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NFC Championship Q&A: Are there any vulnerabilities in the Buccaneers’ defense?

Tampa Bay’s defense beat up on the Packers in Week 6. Can they do it again?

NFL: OCT 18 Packers at Buccaneers Photo by Cliff Welch/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

No two ways about it: the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense put the clamps on the Green Bay Packers’ offense during their meeting in Week 6. Their blitzes confounded Aaron Rodgers, who threw two interceptions, including an ultra-rare pick-6.

While the Packers’ offense has played well in the wake of their meltdown in Tampa, the Buccaneers defense has stayed steady, too — albeit with a few aberrations.

To find out what the Packers can expect to see on that side of the ball this weekend, we again turned to Bucs Nation’s Gil Arcia, who filled us in on Tampa’s offense earlier today.

Acme Packing Company: The Buccaneers’ defense looks like it hasn’t slowed down at all since Week 6, which is a real disappointment if you ask me. How have they sustained their success this year?

Gil Arcia: Well, don’t get me wrong, they have struggled. That’s primarily due to certain ways the unit started playing. I feel injuries caused defensive coordinator Todd Bowles to mix up coverages and didn’t play as aggressive through various parts of the season. Especially in games against the Saints, Chiefs, and Rams. I’d even throw in the first game against Atlanta until that fourth quarter when they got aggressive again. But to your question, I think it took players to realize they needed to adapt in a sense. Credit to the staff for acknowledging vulnerabilities and making adjustments keeping players in position to at least remain competitive.

APC: No defense is perfect, however elite they may be. If you were going to attack the Bucs, how would you do it?

GA: When we first talked, I mentioned a vulnerability deep in the defensive backfield. We saw it on the very first play for Washington when in the Wild Card round. Quarterback Taylor Heinicke overthrew his receiver, but not by much and that had a touchdown written all over it. It was still there at times, too, which is why I thought Drew Brees and the Saints were going to have their way easily last Sunday. But Todd Bowles did what good coaches should do, and that is make adjustments. They didn’t play soft like they did in their previous two meetings and Brees had nowhere to throw the football. So if I’m the Packers, I’d say let Aaron Rodgers pick apart the defense with posts and slants, kind of like what we saw Brees do during the regular season and Rodgers easily do as well albeit in the first quarter of that matchup. But like the adjustments to play aggressively in the remaining three quarters against Green Bay in the first meeting and play aggressively for four quarters in New Orleans, I think the Bucs will live and die by what they are good at and play very aggressive on defense. If the Bucs play their soft coverage, it’s an easy day for Rodgers. If Tampa Bay plays the style they were built to play defensively, it’ll be tough to attack them.

APC: As we asked about on offense, who has emerged this season for the Buccaneers defense that may not yet be a household name?

GA: Cornerback Sean Murphy-Bunting has come on during the playoffs. The young 23-year-old struggled at times throughout the season, but has turned it around in the playoffs. He is physical and likes to lock the receivers up at the line of scrimmage. Sometimes a little too physical, but he makes up for it with his positioning the last two games as well as recording an interception in each of those games — and almost turning the interception off of Brees into a pick-six.

APC: You predicted a Packers win last time and you were...well, not quite correct. It worked out for you, though! What’s your take on this weekend’s game? Who’s making it to the Super Bowl?

GA: I told you I have to go with the Packers again. In fact, I added I wasn’t sold on the Buccaneers to repeat what they did in New Orleans. But I slept on it and have changed my mindset a bit. I feel that we’ll see Bowles play his defense aggressively again but incorporate what we saw in Raymond James the first game with disguised blitzes and the aggressiveness from the secondary we saw in New Orleans. I feel those adjustments will be made to limit not just Rodgers, but running back Aaron Jones as well. I think it’ll be a tight game heading into the final quarter with Tampa Bay ultimately leaving Green Bay with a 29-24 victory.