IT’S THE BATTLE OF THE BAYS!
This game used to be a regular occurrence back in the old NFC Central days. They may not be in the same division anymore, but they are still in the same conference, so this game could still have playoff implications in the future.
Both of these teams are coming into this game banged up and missing players. Both teams are coming into this game with Hall of Fame quarterbacks. Both teams are coming into this game with either injured starters or backups at left tackle. Both teams’ wide receiver groups have multiple players either not playing or hurt. And both teams are coming into this game with pretty good defenses. So let’s take a deeper look into both teams to get a better idea of what to expect from the Bucs’ matchup with the Packers this week.
Green Bay comes into this game with a 1-1 record, losing big in Week 1 to the Vikings but coming back strong in Week 2 and beating the Bears in a convincing fashion. Like the Bucs, they’ve battled their share of injuries that’s taken a toll on an already thin receiving corps. However, they were able to win using the run game against Chicago, rushing for more than 200 yards. That’s going to be key for them in this game. The only way they’ll have a chance at beating the Bucs on Sunday is if they can establish the run and control the clock, which keeps Brady’s offense off the field. But that might be a tough task against one of the NFL’s-best run defenses.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Offense – RBs Aaron Jones/AJ Dillon
For the Packers to have a shot, both of these guys will need to go off. Last week, these two combined for 192 rushing yards. They’ll need a similar performance against one of the league’s stingiest run defenses; on Sunday.
Defense – OLB Preston Smith
This guy will be lined up against whoever is playing left tackle for the Bucs. That will either be Donovan Smith, who would be playing with an injured elbow. Or it would be third-string tackle Brandon Walton, who actually held his own against a pretty good defensive front for the second half of last week’s game against the Saints. Either way, Preston Smith is the kind of player that could take advantage of situations like that, so keep an eye on him in this game.
Tampa Bay comes in 2-0 after beating the Cowboys and the Saints on the road to start the season. The offense hasn’t lived up to the preseason hype so far due to the injuries to the O-line and receivers. However, the defense has been lights out. They’re giving up just 6.5 points per game while leading the league in sacks (10) and being tied for second in interceptions (4). Speaking of interceptions, Aaron Rodgers has never thrown more than 3 picks in a single game, but he has thrown three in a game four times. He has done it twice in four games against the Bucs while doing it just twice in 233 games against all other teams. In fact, Tampa Bay is the only opponent where he has thrown more interceptions (9) than touchdowns (8). He could end up having another rough game with his depleted receiving group and the way the Bucs’ secondary has been playing so far.
PLAYERS TO WATCH
Offense – LT Brandon Walton
If Donovan Smith can’t go again this week, then Walton will get the start. He played really well last week when he came in for the injured Josh Wells, and the Bucs seem to be very high on him. He’ll have his hands full with Preston Smith if he does play. It’s going to be worth paying attention to during the game. The Bucs may have to slide a tight end over to help him out; if he can’t handle him one-on-one.
Defense – DT Rakeem Nunez-Roches
With Akiem Hicks out for a while, it gives “Nacho” a chance to start and get some significant playing time. Last week when Hicks went out, and he came in, I felt like the run defense actually improved. Nunez-Roches is a run-stopper. That’s his job. And he’s going to have to do his job well to stop this Packers team from running the football on Sunday.
1. Shaq Barrett vs. Yosh Nijman
If David Bakhtiari can’t play, then the backup left tackle Nijman will be stuck trying to block Shaq “Sack Attack” Barrett, who currently leads the NFL in quarterback pressures (10) and has 2 sacks in the first two games this season.
2. Brandon Walton vs. Preston Smith
Like my first key matchup, the Bucs could have a backup left tackle trying to block a really good pass rusher in Preston Smith. Protecting Tom Brady’s blindside is a pretty important job, and it’s going to be vital if the Bucs are going to pull off this win.
3. Todd Bowles vs. Aaron Rodgers
This is going to be quite the chess match between these two guys; Rodgers is the crafty, old vet that’s seen just about every defensive scheme out there. And Bowles being the mad scientist drawing up bewildering blitzes and crazy coverages that confuse even the most experienced quarterbacks.
The injury bug continues to bite the Bucs straight in the ass. Chris Godwin (hamstring) and Akiem Hicks (foot) have officially been ruled OUT for this game. Rookie tight end Cade Otton (personal) and Donovan Smith (elbow) have been listed as DOUBTFUL. There’s a chance Otton might be able to play if he’s back from bereavement, and Smith could end up being a game-time decision. If he can’t go, then Brandon Walton would get the start at left tackle. There are four other players listed as QUESTIONABLE, including Leonard Fournette (hamstring), Russell Gage (hamstring), Julio Jones (knee), and Breshad Perriman (knee). Fournette, Gage, and Perriman will probably play, but it looks like Jones will be a game-time decision like he was last week.
The Packers are having the same injury issues with their wide receiver group as the Bucs. The only player officially ruled OUT is wide receiver Sammy Watkins (hamstring). They also have four players listed as QUESTIONABLE including wide receiver Randall Cobb (illness), wide receiver Christian Watson (hamstring), Tight end Marcedes Lewis (groin), and left tackle David Bakhtiari (knee).
Between the injuries on both offenses and how good both defenses are, this is not going to be the high-scoring shootout that we would normally expect from these two teams. Even with all the injuries to their wide receivers, the Bucs still have enough firepower to score 20+ points. However, the Packers aren’t as blessed. Right now, their strength is running the football, and that’s just not going to happen against this Bucs defense. Bucs win.
Bucs – 23 | Packers – 10
Despite all the injuries between both teams, this is still the Bucs and the Packers. It’s still an important NFC game. It’s still Brady versus Rodgers. It’s still going to be fun to watch. And even though there will probably be too many green jerseys in the stands, this is still the Buccaneers’ first home game of the 2022 season. I’ll be there. Maybe not in my normal spot in the south endzone since they added that hideous and hopefully temporary seating section over there. But I’ll be there, in Raymond James, watching what will likely be the final meeting between two Hall of Fame quarterbacks and watching the Buccaneers win their third straight game to start this season.
So now that you know all you need to know about the Bucs’ matchup with the Packers, there’s only one thing left to say.