One down, 15 to go.
One week of games is not enough time to cause any NFL team to press the panic button, but we still got some early indications of how this season will pan out for the Green Bay Packers.
After a tougher-than-it-should-have-been win over the Philadelphia Eagles, the Packers face the Buffalo Bills this Sunday to kick of their slate of games at Lambeau Field this season. If you are looking for a team that is the polar opposite of the Eagles, the Bills are the team.
The Bills have not made the playoffs since 2000. They drafted another franchise RB after their last one failed to pan out.
After coming so close to beating the Miami Dolphins last week, the Bills enter this game thinking they are not quite as bad as everyone thought they might be. Thus, they could sneak up on the Packers and upset them at home. The Packers, in turn, sometimes have issues with games like these; I don’t need to remind any fans about what happened in Tampa Bay last year.
Despite it being only the second game of the season, this game cannot be overlooked for its importance to the Packers. By handily defeating the Bills at home, the Green and Gold will exorcise the demons remaining from that brutal defeat to the then-winless Buccaneers last season.
Breaking down the Bills
The Bills offense seems to be as sluggish as the Packers offense is explosive.
Quarterback Trent Edwards won the starting position by default and has shown little ability to be a franchise quarterback since his supposed “breakout” season a couple years ago. Wide receiver and former Wisconsin star Lee Evans is the lone bright spot on the Bills offense.
That said, there is hope for the future. Rookie RB C.J. Spiller comes out of college highly touted and could be a big contributor this year if the shaky offensive line holds up for the Bills. Don’t underestimate Fred Jackson, either. He has shown great explosiveness and could give the Packers fits in certain situations.
On defense, the Bills dumped their best player, Aaron Schobel, overboard this offseason, once again placing this unit into solid rebuilding mode. The scariest player in their secondary would have to be second-year safety Jarius Byrd, who had nine interceptions last year and made the Pro Bowl as a reserve.
With Buffalo having a weak defensive line, this is the perfect week for new starting Packers RB Brandon Jackson to get his feet under him for the rest of the season.
When the Packers have the ball….
Look for the Packers to try to avoid Byrd. That shouldn’t dampen the Packers offense too much as they have too many weapons and the Bills have no way of shutting them all down. Aaron Rodgers will have a much better performance than he had against the Eagles and the Packer offense will begin to show some of the promise that it displayed during the preseason.
The Bills likely will bring pressure as the Packers offensive line showed some signs of weakness early on last week against the Eagles before getting it together in the second half. Jackson is much better in pass protection than Ryan Grant, so look for him to help keep the pressure off of Rodgers.
When the Bills have the ball….
Linebacker Clay Matthews will give the Bills fits. He has the burst necessary to contain Spiller yet also has the ability to throw Evans off his route in coverage. If Matthews was able to have that much success against the Eagles, he should have a field day against the Bills.
The Bills will likely try to establish the run early. Should Spiller falter, look for Fred Jackson to see an increased load. Don’t rule out an air war either. With Al Harris being out, Edwards may try to take advantage of rookie safety Morgan Burnett.
The good news? Trent Edwards is NOT Mike Vick.
Three keys to the game
1. How will Brandon Jackson perform?
This is the obvious element in the room for the Packers. Losing Grant for the season is a big blow, but the Packers seem to be deep enough to recover from it. Jackson settled into his third down role rather nicely, but now he (and the rest of us) gets a chance to see if he can be “the guy.”
2. Will A.J. Hawk be a distraction?
While it is still possible he is traded by game time, Hawk will likely be a Packer this Sunday and inserted into the starting lineup. Since he plays in the base package, he will see a fair amount of playing time this week. However, Hawk’s complaints to the media this week raised more than one eyebrow for a lot of people. He wants to be traded and his performance this week will speak volumes about where his head is.
3. Will the Packers O-Line hold up?
It seems like a broken record, but with a very shaky start to the game last week the same questions about the Packers offensive line that dogged the team in 2009 are once again popping up this season. It will take a lot more than a solid performance against a weak Bills pass rush to convince skeptical fans.
Packers 34, Bills 17
Anything less than a 10-point victory over the Bills will be disappointing. While a win is a win in the NFL, this is the chance for the Packers to flex their muscles. They need to show early on they will not fall in trap games like they did against the Buccaneers last year.
Lambeau will be rocking and so will the Packers.