Beating Blitz Will Be Critical in Beating Bucs

Bill Huber

GREEN BAY, Wis. – The heat will be on in Tampa, both literally and figuratively, for the Green Bay Packers.

Tampa Bay Buccaneers defensive coordinator Todd Bowles is one of the most aggressive play-callers in the NFL. According to Zebra Sports, whose RFID technology powers the NFL’s NextGen Stats, the Buccaneers have blitzed on 40.6 percent of defensive snaps. That’s the fourth-highest blitz rate in the NFL.

Combined with the pass-rushing prowess of Shaquil Barrett – last year’s NFL leader with 19.5 sacks – and Jason Pierre-Paul, the Buccaneers can bring pressure through talent and scheme.

“I think they’re a very talented group, and they’re going to try and create as many one-on-ones as possible throughout the game,” Packers offensive coordinator Nathaniel Hackett said. “It allows those guys to go out and win and do what they do. So, we’re going to have to be great up front and win all those one-on-ones they’re going to present to us.”

Rodgers long has been one of the top quarterbacks vs. the blitz. Even in his relatively subpar seasons in 2018 and 2019, his passer rating vs. the blitz was about 10 points better than the NFL average, according to Pro Football Focus.

Nothing has changed this season. According to PFF, he’s completed 35-of-53 passes (66.0 percent) for 386 yards with five touchdowns, zero interceptions and a 118.9 passer rating when blitzed.

Then again, his passer rating when not blitzed is a lofty 134.3. So, as the Falcons did in Week 4, perhaps Bowles and future defensive coordinators will figure they’re better off going down with guns blazing. That was Bowles’ approach against another veteran quarterback, New Orleans’ Drew Brees, in the opener. By percentage of dropbacks, the Bucs had their second-most blitz-heavy day of the season.

“A lot of teams have certain statistics or tendencies and then they play us and they play us completely different than kind of the stats show,” Rodgers said. “Todd likes to bring pressure. I wouldn’t necessarily call it blitzing all the time. To me, blitzing is usually involving a linebacker or secondary. A lot of it is usually a five-man rush and playing various coverages behind that. It’ll be interesting to see how they look at our personnel, myself, our movement, Davante (Adams), Aaron Jones and how they come up with a plan. But you definitely have to be ready for the blitz packages that they offer.”

Those blitz packages have meant extra studying this week. While Rodgers is the quarterback of the offense, center Corey Linsley is the quarterback of the offensive line. Combined, it primarily will be up to those two to figure out where the blitz will be coming from and how it will be blocked.

“Yeah, it does [mean more studying], it’s just natural,” Linsley said. “There are more looks, more adjustments we’re going to have to make. You’d like to say we study an equal amount every single week, but it does take [more] when teams bring a mix of pressure and they have a little more complexity to that. There are different adjustments that we’re going to have to make and you do have to study a little bit more. This is one of those defenses that pressures a lot, and they do it well and they’re pretty sound, so it’s going to take another added level of mental discipline to execute.”

If Rodgers gets time, he should thrive against a young Bucs secondary. That’s been the case this season, as shown by PFF. When pressured, Rodgers has completed only 34.6 percent of his passes and his passer rating is merely 68.8. When given a clean pocket, he’s completed 78.8 percent of his passes and his passer rating is 141.1. Those are enormous differences. Some of that is because Rodgers simply hasn’t faced much pressure. However, it’s a stat worth keeping in mind on Sunday.

“For whatever reason, the past couple of games we have gotten a lot of pressure and we’ve handled it nicely,” Hackett said. “I think he’s just always trying to, kind of how we utilize those motions, trying to cause different issues for the defense. I think he’s trying to create different fronts and pressures to [confuse] an offense. So, I think it’s going to be a nice chess match on Sunday.”

Register today or log in to access this premium article.