Packers (13-3) vs. Buccaneers (11-5) NFC Championship Game Preview

Packers Offense vs. Buccaneers Defense:
Buccaneers Offense vs. Packers Defense:
The Week 6 matchup between the Packers and Buccaneers was a strange one, to say the least. Aaron Rodgers made a couple of uncharacteristic mistakes that turned the tide of the game. After that, Todd Bowles and the Buccaneers Defense smelled blood in the water and attacked. The Packers weren’t able to handle their fronts or pressure schemes.

On the other side of the ball, the Buccaneers Offense did not play as well as their 38 points would indicate. 14 basically came from the Packers Offense. Tom Brady only threw for 166 yards. He only had to attempt 11 passes in the second half (which gained just 55 yards). Tampa only averaged 5.1 yards per play. For reference, the 26th best offense in the NFL averaged 5.1 yards per play in 2020.

So what should we anticipate on this side of the ball on Championship Sunday? First, the Packers play with a lot of dime personnel. It’s from this personnel grouping that it is easier for Defensive Coordinator Mike Pettine to disguise coverages and pressure schemes. With Antonio Brown out on Sunday, we could see the Buccaneers try to go with more “12” personnel (1 RB, 2 TE), see if the Packers change their personnel in response, and then react accordingly. That is, run it more if Green Bay stays in dime or throw it more if they match up with nickel. Given the receiving skills of their two tight ends, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate, they’d be able to create some mismatches vs. Green Bay in Nickel.

The Packers are more susceptible vs. the run than in other areas, and the Buccaneers have been running the ball better of late. But I still see them leaning on Tom Brady and the passing game to try and get to the Super Bowl. You might see spurts of Tampa running the ball, but nothing like what the 49ers did in last year’s NFC Championship Game.

When the Buccaneers do throw it, expect Pettine to use late movement and disguise to try and get Brady to hold the ball a split second longer so his blitz schemes can get home. Green Bay sack leader Za’Darius Smith will, to no one’s surprise, be the player to watch. Pettine loves to blitz with Smith from the outside and the middle, and we’ve seen him use Smith all across the defensive line. Expect Pettine to target right guard Aaron Stinnie, making just the second start of his career. Quick inside pressure without sacrificing coverage is the best way to get to Brady in general. This will be especially true since both of Tampa’s tackles are playing so well right now.

The Buccaneers Defense was outstanding a week ago in New Orleans. However, they had one significant factor going for them. Drew Brees’ inability to throw the ball downfield allowed them to condense the defense, sit on routes, and play aggressive man coverage without the fear of getting beat over the top. That won’t be the case against the Packers. Aaron Rodgers can attack all areas of the field. And we’ve seen Matt LaFleur do a great job of relentlessly targeting the weaknesses of defenses all season. Just look at their performance from a week ago vs. the Rams.

It’s also a safe bet to assume that the Packers will try to maintain balance all game, like they did in the Divisional round. They’ll do this because their running game is one of the best in the league, and also because they’ll want to keep Tampa’s pass rush off balance by forcing it to honor the run. The Buccaneers felt comfortable being overly aggressive vs. Green Bay in that first matchup, blitzing repeatedly and even playing Cover-0 in the middle of the field at times. The Packers can’t let them get comfortable doing the same thing on defense this time around.