As training camp approaches for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, and with it the unofficial start to the season, we are taking a closer look at the opponents on the team's 2022 schedule. Next up is the Green Bay Packers, who visit Raymond James Stadium in Week Three on September 25. The Sunday afternoon contest will mark the Bucs' first home game of the season and it begins in thrilling fashion with a highly-anticipated NFC marquee matchup. The clash between Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will be the first time the two storied franchises have met since the 2020 playoffs.
The Green Bay Packers won the NFC North crown for the third straight season (2019-21) and earned the No. 1 seed in the postseason in the NFC in 2021 for the fourth time since 1990 (providing home-field advantage) but fell short of the ultimate goal. Throughout the duration of the season, the Packers dealt with a myriad of injuries; the club's top pass rusher Za'Darius Smith was placed on injured reserve following Week One, the club also lost cornerback Jaire Alexander to a shoulder injury and Green Bay had to manage without starting left tackle and offensive line anchor, David Bakhtiari as he worked his way back from a torn ACL. Despite the injuries, the Packers once again cemented themselves as one of the NFL's powerhouses.
Green Bay concluded the 2021 season as one of the league's premier aerial attacks, led by the NFL's Most Valuable Player under center: Aaron Rodgers. With his pinpoint precision, the mechanically sound signal-caller threw for 4,115 yards and tossed 37 touchdowns to just four interceptions. The 38-year-old guided the offense to finishing 10th in the league in points per game (360 yards on average in each contest). Davante Adams, one of the NFL's top route-running technicians, entrenched his esteemed legacy on the gridiron surpassing Jordy Nelson's single-season receiving yards record; he caught a career-high 123 passes for 1,553 yards and 11 touchdowns. However, against the 49ers in the playoffs, after two successful opening drives, the offense struggled to produce outside of Adams and Aaron Jones. The club mustered just 58 total yards in the second half as their sensational season came to a close.
On the defensive side of the ball, Green Bay hit new strides under the leadership of Joe Barry in his first year. The former Los Angeles Rams assistant spearheaded the unit to top 15 grades in points, rushing yards and passing yards allowed per game. In his third year, Rashan Gary had a stellar campaign with 9.5 sacks in 16 games and Preston Smith stepped up in a larger role with the absence of Za'Darius Smith. He notched nine tackles for loss and two forced fumbles that shifted the momentum to Green Bay. Rasul Douglas reached new heights with a career-high five interceptions in nine game starts, including two back-to-back pick-sixes. Against the Cardinals, Douglas sealed the victory with an interception in the end zone as the clock expired.
A glaring weakness for the team that many believed would represent the NFC in the Super Bowl? Special Teams was an absolute nightmare for the Packers down the stretch. The Divisional Round of the postseason was a microcosm of the team's lackluster unit. Against San Francisco, the Packers yielded a blocked punt and surrendered a blocked field goal. Their special teams' unit ranked last in opponent punt-return average with 12.8 yards given up per runback and converted field goals at the second-lowest rate in the league. Instead of hoisting the Lombardi Trophy, like many other teams, the Packers are left with the permeating question, 'What If?'
The Packers drafted linebacker Quay Walker and defensive tackle Devonte Wyatt in the first round to bolster the defense. In a surprising turn of events, the Packers passed on moving up to select Jameson Williams to fill the void at receiver. Williams would have been taken off the board much higher with his speed, but he tore his ACL in the CFP National Championship Game. The Packers decided to go a different route and the defensive acquisitions did not stop with Walker and Wyatt. Brian Gutekunst brought in another viable contributor as Green Bay signed veteran tackle Jarran Reed in free agency, to solidify the line next to Kenny Clark. Reed has 80 career starts and can make an impact from Day 1 with his interior pass rush ability. The Packers also brought back All-Pro linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, tight end Robert Tonyan (coming off a torn ACL suffered in October) and punter Pat O'Donnell. Green Bay tendered Allen Lazard, with the rapport he has built with Rodgers. They were able to retain Jaire Alexander and brought in Sammy Watkins, along with second-round pick Christian Watson to replace the contributions of Adams. However, losing a touted-top five receiver in the league will be tough shoes to fill in the frozen tundra.
The Packers lost two of their top three receivers from last season with the blockbuster Davante Adams trade and Marquez Valdes-Scantling's departure to the Chiefs. The Packers traded Adams to the Raiders in exchange for first (22nd overall) and second-round picks (No. 53) in this year's draft. The cap space created by trading Adams allowed the Packers to re-sign Douglas and Campbell. As a cap casualty, the Packers released Za'Darius Smith in order to secure the new lucrative contract for Rodgers.
What Else is New?
The embarrassing 2021 output by the special teams unit ushered in change. Matt LaFleur hired Rich Bisaccia to assume the special teams coordinator role. With a plethora of jobs spanning the past two decades in the NFL, Bisaccia is highly regarded for his leadership. Previously, he has been an assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (then) San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys and Las Vegas Raiders. After the termination of Jon Gruden, the Raiders promoted Bisaccia to become the interim head coach and he guided the club to seven wins in 13 games. The Packers need significant improvement in the special teams phase and now Bisaccia will take over. The Packers are hopeful he can be a catalyst for change in evolving the undervalued unit in Green Bay.
How will several key players recover from ACL injuries?
Green Bay became decimated by long-term injuries last year suffered by several cornerstone players. Robert Tonyan, David Bakhtiari, Elgton Jenkins and Kylin Hill all sustained significant ACL injuries. Bakhtiari suffered his back in December of 2020 but did not make a full recovery last season, needing additional rehabilitation and, Jenkins was hurt in November of 2022. Jenkins could be looking at a mid-season return to form in the lineup. The injuries to Tonyan and Hill came against the Cardinals in October of 2021. Speculation ensues on when all will be able to suit up during the 2022 regular season. The timetable for return is unknown but post-injury production is also a question mark with the nature of the respective injuries.
How can the Packers replace Davonte Adams?
Davante Adams and Marquez Valdes-Scantling put up nearly 2,000 yards in 2021. Replacing their impact will be challenging and with the club's pass-centric attack complementing Rodgers, more pressure is placed on the pass-catching cast. With video-game worthy highlights, Adams did it all for the Packers featuring YAC-ability, lethal double moves, and a rare release to generate separation. He was nearly un-guardable and now the Packers will enter a transition period at the premium position. For Kansas City, Watkins averaged 537 yards per season but that is a result of the crowded receiver room behind Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce. Both Christian Watson and fourth-round pick Romeo Doubs will undergo the offseason process of learning the ins-and-outs of the Packers' route running and building camaraderie with Rodgers. Lazard and a healthy Tonyan can help carry the slack. Watkins possesses vertical speed and can maximize his leverage to catch the ball, extending his arm away from his body and exploding through the catch point. He has predominately been used on targets behind the line of scrimmage or short crossing routes. Watkins has a running back mentality with the ball in his hands. He will look to solidify the corps, along with Watson. Watson, a size and speed threat out of North Dakota State, will strive to become a difference-maker at the NFL level. His acceleration off the line of scrimmage made him an intriguing prospect and his flexibility will provide an upside for Matt LaFleur and co.