The Packers came into Sunday's game against Buffalo as one of the hottest teams in the league, and was in control of the NFC North and in good position to lock up home-field advantage throughout the playoffs. The Buffalo Bills weren't intimidated, and manhandled the Packers wide receivers in a way they hadn't been shutdown since Week 3 against the Lions or the season opener against the Seattle Seahawks.
The Bills completely sold out to pass coverage and various stunts with their four-man front and hoped for the best. The pressure on Aaron Rodgers was minimal, but the results were successful. An off day from Rodgers, a case of the drops from the wide receivers, and sloppy special teams play resulted in a frustrating 21-13 road loss. The question now is what happens the next time the Packers face a physical secondary?
Let's take a look at where to give credit and assign blame following Monday night's performance. As always, the Pro Football Focus grades are in parentheses.
In probably the worst performance of his career, Aaron Rodgers (-3.1 overall, -3.3 pass) finished 17 of 42 passing for 185 yards with two interceptions for a passer rating of 34.2. He also added 27 yards rushing on three carries. He wasn't on the same page with his wide receivers on the majority of his back-shoulder throws, missed a lot of throws low, and fumbled the ball yet again (and this time it clinched a loss). He threw behind and late on a hitch route to Nelson that should have been a pick-six for Stephon Gilmore. That was a throw you would expect from Jay Cutler or Andy Dalton, not Aaron Rodgers.
The wide receivers dropped a lot of catchable passes, but Rodgers was never able to adjust to the physical style that the Bills secondary played. He lost track of the play clock on a few occasions, appeared to have audibled out of running plays when the team was running pretty effectively, and just generally looked out of sync the entire day.
Running Backs: A-
Eddie Lacy (+2.9 overall, +2.2 rush, +0.6 pass, +0.1 pass block) rushed for 97 yards and one touchdown on 15 carries, while James Starks (+0.1 overall, -0.7 pass, +0.7 rush) added four for 19 yards.
Sore hip be damned, Eddie Lacy ran with aggression and power on Sunday against a defense that doesn't usually give up chunk plays on the ground. His one-yard touchdown only worked because he used every ounce of body to propel him into the end zone. James Starks continues to be the lightning to Lacy's thunder, and his explosiveness out of shotgun runs continued on Sunday with his 12-yard burst out of the backfield in the second quarter. If the team had been playing with a lead, I would have expected more carries for Starks in the second half, but the team continued to bang its head on a brick wall in the passing game instead.
John Kuhn (-0.1 overall, +0.9 run block, -1.0 penalty) provided excellent blocking in the run game, especially on the team's lone touchdown drive in which he was the lead blocker for every run play. His false start penalty seemed to be the result of a cumulative effect of the offense's struggles, and not a habit we've grown accustomed to in recent history.
Wide Receivers/Tight Ends: F
Randall Cobb (+0.5 overall, +0.6 pass, -0.2 rush) caught seven of 13 targets for 96 yards and added three rushes for 15 yards. Jordy Nelson (-1.3 overall, -1.4 pass) caught five of 12 targets for 55 yards, while Andrew Quarless (+0.2 overall, -1.4 pass, +1.3 run block) caught one pass for seven yards and Davante Adams (-2.2 overall, -2.3 pass) caught one for six yards.
Jarrett Boykin (-1.4 pass), and Richard Rodgers (-0.4 pass, +0.1 run block) were each targeted in the passing game. Boykin tipped a pass on a slant route that turned into an interception, and Rodgers dropped a catchable pass himself.
The nightmare-ish outing for this unit started on the very first pass attempt in which Quarless tried to catch a pass with his body and it fell incomplete. After that, Cobb dropped several passes, and Nelson dropped the easiest 94-yard touchdown reception he'll likely ever see in his career. After Nelson's drop, you almost kind of knew the game was over, even if you were still holding on to hope. It just wasn't this unit's day, and a lot of that had to do with the fact that they were being jammed at the line by a very good secondary of Stephon Gilmore, Corey Graham, and Nickell Robey.
Offensive Line: A
Against one of the best defensive lines in the league, the offensive line nearly pitched a shutout in pass protection besides a few pressures and the very last offensive play in which J.C Tretter (-0.3 overall, -1.0 pass block, +0.6 run block) got beat soundly by Mario Williams for the game-clinching strip-sack-safety.
David Bakhtiari (-0.5 overall, +0.4 pass block, -1.2 run block) allowed two hurries against Jerry Hughes, but was otherwise able to match the athletic defensive end move-for-move. Josh Sitton (-0.6 overall, +0.4 pass block, -1.2 run block) was able to maintain Marcell Dareus on the interior, and sealed well when the team ran to his direction. Corey Linsley (+2.0 overall, +0.1 pass block, +1.8 run block) anchored the middle with no pressures allowed, and was able to communicate well to stymie the various stunts that the Bills threw at him.
T.J. Lang (+0.9 overall, +0.4 pass block, +0.3 run block) allowed two hurries, once to Kyle Williams and once to Corbin Bryant, but was physical in the run game and consistently got to the second-level of the defense. Bryan Bulaga (+4.4 overall, +2.4 pass block, +1.8 run block) completely shut down Mario Williams, and frustrated the 6-foot-6 red-eyed beast on numerous occasions. Let's hope he recovers well from concussion protocol, because Tretter struggled in pass protection, allowing two hurries.
Defensive Line: C
Mike Daniels (-3.9 overall, -3.0 run, -1.1 rush) struggled to get off of blocks in the run game, didn't generate much of a pass rush, and led the team with three missed tackles. I can never fault the guy for his effort as an undersized lineman, but his lack of physical measurables was exposed on Sunday.
Letroy Guion (-1.1 overall, -1.4 run, +1.1 rush) was quick off the ball, and was able to push Eric Wood (the Bills best offensive lineman) into Kyle Orton's lap on his sack. He's never going to be the run-stopping stonewall that B.J. Raji is capable of being, so anyone expecting that needs to adjust their expectations. Josh Boyd (-1.7 overall) wasn't much of a factor besides blowing up a run play to Fred Jackson for a five-yard loss, while Datone Jones (-0.4 overall) continued his season of mediocrity as a passing down specialist.
Julius Peppers (-2.7 overall, -1.2 run, -1.7 rush) had back-to-back invisible performances, registering zero pressures against Seantrel Henderson, who is widely considered a long-term project for the Bills. You would expect Peppers to at least get a pressure or two on cement-shoes Kyle Orton, but you barely even notice him watching the film. Mike Neal (+0.7 overall) was twice as effective as Peppers in about one-third of the playing time, registering two pressures in the first half. Clay Matthews (+0.5 overall, -0.7 run, +0.3 rush, +0.6 coverage) played every defensive snap, and recorded four pressures and two sacks on the day.
Brad Jones (+1.5 overall, +1.7 coverage) only played 11 snaps in the dime package, but he made every one count. He stopped receivers short of the marker twice, broke up another third-down pass, and was able to take on blockers on a consistent basis. I was pleasantly surprised with his physical play and awareness in coverage.
Sam Barrington (-1.7 overall, -1.7 penalty) recorded 10 tackles to lead the unit and continues to play fearlessly. In some cases, like Sunday, that may result in penalties; but he is an upgrade over A.J. Hawk (+0.6 overall, -0.1 rush, +0.7 coverage), who got ran over by Boobie Dixon on a third-and-short play in which Hawk had Dixon dead-to-rights. Nick Perry (-0.3 overall) played 20 snaps and wasn't much of a factor. I wouldn't expect much from Perry for the remainder of the season unless that shoulder heals quickly. His pass rush moves are limited and without a healthy shoulder on his bullrush, he might start hitting the inactive list.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix (-0.6 overall, -1.1 run, 0.0 coverage) led the defense with 13 tackles, while Morgan Burnett (+1.9 overall, +0.4 run, +1.5 coverage) added 12. Both Clinton-Dix and Burnett were physical in run support, but Clinton-Dix missed two tackles, and both of them appeared to completely forget about Bryce Brown on a wheel route out of the backfield for a 40-yard gain.
Tramon Williams (+2.1 overall, +0.2 run, +1.8 coverage) continues to be the best cover corner on the team this season, and played a double-move by electric rookie wideout Sammy Watkins perfectly on his interception. Sam Shields (-2.5 overall, -1.3 run, -1.2 coverage) held Robert Woods to 22 yards on two receptions, but still isn't re-routing receivers off the ball. Casey Hayward (+0.6 overall) only played 13 snaps, while Micah Hyde (-0.1 overall, +0.5 coverage) played 36 in the nickel back rotation. Hyde's coverage seems to have improved, while his sure-tackler status is starting to come into question.
Mason Crosby was good from 45 and 34 yards out, but was forced to get under the ball a little more on his attempt from 53 yards and the low trajectory didn't make it past the giant paw of Mario Williams, who gained way too much ground on the interior of the Packers' line on the play.
Tim Masthay recorded six punts for an average of 42.8 yards. His 31-yard punt can be directly correlated to Marcus Thigpen's 75-yard return for a score. The protection wasn't great on special teams all day, and the tackling was sub-par as well, but Masthay isn't getting paid for 31-yard on wobblers. I'm also not sure what Shawn Slocum is getting paid for, because there haven't been any improvements on a week-to-week basis.
The team didn't adjust to adversity well, and didn't seem to change the gameplan in the second half on offense. The team was still within a score of the Bills despite its struggles on offense, but Mike McCarthy continued to force the issue in the passing game. It was evident early on that this was not going to be Aaron Rodgers' best game of the season, so it would have been nice to see the team ride the run game out and use play-action more.
Up Next: The team thaws out with a trip to Tampa Bay to take on the Buccaneers (2-12), and try and keep pace with the Detroit Lions for NFC North supremacy.
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