GREEN BAY — Three things to watch when the Green Bay Packers face the Tampa Bay Buccaneers today at Raymond James Stadium:
1. Hard knock life
Look at the final scores around the NFL each week. Scoring is up around the league, and significantly so: Through the first four weeks of 2020, the average combined score of a game was 51.3 points, an increase of 16% over the first four weeks of last season, and about 20% higher than the average total score of games since 2000.
“Offenses have evolved, and you look at some of the stuff that’s being run now versus what was being run 10 to 15 years ago, a lot of it’s some next-level stuff,” said Packers defensive coordinator Mike Pettine, whose group has allowed an average of 25.3 points per game — ranking Green Bay No. 17 in the 32-team league. “It’s been a challenge this year. Just looking at last Sunday, the early games, I think the lowest score of a team that won was in the low 30s. It looked like heading toward some basketball scores. There’s no excuses. It’s our job to get them stopped. Each week obviously presents its own unique challenge.”
Interestingly, though, the Buccaneers have been able to meet those challenges better than most this season. Led by defensive coordinator Todd Bowles, they come into the game second in the NFL in fewest yards allowed per game (298.2), eighth in fewest points per game (22.4), fourth in sacks (17) and tied for fourth in takeaways (nine).
“I think one, is their scheme, and two, is their personnel,” said Packers left tackle David Bakhtiari, who’ll be tasked with protecting Aaron Rodgers from pass rusher Shaq Barrett. “They have a good scheme, they know how to disrupt the run game — suffocate it, so to speak. And then I think they have good personnel. They’ve got good guys in good places that know how to stall the run, disguise certain blitzes and pressures. They’re confident in their scheme because they know their scheme in and out and it shows because they’re all on the same page a lot of time. This is going to be a good test I think for both ends on Sunday and I’m excited about the opportunity.”
2. The heat is on
With the projected game-time temperature in Tampa at 88 degrees — and the temperature in Green Bay at that time expected to be 45 degrees — Packers coach Matt LaFleur tried to prep his guys for the 43-degree swing by cranking up the heat in the Don Hutson Center for portions of practice earlier in the week and emphasizing hydration. With no hot-weather preseason games this summer because of COVID-19, this will be the Packers’ first game where heat will be a factor.
“I think that’s always a challenge,” LaFleur said. “You can try different things and sometimes it can feel a little gimmicky. But I think there is some science behind some of the stuff that we’re doing. You’ve just got to make sure that you stress the hydration. That’s the biggest key, especially when it’s colder here. Guys just don’t feel like drinking water all the time or taking in the fluids. So, we’ve been stressing it and just making sure that our guys are adhering to that because we need everybody for what we know is going to be a long, four-quarter battle.”
Wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling, who grew up in the Tampa area and went to college at the University of South Florida, downplayed how much of a factor the heat will be if his teammates take the proper precautions.
“You can’t really make up the heat that you’ll feel in Tampa. I lived there my whole life so I’m used to it but, for a lot of the guys aren’t used to it, it’s going to be a change,” he said. “You’ve got to stay hydrated. That way, you won’t have any cramps. That’s going to be the biggest issue because we don’t really have that issue up here with the humidity, especially around this time of year. Just having to adjust to 90-degree weather is going to be a change, but you’ve got to be prepared for it as much as you can.”
3. Good seats still available
Through four games — including road trips to Minnesota and New Orleans — the largest crowd the Packers have played in front of was in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome in New Orleans, where the Saints allowed 750 family members of players, coaches and staff to attend the game. The absence of fans has played right into the Packers’ hands, as quarterback Aaron Rodgers has been able to manipulate opposing defenses into jumping offsides with his cadences at the line of scrimmage, and opposing defenses haven’t had the advantage of crowd noise to affect the offensive line in protection.
The Buccaneers, with Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis having given teams the green light earlier this month to fill their stadiums to capacity, are set to allow 16,000 fans into Raymond James Stadium on Sunday, far less than the capacity of 65,890 but a 10,000-fan increase from the 6,000-plus fans who attended the Bucs’ Oct. 4 game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Valdes-Scantling, with family in the area, was working on getting them tickets late in the week.
“Being able to have them be able to come to a game that’s close to home is going to be big for me,” Valdes-Scantling said. (The Packers recently announced that their decision to not have fans inside Lambeau Field will continue indefinitely.)
While having fans cheering for the Bucs won’t have much impact on the Packers defense, since in theory those fans would be quiet while Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense are on the field, even safety Adrian Amos suggested that he’s looking forward to having fans.
“It’s exciting to have, you know, people out there,” he said. “But it doesn’t really change much with our approach.”
Whether it impacts the Packers offense remains to be seen, and Bakhtiari said the team did spend practice time during the week preparing for the possibility that 16,000 will be a large enough crowd to generate enough noise to alter the line-of-scrimmage approach for the visitors.
“For us, we’re going to prep for those situations if we need to go verbal or non-verbal (at the line),” Bakhtiari said. “We can only control what we can control. I don’t want to think about things I can’t and don’t have a hand in. All I know is I can control myself and what I do on a daily basis both at the facility and outside the facility.”
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