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Opposition Research: Buffalo Bills (W2)

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Opposition Research: Buffalo Bills (W2)

Welcome to another edition of Opposition Research, where I’ll be taking a look at the next Packers opponent, the Buffalo Bills (0-1).  As far as home openers are concerned, this game has the potential to be a cakewalk…provided the Packers show up to play.  It’ll be my first ever game at Lambeau, and so I’m counting on the Packers to put on a clinic.  Let’s take a look at what’s in store for this Sunday, shall we?

Coming into this game, the Bills are…upbeat about the 2010 season despite realizing, after a Week 1 15-10 loss to the Dolphins, that a new head coach and a new offensive system still produce a dud of an offense that is incapable of scoring points.  Even though the Bills defense handled Miami fairly well (registering 3 sacks and keeping Brandon Marshall to 53 yards receiving), the offense had six three-and-outs and mustered only nine first downs in the whole game.  The Bills ground game that gobbled 1,867 yards in 2009 managed only 38 yards on 14 carries on Sunday, even with the introduction of first-round sensation C.J. Spiller.

Honestly, the only reason the score wasn’t more lopsided is that the Dolphins offense fizzled in the second half.  The Buffalo offense held the ball for only 23 minutes.  In fact, Jason LaCanfora called the game “an affront of offensive football.”

In this week’s edition of Tuesday Morning Quarterback, Gregg Easterbrook has some harsh reality for those who hoped that Chan Gailey’s regime would turn the tide for the Bills:

Sunday the Bills employed a hyperconservative game plan of checkdown, checkdown, checkdown. When all passes are ultrashort, the defense can choke up against the rush, and nothing works. Buffalo has now scored 10 points or fewer in seven of its last 17 home games. The Bills rather delicately declared their offense's performance "not encouraging when it came to results."

Going into the 2009 offseason, Buffalo's problems were quarterback, offensive tackle and the need to open up the game plan. Coaches and management did nothing; both were fired when the season ended. Going into the 2010 offseason, Buffalo's problems were quarterback, offensive tackle and the need to open up the game plan. The new coaches and new management did nothing. What is it about the Bills' organization since the Super Bowl run? Doing nothing has become its Zen.

Tough words for a team that has been hoping to turn the corner for YEARS.

The fans at home are…reacting to Sunday’s loss in 140 characters or less:

I hope Trent Edwards doesn't have a dog because it must get bore from all the short tennis ball throws he shovels off to him (h/t @peteinsudbury)

The guys over at Buffalo Rumblings have done some very excellent film review of last week’s game, and I think that this bit about execution is particularly apt:

Edwards didn't sell the screen very well, leading to a couple of altered throws on those plays. The Bills' linemen were confused about the direction of a play on occasion; I recall one particular play in which Bell allowed a defender into the backfield largely unblocked, thinking that the play was going to the right, not to the left. Bills players also struggled to make plays with the ball in their hands; Spiller in particular had a shot at some big gainers, but couldn't run through arm tackles.

But what makes Buffalo fans win at life this week is that they wrote a song…for rookie C.J. Spiller.  Really.  Here are some of the mindblowing lyrics, set to the tune of Michael Jackson’s Thriller (download the track here):

You feel a hard hand, and fall just as you’re stiff armed to the ground
You wipe your eyes and, ask who is this new rookie in town
But all the while, he's bustin right thru your defensive line (ohhh)...
You start to smile, cause you chased him but you fell far behind, so far behind

Something to chew on… it’s curious to me that the Bills are absolutely STACKED at running back and cornerback.  Consider that much of the talk since Ryan Grant’s injury has been about whether the Packers should go after Marshawn Lynch…and realize that Lynch, a 1st round pick in 2007, sits third in the depth chart behind rookie CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson.  All three could be feature backs in this league (reminds me of Dallas and Atlanta, both of whom are faced with the same embarrassment of riches at RB).  In the secondary, all five of the Bills corners are talented, and the starters (Terrence McGee and Drayton Florence) are ball hawks.  (If you can get Bob McGinn to compliment your secondary, you know you’re doing something right.)

Where the Bills are weak? Quarterback. Receiver. Tight end. Offensive line.  Generating a pass rush. Basically…everywhere else.

When looking at the Packers on film… the fans are counting on lots of trick plays and off-the-wall playcalls (oh my god, read this WHOLE THING):

We know the Green Bay Packers. They have an explosive West Coast offense run by one of the best young quarterbacks in the league, and a big play defense centered around LB Clay Matthews and CB Charles Woodson. We also know the Bills. We have, perhaps, an above average defense which camouflages its weak pass rush with good coverage and pressure packages, and we have a below average offense, which camouflages its weaknesses with...well, it doesn't. So how would a mediocre rebuilding club like the Bills topple a chic pick to make the Super Bowl like the Packers? The answer is simple: wacky National Lampoon-esque hijinks.

The first step will be to outfit some of our players in Green Bay uniforms.

Like we all do, some fans in Buffalo forecasted how the season would go for the Bills.  Kevin Shenoy, writing for BillsZone, prefaced his predictions by saying, “I’m not pregnant, just moody about the season.” About this week, Shenoy prognosticates thus:

At the start of this game you say in a Dorothy from OZ repetitive fashion, “if they win this, they’re for real.” By the start of the second quarter you ask, “How did this get away from us so quickly? This was just unfortunate circumstances.” This blowout makes you sick; the fact that Poz ends up on IR makes you sicker.

What We’re Up Against:  Frankly, the Bills offense shouldn’t be scary at all.  QB Trent Edwards is a checkdown king, even if receiver Lee Evans has great hands and can make plays all over the field.  Without much of a passing game, you can expect a lot of run plays.  Yes, the trio of Bills running backs has a lot of potential…what’s keeping them back? The fact that new head coach Chan Gailey calls a poor game (or, at least he did last week).  Maybe Gailey will get his ducks in a row on Sunday, but I’m not betting the farm that the Packers front seven will suddenly be faced with a three-headed monster.

I still worry about Spiller later in the game and on special teams, but after the way the Packers were able to contain DeSean Jackson and Ellis Hobbs in Philadelphia, that panic has been downgraded slightly.

Last year, the Bills run defense allowed 2,501 yards and 19 touchdowns, ranking in the bottom five in each category.  Despite a new defensive coordinator and a switch to the 3-4 defense, the 2010 Bills run defense doesn’t look all that different.  Ronnie Brown and Ricky Williams each gashed the Bills for over 60 yards, leading Bill Barnwell to make this comparison:

The Buffalo run defense looks ... well ... it looks less convincing than Jessica Alba's desire for Danny Trejo in Machete.

Even without Ryan Grant, the Packers should be able to run a balanced offense.  And…if Brandon Jackson and John Kuhn get traction on the ground, McCarthy may want to call a run-heavier game.

Why? Because, on the other side of the coin, the Bills pass defense is still ridiculously good.  In 2009, rookie FS Jairus Byrd nabbed nine of the team’s 28 interceptions (only two fewer than Green Bay), and finished ahead of Clay Matthews in the polls for defensive rookie of the year.  It’s also worth noting that the Bills held opposing quarterbacks to an extremely meager 61.1 passer rating last year (although, I’m sure that came as a byproduct of opponents realizing that the Bills were far more porous on the ground).  In 2010, the unit has a goal of never allowing more than 200 passing yards per game.  Buffalo’s cornerbacks, led by Terrence McGee, are also solid in coverage.  If Aaron Rodgers was looking for a game in which he could prove that his poor performance against Philadelphia was an aberration, look no further than this match-up.  Pin-point throws will be necessary for Rodgers to get the ball to his perimeter players.

That being said, if the Bills have a soft underbelly in the passing game, it’s in the middle, right behind the front seven.  Buffalo is going to be extremely thin at linebacker in this game, with Kawika Mitchell already being placed on IR and the team’s defensive leader, MLB Paul Posluszny, out with a sprained knee.  Poz’s likely replacement, Keith Ellison, is undersized, but acquitted himself well against the Dolphins. The Bills linebacking corps has already had some growing pains switching to the 3-4 (notably, 2009 first-round pick Aaron Maybin struggled against Miami last week).  It would not surprise me at all if McCarthy and Rodgers had Finley run under routes all day, chipping away at the Bills defense from the inside.  [I found this old SmartFootball article on “levels” in the passing game – perfect example of what I think the Packers should do this week.] If Rodgers can scare Bills defensive coordinator George Edwards with a few deep throws to roll coverage to Jennings and/or Driver… the fleshy middle of the Bills defense could be there for the taking.

As usual, make sure you look out for Pete Dougherty’s scouting report, as well as the previews from Acme Packing Company, SB Nation, and the usual suspects (JS Online, ESPN Milwaukee, etc.).  ESPN’s scouting report (sub req'd) says that the Bills “can’t afford to get into a track meet,” and must keep the score low if they want any shot of winning.  Sounds about right.

If I managed your fantasy team, I’d start… any Packer that’s on your roster.  Heck, if you have Tom Crabtree, consider him for a flex player.  Even with the Bills stingy secondary, I see this as a game where Aaron Rodgers lays down the law, and it will benefit receivers and running backs alike.  The Packers defense is also a good bet, as Buffalo’s one-dimensional offense and marginal quarterback should make for easy pickings for Clay Matthews (who’s on pace for 48 sacks by himself this year).

I absolutely love what Brandon Funston said about this fantasy matchup:

Let’s put this plain and simple on the BUF side: Don’t start anyone.

If you look at his green light players, you’ll see “All Green Bay regulars.”  By the red light, “All Buffalo regulars.”  Nothing in between.

In fact, even with respect to Spiller, whose preseason hype was sky-high, fantasy football gurus have come back down to earth and come down hard:

C.J. Spiller: That was a disappointment.  I slowly got sucked into the hype.  If he can’t break out against the Dolphins at home, well, that’s a bad sign.  Both Fred Jackson and Marshawn Lynch got some work as well, but didn’t do much, so the Bills RBs are like a three-headed slug crossing a million miles of salt flat.

I'm not as downtrodden on Spiller as some people are -- if you get points for return yards, I certainly think he's worth a look. But I'd still be wary of starting any Bills running backs, especially if DE Mike Neal is active for the game.

Parting Shots:

  • A colleague (@sethisen) and I had a bet over the Packers-Eagles game last week.  For the week after the game, loser had to change the screensaver and wallpaper on their work desktop, as well as the profile pics on Twitter and Facebook, in support of the winner’s team.  Once accomplished, loser had to post daily on Twitter and Facebook something positive about the winning team’s current roster, and speak highly of the team whenever the subject came up at work.  I just want to take the opportunity to say that @sethisen has been such a great sport, even in defeat, and I think that his latest tweet deserves particular mention:

Can already smell the #Buffalo the #Packers will roast for lunch Sunday. After that, #Bears & #Lions going to taste a little gamy.

  • Doug Farrar did an extended interview with Bills HOF quarterback Jim Kelly, who talked about a number of issues related to football (like, what was it REALLY like during those four years where the Bills kept losing the Super Bowl), as well as non-football. Certainly worth a listen.

I know that some people have hinted that this is a trap game for the Packers, a la Week 9 against Tampa Bay.  And, perhaps, I can see that a little.  Buffalo, like Tampa Bay, doesn’t scare anyone on paper.  But I believe that the Packers will use this game the way they used Seattle last year – as a way to get back in the groove.  Against the Steelers in W15, the Packers defense was exposed time and time again for big gains.  How did they come back against Seattle? 4 INTs, 3 sacks, and they didn’t allow a touchdown until late in the 4th quarter.

By their own standards, last week was miserable for Aaron Rodgers and the passing offense.  The Bills passing defense isn’t going to roll over for them, but if Rodgers intends to bring the Packers offense to the level that we all know it can reach, this is a great opportunity for him.  The Bills pass D doesn’t want to give up more than 200 yards.  I challenge Rodgers to hit that number...by the end of the first half.

As for me, I’ll be cheering my fool head off in section 125 with my dad, grandpa, and cousin.  And I expect that there will be much rejoicing.

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Fan friendly comments only: on Comments (7) This filter will hide comments which have ratio of 5 to 1 down-vote to up-vote.

Holly's picture

Ruppert - because I only spend a day or two on each team, I don't necessarily know which sites are the most popular --- I tend to hunt for stories I find interesting. But, if you're looking to continue reading Bills stories through Sunday, I'd stick with BuffaloRumblings.com, the SB Nation blog. They have a daily links post similar to Brian's, which aggregates the better storylines.

Cuphound's picture

Have fun at Lambeau, Holly! Thanks a always for an excellent post. Yours is always the first article I read in the build-up to game day!

Ruppert's picture

Great stuff as usual, Holly! Can you maybe try to list the 1 or 2 most popular local coverage web sites for each team? You end up doing it pretty much every week anyway in various spots throughout your post, but one quick summary sentence would be really cool. Having been to Buffalo a lot, I know that buffalonews.com is where the local sportswriters reside. What are a couple other good web sites to visit to get some local flavor?

Really good stuff, Holly. Have any other web outlets picked this up yet? You should be able to sell this stuff every week.

Chicago Hooligan's picture

Good work as usual. Enjoy your first game at Lambeau! Hopefully I'll be able to make it to this one myself.

PackersRS's picture

Good luck on the game, Holly.

And, yes, that "Packers gameplay" article is one of the best I've seen. I wet myself reading that...

EddieLee's picture

Great work Holly. I heard Wayne Larrivee on Chicago sports radio this morning. His take on the Bills defense was they were having trouble transitioning to a 3-4 with 4-3 personnel. Their defensive front is just not that good and they are thin at LB. He called their secondary "maybe the best in the league". About the Packers, Wayne said he spoke with someone in the personal dept and he did not get the impression trading for Lynch for an OL or LB was "there kind of move". The Packers are comfortable with Jackson and Kuhn and fell Nance can run well between the tackles in their one gap system. They also seem high on James Starks and think he will be a solid 3rd down back when he comes off the Pup list.

A few timely turn-overs and a ST's TD and the Bill could beat anyone in this league. So, the Packers need to bring their A-game especially on ST's and if they get up a couple scores they need to step on their throat. One thing I feel the Packers are missing in order to take that next step is the ability to really finish a team. They had their chance last week and didn't do it. Learn to step on the jugular early. Then you get to rest some guys and develop some others.

BSN360's picture

Great post Holly. I enjoyed reading your analysis. I happened to catch that very funny article on Buffalo Rumblings. Nice work catching that! Open invitation to all displaced Packers fans to join us at justin.tv/coachsal before during and after (Live post game show) It is a very friendly atmosphere for Bills fans an their opposition's loyal fans!

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