The Buffalo Bills beat the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football thanks to a lead they kept adding to throughout the game, leading to a 27-17 final at home in Orchard Park.
The final points were due in part to the Packers offense continuing to chip away at the Bills defense on the ground.
Prior to catching up a bit on the scoreboard, the repeated ground effort was a confusing strategy to Buffalo OLB Von Miller when Green Bay was opting to run down as many as 17 points in the second half.
“I was taken aback a little bit because I’m like, ‘Hey, y’all got to pass the ball, don’t y’all?’ That’s just me,” Miller said postgame. “Of course, I want to get sacks and I want to rush the passer, and I want to do all this stuff. So I was like, ‘OK, they’ve got to start passing the ball. They’ve got to start passing the ball.’ But nope, they just kept on running. I even asked Aaron Rodgers on that fourth-and-1, I was like, ‘Hey, you’re not going to drop back and pass the ball?’ I’m not going to tell you what he said because that’s my guy. I don’t want to get anything started. I was just … it was a shocker for me personally.”
The strategy seemed to work to an extent for the short-handed Packers offense in that it kept Miller more at bay while maximizing their pass rush in light of a depleted receiver corps.
RBs Aaron Jones and A.J. Dillon went for a combined 197 yards on 30 carries, and Rodgers added an 11-yard scramble to round out a 208-yard ground game performance.
“I was shocked that they ran the ball so much,” Miller added. “They have Aaron Rodgers and with previous bouts (against him), I was just expecting him to have a little bit more control. So, I was kind of anticipating him passing the ball a little bit more, and they just kept running and running and running. I think, for me personally, it just caught me off guard. I had some lanes open where they could run the ball and stuff because I was just playing the pass.
“I’m looking at the scoreboard and I’m seeing it went by 17 points, it’s two minutes left in the third quarter and I’m thinking that they got to start passing the ball soon. But nope, they just kept running it. They ran the ball well, it was just a weird feeling because you want to go out there and you want to blow teams out and we’re so used to blowing teams out. But, a win is a win and I’m grateful for each and every win that we get.”
For Green Bay, giving their offense more time of possession by running the ball and giving Josh Allen and the Bills offense less time on the field makes sense.
But they appear to have not been alone in seeing rushing as a strategy, as a game plan to run off time on the game clock may have been in effect on both sidelines.
The Bills came into the game as the No. 1 rush defense in the NFL, after teams ran all over them last season. Buffalo sometimes gives up more in one area to opposing offenses while limiting more dangerous ones, however. So while it may appear the Bills struggled to stop the run, a closer look indicates a strategy may have been in play.
Leslie Frazier’s defense played a nickel package and last week’s hero, slot CB Taron Johnson, on all 66 defensive snaps throughout the game, including when Green Bay would run 2 RB and 2 TE packages on offense. By sticking with Johnson to limit the passing game instead of adding a third LB, signaling that they were allowing Green Bay’s ground gain in favor of limiting Aaron Rodgers’ air attack.
“I was expecting them to throw the ball earlier, but I think they were trying to manage the game and keep the ball out of our offense’s hands a little bit so they stuck with the run,” LB Matt Milano said per Jay Shurski of The Buffalo News. “It was working for them, but they were down 17 at that point, so didn’t work out for them.”
For the Bills, running down the clock with a lead in the second half would have made sense. Often when teams are down in the second half they abandon the run in favor of passing plays to try and score and climb back into the game while teams with the lead might run the ball more to run the game clock down toward a victory. In this case, if Buffalo’s strategy was counting on the Packers taking what the defense gave them to help them run the clock down while their offense kept attacking and scoring, it worked.
Ahead of next week’s matchup with the Jets, and back-to-back games against the Vikings with Dalvin Cook, and the Browns with Nick Chubb, head coach Sean McDermott still acknowledged the need to improve on run defense when asked during his press availability.
“We’ve got to make some adjustments, that’s for sure.”