For Two All Time Greats, This Game Is About Legacy.Posted:Jan 22nd, 2021 3:23 pm
I haven't been able to get the 'L' word out of my head all week. And then Marcedes Lewis used it on Thursday. This is a legacy moment for both quarterbacks on Sunday. For Brady, to show that he can lead a team to a Super Bowl without Bill Belichick and more importantly, for Aaron Rodgers.
Rodgers will always be in the conversation when it comes to the all time greats. But taking this team to a Super Bowl and winning it will elevate him historically in many peoples' eyes. And beating Brady to get there would make it all the sweeter. You know it's important to Rodgers and it's important to Packer fans. Ten years ago Rodgers and the Pack reached the mountaintop. This team is his best chance to return there.
Standing in the way is the team that handed the Pack its worst loss of the season. But that was a long time ago and both teams look a lot different these days. All right, let's start with the weather. The Bucs are getting off easy, with temps in the 20s and maybe some snow. That shouldn't affect Brady and the Bucs too much, in my opinion. A frigid day in single digits would go a lot further in providing the Pack with an edge.
This is probably the most talented set of skill players Brady has ever played with. The only guy who's questionable to play is Antonio Brown, who's knee injury has kept him off the practice field through Thursday. Mike Pettine's defense will have its hands full. It has to start with stopping the run. Ronald Jones (who's not 100%) ran wild on the Pack in the first meeting and Leonard Fournette provides a nice complement. Pettine will likely be in nickel for most of the game, so the Bucs will test that light box to move the ball on the ground and give Brady shorter third down situations.
I figure Mike Evans will be sent to Jaire Island, but I expect Brady to look for him in the red zone, where he's been lethal this season. The game could turn on this matchup late in the fourth quarter. Brady will look for Chris Godwin in the middle of the field and both tight ends are dangerous on third downs. If Brown can't go, it opens the door for rookie and Minneapolis native Tyler Johnson, who won't flinch at the sight of snow and his own breath. On any other team, he would have made a bigger splash in his rookie season.
Brady has been playing at a very high level the last five or six weeks, thanks in part to all those weapons, but also because he's been very comfy in the pocket. The best way to mess with his timing is to get pressure up the middle and force him out of the pocket. The Packers are equipped to do that, with Kenny Clark and Za'Darius Smith leading the way. Look for Smith to spend a lot of time next to Clark, with Preston and Gary taking over on the outside.
The Pack's defense has steadily improved and is much more prepared to deal with Brady and his prolific partners. Kevin King missed the first game and Krys Barnes was not manning the middle of the defense. Plus both Adrian Amos and Darnell Savage have ramped up their games and are much more comfortable and productive now. Throw in the potential snaps from Damon Harrison and Tramon Williams and you have a unit that is up to the challenge.
Ah, Tramon Williams. How poignant it was to hear that the Packers were bringing him back and almost simultaneously learning that former GM Ted Thompson had passed away. Williams was Ted's greatest undrafted find ever. That was one of Thompson's strengths: uncovering hidden gems like Williams, Sam Shields, John Kuhn and Ryan Grant. Now Williams returns, fresh off a season with the Ravens, to provide depth and probably a spot in the dime defense, replacing the ineffective Will Redmond.
Despite Brady's strong finish, the Bucs' offense has been struggling to covert third downs lately, particularly short third downs and they've been bad in the red zone, converting touchdowns at just a 38% clip. The Bucs will move the ball between the 20s. The Pack's red zone defense has the edge right now.
Now for the Pack's offense against the Bucs' young, talented defense. The first matchup was the one game where the Pack failed to score at least 22 points and Rodgers' uncharacteristic picks on back to back series seemed to completely deflate the team. Todd Bowles' defense was the only one that found a way to blitz Rodgers to a point where he could do nothing.
They were helped by the Pack's inability to run the ball. Once the game got away in the second quarter when Tampa Bay put 28 points on the board, the Pack's offense pretty much abandoned it. Aaron Jones managed just 15 yards on 10 carries and he had no luck trying to run wide on their speedy linebackers. Look for Matt LaFleur to test that run defense like he did against the Rams last week, up the middle. Those linebackers, Devin White and Lavonte David are difference makers and those are the kind of players that have given the Pack's offense problems--speed guys in the middle of the defense. The best way to neutralize them is to negate their sideline to sideline speed. Of course the Pack may have to deal with the return of the massive NT Vita Vea, who's back from injured reserve. Maybe he'll be rusty.
Rodgers will need to identify where those guys are and stay on time and in rhythm. Everything we've seen from him and from this offensive line tells us that they are dictating things when they are on the field and will have answers for what Bowles throws at them. Corner Carlton Davis will do his best to play Davante Adams physically on the line but Adams can beat him deep. MVS and Lazard will have favorable matchups, but that back end has playmakers like rookie Antoine Winfield (another Minnesotan who will enjoy the weather) and Sean Murphy-Bunting. There can be no drops. There can be no putting the ball on the ground.
The Bucs have a very talented defense, but it's one that is not playing its best football right now. They're allowing more than 50% of third downs to be converted in the playoffs, worst of the four remaining playoff teams. They're allowing 64% of red zone visits to result in touchdowns in the playoffs--that would be the fifth worst mark in the regular season. And the Pack is pretty productive in the red zone, in case you haven't been paying attention.
After all of that, this game will likely come down to turnovers. Both teams are unbeaten this season when they don't commit a turnover and when they win the turnover battle. It's what turned the first meeting and it's what got the Bucs to this game. The Pack has been very good about taking care of the football at home. If they can do it one more time, they'll find themselves in the Super Bowl.
Tom Brady is looking to lead the Bucs to a Super Bowl in its home stadium, something no team has ever accomplished. Aaron Rodgers is playing at home in the NFC title game for the first time in his career. He's longed for this. It's his fourth title game since winning the Lombardi. The first one was snatched away on an onside kick. The last two were blowouts. This is Rodgers' moment. This is his time.
Packers 30 Bucs 20