BILLS // PACKERS OVERVIEW
The Packers have allowed 23 points to the Bears, 29 points to the Vikings, and 31 points to the Redskins to begin the season. And yet, the Bills enter this game with a Vegas-implied total of only 17.75 — which speaks to how limited the weapons are on this Bills team. Even in their 27-6 unseating of the Vikings on the road last week, the Bills only threw the ball 22 times, with Josh Allen accounting for 39 yards and two touchdowns with his legs, and with Buffalo totaling only 292 total yards on offense. This is still one of the least-talented offensive attacks in the NFL, and they will have a difficult time keeping up with the Packers this week.
BILLS PASS OFFENSE
The Packers’ pass-focused defense has not actually been strong against the pass so far this season, with only eight teams allowing more yards per pass attempt to begin the year. Green Bay ranks 24th in sacks, and only seven teams are allowing a higher expected yards per target than the Packers. That’s the good news if you want to load up on Buffalo pass catchers.
The bad news is that Buffalo’s top weapons are Kelvin Benjamin (six catches on 15 targets to begin the year, with 58 yards through three games) and castoff Andre Holmes (four catches on nine targets, for 53 yards). Zay Jones actually led all wide receivers in snaps last week…at 62.7% of the team’s total offensive snaps. He has 10 targets on the year, which he has turned into six catches for 106 scoreless yards. Even with negative game script in two of three weeks, Buffalo ranks 23rd in the NFL in passing play percentage. Expectations should be low on this passing attack every week right now — with bonus points awarded any week they look competent. Josh Allen has an absolute cannon for an arm, but that’s about all this passing attack has going for it at the moment.
BILLS RUN OFFENSE
Unsurprisingly — given their pass-focused tendencies on defense this year — the Packers come into this week with below-average run defense numbers, ranking 23rd in yards allowed per carry and 27th in rushing yards allowed per game. Through three games, however, Buffalo’s offense ranks 28th in yards per carry, with an offensive line that has failed to open holes, and with personnel on the outside that is allowing teams to clamp down on the run.
LeSean McCoy is still a question mark at this point in the week, though he has disappointing to-date numbers on the year: 16 carries for 61 scoreless yards, and five catches for 28 scoreless yards. Disconcertingly, he played only 34 of the Bills’ 64 snaps in their blowout Week 1 loss to the Ravens — his last fully healthy game. If he plays this week, expect him to lead the backfield in touches, but this is shaping up as an iffy-workload situation on a bad offense, with low weekly scoring expectations.
If McCoy misses, Chris Ivory (54 snaps last week) and Marcus Murphy (16 snaps) will carry the load. In positive game script last week, Ivory totaled only 56 rushing yards on 20 carries (though he did haul in three of four targets for 70 yards — buoyed by a 55-yard play). If the Bills fall behind this week, this backfield will likely tilt in favor of pass-catching back Murphy. The matchup is not a concern, but the offensive line and the game flow still present reasons to worry.
PACKERS PASS OFFENSE
Unlike the last couple weeks, which set up really nicely for Geronimo Allison, this week sets up best for Randall Cobb (I know — “ugh”). Typically, “Cobb weeks” are the best weeks to avoid this Packers passing attack, as Cobb’s lower aDOT (7.2) and less explosive skill set makes it tougher for him to hit for a big game than what we get on Allison/Adams weeks.
So far this season, no team in the NFL has allowed a lower aDOT than the Bills — who have quietly begun their return to form after a rough Week 1, looking more and more like the defense that carried this team to an unexpected playoff berth last year. Buffalo aims to take away the outside of the field and push everything toward the short middle — which played out last week in the manner we expected, with Adam Thielen posting a monstrous 14-105-0 line on a ridiculous 19 targets, while Stefon Diggs managed only 4-17-0 on 10 looks of his own.
The key to the Bills’ attack in Week 3 was their pass rush, as Buffalo brought pressure with Jerry Hughes and Trent Murphy, while moving Lorenzo Alexander to the defensive tackle position at times on passing downs to command double-teams and free up edge rushers on the outside. With Sean McDermott taking over some of the defensive play-calling duties last week, we saw a more ferocious version of this Bills defense than we had seen in the first two weeks, and their goal this week will be to make life difficult on a hobbled Aaron Rodgers.
For his part, Rodgers will often have to decide between short throws over the middle to Cobb and more aggressive throws into a tight zone on the outside to Allison and Davante Adams. Adams has seen 29 targets through three games, though he will likely need a multi-touchdown game in order to pay off his lofty salary on DraftKings (15.6% of the salary cap — the seventh highest-priced WR on the main slate). He is more reasonably priced on FanDuel and FantasyDraft, at under 14% of the salary cap on each. The matchup is still difficult, though the work should be there, as Rodgers is comfortable making tight-window throws and allowing Adams to win on contested catches.
Allison has had the strongest downfield role in this offense, but this will play poorly in this spot, given what the Bills do on defense. Allison is simply a “bet on talent” play this week.
This passing attack rounds itself out with Jimmy Graham, who has target counts to begin the season of four, eight, and seven. He has quietly soaked up 19.4% of the team’s air yards, with an aDOT of 10.1 (trailing only Allison on the team). With Graham’s downfield targets primarily coming over the middle of the field, he’s a sneaky bet to lead the Packers in receiving yards this week. Only three teams allowed more receptions to the position last year than the Bills, and only seven teams allowed more yards. It is a concern, however, that Adams has retained his massive red zone role this season (seven targets so far), while Graham has only one red zone look on the year.
PACKERS RUN OFFENSE
The distribution of touches last week in the Packers’ backfield looked like this:
10 touches — Ty Montgomery // seven touches — Jamaal Williams // seven touches — Aaron Jones
Montgomery is the best pass-catching back, while Jamaal Williams is the best pass-blocking back and Aaron Jones is the most explosive weapon on the ground. This creates a headache of a situation, as Williams’ blocking ability is important in this backfield right now in order to keep Rodgers protected, but he is still going to cede receiving work to Montgomery and rushing work to Jones. Until Jones proves that he has improved his pass blocking, this should be viewed as a backfield to stay away from, with completely unpredictable usage from week to week. Buffalo has also tightened up against the run early in the year, ranking ninth in yards allowed per carry. You’re on your own if you want to try to “guess right” on a back in this spot.
At first glance, this looked like it might turn into a fun game to attack this weekend; but after digging in, it appears there is simply not a ton to love. The Bills’ passing attack is still a wreck, with receivers who cannot get open, while the Bills’ backfield is both ineffective and unpredictable.
On the other side of the ball, Rodgers always has the upside to make a difference on a slate, but this matchup sets up poorly for the Packers, with their least-explosive weapon running routes in the area of the field where the Bills are (by far) the most attackable. Look for a decent PPR game from Cobb, but he will need a broken play or a touchdown in order to actually be worth a roster spot. Adams should still get his looks, and he has succeeded plenty of times before in difficult matchups, but it will be tough for him to notch a week-winning score. And Allison is going to need his talent to win out over a defense that does a good job taking away everything he wants to do.
Perhaps the most intriguing piece in this game is Jimmy Graham, who should be involved early and often, and should be able to pick up yards between the 20s. His lack of scoring-position usage is a concern, but he sets up nicely for something like a 4-40-0 line in this spot as a floor, with obvious upside for more. We’ll see how the rest of this slate shakes out, but he’s a name I’ll be adding to my tight end list on the front end of the week.
I also still like the idea of attacking this Bills offense with DST units. Last week, Bills offensive coordinator Brian Daboll added a lot of misdirection in an effort to protect Allen and get guys open; but with a chance to watch film on that approach and prepare for it, the Packers should be able to shut it down. The Bills’ receivers are simply not capable of getting open with regularity, which will create opportunities for sacks and interceptions this week.
FRIDAY EVENING UPDATE // Full “Updates” List
Randall Cobb is questionable to play this week, and while we may gain some clarity after the Packers’ walk-through on Saturday, there is a chance we will not know until Sunday whether or not he is suiting up. If Cobb is out, keep in mind that Buffalo is most attackable over the middle of the field. This will give a small boost to the already-solid setup Jimmy Graham has over the middle this week. This would also create an opportunity for Ty Montgomery to be an underrated asset. There are obvious risks involved in that play, but it would make sense for the Packers to get him some slot routes and some underneath work in the absence of Cobb.
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