The Green Bay Packers were at their absolute lowest point on Oct. 18. They led the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 10-0 in Florida, then the Buccaneers scored 38 unanswered, and all hell broke loose along the way. While I don’t put much stock from that game into what could and may happen this weekend, the Packers need to diagnose what went wrong and fix it.
So, what needs to change this time around for Green Bay to punch a ticket to the Super Bowl?
The obvious No. 1, top-of-the-list item has to be the protection.
The Buccaneers were more physical and looked like they were moving in fast forward on the defensive side, especially up front, last time these two teams met. Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times, and to put that in perspective, those four sacks represented a fifth of the total times he was sacked the entire season. You read that correctly: One-fifth of his total sacks this year came against Tampa Bay.
Now, if you’re worried about the absence of David Bakhtiari, remember that he exited the game against the Bucs with an injury, playing only 63% of the snaps. Green Bay has now had two games — against the Chicago Bears in Week 17 and the Los Angeles Rams in the Divisional Round — to adjust to “life without Bakhtiari” after his season-ending knee injury. Expect the Packers to manipulate the Buccaneers from the secondary on down to make life easier for the offensive line.
You would think they’d start with the defensive front to help the offensive line, but to an extent, there’s only so much they can do from that perspective. They can change what they call based on the coverage to try and get the ball out of Rodgers’ hands quickly. I would be shocked if Rodgers was sacked four or more times again this weekend. One of this Packers offense’s staples is keeping the defense on its toes and getting the ball out quickly. They didn’t execute or live by that motto much against the Bucs in October. Expect it to change this time around.
Call me crazy, call me biased, call me a jackass, but I truly believe if the Packers don’t turn the ball over this Sunday, they probably win this game. It sounds lame or cliche, sure, but it could also be valid.
The Packers were up 10-0 against Tampa Bay in October. It hadn’t been all smooth sailing, but a solid start nonetheless. On a 3rd and 10 from their own 22, Rodgers was looking for Davante Adams on the sideline. The pass was behind Adams, and it probably wouldn’t have mattered because Jamel Dean read it like a book, picked it off, and ran it back to the house for six. Rodgers was picked again in the next drive, and Tampa Bay took it back to the 2-yard line.
One play later, Ronald Jones danced into the end zone.
Not only was it a flick-of-the-switch massive momentum swing, but it also was a scenario where Tampa Bay didn’t have to do hardly anything on offense, and 14 points were put up on the scoreboard. This, to me, is the ultimate angle to watch for. In three losses this year, Aaron Rodgers has five total turnovers. In 13 wins, two total turnovers. The Packers defense has been playing really, really well, so if they don’t have to deal with short fields off turnovers, big advantage Green Bay. If they don’t turn it over, especially Rodgers, it will be tough for Tampa Bay to navigate other avenues of success.
Lastly, the Packers are going to need more success from Aaron Jones in the run game. The game got out of hand quickly, to the point where Green Bay was throwing a ton. Even before that, however, Jones was bottled up. He finished the game with 10 carries for only 15 yards. I understand the Buccaneers have the No. 1 run defense in the NFL, but the Packers have the No. 1 offense in the entire league. Find a way to put Jones in more advantageous spots in the running game.
This is a Packers offense that relies heavily on the run game to open up the passing game at times if you really think about it. All the play-action, the jet motion — they need success in the run game to make those other elements work. It’s hard to imagine Jones having another 10-carry, 15-yard performance. But this Tampa run defense is no joke. Expect Matt LaFleur to utilize all three options (Jones, Jamaal Williams, AJ Dillon if healthy) to get that running game going in the right direction.
There are other factors and items to address, of course. Ronald Jones ran all over Green Bay, the Buccaneers didn’t turn it over, and Tom Brady was hardly pressured. I specifically focused on three things on the offensive side of the ball for a reason. This offense scored on their first five possessions against the Rams last Saturday and really sucked a lot of the life out of that sideline because of it. The Packers defense has played spectacular football lately, but we ultimately know what butters this bread: the offense. If Green Bay can find an early rhythm, perhaps some of us won’t pace back and forth as much as normal as we watch on Sunday.
Part of me is glad Green Bay got stomped against the Buccaneers earlier this year because it won’t happen again this Sunday.