Packers vs. Buccaneers: 4 key matchups to watch in Week 3

·4 min read

The Green Bay Packers haven’t started a season 1-2 since 2014. Meanwhile, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are seeking their first 3-0 start in 17 years. One of those streaks will have to give when these two teams face each other in Week 3.

Naturally, most of the focus will be on Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers. After all, it’s a meeting between two future Hall of Fame quarterbacks who have combined to win seven MVP awards. Sunday will mark the first game in NFL history in which both starting quarterbacks have at least three.

Even though most of the attention will be on the starting quarterbacks, it’s the defenses that could decide the outcome. Tampa Bay’s defense has looked dominant through the first two games, leading the league in sacks and points allowed. Green Bay’s defense has been solid so far, but leaning on them has more to do with the offense still trying to find its identity.

Not to mention, both teams are growing very thin at wide receiver. Mike Evans is serving a suspension, while Chris Godwin and Julio Jones are in jeopardy of missing their second straight game due to injuries. The Buccaneers could be without their top three guys, and for the Packers, four of their wide receivers were held out of Thursday’s practice. Head coach Matt LaFleur confirmed Friday that all four are expected to be game-time decisions.

Could Brady vs. Rodgers really be a defensive battle? That would certainly favor Tampa Bay, but Green Bay does have two stud running backs that could carry them to victory. Let’s take a look at four key matchups to look forward to in this week’s game, starting with Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon going up against an extremely talented defense.

Packers RBs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon vs. Buccaneers Run Defense

Earlier this week, LaFleur said you could argue the Buccaneers have the best defense in the NFL. And when it comes to stopping the run, Tampa Bay has ranked in the top five in run defense for the last three years. Currently, they are ninth, which may provide a small window for the Packers, who just ran for 203 yards against the Chicago Bears. Jones racked up 132 yards, with Dillon adding in some hard-nosed running. Coupled with the fact that Rodgers could be missing some of his top targets, Green Bay’s dynamic duo may have to shoulder the load offensively for the second straight week.

Packers Run Defense vs. Buccaneers RB Leonard Fournette

Let’s stay with run defense for our second key matchup. The Packers ran all over the Bears in Week 2, but their defense also gave up 180 yards on the ground. Fournette may not be as versatile as Chicago’s David Montgomery, but he has been getting his fair shares of carries through the first couple of games. Fournette is up to 45 rushing attempts on the season, which is third behind Nick Chubb and Joe Mixon. Expect the Buccaneers to keep feeding Fournette, especially as a bigger back going up against a run defense prone to missing tackles.

Packers LT David Bakhtiari or Yosh Nijman vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett

Is this the week Green Bay’s All-Pro left tackle makes his return? LaFleur said Bakhtiari would practice for the second straight day on Friday, which is a step in the right direction in his recovery from a knee injury dating back to December 2020. If Bakhtiari can play, he would be thrown right into the fire against one of the best edge rushers in the game. Barrett has a pair of sacks and is already up to 10 pressures on the year, according to Pro Football Focus. Nearly 90 percent of his reps have been against the opposing team’s left tackle, meaning Bakhtiari would see a lot of Barrett in his season debut. However, if the Packers want to keep Bakhtiari out another week, it will be Nijman’s responsibility to limit Barrett’s impact. Nijman has allowed three pressures in 73 pass-blocking snaps, per PFF.

Packers Pass Rush vs. Buccaneers QB Tom Brady

The best way to beat Brady is by pressuring him. Brady has really struggled when under pressure this season, completing just 50 percent of his passes and averaging just 2.9 yards per attempt, according to PFF. Tampa Bay is dealing with a ton of injuries up front, which hasn’t helped this offense perform at the level it is accustomed to. The Packers’ pass rushers have an opportunity to take advantage of a hobbled offensive line. Preston Smith and Rashan Gary are off to a fast start in 2022, already combining for 21 pressures. Green Bay would also be wise to dial up some pressure packages, which they haven’t done at all this season. According to Ben Fennell, the Packers have yet to call a blitz in the first two games. That probably needs to change this week if they don’t want Brady to pick them apart.

Story originally appeared on Packers Wire