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Packers’ defense dominates Josh Allen, Bills in 22-0 shutout win

Aaron Rodgers wasn’t razor sharp, but the defense forced TK turnovers in an impressive performance.

NFL: Buffalo Bills at Green Bay Packers
Green Bay’s defense dominated Buffalo in a game it desperately needed.

After a disastrous stretch of defense, blowing a huge lead to the Vikings and allowing Washington to build one in the first half, Josh Allen was exactly who Mike Pettine and Co. needed to see. While Aaron Rodgers and the Packers offense couldn’t quite get rolling, a dominating defense shutout the Bills, forcing three turnovers, and notching seven sacks to give Green Bay a much needed 22-0 win in Week 4.

The rookie Bills quarterback finished the first half 5/19 for 58 yards en route to a Bills record for incompletions in a first half, to go with a heinous arm punt picked off by Jaire Alexander to wipe points off the board. In six possessions, the Packers forced four three-and-outs and the Alexander pick to shut out a Buffalo team that had jumped all over the Vikings in Week 3. Green Bay jumped out to a 16-0 first-half lead a week after the Bills took a 27-0 margin into halftime in Minnesota.

The Packers’ defense had only forced three turnovers in the first three weeks, one of the worst figures in the league. Allen was generous in changing that, throwing two picks and sailing passes over the heads or at the feet of his receivers.

Rodgers, looking much healthier but not significantly sharper than a week ago, bought time and made plays in ways we are used to seeing. He also missed some easy throws, threw his first interception of the season and nearly threw a pick-six on fourth down in the second half. Not having Randall Cobb clearly changed the gameplan for the Packers as they rotated running backs, tried to feed Jimmy Graham, and couldn’t quite generate the spark they were looking for.

An opening-drive touchdown ended in a doinked extra point by Mason Crosby, a harbinger of things to come for the offense. They were consistently able to move the ball and get in position, only to come up just a little short. Costly drops and some bad throws stymied the Green Bay passing attack, with Rodgers making a number of key plays with his legs and just enough big-time throws to put points on the board.

It was enough Sunday against a young Bills squad, but will have to be better for the Packers to achieve their goal of contending for a Super Bowl.

Missing a hurt Cobb, the Packers lost Geronimo Allison to a concussion in the second half, forcing a pair of rookies into key roles for Green Bay’s offense. A lack continuity, experience, and rhythm held Rodgers and his group back. So did not playing Aaron Jones more often. He finished with 65 yards on 11 carries, a 5.9 average, and at this point the only person who doesn’t see he’s the best running back in town is McCarthy. Playing Lance Kendricks for any reason remains a head-scratching decision. For all the scheme improvements, some befuddling personnel decisions linger.

Two promising third-quarter drives stalled out, resulting in a field goal and a turnover on downs thanks to the same problems that plagued the Packers in Week 3: drops, off-target throws, and some blown protections. In a game that should have been something like 30-0, the Packers held just a 19-0 advantage through three quarters.

But the defense came through over and over. Once the lead was double-digits, Mike Pettine began to dial up pressure to confuse and befuddle Allen, ending in seven sacks and 11 quarterback hits for this Packers defense in its first game with Muhammad Wilkerson. Even Kyler Fackrell got into the act with a trio of sacks, disrupting in the Buffalo backfield and flummoxing Allen into missed throws and turnovers.

Relying on the defense to pick up a streaky offense wasn’t a luxury the Packers have recently been afforded. Buffalo hardly represents a telling test, but Week 4’s performance serves as a step in the right direction for this young group. Blasting Josh Allen doesn’t prove their worth, but not doing so would have been solid evidence of their failures. And speaking of Super Bowl quality, the last shutout for the Packers was 2010, the year they last hoisted the Lombardi trophy.

Rookies Josh Jackson and Jaire Alexander shined in coverage against a pedestrian group of receivers. In fact, a receiver didn’t post a reception until late in the first half for the Bills. The much-maligned Ha Ha Clinton-Dix snagged a pick early in the second half, his third straight game with an interception. Even without Kevin King, this Green Bay secondary proved it has some playmakers, a welcome change from recent vintages of this defense.

Through four weeks, the Packers offense has faced four potential top-10 defenses, but the offense simply isn’t where we expect it to be a month from now. This isn’t a Super Bowl offense right now.

But if the defense can build on this performance against a quarterback like Matthew Stafford — not just Josh Allen — those offense struggles are not only mitigated, but provide a boost for when Rodgers and his band of merry men finally emerge from Sherwood Forest to once again pillage and plunder. This defense, for its part, isn’t out of the woods itself, but showed the potential to dominate a matchup, even against a rookie.

They needed a get-right game and they got one. Whether or not they can get right on their own could very well decide the fate of the Packers this season.