The Tampa Bay Buccaneers take on the Green Bay Packers on Sunday, and we're counting down the hours to the 4:25 p.m. ET kickoff at Raymond James Stadium. After a week of preparation, here's what it all comes down to:
5 TAMPA BAY PLAYERS TO WATCH
Chris Godwin. The Godwin Watch has actually been on for a couple weeks now, as in, 'When will Chris Godwin be back in action.' After missing Week Two with a concussion, Godwin sustained a hamstring injury late in the Bucs' Week Three win in Denver and has missed the last two games. In the (almost) two games that Godwin did play, he caught 11 passes for 143 yards and a touchdown. He was the team's leading receiver in 2019 with 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns, and the only player in the NFL to average more receiving yards per game was Michael Thomas in New Orleans. Godwin brings several added dimensions to the Bucs' offense. For one thing, he is the team's best open-field runner in the receiving corps. He also is extremely good in the slot and he led the NFL in receiving yards on passes caught over the middle of the field in 2019. Moreover, Godwin is a superb and willing blocker who the Bucs often make a point of involving in their run-blocking schemes.
Rakeem Nunez-Roches. The Buccaneers aren't asking Nunez-Roches to be Vita Vea, the player he is replacing in the starting lineup after Vea suffered a leg fracture in Week Five. They would, however, like to see the active and talkative player who drew a ton of buzz during training camp. The Bucs believe Nunez-Roches can be strong at the point of attack as the new starting nose tackle and also offer some pass-rush impact. He has played in 21 straight games for Tampa Bay, though this will be his first start as a Buccaneer. It's not his first chance to start in the NFL, however, as he opened 16 games for the Kansas City Chiefs in the 2016-17 seasons and recorded 47 tackles, five tackles for loss and 1.5 sacks. Nunez-Roches is one of the team's more vocal defenders when he's on the field, and the Bucs expect him to back up his talk and help the league's top-ranked run defense stay in that spot.
Ronald Jones. Jones has clocked speeds up to 17.5 miles per hour on his runs this season, but one of the reasons he appears to be having a breakout season is that he also is learning when not to go full-speed. Head Coach Bruce Arians says that Jones is seeing how plays are unfolding better this year and showing patience when he needs to in order to let lanes develop. With fewer plays dying behind one of his own blockers, Jones is getting more opportunities to use his make-you-miss abilities and has also been one of the league's best at breaking tackles. According to Next Gen Stats, Jones ranks third among all NFL backs in "yards over expected" yards, with 97, meaning he's getting more out of plays than an average back would get. He is riding a streak of consecutive 100-yard games and if he could get a third it would help open things up for Tom Brady and the passing attack.
View photos of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers roster as it currently stands.
Lavonte David. The NFL's Next Gen stats sometimes provide insights that weren't obvious, such as the fact that opposing defenses almost never choose to put press coverage on Chris Godwin. On other occasions, a Next Gen nugget will simply confirm something we could already tell with our own eyes. This is one of those latter occasions: According to Next Gen, David leads the NFL with 11 "hustle stops," a full five more than any other player in the NFL. Hustle stops are plays on which a tackler covers 20-plus yards of in-play distance to make the stop. David has always been lauded as a sideline-to-sideline defender, and rightfully so. He has already filled up most of the columns on the Bucs' defensive depth chart, with 39 tackles, three tackles for loss, a quarterback hit, an interception, three passes defensed, a forced fumble and a fumble recovery. David is going to be one of the Bucs' most important defenders on Sunday, something that is almost always true but is particularly critical this week against Packers running back Aaron Jones. David and the Bucs' defense will have to deal with the fact that the Packers not only throw the ball to Jones, but they do so farther downfield than most teams do with their running backs.
Ali Marpet. After a stellar 2019 season in which he was credited with just two sacks allowed, Marpet is starting to get some well-deserved recognition as one of the best guards in the NFL. Against the Packers, Marpet will have two players in particular to worry about – defensive lineman Kenny Clark and outside linebacker Za'Darius Smith. Smith, who leads the Packers with five sacks, actually plays quite a few snaps in the interior and is one of the NFL's best pass-rushers from that spot. Marpet, who is smart, strong, nimble and not easily fooled or bull-rushed, is up to the challenge. He and the rest of the line have done a good job of keeping Tom Brady upright, as the Buccaneers have the sixth-best sacks-per-pass-play rate (4.08%) on offense in the NFL. They will need to keep that protection strong in Week Six to help Brady match or exceed the exploits of Aaron Rodgers in the Packers' offense.
4 STATS THAT MATTER
· 3-30. The Buccaneers' offense is around the middle of the pack in the NFL in terms of converting third downs (41.5%) and, in fact, has been excellent on short and middle-range third-down attempts. Tampa Bay has converted 68.6% of those third-down tries. The problem arises when the Bucs need to get seven or more yards. From seven and beyond, the Buccaneers are currently at 10%, having converted just three of 30 tries. That in itself needs to improve, but from a bigger-picture point of view the Buccaneers need to avoid penalties and sacks in order to stay out of long third downs.
· 37/13. Since the start of the 2019 season – that is, since the arrival of Defensive Coordinator Todd Bowles – the Buccaneers' defense has forced 37 turnovers, the fourth-most by any team in the NFL in that span. Meanwhile, the Packers' offense has only coughed it up 13 times in that same span. That includes zero giveaways so far in 2020, as Green Bay is the first team in NFL history to score 150-plus points and not turn the ball over once through its first four games of a season. The Bucs likely need to win this battle to come out on top Sunday.
· 29/97.3. According to the NFL's Next Gen Stats database, Buccaneers quarterback Tom Brady has thrown the most deep passes in the league so far this season. On those 29 deep balls, Brady has racked up 411 yards (14.2 yards per attempt) and has not been intercepted, leading to a passer rating of 97.3. That rating is almost identical to his overall mark of 96.8.
· 1.94. That's the difference in the average amount of yards the Packers' offense is gaining per play and the average amount of yards the Buccaneers' defense is giving up per play. Green Bay leads the NFL with 6.83 yards per play in 2020, while the Bucs are third on defense with an average of 4.89 allowed. If the Packers can maintain that average they would set a new NFL single-season record by an incredible margin of a half-yard per play. The 2013 Broncos hold the top spot with an average of 6.33 yards per play.
View some of the top photos from Buccaneers Week 6 practice at the AdventHealth Training Center.
3 LINEUP NOTES
· The Buccaneers expect to have their prolific starting receiver duo of Mike Evans and Chris Godwin together again in Week Six. Of the 324 official offensive plays (not including those erased by penalties) the Bucs have run so far, they have had Evans and Godwin on the field together for just 109 of them. Godwin, who missed the previous two games with a hamstring injury, was listed without a game-status designation on Friday's injury report and Arians said he believed the fourth-year receiver would be able to play. Evans also did not have a game-status designation.
· Similarly, the Packers should have their 2019 leading receiver back in the mix on Sunday. Davante Adams missed the last two games with a hamstring injury of his own, as Green Bay took the cautious route with him in Week Four and then went directly into a bye week. Adams was listed without a game status designation on Friday, which means he's expected to play.
· On the other hand, Buccaneers cornerback Carlton Davis got a "questionable" game designation on Friday due to an abdomen injury that limited him throughout the week of practice. If Davis is unable to play, Jamel Dean would likely get the start. Dean already fills one of the two outside cornerback spots when the Bucs are in a nickel package, with Sean Murphy-Buntingmoving into the slot. If the Bucs have to keep Dean and Murphy-Bunting outside for the whole game Sunday, rookie safety Antoine Winfield could take over as the slot corner, opening up playing time for safety Mike Edwards.
2 CHALLENGES PRESENTED BY THE PACKERS
Aaron Rodgers and the Packers' offense is off to an historic start, and even with Adams back the Buccaneers won't be able to focus on just one or two targets. Rodgers has already completed at least a dozen passes to six different players through four games and he's hooked up on touchdown passes with six different teammates as well. Green Bay's defense has a trio of dangerous pass-rushers (more on that below) and also features a cornerback, Jaire Alexander, who is capable of shadowing an opponent's best receiver. Here is a specific challenge on each side of the ball the Buccaneers will face on Sunday.
His name is Aaron Rodgers. The Buccaneers' top-ranked run defense will be challenged by dual-threat Aaron Jones and the return of Davante Adams makes the Packers' high-scoring offense even more difficult to defend. But none of the rest of the names on Green Bay's depth chart – some of which Rodgers has recently taken from unknown to high profile – matter if Tampa Bay's defense can't keep Rodgers from settling into a groove. So far, none of the Packers' opponents have been able to stop that from happening; Rodgers has thrown at least two touchdown passes in every game this year, has not thrown one interception or even a pass that should have been intercepted, hasn't fumbled and has not been sacked more than once in a single contest. He's completing more than 70% of his passes and his offense is converting more than half of its third-down tries. Rodgers also may be the best in the NFL at taking advantage of a defense's mistakes; if he gets a free play due to a penalty he is almost certain to air it out, and often with great success. Against a Buccaneers team that has recently struggled with penalties, this is a significant concern on Sunday.
Kenny Clark is back in the Packers' defense after missing three games, and that only makes the Smith "brothers" more dangerous. Za'Darius and Preston Smith are not related, but they were both signed as unrestricted free agents last year and they did both crack double digits in sacks in 2019. So far, Za'Darius (five sacks) is off to a much hotter start than Preston, but both are likely to get more one-on-one rush opportunities with Clark wreaking havoc in the middle again. As we noted earlier this week in our Packers Scouting Report, Green Bay's pressure rate on pass rushes jumps up considerably when Clark is on the field. Part of that is Clark himself, of course; the fifth-year defender, who got a lucrative new deal from the Packers in August, had 16.5 sacks from 2017-19. He's quick off the ball, he can close ground quickly up the middle on the quarterback and he plays a high volume of snaps. Clark is also one of the NFL's best interior run-stoppers.
1 KEY THOUGHT FROM BRUCE ARIANS
On why Chris Godwin is so important to the Buccaneers' offense:
"He's a premier outside receiver and a premier slot. There are very, very few of those guys that can play all over the field, and very few block like he blocks and sets up the play-action. It sets the tempo, because he's the great run-after-the-catch guy. He can go deep. He's a very unique animal. He's big in the screen game, he's big in the underneath stuff that he takes to the house. Very few guys are like him in the league."