Packers must be better prepared for Buccaneers’ blitz-heavy approach in NFC Championship Game

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Dan Wussow
·6 min read
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In Week 6, the Green Bay Packers suffered their first and biggest loss of the 2020 NFL season at the hands of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

In the NFC Championship Game this Sunday, they’ll get their long-awaited rematch and shot at redemption with a trip to the Super Bowl on the line.

The 38-10 final score from Raymond James Stadium over three months ago probably isn’t representative of what we’re going to see Sunday at Lambeau Field, but one thing’s for certain: the Packers will need to be much better in key areas to defeat the Buccaneers in their second attempt this season.

In the first meeting between these two teams, the Packers’ offense was putrid, to say the least. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers finished the game completing 16-of-35 passes for 160 yards, 4.6 yards per attempt, zero touchdowns, two interceptions and a 35.4 passer rating – by far his worst statistical output of the season.

Rodgers was also taken down four times by the Buccaneers’ defense – his second-highest total of the season – and he was throwing under pressure pretty consistently, especially after left tackle David Bakhtiari exited the game with a chest injury early in the third quarter. Running back Jamaal Williams was Green Bay’s leading rusher in the contest with four carries for 34 yards, while running back Aaron Jones was limited to 15 yards on 10 carries.

The Packers offense had its hands full thanks to the creative and aggressive play-calling of Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. According to ESPN Stats and Info, Rodgers was blitzed on 40.5 percent of his dropbacks in Week 6.

Although he didn’t appear to get rattled, the Packers quarterback uncharacteristically threw two interceptions – one of which was returned for a touchdown and the other of which set up a rushing touchdown by Ronald Jones after it was returned to the Green Bay 2-yard line.

After building a 10-0 lead in the first quarter, the Packers completely imploded. Interceptions on back-to-back possessions early in the second quarter engendered a 14-point swing for the Buccaneers. The Packers followed up two scoring drives and two turnovers with seven consecutive punts. With all the momentum on their side, the Buccaneers went berserk, scoring 38 unanswered points.

Much of the credit for the lopsided nature of the Buccaneers’ Week 6 win belongs to Bowles, who used a variety of fronts and an assortment of simulated pressures, twists/stunts, zero-blitzes and delayed blitzes to keep the Packers’ offense from finding its rhythm.

Here are a few examples of well-schemed and executed plays by the Buccaneers’ defense that led to three-and-outs or missed opportunities by the Packers’ offense:

The Packers offense didn’t find much success running the ball either, as the Buccaneers defensive line did a great job of plugging holes and allowing speedy linebackers Devin White and Lavonte David to shut down perimeter runs. The 28-10 halftime deficit also led to less called run plays for the remainder of the game.

The Packers’ lack of success running the ball wasn’t too surprising or alarming as the Buccaneers have been stingy all year, limiting opposing offenses to an NFL-best 80.6 rushing yards per game during the regular season. The lack of success in the passing game was the real surprise.

Fortunately, that and the lopsided nature of the loss appear to have been anomalies.

Rodgers has been excellent against the blitz pretty much all year, sporting a 123.5 passer rating against it in the 16 other games he’s played. The Buccaneers’ defense, conversely, has surrendered 13 touchdown passes and intercepted just one when blitzing in all the other games it’s played this season.

Judging by the Next Gen Stats, it would seem the Packers are actually a much better match for the Buccaneers than their regular-season meeting would indicate.

Interestingly, the Packers faced a similar situation in the playoffs last year with the 49ers. After losing 37-8 in the regular season at Levi’s Stadium, they wound up facing the 49ers again on the road in the NFC Championship Game. Unfortunately, they were beaten soundly the second time, too, by a final score of 37-20.

Unlike last year’s rematch with the 49ers where the Packers appeared to be overmatched going in, this year’s rematch feels balanced.

The Packers lost badly in Week 6, in large part, because they conceded all momentum with two early turnovers and couldn’t make the Buccaneers pay for their aggressiveness. In most other games this year, however, they did a much better job at both of those things.

If the Packers can win the turnover battle and protect Rodgers better, they should have a good chance to win on Sunday.

Against the 49ers last year, the Packers were clearly outcoached and overmatched. In the Week 6 loss to Tampa Bay this year, execution – not talent or coaching – was the primary culprit.

With home-field advantage, an improved defense and presumably better offensive execution, the Packers have a real shot at earning their sixth Super Bowl appearance.

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