The Buccaneers’ Front Seven vs. The Packers Run Game

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The Green Bay Packers boast a very strong run game as they rank eighth in yards for the season. That creates a balanced offense and opens up deep shots down the field with the play-action pass. The key for the Buccaneers to win Sunday may be their front seven. So here is a quick breakdown of the matchup for the NFC Championship game.

Green Bay

The Front Lines

Green Bays’ offensive line is a strong unit. Anchored by the Associated Press All-Pro, Corey Linsley at center. On the season he has only allowed one sack and arguably two pressures. He is as tuff and gritty as a center as you could ever need on a team. ESPN had Linsley as the highest-rated center with a 77% run block win rate in a January 5th article. He has rightfully earned his all-pro vote with extraordinary play all year.

Flanking Linsley on either side will be left guard Elgton Jenkins and Lucas Patrick. Both sure-footed guards with a strong base. Jenkins, like Linsley, has only allowed one sack, while Patrick has allowed two. Needless to say, the interior of this offensive line is solid, is well versed in blocking for the run game, and winning in the trenches.

The bookends to Green Bays’ offensive line are right tackle Rick Wagner and left tackle, Billy Turner. Unfortunately for the Packers, they lost their starting tackle David Bakhtiari. Bakhtiari was one of the highest-rated offensive tackles, second out of 81, by Pro Football Focus (PFF, subscription required). In his absence, the offensive tackles have still done well and provided what has been necessary to maintain the high level of running back performance.

Additional Help

Assisting the offensive line from the outside are the Packers’ tight ends. Mercedes Lewis is the most capable of the two utilized in the offense, he grades out by PFF with a run-blocking score of 71.9. His counterpart, Robert Tonyan, on the other hand, grades far lower at a score of 51.1. Both tight ends are almost evenly split in run blocking snaps with 255 and 232 respectively. They both know blocking assignments properly and will certainly find utilization in the run game for this matchup.

The Backfield

The Packers have a one-two punch to hand the ball off to. Arron Jones leads the backfield as a very complete running back. He posted over 1,00 yards this season all while averaging 5.5 yards a carry. Behind him awaits Jamal Williams. He has supported the offense with over 500 yards this season paired with an average of 4.2 yards a carry. That’s quite the duo. One that no defense should take lightly.

Tampa Bay 

Base 3-4 Defense

Setting the tone for the defense and anchoring the point of attack is a trio of defensive tackles. This group, consisting of Ndamukong Suh, William Gholston, and Rakeem Nunez-Roches has helped this defense rank first overall on rushing yards allowed. In the aforementioned ESPN article, the Buccaneers ranked second in run stop win rate as a team. This is in no small part due to Gholston’s top ten appearance in the same article for defensive tackle run stop win rate. With some recent news, it may get stronger. More on that later.

Outside And Off The Edge

Jason Pierre-Paul and Shaquil Barrett head the outside linebacker/edge pair for the defense. They are not only pass rush specialists but have been performing well in the run game. Of the two Barrett grades out the best with a score of 67.1 from PFF. Though not a household name outside Tampa this group also has Anthony Nelson. When he comes in for either star defender he has stepped up. His PFF rush defensive score is an astonishing 81. No matter who lines up these players attack the gaps and shed blocks to earn the tackles they need to stifle a team’s rushing offense.

The Middle Of The Defense

If they were not household names before the 2020 season they should be now. Lavonte David and up and comer Devin White pair and complement each other nicely. David, the staunch professional of the Buccaneers defense has racked up 12 tackles for loss this season and is second to only White who has 15. His PFF grade has him near the top of the league with a rush defense grade of 74.2. White is no slouch either. A true sideline to sideline linebacker he has amassed 97 solo tackles to lead the team. David is right behind him with 82. When a team’s middle linebackers lead in tackles it usually indicates they are quick to the ball carrier and limiting in any explosive plays.

The Last Match Up

In week six the Buccaneers faced the Packers in Raymond James Stadium. The result was a solid win with Tampa victorious by 28 points. The outcome that week was a direct reflection of the defense’s ability to stifle the run and take away the play-action pass of Aaron Rodgers.

At the final whistle, the Packers running backs were held to under 100 yards for the game. Lead back Aaron Jones felt the most brunt to bear as he rushed ten times for only 15 yards. In total the team had eight tackles for loss. Though the defense allowed two explosive plays by the running backs they never yielded and helped put the game away. In order to win this week, they will have to repeat that performance.

Rematch

Though these teams saw each other in week six things are not the same as they once were. There are two key players to annotate for this match up. First, the Packers will be without David Bakhtiari. The star played in the week six match up and his successor is not nearly the player he is. This could prove to be a pivotal point of attack for the defensive front that succeeded in week 6. Second, the Buccaneers may have run-stopping, gap eating Vita Vea back. He did not play in the week six match up. With a rush defense score from PFF of 77.3, he could provide a huge boost even in a limited role.

Ultimately this will be a battle for the ages!

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