’t ready, which is the point the Packers are keeping in mind.
So by the time the game begins at 1 p.m. ET Sunday in Lambeau Field, Packers head coach Mike McCarthy and Rodgers may have brain cramps after considering what the heck happened in Minnesota last week and why.
“I used a bunch of numbers today in the team meeting — statistics-for-losers approach just to show the importance of statistics but, more importantly, what’s inside of those statistics,” McCarthy said. “One of the segments was about the Bills and the uncommonness of our opportunity. We played them four years ago and I think they’ve had two players on their (current) team back then. We don’t know them and they don’t know us, that’s really what our focus in on. It’s getting in tune with the uncommon. That’s going to be our biggest challenge throughout the week and then come Sunday.”
To be clear, sort of, he is saying the Packers must prepare for the unknown.
It’s not just the rarity of seeing the Bills that’s the problem. Three weeks into a season, a team’s strengths, weaknesses and tendencies should be becoming apparent. However, the Bills haven’t played a close game yet. How much of what the Packers are watching on video based on what Buffalo wants to do vs. what it’s doing based on the scoreboard?
Last week, for instance, the Bills didn’t have primary ball-carrier LeSean McCoy, and the blowout score resulted in the Vikings running the football just six times.
“They’ve played three disjointed games,” Rodgers said. “They’ve been down by multiple scores the first two and then they were up by 27 in the third game. The film is definitely different this week. Obviously, it’s an uncommon opponent, but the score has dictated different things on defense. We have a lot of stuff to look at so we’ve been going through that, and we’ll be ready for whatever they throw at us.”
Add that to the list of problems confronting the Packers, who lost by two touchdowns at Washington on Sunday. Defensive tackle Muhammad Wilkerson was placed on injured reserve and outside linebacker Nick Perry is in the concussion protocol, two injuries that could further impact a pass defense that was destroyed by Minnesota’s Kirk Cousins in the second half of a tie two weeks ago and Washington’s Alex Smith in the first half last week.
Offensively, right guard Justin McCray and right tackle Bryan Bulaga couldn’t finish the Washington game, two injuries that could further impact an offense that has struggled to protect Rodgers. Rodgers, of course, is dealing with an injured left knee and missed his third consecutive Wednesday practice.
Buffalo’s defense dominated its matchup against Minnesota. Cousins became the 23rd quarterback in NFL history to complete 40 passes in a game. With 296 passing yards, he’s the only one of those quarterbacks to throw for less than 350 yards. Cousins was sacked four times and turned over the ball three times.
While fans and media were mesmerized by the fact that Allen, the rookie quarterback, threw for 196 yards and one touchdown and ran 39 yards and two more scores against the Vikings’ No. 1 defense, Bills defensive coordinator Leslie Frazier would, ahem, like to point to other key factors in that win.
After allowing 78 points in its two season-opening losses, 75 coming in the first six quarters before things began to settle in the second half against the Los Angeles Chargers, the Bills were dynamic against Cousins and the Vikings.
“It was great to see our defense step up and play as well as they did,” said Frazier, who had been stripped by head coach Sean McDermott of his play-calling duties in the second half against Los Angeles, but then was given those duties back in Minnesota. “We came really close to pitching a shutout, so it was a great effort by a lot of guys throughout the day.”
This is the kind of defense the Bills must play given the state of their offense if they hope to win more than they lose in 2018.
This Sunday that defense will face a gimpy Rodgers rather than a healthy Cousins. That doesn’t foster increased optimism by the Bills, however.
“I’ll take Aaron Rodgers hobbling over most of the quarterbacks in the league,” said Bills safety Micah Hyde, who was Rodgers’ Green Bay teammate for four years. “He still has the intelligence, the arm, he’s going to get it done regardless. We know he’s going to play his A-game, we know what type of quarterback he is, so we have to play accordingly.”