Fresh off a season-opening 15-10 loss to Miami, the the going only gets tougher for the Buffalo Bills in Week 2, as they travel to Lambeau Field to take on the vaunted Green Bay Packers. A playoff team a year ago, the Packers feature an explosive offensive spearheaded by quarterback Aaron Rodgers, and an aggressive, highly-rated defense led by the reigning Defensive Player of the Year, Charles Woodson.
Slowing down Green Bay's offense and moving the ball against the Packers' defense is going to be a monumental challenge this weekend for the re-building Bills. Rodgers must be slowed, and Woodson avoided, if the Bills have any hope of pulling off a massive road upset. In order to accomplish that, they'll need to pay extra attention to each of those players' setup men.
Rodgers' Setup Men: Tight Ends Finley and Lee
Running a 3-4 defense banged up at an already suspect linebacker position, it would be a minor upset if the Packers didn't trot out their two excellent tight ends, Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee, for a majority of their offensive reps this weekend. The two combined to catch 92 passes for 936 yards and six touchdowns in 2009, and most NFL experts believe that Finley, a third-year pro out of Texas, is on the verge of becoming one of the most dominant tight ends in the game.
Both players are big, mobile targets that can hurt a defense down the middle of the field. While Lee plays a more traditional role in Mike McCarthy's offense, the ultra-athletic Finley often lines up in the slot or out wide, creating mismatches against smaller defensive backs. Having two excellent tight ends at your disposal is the most fool-proof way of defeating a 3-4 scheme, and Finley's added versatility will make it easier for the Packers to take advantage of Buffalo's overmatched defensive personnel.
Don't be surprised if the Bills spend most of their time in a nickel defense on Sunday, likely with four down linemen. It is imperative, first and foremost, that the team keep Chris Kelsay out of coverage responsibilities as much as possible, as he simply doesn't have the athletic prowess to deal with tight ends of Green Bay's caliber in that capacity. Having him put his hand on the ground, and using backup strong safety Bryan Scott and Keith Ellison as coverage linebackers in that sub-package, is the only way the Bills can try to counter those two players. Donte Whitner will play a huge role here, as well. The problem, of course, with the nickel package is that it can be run on; Miami ran for 31 yards on eight carries against that particular defense in Week 1.
Woodson's Setup Man: Linebacker Matthews
Woodson is the super-talented veteran and has all the hardware, but Clay Matthews might be Green Bay's best defender. An extremely gifted downhill player, Matthews is an explosive, powerful pass rusher coming off a three-sack performance in Green Bay's Week 1 win over Philadelphia. In 17 career games, Matthews has already accumulated 13 sacks, forced two fumbles, defended eight passes and returned an interception for a touchdown. He is a legitimate star, and he makes Green Bay's defense go.
Buffalo's offensive line will have enough trouble with the Packers' defensive front without even considering Matthews, but he is definitely their top priority this weekend. Dom Capers will move him all over the field, but he'll almost certainly spend a good deal of time lined up across from Cornell Green on the right side of Buffalo's offensive alignment. Chipping tight ends and backs might not be as effective as hoped, so Chan Gailey needs to counter Matthews' aggression by moving the pocket and figuring out a way to properly utilize the misdirection plays that were so ineffective in Week 1.