As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get set to find out what life without Vita Vea looks like, the Green Bay Packers are looking forward to restarting life with Kenny Clark as the fifth-year nose tackle makes his return to action in 2020.
Kenny Clark got fifteen snaps in Week 1 before getting injured and missing the next three games entirely. An early bye week for the undefeated Packers may have been a blessing they likely didn’t like to see when their schedule was revealed. Due to the early bye, they got to rest in Week 5 of the NFL season and will get Devante Adams and Clark back just in time for this weekend’s game of the week.
If you caught my article on why the Buccaneers need to lean on Ronald Jones II this weekend, you’ll know just how much I believe the running game will impact who wins this game.
Even with the return of Clark, I still stand by the point, but acknowledge the sledding just got tougher for Rojo and his offensive line.
So far this year, the Packers defense is giving up 4.46 adjusted line yards according to Football Outsiders, largely without Clark in the middle of their defensive line.
In Week 1, before Clark was injured the Minnesota Vikings ran Dalvin Cook up the middle just twice. Now, they did get nine-yards out of those, but one of them was an eight-yard gain while the other netted just one.
After Clark didn’t return for the second half, the Minnesota Vikings ran the ball three straight times up the gut, and Dalvin Cook had gains of twelve, nine and two yards on those three carries.
Now, this doesn’t mean teams can’t run up the middle against the Packers even when Clark is in the game. Just that it has to be done differently.
Without Clark, an offense is more likely to open gaps quickly and have blockers available to reach the next level and help running backs break big runs. With him, more blocking resources are dedicated at the line of scrimmage, leaving running backs susceptible to second or third level defenders who might otherwise have a blocker dedicated to them.
This of course, also applies to the passing game, as Scott Smith (Senior Writer/Editor of Buccaneers.com) pointed out on the Locked On Bucs Podcast this past week leading up to the game.
Without Clark, Kingsley Keke has been the Packers’ best rush defender stopping 12.5% of the runs turned his way for a loss. Good for eighth best among NFL defensive linemen.
As Keke figures to see his snaps reduced this weekend, Clark has surprisingly big shoes to fill himself as the Packers defense will look to him to continue such high performance rates.
In 2019, Clark made the Pro Bowl largely due to his 9.6% run stop percentage, which ranked him ninth among NFL defensive linemen last season. Again, his impact in the pass rush (six sacks) didn’t hurt either.
It’s the pass rush impact many Buccaneers fans will likely find themselves concerned with, and for good reason.
The Green Bay Packers currently sit in sixth-place getting sacks on just over 9% of the pass attempts they’ve faced. The league high is nearly 14% which is being achieved by the Pittsburgh Steelers, currently.
Tampa Bay on the other hand, is getting sacks on about 9.5% of opposing drop backs.
In this latest chapter of the “Battle of the Bays” or “Brady vs Rodgers III”, it’ll be Kenny Clark the Packers look to for a boost in their run defense and in their pass rush.
If it wasn’t for the injury suffered by Vita Vea, this game may boil down to the men in the middle. Without him though, it’s going to be about how the Buccaneers offense offsets the return of Clark while ensuring they can still get pressure on Rodgers this Sunday.
Bottom line is with Rodgers and Brady dropping back an average of 34-39 times per game each, both defenses will look to sack each at least three times to match their 2020 sack pace.
Without Vea, the Bucs are going to have a harder time doing it. With Clark returning to the Packers, the Buccaneers are going to have a harder time stopping it. Making Kenny Clark your enemy to know, for Week 6 of the 2020 NFL Season.