Behind Enemy Lines: Packers face massive challenge vs. Bills

Sep 19, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller (40) and Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano (58) react to making a play during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports
Sep 19, 2022; Orchard Park, New York, USA; Buffalo Bills linebacker Von Miller (40) and Buffalo Bills linebacker Matt Milano (58) react to making a play during the first half against the Tennessee Titans at Highmark Stadium. Mandatory Credit: Gregory Fisher-USA TODAY Sports /

The Green Bay Packers find themselves on a three-game losing streak, and unfortunately, the schedule isn’t getting any easier as they travel to Buffalo to face what is possibly the best team in the NFL.

At 3-4 on the season, there really isn’t a ton of room for moral victories at this time for the Packers, even as a massive underdog. They need to begin stacking some wins, but that will be far from easy this week.

As part of my weekly preview, Caleb Holfoth of BuffaLow Down and NFL Spin Zone was kind enough to answer a handful of my questions to provide us with some insight into this uncommon opponent.

The Bills have been dominant, but what is their biggest strength this season?

Caleb: The Bills’ strength this year has been Josh Allen. Simple as this, Josh Allen is the best version we have seen of himself so far in his career. His decision-making has been sound, and he can create game-changing plays from nothing. Even in the Bills’ one loss, they outgained the Dolphins by nearly 200 yards. The Bills move the ball so well, and it all starts with Allen.

Another strength has been Leslie Frazier and the Defense. The Bills’ defense has only allowed 13 points in the second half all season. They simply are incredible, and it’s a combination of great coaching and elite roster construction.

Thoughts: To echo Caleb’s sentiments, Allen has been incredibly impressive. He’s completing 67% of his passes at an impressive 8.3 yards per attempt with 17 touchdowns to four interceptions, according to PFF ($$). With time in the pocket, Allen will find success, but unfortunately, pressuring him doesn’t guarantee that the Packers will be able to slow him down either.

One of my key matchups to watch this week is Allen vs. the Packers’ edge rushers. Even when under duress this season, Allen has been effective — relatively speaking — and is averaging 8.9 yards per attempt–more than when in a clean pocket. He also has the ability to extend plays and is Buffalo’s leading rusher. Typically getting after the quarterback is a path to success for a defense, but against Allen, the end result may be a big play.

Defensively, this Bills’ unit is stout from front to back. They are allowing the fewest yards per carry and are near the top of the NFL in pressures generated and takeaways. They are also a very sound tackling team as well.

On the flip side, if the Bills have struggled, what has been their weakness?

Caleb: Two weaknesses have stood out. The run game of the Bills is very inconsistent. It’s not one particular player or group, but the offensive line is not the greatest run-blocking group, and that’s backed up by the film and some data like PFF grades and run-block win rates.

But their running backs are not particularly playing any better than average, which is also backed up by stats. Occasionally Ken Dorsey has gotten into playcalling ruts putting the Bills’ offense in tough situations. The best example is running the ball on second and long, and first down in certain situations. Obviously, plays won’t work all the time, but there have been a lot of those play calls that kill momentum for the Bills and get their offense in third and long.

Luckily the Bills are the best third and long offense in the league but that’s definitely not sustainable football as the season goes on. In simple terms, Dorsey is lacking some experience which was expected by Bills fans early on.

Thoughts: As I mentioned, Josh Allen is the team’s leading rusher, with running back Devin Singletary close by. As a team, Buffalo is averaging 4.8 yards per carry, but that figure is inflated by Allen’s contributions. This is an interesting matchup in the sense that the Bills’ weakness on offense is their run game, and that also happens to be the Packers’ weakness on defense.

As one would expect with Allen at quarterback, this is a Bills offense that loves to pass the ball with 41 attempts per game, but that does play into the strength of Green Bay’s defense with their secondary and ability to rush the quarterback. It’s strength vs. strength and weakness vs. weakness. With that said, can the Packers contain this passing attack for four quarters? Probably not.

If an opponent is going to find a way to beat Buffalo, what does that path to victory look like?

Caleb: If a team is going to beat Buffalo, they need to gain control of the football game. The Bills are so good at keeping the ball on offense and making the opposing offenses have three-and-out or six-and-out drives. An opposing team needs to flip the script and control the time of possession while getting Allen off the field quickly.

Teams also need to control the red zones. The Bills have struggled to turn their red zone trips into touchdowns. If you can hold them to kicks and you are scoring touchdowns, you have a chance to be in it. It will be more about game and clock management than the typical game will be. Simply because the Bills are so talented, it may only take half a quarter for them to take full control of the game.

Thoughts: If the Packers are going to have any sort of chance on Sunday, it begins with a consistent run game that can hopefully find some success. As Caleb mentioned, success on the ground will allow the Packers to control the clock and keep Allen on the sidelines. But in addition to that, it gets the ball into the hands of Aaron Jones, sets up play-action, can open up the passing game, and allows the offensive line to be the aggressor. But as I already alluded to, that won’t be easy against a defense allowing just 3.5 yards per rush. However, the Packers will need to stick with the ground game because becoming one-dimensional will lead to disaster.

Who is one under-the-radar player on offense and one on defense that Packers fans should know about?

Caleb: On offense, I would say Bills’ tight end Dawson Knox. Knox signed a big contract during camp but has not really had any standout performances thus far. He is a great blocker, so he is on the field often, but it feels like he is due for a big game. With Stefon Diggs and Gabe Davis so dominant, it’s easy to lose track of a guy like Knox.

One other name is receiver Khalil Shakir, a rookie fifth-round pick who plays in the slot. He splits snaps with Isaiah McKenzie, but he and Allen have really developed a strong connection. Shakir isn’t an elite athlete or really all that great at one thing, but he has great hands and knows how to get open. He could have four catches for 40-60 yards.

On defense, I will give you two names. First is last year’s first-round draft pick Gregory Rousseau, who has quietly made a huge jump from year one and is in the top 20 in most statistical categories for pass rushers. He was great against the run last season but has really developed as a pass rusher this season, giving the Bills a threat opposite Von Miller.

The second player is Matt Milano. Milano is the reason the Bills beat the Chiefs last week and the reason the Bills’ defense has been elite the past two seasons. He is simply one of the most dominant players on their defense. Pass coverage or against the run, he is fantastic, and his best attribute is as an open-field tackler.

The Bills used him as a spy on Patrick Mahomes and Lamar Jackson, and he cover players like Travis Kelce and Mark Andrews. I think he will be keyed in on Aaron Jones for much of the game, which is gonna be tough for Jones. Milano is great in coverage, and he rarely gives up yards after the catch.

Thoughts: As a pass-catcher, Knox has caught 15 of 20 passes at 9.9 yards per catch with a touchdown, but as Caleb mentions, he is also utilized heavily as a blocker. Shakir, meanwhile, has been able to generate some big plays, averaging 18.7 yards per catch this season. With the Packers’ secondary likely focused on Diggs and Davis, Shakir could benefit and prove to be a tough matchup for Rasul Douglas in the slot.

Rousseau is a part of a Bills defensive front that has been very effective in pressuring the quarterback this season, ranking among the league’s best. At this time, we do not know what the Packers’ offensive line configuration will be, with David Bakhtiari and Elgton Jenkins questionable, but any sort of success on offense is going to begin up front.

Milano’s ability to defend both the run and the pass makes him a name that we will likely hear a lot of on Sunday night. The Packers have relied on the quick passing game this season, but picking up the required YAC on those plays is going to be a challenge against Milano and a Bills’ defense that doesn’t miss many tackles.

What is your prediction for Sunday’s game?

Caleb: The Bills are simply too good to lose this game, so the discussion is really about how close it will be. In my opinion, it’s hard to see the Packers scoring more than 20 points in non-garbage time offense. The Bills’ defense is so well-coached and so talented at every position. They are one of the best pass-rushing teams in the league, and they do it by rushing only four guys.

The bills never blitz, and it’s hard to get open when there are always seven guys in coverage. The Packers simply have not shown enough of an ability to get open down the field to threaten the Bills’ defense consistently. For a score prediction, I say 31-13 Bills. The only thing preventing the Bills from an outcome like this would be some post-bye week laziness, but it’s hard to see that happening with this Buffalo team, who routinely has blown out opponents after their bye week under Sean Mcdermott.

Thoughts: I have to agree, and Caleb summed this up well. I just can’t see an outcome where the Packers win, or if I’m being honest, keep this close. As has been the case, the offense will struggle to move the ball, putting a ton of pressure on the Green Bay defense against a loaded Bills offense.

Packers 13 – Bills 27