Buccaneers Pass Offense vs. Packers Pass Defense Preview

We're breaking the NFC Championship down, matchup by matchup, with Packer Central.
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Tom Brady looked human against the New Orleans Saints after four consecutive 300+ yard, two+ touchdown games. Held under 200 yards passing on 33 attempts, both of Brady's touchdowns came off of turnovers that set the Bucs up with ideal field position.

In order to beat Aaron Rodgers and the Green Bay Packers in the NFC Championship, chances are Brady is going to need another largely productive day.

Considering the magnitude of this contest, we'll be joined by Bill Huber of SI's PackerCentral.com every day leading up to the game, previewing matchup by matchup. Today, we're flipping sides and previewing the Buccaneers' passing offense against the Packers' passing defense.

Buccaneers passing offense preview

I think, if 2020 taught us anything... it’s that Tom Brady isn’t just a system quarterback.

As that old system faltered in New England, Brady ignited a Tampa Bay Buccaneers offense that was full of weapons but lacked consistency behind center over the years. It took some time to transition and adjust to Bruce Arians' offense without a normal offseason amid the pandemic, but after the Bucs' late bye week in Week 13, Tampa Bay transformed into one of the NFL's passing offense juggernauts. As a whole, the Bucs averaged 37 points per contest over the final four, with Brady throwing for 1,333 yards and 12 touchdowns during that stretch. He threw one interception as well, which came off of a dropped pass by a receiver.

Mike Evans, Chris Godwin, and Antonio Brown rarely have been at full health at the same time, but each has looked like a legitimate WR No. 1 at some point. Evans set an NFL record with a seventh consecutive season since his rookie year with 1,000+ receiving yards while breaking his own franchise record for single-season touchdown receptions with 13. Godwin dealt with numerous injuries throughout the season but has generally proven himself as a dependable go-to. And although it took some time to get comfortable, Brown made his presence known with four touchdowns in the final three games of the season.

Rob Gronkowski, like Brown, had some rust to shake off after a year-long retirement. It took until the first time Tampa Bay and Green Bay met for Gronk to find the end zone for the first time in a Bucs uniform, and he's done it another six times since.

The Buccaneers' offensive line has quietly been a strength of the team as well, overshadowed by the firepower between Brady and the wide receiver room. Rookie right tackle Tristan Wirfs has played at an All-Pro level, allowing just one sack while appearing on every snap. Left guard Ali Marpet and center Ryan Jensen have been nearly just as good at keeping Brady clean, which enhanced the play of left tackle Donovan Smith and right guard Alex Cappa throughout the year. Cappa is out of the playoffs with a fractured ankle, but Arians was encouraged by the performance of Aaron Stinnie in his place against New Orleans.

No doubt, the reason Tampa Bay is winning as many football games as it is right now - six in a row entering the NFC Championship - is because the passing offense has gelled together.

Packers' passing defense preview

General manager Brian Gutekunst has poured his resources into stopping quarterbacks. In 2018, he used his first-round pick on cornerback Jaire Alexander. In 2019, he opened the checkbook for outside linebackers Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith and safety Adrian Amos, and used first-round picks on outside linebacker Rashan Gary and safety Darnell Savage.

Green Bay finished the season ranked 13th in opponent passer rating and eighth in sack percentage. The group generally played better as the season progressed. Nine of the 11 interceptions came over the final nine games. Of the 41 sacks, 24 came over the final eight games. It allowed less than 6.0 yards per passing attempt in six of the final eight games.

There isn’t much finesse in the games of the “The Smith Bros.” and Gary. They are power-first players. Za’Darius Smith tied for fourth in the league with 12.5 sacks and added another last week vs. the Rams. He lines up here, there and everywhere. As he goes, so goes the rest of the defense. When he’s got it rolling, the defense is ferocious. When he’s getting stopped, his energy can wane. Gary had five sacks but, on a play-to-play basis, might have been the most impactful rusher. Two key players had disappointing seasons. Preston Smith went from 12 sacks last season to four. Defensive tackle Kenny Clark, who received a monster contract extension, had merely two sacks during the regular season but notched 1.5 vs. the Rams.

Alexander and Kevin King are the corners, Chandon Sullivan mans the slot, and Savage and Amos are the safeties for a secondary that plays a lot of zone. Alexander is an elite player and one of the few true stoppers in the league. The Rams threw at him once and were rewarded for a loss of 3 yards. He’s got fantastic short-area quickness and a nose for the ball, plus a relentless personality. King was excellent in 2019 but not so much this season. An early-season injury that sidelined him for the first matchup seems to have robbed him of his long speed. At 6-foot-3, he still wins with length. Sullivan’s a bulldog in the slot who’s had a lot more good moments than bad. Much like Tampa Bay’s safeties, the duo of Savage and Amos is highly underrated. They’ve been phenomenal over the second half of the season.