The Packers are a game from the Super Bowl, and all they have to do to make their second trip to the Big Game in the Rodgers era is to defeat Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Well, actually, it might be. We asked our writers what strategy they’d prefer to see if the Packers are indeed going to beat the Buccaneers, and the answers all seemed remarkably similar. What’s your take? How do you think the Packers need to play to beat the Buccaneers?
Paul Noonan: Accept small risks for big gains.
There are two risk propositions you face against Tampa, and Green Bay came up on the wrong side of both in game one.
The first is to understand that Todd Bowles may fool you occasionally, and this may even have catastrophic results, but that doesn’t mean you should change your gameplan. In their last meeting, Aaron threw a pick-six because he read the rush and coverage wrong. From that point on he was gun shy about trusting his reads, he held the ball too long, and he got hit. The second pick was more about bad luck, but it did not help matters. The fact is, the Packers were humming along on offense until that happened, and fell apart after. Aaron and Matt LaFleur need to accept that such a thing may happen, but remember that in order to move the ball and score points, you still have to stick to the scheme.
Hopefully, with that game under their belt and a season’s worth of tape to study, the Bucs won’t be quite so adept, and the Packers’ plan will eliminate those mistakes, But if they do happen, you can’t go to pieces.
The second is the Pettine problem. The recipe against Brady is pretty simple. Play an aggressive press man, take away his quick short throws, and give your pass rush time to get home and hit the old man. Some coaches don’t do this because it does open you up to the occasional high-profile deep shot that will lead SportsCenter and make you look bad. Being beat by a Brady bomb is infinitely preferable to letting him dink and dunk you for 10 plays at a time, and it is the risk you must accept to stop their offense. The Bucs lost five games this year. In four of them, Brady threw multiple picks. Be aggressive, get the ball, and if he hits a random bomb to Chris Godwin, be content in the fact that Aaron gets the ball back more quickly.
Rcon14: Copy-Paste the Best Parts from the Rams Game
The best portions on defense in the Rams game were when the Packers stopped letting Goff dictate the terms of engagement by playing softer zones. This has been the primary complaint with the Pettine defense for a long time. When Green Bay jammed up the receivers and gave the pass rush more time to get home, they destroyed the Rams passing game. A similar gameplan should take shape this week. Brady, like any quarterback, struggles under pressure. He lacks the mobility to be a running threat, negating the big disadvantage of man coverage. Particularly if Green Bay goes with single-high looks, unleashing Savage in a robber role could pay dividends if the pressure is strong enough.
On offense, creating difficult choices for the defense is the primary goal of the LaFleur offense. The “illusion of complexity” is the fancy term he likes to use, but really it’s all about finding stress points in the defense. Tampa Bay struggles defending against play-action as their linebackers can get overaggressive. You can take advantage of this aggressiveness through the standard motions and RPO elements Green Bay routinely uses.
The Packers have already done what they need to do to beat Tampa Bay. They just have to make sure they do it again.
Jon Meerdink: Really pay attention to Paul’s point about getting to Tom Brady
One of my most vivid non-Packers football memories comes from the 2015 AFC Championship. It’s one of the only times I can remember feeling honest fear for a football player’s safety outside of a major injury.
The Broncos absolutely teed off on Tom Brady that day. On top of four sacks, the Broncos hit him a whopping 17 times. On occasion, it felt like Von Miller and Demarcus Ware were getting to Brady before he’d even gotten the ball. Brady’s performance, predictably, suffered as a result. He threw two interceptions and managed just 27 completions on 56 throws. His 56.4 passer rating was the second-worst of his storied postseason career.
Whatever else the Packers do, getting to Brady seems imperative. They may not be able to duplicate what the Broncos did, but if they even come close, good things are sure to follow.
Kris Burke: Get to Tom Brady and keep Gronk covered
Basically what Jon said .
The longer Tom Brady stays upright, the more damage he can do. He might be the “GOAT” but the more pressure you put on him, the more ineffective he becomes. That was true early in his career and it’s especially now.
Meanwhile, keeping Rob Gronkowski under wraps also takes away Brady’s security blanket. It’s taken some time for him to get on the same page as his receivers but Gronkowski is still ol’ reliable for Brady.
A combination of pressure plus eliminating Gronk should be enough to tip the field in the Packers’ favor.
Tex Western: Win the turnover battle
We all remember what happened the last time that the Packers and Buccaneers met. Things weren’t going great on offense in the first quarter, but the Packers still managed to put up 10 points through their first two series thanks to Rodgers completing some short and intermediate passes and the Packers getting one big 25-yard run from Jamaal Williams. The defense was playing good complementary football, getting a three-and-out on the Bucs’ first series and allowing just two first downs on their second.
Then the wheels fell off as Aaron Rodgers threw picks on the next two series, one that was a pick-six and the other that may as well have been. If that doesn’t happen, we may well be talking about the Packers as a 14-2 team.
The Buccaneers have thrived off of two main strengths on defense this season: stopping the run (ranking first in every traditional statistical category this season) and forcing turnovers (where they ranked fifth in the NFL with 25 takeaways during the regular season). Their pass defense is still good, but not nearly as good, ranking eighth in net yards per attempt; a big reason that unit ranks fifth in passing DVOA is turnovers, as their 15 interceptions rank seventh.
In perfect dome conditions last week against the Saints, the Bucs’ drive chart was illustrative of how reliant their offense is on getting good field position. Tampa scored their three touchdowns on drives of 40, 20, and 3 yards, all immediately following turnovers. On the Bucs’ 7 drives that did not follow a turnover, they went three-and-out three times, picked up a single first down once, and had three longer drives that all stalled out for field goals.
In other words, be careful with the football and accept a punt on occasion. As long as the Packers don’t give the Bucs energy, momentum, and great field position, they should be in good shape.