Buffalo Bills at Green Bay Packers Gameday Preview

PACKERS OVERVIEW (2010 RANKINGS)

OFFENSE (#t17 total yardage, #t8 rushing, #19 passing, #6 scoring):

Aaron Rodgers responded to inheriting the starting quarterback job from Brett Favre with a 4,000-yard season in 2008. The sixth-year signalcaller was even better last year, finishing with a 103.3 passer rating and earning a Pro Bowl nod with his 4,434-yard, 30-touchdown performance despite absorbing 50 sacks. A good percentage of those yards went to the wide receiver tandem of Donald Driver (70 catches for 1,061 yards, 6 TDs) and Greg Jennings (68-1113, 4 TDs), with third receiver James Jones and talented young tight end Jermichael Finley chipping in five touchdown catches apiece.

The Packers once again feature one of the youngest rosters in the league, but that doesn’t extend to the offensive line, where 11th-year tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher bookend the unit.  Left guard Daryn Colledge and center Scott Wells are also veterans, and the youngster of the group, third-year right guard Josh Sitton, played every offensive snap in 2009. First-round pick Bryan Bulaga, who undoubtedly would have been an instant starter in Buffalo, couldn’t crack the lineup in Green Bay.

There’s one major concern: Workhorse running back Ryan Grant, who rushed for 1,253 yards and scored 11 touchdowns last year, is already gone for the season with an ankle injury. Brandon Jackson is a capable replacement, but with just backup fullback John Kuhn (46 career carries in four seasons) and former Falcons practice-squadder Dimitri Nance behind him, will he be able to hold up under the load?

DEFENSE (#18 total yardage, #30 rushing, #16 passing, #22 scoring):

The 2010 numbers don’t look very good facing Michael Vick on short notice will do that but remember that Dom Capers’ unit finished last year as the second-ranked defense in the league and No. 1 against the run, allowing just five rushing touchdowns all season. Last year’s ninth overall pick, B.J. Raji, anchors the line at nosetackle, flanked by veterans Ryan Pickett and Cullen Jenkins. The linebacking unit is led by Clay Matthews, who paced the team with 10 sacks in his stellar 2009 rookie season, with Brad Jones on the other side. Nick Barnett and A.J. Hawk are the inside ‘backers in the team’s base defense, but Hawk is replaced by Brandon Chillar in the nickel, which led to him not playing a single snap last week (and sparking trade rumors) when the Packers used their extra DBs for the entire game.

The secondary contributed 26 of the team’s league-leading 30 interceptions last year, led by Defensive Player of the Year Charles Woodson’s nine thefts and three touchdown returns. I’m guessing that Tramon Williams sees his share of work today, because Trent Edwards isn’t likely to test Woodson often despite a toe injury that has the six-time Pro Bowl corner listed as probable. Third-round pick Morgan Burnett starts at strong safety, with veteran Nick Collins at free.

SPECIAL TEAMS:
Mason Crosby started the season off on the right foot, booting a team-record 56-yard field goal and adding a 49-yarder against the Eagles to earn NFC Special Teams Player of the Week honors. After a subpar performance in 2009, punter Jeremy Kapinos lost his job to Tim Masthay, an undrafted free agent who spent part of last year’s training camp with the Colts. Backup wide receiver Jordy Nelson was also a Player of the Week candidate after averaging 31.2 yards on three kickoff returns, but the coverage units are, ahem, nothing special.

OUTLOOK

The Packers are two-touchdown favorites to win their fourth consecutive home opener. Not much reason to think they won’t.

LINKS

Packers depth chart | stats
Bills depth chart | stats

Welcome to the Blogosphere:
ESPN AFC East (Tim Graham) | NFC North (Kevin Seifert)
Milwaukee Journal-Sentinel Packers Blog (Greg Bedard, Lori Nickel, and Tom Silverstein)
Green Bay Press-Gazette PackersNews.com Blog (Rob Demovsky, Mike Vandermause, Pete Dougherty and Kareem Copeland)
ESPNMilwaukee.com Packers Blog (Jason Wilde)
Packers.com Blog

Lori Chase, a staff columnist for Two Bills Drive, can be contacted at lchase (at) twobillsdrive (dot) com.

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