The Green Bay Packers have continued to pass up opportunities to seriously revamp their receiving corps following the departure of Davante Adams. Conversely, Tom Brady‘s Tampa Bay Buccaneers have become the unofficial home for free-agent stars with some juice left in the tank. Despite returning four-time Pro Bowler Mike Evans on the outside and two-time thousand-yard slot guy Chris Godwin, the Bucs added future Hall of Famer Julio Jones, who had been projected to land in Green Bay.
They also landed another former Atlanta Falcons receiver, Russell Gage, to complete what is arguably the league’s top receiver room. However, as Sunday’s Week 3 matchup between the two teams approaches, it’s hard to say who will enter the game with the deeper, more reliable set of offensive weapons, mainly due to injury-report madness on both sides.
The season-opener in Minnesota was a second-consecutive Week 1 disaster for the Packers, and it was largely the young receiving corps that held them back. After a year in which Adams broke records with his target share, 247-lb. A.J. Dillon led Green Bay in receiving to begin 2022. The first play of scrimmage, a perfectly-placed deep ball that Christian Watson dropped, would end up encapsulating the day. It also emphasized the growing pains that are in order, particularly for the rookies.
Last Sunday night was a different story. Rodgers was able to log 40 more yards on nine fewer attempts in a game that the Packers largely controlled from start to finish. Allen Lazard returned and caught two passes, including a touchdown, which aided the unstoppable running game from the outside. Sammy Watkins also got loose for nearly 100 yards. The youth and the relative inexperience of Green Bay’s pass-catchers proved to be among their most significant liabilities in Week 1. But last week demonstrated the improvement they will likely show as the season progresses.
But injuries have depleted Tampa Bay’s impressive receiver group. Hamstring and knee injuries, respectively, are holding out Godwin and Jones for the time being. Neither of them practiced today. Perhaps the most significant development in that room has been Evans’ suspension after he bulldozed Marshon Lattimore in last week’s brawl in New Orleans. While it probably won’t have a massive impact on the Bucs’ season, it significantly affects Sunday’s matchup. Tampa figures to trot out Breshad Perriman, Scotty Miller, and Gage, all of whom were limited in today’s practice, provided that Godwin and Jones cannot go.
All of a sudden, these two teams look very similar. They are both led by an elite, Gold Jacket-bound signal-caller. The Packers and Bucs boast a strong backfield and a stacked defense, and they make do with a dinged-up offensive line and limited options at receiver. It could be a true battle between two of the NFL’s greatest players of all time, fought on the most level playing field we’ve seen them on together from a personnel standpoint.
Green Bay’s run game, which has been highly successful against below-average opposing fronts, will face the likes of Vita Vea and Devin White. Rodgers will have to find ways to win matchups like Lazard or Romeo Doubs vs. Carlton Davis, just as Brady will have to get the ball to guys like Perriman with Jaire Alexander and Eric Stokes in coverage. Last week’s performance, during which Aaron Jones averaged 8.8 yards per carry, is not only a sign that the ground game will likely be the strength of this Packers’ offense, but it will also create opportunities for Rodgers to make plays if and when Todd Bowles decides to dedicate more attention to the line of scrimmage.
Lazard (ankle), Watson (hamstring), Watkins (hamstring), and Randall Cobb (illness) did not practice today. Since Lazard played through his injury last week, I expect him to be good to go, but things could change. If some of those pass-catchers cannot go, it heightens the prospect of a proper duel between Rodgers and Brady, where each has to find ways to push the ball down the field with guys they’ve hardly played with while receiving no favors from the defense.
Sunday’s rematch of the 2020 NFC Championship game – and potential preview for one this year, if book odds have anything to say about it – has a game total set at 41.5, the second-lowest of the 16 games this week. It will be a physical, defensive game, atypical of the Rodgers-Brady battles we’ve seen before. It’s also an opportunity for one team to reassert their position as THE serious contender in the NFC, something the Packers, in particular, have found themselves needing to prove once again.