Throughout this week, we've talked about several keys that the Buffalo Bills must hit on if they hope to play competitive football with the Green Bay Packers tomorrow afternoon. In one post, we discussed the need to contain the Packers' two excellent tight ends, Jermichael Finley and Donald Lee, defensively, while keeping track of second-year pass rusher Clay Matthews offensively. In a second post, aided by NFL.com, we took a look at two Green Bay weak points - its offensive tackles, and its susceptibility behind the blitz.
Perhaps the most critical factor of all, however, is production - from both sides of the ball - on third downs. We can ask Buffalo to run the ball more offensively, or to try to generate heat on quarterback Aaron Rodgers, but the best chance the Bills have at pulling a major upset is by playing keep-away with the football.
Buffalo converted just three of 14 third-down opportunities in Week 1 against Miami, while also going three-and-out seven times. And yes, Buffalo's defense forced three Miami three-and-outs, but their 8-of-18 mark on third downs leaves room for improvement. If the plan is to keep Green Bay's explosive offense off the field as much as possible (and why wouldn't it be?), it's imperative that the Bills sustain drives offensively and get off the field defensively when they have the opportunity to do so. That's simple in theory, but this team makes it extraordinarily difficult to pull off.