If you don’t believe in momentum, then you need to go back and watch last Sunday’s matchup between the Packers and Buccaneers. Green Bay scored on its first two drives before interceptions on consecutive 3rd downs put them in a 14-10 hole. Somehow, this highly-anticipated game was basically over by halftime.
Neither interception was the result of trickery. The first one was a bad decision and an uncharacteristic forced pass by Aaron Rodgers. The second came on a 3rd-and-3 with the Buccaneers playing tight-man coverage. Carlton Davis won against Davante Adams and forced the interception. The Packers still had plenty of time to right the ship, but those two plays seemed to completely throw off Rodgers and the Packers Offense for the rest of the game.
Momentum aside, Buccaneers Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles had a good plan for attacking Green Bay. In previewing the game, we talked about how the Packers have been doing a great job of beating man coverage using trips bunch formations and creating traffic with their route combinations for defenders to have to fight through. Sure enough, they attacked Tampa successfully with these concepts in the first quarter.
Focus on the top of the screen here. You can see the bunch look as well as the defenders who matched up to it in man-free coverage.
The Packers were able to get a wide-open shallow crosser due to the traffic created by the formation and route concept.
On the very next play, the Packers came out in a trips bunch formation. The Buccaneers again matched up in man-free. Again, the traffic created an open receiver.
After these way-too-easy completions, the Buccaneers adjusted. On the below 3rd-and-3 in the 2nd quarter, the Packers were again aligned in a trips bunch look. The Buccaneers appeared to match up in man-free coverage. This time, however, you can see that the free safety in the middle of the field was tighter to the line of scrimmage.
The Buccaneers would not be caught with just 3 defenders to handle 3 receivers in a trips bunch yet again. This time, the free safety jumped inside to take away the shallow crosser.
The Buccaneers used 4 defenders to account for 3 Green Bay receivers, taking away one of the route concepts that the Packers had been utilizing so effectively all season to beat man coverage.
You can also notice that the outside and inside cornerbacks against the trips look played the releases (inside-outside) of Green Bay’s receivers instead of matching up to a man pre-snap and following them. This also helped negate the effect of the bunch look. Rodgers was forced to hold the ball here, and the result was a sack.
With this coverage (Cover-0), the Buccaneers had no deep safety. That’s quite the risk for a play in the middle of the field against Aaron Rodgers. To ensure that Rodgers didn’t have time to make a play after his shallow crosser was taken away, Bowles married the coverage look with a blitz scheme that created quick pressure.
From the end zone angle, you can see the alignment. Notice how outside linebacker and 19.5-sack man Shaquil Barrett aligned at middle linebacker over the center. Speedy inside linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White aligned on the outside to provide quick pressure off the edge.
The Packers had to account for Barrett, who was more likely to rush the passer than drop into coverage. With Barrett aligned over the center, that meant the Buccaneers had 4 potential pass rushers aligned to the strength of the formation.
Green Bay slid their protection that way in response. And this left running back Jamaal Williams to account for Lavonte David on the other side of the formation.
David was too fast off the edge for Williams to get to, though. Rodgers had no chance to look elsewhere after his first read was taken away, and the result was a sack.
Getting to the quarterback with speed is a staple of any Todd Bowles defense. He loves to use defensive backs to put quick pressure on the quarterback. In Tampa, he has two very fast linebackers in David and White, and this gives him more flexibility in his blitz designs. He attacked Green Bay relentlessly with them on Sunday.
During Green Bay’s disastrous 2nd quarter, Bowles seemed to smell blood in the water. He started to dial up more coverage disguises and blitzes (as you saw above). In the second half, even as the game was clearly in the Buccaneers’ hands, he didn’t let up. The below sack came off a blitz on first down.
I love this. Bowles didn’t want the Packers to have even the slightest chance of getting back in the game. He wanted to create negative plays on early downs to keep the Packers in less manageable down-and-distance situations. Someone find a way to inject this line of thinking into every defensive coordinator who starts playing soft zone as soon as he gets a two-score lead.
But Bowles didn’t stop there. How about this blitz he dialed up in the 4th quarter with the score 38-10?
The Packers had a 7-man protection here and Tampa was still able to get a free rusher (Devin White) in Rodgers’ face.
It’s hard to argue that this one game is representative of how good or bad both of these teams are. The Packers were doing whatever they wanted against the rest of the NFL on their way to a 4-0 start before traveling to Tampa. In the two weeks prior to Week 6, the Buccaneers were forgetting what down it was, racking up penalties like it was their mission, and getting picked apart by a rookie quarterback making his 3rd start. No, this was just another example in a long line of “that’s why they play the game” lessons the NFL gives us every week. Hopefully, we all get to see a rematch in January.