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Bills Packers preview: Buffalo’s passing attack vs. Green Bay’s coverage

Tag team, back again

NFL: OCT 16 Bills at Chiefs Photo by Nick Tre. Smith/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

As the Buffalo Bills prepare to battle the Green Bay Packers, Bills Mafia are generally confident in a victory. The Bills’ passing offense has been a juggernaut and Green Bay has overall been significantly less “juggernauty.” Maybe “juggernaughty?” No. That looks bad. Anyway, what if I told you that the Packers’ pass defense is overall well-respected? Let’s take a look at that looming matchup.

For this article, B.J. Monacelli is providing the All-22 coverage, while Skarekrow has you covered on the data front.

All-22 analysis from B.J. Monacelli

Packers Play 1

Green Bay does a nice job here of disguising an all-out blitz and then backing out into a Cover 3. You can see that the safeties are playing closer to the line of scrimmage than normal, but then turn and run at the snap, dropping back into their zone. The linebackers also get great depth during the play, forcing tight windows for the quarterback. This would be a tough coverage to diagnose pre-snap.

Packers Play 2

The underneath zone defenders on this play do a good job of understanding the play call. They aren’t threatened with any vertical routes, so that gives them the ability to be aggressive on the short hitch routes. You can see the great closing speed in some of the Packers’ defensive backs.

Packers Play 3

By now you can see that Green Bay likes to mix up their coverages, and they do a good job of disguising them. It initially looks like they’re in Cover 2 at the snap, but one of the safeties drops down to be a “robber” in Cover 1 man. This robber ends up taking away the dig route that otherwise would be wide open. The corner at the top of the screen stays patient throughout and squeezes the route to the sideline, leaving little room to complete the pass. Nice coverage all around.

Packers Play 4

The Packers are in a basic man-to-man coverage here, but a wide receiver motion ends up causing some confusion. At the top of the screen, it’s apparent that the two defenders weren’t on the right page and let the tight end run wide open in the middle of the field.

Packers Play 5

Another Cover 1 look here by the Packers. The DBs on the bottom of the screen have an understanding with each other—the low guy takes the inside route, and the high guy takes the outside route. Initially, this works out perfectly and they pass off the switch route seamlessly. As the route develops, the wide receiver uses this to his advantage, makes the defensive back turn his hips inside, and then breaks his route outside. A great route concept by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers to beat Green Bay’s man coverage.

Packers Play 6

The Minnesota Vikings take a shot down the field against Green Bay in Cover 2. They run a route concept with levels, which makes the underneath coverage stay closer to the line of scrimmage and brings the attention to the short routes. They catch the Packers safeties peeking in the backfield, and wide receiver Justin Jefferson blows by them for a big gain. I have visions of Stefon Diggs or Gabe Davis pulling off this type of route on Sunday Night.

Bills Play 1

The Bills run a levels route concept to keep the Pittsburgh Steelers’ defense distracted with the routes underneath. While the focus is on the underneath routes, Gabe Davis blows by the safeties for a touchdown.

Bills Play 2

Here’s another route concept the Bills run to try and distract the safeties into covering the underneath routes so they can eventually throw over the top. On this play, they run a “dig” route in front of the deep middle safety and he bites down hard on it, probably because quarterback Josh Allen was staring it down. This opens up a giant hole in the middle of the field for Diggs to score a touchdown.

Bills Play 3

If the Packers decide to run man coverage, we could see the Bills incorporate more “switch” route concepts to get their receivers open. You can see on this play that Allen has multiple open receivers to throw to. Watch how the receivers time their routes perfectly to closely intersect with each other so they can disrupt the coverage of the defensive backs.

Bills Packers matchup stats

Are there reasons to be worried about Green Bay’s pass defense? Let’s see what the data tells us. The Packers have allowed the second-fewest passing yards in the league with 1,182. That’s behind only the Philadelphia Eagles. On a per-game basis, Green Bay is the best in the league, allowing only 168.9 passing yards. Did you notice anything?

I’m not usually a fan of volume metrics, and I’m lukewarm on most per-game ones. With those measures, the Packers do indeed look like a fierce opponent. Let’s rattle off some per-play style metrics and see if there’s any difference. But before we do, let’s toss in one more volume metric. Green Bay has only faced 184 passing attempts, second-least in the league.

  • Packers allow 7.0 yards per attempt. 14th in the league.
  • Opponents complete 69% of their passes against Green Bay, which gives the Packers the second-worst rate in the league.
  • Green Bay’s two interceptions this year rank toward the league bottom. Even adjusting for rate, which is the better measure they’re 26th in the league at 1.1%.
  • They’re 10th in sack rate at 7.5%.
  • They’re 29th in the league with touchdowns allowed, giving up a score on 5.8% of pass attempts.

Overall, they’re not terrible. Yards per attempt and sack rate are respectable enough. Other metrics are pretty bad, though, and I don’t need to beat a dead horse. Well, maybe one more: Green Bay has the fifth-most rushing attempts against, meaning the volume stats are more a function of teams not feeling the need to pass against them. Still, there are things the Packers seem good at. Let’s inflate the length of this article a bit more with a couple charts.

For Green Bay, we want to pay attention to the right-hand side to check out their defense. I included the full graphic because if you've read this far, you’re really interested in the topic, and more info is better. Feel free to dive as deep as you want.

I’ll stick to a couple of highlights. Overall this is all over the map, suggesting that certain players are stronger than others, or the coaches are struggling to scheme certain areas of the field, but doing fine in others. When it comes to deep shots to the left and right, it’s hard to pick a better opponent on paper to throw against. The entire middle of the field is a way different story, however.

This is a “versus” topic, though, and so far I haven’t touched the Bills’ stats. Buffalo is clearly the stronger team overall, so I won’t bullet like I did for Green Bay. Looking at play direction (left side of the chart for the Bills), there is some merit to the idea that the Packers could create some fits for Buffalo.

The Bills should be salivating at the opportunity to throw deep left. Deep right favors Buffalo, but not as significantly. Deep middle is a relatively even matchup. When it comes to shorter passes, the on-paper matchup is also hit-or-miss. Buffalo should have a field day to short right, but might struggle in varying degrees elsewhere.

Last but not least, it’s highly unlikely that the Bills, of all teams, decide to stick to 26 passing attempts—the number Green Bay has faced on average per game. Allen is averaging 39.8 attempts this season. Don’t forget that he’s sat for a significant amount of game time, as well.