How the Buccaneers Defense Slowed Down the Packers

The Buccaneers Defense certainly didn’t shut down the Packers. But they did enough to keep Green Bay’s Offense from taking over the game. The Buccaneers were able to thwart multiple drives by getting consistent pressure on Aaron Rodgers. Sometimes this was due to Tampa’s pass rushers winning 1-on-1’s. Other times, it was due to smart coverage choices designed to take away what Rodgers wanted to do and force him to hold the ball.

On the Packers’ first 3rd down of the game, Todd Bowles did this by playing 2-man (man-to-man with two deep safeties) and cutting Davante Adams’ in-breaking route with one of those two deep safeties, Mike Edwards. Adams’ man, cornerback Carlton Davis, then fell off Adams and replaced Edwards deep to provide help over the top elsewhere.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass
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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

That’s a well-executed coverage designed for the situation. Rodgers’ best option was taken away, and the Buccaneers were able to get to him for the sack.

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The Buccaneers used a similar look to get a critical sack on this 3rd-and-5 in the 4th quarter. This time focus on safety Andrew Adams and cornerback Jamel Dean at the bottom of the screen.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

You can see Adams cut off Allen Lazard’s crossing route and Dean replace him over the top.

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Screen Shot Courtesy of NFL.com Gamepass

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The coverage design took away Rodgers’ preferred option again. And this gave the pass rush time to get home.

From the end zone angle, you can see that the Buccaneers used an E-T stunt to the left, and Shaquil Barrett won his 1-on-1 to the right vs. tackle Ricky Wagner (#71). This collapsed the pocket and gave Rodgers no escape lanes after the coverage took his initial options away.

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There were plenty of other instances throughout the game where it didn’t take good coverage to get to Rodgers. The Packers’ O-line was just beat with quick pressure. Below, watch Jason Pierre-Paul (#90) beat left tackle Billy Turner (#77) multiple times in multiple ways.

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The Buccaneers racked up 5 sacks against Rodgers on Sunday. For the season, they sacked him 9 times in 2 games. The rest of the NFL combined to sack him 16 times in 16 games.

It wasn’t just the sacks, though. Rodgers was under duress all day. The Buccaneers pressured him 22 times, the most ever in his playoff career according to ESPN Stats and Information data. You can make a good case that the Packers should have stuck with the run game a little more, even with Aaron Jones out for most of the second half. On the other side of the ball, Tampa’s Offense stuck with the run even thought it wasn’t resulting in many yards. However, it helped keep Green Bay’s pass rush neutralized. Perhaps the Packers could have used their ground game in the same way to help slow down the Buccaneers’ ability to pressure Rodgers. Either way, Green Bay really missed starting left tackle David Bakhtiari.

You can play just about any coverage you want when your pass rush is getting pressure. 2-man is always a great choice. It allows defensive backs to confidently and aggressively get their hands on receivers and disrupt them early in the play because they know they have help over the top. This coverage led to the sacks shown above as well as two takeaways by the Buccaneers.

On Rodgers’ interception before the end of the half, you can see the 2-man look (2 deep safeties, man-to-man across the board). Focus on Sean Murphy-Bunting in the slot to the left on Allen Lazard. He was able to be physical with Lazard and…extra handsy.

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Holding penalty aside, Murphy-Bunting did a great job here. If the refs aren’t going to call it, as has been the case all postseason, grab and get physical. He also did a hell of a job of even catching this ball as he didn’t get his head around until the very last moment.

At the start of the 3rd quarter, the Buccaneers again created a turnover out of 2-man coverage on 3rd down. Here, the Packers did a great job of scheming an open receiver on a designed natural-rub play to running back Aaron Jones. Safety Jordan Whitehead at the top of the screen recognized it and closed quickly to force the fumble.

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Because the Packers had a tight end aligned on the outside to the left, it appeared that Whitehead likely felt he didn’t have to worry as much about getting depth. He was free to hunt up any routes inside. That design might have worked better with Davante Adams or any other wide receiver aligned on the perimeter to the left.

It’s unfortunate that Aaron Rodgers is going to have to continue to deal with the media ridiculousness that will continue to follow him after this loss, because he had another really good game. Not seen here were the 5 spectacular throws he made with ease. With such ease, in fact, that they were hardly noticed and will soon be forgotten.

Unfortunately, Rodgers and the Packers will be haunted by their red zone failures in this game. Their misses weren’t egregious by any means. This back-shoulder throw to Davante Adams in the 2nd quarter was just a few inches too far outside, likely influence by a blitzing defensive back off the edge.

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The third down incompletion to Davante Adams two plays later would have been a touchdown if Rodgers got rid of the ball just a hair sooner.

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You can see him hesitate and double pump for just a split second before releasing the ball. That made all the difference.

The below play is the one that has gotten the most attention. It looked like Rodgers had room to run for the touchdown to his right after stepping up in the pocket:

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I think he probably scores there if he tucks it and runs. However, I understand why he didn’t. Rodgers had his jersey grabbed and then his foot swiped as he navigated the pocket to avoid pressure. He said in the postgame that he felt the defender behind him to his right as he started to escape. It’s possible the disruption in the pocket slowed him down enough to cast doubt on his ability to outrun the defense to the pylon:

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Regardless of why he didn’t run it, wouldn’t it have been nice to see Rodgers get one more chance on 4th down?

The failure to capitalize in the red zone will surely be used as a knock against Rodgers. It shouldn’t be. Rodgers did more than his part all afternoon. And on the list of the top 100 reasons Green Bay lost on Sunday, Rodgers is reason #100 all the way at the bottom.

Many in the media love to turn the NFL into a 1-on-1 pickup basketball game between quarterbacks. Whichever team wins, their quarterback was the better man. Often, that actually is the case. On Sunday in the NFC Championship Game, it was not. For what it’s worth, Aaron Rodgers outplayed Tom Brady by a wide margin, and he did so against a superior defense while under much more duress. There’s not a valid case to be made otherwise. Unfortunately, that doesn’t do Rodgers or the Packers any good. Football is a team sport, and Tampa was the better team in the NFC Championship Game.

2 comments

  1. Statistically, Aaron Rodgers is the all-time best quarterback, having gone to and won one Superbowl in his career. We see him akin to Karl Malone of the former Utah Jazz. He has it all. But he won’t be winning any more Super Bowls. Tom Brady, every time he steps on the field, wants to win it all. That’s it. That’s what Michael Jordan had. It’s the difference between winning and losing by one score.

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