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Total View: Packers 20, Buccaneers 3

Mike Neal sacks Josh McCown

Thanks to their best defensive effort of the season, the Green Bay Packers got their 11th win on Sunday, which locked up a spot in the tournament. Now the Lions await for the second seed and the first-round bye.

Once again, the Packers started with the ball. In what is now a two-game trend, the Packers failed to go anywhere on their first drive.

They lined up in their normal set — three receivers, Andrew Quarless in the backfield with Eddie Lacy, and they ran it three straight times. On 3rd and 1, I like the fact that the Packers lined up in the shotgun with four receivers split out and Lacy alone in the backfield. What I don’t like is that the Buccaneers were in a blitz look with six guys at the line of scrimmage — that is six defenders with only five guys to block them, and yet, Aaron Rodgers insisted on giving it to Lacy anyway. With the right defensive end unblocked, Lacy had no choice but to go over the left guard, but defensive tackle Akeem Spence was slanting for the gap from the get-go and the double team of T.J. Lang and Bryan Bulaga never stopped him. Lacy ran right into him and was gang-tackled for no gain.

Meanwhile, Randall Cobb ran an out underneath Davante Adams and easily had the first down.

No concern. The Bucs would go nowhere. The Packers started in their base defense for once, correctly assuming that the Bucs wanted to establish the run. After two runs got 6 yards, Josh McCown tried for tight end Brandon Myers on a short out, but Micah Hyde was all over it. Incomplete. Punt.

On the Packers’ first play of their second drive, David Bakhtiari lost track of Michael Johnson, who was a large part of one of the worst games of Bakhtiari’s career at Cincinnati last season. Johnson leveled Rodgers after he threw incomplete to James Starks. Rodgers claimed that he hurt his calf on this play, after the game.

The Packers advanced into Tampa Bay territory when Rodgers had all day to throw on 3rd and 2 and found Jordy Nelson for 28 yards up the right sideline. However, just two plays later, Johnson pushed by Bakhtiari and sacked Rodgers. Rodgers fumbled the ball and the Buccaneers took possession after a reply challenge.

The Buccaneers took their favorable starting position and went backwards. On 2nd and 10, the Packers had their nickel in and blitzed Morgan Burnett off the edge. Burnett was one-on-one with the right tackle but used his speed to win to the inside. He and Mike Daniels met at McCown. On 3rd and 20, Clay Matthews knocked down the screen pass. Punt.

The Packers briefly advanced into Tampa territory, meaning their first possession of the game was the only time they didn’t do so. However, a holding call on Corey Linsley erased a 15-yard run by Lacy and moved the ball back from the Tampa 39 to the Packers’ 36. The Packers still could have overcome it. Rodgers had time on 3rd and 11 and rolling to his left, fired to an open Davante Adams on the sideline. Adams dropped it. I was not happy at this point.

00:49, 1st Quarter – Eddie Lacy’s longest run of the season goes for the touchdown that not only finally put the Packers in front at 7-0, but also snapped the offense out of a long funk. From this point forward, every Packers’ drive would reach scoring territory.

The Bucs had gone three and out again. On 3rd and 4, McCown threw wide of Vincent Jackson, which led to another punt.

The Packers faced 3rd and 13 from their own 15 when a play that changed the momentum of the game occurred. Rodgers managed to catch the Bucs with too many men on the field and knowing it was a free play, threw one up for Jordy Nelson between four defenders. The Effin Nelson went up and brought it down for a 24-yard gain.

Short passes against the zone advanced the ball to the Tampa 44. From there, Rodgers changed the play pre-snap and pitched to Lacy with the line sliding left. There was decent blocking on this play, but the key to it breaking out was the Tampa defense catching the same disease that plagued the Packers’ defense from the second half of the Atlanta game on. When the unblocked Danny Lansanah had a clean shot at Lacy, the rest of the defense froze, assuming Lansanah would make the tackle. When Lacy rolled right through Lansanah without breaking stride, the entire defense was caught flat-footed. Lacy took it to the house, and the Packers had the lead at 7-0.

4:55, 2nd Quarter – Given a second try, Mason Crosby made it this time, and the Packers took a 10-0 lead.

The Packers had been terrible on defense after scoring a touchdown. Let’s hope they broke that trend for good. The Bucs went three and out again, with McCown overthrowing Mike Evans on third down.

The Packers then drove down the field using short passes, including a 12-yarder to Nelson on 3rd and 8. However, on 3rd and 4 from the Tampa 30, Rodgers rolled to his right and fired short of Cobb. Mason Crosby came in and pulled the attempt from 48 yards wide left. Ugh. Now Mike McCarthy and I were equally unhappy.

On the Bucs’ next possession, Clay Matthews just clean beat his man and buried McCown for a 6-yard sack. The Bucs, of course, couldn’t recover. Punt again.

Rodgers was in a good rhythm with short passes against the zone and moved the offense right down the field again. On the first play of the next drive, Rodgers fired to Cobb right in the middle of the field and Cobb gained 24 yards all the way to midfield. Facing 3rd and 7 from the Tampa 24, Rodgers rolled to his left, stopped and fired an incredibly accurate pass through traffic to Adams. Adams had the ball this time, but a hard hit from safety Dashon Goldson separated Adams from the ball. Good play by the defense there. Crosby, however, made the kick this time.

The Buccaneers ended the first half with their best drive of the game. The drive essentially was one pass. On 3rd and 11 from the Tampa 30, McCown threw one up for Vincent Jackson. Sam Shields had let Jackson go to the safety, which was Ha Ha Clinton-Dix. Clinton-Dix had a good game to this point, including another deep ball that he helped bat down. However, on this one, Dix overran the play and Jackson pulled it down for a 40-yard gain.

A lot of tomfoolery that amounted to nothing and ended with a Julius Peppers’ sack followed. Eventually, they kicked a field goal from near the spot where Jackson caught the sideline pass in the first place. That would be all we’d see from the Tampa offense on this day. The field goal made the halftime score 10-3.

5:50, 3rd Quarter – The Packers continue to be cursed coming out of the half. A mammoth 13-play, seven-minute drive got nothing when the Packers failed to convert 4th and goal from the 1.

The Bucs actually started the half with the ball. They went three and punt. On 3rd and 4, McCown was forced to step up by Datone Jones and missed Charlie Sims, who had broken free of Brad Jones.

On 3rd and 9 from the Packers’ 34, Rodgers finally threw a deep in against the cover-2, finding Nelson for a 13-yard gain. From there, the key to the drive would be passes to Cobb working the right side of the field. Two 15-yard catches moved the ball to the Tampa 6. On 1st and goal from there, Lacy nearly spun his way into the end zone, coming up a half yard short. On 2nd and goal, it appears Lacy scored on a run straight ahead. However, the refs marked it short.

On 3rd and goal, the Packers brought Mike Daniels in, and John Kuhn was supposed to follow him over right guard with Lacy essentially a decoy. However, the Buccaneers got way too much penetration for an east-west run to work. Ironically, the Bucs had lined up everyone within the tackles and sold out on getting upfield. If Rodgers had flipped it to Lacy, he walks in. Even though Lavonte David wrapped up Kuhn in the backfield, Kuhn might still have scored if T.J. Lang hadn’t gotten in his way.

On 4th and 1, first of all, your defense has played a great game. A two-score lead in a game like this is a big lead. I would take the points. If you already had a two-score lead, then I’d go for it. But at this point, the game is only one crazy play away from being tied. You take the points.

Anyway, even more so than going for it, I also take issue with lining up in the five wide with Lacy not in the backfield to at least threaten a run up the middle. That being said, I do love the route here. Cobb lined up in the slot with Adams to his outside. Cobb looked to the outside and appeared to be running a quick out underneath Adams, which would be a typical route in this position. However, Cobb threw on the brakes and broke back to the middle of the field instead. Cobb didn’t do enough to sell the out, and thus when he turned back towards the middle, his defender, Leonard Johnson, was still on him. Johnson used the infamous hook of Cobb’s arm to help swing himself around Cobb and knock it down.

10:20, 4th Quarter – The Packers finished another time-consuming drive with a field goal to get back ahead by two scores at 13-3.

The Bucs managed to get one first down to get away from their own end zone. On 3rd and 4 after that, the Packers had the NASCAR package in and Mike Neal swung around two other rushers to get to McCown for the sack. Punt.

The Packers took over at their 37-yard line and it was more of the same, with passes to Nelson and Cobb steadily moving the offense downfield. The Packers lined up with Cobb in the backfield and mostly used fakes to Cobb to free up Nelson and Adams on short routes. Cobb also caught a couple quick outs along the way. Once the Packers reached the Tampa 32, they used runs by Lacy, Kuhn and Starks to reach the Tampa 11. However, on 3rd and 4 from there, Rodgers dumped to Starks. The Tampa defense swarmed well, as they had all game, holding the play to just a 2-yard gain.

Crosby then came in and kicked a short one to make the score 13-3 with just over 10 minutes left.

2:45, 4th Quarter – Aaron Rodgers finally has a touchdown, finding Jordy Nelson from 1 yard out and that would finish the scoring at 20-3.

The Bucs picked up a first down on their next possession with a deep in to Jackson that gained 15 yards. The Bucs went backwards from there. On second down, Peppers blew by his blocker and attacked the football, using a two-handed chop to knock it out of McCown’s hands. The Bucs recovered, but that made it 3rd and long. On that play, Clay Matthews swooped around on a stunt and sacked McCown to bring on another punt and pretty much end the football game.

This time, the Packers drove thanks to a series of long gains. On the first play of the drive, John Kuhn broke off his second 11-yard run of the game. On the next play, Rodgers play-faked and looked for Nelson deep. However, after pulling it down and rolling out to his right, Rodgers found Quarless heading up the sideline for 16 yards. Two plays later, the Bucs came with a desperate seven-man blitz. Rodgers anticipated it and moved Starks over to his left to block the blitzing safety, leaving David unblocked from the right. Rodgers released the ball immediately before David arrived and found Cobb on a slant. Cobb broke loose up the middle of the field for a 30-yard gain.

A couple plays later, Jordy Nelson showed why you should throw him the ball in the red zone if you want to live. He went over the top of his defender to pull one down at the 1. From there, it was obvious that the Packers wanted to get their quarterback a touchdown pass and I was all for it. With less than three minutes left, the game was obviously over anyway and do you doubt for a moment that other teams with a leading MVP candidate wouldn’t do the same?

I don’t think Aaron Rodgers’ confidence would be affected one iota either way. Rodgers is a team-first guy and this was about the team doing something for him for once. Frankly, in reviewing the tape, especially all things considered, Rodgers had a great game. It would have been a shame for him to go two weeks without a touchdown.

On the third try, Rodgers finally went the enlightened route and threw Nelson the ball on a simple quick slant. Nelson hauled it in to finish the scoring at 20-3.

One more comical play would follow, when on 2nd and 10 from the Tampa 30, McCown was getting wrapped up by Jayrone Elliot and tried to flip one to Sims. Datone Jones intercepted it and stumbled and bumbled his way to the Tampa 13. Matt Flynn entered and took a knee from there.

Both teams accomplished their mission in this game. The Packers got the win, got into the playoffs and set up the showdown at Lambeau with the Lions. The Tampa Bay Buccaneers, meanwhile, are now in position to take home the first pick in next year’s draft with just one more loss. Props to them for a job well done.

The Tampa Bay offense is terrible and there were some plays to be made that Josh McCown simply failed to make. However, Tampa Bay was at home and they did put up 17 points at Detroit just two weeks ago. The Packers defense stopped the run cold and then a virtual swarm of pass rushers got after McCown all game long.

After taking a nap in the second half against the Falcons, the Packers defense has not given up a touchdown in two straight games. Regardless of how much the competition has something to do with that, we have to be encouraged by at least a couple things.

First of all, the Packers defense is healthy to end a season for the first time since 2010. In the playoff match-up against the 49ers last season, the Packers were literally down to Nick Perry and Andy Mulumba as pass rushers. Against the Lions, the Packers will be able to line up a NASCAR package with Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers, Mike Neal, Datone Jones and Mike Daniels all coming for the passer. All five of those guys wreaked havoc against the hapless Bucs. Secondly, Clay Matthews, whether helping the run or lining up outside, is at the top of his game right now. Third, Sam Barrington has also been a definite upgrade inside. He closes quickly on plays and generally, the ball carrier doesn’t get anything more once Barrington arrives. And lastly, the safety position is no longer a big hole in the Packers defense. Morgan Burnett has been playing at a Pro Bowl level. Ha Ha Clinton-Dix has been up-and-down, mostly up in this game, but regardless, he has freed up Burnett to make a lot more plays.

As far as the offense goes, as frustrated as I was during the game, a review of the game tape and the play-by-play gives a different impression. Again, the only time the Packers didn’t at least advance into Tampa Bay territory was the first drive of the game. Really, I was encouraged by most of what I saw from the offense. I’m not sure that I’ve ever seen Aaron Rodgers handle a cover-2 as efficiently as he did on Sunday. He repeatedly threw the ball into the middle of the defense, even into traffic, and had great success. He also continues to dump the ball off instead of holding the ball and taking sacks. For a guy with a head cold and a sore calf, Rodgers played a great game.

There is little question that the Lions will figure to play the same defense with higher quality players and if Rodgers can work as efficiently as he did against Tampa Bay, the offense will have success moving the ball and controlling the clock against the Lions. Yes, the Packers will need to take better advantage of their opportunities on offense than they did against the Buccaneers. If Crosby makes that kick and Lacy is awarded that touchdown, the Packers would have put up 30 and we wouldn’t be worrying about the offense.

As they have the past month or so, the offensive line and Eddie Lacy continue to play at a higher level than earlier in the season, when they lost to the likes of Seattle and Detroit. Whereas Lacy was not a factor in either of those two games, he is quite capable of being one in a rematch. Lacy did leave the game gimpy and his health would be the biggest concern for the offense right now.

Regardless, if Aaron Rodgers can continue to build off this performance and gain confidence against the cover-2 defenses that he is likely to face going forward, there is no limit on what the Packers can accomplish.

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Shawn

Shawn Neuser attended UWGB and lives and works in Green Bay. He enjoys long walks on the beach and being intimate with game film.

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1 Comment

  1. Howard December 24, 2014

    Thanks for taking the time to review and breakdown the tape. Great job as always. I noticed Tretter went out in routes a couple of times by the goal line. A smokescreen or are they going to try to get Tretter a TD?

    Datone is really doing some dirty work in pass rush. He is trying to eat up blocks to free up others. I like that there are more games be played by the D line and linebackers.