Green Bay Packers

What the Packers Can Learn From Their 2020 Matchups Against the Bucs

Photo Credit: Kim Klement (USA TODAY Sports)

The new version of the Green Bay Packers offense without a playmaker of Davante Adams‘ caliber is a matchup-based unit. It means that each week might feature different solutions to solve different problems. The game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will offer significantly different challenges than the Chicago Bears game on Sunday Night Football — not only because of the quality of the opponents but also for schematic reasons.

Aaron Jones was the primary option against the Bears, finishing the game with 18 touches, 170 scrimmage yards, and two touchdowns. However, considering the history of the matchup against the Buccaneers, Jones won’t be able to replicate what he did at Lambeau Field. And the two games in 2020 against Tampa Bay are interesting indications of what the Packers might have trouble with and what the solutions may be.

The Packers lost to the Bucs twice that year. One game was in Florida, and the other was the NFC Championship game in Wisconsin. The first game was much more lopsided, a 38-10 loss where Green Bay couldn’t do much. Tampa Bay opened the game much stronger in the NFC Championship, building a large lead. The Packers finally got going in the middle of the third quarter, but there wasn’t enough time to pull off the comeback, and they fell 31-26 at home.

Running game

The Buccaneers have a strong interior of the defensive line, even without Akiem Hicks this Sunday. They also have impressively fast off-ball linebackers in Lavonte David and Devin White. That means it’s hard to use a speed runner like Aaron Jones against them. And it showed in both matchups against the Packers two seasons ago.

In Tampa, Jones had only 15 rushing yards in 10 attempts but never had a run over seven yards. His receiving yards were decent, 26 in three receptions. Things didn’t get much better in the playoff matchup. Jones had 27 yards in six rushes, plus two fumbles (one lost to start the second half). He got seven yards in four receptions. Jones had 2.6 yards per carry over both games.

That’s a problem, especially considering Jones’s importance for the Packers’ offense this year. But the answer might be the other active running back. A.J. Dillon wasn’t a significant part of the plan in his rookie year, but he had 48 yards in eight carries combined in both games against Tampa — an average of six yards per attempt.

That happened because, even though he’s not explosive, Dillon is strong and more effective than Jones in north-south runs. That’s been proven to be the best way to attack the Bucs’ defense, so Dillon should play better than Jones on Sunday. However, No. 33 can still be used effectively if the Packers are willing to move him around the formation. They need to explore his receiving game ability to stretch the opposing defense.

Passing game

Adams didn’t have bad games against the Bucs, but he also didn’t shine. In the regular-season game, he had six receptions and 61 yards in 10 targets. He had nine receptions for 67 yards in 15 targets in the NFC Championship. The offense was able to put up decent numbers in the playoffs, and the complementary receivers were more efficient. Marquez Valdes-Scantling was the best one, adding 115 yards and a touchdown, with four receptions in six targets. And that may be the way to attack the Bucs’ defense. To avoid pressure, which Todd Bowles‘ scheme prioritizes, it’s imperative to have players who can stretch the field quickly. That’s why Christian Watson is so important for the Packers now that MVS is gone.

Watson had an unfortunate drop against the Minnesota Vikings, but his ability to beat Patrick Peterson to get open was impressive. Something similar happened against the Chicago Bears. Watson beat Jaylon Johnson, but Aaron Rodgers opted not to throw him the ball.

Exploring the deep areas of the field, and being able to do so before the pressure arrives, is necessary for the Packers.

In the NFCCG, Allen Lazard had three receptions for 62 yards in six targets. It means the Packers have to try to spread the ball among their receivers — in that game, three players had at least 60 receiving yards, and nine guys had at least one catch. Lazard, Watson, Sammy Watkins, Romeo Doubs, and Randall Cobb can test the depth of the Bucs’ secondary. It might be tough sledding on the ground, but it won’t be surprising to see an abnormally pass-happy offense.

The game against the Buccaneers is significant for the Packers, who already have a loss inside the conference. Besides the potential playoff implication, there’s also a mental aspect in which beating the Bucs with this new version of the offense after what they suffered in 2020 is significant. And to achieve that, finding the right matchups is essential.

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