-By the time the Buccaneers take on the Green Bay Packers at home on Sunday, 10 days will have passed since they last took the field. Thanks to their first primetime matchup on Thursday Night Football in Chicago, Tampa Bay got some much-needed extra rest before taking on their second-consecutive NFC North opponent. With the 4-0 Packers coming into town, the chance to get healthy and make a few tweaks on both sides of the ball couldn't have come at a better time.
"We did a bunch of self-scouting," said Head Coach Bruce Arians. "There's a lot of good things. The biggest negative thing is there are games where we have too many self-inflicted penalties and put ourselves behind the chains. Does it happen every week? No. But when they happen, they happen in bunches and we have to correct that. I think offensively things [have gone] really, really well up until last week with the red zone. We're still running the ball well – third-down conversion could be better, but they're going to be better if we don't get in third-and-long all the time. Defensively, again, just technique [and] getting our head around on back-shoulder fades, those type of things. [We are] playing very aggressive [and] doing a great job against the run. We've got to do a better job of getting off third down, also. [We are] playing penalty-free football on special teams really well. Our return game is picking up a little bit. [Bears WR Cordarrelle] Patterson brought a bunch of kickoffs back, but when you come from nine[-yards] deep [in the end zone] and you really get to the 26 or 27[-yard line], you only gain two or three yards. So, it wasn't that bad of a kickoff return against a great returner. I think we're in great shape. Obviously, [losing] Vita [Vea] and O.J. [Howard] – we'll have time to get plans to replacing them. Everybody should be ready to go by Thursday."
While there is no replacing the aforementioned two players, guys like defensive lineman Rakeem Nuñez-Roches will look to mitigate the effects of losing a guy like Vea at the front of one of the league's best rushing defenses. Nuñez-Roches, also called "Nacho," is a different player than Vea, and has experience at playing nose tackle. As a league veteran, he's taken on significant workloads in the past and according to him, his preparation never changes.
"Something can happen at any moment," said Nacho. "You don't want to be sitting there, 'I'm preparing for five plays or 10 plays.' One day someone wakes up with a stomach sickness and now you're in there for 40 plays and it shows in your preparation. You're out there making mistakes, losing downs or you're getting cut out of your gap because you didn't put yourself in the best situation to be successful. When the opportunity comes, you just want to be ready. I always prepare like I'm that guy [and] I'm going to be out there for 40 plays. Regardless of what happens on Sunday, I feel like I'm going to be out there for 40 plays. I always play like that [and] I always come to work like that. It's just my joy, so I take pride in what I do."
Pride is a common thing on the defensive side of the ball. The players and coaches have it individually, but the unit as a whole takes pride in one major component of their game: stopping the run.
"I guess it's just the willpower," said outside linebacker Jason Pierre-Paul. "With this defense, I don't think anybody can run on us. We take too much pride in letting the team come up here and just try to run on us and try to get it going – as well as the passing, too. I think with Vita [Vea] gone due to his injury, the next guy is going to step up and do what they need to do. Bruce [Arians] always says, 'Talent isn't the thing for us. It's just the next guy stepping up.' I know he's going to do a great job."
They won't be able to afford skipping a beat against an Aaron Rodgers-led offense that also has one of the league's best rushing attacks on the legs of running back Aaron Jones. The fourth-year player out of UTEP already has 374 yards and four rushing touchdowns this season, along with another two receiving touchdowns. Last season, he rushed for over 1,000 yards and 16 touchdowns, breaking out as a key component to this Green Bay offense.
"This guy, he's another Alvin Kamara as far as like route-running," said inside linebacker Devin White about Jones. "He runs the whole route tree, which is good. It will give me a chance to go make some interceptions or something. As far as the run game, he's very patient, but he runs really hard. They've got a lot of guys that are coming in, running the ball and making plays. They do a lot of 21 [personnel]. They even went 31 [personnel] a couple of times – that means they've got three running backs in the game at one time. That just lets you know how much they value their running backs. That's a good thing for me because I mean my confidence is always high, but I've started fiending for some plays with the way these last games went. I just know my body is ready and my mindset is ready to go make plays. I'm not really worried about how much he does. I'm starting to think about what teams have got to do to do great things on the Tampa Bay defense. That's how I'm starting to take the approach. I know it's kind of a cocky approach, but I feel like we deserve it. I feel like we're playing good ball and I feel like we're steadily getting better."
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