Green Bay Packers

How the Tampa Bay Defense Stifled Aaron Rodgers in Week 6

Photo Credit: Kim Klement (USA TODAY Sports)

The Green Bay Packers’ Week 6 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was their most embarrassing outing of the season. With only two other losses on the season, it’s not like there are many other games to pick from, but the 38-10 beatdown was the only game this year that Green Bay lost by more than a score. That was also the only game in which the Packers’ offense scored fewer than 20 points.

Aaron Rodgers, the potential MVP, had himself a miserable day, too. He completed fewer than half his passes, surrendered his only multi-interception game of the year, and failed to throw a touchdown pass — which was the only time he failed to do so all year.

Tampa Bay had Rodgers’ number.

Three months later, the two teams meet again and Rodgers will be hoping to lead the Packers’ offense to a better showing.

A good chunk of Rodgers’ struggles in the first meeting can be boiled down to the Bucs’ use of two-deep structures. He has a history of not putting his best foot forward against Cover 2 teams, which was an issue early in his career. For whatever reason, Rodgers often appears less comfortable pulling the trigger against these looks, even if the throw he wants is, in fact, open. Some of Rodgers’ struggles against Tampa’s Cover 2 defense were self-inflicted, some of it was just excellent defense, but almost all of it went in favor of the Bucs.

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This was Rodgers’ worst self-inflicted wound against split-field coverage. Tampa Bay starts in a one-high look but rotates their safety at the snap over to the field. The safety plays a deep-half over the field side with the field cornerback sitting low, while the boundary coverage is playing more of a “cheat half” with the cornerback.

The five-man pressure package leaves the Bucs’ defense a bit scarce in the deep middle, especially without how poorly the boundary hook player carries the tight end vertically. Rodgers does well to find the tight end in a timely manner, but balks on triggering a couple times before finally letting the ball go.

By the time Rodgers throws, he has to worry about getting hit by a defensive tackle, which seems to disrupt him just enough that he overthrows this one. Had Rodgers just let it rip right away, this is potentially a touchdown (though, a score here is probably ambitious given Marcedes Lewis’ speed at his age).

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Rodgers also missed this potential throw to Adams as result of a cloudy read on the weak linebacker. Rodgers makes it clear he wants Adams on the five-step slant but gets dissuaded by the linebacker “roboting” back. This “robot” (roll and run) technique is generally used to find crossers or dig routes headed towards a linebacker’s side of the field after they have bitten on play-action. A slant route is not necessarily what they are looking for, even if an elite LB could theoretically make this play. The LB ends up walling off the vertical player until he realizes he is not crossing and gains a ton of depth in doing so. The initial peel back was enough to scare Rodgers, though, and he holds the ball too long until he is forced to bail and basically throw the ball away.

Now, to be fair to Rodgers, a chunk of Tampa Bay’s successful plays out of Cover 2 came down to straight up good defense. That’s not to say Rodgers could not have tried to make a miracle play, but the Bucs often did well to take away designed throws when they were in two-deep coverages.

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Take this rollout, for example. Right before the snap, the Bucs bail to a two-deep look against the Packers’ rollout flood concept. The coverage itself isn’t so tricky once it’s declared, but the execution is flawless. Field cornerback Carlton Davis (24) shows excellent technique by keeping his hips and shoulders turned up field to sprint to any deeper routes while still positioning to squeeze the underneath route. The field safety also does a great job playing with his leverage and driving on the corner route as soon as the receiver breaks, which gives Rodgers no good place to go with the ball, resulting in another throwaway.

The Packers’ struggles in this game go beyond just two-deep coverages, though. As should be expected of an uncharacteristic blowout like this, their offense stumbled with their communication and execution all day. They looked sloppier than usual in finishing routes, making tough catches and executing some of their built-in adjustments. The offensive game plan was honestly fine, the players just largely failed to execute despite having chances to do so.

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The clearest example of the Packers just being in a funk and not on the same page is this incompletion out to the sideline. In this clip, they have a called split zone run to the right side. As is the case with many of their runs, though, Rodgers has the option to throw a quick route to the back side of the run concept if he sees off coverage, which the Bucs are showing. Usually this would be a smoke route or a one-step hitch, but it could just depend on the call. The wide receiver here runs a speed out, but Rodgers throws a shallower route, leaving the ball to just hit the ground. It’s not entirely clear if Rodgers just missed, if he forgot the tag, or the receiver forgot the tag, but these kinds of miscues do not really happen in the Packers offense yet continued to show up against the Bucs.

On the bright side, those miscues should not happen this time around. Not only was the first meeting between these two teams fairly early in the season, but the Packers offense has been on a ruthless tear over the past two months or so. They are firing on all cylinders and do not miss on the simple plays like this anymore. Granted, the Bucs defense is still top tier and this will be no easy match, but simply taking out miscommunications of any kind will raise the floor for the Packers offense in this game compared to the last.

Rodgers will still need to overcome his general aversion to Cover 2 and similar coverages. Perhaps the Packers could provide him more high-low concepts, which worked well in the first game, as well as better shot plays from play-action. But the onus is still on Rodgers to execute. That said, it would be foolish to bet on any defense getting the best of Rodgers twice in the same season given his current form.

Barring an absolute meltdown from the Packers defense, expect this go around to be much closer than the Week 6 bout.

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