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6 things to watch for in Bills vs. Packers | Week 8

Josh Allen (17) Buffalo Bills vs Green Bay Packers, Preseason Week 3, August 28, 2021 at Highmark Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert
Josh Allen (17) Buffalo Bills vs Green Bay Packers, Preseason Week 3, August 28, 2021 at Highmark Stadium. Photo by Bill Wippert

1 – Primetime performers

Josh Allen and Aaron Rodgers are headliners in this Week 8 matchup for a reason. Both typically rise to the occasion under the lights in primetime games. The two quarterbacks have the two highest career passer ratings in primetime among quarterbacks with 300 or more pass attempts in primetime since the AFL-NFL merger.

Allen has a rating of 108.6 with Rodgers right behind him at 106.5. Green Bay's QB actually has a 13-game winning streak in primetime, which is the longest by any quarterback since the merger.

"He's Aaron Rodgers," said Allen. "One of the best if not the best quarterback to ever play the game. I think we understand that. All we can focus on though is putting our best foot forward in practice, developing a game plan and going out and trying to execute Sunday night."

Of course, Allen has garnered some respect as well. Since 2020, he's averaged almost 321 yards passing per game in 10 primetime outings, good for a top two ranking in that category.

Packers DT Kenny Clark, who was part of the Green Bay defense that shut out the Bills in Allen's third career start in 2018, sees a much different quarterback for Buffalo now.

"His ability to be able to extend the play, throwing on the run, his ability to make plays is just great," Clark said. "He can do just about everything. He's got everything figured out now. He's become the player they expected him to be and he's balling right now."

2 – Offensive shortcomings

There is no denying Rodgers' accomplishments over the years including his back-to-back MVP awards the past two seasons. However, this season it's been difficult for Rodgers to deliver his typical week-to-week production. Rodgers has not thrown for 300 yards or more or for three touchdowns or more in any game this season. It's the first time he has not hit either mark in the first seven games of a season.

He's one of just five quarterbacks this season to start seven games and have fewer than 300 passing yards in each one. Most observers of the Packers believe it has less to do with Rodgers and more with those around him. Whether it's a young receiving corps or an offensive line that has had to do some shuffling with their lineup, the production on offense has been a major struggle.

So much so, that Rodgers has called out his offensive teammates to demand better of themselves and encouraged coaches to sit players who cannot execute.

"This is a business and if you're not performing or executing and doing the things that you're supposed to be doing then I'm with Aaron," said veteran WR Sammy Watkins. "If I'm not playing well and I'm (screwing) up and busting plays then get me out of the game because that's not helping the team. I think that's a wake-up call to everybody. A wake-up call to myself. I try to limit myself having one (missed assignment) a game and that's my goal. And the goal is to have none. But I feel like everybody's on the hot seat right now, even myself. I've got to go out there and make plays as much as I can and do anything to get it done. We have to do it as a collective group. And I think this is the game to do it."

Despite the Packers' offensive shortcomings, Buffalo's defense is not assuming those same struggles will continue on Sunday night.

"It's Aaron Rodgers, man. I don't care what their record is," said Jordan Poyer. "I don't care that they're struggling, this, that or the other. Whatever, that's still Aaron Rodgers. Any time he's lining up back there at quarterback you better be on your stuff because that's a Hall of Fame quarterback, arguably one of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game.

"We're going to have to play well on defense to win. We'll have to communicate well. We'll have to attack well. It's going to be fun atmosphere we're excited for them to come to our place, and we're excited for Bills Mafia to be there rowdy and loud."

3 – Slow to mature

It's no secret that the Packers organization decided to undertake a youth movement at the wide receiver position this past offseason. They did not re-sign veteran receivers Davante Adams or Marquez Valdes-Scantling, allowing them to sign elsewhere in free agency.

They chose to invest draft capital to refortify the position using a second-round pick to take WR Christian Watson, a fourth-round pick to select WR Romeo Doubs and a seventh-round pick to take WR Samori Toure. And though Doubs has earned a starting role and Watson is a part of the rotation at the position, there have been growing pains.

"The development has certainly been slower than I think they wanted, and than a lot of people expected," said Packers beat reporter Rob Demovsky in an appearance on ‘One Bills Live’ this week. "A play that sums up their offense in a nutshell with the young receivers was a play at the end of the first quarter of the game this past Sunday in Washington. It's one of those staple plays that the Packers have run forever. It's a bootleg play action, roll out to the right. Romeo Doubs, the rookie is in the slot on the right side. And when you have quarterbacks rolling out right, you're supposed to follow the quarterback and go that way. Well, Romeo Doubs breaks it up field the opposite way. And Rodgers, of course, doesn't think that's the way he's going. So, he throws it to the right corner for a deep corner route, and it just hits the ground because there's nobody there."

The Packers receivers have also dropped more than their fair share of passes. Doubs has the ninth-highest drop percentage in the league at almost 12 percent.

"I think the small details, the littlest things that's losing us games," said Watkins, who returned to the lineup last week from a hamstring injury. "Whether it's the wide receiver group, the offensive line, whatever it is we've got to chop up those things to where it's maybe three or four a game and not 13 and 14. And I think if we can strain a little bit more and do what we're supposed to do, I think we will get the results that we want."

4 – Time to run?

All those offensive struggles have prompted a call for the Packers to rely on their two-headed monster at running back in Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. A tandem for which the Bills defense has great respect.

"He runs hard," said Von Miller of Aaron Jones. "He can slip and slide from A gap to C gap. He has the speed to take it the distance. Have a whole lot of respect for Aaron Jones. He's a great back in this league. Dillon is running the ball amazing, as well, too. We've got to play the run well. If they run the ball on us and they've got A-Rod, too, it's not going to look good for us. We've got to continue to play our game, continue to do what we do best, take it one play at a time and I feel like we'll be all right if we can play our style of Bills football."

The problem of late with that run-first approach is the ineffectiveness of the Green Bay passing game has had a ripple effect on the run game too.

"They don't have a deep threat," said Demovsky. "They just don't throw the ball down the field at all. Look at those air yard stats, I think Rogers throws 80 percent of his passes within a couple yards of the line of scrimmage. They just don't throw the ball on the field. So that allows teams to just load up against the run.

"Their two running backs are probably their most dynamic players, Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, but when everyone's loading up to stop the run, it's awfully hard to get them going. They tried with Aaron Jones last week. He had a bunch of touches, and it just did not turn into production just because of the way teams are playing them because they know there's just no deep threat."

Perhaps a fully healthy Watkins can change that dynamic in the Packers passing attack, but there is a lot that needs fixing for it to all function together in a complementary fashion.

5 – Second half struggle

The Packers have fared much better in the first half of their games this season than the second half. Green Bay has outscored their opponents 82-60 in the first half this season, but over the final two quarters their point production plummets.

Through their first seven games, they've been outscored by a 2:1 margin 86-43. Their minus-43 second-half point differential ranks 31st in the league, bested only by the Tennessee Titans minus-61 second half figure.

They've been shut out in the third quarter in four of their seven games, and they've been shut out in the fourth quarter twice thus far this season. Four times they've been held to three points or less in quarter number three and they've scored three points or less in the fourth quarter and eye-popping five times in their seven games played.

Rodgers knows how to orchestrate a fourth-quarter comeback, but thus far this season it simply hasn't happened.

6 – Defensive disconnect

The Packers defense has a deep pool of talent and was expected to dominate their side of the ball this season. And while Green Bay does have the number one pass defense in football and has a top three ranking in third down defense, their big-play ability has been sorely lacking.

"They have so much talent on this defense. They have seven first-round picks. They've got four guys that are what you would consider high-priced free agents. And up until the other day when they finally got a pick six from DeVondre Campbell, they hadn't made a play on defense at all, and there's just too much talent on that defensive side of the ball for that to happen," said Demovsky. "Now is that the start of some big plays on defense to kind of carry this team a little bit? We'll see, but through seven games this team has two interceptions and that's just not that's just not good enough when your offense is struggling."

Green Bay's five total takeaways is the second-lowest total in the league so far this year. It's a big reason why they're upside down in turnover margin at a minus-four. Part of the reason the Packers defense hasn't been able to anticipate and make more plays on the ball appears to be pre-snap as well as post-snap execution.

"They've had all kinds of communication issues," Demovsky said. "If you watch them pre-snap, there are guys turning around looking both ways. Do you have him? Do you have him? Who's got this gap? And there's just way too much of that. To me, that has to come down to coaching. When guys aren't sure where they're supposed to be when the call comes in, that's a problem in terms of preparation. That's what's killed them. Forget the statistics. I know what the running game stats say. They're giving up a ton of yardage. Their pass defense has not been very good. I know the yardage looks good, but there's just way too many guys running open."

Packers' defensive coordinator, Joe Barry, elected to have his top cornerback Jaire Alexander follow the opponent's top receiver each of the last two games. But even that was met with mixed results.

"They did it two weeks ago against the Jets and Alexander did a really good job against Garrett Wilson," Demovsky said. "And then this past week, it was Terry McLaurin and McLaurin dominated that matchup. So, it comes down to a little bit of execution too."

McLaurin had five receptions for 73 yards and a touchdown last week in Washington's two-point win over Green Bay.

Bills QB Josh Allen is expecting Alexander to match up with Stefon Diggs for much of the game.

"They have one of the better corners in the league," Allen said. "He's probably going to follow Stef. We just have to find unique ways to spread the ball around and get other guys involved. They've generated a really good pass rush with Rashan Gary. Statistically he's one of the better rushers in the league. We're going to have to have a plan for that. Then in-game adjustments going off that."

Gary quietly ranks fifth in the NFL in sacks.

The Bills unveiled the first two renderings for the new stadium scheduled to open in 2026.

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