WHERE: Raymond James Stadium in Tampa, Fla. WHERE THE PACKERS STAND: The Packers are 2-1 and in first place in the NFC North division.
PACKERS HEAD COACH: Mike McCarthy
PACKERS OFFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Joe Philbin PACKERS DEFENSIVE COORDINATOR: Bob Sanders
PACKERS SPECIAL TEAMS COACH: Mike Stock
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 7th (372 ypg) RUSHING: 14th (119 ypg) PASSING: 6th (253 ypg)
TAMPA BAY BUCCANEERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 26th (359 ypg) RUSHING: 19th (121 ypg) PASSING: 27th (238 ypg)
GREEN BAY PACKERS OFFENSE OVERALL: 8th (366 ypg) RUSHING: 15th (115 ypg) PASSING: 17th (251 ypg)
GREEN BAY PACKERS DEFENSE OVERALL: 27th (373 ypg) RUSHING: 26th (151 ypg) PASSING: 22nd (222 ypg) DID YOU KNOW … … Green Bay is ranked tied for second in the NFL with a plus-4 turnover ratio?
SCOUTING THE PACKERS
Quarterbacks The Green Bay Packers entered the 2008 season with a new starting quarterback for the first time since 1994. Aaron Rodgers, a 2005 first-round draft pick, has replaced legend Brett Favre as Green Bay's starting signal caller. Favre was traded to the New York Jets shortly after coming out of retirement in August.
Rodgers has performed well thus far, completing 64-of-99 (64.6 percent) of his passes for 796 yards and tossing four touchdowns through three games. Just as important is the fact that Rodgers has avoided turnovers. He has yet to throw an interception this season. Not only do the Buccaneers need to concern themselves with Rodgers' arm, the defense must also account of his ability to run the football. Rodgers has rushed 17 times for 70 yards and scored two touchdowns via the ground game.
Running Backs Green Bay has a solid running game led by second-year RB Ryan Grant, who pumped much-needed life into the Packers' dead ground game with 10 games to go in 2007. He rushed for nearly 1,000 yards and averaged 5.1 yards per carry during that stretch of contests. Grant is off to another good start. He's averaged 4.2 yards per attempt and rushed for 166 yards.
Grant, who has a slashing running style, is not much of a factor in the passing game. However, Brandon Jackson, a change-of-pace back, is. He has hauled in five passes for 36 yards. He has also carried the ball 17 times for 93 yards (5.5 avg.) and one touchdown. Fullback Korey Hall serves as the lead blocker for both Grant and Jackson.
Grant and Jackson are two of the main reasons why Green Bay has been able to convert 42.5 percent of its third down attempts this season. Tampa Bay is allowing its opponents to convert just 34 percent of its third down attempts and rush for 121 yards per contest.
Receivers Rodgers' primary target in the passing game is WR Greg Jennings, who has hauled in 19 passes for 373 yards. Jennings will be a handful for Bucs cornerback Ronde Barber, especially in the deep passing game, evidenced by his 19.6 avg. per reception. While he doesn't have a touchdown yet in 2008, Jennings has 15 career touchdowns. Barber is looking to rebound from a shaky outing last week where he was involved in several of Bears WR Brandon Lloyd's six receptions for 120 yards and one touchdown.
It will be critical for Tampa Bay's defensive front seven to contain Grant and Green Bay's running game so defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin can leave safeties Tanard Jackson and Jermaine Phillips back in coverage to help Barber vs. Jennings.
Tampa Bay is hoping to have rookie CB Aqib Talib back from a hamstring injury this week. Should he be healthy enough to play, Talib likely would be charged with covering Jennings in nickel situations while Barber moves into the slot to cover Packers rookie WR Jordy Nelson, who has a nice combination of size and speed. Nelson has caught five passes for 71 yards and one touchdown. Barber has been a nightmare for opposing quarterbacks from the slot in terms of blitzing.
Bucs CB Phillip Buchanon will spend most of the game matched up against WR Donald Driver, who has 15 receptions for 166 yards and one score. Although he is averaging just 11.1 yards per reception, Driver has averaged over 13 yards per catch throughout his career. He's also scored 39 touchdowns, so Buchanon will have to cover Driver in the short-to-intermediate part of the field as well as the deep part of the field.
Phillips, Jackson and Tampa Bay's linebackers, particularly Cato June, will have to contain tight end Donald Lee, who has hauled in 10 passes for 78 yards.
Offensive Line This unit, which operates out of a zone-blocking scheme, is considered strength of the offense. However, the offensive line isn't perfect and does have some consistency issues. The Packers have allowed six sacks through three games and have also been penalized 28 times, which averages out to nine penalties per game.
Packers left tackle Chad Clifton and right tackle Mark Tauscher were two of the main reasons why Green Bay allowed just 19 sacks one year ago. They are fairly reliable against speed rushers like the ones they will face on Sunday in defensive ends Gaines Adams and Greg White, who have combined for 5.5 sacks through three games. Bucs veteran DE Kevin Carter played extremely well vs. Chicago last week and has 1.5 sacks.
The interior of Green Bay's offensive line is young and made up of left guard Daryn Colledge, center Jason Spitz and right guard Tony Moll. They each are in their third season in the NFL. Colledge and Spitz likely will spend a significant amount of time double teaming nose tackle Chris Hovan and Jimmy Wilkerson, who was very disruptive in the trenches vs. Chicago. Bucs under tackle Jovan Haye still is looking for his first sack and will be matched up with Moll. Tampa Bay also will use Wilkerson in his place in an effort to keep Haye fresh.
Defensive Line The interior part of Green Bay's defensive line is massive. Defensive tackles Ryan Pickett and Johnny Jolly, a 2007 first-round pick, weigh 330 and 320 pounds, respectively. While both are considered good run stuffers, neither player is a pass-rushing force. They have combined for eight career sacks. Pickett will go up against Bucs rookie guard Jeremy Zuttah, who likely will have a difficult time moving the big defensive lineman off the ball to open running lanes for Earnest Graham, who is averaging 6.0 yards per carry, and Warrick Dunn, the team's change-of-pace back. Bucs center Jeff Faine and left guard Arron Sears likely will double team Jolly on Sunday.
The Packers rely on defensive ends Aaron Kampman and Cullen Jenkins for their pass rush. Kampman, a two-time Pro Bowler, leads the Packers in sacks with four through three games. He has 45 career sacks and will be go up against Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood, who was part of an offensive line that did not allow a sack vs. Chicago despite having quarterback Brian Griese throw the ball 67 times last Sunday.
Jenkins has 2.5 sacks this season and will rush against Bucs left tackle Donald Penn, who has been better in pass protection than he has in the running game. With the Florida heat and humidity likely to be in full swing on Sunday, look for the Packers to work DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila into the rotation. He is a dangerous speed rusher, evidenced by his 74.5 career sacks.
The Packers are allowing opposing offenses to convert just 38.1 percent of their third downs. Tampa Bay's offense must sustain drives in order to wear down Green Bay's defense and score points in this contest.
Linebackers This unit is led by middle linebacker Nick Barnett, who notched a career-high 131 tackles last season. However, Barnett is known to miss tackles, which will be huge if Graham and Dunn can get past Green Bay's front four and to the second level.
Look for Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to attack Packers strongside linebacker Brady Poppinga through the air. While Poppinga is strong vs. the run, he tends to struggle vs. the passing game, which means Griese likely will look for tight ends Jerramy Stevens, Alex Smith and John Gilmore early and often. In addition, Graham and Dunn could be used in the passing game in order to create mismatches with Poppinga.
Weakside linebacker A.J. Hawk leads the Packers defense in tackles this season. Green Bay will also use Hawk as a blitzer, evidenced by his two sacks. The Bucs could use Dunn to help account for Hawk in blitzing situations.
Secondary Green Bay has one of the most talented defensive backfields in the NFL, but it could be missing two starters in strong safety Atari Bigby and cornerback Al Harris, who is believed to have suffered a ruptured spleen vs. Dallas last week. If that's the case, Harris, who has 19 career interceptions, will be out of the year.
Should Harris not play vs. Tampa Bay, which appears to be a likely scenario, either Will Blockmon or Tramon Williams would replace him in the starting lineup.
Harris' absence would even the playing field as the Bucs likely will be without speedy veteran WR Joey Galloway (foot) for the second straight game. Antonio Bryant probably will start in Galloway's place at the X (split-end) spot. Bryant has 13 receptions for 181 yards (13.9 avg.) and will be covered by Packers veteran CB Charles Woodson, who has notched two of his 31 career interceptions this year.
Harris' replacement will likely spend most of the game covering Bucs WR Michael Clayton, who does not have Bryant's speed, but is a very physical player, or possession receiver Ike Hilliard. The Packers would ideally like to stuff the Bucs' running attack with its front seven in order to leave the safeties back in coverage. Should Bigby not be able to play, Aaron Rouse, who has been an inconsistent player, would start at strong safety in his place.
Griese tossed three interceptions last week, and he'll need to be careful throwing the football, especially in the area covered by Packers free safety Nick Collins, who has two interceptions and a touchdown this season.
Special Teams Packers kicker Mason Crosby has made 85.7 percent of his field goal attempts this year. His only miss came from 30-39 yards out. Punter Derrick Frost has one of the strongest legs in the league. He's averaging 47.4 yards per punt, but only one of his 20 attempts has been pinned inside the 20.
Crosby and Frost could be kicking to Bucs rookie return specialist Dexter Jackson, but he's been anything but special through the first three games of the year. Jackson is averaging just 3.0 yards per punt return and 23 yards per kickoff return. The Bucs could toy with the idea of benching him this week in place of Ike Hilliard and Michael Clayton, or possibly even Michael Bennett, but the team is trying to avoid that since it has a second-round draft pick invested in him.
Green Bay's kickoff return game hasn't been much better behind Will Blackmon, who is averaging just 20.6 yards per return. However, Blackmon has been excellent on punt returns, averaging 13.4 yards per attempt and scoring one touchdown this season. Bucs punter Josh Bidwell will have to be careful in terms of where he places the ball when punting to Blackmon. FLYNN'S FORECAST: Buccaneers 20 Packers 17