The best move Arians made was reuniting with defensive coordinator Todd Bowles. They worked well together with the Arizona Cardinals, and now Bowles is proving as important as Brady to the Bucs’ hopes of playing Super Bowl LV on home soil.
Brady looked more like Brady because Chris Godwin returned from a hamstring injury. Godwin’s a deluxe version of Julian Edelman, Troy Brown, and Wes Welker, the kind of precision underneath route runner Brady loves to target.
Yet Brady wasn’t the key to the Buccaneers making light work of the Pack. The real credit belonged to Bowles’ burgeoning defense.
The Buccaneers are now currently the best defense in the league, giving up a league-low 282.0 yards per game.
Let that sink in.
— Carmen Vitali (@CarmieV) October 19, 2020
Bowles put Rodgers through the wringer with a fiendish combination of blitzing and disguised coverages. The plan was executed by a front seven that belongs in the bracket of the NFL‘s elite.
Bowles’ clever scheming helped force both turnovers. The first was the result of a subtle shift in coverage after the snap.
Tampa Bay initially showed Rodgers a single-high safety look. Yet safety Jordan Whitehead left the box and rotated deep at the snap.
It looked live Cover 2, but the Bucs were actually playing quarters with four defenders deep. Sitting in off coverage helped Dean defend the sticks and keep his eyes on Rodgers.
He read the throw as Davante Adams made his out cut. Dean was perfectly positioned to steal the throw and make a house call.
— The Checkdown (@thecheckdown) October 18, 2020
Rodgers had a lot to decipher before he let the ball go. Not only did the coverage change, but Bowles also sent pressure.
Rodgers has been killing teams throwing to his running backs this season, but Bowles consistently forced backfield pass-catchers to stay in and protect.
Blitzing is a Bowles staple, but he became more aggressive after the Packers had jumped into an early lead:
Defining a blitz as five or more players rushing the passer, the Buccaneers only blitzed on two Rodgers drop-backs in the first quarter, or 16.7%. in the second quarter they blitzed on 46.7% of his drop-backs and in the third quarter that rate went up to 55.6%. The Buccaneers kept the heat on because it was working.
The blitz soon had Rodgers rushing another throw in a key moment. Tampa again lined up in Cover 1, but this time didn’t shift out of man coverage after the snap.
Instead, White blitzed the middle and forced Rodgers to force a quick slant to Adams. Carlton Davis blanketed the receiver in press coverage, allowing Edwards, the free safety deep, to read the throw and play the ball.
Davis’ tip sent the ball into Edwards’ grateful grasp. He returned it to the 5, and Ronald Jones III soon found paydirt.
The coverage was exceptional, but the way Bowles designed pressure wrecked Rodgers’ protection. His defense had 4-2-5 nickel personnel on the field, but Pierre-Paul and Barrett were on the same side of the formation, over the right side of the Green Bay O-line.
Nose tackle Jeremiah Ledbetter was also over the right shoulder of the center. Three pass-rushers on one side forced the Packers to slide their line that way.
The slide left room for David to blitz untouched off the other edge. White blitzing the middle initially drew the attention of Williams, who was then too late reacting to David coming free.
Rodgers made an ill-advised throw from a rapidly collapsing pocket. Bowles kept calling blitzes, and Rodgers kept making mistakes:
Next gen stats: Vs Bucs blitz, Aaron Rodgers was 3/12 for 28 yards and 2 INTs, sacked 3 times. Bucs have 6 INTs and 15 sacks when blitzing this season, both the tops in the NFL. The Bucs are blitzing 40% of the time, the 4th highest blitz rate in the league.
— Rick Stroud (@NFLSTROUD) October 19, 2020
The Buccaneers ultimately sacked Green Bay quarterbacks five times and hit them many more. Free rushers were a common sight, like when David got to Rodgers later in the second quarter.
This time Bowles played three linemen, Suh, William Gholston, and Anthony Nelson, inside. David and White were positioned as edge-rushers on either side of the line, while Barrett lined up at middle linebacker.
With most of the danger inside, the Packers’ offensive linemen pinched down to contain pressure through the middle. When David and White both blitzed, Williams had a choice. He chose David, but his block couldn’t keep 54 off of Rodgers.
Premium talent executing a well-designed scheme produces dominance. The Bucs’ defense is approaching greatness, bad news for the rest of the league given how much more comfortable Brady looks in Arians’ offense.