This past Sunday, I saw something that I haven’t seen all season: A scared and confused Aaron Rodgers. The Buccaneers defense did about the best you can do against a Packers offense that had been electrifying up until Sunday. Aaron Rodgers was sacked four times and threw two interceptions, on back-to-back drives no less. Rodgers hadn’t thrown a pick in his last 157 pass attempts, and then he threw 2 in a row to this Bucs defense.
If you only watched the first quarter of this game, you wouldn’t believe that the end score was 38-10 Bucs. After the first two Packers possessions, it wasn’t looking too good for the Bucs. Rodgers was getting easy completions and moving the ball with ease. Then, the Bucs made some huge adjustments on the third possession, they got a pick, the momentum shifted and never went back. I’m going to take a deeper look at what the Bucs did to shut down the great Aaron Rodgers after such an abysmal start.
On the first drive for the Packers, the Bucs played primarily off-man coverage. They had confidence that their defense was talented enough to shut down the Packers’ pass catchers 1 on 1. While I don’t disagree with that assessment, Matt Lefluer and Nathaniel Hackett saw right through that game plan and were able to scheme their guys into open space. The Packers stacked their receivers on one side and just ran little drags and pick plays to get guys open. On the first drive, the Packers ran the same stacked drag pattern twice in a row, resulting in back-to-back first down pickups from two different wideouts. That ended in 3 points for Green Bay.
Then, the second drive came along and the scheme changed, but the execution was poor. The Bucs employed much more zone coverage this time around, but they just couldn’t get any pressure on Rodgers, and it doesn’t matter what coverage you’re in, if you give Aaron Rodgers time, he will pick you apart. Rodgers found Robert Tonyan on the sideline after he got lost by the corner trying to cover the seam. Then, Rodgers escaped the pocket, shifting the entire zone over to his side of the field, which opened up a nice little pocket for his receiver to make the catch in between zones in the cover 2. Then, the same corner gets caught guarding the seam again, and a botched cover 2 leads to a short third down after a long RAC. This is what Aaron Rodgers does. He recognizes the defense, looks for the openings, and throws bullets right through the hearts of his opponents.
Finally, the third drive came along and everything changed. Rodgers had to throw the ball away after getting pressure on first down, the run play went nowhere on second, and then it was third and long. The Bucs were in a 4-across zone look and brought a blitz off the edge. Rodgers, wanting to get the ball out quickly, stairs down Devante Adams on a 10-yard out and Jamel Dean reads it perfectly. He jumps the route as soon as Rodgers cocks back to throw and takes it to the house for 6. The entire momentum shifted after that play.
The next drive, Rodgers came out and threw another pick. The Bucs brought a man blitz and Rodgers felt the pressure and threw the ball into a tight window to Adams in between Carlton Davis draped on his back and the safety patrolling in the middle of the field. The throw was great, but Davis hit Adams’ arm and the pass popped out and landed in the hands of the safety. What changed on these two drives that made these turnovers possible?
The zone coverage was working on the second drive, but Rodgers had too much time to throw and the Bucs couldn’t keep him in the pocket, so what did they do? They start to blitz the linebackers and the corners. They start crossing their rushers at the line. They dropped the edge rushers into coverage. They did anything they could do to confuse and get pressure on Aaron Rodgers without letting him escape the pocket.
The pre-snap look held no indication of what coverage the Bucs would be in, and that’s the only way to beat Aaron Rodgers. That scheme carried on throughout the rest of the game. It was rare to see a straight up rush from the Bucs. Almost every play there was either a linebacker or corner blitzing and sometimes a lineman dropping back into coverage. This confused Aaron Rodgers, and when that happens he usually buys himself more time and spaces out the defense by escaping the pocket, but the Bucs made sure not to let that happen and that’s why they won.
The Packers didn’t score another point for the rest of the game. Rodgers had season lows in completion percentage, passing yards, and passing touchdowns at 46%, 160, and 0. The team also rushed for under 100 yards, and lead back Aaron Jones was held to an astonishing 15 yards on 10 attempts. Any way you look at it, the Buccaneers absolutely dominated this game on both ends.
To say I was impressed by the Bucs defense this past week is a massive understatement. The play-calling was inspired, the execution was near-perfect, and the Bucs came up with a huge statement win. The momentum they gained from this game will do wonders for their team and has carried them into legitimate contender status.