Say what you will about officiating, the Bucs didn’t do themselves any favors as they made far too many mental mistakes, leading to incredibly poor offensive possessions.
Good news is that we are now headed to Week 6, bad news is that the opponent will now be the Green Bay Packers.
Before I get started on specific keys for a Bucs win, I need to state that if the Bucs are to have any chance against Green Bay, they’ll need to cut out the mental mistakes and play a near perfect game.
This Green Bay Packers team is undefeated, and it’s because they’re very good. They don’t make a lot of mistakes, and they often take advantage of any made by the opponent. Whether these come through in turnovers or penalties, the Packers, and especially Aaron Rodgers, will make you pay.
Now we can get into the specifics. Let’s look at what the Bucs can do to win this game.
Get the running game going
So this key is something that shouldn’t be too difficult to do against this Packers run defense, however, this can quickly shrink away if they get down by multiple possessions.
This scenario has happened in a number of games this season so far for the Packers, which is why they are only defending about 22 carries a game. However, when these attempts do come, Green Bay’s defense is allowing around 4.8 yards per carry, putting them at 7th worst in the NFL.
Teams have been especially successful running outside the tackles against this defense. Looking at Football Outsiders’ adjusted line yards statistic, the Packers left side of their front seven allows an average of 6.41 yards per play; on the right, it’s 5.79 yards per play. This stat only takes into account the yards gained by the offensive line, before the running back comes into the picture, so these are essentially free yards.
While I do expect to see a lot of rushing success for the Bucs (as long as they keep the game close), I don’t expect to see a lot of long runs. The Packers may be giving up 4.8 yards per carry, but they have only allowed 8 rushes of more than 10 yards all season, putting them 3rd best in the NFL in explosive rush defense.**
Despite the lack of long runs expected, picking up consistent first downs on the ground not only sets up play action, but it also keeps Aaron Rodgers off the field and the Bucs moving.
The only thing in the Bucs way in terms of getting the running game going are their own mistakes, whether they be penalties or getting down a lot of points early. This is a big thing in the way though, especially as this offense line commits so many penalties on their own.
Only time will tell if they keep up their bad habit of holding and jumping early, but if they want to set up the run, they need to cut these mistakes out sooner rather than later.
Take advantage of soft underneath zones
The Packers deploy a number of coverage calls that range from Cover 1 to Cover 6, however when they aren’t in man, they’re usually in Cover 2 or 3 (at least from the few games I watched).
One big advantage of playing these coverages is that a lot of deep balls don’t get lofted overhead, one disadvantage though, is that it leaves a lot of space in front of the deep coverage, or a lot of space underneath if the underneath players drop further back to fill the gap behind them.
These things are pretty typical of zone schemes, however, the Packers seem to allow far more underneath completions than other teams. The Packers are allowing over league average in completion percentage between 0-15 yards (comp % part of field: 81% left, 82% mid, 76% right), so this may have something to do with that.**
Here’s an example of one of these short passes that worked so well against them:
So on this play, the Packers look to be in Cover 2 with their underneath coverage sitting at the sticks to prevent a fourth-down conversion. The Falcons draw up a mesh concept here and it is extremely successful.
They have the two receivers closest to the line on either side mesh right in the middle of the field. This forces the two linebackers covering this area to adjust their position and follow the route coming their direction.
Since they are so focused on the two guys underneath who could easily pick up a first down, they completely miss Julio Jones running an intermediate cross right behind the mesh.
This play forces the linebackers to make a decision whether they are going to cover someone underneath, or someone streaking behind them. The great thing is that it doesn’t even matter, someone will end up open.
Outside of this specific concept, there are a number of routes that have worked well against the Packers’ zone schemes, including speed outs (don’t want to see a lot of these), hitches, curls, and simple RB check-downs.
Here’s an example of a simple hitch route against the Packers:
This isn’t a crazy innovate play call or anything, but it does demonstrate that these simple routes can take advantage of their zone schemes. The Packers look to be in Cover 4 here, and the Lions just send a tight end upfield and have the slot receiver run a hitch.
Sending the tight end through the linebacker’s zone forces him to carry his cover until he can pass him to the deep coverage. This leaves a wide open gap between the linebacker being carried upfield and the defender coming from deep.
These types of plays aren’t designed to pick up tons of yards, but they will help to get an offense down the field, as long as the offense doesn’t make a ton of mistakes.
The Packers, as we’ve discussed, give up a lot underneath and this is just another example of that. A lot of the touchdown drives scored against the Packers came from hitting a few passes underneath, and then hitting a deep throw after the underneath coverage started cheating up.
Contain Aaron Rodgers in the pocket/Get to him quickly
One huge key to this game will be limiting Aaron Rodgers at least to some extent. One big reason for the call to contain him in the pocket is based on his ability in escaping the pocket and having time to set up a huge play.
While he is equally dangerous from the pocket, at least the coverage won’t have to hold on as long while the pass rush gets there.
Rodgers doesn’t have the most premier receiving talent outside of Davante Adams, but he is often able to find someone open downfield for a big play once he does escape. However when he has Davante Adams, like he does this Sunday, he is able to take it to the next level.
Here’s this on display against the Vikings:
Davante Adams is the receiver closest to the line on the three receiver side. He runs his initial route and once he sees that Aaron is scrambling, he goes into scramble drill.
Now if we look at Aaron Rodgers, we see him pretty comfortable in the pocket until the backside defender began making his way to hit him from behind. At the same time, the rusher on the right side of the line gets way too far upfield and it allows Rodgers to walk out to the sideline to buy time.
What happens next is just a fantastic throw and catch for a touchdown.
If the Bucs want to limit these highlight plays, they’ll need to keep him contained, and get to him quickly. If they’re able to get the ball out quickly, they can help to prevent huge plays. This of course, is much easier said than done, and especially difficult to do against the Packers mainly because of Rodgers and his line.
To put some perspective on Rodgers’ season so far, he is playing like the Aaron of old and is having an absolutely electric season. Through four games, Rodgers has 1,214 yards passing, 13 touchdowns, and no interceptions.
If we look at Football Outsiders again, we can see this with advanced statistics like DVOA (defense-adjusted value over average) percentage. This statistic takes a lot of factors into account to determine how much better or worse a player is than the NFL average while considering situation and opponent. To find out more about it, you can check it out here.
To get back to Rodgers and this great statistic, his DVOA percentage is currently first in the NFL at 46.4%. This essentially means that he is playing 46.4% better than the average NFL QB. To put this into perspective, Carson Wentz’s awful start to this season has garnered him an NFL-low -42.9%.
Playing against someone like this is scary and that’s exactly why the Bucs need to make him sweat a little bit. Despite the necessity for pressure, this is definitely going to be difficult.
His offensive line has only allowed 3 sacks, 9 hurries, and 6 hits. This is a mixture of the great blocking, getting the ball out fast, and finding time outside of the pocket, but in any case, Rodgers just doesn’t get pressured. The Packers have only allowed 12.3% of their dropbacks to be pressured, which is the lowest in the NFL.*
Luckily for the Bucs defense, they currently rank fifth in the NFL in dropback pressure, pressuring 27.7% of all dropbacks.* Let’s see if they can get home to help their secondary from giving up huge plays.
Stay extremely disciplined to stop misdirection/screen game
Despite Rodgers being so good, this offense isn’t run exclusively through him. Matt LaFleur has added a lot of misdirection plays that take advantage of angles to get their best or fastest players in the open field. This misdirection comes in a variety of forms, however, they love to pair it with screens.
Before we get into the screen game though, let’s look at another interesting play that they like to run, and have run quite a few times this season:
This play gets the entire front seven to move to the left since the line blocked down that way. This leaves all kinds of space on the outside for the receiver to pick up some easy yards.
While most teams only run a handful of plays like this in a game, the Packers run them a lot. This means that every single player on that defense has to be ready for something like this to come their way.
In the screen game, this misdirection comes in similar ways, but it happens much more often. Here’s a look at one of these that was drawn up for Davante Adams:
This play is similar in the sense that the motion man is moving in the opposite direction of the line. However, instead of popping it right away to him like the previous play, they send him all the way to the numbers before tossing him a bubble screen.
Once the line comes down, the entire front seven goes right which is what the previous play accomplishes as well. However, if a team runs that over and over, the linebackers or the backside rusher will stay home to prevent the pop pass underneath from going anywhere.
So to counter this, the Packers won’t always pop it to the motion man. By sending Adams wide, they lower the chance that a defender will stay home, which opens up wide open space on the outside with blockers in front.
While this play didn’t lead to a touchdown, they picked up 10 yards in the red zone without a lot of effort.
These plays are only the beginning, the Packers also use Aaron Jones on screens and quick swing passes with a misdirection element. This team will try to confuse a defense and to their credit, they succeed quite a bit.
If the Bucs front seven and secondary are aware of these plays, there’s a higher chance that guys will be in position to snuff them out before they have a chance to get started. However, discipline (in assignments and penalties) is something the Bucs have had issues with, and we can only hope that they are able to turn it around on Sunday.
This is a huge test for the Buccaneers. What kind of team will they be when they face one of the best? Will they rise to the occasion? I think they may, mostly because I think they’re angry.
While the Packers enter at 4-0, they aren’t impossible to beat. However, in order to beat them, the Bucs will have to make sure that they left all of the bonehead penalties and turnovers in the past.
If these mistakes are reigned in, they just have to make sure that they are able to keep Rodgers from picking apart this secondary by pressuring him and keeping him from extending plays. At the same time, they’ll have to play strong assignment football to make sure that they don’t get caught off guard by misdirection.
On the other side of the ball, they have to get the run game established, and established through all four quarters. If they do this, they can limit Aaron’s time on the field and pick up points at the same time.
When the Bucs throw, there are a lot of underneath opportunities that they can take advantage of while they prepare to catch the defense off guard with a big play.
All in all, this is going to show everyone what kind of team the Bucs are and I sure am excited to see if they’re able to go toe-to-toe with a very good Packers team.
What are some thoughts you have about this game? How do you think the Buccaneers can beat Green Bay? Let us know in the comments below!
*Pro Football Reference
**Sharp Football Stats