<
>

Bills' defense stifles Aaron Rodgers, cements spot near top of NFL

ORCHARD PARK, N.Y. -- Aaron Rodgers won't need to double-check this one: The Buffalo Bills' defense is for real.

Any questions about the unit -- which were fair after flimsy outings earlier this season against Philip Rivers and Tom Brady -- were quieted with an emphatic thud Sunday when the Bills turned Rodgers' first career start at Ralph Wilson Stadium into a nightmare.

Entering the game at the forefront of the MVP discussion and as arguably the game's best quarterback this season, Rodgers was held to a 34.3 passer rating -- the worst of his career -- in a 21-13 Bills win over the Green Bay Packers, one that kept the Bills (8-6) alive in the AFC playoff hunt.

One week after holding Peyton Manning to a 56.9 passer rating -- his worst since 2008 -- during a loss in Denver, the Bills' stifling effort against another future Hall of Fame quarterback further proves that they have one of the NFL's best defenses.

"It was frustrating," Rodgers said after the game. "They did a good job on defense, kind of slowed us down a little bit. We had some opportunities and didn't execute very well on them."

Sure, some of the Packers' passing woes were self-inflicted. Of Rodgers' career-high 25 incompletions, several were simple misfires on his part, while another seven were dropped by his receivers -- the most by a team in a single game since 2008. Had a wide-open Jordy Nelson not let a perfect throw from Rodgers late in the third quarter fall through his hands, the Bills' defense would still be trying to chase him down.

But this was a day for the Bills' defense -- one that dropped a couple of easy interceptions of its own -- and not for Rodgers and the NFL's highest-scoring offense. To say that the Bills slowed down the Packers "a little bit" is quite the understatement.

It's hardly anything new for defensive coordinator Jim Schwartz's group, one that allowed the NFL's fourth-fewest points and held opposing quarterbacks to the league's second-lowest Total QBR entering Week 15.

The Bills racked up an NFL-best 48 sacks prior to Sunday's game, yet were able to force the Packers' offense to fizzle even without pressure on Rodgers, who wasn't sacked until Green Bay's final offensive snap.

"The protection was great," Rodgers said. "There was not much of the pass rush that bothered me. I was able to move around the pocket."

So how did the Bills contain the Packers' offense?

"They were physical and got away with it more than we expected," Rodgers said.

While being physical was part of the coaches' messages during the week, Schwartz and secondary coach Donnie Henderson focused on keeping the scheme simple for defensive backs tasked with slowing down Rodgers, Nelson and Randall Cobb.

"Communication, communication, communication. That's all there was to it," cornerback Nickell Robey said. "We ain't going to make it a magical formula or whatever like that. It was just communication. Making the game simple for us. Going down there and just getting their guy. Don't get beat. If [Rodgers] scrambles, stay with your man. Trust in each other out there on the field.

"Communication and trusting each other. Those were the two main things today and that's what we [followed] through on and we finished the game out with a win."

Veteran cornerback Corey Graham, who has started the past four games after Leodis McKelvin went down with a season-ending ankle injury, didn't complicate the approach.

"Just cover. That's what we do," he said. "Pretty much what you get out of us. It's gonna be a lot of man-on-man, you get your cat. Everybody's gonna be out there, got their own guys. Everybody gonna hold you accountable to get your guy."

Though the defensive line didn't record a sack until late in the fourth quarter -- when Mario Williams strip-sacked Rodgers for a safety to seal the victory -- the rock-solid front line still played a part in the defense's strategy.

"We know that we had to keep Aaron Rodgers from scrambling around. He scrambles around a lot, tries to buy time with his feet," Graham explained. "For the most part, our D-line did a great job keeping him in the pocket, keeping him from moving around too much and keeping him from buying too much time. So we wanted to do that and we were able to do that today."

Whether it's the Bills' front seven or their secondary, their defense sent a clear message to Rodgers and the rest of the NFL: Don't discount us.

"It's been two weeks in a row that we played against probably the best quarterbacks in the league," Graham said, "and we held our own regardless."