Sunday, September 19, 2010

Packers - Bills preview

With just a couple hours left to kickoff, I'm finally getting around to writing this preview of the Green Bay Packers vs. Buffalo Bills. But as regular readers of know, I typically wait until the day and morning of the game to lay out my thoughts on what we might expect. So that's my excuse, er, story, and I'm stickin' to it.

But let's start with the facts: the Pack is favored by 13 points despite the Bills leading the series 7-3 (how the heck did that happen, by the way?); the weather is supposed to be great Fall football weather, about 63 degrees and mostly cloudy with little or no wind issues anticipated. And, of course, it is the regular season home opener for the Packers. That should get the Packers' players a bit more jacked up for the game.

Not that they should need it. The Bills are not, at this point, a very good team. On the other hand, as both players and fans learned again last year, even bad teams can take advantage of a flat team on any given day (recall the debacle against the Buccaneers?). But that won't be the case today. Back to the Bills...receiver (and former University of Wisconsin Badger ... go Badgers!) Lee Evans called out QB Trent Edwards this last week for not going downfield more. Now, whether that would be on Edwards or the offensive coordinator, who knows. But don't be surprised if Buffalo does try to stretch the field at the outset to test our young (in spots) secondary, particularly if the pass rush is lacking. But, I don't expect that to happen. I think defensive coordinator Dom Capers can certainly set the players and schemes in motion today to put a lot of pressure on Edwards.

As to the Bills' running game, rookie C.J. Spiller will test the Packers' defense. He will also test the Packers' special teams on kick returns. The running game and the special teams are arguably the two best aspects of the Bills. The secondary isn't bad either, but can they really match up with all the Packers' weapons? Not for the entire day they can't.

So, what about the Pack? Well, we already know that RB Ryan Grant is done for the year and Brandon Jackson is going to get his chance, once again, to be the featured back. Should we expect that the Packers will operate the running portion of their game plan differently than with Grant? Unlikely. The Pack is still a pass-first team. I'd still look for a 60-40 pass to rush ratio. If the Pack gets up big early, it's possible we may see more of Jackson as the day goes on. FB/RB John Kuhn may also get a few carries as he did last week. It's also possible we may even get glimpse or two of recently signed RB Dimitri Nance who was supposedly able to learn a package or two this week, although radio reports this morning indicate that he might not even be active today. As for the air game, look for QB Aaron Rodgers to bounce back from a very subpar performance last week in Philadelphia. He will spread the ball around. TE Jermichael Finley should have a big day. But if the Bills' defense tries to take Finley out of the offense, it's not as if Rodgers doesn't have other options. He's got options up the ying-yang, baby!

The Packers will also be able to run more of a typical defense today. After all, nothing is typical when you're trying to chase Michael Vick all over the field as the Pack had to do last weekend. But we can figure that we will see LB A.J. Hawk actually play from scrimmage today rather than just on special teams. And, given reports of his comments this past week, Hawk was not happy having to stand on the sidelines the entire game last week. Well he shouldn't have been. But while a steady competitor, Hawk has not performed up to expectations of a #5 overall draft pick. Perhaps his pride is hurt a bit. That can often be a good motivator to up one's game. Let's hope so. I like Hawk. But the Packers' linebacking corps is a good one, and some of the other players competing with Hawk for playing time are bringing more to the field right now than is Hawk. It will be interesting to see what he might do today. Keep an eye on Hawk.

The young Packers' secondary held up well last week. Rookies Morgan Burnett and Sam Shields actually performed well for their first NFL game. A few rookie mistakes showed up here and there, but nothing that wound up costing them the game.

As to player status for today's game, early reports were that RG Daryn Colledge was doubtful for today's game; he has been battling an undisclosed illness for the past few days. If Colledge is out, one would expect to see rookie Bryan Bulaga get the start; second-year player T.J. Lang might have also been expected to be in the mix but was just listed as being inactive, which may be a sign that Colledge is good to go after all. Rookie DE Mike Neal is also expected to miss today's game, as he did last week's game, with an abodiminal injury. CB Brandon Underwood is also inactive for today's game after missing last week's contest with a shoulder injury suffered in the last preseason game. FB Korey Hall is also inactive, which means Quinn Johnson will get his first start. LB Desmond Bishop is inactive. DE Cullen Jenkins also probable for today's game; look for him to play with a club on the hand in which he sustained multiple fractures in last Sunday's game.

OK, bottom line prediction: Packers 34 - Bills 13.

Go Pack Go!!!

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