Episode 108 - Week 4 Preview: Packers Searching for Identity Against Bills
In this first stretch of the 2018 season, I keep coming back to a quote from Mike McCarthy in 2012.
That year the Packers were heading into their Week 10 bye at 6-3, but it wasn’t the kind of 6-3 you feel good about. They’d started 2-3, thanks in part to the Fail Mary in Seattle, but they’d also dropped a very winnable game to the New Orleans Saints and gotten handled by the San Francisco 49ers in Week 1.
But McCarthy wasn’t phased. He told reporters so:
“We’re 6-3. You are what your record says you are. I believe that. We’ll spend this week reviewing all of the game film from the first nine games while emphasizing our self-scouting. We’ll continue to approach our opponents the same way in the next seven games, but we must maintain our focus on the fundamentals.”
McCarthy wasn’t necessarily wrong. On paper, the Packers looked like a 6-3 team after the bye. But there were holes, too.
They got hammered by the Giants 38-10 in Week 12 and then, with a chance to lock up a first round playoff bye with a win, failed to stop Adrian Peterson in Week 17 as the Vikings stole a 37-34 win.
The Packers still won the NFC North and beat the Vikings in the Wild Card game, but they had to travel to San Francisco in the Divisional Round. Colin Kaepernick exploded, and that was it for the 2012 Packers.
I’ve thought about McCarthy’s quote with the Packers sitting at 1-1-1 right now. What does that say your team is? It’s hard to say it’s good. Sure, you can argue if a couple things go differently they’re an easy 2-1, but that’s a game you probably don’t want to start. You can just as easily point out that if a couple other things go differently the Packers are 0-3. What does that record say that you are?
So I come into Week 4 confused and a little apprehensive. The Packers do a lot of good things, but not nearly often enough to really feel good about those things. The defense can be great...sometimes. The offense can be very good. Well, it has been very good for half of one game, but that’s got to count for something. But what does that add up to?
So far, it’s only adding up to 1-1-1. If that’s what the Packers are so far, that’s not very much.
Five Things to Think About During Sunday’s Game
1 - Bills rookie quarterback Josh Allen had something of a coming out party during last weekend’s win over the Vikings, but there could be tough sledding ahead. The Bills’ passing game has been disastrous on third downs. Buffalo quarterbacks are a combined 9 of 26 passing for 107 yards, no touchdowns and 5 interceptions so far this season. It could get worse: the Packers’ defense has held opposing passing attacks to a 31.6 passer rating on third downs this season, second best in the league.
2 - Under Mike McCarthy, the Packers have been more or less unstoppable in September, but even in the few instances where they’ve faltered, they’ve bounced back. The last 10 times the Packers lost in September, they have won the following week.
The Packers have scored 30 or more points at home in 40 games since 2006. Only the Patriots and Saints have had more such games. 19 of those 30-points or more contests have come against AFC opponents.
3 - Randall Cobb had a weekend to forget in Washington, but he did make a significant move on the Packers’ receiving leaderboard. His four catches moved him past Boyd Dowler into sixth all-time in Packers’ history with 449 career catches.
He could make more moves in the near future as well. Cobb has 22 touchdown receptions at home, tied for 9th all-time in Packers history. His game-winning grab against the Bears moved him past Max McGee and Paul Coffman, and he is now one grab behind Greg Jennings and Carroll Dale.
4 - Buffalo Bills safety Micah Hyde is questionable for Sunday’s game, but he’s been on a tear since joining the Bills prior to the 2017 season. In 19 games with Buffalo, Hyde has five interceptions and 14 passes defensed. In four seasons with the Packers, Hyde recorded eight interceptions and 25 passes defensed.
5 - Last week we took special note of the disparity between the length of the Redskins’ injured reserve list and the Packers’. This week, we’ll make no such mistake, but it is worth noting that the Bills have just one player currently on injured reserve: punter Cory Carter.
Who Could Be an X-Factor This Week?
Right guard hasn’t been a position of strength for the Packers at any point this season, but it’s at its worst right now. Justin McCray is hurt and Lucas Patrick was ineffective last week in relief. That leaves the Packers with Byron Bell, who hasn’t inspired much confidence anywhere he’s played in the preseason or regular season to date.
If you have to make do anywhere on the offensive line, right guard isn’t the worst place to do it. But Bell may not be the most reliable option. He’s played in 93 career games with 74 starts during the regular season but has started just 1 game at right guard. Even if it’s not necessarily a huge problem, it’s just another hole the Packers have to worry about filling with Aaron Rodgers already battling mobility issues.
What Happened the Last Time the Packers and Bills Played?
The 2014 season will always be remembered mostly for what went down in Seattle, but it was really a spectacular season for the Packers and Aaron Rodgers. The only bump in the road in the second half of their season was a 21-13 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Buffalo completely controlled the game, holding Aaron Rodgers to just 185 yards on 42 attempts and forcing him into two interceptions. A drop by Jordy Nelson on what could have been a long touchdown sealed the Packers’ chances.
In hindsight, it probably shouldn’t be too big of a surprise that the Packers dropped this game. Their previous two outings were a prime-time win over the New England Patriots and a 43-37 shootout with the Atlanta Falcons. A road trip to a cold-weather city late in the season is a trap game if there ever was one.
But the consequences of the loss were far-reaching. The loss meant the Packers finished with a 12-4 record, the same as the Seattle Seahawks, who won the tiebreaker for the top seed in the NFC. That meant the 2014 NFC Championship was played in Seattle, and we all know how that story ends.
Who’s Going to Win?
The Packers have 29 wins against AFC teams since 2006 (McCarthy’s first year), the second-most of any NFC team behind Philadelphia with 30. I’ve been wrong two of the last three weeks, but I don’t see any reason that trend should change. I think the Packers will take advantage of a rookie quarterback and do enough on offense to get a win. Final score 24 to 13.
Then again...the forecast is calling for rain on Sunday right now. So who knows what could happen?
Voters in our weekly poll believe pretty strongly the Packers will win. 75% rated their confidence in a win at a 3 or higher out of 4. That is lower than last week, when 88% of people rated themselves at a 3 or higher that the Packers would beat the Redskins.
Elsewhere in our poll, people are cooling further still on Mike McCarthy. 63% of voters report somewhat or very negative feelings about the head coach. That’s almost a mirror image of last week, when 64% of voters had somewhat or very positive feelings about him.
Mike Pettine has had an up and down start to his first season in Green Bay, and that’s been reflected in his poll numbers. 75% of voters still feel somewhat or very positive about the defensive coordinator, a drop from 97% last week.
People are not ambivalent on the signing of Bashaud Breeland, though. 96% of voters reported positive feelings about the move.
Voters were very split on the Packers’ throwback uniforms, however.
One Last Thought
If you like seeing the Packers at Lambeau Field, you’d better savor this weekend’s game. The Packers only play at home two more times between now and December.