Packers Insider: Thumbs up to pass rush, down to offense
Packers coach Mike McCarthy was rightfully pleased with Green Bay's defense, which posted its first shutout since 2010. But much of that can be attributed to the atrocious play of overmatched Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen (16 of 33 for 151 yards, two interceptions, seven sacks), who evoked unpleasant memories of Brett Hundley from last season by getting shut out at Lambeau Field. How on earth did the Vikings lose 27-6 to this Bills bunch just a week earlier? As for the NFC North race, the most significant result came from Chicago, where the first-place Bears got six touchdown passes from an emerging Mitch Trubisky to go with another dominant defensive effort in a 48-10 rout of Tampa Bay. The Packers' Dec. 16 rematch with the Bears in Chicago looms larger by the week.
Given the ineptitude of Buffalo's offense, this game turned early in the second quarter when the Packers' offense put together its longest drive so far this season: a nine-play, 83-yard march that culminated in Aaron Jones' 3-yard touchdown run. It came on the heels of a six-play, 56-yard TD drive (sandwiching a quick Buffalo punt) and put the Packers ahead 13-0. The game never felt competitive from that point on.
OK, so Green Bay's defensive dominance did come against a raw rookie QB. It nonetheless was invigorating for the Packers' pass rushers to chalk up seven sacks, including three by much-maligned reserve outside linebacker Kyler Fackrell. Clay Matthews was credited with a half-sack and, lo and behold, finally made it through a game without being flagged for roughing the passer.
Aaron Rodgers bemoaned the struggles of the Packers' "terrible" offense, which couldn't find a rhythm all afternoon despite gaining 423 yards. The running game produced 141 yards on 32 carries and Rodgers (31 yards on five runs) was more mobile than he has looked since injuring his knee in the season opener. But he clearly was displeased with his performance (22-for-40 for 298 yards with one TD pass and one interception) and, more significantly, a game plan that he said didn't get the ball in better spots for playmakers such as receiver Davante Adams and tight end Jimmy Graham.
» Defense gets well: Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine called his group’s first-half performance a week ago “wildly inconsistent,” but it’s been up and down all season and entered Sunday as the league’s 23rd-ranked defense overall and in scoring. But Buffalo came to Lambeau Field as the league’s 31st-ranked offense and averaging 16.7 points per game – so if there was a “get well” chance for Pettine’s group, this seemed tailor-made for it. And Josh Allen and the Bills didn’t disappoint. The rookie quarterback was inaccurate and made poor decisions, allowing the Packers to put together their most dominant performance to date with three turnovers, seven sacks, 11 hits on the quarterback and forcing every Bills possession to end without a score.
» The difference a day makes: Aaron Rodgers practiced during the week for the first time since injuring his left knee against Chicago back on Sept. 9. But it’s not just the extra day of work with his receivers and within the offense, but what it meant for the quarterback physically. It meant he felt good enough to do it, and on Sunday that carried over to the field. He got under center. He booted out and scrambled far more effortlessly. He consciously slid with the left knee leading to the turf. Presuming he feels no worse for wear Monday, all of that bodes well for the Packers going forward.
» Buffalo had free runs at Rodgers
It’s usually not a good idea to blitz Rodgers. He’s incredibly adept at not only seeing it, but exploiting it with a quick release. But Sunday, the Bills drilled the quarterback three times with free runners – one of which resulted in a sack/fumble by Buffalo corner Taron Johnson and another in a sack for safety Siran Neal. Rodgers also took a huge shot from a free-running Tremaine Edmunds, which resulted in an incompletion on a third down at the Buffalo 18-yard line, resulting in a Packers field goal. Those are just three instances, but all were impactful.
» Aaron Jones keeps making plays
Jones averaged 6.7 yards per touch in his regular-season debut last week in Washington, and he once again proved to be the most dynamic of the Packers’ three running backs Sunday against Buffalo. Getting his work on the Packers’ third series, he promptly busted off a 30-yard run and spun his way to a 17-yard reception before capping it off with a 3-yard touchdown run where he ran over a defender at the goal line. Mike McCarthy may like all three of his runners, but Jones once again proved to be the home-run hitter to help balance the offense. Before exiting the game in the fourth quarter following a pass block, Jones averaged 5.9 yards per carry.
» Packers mitigate Cobb’s absence: Randall Cobb has been catching passes from Rodgers for eight years, and their on-field symmetry can be a sight to behold. Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught his first NFL pass on Sept. 19. The rookie out of South Florida drew the start Sunday when Cobb was scratched with a hamstring injury but Valdes-Scantling wasn’t a big part of the offense (three targets, one catch, 38 yards). Rodgers instead leaned on Davante Adams (14 targets) and Geronimo Allison, who had a career-high 11 targets before he left the game with a possible concussion after three quarters. Tramon Williams replaced Cobb on punt return. Williams, who last returned punts regularly back in 2010, was more than solid with five returns for 20 yards.