GREEN BAY, Wis. – You know the big names: Aaron Rodgers, Aaron Jones and the returning duo of Davante Adams and Kenny Clark for the Green Bay Packers. Tom Brady, star receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin, and stud pass rusher Shaquil Barrett for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Going just a bit off the beaten path, here are two X-factors that could play a key role in this potential NFC playoffs preview.
Packers RB Jamaal Williams
Even though Jones is one of the NFL’s great running backs, coach Matt LaFleur has made it a timeshare in the backfield. Jones has played 55.8 percent of the offensive snaps compared to 42.4 percent for Williams. On what will be a sweltering day in Tampa, Fla., Williams figures to get a lot of playing time again.
While Williams is averaging only 3.7 yards per carry – down more than a half-yard compared to last year – he has been unstoppable as a receiver after a grueling offseason. He’s caught all 13 targets for 119 yards, including eight catches for 95 yards last week against Atlanta.
“He’s got that swag about him,” offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said as part of the accompanying video. “When he has the ball in his hands, he’s going to run downhill. That energy, I mean, that’s what football is. You make all these plays and devise all these different things but, in the end, it’s about ‘players make plays,’ and he has come through and done a lot of great things.”
Tampa Bay’s defense has been vulnerable to opposing backs in the passing game, yielding the fourth-most receptions (38) and yards (286). Beyond the receiving game, the Bucs love to blitz. Critically, Williams excels in that phase. According to Pro Football Focus, in 16 pass-protecting snaps, Williams has allowed just one pressure. He’s allowed only one sack over the last 25 games.
Bucs RB LeSean McCoy, TE Cameron Brate
The Bucs have some big-name weapons at Brady’s disposal, with Evans, Godwin and tight end Rob Gronkowski.
The player to watch – assuming he’s healthy after missing last week’s game against Chicago with an ankle injury – is running back LeSean McCoy. A six-time Pro Bowler, the 32-year-old’s best days are behind him. He’s third on the running back depth chart behind starter Ronald Jones and bruising Leonard Fournette. In four games, McCoy has carried the ball only twice.
However, with 512 career receptions, McCoy has always excelled is as a receiver. Green Bay’s defense has been nothing short of terrible against pass-catching backs. The Packers have allowed 31 receptions for 281 yards and two touchdowns against backs. Those 70.3 receiving yards per game is the worst in the NFL.
Brate opened the season third on the tight end depth chart behind Gronkowski and O.J. Howard. With Howard out for the season with a torn Achilles, Brate doubled his season snap count with 33 vs. Chicago. He took advantage by catching 5-of-6 targets for 44 yards. Brate is a real threat. He caught 57 passes in 2016; from 2016 through 2019, he caught 24 touchdown passes. That touchdown count ranked fourth in the league over that span and was 10 more than every Packers tight end combined.