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Tampa Bay Buccaneers

2023 Opponent Preview: Green Bay Packers, Week 15

The Packers are turning to Jordan Love at quarterback after trading Aaron Rodgers to the Jets and will field a defense poised to return to its strong 2021 form


As the NFL enters its fallow period between the end the teams' offseason programs and the start of training camp, we are taking a closer look at each of the opponents the Tampa Bay Buccaneers will face during the 2023 regular season. From how those teams fared last year to what they've done with the roster since to some as-yet-unanswered questions, we want to get a better feel for what the Buccaneers will be up against this fall. Today we look at a Green Bay team that finished 8-9 in 2022 after three consecutive 13-win seasons, one that will be breaking in a new starting quarterback after three decades of riding Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers.

2022 Results

The Green Bay Packers and the Buccaneers have been on parallel paths since 2020, with one very significant intersection. In 2020, the two teams met in the NFC Championship in Green Bay, with the Bucs punching their ticket to Super Bowl LV. In 2021, Tampa Bay and Green Bay tied for the NFL's best regular season record at 13-4 before both teams lost in the Divisional Round of the playoffs by a three-point margin to an NFC West team. Last year, both teams slipped to 8-9, though that did translate into a division title for the Buccaneers. And in 2023 both teams are moving on from one of the most accomplished quarterbacks in NFL history.

The Packers employed four-time NFL MVP Aaron Rodgers for an 18th and final season before trading him to the Jets this offseason. However, Rodgers no longer had his top running mate, Davante Adams, after he was traded to the Raiders in March of 2022. That certainly didn't help an offense that led the league in scoring in 2020 and finished ninth in 2021 but, in another parallel with Tom Brady's Buccaneers, fell well down those rankings in 2022, to 17th.

Green Bay got off to a decent start despite a 23-7 Week One loss at Minnesota in which rookie wide receiver Christian Watson dropped what would have been a 75-yard touchdown catch on the Packers' very first play of the season. The Packers then reeled off three straight wins, including a 14-12 decision in Tampa that was preserved when a two-point attempt by the Buccaneers failed with 13 seconds left.

However, the Packers would continue to be very streaky, losing five in a row and six of their last seven before rebounding with four straight wins up to the second-to-last weekend of the regular season. The losing streak included one-score losses to the Giants, Commanders and Lions; in the end, Green Bay would finish the season 4-5 in one-score decisions.

As Rodgers began to build more of a rapport with rookie receivers Watson and Romeo Doubs, the Packers were definitely competitive in the second half of the season. In Week 10, Rodgers connected with Watson on three touchdown passes and safety Rudy Ford picked Dak Prescott off twice as Green Bay beat a strong Cowboys squad, 31-28, in overtime. The Packers also fought the eventual NFC Champion Eagles to a close 40-33 decision in Philadelphia, with Watson catching another touchdown pass in the losing effort. Green Bay then took down the playoff-bound Dolphins, 24-12, in Miami and thrashed the NFC North-winning Vikings, 41-17, in Weeks 16 and 17. Keisean Nixon sparked that blowout with a 105-yard kickoff return touchdown, which was followed a few minutes later by Darnell Savage's 75-yard pick six. The Packers' season ended in a 20-16 loss to the Lions in a game that denied Green Bay a playoff spot.

Nixon, who had returned all of six kickoffs in unremarkable fashion over three seasons with the Raiders, proved to be an incredible find for Green Bay. He returned 35 kickoffs for 1,009 yards, both NFL highs. He averaged 12.7 yards on 11 punt returns for good measure.

The Packers fielded a middle-of-the-pack offense in 2022, ranking 17th in yards produced and 14th in points scored. Rodgers threw 12 interceptions, the first time he had hit double digits in a season in that category since 2010, and his 91.2 passer rating, while still quite respectable was his lowest in a season since he became a starter. It didn't help that Rodgers played two-thirds of the season with a broken thumb on his throwing hand. Watson did eventually come into his own, racking up 584 receiving yards in his last eight games and averaging a stellar 2.58 yards per route run. Running back Aaron Jones had another strong season, finishing with 1,121 rushing yards, 59 catches for 395 yards and seven total touchdowns. The return of two-time All-Pro tackle David Bakhtiari to pre-injury form certainly helped; while Bakhtiari did miss six games he was dominant when on the field, allowing just 10 pressures and no sacks in 11 starts.

Green Bay's defense took a step back after a surprisingly strong 2021 campaign that included breakout performances from the likes of linebacker De'Vondre Campbell, defensive end Rashan Gary and cornerback Rasul Douglas. Gary followed up with another productive season, with six sacks and 12 QB hits but was lost for the season to an ACL tear after just nine games. The Packers slipped from ninth to 17th in the league's defensive rankings, ranking 26th against the run and 28th in yards allowed per pass play. Green Bay did pick off 17 passes, led by Jaire Alexander's five and Douglas's four.

2023 Arrivals

The Packers were very quiet in free agency, and while that is essentially a long-running team philosophy, the issue was complicated this time around by the six weeks of limbo between the opening of the market and the date the Rodgers trade was completed, just before the draft. Already in a tight cap situation, Green Bay had to wait until Rodgers hit on that cap was resolved before charting a course.

As such, the Packers did basically two things in free agency: added some depth at safety and brought in a new long-snapper.

The safety depth comes in the form of former Texan Jonathan Owens and former 49er Tarvarius Moore, each of whom got one year deals. After the Packers got inconsistent play from that position in 2022, they let Adrian Amos walk but did pick up the fifth-year option on Darnell Savage. Moore was a special teams player in San Francisco but Owens did start all 17 games in Houston last year and should push Ford for a starting spot opposite Savage.

The new long-snapper is Matt Orzech, who handled that job for the Rams in every game over the last two seasons, and for the Jaguars in 2020. The Packers have not re-signed their incumbent at the position, Jack Coco, and while they did also bring in undrafted rookie Broughton Hatcher, the three-year deal that Orzech got would seem to peg him as the likely winner of that job.

In part due to the Rodgers and Adams trades, the Packers did eventually collect 13 draft picks, so there will definitely be an infusion of young talent in 2023. That haul started in the first round with Iowa edge rusher Lukas Van Ness, who should help form a potent pass-rushing rotation with Gary and Preston Smith. This, too, continued a longstanding Packers tradition. Green Bay has made 12 first-round draft picks since 2012 and 11 of them have been defenders. The only exception was quarterback Jordan Love in 2020.

Green Bay did then pivot to offense for its next three picks and landed three potential starters in Oregon State tight end Luke Musgrave (picked 42nd overall), Michigan State wide receiver Jayden Reed (50th) and South Dakota State tight end Tucker Kraft. With Robert Tonyan gone and Marcedes Lewis still not re-signed, the two rookies should jump right to the top of the depth chart. Both are fluid athletes with the skills to develop into two-way tight ends. Reed doesn't fit Green Bay's typical mold for receivers in the draft because he is a bit undersized, but he's fast and feisty and could get work right away in the slot.

Green Bay added another receiver in the fifth round in Virginia's Dontayvion Wicks. Some draft analysts believe the steal amid the Packers' bloated class is sixth-round defensive lineman Karl Brooks out of Bowling Green, and the team needed some extra depth there after losing several players to free agency.

2023 Departures

The biggest one, of course, is Rodgers flying off to the Jets after 18 years in Green Bay, the last few of which seemed to be growing increasingly testy. In the trade, Green Bay received second and sixth-round picks in the 2023 draft and a 2024 second-rounder that becomes a first-rounder if Rodgers plays 65% of the Jets' offensive snaps. Rodgers' departure also leaves Green Bay with a $40 million dead cap hit.

Through the Packers famously "only" won one Super Bowl during Rodgers 15 years as a starter, he compiled a 157-85-1 record as a starter, playoffs included, and led his team to the playoffs in 11 of those 15 years. Rodgers is closing in on 60,000 passing yards and 500 touchdowns, and his career passer rating of 103.6 is second in NFL history only to fellow multiple-time-MVP Patrick Mahomes. With the Packers and Rodgers finally splitting up the team will turn to Love, who has played sparingly in his first three seasons but has an impressive set of skills for the job.

The reason the Packers needed some extra depth on their defensive line was because Jarren Reed took a two-year deal to return to Seattle and Dean Lowry jumped to the rival Vikings on his own two-year pact. Reed started 14 games and had 2.5 sacks in his only year in Green Bay; Lowry played seven seasons for the Packers, starting 80 games including 12 last year.

Wide receivers Allen Lazard and Randall Cobb hit the market and surprised no one by rejoining Rodgers in the Meadowlands. Cobb's deal is just for one year and he may have trouble breaking into a suddenly deep Jets receiving corps, but Lazard's four-year $44 million deal suggests a much larger role is in story. Lazard led the Packers with 60 catches and 783 yards in 2022 and caught seven touchdown passes. Perhaps unrelated to the Rodgers move, Amos also signed with the Jets.

The Packers lost another pass-catcher in tight end Robert Tonyan, though as noted they reloaded in the draft. Tonyan hasn't repeated his out-of-the-blue 11-touchdown performance in 2020, with a total of just four over the past two seasons, but he did catch 53 passes last year for 470 yards.

Other Noteworthy Developments

Though Love's three-year wait to get the starting job is exactly what Rodgers had at the beginning of his career, the current salary structure instituted by the 2011 CBA complicates the matter. The Packers faced a decision this spring about whether or not to pick up the fifth-year option on Love's contract, which is something all first-rounders get in their deals now. If the Packers chose not to pick it up and Love had a great season, the team would be in the same position as the Giants were this year, when they had to give Daniel Jones a significantly larger deal in order to keep him. However, if the Packers did pick that up and Love was a bust, they would be on the hook for a large 2024 salary. Green Bay got around the issue by signing Love to a one-year extension through 2024 that includes less guaranteed money than the fifth-year option would have had but incentives that could make it worth more.

While Green Bay unsurprisingly sat out free agency, they did get a number of deals done to keep some of their own players in town. That included Nixon, whose breakout season earned him a $4 million deal. Others who re-signed with the Packers included nose tackle Jonathan Ford, linebackers Eric Wilson and Justin Hollins and safety Dallin Leavitt.

Nixon may end up doing even more to earn that new salary in 2023 thanks to the uncertainty surrounding third-year cornerback Eric Stokes, a first-round draft pick in 2021. Stokes suffered both a torn meniscus in his knee and a Lisfranc injury in his foot in Ween Nine last season and had to have corrective surgery for both injuries. He did not take part in the Packers' offseason practices and as of late May had no timetable for his return to the field. If Stokes is not ready for the start of the season or is limited in some way, the Packers may need Nixon to take over in the slot.

Pressing Questions

What do the Packers have in Jordan Love?

In the 2020 draft, Green Bay used a first-round pick on Utah State quarterback Jordan Love, even trading up four spots to make sure they got him. It was a somewhat surprising move; Green Bay still had Aaron Rodgers performing at a high level, and Love is the only offensive player the Packers have drafted in the first round since 2012.

Rodgers responded by blazing through two consecutive MVP seasons, meaning there was little regular-season work for Love in his first three years in the NFL. He started one game as a rookie, a loss to the Chiefs, when Rodgers was on the COVID list, and in two years he has thrown a total of 83 regular season passes. In a handful of late-game relief appearances last year, Love completed 14 of his 21 passes, threw one touchdown and no interceptions and had a 112.2 passer rating.

Love reportedly impressed teammates and coaches with his performance in offseason practices now that he has the starting job, but it's fair to consider him something of an unknown quantity. Prior to the 2020 draft, scouts were impressed with his size, mobility and arm talent but felt he needed improvement in terms of accuracy and anticipation. The Packers, of course, have had three years to help Love hone his NFL game, and now they're going to find out if it paid off. At the moment, the only other quarterbacks on Green Bay's roster are rookie fifth-round pick Sean Clifford and former Patriots seventh-rounder Danny Etling, who has not played in a regular season game. The Packers are all-in on Love in 2023, and perhaps beyond.

Will the Packers' defense in 2023 look more like it did in 2021 or 2022?

As noted above, Green Bay's defense declined in 2022 after a strong season in 2021 under first-year coordinator Joe Barry. Barry remains, as does most of the core of that 2021 unit, including Kenny Clark, Preston Smith, De'Vondre Campbell, Rashan Gary, Jaire Alexander, Darnell Savage and Rasul Douglas. The Packers have also added top draft picks Devonte Wyatt, Quay Walker and Lukas Van Ness in the past two drafts. The pieces seem to be in place for Green Bay's defense to perform as it did two years ago when the team ranked ninth in yards allowed, but it will need bounce back seasons from Campbell and Savage and a bigger contribution from Wyatt to return to that form.

The secondary was a concern for the Packers last year, as they dropped from fifth in yards allowed per pass play in 2021 to 28th in 2022. Adrian Amos left in free agency after a disappointing season and the team brought in some depth in free agency in Tarvarius Moore and Jonathan Owens. There are questions at slot cornerback, too, with Eric Stokes trying to return from a torn ACL. With an inexperienced starting quarterback taking over, the Packers may need to lean on their defense to remain competitive in the NFC North.

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