Instead, Rodgers will need to find an answer to Todd Bowles‘ blitz-happy defense. The Bucs’ pressure turned Rodgers into a quivering mess when the two teams met in Florida back in Week 6.
Tampa won 38-10 on that day, but earning a repeat will be tougher at Lambeau Field. The Pack must harass Brady with inside pressure. Rodger will also need to be willing to test the Bucs’ man coverage off of play-action.
Here are three keys for both teams to win the conference title and advance to Super Bowl LV, starting with how Tampa can progress.
Simulate pressure vs Rodgers
It’s easy to pigeon-hole Bowles’ gameplan for Rodgers into a relentless pattern of blitzing. There’s some credence since sending extra rushers worked so well in Week 6, when Rodgers missed 19 of 35 throws, hurled two picks, and suffered four sacks.
A-Rod was vulnerable vs. the blitz back in October, but things have changed since. The numbers actually show the risk of defenses going gung-ho to rattle Rodgers.
Aaron Rodgers went 3-12 with 2 INT against the blitz in Week 6 vs TB per @NextGenStats. He's thrown 15 TD and 1 INT in all other games this season against the blitz. Since Week 9, Tampa's defense has allowed 13 TD with 1 INT when blitzing. pic.twitter.com/BESPdeF71f
Fortunately for the Bucs, there’s more to Bowles than the blitz. He’s too crafty a coordinator to be so one-dimensional.
Bowles also has the playmakers up front to simulate pressure and still make life uncomfortable for Rodgers. Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, Shaquil Barrett, and Jason Pierre-Paul are a mismatch against most offensive lines.
The Bucs would be smart to rely on a four-man rush that may look like more pre-snap. Bowles can stack inside linebackers Lavonte David and Devin White near the line of scrimmage to show blitz, then have them bail into man or zone assignments underneath.
You can bet Rodgers and Green Bay head coach Matt LaFleur will have a plan for the blitz after the events of Week 6. Bowles should flip the script and make it look like the Packers are getting what they’re expecting, only to set a trap.
Let Fournette and Jones eat
Brady made some decent throws last week in New Orleans, but he wasn’t the main reason the Bucs wore down the Saints’ defense. It helped to get 125 rushing yards from Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones II.
Both backs can pound it out between the tackles. Fournette in particular is a battering ram few defenders relish trying to stop. RoJo has a bit more initial speed, but he’s not afraid to put his head down and slam 208 pounds into an opponent.
The Buccaneers know how to control the sticks on the ground. It’s just that head coach Bruce Arians prefers to have Brady air it out and stretch the field vertically. Arians should turn his backs loose against a Packers defense that allowed 4.5 yards per rush during the regular season.
Brady’s favourite targets in the passing game know the value of Fournette and Jones. Just ask Mike Evans.
On if the tandem of Leonard Fournette and Ronald Jones helps the passing game, Mike Evans says: "It helps the whole team when they're running like that … when they're going we're tough to beat."
— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) January 20, 2021
Brady won’t mind handing off 30 times as he did in New Orleans. One of the keys to Brady’s greatness has been his willingness to do what the game demands of him and, unlike Rodgers, not insist on winning with his arm alone.
Get Cameron Brate involved
Rob Gronkowski‘s a shell of his former self, but defenses still pay him plenty of attention. Green Bay will focus on the ‘Gronk,’ so Brady should get his other tight end involved early and often.
Cameron Brate is a mismatch against Packer linebackers. He’s a sure-handed target who knows how to find the soft spots in underneath zones.
Brate’s regular season was far from spectacular, just 28 catches for 282 yards. He’s been more productive in the playoffs, though, tallying eight grabs for 130 in wins over Washington and the Saints.
That takes care of the Bucs. Here’s how the Packers can ruin Brady’s bid for a 10th Super Bowl berth.
Create inside pressure vs Brady
The best way to beat Brady has always been to create inside pressure. No. 12’s a static target who likes to step into his throws from a familiar spot.
Green Bay can deny Brady those luxuries by using edge-rushers in different ways. Za’Darius Smith is an outside linebacker who creates havoc whenever he slides inside.
GB has a matchup advantage with Za’Darius Smith aligned as a stand-up DT in passing situations.
Scheme 1-on-1s there. And use more inside games (stunts).
— Matt Bowen (@MattBowen41) January 20, 2021
Smith was working as part of a standard, four-man rush in the clip above. Packers’ defensive coordinator Mike Pettine can afford to be more daring by sending additional rushers through the A-gaps, either side of center Ryan Jensen.
Whatever it takes to wreck the middle of the pocket and force 43-year-old Brady to go on the move.
Alexander vs Godwin
Jaire Alexander is the shutdown cornerback on the Green Bay defense. So he should match up with Mike Evans, right? Wrong.
The better move for the Packers is to isolate Alexander against Chris Godwin. Evans is a deep threat, who is also a demon in the red zone, but Godwin is the oil in the engine in this passing game.
Godwin’s a sudden and subtle route runner whose hands rarely let him down. He’s the type of receiver Brady threw to for years with the New England Patriots. The partnership didn’t yield 1,000 yards during the regular season, but the playoffs have provided a different spark, with Godwin grabbing nine receptions for 113 yards and a score.
Alexander can keep Godwin under wraps. Taking away a quarterback’s go-to target has been his job all season.
In the second half of the season, Jaire Alexander aligned predominantly at LCB after shadowing 5 opposing #1 WRs over the Packers first 8 games.
— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) January 21, 2021
Trusting Alexander to take Godwin away would allow the Packers to double Evans on every play. A corner in press in front of a safety over the top would deter Brady from trying to go long to Evans.
Go deep vs man coverage
Brady may have trouble throwing deep, but it should be the first thing Rodgers tries. Bowles doesn’t mind leaving Tampa’s corners isolated in man-to-man matchups.
It’s not a reckless ploy given the Bucs’ talent on the outside.
Carlton Davis vs. NFC North WRs:
Allen Robinson II
W5: 6 catches, 50 yards
W6: 3 catches, 33 yards
Justin Jefferson/Adam Thielen
W14: 1 catch, 5 yards
— PFF (@PFF) January 19, 2021
Fortunately for Rodgers, his receiving corps is one of the few in the NFL built to punish man coverage. Marquez Valdes-Scantling has the straight-line speed to go past anybody. He’s refined his game to average 20.9 yards per reception.
Lazard and Valdes-Scantling have both taken great strides this season, but Davante Adams is still the main man among Rodgers’ targets. Adams cemented his status as arguably the best wide receiver in football by schooling Rams’ ace Jalen Ramsey a week ago.
Jalen Ramsey allowed 54 yards vs. the Packers
First time Ramsey gave up 50+ yards in a game since Week 1 pic.twitter.com/H50QztneAL
— PFF (@PFF) January 19, 2021
Letting Adams try to get Davis with a double move early would help Rodgers and his offense send a message they aren’t going to be bullied by Bowles’ defense this time.