For the first time this season, the Pack gets to play back to back games at Lambeau. They close out the season the same way on Christmas night and New Year’s day.
Now, to follow up the demolition and embarrassment of the Vikings on Monday night, the Pack gets the reeling Buccaneers, who entered the season as a young up and coming team coming off a surprising 10 win season. Instead, they’ve lost three straight and are coming off a 37-9 home loss to Houston, where the defense heard the “q” word after the game.
The problems begin at quarterback. Josh Freeman has taken a step back, kind of like Mark Sanchez. Last year his passer rating was 95.8, this year it’s 72.6 (28th). Now he’s dealing with a sprained thumb on his passing hand and he’s seems incapable of throwing downfield more than 15 yards. Still, he has ability to look great, as he did in his first meeting with the Saints on 10/16–the last time the Bucs won a game.
His receiving corps is ordinary beyond words. Mike Williams entered the season as the top target, but he hasn’t produced. Preston Parker seems to be the guy Freeman trusts on third down, so the Pack will need to keep an eye on him. Tight end Kellen Winslow remains a threat and has good hands, but he’s not the downfield threat he once was.
Defensively, they’re very young in most spots, though veteran Ronde Barber remains the leader and still can take the ball away. The Bucs addressed their front four in the draft with Iowa’s Adrian Clayborn and Clemson’s Da’Quan Bowers, but they’re still learning. They lost Gerald McCoy for the season and brought in Albert Haynesworth to replace him. Still, there were whispers of players quitting last week. With head coach Raheem Morris in charge of the defense, I expect them to be focused and attentive as they prepare to take on the champs.
But that will only take you so far. Offensively, the Packers are playing at a speed that no defense has been able to match. Aaron Rodgers may have a clunker of a game in him, but it’s not coming against this defense on this field. Look for him to find the matchups he likes, particularly whoever is opposite nickel back E.J. Biggers. Talib and Barber are solid corners and should contain their matchups, but the safeties are useless–look for Jermichael Finley to be a focal point of Sunday’s offense.
Tampa Bay’s D is ranked 31st in the NFL, they’re 27th in points (25.9) and they’re 31st in sacks. That’s just not fair against Aaron Rodgers.
Mike McCarthy hinted this week that Brandon Saine may see some action, probably as a third down guy. It sounds like he’s making a mark in practice and may provide that change of pace we’d hoped to see from Alex Green. Get a feeling we’ll see a lot of Saine in the second half, especially with a big divisional road test coming up four days later.
The ideal scenario has the team in complete control by halftime, so some guys can come out early to protect their bodies for Thanksgiving Day. If the defense played like it did on Monday, we should see guys like Woodson, Pickett, Raji, Williams and Matthews get some plays off.
But they will not take Freeman and the Bucs lightly. I remember watching the game against the Bucs with many of you two years ago at Arizona’s in Shakopee, when winless Tampa Bay and rookie Josh Freeman shocked the Pack. I think Favre threw five TD passes for the Jets that day…fun stuff.
There will be no slip up here. The streak reaches 16 and the Pack moves to 10-0 and a crash course on the Lions.
Packers 41 Buccaneers 14
P.S. Hope to see many of you at the Park Tavern on Sunday. I’ll be there before kickoff and as usual we’ll hand out prizes throughout the game, celebrate the big plays and enjoy the great food and drink specials. Head back to the 11th frame, just past the bowling alley. The Park Tavern in St. Louis Park.
One more thing, if you’re around your TV on Sunday morning, I’ll be a guest on Rod Simons’ “Game On” TV show at 10:30 on WFTC Channel 29 in the Twin Cities. We taped it on Tuesday night. Son Jackson got to meet former Viking great Jim Marshall. He’s a guest on the show too…though he went the wrong way when they asked him to come on the set at Seven Steakhouse (sorry, couldn’t resist).