This is the latest installment in a series that will examine each of the Green Bay Packers’ scheduled 2020 opponents, their offseason changes, and their statuses heading into training camp. We continue by looking at the teams in the NFC South, today examining the Packers’ midseason game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
It was quite the offseason for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in 2020. With the team seemingly ready to move on from quarterback Jameis Winston, head coach Bruce Arians made overtures to former Patriots QB Tom Brady, who was also headed for a change of scenery. When Brady decided to sign in Tampa, the Bucs found themselves in the thick of the discussion for the best team in the NFC, and Rob Gronkowski’s subsequent un-retirement and trade to Tampa only further added to that speculation.
The Bucs’ real strength on offense, however, lies in the receiving corps, where Mike Evans and Chris Godwin provide one of the best wideout duos in the NFL. Godwin was particularly impressive in his third season, earning a trip to the Pro Bowl and ranking among the NFL leaders in every major receiving category. With Winston under center, the Bucs ranked third in points and yards scored, but he also threw 30 interceptions, by far the most in the NFL.
Those picks put the Bucs’ defense in tough spots and helped contribute to a 29th-place finish in points against. But Tampa’s D was much better than that stat suggests, ranking 12th in passing DVOA and first against the run.
In the draft, the Bucs went all Big Ten early. They bolstered their offensive line early with Iowa tackle Tristan Wirfs, grabbed Minnesota safety Antoine Winfield, Jr. in round two, and plucked Illinois running back Ke’Shawn Vaughn in the third. They also drafted another Gopher, wideout Tyler Johnson, in round five.
Although Brady’s play declined significantly without Gronkowski last year, he has his favorite target back and now has some elite wide receivers to throw to. He probably will not reach 5,000 yards like Winston did, but he also will turn the football over much less, giving the defense better opportunities to make stops.
The Packers are scheduled to travel to Tampa for a Sunday afternoon contest in week six, coming off their bye and starting a very tough four-game stretch. Here’s a further look at the Bucs as they head into training camp from SB Nation’s Buccaneers blog, Bucs Nation.
Tampa Bay Buccaneers
Notable free agency additions: Quarterback Tom Brady, tight end Rob Gronkowski (trade)
Over/under 10 wins? Over. If they were four Jameis Winston interceptions shy of 11 wins, that is immediately improved with Brady alone.
Rookie I’m most excited about: The Bucs have to be most excited about right tackle Tristan Wirfs. The rookie lineman is a huge upgrade to an offensive line that has been inconsistent at best in recent seasons.
Best position battle heading into training camp: The depth at tight end is now interesting. With so much promise heading into his NFL career after Tampa Bay selected him in the first round of the 2017 draft, tight end O.J. Howard has been up and down. Cam Brate has had sure-hands and was a red zone favorite of former quarterback Jameis Winston. And now with the addition of veteran Rob Gronkowski, the battle for who will be TE2 and start opposite Gronkowski will be something to keep an eye on.
Biggest storyline heading into training camp: There are a few, but two main ones. How will the acquisition of both Brady and Gronkowski look with no offseason workouts? While they are two of the best veterans at their respective positions to have played the game, one has to wonder how well the rest of the offense around those two adapt to their style of play in such a short time to prepare. Then on the other side of the ball, can the defense continue to build on the successes from their improvement in the second half of 2019? Like the offense, the COVID-19 pandemic has prevented the team from coming together and continue to build off of the positives from last season.
Under-the-radar storyline heading into training camp: Ronald Jones II will more than likely be considered RB1 on the depth chart. He has been quietly working on his craft this offseason despite the lack of organized team activities and has shown determination to become that reliable and consistent running back the Buccaneers have yet to really have for many, many seasons.
Notable injuries heading into training camp: Safety Justin Evans started camp on the PUP list.