NEW ORLEANS -- While Tampa Bay Buccaneers players have stated receiver Mike Evans’ involvement in Sunday’s skirmish against the New Orleans Saints helped galvanize the team, his one-game suspension means he won’t be available against quarterback Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the Bucs’ home opener Sunday.
The Bucs are already without wide receivers Chris Godwin and Julio Jones, who are both dealing with hamstring injuries sustained in Week 1 at the Dallas Cowboys, along with a knee injury that lingered for Jones. Given the temperamental nature of hamstring injuries (and both receivers have a history of hamstring injuries), they might not be available again this week.
That means the Bucs will be in a similar predicament to where they were at the end of last season, but with more depth in the receiving corps and a defense that’s surrendering a league-best 6.5 points per game.
Bolstering receiver depth was a focus this offseason in an effort to avoid a repeat of last season, when in the NFC divisional playoff game against the Los Angeles Rams they were lining up tight end Cameron Brate in the slot because there were no more healthy receivers available.
Stepping in for Evans, who was ejected Sunday -- along with Saints defensive back Marshon Lattimore for their part in a brawl -- was Breshad Perriman. Perriman caught the Bucs’ lone offensive touchdown of the game in the fourth quarter -- a 28-yard grab on a corner route working against P.J. Williams that gave the Bucs a 10-3 lead with 7:49 to go.
Evans is the other Buc to catch one of quarterback Tom Brady's two touchdown passes this season. He is the only receiver over 100 receiving yards (132) through two games, and he leads the team in receptions with eight.
Perriman is very physical and can certainly outrun defenders, but injuries have plagued him throughout his eight-year career (he missed a chunk of training camp because of a hamstring injury), so he’s not a player you can anticipate being available all season. In spot duty though, he has stepped up and has shown he doesn’t need a whole lot of repetitions with Brady to get the job done. He caught the game-winning touchdown last season against the Buffalo Bills in overtime in Week 14.
Russell Gage, a new addition this offseason, split reps with Evans, Scotty Miller and Perriman in the slot Sunday. He caught five passes on seven targets for 28 receiving yards. Gage is still working on his chemistry with Brady, but the Packers are allowing 11.57 yards per reception -- 10th most in the league this season -- having had a number of coverage busts in Week 1 because of the Minnesota Vikings’ usage of motion and the presence of Justin Jefferson.
Miller, who is best known for his buzzer-beating catch before halftime in the NFC Championship Game, will stand to see more opportunities too. He was virtually invisible last year after coming back from a significant turf toe injury. Some wondered if he’d be a training camp casualty after a shaky preseason. So far this season, he has caught just three passes on eight targets, but the majority of those passes were deep (16.75 average on air yards). He made a 23-yard grab in the first quarter Sunday.
But the Packers’ biggest hole is defending the run, and that will likely mean another big week of relying on running back Leonard Fournette, similar to what happened against the Dallas Cowboys, against whom he totaled 127 rushing yards.
The Packers have surrendered 306 yards on the ground in the first two weeks -- fifth most in the league. Dalvin Cook put up 90 rushing yards in Week 1, and David Montgomery had 122 in Week 2. This would alleviate some of the strain on the offensive line, which had to rely on a third-string offensive tackle, Brandon Walton, to step in for Josh Wells at left tackle because of a calf injury Sunday.
If all else fails, the Bucs can also rely on their defense against the Packers on Sunday (4:25 p.m. ET, Fox) as they have in the first two games.
While the Bucs gave up some big rushing plays in Week 1, their run defense is still considered an area of strength -- allowing just 86.5 rushing yards per game (tied for ninth). They’re also giving up 189.5 passing yards per game -- eighth best. Their six forced turnovers are tied for third most in the league, and their four interceptions are tied for fourth.