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OPPONENT: Green Bay Packers

WHERE: Lambeau Field

WHERE THE PACKERS STAND: The Packers are 0-2 and are tied for last place in the NFC North division.





OVERALL: 15th (331.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 2nd (168.5 ypg)
PASSING: 25th (163.0 ypg)

OVERALL: 1st (197.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 1st (40.0 ypg)
PASSING: 4th (157.5 ypg)

OVERALL: 11th (334.0 ypg)
RUSHING: 24th (81.0 ypg)
PASSING: 7th (T) (253 ypg)

OVERALL: 22nd (322.5 ypg)
RUSHING: 7th (78.5 ypg)
PASSING: 23rd (244.1 ypg)

…Green Bay has won two of its last meetings vs. Tampa Bay?


Green Bay’s back is against the wall heading into its contest against Tampa Bay. But if the 0-2 Packers are going to turn things around vs. the 2-0 Bucs, QB Brett Favre will have to play better than he has over the first two games of the season.

Through two games, Favre has completed 59-of-88 (67 percent) of his passes for 543 yards and tossed three touchdowns and four interceptions.

Tampa Bay’s defense currently ranks No.1 overall in the NFL and has yet to surrender a touchdown this season. The key for the Bucs defense will be sustaining a pass rush, which will rattle Favre and create turnover opportunities.

Most teams dread playing Favre, who is a future Hall of Famer, but Tampa Bay’s defense thrives off of it. Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin’s troops have a knack for reading Favre. In fact, the Bucs have intercepted him 12 times over their past six games vs. the Packers.

Favre has thrown more interceptions than touchdowns, and the Packers have a minus-5 turnover ratio this season. With his team’s season on the line, Favre could press to make plays Sunday, which should put the Bucs, who have a plus-5 turnover ratio, in a position to create turnovers. That would go a long way for the Bucs, who are attempting to beat the Packers in Wisconsin for the first time since 1989 (0-13).

Running Backs
One of the reasons why Green Bay’s potentially potent offense has struggled this season is because its running game has stalled. It currently ranks 24th in the league and is averaging just 81 yards per content.

Packers RB Ahman Green has rushed 28 times for 112 yards (4.0 avg.), but he’s only carrying the ball an average of 14 times per game and has yet to find the end zone. That’s not enough production from the running game for Favre, who becomes very dangerous when the Packers get the ground game going.

Green Bay will sprinkle in Najeh Davenport, who has rushed 11 times for 36 yards (3.6 avg.). Davenport is more of a power runner, whereas Green, who has caught 10 passes for 79 yards, is a complete player. Green has, however, had a tough time holding onto the football throughout his career. He’s already fumbled once this season.

Tampa Bay’s run defense, which ranked 19th last season, currently ranks No. 1 in that category thanks to the play of defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Chris Hovan and linebackers Derrick Brooks, Shelton Quarles and Ryan Nece.

The Bucs’ No. 1 priority on Sunday will be to take away the Packers’ running game, which will make Favre and Green Bay’s version of the West Coast offense one dimensional. That will allow Tampa Bay’s defensive line to tee off on Favre, which will likely lead to some much-needed sacks and turnovers.

Wide Receivers
Green Bay’s offense lost one of its most dangerous weapons when Pro Bowl WR Javon Walker tore his ACL in his team’s opening-day loss to the Detroit Lions. That was a huge blow to the Packers offense, which hasn’t found a rhythm through two games this season.

Favre has found a new go-to receiver in Donald Driver, who has caught a team-leading 10 passes for 153 yards (15.3 avg.) and one touchdown in 2005,. But he’s been the only consistent playmaker on offense. Bucs cornerback Brian Kelly, who has notched two interceptions this season, will cover Driver in this contest. If Tampa Bay can contain Green in the running game, it will allow Kelly to receive some help in the secondary from safety Jermaine Phillips. Both Kelly and Phillips have to beat careful not to allow Driver to beat them deep.

There’s a significant drop off in talent after Driver. Packers WR Robert Ferguson has caught five passes for 51 yards and one touchdown, but he’ll be matched up with Ronde Barber, who is one of the NFL’s best cover corners.

With the status of tight end Bubba Franks, who had caught seven passes for 42 yards before suffering a knee bruise last Sunday, up in the air for the Bucs-Packers game, Green Bay may feature more three-receiver sets.

That means Green Bay WR Antonio Chatman, who has caught five passes for 82 yards, will go up against Tampa Bay nickel CB Juran Bolden, who has done a nice job of solidifying this position thus far.

If Franks doesn’t play, Green Bay’s passing and running games will suffer. Packers backup TE David Martin will start at tight end if Franks cannot play vs. the Bucs.

Offensive Line
The root of Green Bay’s offensive woes can be linked directly to its revamped offensive line, which lost guards Marco Rivera and Mike Wahle to free agency during the offseason.

The Packers are converting 50 percent of their third down attempts and have the seventh-ranked passing attack in the NFL, but untimely penalties, sacks and turnovers have stalled some promising drives.

The matchup to watch in the trenches will be Packers right guard Will Whitaker vs. Bucs under tackle Anthony McFarland. Whitaker is a rookie and entered the NFL as a seventh-round draft pick last April. McFarland, a seventh-year veteran, is off to a great start and should be able to win this battle more often than not.

Tampa Bay has other favorable matchups along the line, including nose tackle Chris Hovan vs. Packers LG Adrian Klemm, Hovan may, however, see some double teams from Klemm and Packers center Mike Flanagan, but that will only help free up McFarland.

Green Bay tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher anchor the left and ride sides of the Packers offensive line, respectively. They are both solid and will make it difficult for Tampa Bay defensive ends Simeon Rice and Greg Spires to penetrate the line, especially on passing downs.

Favre was sacked just 12 times in 2004, but he’s already been brought down five times through two games this season. Getting pressure on Favre and sacking him will be key for Tampa Bay’s defense.

Defensive Line
Green Bay’s defensive line has played a huge role in only allowing opponents to rush for an average of 78.5 yards per game through two contests.

Packers defensive tackles Grady Jackson and Cullen Jenkins will be a handful for Bucs guard Sean Mahan and rookie Dan Buenning. While Buenning should be able to hold up against Jenkins, who has moved over from defensive end but has played well vs. the run, Mahan will be hard pressed to hold off the 340-pound Jackson.

That may prompt Bucs head coach Jon Gruden to call more running plays for rookie RB Cadillac Williams, who leads the NFL in rushing yards (276 yards, 5.4 avg., 2 TDs), to the left side. That won’t be easy, though. Packers DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila anchors the right side of Green Bay’s defensive line, but he’s a better pass rusher than a run defender.

Plus, Bucs left tackle Anthony Davis, who weighs nearly 340 pounds, is almost 100 pounds heavier than Gbaja-Biamila, which should bode well for Tampa Bay’s ground attack.

The Bucs may choose to come out passing against the Packers, whose defense ranks 22nd (322.5 ypg) overall and 23rd (244.1 ypg) against the pass.

Gbaja-Biamila, who has 51 career sacks, will need to apply pressure on Bucs QB Brian Griese often, but Davis will attempt to stand in his way. The Packers have struggled to get after the quarterback this season. They’ve recorded just two sacks.

Packers LE Aaron Kampman was the team’s most consistent defensive lineman in 2004 and has already notched a sack this season. He’ll go up against Bucs RT Kenyatta Walker, who is quietly off to a solid start.

Green Bay’s linebackers have also had a lot to do with the team’s ability to halt opposing teams’ ground games. Middle LB Nick Barnett has the speed to suit new defensive coordinator Jim Bates’ scheme. Barnett currently leads the Packers in tackles.

Outside linebackers Na’il Diggs and Roy Manning aren’t consistent and leave the second line of Green Bay’s defense vulnerable, especially in the passing game, where Gruden will likely try to exploit this weakness by having Griese throw to tight ends Alex Smith and Anthony Becht in the flats and down the seams.

You haven’t heard much from Tampa Bay wide receivers Michael Clayton and Joey Galloway because of the emergence of rookie RB Cadillac Williams, but that might change Sunday in Green Bay.

Green Bay’s secondary has holes all over it, and it starts with second-year CB Joey Thomas, who is starting in front of Ahmad Carroll. Thomas will be charged with the difficult task of covering Clayton, who has hauled in a team-high 10 passes for 141 yards in two games. Clayton, who is a physical receiver, will face bump and run coverage from the Packers, but he should still find himself open more often than not on Sunday.

Galloway, who is Tampa Bay’s speed threat, will have a tougher time getting off the line of scrimmage. He’ll face Green Bay’s best defensive back, CB Al Harris, who prides himself on playing physical near the line of scrimmage.

Green Bay’s safeties are inexperienced and vulnerable in the passing game. Rookie Nick Collins has replaced Darren Sharper, who is now in Minnesota, as the team’s starting free safety. Strong safety Mark Roman is in his sixth year, but he’s coming off a disappointing season with the Packers. Neither player has played well against the run or the pass.

With Williams nursing an injured foot, look for the Bucs to come out passing against the Packers, who have yet to record their first interception of the season. If Bucs offensive line can give him time in the pocket, Griese should have a lot of success throwing the ball vs. the Packers.

Special Teams
Tampa Bay’s punt and kickoff coverage units have been solid for the most part, but they need to eliminate penalties. This unit committed seven penalties last Sunday, and the Bucs cannot afford to give Favre and Co. better field position on Sunday.

Packers kicker Ryan Longwell is an 82.5 percent career kicker, and he’s made both of his attempts this season. Punter B.J. Sander hasn’t displayed the strongest leg this season. He’s averaging just 39 yards per attempt, which could be good news for Bucs KR/PR Mark Jones, who has 12.8 yards per punt return this season.

Green Bay rotates its kickoff returners. Davenport has returned four kickoffs for 71 yards (17.8 avg.). Ferguson has averaged 22 yards per attempt. Tampa Bay’s cover units shouldn’t have any problems containing this group.

FLYNN’S FORECAST: Buccaneers 24 Packers 16

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