NFL Week 11: Tampa Bay Buccaneers at Green Bay Packers Preview
Former Pro Bowl defensive back Eric Davis told his 95.7 "The Game" listeners there was no such thing as a trap game: "It's all about preparation."
Davis knows more about football than I ever will. But sometimes you can be too close to something to see it clearly.
Of course winning is all about preparation. But the whole point of a trap game is that a team is looking back and ahead and therefore does not properly prepare.
If trap games were not real, Hall of Fame coach Bill Parcells would not have swung a trap from the ceiling to prepare his team for one.
Sandwiched between two division rivalry games is the Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday. They are not contenders and could be overlooked, and if so are just good enough to challenge the Packers.
But even if the intensity is lower than last and next week, the Packers are too focused to overlook this game. After trailing for almost the entire first half against the Carolina Panthers, this team has been prepared for every game.
And every miscellaneous advantage favours Green Bay outside of pressure: If Tampa gets down early, they have far less to play for, they will be on the road in the cold and their coaches and players are not as tried and true.
Still, what matters more than all these things is the talent on the field. How does that match up?
Packers Passing Game vs. Bucs Pass Defense: Big Advantage, Green Bay
Whenever Aaron Rodgers is up against a defense, he has the advantage. Green Bay has the best receiving corps in the game in the two stats that are the least influenced by quarterback play, drops and yards after catch.
Green Bay ranks only third in pass yards only because the air attack is grounded every fourth quarter to protect a lead. Rodgers is the first quarterback in NFL history to start a season with nine games exceeding a 110 passer rating.
The Buccaneers defense is ranked 28th in passing yards and 26th in opponent passer rating. They have only 13 sacks and eight interceptions while allowing 15 touchdowns.
If you cannot stop the big play and make a few of your own, you will not last against Rodgers.
Packers Rushing Attack vs. Bucs Run Defense: Advantage, Packers
What? The Packers have an advantage running the ball?
Against the defense that has given up the fourth-most yards rushing, yes. Against the defense that gives up more per carry than all but six teams, yes.
True, Green Bay ranks only eight spots better in rushing offense and only three spots better than the Bucs defense in yards per carry. That makes the matchup seem close, but it is not.
Almost half of the Packers carries come when the other team knows they are coming. Green Bay runs the ball well when the opposition has to focus on the pass, and that will continue Sunday.
Buccaneers Passing Attack vs. Packers Pass Defense: Big Advantage, Packers
Green Bay is famously ranked 31st in pass defense and the Buccaneers rank 16th. So how is this one advantage Packers?
Josh Freeman is the 28th-ranked passer in the league. He has only nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions.
The Packers secondary will feast on his lack of weapons. The Packers lead the league in interceptions and only five teams have a better opponent passer rating.
Buccaneers Rushing Attack vs. Packers Run Defense: Advantage, Tampa Bay
The Packers may be eighth-best in the NFL in total yards rushing allowed, but Green Bay does not give up yards because teams have to pass most of the second half to keep up. Only nine teams allow more yards per carry than this defense.
Tampa is only ranked 24th rushing but are 15th in yards per carry. Legarrette Blount is not entirely healthy, but this is still a solid enough rushing attack to get yards until they have to abandon the run in the second half.
Special Teams: Advantage, Tampa Bay
Packers kicker Mason Crosby has not missed a field goal all season and has two over 55 yards. Connor Barth has missed only two field goals—one each of 40-49 yards and 50-plus.
Tim Masthay has a 44.9-yard punting average, two touchbacks and has pinned his opponents inside the 20 seven times. Thus, Michael Koenen's edge (45.6, one and 18) over him is more pronounced than Crosby's.
Tampa's coverage is better on both punts (6.1-yard average) and kicks (19.9) than Green Bay's (16.0 and 23.8). While their returners are not as good (8.5/punt and 23.6 per kick vs. 11.1 and 27.2), the differential is still a little in their favour (plus-6.4 on punts and plus-0.3 on kicks).
Prediction: Packers 27, Buccaneers 16
At some point, Aaron Rodgers may appear human. His Achilles Heel appears to be the Buccaneers (0-2 with two of his three games with three picks) and Tampa-Two defense (three of his five worst career performances).
But the stakes are too high and Bucs personnel too lacking for this to mean anything but a game that is closer than it looks like it should be at first glance. The game might even be decided early enough for Matt Flynn to make another appearance.