Week Three of the 2022-2023 NFL slate has arrived, and with it, a marquee matchup between two elite franchises. The Green Bay Packers will visit Raymond James Stadium on September 25 to take on the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. Sunday will mark the Buccaneers' first home game of the season and it begins in thrilling fashion as two NFC powerhouses go head-to-head. The clash starring headliners Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers will mark the first time the two teams have met since the 2020 playoffs – when the Bucs went on to win Super Bowl LV. The Bucs and Packers will vie for contention in the NFC to clinch the coveted crown jewel and Sunday serves as a stepping stone.
After back-to-back-to-back 13-win seasons, the Packers are now twelve years past their last Super Bowl Championship. Green Bay won the NFC North title for the third-straight season (2019-21) and earned the No. 1 seed in the NFC in 2021 for the fourth time since 1990, which granted home field advantage, but their aspirations ended abruptly following a 13-10 loss to the San Francisco 49ers. That game that featured game-shifting special teams gaffes. In the Divisional Round versus San Francisco, the Packers yielded a blocked punt and surrendered a blocked field goal. The unit finished last in opponent punt return average and converted field goals at the second-lowest rate in the league. Despite a defense that did not give up a single touchdown against the 49ers and the club's premier man under center, the Packers – like many – fell short of the elusive goal and are left with a bitter recollection.
Despite injuries to Za'Darius Smith, Jaire Alexander, and David Bakhtiari among others, the Packers remained atop the league's hierarchy in 2021. Rodgers threw for 4,115 yards, and tossed 37 touchdown passes to just four interceptions, garnering the NFL's Most Valuable Player award. The 38-year-old quarterback led the team to finishing 10th in the league in points per game, with Davante Adams and Aaron Jones as the offensive catalysts down the stretch.
On the defensive side of the ball, Green Bay reached new heights under the tutelage of Joe Barry in his first year. The former Los Angeles Rams assistant guided the unit to top-15 grades in points, rushing yards and passing yards allowed per game; Rashan Gary (9.5 sacks), Preston Smith (nine tackles for loss) and Rasul Douglas (five interceptions) spearheaded the charge.
Now, a new era begins in the frozen tundra. The Packers still have Matt LaFleur, a young innovative offensive mind entering his fourth season as the club's head coach and a four-time NFL MVP and future Hall of Famer at the controls in Rodgers; however, the Packers will be without his go-to target Davante Adams (Raiders) as well as an elite pass rusher in Za'Darius Smith (Vikings).
The biggest question mark facing the 2022 Packers is how to account for Adams' missing contributions. With Green Bay, Adams set franchise records for receptions (123) and receiving yards (1,553) in a single season in 2021 and no receiver in football has caught more passes (581) for more yards (7,192) and more touchdowns (69) since the inception of the 2016 season. He will not be easily replaced. In addition, downfield threat Marquez Valdes-Scantling left for the Chiefs in free agency and Equanimeous St. Brown departed for the Bears. The ensuing result? Carryovers Allen Lazard, slot weapon Randall Cobb, veteran acquisition Sammy Watkins, and rookie draft selections Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs will have to step up. As Watson and Doubs continue to go through growing pains in the adjustment to the NFL, the Packers have relied heavily on the dual backfield of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon – who combined for 1,602 rushing yards and 86 receptions for 704 yards in 2021. Against the Bears in Week Two, the Packers used Dillon and Jones interchangeably, in an RPO-centric attack to get the rushers to the edge using crackback blocks and pulls. With Jones' vison and elite foot quickness, paired with Dillon's jump-cut ability, the Packers imposed their will on the ground against Chicago.
On the defensive side of the ball, two-time Pro Bowl edge rusher Za'Darius Smith had limited playing time in 2021 due to injury and was released as a cap-casualty. That leaves veteran Preston Smith and 2019 first-round pick Rashan Gary as the starters at outside linebacker. On the line, nose tackle Kenny Clark remains one of the league's top-tier players at the position, and he will be joined by veteran Jarran Reed and rookie Devonte Wyatt (second of the Packers' two first-round picks). First-team All-Pro De'Vondre Campbell and first-round pick Quay Walker will man the middle, staying on the field for all three downs in the Packers' 3-4. On the back end, cornerback Jaire Alexander's ascending career was hindered by a shoulder injury in 2021 but with a clean bill of health in 2022 he will command the back end, along with 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes and Rasul Douglas- a midseason pickup last year who led the team in interceptions (five). With talent at every level, expectations are high for the crew in Joe Barry's second year as defensive coordinator.
The Packers have a plethora of star-studded names on their roster. Many players on both sides of the football could have made the difference-makers compilation; however, these few could help swing the game in favor of Green Bay with game-wrecking potential. Keep your eyes on these five at Raymond James Stadium on Sunday:
QB Aaron Rodgers
Much like Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers can hit tight windows with pinpoint precision. He is one of the most fundamentally sound signal callers in the game and refuses to lose his edge. Since the Packers selected quarterback Jordan Love in the first round in 2020, Rodgers has completed 69.8 percent of his passes for 8,414 yards with 85 touchdowns and nine interceptions for a 116.7 passer rating over the ensuing two seasons. Adams' departure will likely impact those numbers in 2022, but in a critical game-time situation, Rodgers is one you would want to sling the ball. He can make any throw look effortless, even a rollout toss to the left as a right-handed quarterback. Rodgers can pick apart coverages and the Bucs' defense will need to continue their streak of dominance against an NFL legend.
RB Aaron Jones
Aaron Jones' breakaway speed is rare, causing fits for bigger linebackers and flat-footed safeties in space. As a nuanced route-runner, Jones presents an upside in Green Bay's passing attack. He is a shifty back, able to absorb contact, remain balanced and spin out of traffic for a large gain. Given Jones' vision and explosiveness, setting the edge and being disciplined in run fits will be crucial for the Buccaneers' defense on Sunday. With a career-high 9.1 yards-per-attempt average through two games in 2022, Jones is a player the Bucs will have to game-plan around. He finds the hole and he hits it with a lethal one-cut read, creating a challenging test for Tampa Bay's run defense.
NT Kenny Clark
Nose tackle Kenny Clark is a bull inside for the Packers. As a pass rusher, he forces double teams with his dominion in one-on-one matchups. He consistently wins with leverage and has an impressive repertoire featuring agility, strength and instincts. Clark anchors in the run game and has established himself as one of the premier interior defensive linemen in the NFL. Whether Clark is matched up with center Robert Hainsey or guards Shaq Mason and Luke Goedeke, winning the battle in the trenches will be pivotal for the Bucs to have success on Sunday in Tampa Bay.
OLB Rashan Gary
After essentially redshirting his rookie year in 2019 and only playing four games in Year Two, Rashan Gary emerged in 2021. He became a menace for quarterbacks, leading the Packers with 9.5 sacks and totaling 28 quarterback hits. Gary has become the tone-setter of Green Bay's defense, influencing games with a relentless motor. The former Michigan Wolverine stuns with rare closing speed and power through contact. Thanks to Gary's stout speed-to-power conversion, play recognition and upfield burst, the Bucs' will have to max protect, utilizing backs and tight ends on blitz pickups to stall him.
CB Jaire Alexander
Whether he lines up in press or off-coverage, Jaire Alexander consistently puts himself in prime position to make plays against elite receivers. In 2020, opposing No. 1 receivers combined for 14 receptions and 143 yards against Alexander – a telling metric. With quickness, Alexander possesses the athleticism to run the route and prevent separation. Alexander is a constant threat to take the ball away and will have to be accounted for during Sunday's clash. Against the Bears in Week Two, Justin Fields scrambled to escape pressure and was picked off by Alexander, sealing the win for Green Bay. Brady will have to be aware of No. 23 at all times. The Buccaneers are currently thin at receiver and Alexander will strive to propel himself forward by taking advantage of the depleted corps.
Here are some ways in which the Packers excelled in 2021:
- 2.59 seconds. That is the time it took on average from the snap of the ball to throw for Rodgers last season. It marked the fastest time of his starting career with the Packers and helped keep pressure off of the offensive line. Rodgers was consistently poised in the pocket with a quick release.
- 249 pressures. That is the amount created by the formidable crew, with Rashan Gary (81), Kenny Clark (64) and Preston Smith (62) leading the assault. The Packers had two interior rushers produce at least 40 pressures and two edge rushers produce at least 60 pressures – the only team in the NFL to accomplish that feat. The unit consistently collapsed the pocket and kept offenses off-balance.
- 93 missed tackles. That is the total amount the Packers' defense tallied over 17 games. With effective pursuit angles, Green Bay concluded the year with the NFL's second-best tackling grade overall. De'Vondre Campbell missed four, fortifying the defense. The Packers were fundamentally sound on defense, leading to success.
Many factors contributed to the downfall of Green Bay last season, ending the team's quest for another Lombardi Trophy. Most notable:
- 12.8. That is the average opponent punt return yards given up – ranked 32nd in the league. On 21 opponent returns, the Packers gave up 268 total yards, with the longest being a 97-yarder. Green Bay consistently granted the opposition with favorable field position to begin drives.
- 23.5. That is the average starting position for opponents on kickoffs, putting the Packers last in the league (32). On 77 total opposing kickoffs, teams on average started at 23.5 yardage. The team's special teams woes contributed to their demise in 2021, evidenced by the bottom ranking in nearly every statistical category in 2021.
- 73.5, or the Packers' field goal percentage in 2021 – ranked 31st in the NFL. Veteran kicker Mason Crosby missed more field-goal attempts in 2021 (nine) than anyone else in the league. From 30-39 yards, Crosby went 9-of-13. Then from 40-49 yards, Crosby was 4-of-8, and from 50-plus yards, Crosby was 3-of-4.
New Faces in 2022
LB Quay Walker
In April, the Packers drafted a companion for De'Vondre Campbell. With the 22nd overall pick in the first round, Green Bay took Georgia linebacker Quay Walker. On the Bulldogs' national championship defense, Walker had a career-high 67 tackles and posted 25 quarterback pressures. Walker's speed and closing ability will elevate the Packers' linebacker corps. He showcased his sideline-to-sideline range against the Bears in Week Two, flying across the field to make a stop. Walker has the athletic upside to play all three downs for Green Bay, staying on the field for nickel packages.
DT Devonte Wyatt
The Packers now have a talent-filled line with Kenny Clark as the cornerstone, along with free-agent addition Jarran Reed to pair with rookie Devonte Wyatt, touted as the best three-technique defensive tackle in the 2022 class. During his collegiate career for the Bulldogs, Wyatt exploded off the ball with superb pad level. With above-average movement skills and contortion to cause blockers' fits, Wyatt can help bolster the Packers' defensive front. As Wyatt continues to develop at the pro level, his anchor and balance will improve.
WRs Christian Watson and Romeo Doubs
Not only do the Packers have to fill the void left by Davante Adams, who left for the Las Vegas Raiders in a blockbuster summer trade, but specialist Marquez Valdes-Scantling left for Kansas City in free agency and Equanimeous St. Brown, who played 846 regular season snaps for Green Bay, left for the Bears. Enter Christian Watson (second round) and Romeo Doubs (fourth round), who will be asked to immediately contribute in their first-year respective campaigns. Watson, a North Dakota State big-play machine, has speed to dominate one-on-one matchups on the perimeter but must garner Rodgers' trust on Sundays. Nevada's Doubs has contested catch ability and is physical at the line. Both will continue to gain chemistry with Rodgers, who can take advantage of No. 12's meticulous accuracy.
DT Jarran Reed
Back in March, the Packers signed defensive lineman Jarran Reed to fortify the defensive line. In 89 games (80 starts), Reed has recorded 337 tackles, 24.5 sacks, 24 tackles for loss, 70 quarterback hits, seven passes defensed, five forced fumbles and three fumble recoveries. A solid one or two-gapper, Reed possesses stellar awareness and has a rare combination of size and athleticism. He has the flexibility to play on the inside or out, getting to the quarterback with penetration off the edge in a straight-line bull rush, and he has the body control to anchor on the inside in double-team situations.
ST Coordinator Rich Bisaccia
The special teams' woes in 2021 ushered in change during the offseason. Matt LaFleur hired Rich Bisaccia to assume the special teams' coordinator role, making him the highest-paid special teams coordinator in the NFL. Filling multiple roles over the past two decades in the NFL, Bisaccia previously served as the assistant head coach for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, (then) San Diego Chargers, Dallas Cowboys, and Las Vegas Raiders. Following the termination of Jon Gruden, Bisaccia served at the interim head coach for the Raiders, guiding the team to seven wins in 13 games. The Packers are hopeful he can spark a transformation on the club's special teams unit in 2022 with a turnaround imminent.