For the second consecutive season, the Green Bay Packers have advanced to the NFC Championship Game, marking also the second NFCCG appearance under second-year head coach Matt LaFleur. And standing in their way to advance to their first Super Bowl since 2010 is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Being able to host the Championship Game at Lambeau Field for the first time in quarterback Aaron Rodgers’ career certainly has been a long time coming, and with his remarks after Saturday’s win, it seems as though Rodgers has been looking forward to this moment for a long, long time.
Hosting this game certainly provides GB with a good advantage against their NFC South foe, as the combination of being able to host a small number of fans and the frozen, snowy tundra being very unfriendly for a team familiar with playing only in warm conditions gives the Pack some help.
Looking ahead, let’s see what Tampa Bay will bring to the table on both offense and defense.
Obviously, the big name that needs to be discussed first and foremost is Tom Brady, the old man leading the Buccaneers as their starting QB. having just dissected the New Orleans Saints, Brady now sets his sights on facing Rodgers for another trip to the Super Bowl. 199 yards and 3 total TD’s is what Brady put up against NO, and even with his passing yardage being lower than what can be expected from him, he was surgical in his passing attack, even though he did struggle to find Rob Gronkowski and Mike Evans at times.
With the chance to play the Super Bowl in their home stadium, Brady and the Bucs certainly will be at their best on Sunday, and Brady’s familiarity with playing in cold temps will not be as huge of an impact as it will be for most TB players.
Even with being on the wrong side of 40 and being closer to age 45 than age 40, Brady is still slinging the ball all over the field, relying on a strong offensive line to help keep him upright in the pocket. Rookie tackle Tristan Wirfs has done an excellent job in his first year out of Iowa, and the GB defensive front will have their hands full handling this strong OL unit.
Ronald Jones and Leonard Fournette are the RBs that take the weight off Brady, with Jones as the more explosive back and Fournette as the pass-catching option. Jones was questionable coming into the game, giving Fournette more of a role, but both played and both produced. They will be options that GB will need to keep an eye on, as each brings a different strength to the table that will test the team’s front seven.
For receivers and tight ends, this may be one of the strongest and deepest range of weapons that this defense will be facing this year, as WRs Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown, combined with Gronk, all will be thrown out there for the GB defense to keep tabs on.
Evans and Godwin are top targets for Brady and should be treated as such, meaning that Kevin King’s role will be under a microscope all night, especially with Jaire Alexander needing to be counted on to lock down one of the top options. Chandon Sullivan will be asked to step up and help in slot duties more than ever in this game, locking up with any of these weapons, as well as Scottie Miller and rookie Tyler Johnson.
Gronk is Brady’s long-trusted weapon and unretired to join him in Florida, and Gronk can easily be a problem for any defense, even though he certainly is not the caliber of player that he used to be.
Mike Pettine will have his hands full on Sunday, needing to contend with a strong passing attack while also slowing down their rushing attack – there will be a need to put more of a focus on one area than another, and if Green Bay can slow the passing attack down more, through coverages and a strong pass rush, then the running game becomes less efficient, as the play-action calls will not be as believable.
Brady is going to need to be put in a pressure cooker by this front seven, as the Smith brothers and Rashan Gary will need to get in his face early and often, seeing as how Brady is one of the least mobile QBs in the league. Get in his face, pressure him into bad throws or take him down, and this offense becomes weaker.
As was seen against the Saints, the main strength of this Bucs’ team is their defense – being the league’s best run-stopping unit for the second year in a row is a great metric to describe their efficiency and how that will affect Green Bay’s attack.
Starting up front, their defensive line, with both William Gholston and Ndamukong Suh leading the charge, will be big tasks to handle, especially for Billy Turner and Rick Wagner, if LaFleur runs those two out as his starting tackles yet again.
Their 3-4 scheme helps provide instant pass rush from OLBs Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett, while ILBs Lavonte David and Devin White lead the charge in coverage and run support for the Bucs. Both David and White are roving LBs, as they seek out the ball and do so in very physical ways.
White is the LSU product who was drafted a few years ago and has been a stud ever since, and David is the grizzled veteran who loves to stick his head into plays and get dirty – both will be nuisances in the run game, and Rodgers will need to be very wary of them in the passing game, dropping back into coverage.
Their secondary is where their defense is the most beatable, as they sit in the bottom half of the league in passing yards and passing TDs allowed, meaning that Rodgers and company will need to go back to work again to tear that unit apart.
Corners Carlton Davis and Jamel Dean will be tasked with keeping Davante Adams, Allen Lazard, Marquez Valdes-Scantling, and others boxed, while safeties Jordan Whitehead and rookie Antoine Winfield Jr. will oversee things from the back-end while sticking their noses into running formations down in the box.
Sean Murphy-Bunting and Ross Cockrell are above-average dime and nickel ‘backs that will step in and provide coverage as well, so their secondary is strong, but again, beatable.
Having plenty of tape on how to attack a Todd Bowles-led defense, LaFleur, Rodgers, and OC Nathaniel Hackett will need to develop a strong attack that gets after this defense, helps establish the run (even against a very strong unit), and sets themselves up to continue what has worked so well for them this season.
Keeping with the play-action theme will be integral to Green Bay being able to use their regular offense – while being as strong as they are against the run, the Saints were still able to commit enough to it to keep them honest and help open up PA passing lanes, something that GB will need to pull from.
Rodgers will need to obviously be on top of his game yet again, as the presumed 2020 MVP will finally lead his troops into battle at home for a chance to advance to the Super Bowl. And while constant talk from the media about how Rodgers vs. Brady will be a big-time determinant for who is better, sticking to what got them to this point and continuing to compound that will be key for Green Bay.
In the fifth NFC Championship Game appearance for Rodgers, he finally gets one at home in the friendly (and unfriendly) confines of Lambeau – let’s hope being at home helps get him back to the promised land.
Oh, and that Week 6 matchup between these two teams down in Tampa that saw the Bucs take Green Bay’s lunch? Throw it out the window – this time, it’s different.뿓뿓뿓
Mike Johrendt has been an avid fan of the Packers ever since he can remember. He is now a writer at PackersTalk and you can follow him on Twitter at @MJohrendt23