The Green Bay Packers finished with a 13-3-0 record and earned the top seed in the NFC playoffs as a result. The Packers worst performance of the season came in Week 6 when they were beaten by the Tampa Bay Buccaneers 38-10. It was the only game of the season in which the Packers truly played poorly in nearly every facet of the game.
So, with the rematch scheduled for Sunday at Lambeau Field and with the winner advancing to the Super Bowl, here is a look at six things the Packers need to do differently against the Bucs to earn the win and advance to Super Bowl LV:
- Run the Ball Inside
The Packers had difficulty running the ball to the outside in the first meeting between these two teams. The Bucs have a very speedy and active set of linebackers led by Devin White and Lavonte David and they are fast enough to stop runners from getting to the edge.
In the first meeting, the Packers tried to run to the outside and met with poor results. Aaron Jones, the team’s top outside runner, was limited to 15 yards in 10 carries, by far his poorest showing of the season.
The team’s two inside runners, however, had more success. Jamaal Williams gained 34 yards in just four carries and ripped off a 25-yard gain on one play. A.J. Dillon was also able to find holes inside when he got the ball and rushed for 31 yards in five carries including a 20-yard gain. Dillon also had a good run called back by a penalty.
The speed of the Tampa linebackers will limit the Packers ability to run sweeps and gain the edge. But the Packers should be able run any of their three running backs between the tackles, especially if the weather is colder and/or the field is slippery.
- Protect Aaron Rodgers
Rodgers simply didn’t have much time to throw in the first meeting between these two teams. He was sacked four times and the Bucs were credited with 13 quarterback hits in this game, by far the most the Pack allowed in any game this season. Tampa Bay was also credited with 14 pressures by Pro-football-reference.com. Jason Pierre-Paul and William Gholston each had three quarterback hits to lead the Bucs while Pierre Paul and David each had 1.5 sacks to pace the Tampa defense.
Left tackle David Bakhtiari was injured in this game and that certainly hindered the Green Bay offensive line. Rick Wagner filled in at left tackle and he struggled against the speed of the Bucs edge rushers. The Packers didn’t make sufficient adjustments during the game and the result was that Rodgers didn’t have enough time to throw the ball consistently. Lucas Patrick had a particularly tough game against the Bucs after playing well most of the season.
Now, Bakhtiari is out for the season with a knee injury and the Packers have a lineup that has been effective at both run blocking and pass protection. Billy Turner is now the left tackle with Wagner moving over to the right side. Elgton Jenkins is the left guard with Corey Linsley at center and Patrick at right guard.
If the Packers cannot protect Rodgers, the offense will have to make more adjustments to their play calling to keep moving the football. The longest pass play in the first game was 20 yards, that number needs to increase in the playoff game if the offense is to be effective.
- Slow Down the Tampa Bay Running Game
Once the Bucs took the lead, they were able to run the football effectively against the Packers. In fact, Tom Brady only threw 27 passes all game for 166 yards while the running game gained 158 yards on 35 carries, good for a 4.5-yard average.
Ronald Jones did the most damage, gaining 113 yards on 23 carries and scoring two touchdowns. Backup Ke’Shawn Vaughn was also effective, gaining 42 yards on just five attempts.
What was most important in that game was the Bucs were able to run the ball and keep the Packers offense off the field when after had established the lead.
The Packers run defense has improved since Week 6 and they were able to shut down some quality runners including Derrick Henry of the Titans. The Packers defense doesn’t need to be outstanding against the run, but they do need to make sure the Tampa Bay running game doesn’t help them situationally like it did in the first meeting.
- Don’t Allow Tom Brady to Have All Day to Throw
The Packers defense has been getting more pressure on opposing quarterbacks during their last seven games, but against the Bucs in Week 6, they were hardly able to get anywhere near Brady.
Brady wasn’t sacked at all and the Packers were credited with only three quarterback hits, one by Preston Smith, one by Za’Darius Smith and one by Rashan Gary.
The Bucs threw short almost exclusively. Brady’s longest completion was just 31 yards but that was part of Bruce Arians’ strategy to help neutralize the Green Bay pass rush.
The Packers cannot rush three and play a soft zone against Brady and the Bucs. Brady has seen every coverage in the game over the more than two decades he’s been playing in this league and he will find the soft spot in the zone and pick it apart.
There must be some pressure on Brady to prevent the veteran from getting comfortable in the pocket and limit his effectiveness against an improved Packers secondary.
- Pass Short and Take What the Defense Gives You
If the Bucs pass rush is strong again, the Packers will have to go to a short passing game as the centerpiece of their offense. Matt LaFleur devised a strong game plan against the Rams that included the short passing game and it set up a long run by Aaron Jones and a long touchdown pass to Allen Lazard that clinched the victory for the Packers.
The Packers may have to go to screen passes, flat passes, wide receiver screens and short passes to the tight end in this game in order to find the soft spots in the Bucs zone.
The Packers will have to get Davante Adams involved and find ways to get him open whether it’s lining him up in the slot at times or scheming him open.
The bottom line is the Packers must adjust their passing game to keep the chains moving and to negate the strong Tampa Bay pass rush.
- Don’t Turn the Ball Over
The Packers were minus-two in the turnover department in this game and those turnovers directly led to 14 points by the Bucs and turned the momentum around dramatically in the second quarter of the game.
Jamel Dean intercepted Rodgers and ran it back 32-yards for a touchdown early in the second quarter with the Packers ahead 10-0.
Barely a minute later, Mike Edwards intercepted Rodgers and returned it to the Packers two-yard line. One play later, the Bucs scored and the Packers 10-0 lead had become a 14-10 deficit in less than two minutes. The Packers never recovered.
Rodgers was only intercepted five times all season and two of them came in this game. The Packers did not force any turnovers in the first meeting with Tampa Bay. These are two quality teams and so the turnover battle will be critical on Sunday. The Packers cannot afford to be a minus-two in the turnover differential like they were in October. If the Packers are even or better in this area on Sunday, they will likely win the football game.
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