TAMPA, Fla. -- Prior to Sunday night’s NFC divisional playoff win over the New Orleans Saints, two games told the story of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers’ 2020 season: a 38-10 upset of the Green Bay Packers in Week 6, and a 38-3 “rock bottom” moment against the Saints in Week 9. How fitting that these two teams emerged yet again to help write its final chapters in the Bucs’ quest for a hometown Super Bowl.
Against the Saints, they shored up protection of quarterback Tom Brady, giving up just one sack. They were more dialed in to the Saints’ defensive line stunts. When the Saints took away their deep routes, they had better answers with their short passing game and stayed committed to the run. Instead of giving significant cushion to the Saints’ receivers and respecting a waning deep ball from Drew Brees, the Bucs’ cornerbacks pressed at the line of scrimmage to disrupt their timing, rendering Michael Thomas catchless.
“We’re such a different team than when we played back in November,” coach Bruce Arians said Monday. “The same thing -- Green Bay’s a different team than we played back then so those games don’t really matter anymore.”
Tight end Cam Brate also cautioned against relying too much on history.
“That was a great team win for us. We got down 10-0 and scored 38 unanswered [points], but we’ve also lost to the Saints 38-3 and we won yesterday,” Brate said. “Anything can happen during a football game. I just remember the offense didn’t have to do too much. We had a pick-six on defense and then two plays later, we got set up inside the 5-yard line. Just a game that our defense kind of dominated.”
Still, there are some concepts that worked well for the Bucs in Week 6 that could be applied to the game plan this week, particularly on defense, without being too predictable. There are also things they can build on from the NFC divisional game to carry over against the Packers despite the Packers and the Saints being two very different teams.
In Week 6 against the Packers, defensive coordinator Todd Bowles unleashed Devin White and Lavonte David, who combined for 18 tackles, 5.5 tackles for loss and 2.5 sacks in that game. The defense had a lot of success with zone blitzes attacking Rodgers while still eliminating his downfield options. Bowles would rush White, David and nickelback Sean Murphy-Bunting, but then he’d drop Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul into coverage.
Aaron Rodgers struggled significantly in picking up the Bucs' blitzes in Week 6, going 5-of-14 for 61 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions, producing a Total QBR of 0.6. In ESPN Stats & Information’s database of 1,995 games since 2006 where a quarterback had 15 or more action plays against the blitz, Rodgers’ performance that day ranks seventh worst of them all. Rodgers was also blitzed on four of his five interceptions this year.
The Packers had little success getting to the perimeter with running backs Jamaal Williams and Aaron Jones in Week 6. The defense was lined up a lot more in zone with more cornerback cushion compared to what they did against the Saints in the NFC divisional game in an effort to eliminate the big downfield play. If they can get Vita Vea back healthy this week, that would help seal off the interior too, as the Packers have run it up the middle at a higher rate than all but four other teams in the league this year.
It should also be noted that while the Bucs lined up in significantly more man coverage against the Saints on Sunday, they played 61% of their snaps in zone in Week 6, according to ESPN coverage metrics using NFL Next Gen Stats, notching one of their interceptions in zone coverage. The more teams have played zone against Rodgers the past two seasons, the better they've fared.
Interestingly, Rodgers has thrown eight touchdowns and nine interceptions against the Buccaneers in his career, the only team he’s thrown more INTs than passing TDs against.
It should also be noted that just because Bucs’ cornerbacks gave more cushion in Week 6 and won that game doesn't mean they should line up the same way this week. When the Bucs gave the Packers 3 yards or less of cushion and pressed at the line of scrimmage, Rodgers completed 37.5% of his passes on eight dropbacks.
But when the Bucs allowed 5 yards or more of cushion, they gave up a 58.3% completion percentage. While the drop-off in cushion in other Packers games isn’t quite as severe, there is still a 9 percentage point drop in completions when teams press against them. However, that rule doesn’t apply to every Packers receiver. Davante Adams is actually one of the best receivers in the league this year against press coverage.
Will Carlton Davis shadow Adams throughout the game? He lined up against Thomas Sunday on 18 routes and allowed zero catches on three targets, according to NFL Next Gen Stats. Davis lined up across Adams on 24 routes in Week 6. When Davis was the nearest defender to Adams he allowed two receptions for 21 yards on four targets and had an interception.