The Buffalo Bills stumbled out of the gate this year with two brutal losses. But now the hope is they've found their footing and are ready to hit their stride as they move into week 4 of the NFL season. It won't be easy—Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers await. The Packers have not lost a home game in September in six years.
Here are the top stories to follow for the Bills and their NFL rivals heading into the weekend:
1. KEY OFFENSIVE PERFORMERS ON THE MEND
For the Packers, it's Rodgers. For the Bills, it's running back LeSean McCoy. They've both been battling injuries for a week or two and they both look like they'll be in the lineup at Lambeau Sunday.
Rodgers returned to practice Thursday, his first padded practice since injuring his knee in the season opener against Chicago three weeks ago. He played the last two games, but he watched practice from the sidelines until the Packers had their walk-through workout the day before the game.
"It's good to see your franchise quarterback, your number one player out there," veteran LB Clay Matthews told reporters in Green Bay after Thursday's practice. "It just kind of brings the spirit up of everybody, obviously, knowing your guy who's going to be out there Sunday, is out there practicing."
LeSean McCoy has been Buffalo's top offensive performer the last three years, but he missed last Sunday at Minnesota with his rib injury. McCoy is still wearing the non-contact jersey in practice and has been limited, but earlier this week he insisted that he'll play at Green Bay. He feels like he has to.
"I just have to get going," Shady said. "I have to find a way to run the ball, get out into open space, make some guys miss, break some tackles, and just get going like normal football. I think its urgency, I would say that, not frustration. Just urgency to get out there, and get going and get the running game going, get the yards up, and let's roll."
2. CAN THE TAKEAWAY TRAIN GET ROLLING AGAIN?
Last week's victory in Minnesota was fueled by takeaways by the Buffalo defense. They finished with three and turned them into 10 points.
It was at this point last year that the Bills defense got into a takeaway roll. In week four at Atlanta last year, they had three takeaways. In the next three weeks, they added 10 more—13 takeaways in a four-game span that produced three Buffalo wins, one loss.
Rodgers hasn't thrown an interception yet this year and the Packers have just two fumbles. What better time for the Buffalo defense to go back to their strength last year—forcing turnovers?
3. WILL PETTINE UNLEASH "ORGANIZED CHAOS?"
It was five years ago, when Mike Pettine left Rex Ryan's Jets to take the defensive coordinator job in Buffalo. He led the Bills to a top 10 ranking that year and parlayed it into the head coaching job in Cleveland. After two years with the Browns, Pettine was out, and he stayed out for two seasons, living in a log cabin on a lake in Ohio.
Now, Pettine is back, hired last January as the defensive coordinator with Green Bay. The Packers defense has been nothing special so far this year. But you can expect Pettine will be doing his best to confuse and slow down Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen with his 'organized chaos' defensive philosophy.
Look for varied defensive formations and odd-man blitzes from Pettine's group Sunday, all in an effort to force Allen, in his third NFL start, into big mistakes.
4. LOOK BUT DON'T TOUCH?
The Packers pass rush may look a little more restrained this week, especially from veteran linebacker Clay Matthews. He has become the face of the NFL's new focus on roughing the passer calls.
Matthews has been flagged three times this year for roughing the passer in the first three games. In his previous nine years in the league, he was penalized a total of four times, for roughing the passer. In fact, in three games, Green Bay has committed five roughing the passer penalties, as many as they had in the last three years combined.
Part of the NFL's new focus is on enforcing a prohibition on defenders landing on QBs with their full body weight. Former NFL Vice President of Officiating, Dean Blandino, says it's a rule that was instituted in 1995.
"It's been on the books for 23 years," Blandino said in an appearance on One Bills Live this week. "There has to be something extra. You have the quarterback wrapped up, now you lift him and dump him to the ground versus just running through and following through on a normal tackle. So, the standard now is—even as part of a follow through, you can't land on the quarterback with all or most of your body weight. Even if you don't do anything additional."
5. NFL CONNECTIONS A BOOST FOR LEWIS
It was Ryan Lewis' NFL debut last Sunday in Minnesota and he made the most of it. The first year cornerback, on Buffalo's practice squad a week earlier, started against the Vikings and more than held his own. And even though it was Lewis' first NFL action, he's been around the game long enough to know what to expect.
His father, Will Lewis, played in the NFL with Seattle, and has been in the league for 20 years as a personnel executive with the Seahawks and Chiefs. Will Lewis is now the general manager of the Memphis Express of the new Alliance of American Football.
Ryan Lewis' cousin, Robb Riddick, was a running back for the Bills in the 1980s. And his other cousin in Louis Riddick, former NFL player and scout-- now an NFL analyst for ESPN. Lewis says he talks with Louis Riddick on a regular basis.
"Yeah, a lot," Ryan Lewis told One Bills Live. "Sometimes he'll just hit me here and there and send me some texts. The most recent message I got from him was I was telling him how much fun playing in the NFL was and he was just telling me you just have to make sure you savor every game, every play every practice, walking to the stadium, everything."
6. AND THAT'S THE WAY IT IS
Last Sunday's upset win over Minnesota was an instant classic for Bills fans, even those who follow the team from long distance.
Put CBS Evening News Anchor Jeff Glor in that category. In an appearance on the NFL Network last week, The Tonawanda native correctly picked the Bills to stage the upset. And he used highlights from the Bills shocking win to end the CBS Evening News last Monday.
Glor told One Bills Live this week he spends his autumn Sundays watching the Bills with his 8-year old son, Jack.
"I'm hoping to get to a couple games this season," Glor said. "Generally speaking, if I'm here (New York) and not able to get to Buffalo, we end up streaming it through Sunday ticket. It's a big thing. It's become a ritual with Jack and I and it really has become a special time. I really treasure and try to protect those Sunday afternoons as much as I can."
7. FOCUS ON FOXBORO
While the Bills try to continue their string of success against the NFC North (five straight wins) the big battle in the AFC East takes place at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots, the perennial top dogs in the division, are home against the unbeaten Dolphins.
Miami is 3-0, riding high, with victories over the Titans, the Jets and Oakland. But NFL Network analyst Brian Baldinger, who called last Sunday's Dolphins win on national radio, says those who doubt the Dolphins might be right.
"Because they're not that good," Baldinger said on One Bills Live. "They're not that talented. They got a couple trick plays last week. They made a couple plays on defense and that was enough to beat a Raider team that just seems to find ways to lose games right now."