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In the Bucs’ first match-up against the Packers in Week 6, they were able to get after Aaron Rodgers and force the veteran quarterback – and in turn the Packers’ offense as a whole – into their worst performance of the season, but can Tampa Bay repeat that nearly flawless performance with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line?

Probably not, but in this championship game the Bucs’ defense doesn’t need to be perfect, they just need to be championship caliber.

In what was likely an MVP season from Rodgers, the Packers’ 10 points against Tampa Bay was by far their lowest mark of the season, their net 107 passing yards was their second-lowest mark of the season, their 94 rushing yards was their fifth-lowest mark of the season, and their 201 total offensive yards was 90 yards short of their next lowest mark in 2020.

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul and ILB Lavonte David

Bucs OLB Jason Pierre-Paul and ILB Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

But how did the Bucs get there?

Through Green Bay’s first two drives, producing a quick 10 points and a double-digit lead, it seemed as though the Packers would be well on their way to another Sunday of offensive dominance as they had produced a league-leading 38 points and 445.5 total yards of offense per game over their first four contests of the season.

What followed from the Bucs’ defense was nothing short of a master class.

With Green Bay boasting a 10-0 lead heading into the second quarter, cornerback Jamel Dean undercut a pass intended for Davante Adams on a shallow out route and took it back for a pick-six on the Packers third drive of the game. Safety Mike Edwards followed up Dean’s highlight with an interception of his own three plays later, off a pass breakup from Carlton Davis working in man coverage against Adams. The back-to-back drives ended by interceptions were not only Rodgers’ first two interceptions of the season, but they were the Packers’ first two turnovers conceded as a team at that point in the year.

Green Bay would fail to put another point on the board, being outscored 38-0 after the first quarter. With Tom Brady the Bucs’ offense flourished following a slow start. On the other hand Rodgers – and for one brief drive late in the game, backup Tim Boyle – saw a season-high 21 blitzes come from the Tampa Bay defense and Green Bay’s quarterbacks became the victim of five sacks, 13 quarterback hits and 21 pressures.

Now that performance from Tampa Bay was outstanding, but at best it’s a dream to think that the Bucs could repeat that showing and force Rodgers into the same level of play. A successful day from the Bucs’ defense on Sunday will still rely on pressure, as Rodgers has thrown 42 touchdowns with a 129.3 QBR when kept clean this season, per Pro Football Focus, but it will predictably be a much tougher road to get there than it was in Week 6. To make the task even worse, Rodgers has also been among the best quarterbacks against the blitz this season en route to an MVP-caliber campaign, amassing a 111.7 passer rating against the blitz in 2020 which also would have assuredly been even better if not for his awful showing against the Bucs.

PFF adds that through 10 weeks the Bucs’ defense had a pressure rate of 40 percent through 10 weeks, a number that has dropped to 32 percent since then, taking Tampa Bay’s mark from third-best in the league at that point to 14th. On the other side of the coin, Rodgers has faced the second-lowest pressure rate (21 percent) since Week 6 with one of the best offensive lines in the NFL in front of him.

But going along with the noted decline of Tampa Bay’s pass rush throughout the second half of the season, it’s important to point out that the Bucs will see the return of their star defensive tackle Vita Vea on Sunday, a crucial addition to the unit. At the time of Vea’s injury in Week 5, he joined the Rams’ Aaron Donald as the only two interior defensive linemen with a pass-rush win rate of 20 percent or higher on 100+ pass-rushing snaps and that could prove to be a game-changing factor as the Bucs’ defensive line faces one of their tougher tests of the season.

Bucs ILBs Devin White and Lavonte David

Bucs ILBs Devin White and Lavonte David – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

Defensive coordinator Todd Bowles will have to throw everything he’s got at Green Bay to create pressure, with disguised rushers from different directions, interior blitzes from linebacker Devin White to get Rodgers off of his spot and finding ways to take advantage of David Bahktiari’s absence on the left side of the Packers’ offensive line. After that, head coach Matt LaFleur’s ability to expertly scheme a quarterback-friendly offense in tandem with an elite quarterback in Rodgers will shift even more of the pressure in slowing down Green Bay to Tampa Bay’s secondary.

We can assume that Tampa Bay will stop the run, despite Green Bay’s pair of talented running backs in Aaron Jones and Jamaal Williams, as the Bucs have notched a second consecutive season as the league’s best run-stopping unit. But the Bucs have also struggled at times at the second level, allowing the most yards per target to running backs in 2020 (4.2) and taking a significant step backwards throughout the year in pass coverage.

Per Sportsnaut, these are the Bucs’ defensive splits throughout the first and second half of 2020:

  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive stats (Week 1-8): 229.1 pass yards/game, 66.1% completion rate, 83.2 quarterback rating, 28 sacks, 11/11 TD/INT ratio, 70.4 rush yards/game, 3.2 yards per carry.
  • Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive stats (Week 9-16): 264.9 pass yards/game, 72.6% completion rate, 105.3 quarterback rating, 19 sacks, 16/4 TD/INT ratio, 85.6 rush yards/game, 3.9 yards per carry.

In Week 6 the Bucs’ were largely able to keep Adams in check, limiting him to six receptions on 10 targets for 61 yards while also coming up with two interceptions including the aforementioned pick-six on passes thrown in his direction. The secondary’s performance was spearheaded by spectacular games from Davis and Dean, combining for four receptions and 45 receiving yards allowed on 13 targets in coverage, adding two interceptions and four pass breakups.

But much like the Bucs’ performance as a whole from that game, it’s tough to trap lightning in a bottle and it’s nearly impossible to do it twice. Adams has dipped below that 61-yard mark on just three occasions since Week 6 while racking up over 115 yards four times since then. Davis is expected to be matched up with Adams on Sunday, as he was in coverage on five of the All-Pro wide receiver’s 10 targets in Week 6, but where Davis has flourished in press coverage, Adams’ 3.59 yards per route run against press coverage in 2020 landed as the second-best mark since PFF began tracking the stat in 2012. Davis will be one of the Bucs’ key players on defense this game and his self-described “graveyard” in coverage will once again be crucial as we shift into my next point.

Bucs CB Jamel Dean

Bucs CB Jamel Dean – Photo by: Cliff Welch/PR

After Adams, the duo of Dean and Sean Murphy-Bunting will largely need to keep the Packers’ secondary receivers in Allen Lazard and Marquez Valdes-Scantling from beating them over the top. Adams will do his damage, but he isn’t someone that you necessarily need to expend defensive resources to keep under wraps vertically. This is where Winfield will come in, or Edwards should Winfield’s ankle injury hold him out. I predict a heavy dose of Cover 1 looks from Tampa Bay’s defense on Sunday, allowing the Bucs to take away the ground game and send pressure from multiple directions with Jordan Whitehead closer to the line of scrimmage. The Bucs’ deep safety will have to be cognizant of those downfield threats to allow Dean and Murphy-Bunting to play aggressive in their coverage and not succumb to a home run ball from Rodgers.

And then we get to the insanely talented linebacker duo of White and Lavonte David. Tight end Robert Tonyan has broken out this season, particularly in the red zone for Green Bay, and that should be David’s responsibility of the day. Tonyan hauled in 11 touchdowns on the year and LaFleur has masterfully found ways for him to get lost on the field with misdirection. David is your veteran and your anchor on the defense. While White has the speed and blitzing ability to create pressure and handle the Packers’ backs in coverage, if he can play the controlled and technically sound football that he did against the Saints, David must lock down Tonyan and the middle of the field.

So while the Bucs’ secondary has also become a more vulnerable unit since the Bucs and Packers first squared off, they’re fresh off of a stellar win against the Saints in which Tampa Bay created four turnovers, held All-Pro Michael Thomas without a catch and forced Drew Brees into one of the worst performances of his playoff career.

All-in-all the Bucs’ don’t need to be perfect like they were in Week 6 to beat the Packers, and they realistically can’t be expected to be, but they may have to win in a different fashion. It will take communication and focus to stay sound against LaFleur’s great offense, pressure at key times to keep Rodgers in check and a number of valiant individual performances working as one to get to the Super Bowl. This is a championship game, something that many of the Bucs’ stars haven’t experienced yet, but they won’t need a “perfect” performance to get a championship result.

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About the Author: Taylor Jenkins

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7 months ago

This is a championship game but the Bucs have championship seasoned players to help guide them through it. The Bucs pass coverage suffers mightily when it goes into zone coverage, which they did a lot more of in the second half of the season for some strange reason, possibly because the loss of Vea was causing less pressure on the QB. What they really struggle with for some strange reason is Cover 3 and despite the fact White’s pass coverage has improved, he still has lapses where he loses the RB in coverage. The media is all gaga about how… Read more »

Reply to  drdneast
7 months ago

That was exactly the case against the Rams. I was rooting for the Bears for the reason of matching up with them. Donald being hurt, Goff coming fresh off of surgery and Kupp being out was taking the head off of both sides of the ball for them. The Rams Defense relies on Donald as much as ours used to rely on Sapp. And when your WB is hurt and doesn’t have his favorite target, it’s just bad on both sides of the ball. I hope the Packers themselves are riding high on what they did and we punch them… Read more »

Reply to  Spitfire
7 months ago

Also, if Vea is even at 90%, I think we will see why we struggled at times after he left. His push up the middle is a game changer like Donald’s is for the Rams. JPP and White will show up on the start sheet a lot more of he is pushing up the middle. I really hope he’s ready to go.

7 months ago

Pressure, pressure, and more pressure! We need our big boys to show up on the stat sheet. Shaq and JPP have to get to the QB! Steady and constant pressure will make Rodgers uncomfortable and press him into turnovers! David and White sideline to sideline all day! If front four can get steady pressure then u blitz White or Winfield…if he plays…This will make the defensive backfield’s job a little easier indeed. A lot of press and a lot of pressure!

Captain Sly
7 months ago

Kinda hard to read when you consider the Bucs defense completely shut down there offense…I say duplicate the game plan and force them to counter, Why fix something that is not broken. This time of year you go with what got you here, let’s not out smart ourselves. Cheers!

Reply to  Captain Sly
7 months ago

More than likely the Packers will have game planed for the way the Bucs played them the last time. That’s why you have to change some things up. Just having Vea in there will do that to some degree. I’m not saying you can’t use some of the same things that you had success with last time, you just have to add wroinkles and disguise it. But you can’t go to the well too many times, teams are smart and figure things out quick these days.

7 months ago

Seeing how Bowles willingly adjusted his approach with the Aint’s last week, I’d like to think that he is taking what happened in Week 6 and adjusting it as needed to adjust to how the Packers have adjusted. I’d would absolutely Love to hear an honest answer from Bowles on why he changed his calls the last half of the season to more soft zone because there may be a great explanation on injuries and certain players in games that led to his decisions, but it at least seems that he was willing to adjust last week and it really… Read more »

7 months ago

It starts where it always starts, stopping the run. Forget about G.B.’s passing game, their running game has been clicking. That makes their play action work where Rodgers has thrown 22 T.D.’s, with no picks. Stop the run, that hurts the play action. If Rodgers has to throw the ball 40 plus times, we win.

Reply to  surferdudes
7 months ago

Exactly. The Packers were 2-2 against teams with winning records in the regular season and won the last game by stopping Derrick Henry in the snow and making the Titans rely on Ryan Tennehill, who isn’t even in the same QB class as a Brad Johnson. They pushed their stats because they played in the notoriously weak central Division. Now that’s not the say they aren’t a very good team, but they are hardly the offensive dreadnaught some in the national media are making them out to be. I doubt if BA is letting his team get overconfident and all… Read more »

7 months ago

If we beat them again (I think Bucs do) and by decent margin then I have to say Bowls did stellar job last couple games especially. Go Bucs!

Last edited 7 months ago by fredster
7 months ago

If vita vea can play like he did before he was hurt or even close that could get us to the Super Bowl. If we get through this game healthy and get Antonio brown back and vita vea shakes the rust off and plays in the Super Bowl we could win it all. Go Bucs!

7 months ago

This game will come down to the run game on both sides. Our defense has shown all year that they can shut down the run, while there’s really hasn’t. We have Rojo and “Playoff Lenny” both playing at a high level which will control the clock and open up play-action. Back in week 6 our offense was starting slow and not putting up nearly the numbers they have recently. We were without Vea who plays a HUGE role in pushing the pocket and stopping the run. Add in the fact that GB’s star LT is out, and I think we’ll… Read more »

7 months ago

We all know the “If it ain’t broke, don’t fix it” proverb. Whatever Todd Bowles cooked up in that Week 6 game sure wasn’t working in the first quarter when the Packers moved the ball at will. I’m not smart enough or observant enough to know if there was some mystical scheme change after that opening period or if the Bucs simply executed it better. All I know is that Aaron Rodgers was totally befuddled and he started to look like Cam Newton when things don’t go as planned. Especially with the towel over his head. In any event, it’s… Read more »

7 months ago

I have preached about the keys to the Bucs success, even before Brady. I remain steadfast. The Bucs need to focus on being better balanced. They needed to run the ball and play great defense. Special teams gaffes can hurt, especially when the FG kicker costs you points, but if you have the other fundamentals, that should be enough. I actually think the Bucs have an advantage in this area. That said… Today, the Bucs will face a team in the cold. Warm weather WRs and RBs tend to drop catches and fumble in those conditions. Look at highly reliable… Read more »

Reply to  BigSombrero
7 months ago

I am fine with the Bucs running the ball or passing the ball to win. Last week and most of the year, the Buc’s have played against 7 man boxes. In fact, last week, it was not only just 7 in the box but 3 deep safeties 15 yards down field most of the game for the Aint’s. If the Pack, play the same way, then run, run.. Run! However, the Pack’s good corner is Jaire Alexander. He lines up at left corner almost all game. King is ok as a corner, and the rest are even worse. If King… Read more »

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