21

November

Packers vs. Buccaneers: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 35-26 Win over Tampa Bay

Photo: Mark Hoffman, Journal Sentinel

The Green Bay Packers (10-0) held a tenuous two-point lead over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-6) late in the fourth quarter Sunday, but a third down scoring play from Aaron Rodgers to Jordy Nelson and a pair of interceptions from Tramon Williams helped the Packers win their 10th straight game of 2011 and 16th overall dating back to last season.

Here are five observations from the game:

1. “Worst” game

During a season in which he’s made the impossible look easy, Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers admittedly had his first “off day” of 2011. The accuracy wasn’t there in stunning detail, as Rodgers missed a handful of receivers on throws that he’s made in his sleep through the first nine games. Also, the blame for the interception he threw in the fourth quarter lands squarely on his shoulders. James Jones was blanketed on the short out, and it was an easy pick for Elbert Mack on the worst decision Rodgers’ has made with the football this season.

In his post game press conference, Rodgers was visibly frustrated about some of the mistakes. For a perfectionist like Rodgers, that frustration is easy to understand. But here’s the best part of the whole deal: On a day where Rodgers has his “worst” performance of the season, he still threw for 299 yards and three scores on 68 percent passing. He extended his NFL record streak of passer ratings over 110 to nine with a 112.3 mark. Rodgers’ worst day of 2011 still exceeds what the majority of the NFL’s quarterbacks do at their very best.

2. An odd start

The Packers first offensive drive of the game gave us an early glimpse into what turned out to be an odd football game. A Josh Sitton hold on Albert Haynesworth put the Packers offense into a hole they couldn’t climb out of, but punter Tim Masthay’s fumble(s) and stumble while avoiding a block on fourth-and-1 gave the offense a new set of downs. 11 plays later, Rodgers was handing the ball off to B.J. “The Freezer” Raji for a one-yard touchdown that gave the Packers a 7-0 lead. Raji’s dive up the gut capped off the Packers most extensive drive of the season (15 plays, 88 yards, 8:27) and, for better or worse, gave us our second viewing of Raji’s bellydancing skills. The 340-pound Raji wisely avoided an attempt at a Lambeau Leap.

I’m not exactly sure how many times we’ll see the Packers go to the Elephant package—which includes three tight ends and John Kuhn at tail back—but it’s certainly another look that the Packers’ already scary offense has put on tape for opposing defensive coordinators to chew on during preps.

3. Adversity drives

I think one of the defining aspects of the Packers’ 10-0 start is their ability to look adversity in the face and respond positively. Coach Mike McCarthy, as we’d all expect, said as much after the game. But in the fourth quarter Sunday, we again got two more looks at how the Packers have taken negatives during games and reversed their fortunes.  The Bucs first closed the Packers lead to two points when Mike Williams caught a 9-yard score with 13:07 left in the final quarter, but the Packers offense responded with an 8-play, 85-yard drive of their own on the next possession to regain the two-score cushion. After a Bucs’ punt and Rodgers’ ensuing interception, however, Josh Freeman got the Bucs back into the end zone with 4:25 left in the fourth. Tampa Bay’s onside attempt gave the Packers good field position to start their biggest drive of the football game, and Rodgers responded with a beautiful throw to Jordy Nelson on third-and-4 for a 40-yard touchdown pass that essentially sealed the win.

Simply put, games like Sunday used to end in heartbreaking losses for this Packers team. Now they respond to punches like the Bucs threw in the fourth quarter with haymakers of their own. While there’s a thousand-and-one reasons why the Packers are 10-0 right now, their ability to respond like they did on Sunday has to rank near the top.

4. Coloring Jordy

I really wish the talk of Nelson’s race as a factor in his 2011 season wouldn’t have come about, because it detracts from the ascension he’s made in his fourth NFL season. Nelson could be white, black, yellow or purple (gasp) and there’s no way opposing cornerbacks would be underestimating a guy playing as well as he is. It’s that simple.

He caught six passes for 123 yards and two more scores on Sunday, raising his season totals to 40 for 756 and nine. Through 10 games, Nelson is on pace for 64 catches, 1209 yards and 14 touchdowns. Again, his skin color has nothing to do with those numbers. He really does it all for the Packers offense, too. Not only is Nelson a verifiable deep threat, but he’s Rodgers favorite target when the play breaks down and Rodgers has to leave the pocket. His ability to find space and come back to the football in those instances might be more valuable than his competency in getting behind coverages.

Nelson’s big day allowed the Packers to roll despite a quiet performance from Greg Jennings, who banged his shin late in the first half but should be fine moving forward. The Packers are absolutely spoiled to have this many top-level receivers at their disposal. Nelson might be on his way to NFL stardom, regardless of the color of his skin.

5. Reverting back

After nearly pitching a shutout in a complete domination of the Minnesota Vikings a week ago, the Packers defense reverted back to some of the worrisome tendencies we have seen in 2011. Green Bay allowed 455 yards of total offense, and it came both through the air (342 yards from Freeman) and on the ground (121 rushing yards). The tackling was again atrocious, as Bucs running back LeGarrette Blount made a mockery of the Packers defense in breaking six tackles and rumbling into the end zone from 54 yards out. Desmond Bishop, Morgan Burnett, Tramon Williams, Sam Shields, A.J. Hawk and Erik Walden all had shots at bringing him down and couldn’t. Through ten weeks, the lack of fundamentals on the tackling is unacceptable. The Packers have had trouble with bigger backs (see: Mike Tolbert, San Diego), which is all the more nerve-racking when you consider they could see both Brandon Jacobs and Frank Gore during the playoffs.

The pass coverage was again below-par, too. Sam Shields was beat several times—including one-on-one against Williams for the Bucs first fourth quarter touchdown in which gaining the inside leverage was far too easy for the Bucs receiver. Fundamentals seem like a big problem for him, and you have to wonder how much the lockout hurt his progress. Safety Charlie Peprah also couldn’t handle his assignments in pass coverage, but that’s a trend we’ve seen all season from him. He’s going to be a huge liability in coverage when the blitzes don’t get home like Sunday. Overall, the underneath crossing routes killed the Packers when Dom Capers brought pressure.

I thought Monday night’s performance against the Vikings could be a jumping off point for the defense, especially with the return of Mike Neal. But maybe that game was just an anomaly, because Sunday’s defensive showing is just another in a long list of disappointing performances from the Packers defense.

Other observations: I tried to fit Donald Driver’s performance into the top five, but couldn’t find a spot. He clearly had his best game of the 2011 season with four catches for 72 yards. Driver still has some spring left in those 36-year-old legs…Keep a closeful eye on James Starks and his knee injury. Some players said postgame that Starks was walking around the locker room with a smile, but a “knee sprain,” as McCarthy put it after the game, can mean a ton of different things. Starks will be important to have down the stretch…To be a top tight end in the NFL—and get paid like it, too—Jermichael Finley has to make the catch on his one dropped pass Sunday. He responded with a 30-yard reception, but at some point, those have to become automatic…Tramon Williams had two interceptions of Josh Freeman and now has picks in three straight games…Rodgers’ interception nullified the impact, but Randall Cobb flipped field position again with a big punt return in the fourth quarter…Mason Crosby missed his first field goal of the season when his 29-yard attempt clanked off the right upright.

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Zach Kruse is a 23-year-old sports journalist with a passion for the Green Bay Packers. He currently lives in Wisconsin and is working on his journalism degree, while also covering prep sports for The Dunn Co. News.

You can read more of Zach's Packers articles on AllGreenBayPackers.com.

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21 Responses to “Packers vs. Buccaneers: 5 Observations from Green Bay’s 35-26 Win over Tampa Bay”

  1. Savage57 says:

    Considering that some of the same players that are proving to be liabilities this year, were pleasant surprises last year, what is the difference? Sam Shields getting consistently toasted on a variety of routes and coverages, Peprah seemingly always a step or two behind, nothing from Raji on interior pressure. Is it all in the mind, was last year an anomoly, or does the loss of a few key components so completely transform a defense from dominating to surviviing?

    Good point on Finley. If he really wants to see what the “Year of the Takeover” looks like, he need look no further than his teammate, #87. Please don’t waste money on this guy. If the Packers can keep him for average money, by all means do so. But clearly, his performance on the field comes nowhere close to the perception of it in his mind.

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      I think the loss of a couple key components have gone a long ways. The pressure hasn’t always been there either, which really hurts guys like Peprah.

      RE: Finley. I want him re-signed, and I think they will eventually, so we disagree there. You pay for production now and the production you think he’ll produce down the road.

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  2. Bearmeat Bearmeat says:

    This is from Tom Silverstein’s chat last night. Thought it applied to #5 above. THIS is what has me worried, and THIS is why I won’t shut up about GB’s problems. They don’t pass the eyeball test on Defense at all. The goal is to WIN the SB, not to rack up the most wins in a season. Money Quote below:

    I think the Packers consistently show weakness on the defensive said and a good game against a rookie quarterback isn’t enough to make me think they turned things around. They’re going to be susceptible to upset in the playoffs.

    Like or Dislike: Thumb up 1 Thumb down 0

    • BTF says:

      With respect it’s very rare that a team isn’t susceptible to upset in the play offs surely ?

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      • BTF says:

        Just to be clear I agree that the Packers weaknesses could cause them to lose a game. The chances of that will be enhanced in the playoffs because you play better teams (stating the obvious here I know). However surely it’s just as likely that they can exploit the other teams weaknesses

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      Agree 100% with Tom’s assessment of the defense. And about the upset possibility…it’s there for every team in the playoffs. Upsets happen every year. But I’d say the defensive woes have increased the chances, no doubt.

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  3. Ron LC says:

    Thursday’s game will be based on Defense. GB’s bi-polar group against Detroit’s, dare I say, dirty group. They will be trying to put AR out of the game. After being down 17 points yesterday, they turned a potential loss in to a rout. So, to win this important game GB’s D has to show up and play in a total all out attack mode for the whole 60 minutes.

    In addition, the Oline needs to reverse their lack luster play of the last 2 games. The slogan of the short week should be “protect Aaron.”

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    • BTF says:

      I’m not sure that our D is bipolar. They’ve been pretty consistent really both in the good and poor aspects..

      I agree with the general thrust of your comment though. Can the Packers opportunistic D exploit Stafford’s tendency to throw a pick. Or will the Lions disrupt Rodgers. Going to be a tough game and our o-line needs to step up..

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      Both teams are going to score points Thursday. And while it’s a well-known and well-used clique, I think this is going to be the one deciding factor in the game: Turnover differential. Whoever wins that stat wins on Thursday, in my opinion.

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  4. ELo says:

    Hard to complain at 10-0, but I had the same impression after watching our D yesterday. All’s well when we can rack up the points, but we are going to be playing some tougher defenses in the stretch, not to mention the playoffs, and I expect some closer games. Will Neal help with pressure and run stoppage- I hope so.

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      Neal provided some good push on the limited snaps he played yesterday. Should only get better as the reps increase and the leg get stronger

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  5. Mojo says:

    Regarding Jordy, why is anyone surprised at his success? Look at some of the film when he was with K-State. He ran away from people back then and was a highly successful receiver.

    From Wikipedia (so you know you can believe it):

    ‘After going unnoticed his junior year, Nelson broke out during his senior year, and was among the nation’s best receivers. He earned consensus All-American honors, and was a finalist for the Biletnikoff Award, after catching 122 passes for 1,606 yards and 11 touchdowns. Nelson also showed his versatility by throwing 2 touchdowns and returning 2 punts for touchdowns. After the season, Nelson continued to improve his stock as an NFL wide receiver prospect for the 2008 draft. At the NFL Scouting Combine, Nelson demonstrated good speed, running an official 4.37 in the 40-yd dash.’

    Because the Packers don’t necessarily have burners among the receiving core, it’s possible Jordy is the fastest wide-out on the team.

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      I think anytime you see such a production spike like we’re seeing out of Nelson, people are going to be surprised. You could always see, even from his first snaps in 2008, that Nelson had the overall talent to be a big producer, though.

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  6. Bryon says:

    The interesting thing about all this talk about the defense slacking again is the fact that GB never trailed or were even tied…the Bucs are a pro team. Every team we play is a pro team. They are all trying to win – and giving their best to a SB champ, and we are STILL 10-0.

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      Good point and perspective on never trailing of being tied despite the defensive troubles.

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  7. Tarynfor12 Tarynfor 12 says:

    Like I’ve said again and again,to mention James Jones in the same sentence as Jordy Nelson in regards to being the better WR is the most by far disrespectful thing anyone can do to Jordy.
    In fact,he is actually giving Jennings a real good run for the money.

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      Are people still comparing James Jones and Jordy Nelson together? It’s been clear cut since the end of 2010 that Nelson is the far better player. Snap counts tell the same story.

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  8. CSS says:

    Watching that Finley drop in real-time was very frustrating. Buck and Aikmen were quick to say he had to ‘adjust’, but that was the frustrating part. The defender was on Finley’s inside shoulder and Rodgers has read defender position so well all year Finley had to know that ball would be on his outside shoulder. So to see him open up into the defender felt like that was one of those mental mistakes that frustrate me with Finley.

    He’s such a physical specimen but I keep waiting for those mental lapses to catch up to the physical presence.

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      That two-play stretch with 88 was such a microcosm of what he brings. He dropped a ball he definitely should have caught on one play, then makes a terrific adjustment on a tough ball for 30 yards on the next. You live with the head shakers because of the latter play.

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  9. zeke says:

    i thought that i observed an inordinate amount of holds by the bucs on packer receivers and linemen during the game. any substance to that belief?

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    • Zach Kruse Zach Kruse says:

      Im re-watching the game right now. I know they missed one pretty easy holding call on Brad Jones on a play where Freeman completed a 30+ yard pass.

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