After out-playing Drew Brees and beating the Saints at home in the Superdome, Tom Brady and the Buccaneers are now faced with an even taller task, taking down Aaron Rodgers in the NFC Championship Game in Lambeau. Can the Buccaneers defense shut down Rodgers like it did another legend in Drew Brees, or will this brolic offensive attack from Green Bay be too much to handle for Tampa Bay?
Tampa Bay Buccaneers vs. Green Bay Packers
Sunday, January 24, 2021 – 03:05 PM EST at Lambeau Field
Getting it Done with Defense
Green Bay has made its mark this season on the offensive end, thanks to explosive play from Aaron Rodgers and Davante Adams, and that’s for good reason. All season long, the Green Bay secondary ranked 11th in yards per pass, and teams were attacking it almost 60% of the time, which ranked in the bottom 10 in the NFL. Of late, though, the Packers have been stout against the pass.
Over their past three games, the Packers have allowed 166.7 yards per game through the air, second to only Baltimore who limited Buffalo to just 220 yards of total offense last weekend. To say the unit is well-positioned to win the game for the Packers would be an understatement.
Given its recent success limiting opposing offenses, its top-ranked scoring offense, and an 8-1 record at Lambeau Field, it’s no secret the Packers are favored in this game. In each of their nine home wins, the Packers have been favored, and they’ve covered in six of those, including last week’s 32-18 win over the Rams.
A big reason for the Packers’ defensive prowess, and someone to watch in this one, is corner Jaire Alexander. The 2018 first-round pick ranks as the No. 1 cornerback in coverage according to Pro Football Focus, and will have his hands full matching up with Mike Evans for most of Sunday’s contest. Though Brady showcased he has umpteen targets to throw to last weekend, shutting down Evans will be key considering he’s been the most-targeted man for the Buccaneers all season long, and leads the team in red zone targets.
I’d be remiss not to say something here about how great Rodgers and Adams have been; at 37 Rodgers has still shown the ability to make all the right decisions, recognizing coverages on Sunday and exploiting them for huge plays, including a long game-sealing touchdown to Allan Lazard. Rodgers proved once again that no one can out-scheme him, and he’s also proved to be a menace at Lambeau this season, throwing for 23 touchdowns and 258 yards per game during the regular season against just two interceptions.
Spreading the Ball Around
Would you like to venture a guess as to how top targets Mike Evans, Antonio Brown and Rob Gronkowski fared on Sunday? They combined for just three catches and 27 yards. The story of Tampa Bay’s upset in New Orleans last week, at least from an offensive perspective, was the lesser-known options that Tom Brady has at his disposal making the big plays.
In the fourth quarter of a tied game, facing a third and long deep in his own territory, Brady chose to go to rookie Tyler Johnson on the outside for perhaps the biggest conversion of the game, and Johnson made one of the most spectacular catches you’ll ever see. Later that drive, he found Scotty Miller for his only catch of the game, a 29-yard game-breaker on third and five. That drive led to a lead for Tampa Bay that it would not relinquish.
The lesson here? You can have all the individual talent you want on defense — the Saints have three shutdown corners in Marshon Lattimore, Chauncey Gardner-Johnson and Janoris Jankins, and a two-time Super Bowl champion safety in Malcolm Jenkins — Brady will find a way to beat you anyway. The faith he puts in his unproven targets is admirable, and unmatched. Whatever you give him, he will take.
One of the other players that surprised for Tampa Bay was Leonard Fournette, who gashed the third-best rushing defense in football on Sunday and caught five passes and a touchdown to boot. Fournette looked like the player we all fell in love with at LSU, and considering how he played against such a strong defense, he has to be considered as a potential difference-maker against the 11th-ranked rushing defense. Having an established ground game to keep the Packers defense honest could complicate matters for Green Bay and make Brady even more dangerous.
The Packers were favored once before against Tampa Bay this season…and they ended up losing by 28 in Tampa Bay. Of course, Aaron Rodgers in the playoffs, at Lambeau is a totally different animal. But it’s worth noting that Rodgers had his worst game of the year against this Tampa Bay defense, throwing two picks, getting sacked four times and failing to find the end zone.
The same players will be gunning for Rodgers again; elite edge rushers Shaq Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul will be coming off the edge, and Devin White, who was the MVP on defense for Tampa Bay on Sunday, will be in there again as well alongside another one of the league’s best linebackers in Lavonte David. Nothing has changed about the way this defense can attack Rodgers.
It’s hard to fade this Buccaneers defense right now, and it makes it even harder when you look at how incredible Brady has looked, and how much that offensive line is doing for him. Tristan Wirfs has eliminated some of the game’s best edge rushers, and Ali Marpet and Ryan Jensen have been maulers in the run game. It’s always difficult fading Rodgers at Lambeau, but at this number he can still win and we can profit. I wouldn’t count on Green Bay dominating on offense like it did last weekend. Give me the Bucs.
Best NFL Bet: Buccaneers +3.5 (-108) at FanDuel