The Green Bay Packers have the most productive offense, and perhaps one of the most efficient, averaging a league-leading 31.8 points per game this season. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers threw the most touchdown passes in the regular season with 48 and led the league in passer rating with an astounding season-long average of 121.5. Wide receiver Davante Adams caught the most touchdown passes of any wide receiver in 2020 with 18 and he tied for the second-most receiving yards on the season with 1,374. And as if they needed more help, the Packers also have running back Aaron Jones, who rushed for 1,104 yards this year – the fourth best mark in the NFL.
Couple that with one of the best offensive lines who has let up the second-fewest sacks and allowed Green Bay an average of 132.4 yards per game on the ground and these guys look almost unstoppable.
While the league's MVP is undoubtedly the Packers' X-factor, the offense runs through, well, the run. Stopping it, is what this Buccaneers defense does best. They let up just 80.6 yards per game this season. Go back to the start of 2019 and their per-game average goes even lower to 77.2 yards per game. In that same span, the Bucs have allowed just 3.43 yards per carry. Both of those aforementioned numbers are league bests.
If the Bucs can take away the run from the Packers, Rodgers is left with limited options. That's what happened in Week Six, when Tampa Bay held the future Hall of Famer to his lowest passer rating of the season, 35.4, after throwing two picks and completing just 45.7% of his pass attempts. They sacked him four times, which was the second-most of any game in 2020. It was thanks to some creative pressure from the front and a collective effort from every level of the defense.
Head Coach Bruce Arians said on Thursday that Rodgers' ability to create something out of nothing is unrivaled right now. It's because he not only makes quick decisions, but he can also make plays on the run when he escapes the pocket. The Buccaneers are going to need to pressure him from the inside out. Collapsing the pocket from the interior will be key. Defensive lineman Ndamukong Suh got a sack on him last go-around and the two have history from Suh's time in Detroit. He'll likely be gunning for Rodgers again. In fact, in 12 career games against Green Bay, Suh has 35 tackles (eight for loss), 5.5 sacks and 10 quarterback hits. He'll add to that stat line one way or the other on Sunday at Lambeau.
Another crucial part of stopping the run will be the Bucs' middle linebackers. Lavonte David had 1.5 sacks on Rodgers last time, splitting the second with Jason Pierre-Paul, but David is crucial to containing the Green Bay ground game. Both he and Devin White accounted for five tackles for loss of Packers' runners the last time around. Jones was held to 15 yards on 10 carries for a 1.5 yards per carry average when his season average was 5.5 yards per carry. The Packers' leading rusher last time around was actually backup Jamaal Williams, who only had four carries for 34 yards. In all, Green Bay was held under 100 rushing yards on the day between Jones, Williams and AJ Dillon, and it was thanks in large part to the best linebacking duo in the NFL. White and David combined for 18 tackles (those aforementioned five for loss), 2.5 sacks and four quarterback hits.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers NFC Championship Week practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
But let's move on to the back level, considering how potent the Packers' passing attack is. Rodgers has quite the connection with his number one receiver in Davante Adams. Since he entered the league in 2014, Adams is tied for the league-lead in receiving touchdowns including both the regular and postseason with Antonio Brown. They both have 69 touchdowns in that span. Coming in at number three? Mike Evans. Yes, all three of those guys will be on the field in Green Bay on Sunday. But Adams' success likely comes from his comfortability with Rodgers, who has a 131.6 passer rating when targeting Adams. Rodgers also has a 78% completion rate when going to Adams, too. The pair have scored 19 touchdowns this year together, including the postseason. Just insane numbers. It makes the fact that the Bucs held Adams to six catches for 61 yards last time around all the more impressive. That was thanks in large part to cornerback Carlton Davis, who had FOUR passes defensed in that Week Six contest. Davis is also riding high right now after having been the major reason Saints' wide receiver Michael Thomas was held to zero catches last weekend in New Orleans. I'm not sure it's realistic to expect that kind of success out of a healthy Adams and Rodgers but Davis is sure going to try.
There is a major difference this time around in that offensively, the Packers will have wide receiver Allen Lazard back. Lazard didn't play in Week Six so this will be the first time the Bucs' defense is stressed by both Adams and Lazard together. Lazard was the Packers' leading receiver last week against the Los Angeles Rams, catching four passes for 92 yards and a touchdown. He will definitely have to be accounted for, which could stretch the secondary a little thin. Luckily, they've seemed to hit their stride at this point in the season as well and with the possibility of snow, this game may really come down to the ground, anyway.
Along with continuity, having had Rodgers as their starting signal caller for the last 13 years, the Packers also have the advantage of playing on their homefield. The cold weather factor has been blown a little out of proportion, at least according to Bucs players and coaches so far this week, but the wind and the snow – that's going to affect both teams. And the Packers have a lot more experience dealing with the challenges those factors present. Rodgers can put a different spin on the ball to make sure it cuts through the wind and snow. Adams can adjust his release so he doesn't slip. Packers coaches are familiar with the adjustments they need to make to account for these situations. The Buccaneers, practicing in 75-degree weather in January, just aren't battle-tested in the elements so that will be something to watch should the 40% chance of snow forecast come true.