The popular opinion following the Packers too-close-for-comfort win versus Atlanta on Monday went a little something like this: If Julio Jones can do that, what's [insert player here] going to do? Ignoring for a second that Jones' production came largely in what was a whole half of garbage time, I'm not sure I see what the fuss is all about. Jones was unstoppable, but his performance - like others in recent memory - only illustrated further what we already know about the NFL: quarterbacks (and the occasional transcendent defense) win games. Remember Adrian Peterson's 210 yards in 2012? Or when Cam Newton hung 432 on the defense (only to be nullified by three picks) in 2011? While maybe not as singularly dominant as Jones' 259, they all share one thing in common - all came in a losing effort. And while Jones single-handedly dismantling the defense should be cause for some concern, it shouldn't change anyone's opinions on the Packers' long-term prospects moving forward.
This is partially because that argument ignores just how dominant the Packers were as a team in the first half. But mainly, it's because the same reasoning used to question the Packers legitimacy as a championship team (that they're capable of allowing a single player to go bonkers for stretches) conveniently ignores that on any given week, the single most dominant player at the most important position plays for the Green Bay Packers. This week, the team travels to Buffalo to take on a feisty Bills squad. No one I know feels good about this game and while Buffalo has a number of players who can take over a game - Sammy Watkins, Mario Williams, etc. - ultimately, it comes down to who you like more - one of them, or Aaron Rodgers. I know who I'd take.
But as they say, any given Sunday and all that. So without further adieu, here's this week's 5 things to watch:
Hey remember Jim Schwartz? The small, angry man recently removed from his position as the Detroit Lions sideline goon du jour? Well, it turns out that while Schwartz was a crappy head coach, he's actually a pretty good defensive coordinator. The Bills defense as a whole is impressive (ranked 4th in points allowed per game) but it's their front line that really makes them dangerous. Led by Marcell Dareus and Mario Williams, it's a disruptive group that's produced 40 of the team's league-high 48 sacks. The Packers offensive line has arguably been the most important part of the team's success this season, but they'll undoubtedly have their work cut out for them this week.
Lacy on the move
One of the more rewarding things to witness this season has been Eddie Lacy's evolution as a complete back. Following his rookie of the year campaign, most expected more of the same, bulldozing style of running to return this year. But Eddie Lacy v2.0 has been even better. He'll still knock a defender into oblivion, but it's his newfound ability to catch passes that's really made him more dynamic. What's great is, Rodgers is looking his way, too. Where some quarterbacks get impatient or bored with checking down to their back, Rodgers is smart enough to know that with Lacy, a 5-yard dumpoff can quickly become 50. In fact, his yards per reception ranks 2nd in the league (10.7) among running backs. Sure, he's no Matt Forte out of the backfield, but he's undoubtedly added another dimension to an already scary Packers offense. Here's hoping his hip bruise doesn't limit him much, if at all, on Sunday.
Ralph Wilson stadium isn't exactly a visage of intimidation, but it's a harder place to play than people give it credit for. For the Packers, this week marks the first time since their Superdome debacle in week 8 that they've played in a legitimately hostile environment. Making matters worse is the fact that for the first time in a long time, the Bills are kinda in this thing. The Patriots have the AFC East wrapped up but if the Bills can collect their fourth NFC North scalp this Sunday, they'll be right in the thick of the Wild Card race. The Packers communicate well and can mitigate crowd noise by jumping out in front early, but expect the crowd this week to be plenty riled up regardless.
They've gotten it corrected for the most part this year, but the Packers still have a tendency to go through stretches where it looks like they couldn't tackle one of the sideline cameramen. Against a team like the Bills, that's something you just can't afford. At 7-6, the Bills aren't world-beaters, but they make it tough on everyone they play. Their +40 point differential would put them right there with Dallas and Arizona in the NFC (both teams with significantly better records) and the Bills are coming off just a 7-point loss to arguably the best team in the NFL - the Denver Broncos. For the Packers, it'll be key not to give them added downs and yardage by whiffing on tackles.
Ok, okay. I know I just got done saying that no one player (especially a non-quarterback) was going to out-duel Aaron Rodgers, but if anyone on the Bills has the potential to, it's Sammy Watkins. The fact that he's Buffalo's only real offensive threat should give the Packers the ability to focus in on him, but that didn't help much against Julio Jones, who appeared to be running with a 5-yard force field around him. Still, there's a difference between Matt Ryan throwing the ball and Kyle Orton (though less than most are willing to admit), which means that if Sammy Watkins goes off, there's probably multiple things going wrong with the Packers defense.