'They try to punk everybody': Packers defense knows it must match Buccaneers' physicality
GREEN BAY – Before he suited up to play the Chicago Bears on Sunday night, Rasul Douglas got to watch the Tampa Bay Buccaneers play the New Orleans Saints.
“Wasn’t it like 0 to 3 at halftime or something like that?” the Green Bay Packers’ nickel cornerback asked. “I was like, ‘Damn, good game.' ”
If you like defense, the Buccaneers’ 20-10 victory over the Saints was for you.
There were five sacks, three interceptions, seven quarterback hits, five fumbles (three lost) and 12 pass break-ups. There also were 17 penalties for 161 yards and an ejection in what was a typical pad-cracking meet-up between the NFC South rivals.
Watching that game reinforced to Douglas and the rest of his teammates how physical their game against the Buccaneers will be Sunday in Tampa.
Even though quarterback Tom Brady is identified first when talking about the Buccaneers’ offense, much of their identity starts with their offensive line and the brutish running style of 6-foot, 228-pound running back Leonard Fournette.
“He's a downhill runner,” Douglas said. “He drops his shoulder pads and he’s going to try to run over you. I think that's what their whole team was built off, just physicality, just domination. That's what they try to do to everybody, they try to punk everybody.
“They want to run through everybody, they want to talk stuff, late hit, all of that. That's just where they get energy from. (You) definitely got to match the intensity.”
The Packers played pretty good defense the last time the two teams met, in the NFC championship game at Lambeau Field on Jan. 24, 2021.
They held Fournette and Ronald Jones to 71 yards on 22 carries and picked off Brady three times. If they got “punked,” it was in the secondary where several disastrous mistakes in coverage helped the Buccaneers overcome modest production on the ground to earn a 31-26 victory and trip to the Super Bowl.
The Packers play a different defensive scheme than they did then, but it’s still a 3-4 and they were able to go back and see what it was they did well against the run against a Buccaneers offensive line that wasn’t missing its starting left tackle, left guard and center, like this current team is.
“It’s all about getting off the ball, playing the blocks, knowing what you’re getting,” nose tackle Kenny Clark said. “A lot of time we were in two-high looks and it was me and Dean (Lowry) and we were holding those blocks down. We can do it if it comes down to that.”
Clark didn’t dispute Douglas’ assessment about the Buccaneers, especially when it comes to establishing the run with Fournette, who through two games has 45 carries for 192 yards (4.3 average). He is battling a hamstring injury that he played through against New Orleans but has practiced on a limited basis Wednesday and Thursday.
The Packers fully expect him to play and get 20-plus carries.
“They want to be a physical group,” Clark said. “They run big-boy runs. They run a crunch, which is like duo blocking, double doubles (on two of the defensive linemen). They run old-school power, pull their offensive linemen and get them on the run against the little guys.
“They want to run big-boy football and guys have to be up for it.”
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The Packers faced some of that last week against Chicago and their big running back David Montgomery but, as Douglas said, “they’re running the ball better than the Bears.”
Missed tackles were a problem on one drive in which Chicago ran off consecutive runs of 28 and 27 yards. If the Packers allow the Buccaneers to gain that kind of momentum in the run game, they’ll feed off it and continue to run the ball straight down their throat.
Defensive coordinator Joe Barry has some decisions to make depending on how the Packers deal with the Buccaneers’ physicality. If they’re going toe-to-toe with the offensive line, he can keep his safeties back and devote more men to defending Brady.
But if they’re not, he’s going to have to figure out a way to fortify the run defense.
“It's a physical game, but that's something that they hang their hat on,” Barry said. “It’s something that I'd like to think that we hang our hat on also being a being a physical team on both sides of the ball. Both of our fronts take a lot of pride both offensively and defensively of being a physical group.
“But no doubt, it's something we talked about to the team in the team meeting, and it's definitely the first thing that we talked about defensively. It’s a physical mindset every week, but this week you’ve got to notch it up a little bit.”