Blowing out a team is typically a good sign. A close win between two teams doesn’t say much because a play or two can shift the outcome. But a blowout can say more about the quality of the win and the differential between the teams. That’s what makes the Week 6 meeting between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers, who will meet in this weekend’s NFC Championship Game, so interesting. The up-and-down Buccaneers beat the undefeated Packers 38-10. We can take a look at the game to see what can translate and what might not when these teams meet again this weekend.

The Buccaneers Got The Packers Out Of Rhythm

Early in the game, this matchup looked like it had the potential to be a blowout the other way. Green Bay went 10 plays and 54 yards for a field goal on its first drive, forced a Tampa Bay three-and-out, and then went 80 yards in 11 plays for a touchdown and an early 10-0 lead. 

The Packers got there the way they’ve excelled for most of the season and where the improvement from past years stemmed from the most — a trust and reliance on structure. Aaron Rodgers got the ball out quickly and schemed openings created lanes for easy receptions and yards after the catch. Over the first two drives, seven pass plays gained at least 10 yards, including a 20-yard late checkdown to Aaron Jones on a third-and-10.

Even when Rodgers needed to move off structure, he was able to stay with the play without panicking or throwing the ball away, such as a 15-yard throw to Marquez Valdes-Scantling on a second-and-10 during the touchdown drive.

Green Bay even got Tampa Bay to punt on the drive following the touchdown. But on third-and-10 for the Packers’ following drive, Rodgers threw a pick-6. The Buccaneers ran a late blitz and Rodgers stared down Davante Adams on the outside. Rodgers worked to get the ball out before pressure really got home, but he rushed the throw. Rodgers had Malik Taylor wide open on a shallow crosser, left open from the late nickel blitz from Sean Murphy-Bunting. When Rodgers tried to test the covered out route,  Jamel Dean jumped the route and took it back for a touchdown.

On third down of the next drive, the Buccaneers again blitzed and Rodgers got the ball out quickly to a tightly covered Adams in the middle of the field. The pass bounced off Adams and into the arms of Mike Edwards, who took the ball down to the 2-yard line. Tampa Bay scored on the next play to take a 14-10 lead.

When the Packers got the ball back, Green Bay had a chance at a shot play down the seam to Marcedes Lewis that Rodgers again rushed, with a double-clutch against the rush.

Third down is where the shift really started. On third-and-10, the Packers ran three receivers deep with the checkdown option at the sticks in the middle of the field. Rodgers had nowhere to go as pressure came and it was a throwaway. On the next drive, the Packers tried a two-man deep route on second-and-3 that was forced incomplete into double coverage. While the Packers excelled in structure taking shorter passes early in the game, they tried too often to get everything back in one play. That kept Rodgers in the pocket longer and he forced too many deep passes — per Next Gen Stats, he averaged 2.83 seconds to throw with a 9.9-yard average depth of target. During the regular season, those numbers were 2.72 and 8.1,  

Buccaneers Bliztes Worked

Rodgers was sacked four times and had another 12 pass attempts under pressure, per Sports Info Solutions. The Buccaneers got there by blizting often. Tampa Bay has been one of the heaviest blizting teams in the league this season, and under Todd Bowles in general, and they backed it up with a high pressure rate. The Buccaneers ranked fifth in blitz rate and sixth in pressure rate during the regular season.

On blitzes against the Buccaneers, Rodgers was just 3-of-12 for 28 yards with three sacks. Tampa Bay got to Rodgers by horizontally stretching the offensive line and creating plus matchups for their defenders. The first sack of Rodgers gave the quarterback a wild look that featured three interior defensive linemen, both off-ball linbackers lined up on the edges of the five-man line, and edge rusher Shaq Barrett lined up as the middle linebacker. 

The pressure came from Lavonte David on the left side, who was too quick for running back Jamaal Williams, who had to cross over in an attempt to pick up Davis.

A second sack came from another five-man front that featured three interior linemen with Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul on the edges.

Pressure again came from the left edge as Pierre-Paul rushed inside against Rick Wagner, which gave Lavonte David a free path around the edge to run through Aaron Jones and into Rodgers. David and Pierre-Paul split the sack.

David had his best pass rushing game against the Packers. Overall during the season, he had just an 8.8% pressure rate on a 12.1% rush rate, per Sports Info Solutions. Devin White was the bigger blizting threat with a team-leading 26.2% pressure rate on a 16.1% blitz rate.

What might be more concerning for the Packers as they better prepare for the blitz was how the Buccaneers created pressure without the blitz. Some of the same principles above applied on the four-man rush. On the first drive of the game, the Buccaneers lined up three defenders over the (offense’s) right side of the line with Anthony Nelson wide outside the left tackle.

The Buccaneers ran an interior stunt with Ndamukong Suh and Pierre-Paul. Nelson’s wide alignment helped create an opening Pierre-Paul used to get through to Rodgers and rush a throw into the end zone.

This was a third-and-8. The Packers settled for a field goal as a result. 

Tampa Bay’s Offense Was… Fine

Tampa Bay got 14-points from the defense to start the game when the offense started the game with two punts. Even the Buccaneers’ first actual touchdown drive was aided by a three-and-out forced by the defense and just a 40-yard punt that set Tampa Bay up at their own 35-yard line. The Buccaneers only had one play gain more than 10 yards, along with a 15-yard defensive pass interference penalty, during the 11-play, 65-yard drive.

Tom Brady only averaged 6.1 yards per attempt and while he had 0.41 EPA per dropback, he only had a 46% success rate per nflfastR. By offensive DVOA, this was only Tampa Bay’s seventh-best game of the season according to Football Outsiders. 

Dropping Linemen Into Coverage Didn’t Work For The Packers

Where the Buccaneers really took advantage of the Packers’ defense is when Green Bay tried to drop linemen into coverage, which created mismatches in the middle of the field. Because of that, this turned into a “break Gronk in case of emergency” game. The Packers tried some sim pressure looks by bringing linebackers and cornerbacks on a four-man pass rush. That left players like Preston Smith dropping back into coverage.

To start off the second half, the Buccaneers ran Rob Gronkowski on Y-Cross, which is a Brady-Gronkowski speciality. The Packers had Smith and Oren Burks show pressure on the left side of the line before they dropped back into coverage. Smith tried to press Gronkowski the passed him off. That left Burks in the unenviable position of trying to play catch-up with Gronkowski off the line. That didn’t work well.

 

This was a killer for the Packers early in the season as they worked around finding the right roles for their personnel. After Preston Smith came in and was an impressive pass rusher along with Za’Darious Smith last season, he dropped in coverage more often during the first half of the 2020 regular season. Not only did he struggle in coverage, but he wasn’t able to create pressure when he did rush the passer. In the second half of the season. Smith has rushed the passer more often and he’s gotten back to a respectable pressure rate.

Preston Smith, Rush & Pressure Rates, 2020

WeeksRush RatePressure Rate
1-867.0%2.9%
9+80.3%10.4%

The Packers have also gone from 19th in pass defensne DVOA through the first eight weeks of the season to 10th since Week 9 and part of that has come from allowing players intended for coverage to cover more often. 

What Does This Mean?

So much of the Packers’ offensive woes came from a snowball effect once the interceptions happened and pressure continued to mount. Without an early negative game-script it’s not likely that Green Bay will be so pressed into desperation plays that worked into Tampa Bay’s favor.

One thing the Buccaneers could continue to work on is the horizontal stress with David Bakhtiari out. Vita Vea is also expected to return from injured reserve, which could beef up those heavy interior defensive linemen looks.

Tampa Bay’s offense has also clicked more since this game as the Buccaneers have worked with more 12 personnel and have even spread it with some 10 personnel. Brady was fourth in the league with 8.9 yards per attempt out of 12 personnel and was one of three quarterbacks with at least 40 pass attempts from 10 personnel. Those looks allow the offense to spread out the defense, which could be a problem for the Packers.

The Buccaneers used 29% 12 personnel against the Packers and averaged 9.1 yards per attempt. During the season, the Packers allowed their highest EPA per attempt against 12.

While this shouldn’t be a blowout either way, there are just enough things to take from the first meeting and plenty of changes since to make this an entertaining NFC Championship Game.

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