Rodgers vs. Brady? More like Clark vs. Vea. The instant, first ballot HOF QBs meeting for maybe the last time will steal all the headlines, but this game will come down to which defense can make more stops and more game-changing plays, led by their dominant, play-wrecking nose tackles. Points may be hard to come by.
Tampa Bay’s defense may be the best in the league, with no weaknesses top to bottom. In the two meetings against the Pack in 2020, Rodgers was on his back so much you’d think he had a little too much ayahuasca. The Packers struggled to mount a rushing attack and the Bucs feasted on turnovers.
So far this season, they lead the league in scoring defense (6.5 ppg), though they’ve played sub par offenses (including one half of Cooper Rush in the opener). They’re first in sacks, second in takeaways and top ten in both rushing and passing defense. Todd Bowles knows how to frustrate Aaron Rodgers and make things exceedingly difficult for the Pack to sustain long drives.
David Bakhtiari was able to practice back to back on Thursday and Friday and is officially questionable, but until we see the official inactives list, I’ll expect Yosh Nijman to be the starter for this one. The interior of the line will be tested like they won’t be tested the rest of the year, with stars like Vita Vea, Shaq Barrett and stud linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David. The Packers do catch a break, with Akiem Hicks ruled out.
Then there’s the matchup of the Pack’s unheralded pass catchers against the Bucs improved secondary. It sounds like Allen Lazard is likely to go; but Sammy Watkins is out (hammy) and Randall Cobb (illness) is officially questionable, as is Christian Watson, hoping to play at home in front of dozens of family members. If Green Bay has to rely on youngsters against savvy corners Jamel Dean, Carlton Davis and hybrid Antoine Winfield, Rodgers may be prone to a couple of turnovers.
In previous meetings, Tampa Bay has shut down Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon, and getting production out the running game is the key to unlock offensive success on Sunday. With Marcedes Lewis banged up, running effectively may be tougher than usual. Look for Green Bay to run a lot of motion and jet sweep stuff to keep the defense on its toes and I think Robert Tonyan could be in line for a big game, with the question marks at wide receiver.
I think it’s going to be hard for the Pack to score more than 17 points on a humid, 90ish degree day in Tampa. So it will be up to the defense to try to limit Tom Brady and the Bucs, an offense that has yet to get into a groove and will likely be without its top three receivers in Mike Evans, Chris Godwin and Julio Jones. The forgotten guy, Russell Gage, who signed a three year $30 million deal in the offseason becomes the #1, with Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller and the recently signed Cole Beasley looking to step up into the void.
No doubt the Bucs would love to rely on Leonard Fournette and the ground game, after the Pack’s run D made David Montgomery look like Jonathan Taylor in the second half last Sunday night. The Pack refused to get out of nickel and put its base defense in, with Chicago trailing by multiple scores, despite the lack of a threat that Justin Fields and the Bears passing game presented. They’re even less likely to abandon the nickel against Brady. With DeVondre Campbell and Adrian Amos missing tackles and generally struggling through two weeks, this is an opportunity to right the ship and force Brady into second and third and longs, where the Pack’s pass rush should have a serious advantage over the Bucs’ makeshift and injury-plagued offensive line.
Ultimately, this is a spot where the Packers have struggled in recent seasons. They don’t play well in Florida, in steamy conditions. Brady has had Rodgers’ number over the years and the Pack always seem to find a way to make the big mistake (like at the end of the half of the ’20 title game). Until I see this team rise up and make the big play at the right time against this team, I have to believe Brady, Vea and the Bucs will get the last laugh. The late Pete Axthelm used to call this series the “Bay of Pigs.” This one will have that ugly feel to it.
Tune in to “Packer Preview” Sunday at 7am on KFAN Radio for much more on the big game. Or find the podcast on iHeart Radio whenever you wake up.