The Green Bay Packers have posted a 4-3 record this season, but their team is much better than that record would suggest.
The Packers, led by head coach Mike McCarthy, have one of the most balanced teams in the NFL. Green Bay's offense and defense currently rank ninth and fourth overall, respectively.
Green Bay's defense is allowing just 283 yards per game and features a 3-4 defense implemented by defensive coordinator Don Capers.
The Bucs have faced 3-4 defenses a few times this year (Dallas and New England), but the Packers have a few different wrinkles.
"They'll play their regular 3-4 just like every other team we've faced, but each team plays a variation of their own 3-4 scheme," said Bucs right tackle Jeremy Trueblood. "Green Bay's is a little different. You can have your base rules with 3-4 defenses, but there's usually something that breaks those rules with each 3-4 scheme you face, and the Packers are no different in that regard."
It's not just the defensive scheme that works for the Packers. Green Bay's defense is littered with talent. Three of the Packers' four linebackers are former first-round picks, and the team has shutdown, Pro Bowl-caliber cornerbacks in Charles Woodson and Al Harris, who have combined for six interceptions this season.
"They're talented across the board," said Trueblood. "D-line is humongous, and their linebackers are big and fast. They fly to the ball. They have a good scheme. They lead the league in turnover ratio, so they're doing what they're supposed to be doing."
Although the Packers only have 12 sacks through seven games, their three defensive linemen are getting after the quarterback, which the Bucs desperately want to avoid with rookie quarterback Josh Freeman making the first start of his professional career.
"You don't have to get sacks to be productive as a defensive line," said Trueblood. "They do a good job of pressure the quarterback. Maybe that's not showing up on the stat sheets, but either way they're forcing bad throws and creating turnovers."
Green Bay is 29-20-1 all-time vs. Tampa Bay from the days of these two teams playing twice a year in the old NFC Central division. However, the Bucs have won six of the last nine meetings with the Packers, including a 30-21 victory at Ray-Jay last year.
The Battle of the Bays rivalry featured quarterback Brett Favre for many years, but he has moved on from Green Bay, playing for the New York Jets in 2008 and with the Minnesota Vikings this season.
Former first-round pick Aaron Rodgers is Favre's successor. He's completed 65.3 percent of his passes for 1,989 yards and tossed 14 touchdowns and just two interceptions, helping the Packers produce a NFL-best plus-12 turnover ratio. His play reminds some of Favre. That includes Bucs defensive tackle Chris Hovan, who faced Favre twice a season as a member of the Minnesota Vikings.
"Green Bay's starting to do some great things right now," said Hovan. "Aaron Rodgers looks like a young Brett Favre back in his day. They've got weapons – [wide receivers] Donald Driver and Greg Jennings – they've got an offensive line that blocks well within the group, so they have a pretty good offense."
Driver and Jennings are two of the main reasons why Rodgers has been so successful since taking over as Green Bay's starting signal caller in 2008. This season, Driver and Jennings have combined for 63 receptions and five touchdowns.
Tampa Bay's defense, which ranks 28th in the NFL, has allowed several big plays in the passing game and knows it must account for Driver and Jennings on Sunday.
"Consistency is critical week in and week out, but it's even more important this week when we're playing a high-powered offense," said Bucs safety Tanard Jackson. "They have a great quarterback and great group of receivers. The backend especially has to be great this week."
In addition, the Packers have one of the better running backs in the NFL in Ryan Grant, who is averaging 4.1 yards per carry and on pace to rush for more than 1,000 yards this season.
"They have quality receivers and quality tight ends, a tremendous running back and a guy that throws the ball as good as anyone," said Bucs defensive coordinator Jim Bates.
While the Packers are considered a balanced team, they do have a weakness. Green Bay's offense line has been without two starters, including left tackle Chad Clifton, for most of the season. That has led to Rodgers being sacked 31 times through seven games.
Although Green Bay's starting offensive line could be intact when the Packers take the field at Raymond James Stadium Sunday, Tampa Bay's defense, which has notched just 11 sacks this season, knows it must get after Rodgers in order to have a chance of notching their first win of the season against the balanced Packers.
"He's been sacked a lot, and I'm sure they're aware of that," said Bates. "Minnesota has done it to him 14 times in two games. The Vikings have some special athletes. Hopefully we can get some rush and pressure on Aaron because it will be as important as anything we do in the game Sunday."