The Packers used to play a game every year in Tampa against the Bucs as a member of the old NFC Central, from 1977-2001. They made the trip again in 2002 and 2003 as a member of the current NFC North, but this Sunday's game will be the first trip to Tampa in five years.
Although I'm still familiar with the Bucs of the late 1990s, I've lost track of the current state of their team. Luckily JScott over at Buc' Em answered some questions after I did a quick perusal of their team and their win last week at Chicago:
1. It's been two weeks since Jeff Garcia and Jon Gruden filed for divorce.
Did the Bucs make the right decision in going with Brian Griese?
I know it sounds crazy, but they did. Jeff Garcia for whatever reason has not been the same Quarterback since he sat out the final two games of the season last year. In the Wildcard Round of the Playoffs against the New York Giants he was erratic and off target. In Week 1 against the New Orleans Saints, he wouldn't step up in the pocket for anything and that destroyed our pass protection. He was also out of sync with his Receivers. He would either throw the ball behind them or he would miss read the route entirely. I think Gruden honestly felt like Jeff Garcia wasn't giving 100% out there on the field and so he sat him on the bench.
Although Brian Griese throws his fair share of interceptions (see last Sunday), he has the calm/poise to step up in the pocket and we need that more than a mobile Quarterback at this stage in the season. Griese may lull the fan base and spectators to sleep, but he provides the Buccaneers the best chance to win with his managing of the game.
2. Brian Griese had 67 pass attempts against Chicago last week? Has the fun-and-gun returned to the NFL?
It did last week and probably will a couple more times this season. If the running game gets stuffed like it did by the Bears, then Head Coach Jon Gruden has no reservations with chucking the ball down field 50+ times. In week one our rushing game looked great and Gruden still called 41 passing plays. It's definitely not the ideal scenario and I can't think of many instances where a QB throws three interceptions and still wins the game, but it's what we're resigned to when the Running game is non-existent. I wouldn't call it the fun-and-gun though, more like the dink-and-dunk...
3. Will Jordy Nelson run past Aqib Talib for another long TD? Did Ronde Barber have trouble stopping Brandon Lloyd last week in Chicago? Your cornerbacks were really good last season, are they struggling this season or is this just a small sample size and they're really just fine?
I was so depressed on draft day when your Packers scooped up Kansas State WR/PR Jordy Nelson. The entire community at Buc 'Em was hopeful the Bucs would be able to get him on Draft Day. If Nelson was ever going to own Talib again this would be the week. Aqib is coming off a hamstring injury that held him out of last week's win over the Chicago Bears. At this point he's expected to play, but I'm not sure how effective he will be. Ronde Barber got absolutely owned in the second half by the Bears Brandon Lloyd. Barber was really out of position, his calling on the field is in the slot where he can blitz the Quarterback and disrupt receptions five yards off the line of scrimmage. With Talib's injury and Elbert Mack's suspension, Barber was called to do it all and he really got exposed by Lloyd. I don't expect it to happen again with Mack and Talib back this week.
The defense thus far has been susceptible to the pass this season. Drew Brees had tons of success, Matt Ryan had decent success when he wasn't running for his life, and Kyle Orton looked like an NFL QB at times in the 2nd Half of Sunday's overtime win over the Bears. It's an ebb and flow over the course of the game. At times Ronde Barber and Phillip Buchanon are on top of the Receivers separating them from the ball or batting a pass and then other times they're five yards off the receiver allowing receptions. It's definitely a cause for concern. The Bucs have also allowed more than a handful of splash plays (30+ yards) this season. It's still a dominating defense, but at times it can get abused whether it be a lack of focus or poor execution it's a little too early to put a definite diagnosis on it.
4. How has the loss of OL Davin Joseph hurt this season? Will he be back to play against the Packers?
I'd be naïve if I didn't think the loss of Joseph hurt this offensive line, but to be honest Rookie G Jeremy Zuttah has done a fantastic job in Davin's absence. Last week he helped QB Brian Griese throw 67 passes without surrendering a single sack. That's pretty amazing considering the defensive line Chicago has. He could definitely improve as far as run blocking is concerned, but I'm sure he would own up to that as well. For a Rookie he has been great thus far though.
I know the Buccaneers are re-evaluating Davin for a possible return this week, but I've yet to hear anything on that front. It wouldn't hurt for Davin to sit out until he is 100% healed up, as Zuttah is playing well and there's no need to rush him back out there with the possibility of re-injuring himself.
5. The Bucs are off to a good start. Who's the team MVP or which player should we watch for on Sunday that is having a great season?
The team MVP thus far is LB Barrett Ruud. Aside from leading the team in tackles week in and week out, he has been an absolute beast on defense. He's the reason CB Phillip Buchanon returned a 26 yard interception for a touchdown against the Atlanta Falcons. Ruud hit Rookie QB Matt Ryan while he was releasing the ball causing a wounded duck to land in Buchanon's hands. Last week against the Bears he intercepted a pass in the end zone while covering Rookie RB Matt Forte. This pass was 30 yards down field and Barrett made the coverage like a Cornerback. I've never in my life seen a Linebacker, cover a Running back that far down the field much less intercept the pass. His play has been amazing. Aaron Rodgers would be wise to keep an eye on Barrett Sunday because he's primed to disrupt that offense.