Packers vs. Buccaneers preview: Predictions, 5 things to watch

Tom Silverstein
Milwaukee Journal Sentinel
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TEAMS: Green Bay Packers (5-6) vs. Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-7).

WHEN: Noon Sunday.

WHERE: Lambeau Field.

TV: Fox.

RADIO: AM-620 in Milwaukee, AM-1360 in Green Bay; Packers Radio Network.

SERIES: Packers lead, 31-21-1.

LINE: Packers by 2 1/2.

WEATHER: Partly cloudy, high of 48.

SURFACE: DD GrassMaster.

COACHES: Green Bay’s Mike McCarthy (129-75-1) vs. Buccaneers' Dirk Koetter (13-14-0).

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CHASING HUNDLEY: When they see an opportunity, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers are not afraid to blitz. Last week against Atlanta, they blitzed on about a third of the passing downs and created more problems for Matt Ryan than when they backed off. That success could lead to an abundance of blitzes against Brett Hundley, who has seen five or more rushers in only about 30 percent of his snaps since becoming a starter. “They’ll empty it out,” offensive coordinator Edgar Bennett said. “They’ll bring empty pressure and try to put stress on the quarterback and your protection unit. Is it five-man pressure? Is it six-man pressure? So, we’ve got to be ready for everything.” The Buccaneers rank 32nd in passing defense and sacks, so there will be plays to be made if they do blitz.

GOING INCOGNITO: Last week against Pittsburgh, the Packers were pretty static in how they played quarterback Ben Roethlisberger. They sat back in zone and only rushed five or more on about a half dozen snaps. Quarterback Jameis Winston will be playing his first game in four weeks and the Packers may be able to make his return difficult if they can mix things up. The problem is they must make sure they don’t blow coverages against receivers Mike Evans and DeSean Jackson. “We’re going to have to vary our coverages, we’re going to have to do a good job disguising our coverages, make Winston have to read things on the move,” defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. “And we’re going to have to mix coverage and pressure. You just can’t let him get into a good rhythm.”

RETURN ENGAGEMENT: The Buccaneers will be without two starters on the offensive line: center Ali Marpet and right tackle Demar Dotson, both of whom were put on injured reserve this week. It’s a huge blow to a unit that has been solid all season. The Buccaneers are likely to move left guard Kevin Pamphile to right tackle and insert Evan Smith, the former Packers starting center, at left guard. Veteran Joe Hawley would play center. Packers defensive tackle Mike Daniels knows Smith well and can expect a scrap Sunday. “Evan has been a solid and versatile player,” Buccaneers coach Dirk Koetter said. “He has done a good job in his role. At this time of year for several players, their roles are changing. He is one of those guys and I think Evan will do fine. He will be up to the challenge.”

LOOSENING HIS GRIP: After the Baltimore game, the coaches’ focus with Hundley was to improve his decision-making and cut down on interceptions. After curing himself of the INT bug, the next order of business is cutting down on sacks. He has taken 10 in the last two games. “There’s a fine point of holding onto the ball a little too long,” quarterbacks coach Alex Van Pelt said. “So, we’re working through that. I think a couple of those sacks were on us as quarterbacks, so we take responsibility for those. We’ll try to avoid those moving forward.”

ALONE TIME: Even if rookie Aaron Jones is active, the bulk of the running back workload is going to fall onto rookie Jamaal Williams for a second straight week. Against the Steelers, he played all but 10 of the 55 offensive snaps and touched the ball 25 times – 21 carries for 66 yards and a touchdown, four catches for 69 yards and a touchdown. It has been only three weeks since Jones tore his MCL, so if he’s active it might just be for emergency purposes. Rookie Devante Mays remains in the doghouse for his two fumbles against Baltimore. Williams is a bonafide workhorse. “Yeah, I think he’s definitely put himself in position where he deserves that,” running backs coach Ben Sirmans said. “He’s more of a move-the-chains-type running back, and as you know the more you move the chains, the closer you get to the end zone.”



The Packers know they have to win these next two games and they’ll be facing an injury-riddled team whose starting quarterback is back after a three-game absence. Everything is set up for them to win. But they’ve shown before that nothing is a certainty with Aaron Rodgers out. Packers 30, Buccaneers 16


Tampa Bay has weapons in the passing game (Mike Evans, DeSean Jackson and O.J. Howard), and quarterback Jameis Winston has a ton of talent but is coming off a shoulder injury and is 2-6 as a starter this year. So the guess here is that Brett Hundley can put up enough points to beat a defense that ranks No. 30 in yards, No. 20 in points and No. 27 in defensive passer rating. Packers 24, Bucs 21


Replicating the success Brett Hundley had against the Steelers will be difficult, but even a portion of that production should be enough to beat one of the worst defenses in the league. Packers 23, Buccaneers 16 


The last time Brett Hundley had something to feel good about came after he made game-winning plays in the fourth quarter at Chicago. The next week, the Packers were shut out against the Ravens' top-five defense. Looking to build off arguably his best game against the Steelers, expect Hundley to take another step against a bad Buccaneers defense. Packers 24, Buccaneers 17


The Packers found a recipe for success last week against the Steelers, but fell one play short. This week, they're the ones that make the deciding play. Packers 24, Buccaneers 20


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