Jordy Nelson

On a short week, we’ll go through a slimmer, but hopefully still insightful look at the Green Bay Packers’ 10th win of the season.

11:18, 1st quarter — Perhaps showing what you can expect from now on with the colder weather, Mason Crosby cannot kick the ball through the end zone, and the Bucs take it out to the 23. After they get one 1st down, they punt from near midfield.

The Packers opened in their base defense and stayed in it for every down but third, with B.J. Raji, Ryan Pickett and Howard Green as the three down linemen.

On 3rd and 7, from the nickel, the Packers blitzed six and Morgan Burnett gets a clean shot at Josh Freeman. However, similar to what the Chargers did on 3rd down, the Bucs have receiver Preston Parker running a short cross with Desmond Bishop covering the middle of the field. Freeman merely flicks it out to Parker before he gets hit, and Parker takes it up the sideline for 20 yards. Zone would have easily stopped this play, but the Bucs correctly guessed that the Packers would play man-to-man on 3rd down.

On 3rd and 4 near midfield, the Packers were in the nickel again. Bishop and A.J. Hawk both blitz, while Erik Walden drops into coverage in the middle of the field. Hawk hits Freeman’s arm as he’s trying to deliver the ball to Parker on an out, and the Bucs are lucky that Charles Woodson didn’t pick it for a TD.

2:50, 1st quarter -- The Packers finish their longest and wackiest drive of the year with a 1-yard TD plunge by Raji.

There are several things of note here.

First of all, it’s apparent from the get go that Aaron Rodgers is not gripping the ball as well as he usually does in cold weather. He has played in colder games, and I don’t remember it being an issue before. As evidence, the Packers ran a play-fake rollout pass to the right, and Rodgers throws perhaps his worst pass of the year when he bounces it barely in Greg Jennings’ vicinity.

Secondly, Tampa Bay is an excellent prep game for Detroit. Their defensive front is also playing that wide set that Detroit plays with the ends outside of the offensive tackles. On this drive, the offensive line handled it pretty well, helped by Rodgers rolling out whenever he felt pressure.

As the Packers have seen and will continue to see, Tampa has two safeties deep the entire time, and they mixed up their underneath coverage, switching between bump-and-run and off coverage.

This, of course, invites the Packers to run, which they mostly don’t do on this drive. The tape shows there were opportunities there, which went largely unexploited. For one thing, Ryan Grant played most this first series, and he’s not running with decisiveness or power.

On 1st and 10 from the Tampa 19, Grant is given the ball on the stretch play to the left. The Packers offensive line actually has Tampa completely dominated on this play. If Grant plants his foot and cuts back along the grain of the blocks, he has a big run, and perhaps a TD, as Josh Sitton is already eight yards downfield blocking a linebacker. Instead, Grant runs right into the cornerback coming around the edge and goes down after just a three-yard gain.

Of course, the entire drive was saved in the first place by a botched punt that saw Tim Masthay fumbling and bumbling for just enough yardage to give the Packers a 1st down and new life. On that play, Tom Crabtree and John Kuhn both blocked inside, letting the guy lined up right over Crabtree to run free to Masthay. Fortunately for the Packers, Masthay saw it coming.

It may also be helpful to the Packers that Albert Haynesworth played and played decently in this game. That also should be good practice for the Lions next week.

Ultimately, the Packers drove down the field thanks to a 34-yard pass to Jordy Nelson up the right sideline, a couple short passes, and a couple runs by Rodgers. Perhaps showing that the Packers are adjusting to this shell coverage, Nelson ran a double move on his guy and then Rodgers tossed him the ball before he got to the safety on his big catch.

0:55, 1st quarter — The Bucs go three and out. The Packers are still in their base defense on 1st and 2nd down with C.J. Wilson in with Raji and Pickett. After crushing two runs, it’s 3rd and 11. The Packers go to the nickel with Jarius Wynn and Mike Neal –yes, Mike Neal — as the two linemen. Neal pushes the left tackle back into Freeman’s face and Hawk and Matthews also get close. Freeman dumps it in the flat to Arrelious Benn, who drops it before getting mugged by Charlie Peprah.

The Packers had good pressure and stuffed the run on these first two drives.

14:33, 2nd quarter — The Bucs are fighting hard, but being done in by Jordy Nelson. After a punt and penalty gave the Packers the ball at midfield, the Packers try James Starks on two runs to the right, but he gets nothing like the blocking Grant got last series. Haynesworth and Da’Quan Bowers, dominate the blocking on the right side of the line and Starks only gets one yard in two carries.

On 3rd and 9, it’s the same old: the Bucs are in the shell with bump-and-run coverage underneath. Tampa Bay blitzes five. With only five to block, the Packers pick up the blitz very well. Frankly, Rodgers could have thrown the ball to anyone, or ran for good yardage, but of course, he throws the longest pass available on the go route to Nelson. Nelson shakes free of the defender at the last second and makes a sliding catch for 27 yards.

13:44, 2nd quarter -- A play reminiscent of the playoff game against Philly, Rodgers goes play-action from the 5 and hits a wide open Crabtree for a 14-0 lead. Crabtree becomes the 15th Packer to score a TD this season.

The scoring TD was set up by a well-timed screen to Starks that went for 22 yards.

12:46, 2nd quarter — The Buccaneers turn a possible rout into a slugfest by scoring in just two plays.

The first play was a lob up the left sideline to Benn against Tramon Williams. Tampa appears to have watched some tape on Williams, and they attack his tendency to play over the top by throwing it behind the receiver. It works to perfection for 28 yards here, but that is still a dangerous play to run against a ball-hawking corner.

THE RUN is obviously a product of bad tackling, lack of hustle, and bad luck. The Packers were in their nickel, which is odd considering they have played mostly base up until now. However, that wasn’t the problem. Bishop hits LeGarrette Blount near the line of scrimmage. Though he claims to have left his feet, that doesn’t appear to be the case or the main problem. The problem is that he’s too high, and when Blount crouches and turns sideways, Bishop’s hands slide off his shoulder pads.

Blount turned upfield where he was met by Burnett and Williams. Burnett only has one hand and slides off and Williams has Blount in a pretty good wrap.

Unfortunately, most of the Packers defense assumes Burnett and Williams will make the tackle and fail to hustle to help. Once Burnett slides off and Williams is alone, everyone finally rushes over to help.

Hawk is the first one there and prepares to knock both Blount and Williams to the ground. However, right before he makes contact, Tampa Bay right guard, Devin Joseph, lays a perfect hit on Williams, knocking him to the ground, while not affecting Blount. Hawk then hits Blount, but the hit does the opposite of what it was intended to do and actually propels Blount forward.

The nearest defender, Pickett, who showed the second most hustle of the defenders, trips over the prone Hawk and dives short of Blount. Woodson, who failed to hustle earlier but is closing now, trips over Williams and then Pickett and goes down. This leaves the Packers’ worst tackler, Sam Shields, in the open field with Blount. He makes a business decision and whiffs on Blount’s cut back.

Walden, who also failed to hustle earlier on the play, but is flying now, chases Blount down but fails to get him to the ground before he’s in the end zone.

Big and especially humiliating runs can demoralize a defense. It could also, I suppose, light a fire under them. We’ll see in the coming weeks how the Packers’ defense reacts to watching the tape of this play.

11:04, 2nd quarter – The Packers give the Bucs more momentum by going four and out.

After making a great play on the move — a 12-yard pass to Nelson on the sideline — Rodgers makes a couple odd decisions to short circuit the offense. On 1st down, after the Nelson play, the Bucs blitz five. Even though James Jones appears open on the in, Rodgers tries to run up the middle instead. Marshall Newhouse has Thomas Claiborne well-blocked, but Claiborne dives under the block and tackles Rodgers for a sack when Rodgers tries to run past him.

On 2nd down, the Bucs rush four and sit back. Rodgers has Tom Brady-like time to find someone. James Jones is uncovered again on the in and might have about 15 yards and a first down. Even though Jones is right in front of him, Rodgers chooses to run left instead. He picks up seven.

On 3rd down, Rodgers tries to lob a corner route to Jerimichael Finley, who drops it. Finley should make that catch, but that’s still a tough chance. Meanwhile, Randall Cobb is wide open on the in route right in the middle of the field, which would have been an easy pass and catch for the 1st down.

3:55, 2nd quarter —  The Bucs take advantage of their momentum to go 75 yards and kick a field goal to make it 14-10.

So much for the run forcing the Packers into their base. They’re in the nickel until a Blount run gets to the 50.

On a 3rd and 8 at the beginning of the drive, Woodson blitzes off the slot. He swipes at the football rather than taking on the running back and misses. Freeman steps up and finds Kellen Winslow for a 1st down.

The Bucs wouldn’t face a 3rd down again until the red zone. There, the Packers actually play good defense, and the Bucs are forced to take the field goal.

2:02, 2nd quarter — Rodgers hits Nelson on a quick slant for an easy 5-yard TD to make it 21-10.

The Packers were set up when the Bucs tried an onside kick after their field goal. Good, aggressive idea, but the kick failed to go 10 yards. D.J. Smith almost bailed the kicker out by diving on the ball, but fortunately for the Pack, the Bucs’ kicker, Connor Barth, touched it first. Packers’ ball at the Tampa 48.

Rodgers would promptly hit Finley on a 30-yard corner route. An out to Cobb would get the ball to the 5-yard line to set up Nelson’s TD.

4:51, 3rd quarter — For Green Bay, this is a rare, long break in the scoring. Tampa finishes off a long, time-consuming drive with a short field goal to make it 21-13.

The only play longer than a 12-yard run by Blount was a 21-yard pass to Mike Williams on a quick screen. The Packers are playing aggressively, and frankly, there aren’t guys wide open. Tampa is just executing at an extremely high level. Three times now, they’ve thrown the back shoulder pass against Williams, and they’ve pulled it off every time.

13:11, 4th quarter — Tampa finishes a 91-yard drive with a 9-yard TD pass to the suddenly rejuvenated Mike Williams.

This drive was all Freeman. The Packers had no problem stuffing the run, but Freeman burned them for 85 yards. Most of it was to Winslow, who was being “covered” by Peprah. The biggest play of the drive was a 37-yard pass to Winslow where he faked the post and ran the corner on Peprah, completely turning Peprah around in the process. The really pathetic thing is that Burnett was in coverage deep middle; so, Peprah didn’t have to worry about the post. If Winslow runs the post, Burnett is going to have a chance to break it up. The only place Peprah couldn’t let Winslow go was to the outside.

Freeman would also hit Winslow for 15 yards when Peprah overplayed the slot receiver running a cross and fell down when trying to pick up Winslow.

The Bucs didn’t face a 3rd down until the TD play. Shields was in single coverage and turned his hips for the fade before Williams had committed either way. Williams promptly ran the slant and was easily open for the TD.

The Bucs went for two, but failed when Winslow dropped the slant. Amazingly, the Packers had Bishop in coverage on Winslow on such a crucial play. Freeman threw it slightly behind Winslow, and it ate him up. Before you consider this tremendously fortunate for the Packers, remember that it took nearly perfect execution for Tampa to get into this position. They had to make a mistake sometime. Law of averages, man.

The failed two pointer keeps the Packers ahead 21-19.

7:46, 4th quarter — In what would turn out to be a wild 4th quarter, the Packers offense would answer the bell and wake up for a huge scoring drive to go back up by nine.

The Packers had been stalled all 2nd half, mostly due to the complete absence of a run game coupled with a rash of inaccurate passes by Rodgers. Things didn’t look much different when, on 3rd and 4, Rodgers overthrew Jennings on the corner. Fortunately, back at the line of scrimmage, Nelson was held, and the Packers were lucky enough to get the call.

It was the next play that seemed to energize the Packers offense. On the following 1st and 10, Rodgers hit Starks on a simple swing pass. Starks ran through three tacklers and got a bruising 12 yards, and from that point on, the offense was moving again.

Driver was open for 13, and then Starks would reel off 37 yards in three plays to get the Packers to the 7-yard line. After an obvious pass interference on Driver, Kuhn would take it in from two yards out to make the score 28-19.

5:55, 4th quarter — The Pick.

The Bucs went three and out on their next possession. On 3rd and 3, the Packers blitz six. Instead of going to their bread and butter — Winslow or the short cross — Freeman tries a quick out to Mike Williams. Tramon Williams has deep help on that side and is waiting for the out. Freeman throws the ball high and wide to avoid a pick six.

Randall Cobb picks the near perfect time to break one, returning the ensuing punt 60 yards. Even after a penalty at the end of the play, the Packers start with the ball at the Tampa 45.

Amazingly, though ahead two scores with just five minutes to play, Rodgers goes play-action pass. Seeing Finley covered, he tries to go out in the flat to Jones. Tampa corner Eugene Mack jumps in front of Jones and picks off the pass. Ronde Barber helps tackle his own teammate at the 50.

I get the thought process of the call. One would expect the Bucs to be playing run here. However, once the Packers lined up, it was obvious that the Bucs were playing the pass. They have only six guys in the immediate vicinity of the line of scrimmage. Rodgers should have the option to run here, and should have.

In fact, after the play fake, the Tampa linebackers dropped back so quickly into coverage that Rodgers should have just dumped it to Starks right after faking it to him. Starks would have gotten at least 10. In Rodgers’ defense, Mack came off the outside receiver, Cobb, and practically hid behind Jones until Rodgers threw the ball. This was a rare time the Bucs played zone. It paid off.

4:31, 4th quarter — The Bucs capitalize on the turnover by going 50 yards in five plays and it’s a two-point game at 28-26.

On 3rd and 5 from the Packers’ 45, the Packers blitz again, and for the fourth time this game, the Bucs pick it up by throwing the short cross to Winslow. Burnett is in coverage this time, but he lines up so far off Winslow that he has no chance to cover the short cross from the start.

On the very next play, Freeman throws it up for Benn, who outmuscles Shields for the ball at the Packers’ 2. Shields is right there, but he needs to find a way to punch that ball out. This is the fourth time this game that Freeman has pretty much thrown it up to a receiver on the sideline while they were well covered. The Bucs amazingly managed to make all four plays.

On the following play, Peprah is doing a lot of talking and pointing at the line of scrimmage. He finally settles on covering the guy in motion. Except, when that same guy does a cross off the line, Peprah lets him go. Everyone else is covered, but Peprah’s guy is wide open. TD Bucs.

This was a god-awful game for Peprah. He’s clearly being asked to do more than last season and he’s overwhelmed. He has to pick up his play or the Packers seriously need to consider replacing him. These blown coverages are far worse than simply getting beat.

3:01, 4th quarter -- Rodgers hits Nelson for a 40-yard TD to essentially seal the game.

This is the third time in the game the Packers would get the ball around midfield and take advantage with a quick score.

After two runs by Starks, the second of which he got injured on, the Packers faced 3rd and 4. The Bucs run a safety blitz right up the middle. I am about to commence with gnashing of teeth over throwing deep on 3rd and 4 until Nelson corrals the ball and easily takes it up the right sideline for the TD.

This would give us the final score of 35-26.

Tramon Williams would collect his second interception of the game on the very next offensive play.

The Packers would bother to kick a field goal after the pick, and Crosby’s perfect streak would end with a donk off the right upright. That’s actually the perfect way for the streak to end — on a meaningless kick.

Watching the tape, I felt better about the all-around performance.

As I’ve said before, sometimes you have to give the other team credit. Personally, I think Tampa Bay beats any team in the league that Sunday EXCEPT for the Packers. They had a great game plan, played their asses off, and executed better than they have all year on offense.

Defensively, they were aided by Aaron Rodgers’ worst game of the year. Amazingly, the Packers still scored 35 points. Three of the five TD drives started at midfield after an onside kick or punt return.

Mike Neal and Vic So’oto saw some action this game, mostly on 3rd down, and I was pleased with what I saw. Neal looked fast and strong and provided a good push virtually every time he was in the game. From what I saw, he can definitely help this pass rush. So’oto nearly made the corner on one play against Freeman, and he did get a tackle, showing great hustle in chasing down Blount on a run.

The pass rush wasn’t the problem for the most part. Freeman typically threw the ball on time, usually with a defender bearing down on him. Tampa had a good plan to handle the blitzes with quick throws, and the Packers did not do a very good job of adjusting to the same plays being used on 3rd down.

The Packers gave up one horrible run play where they were lazy and sloppy, but after that, they shutdown the run for the most part.

The Packers offensive line actually pass blocked extremely well all game. Rodgers had plenty of time, and even the couple of times when somebody lost leverage, there were clear avenues of escape. Marshall Newhouse played well enough for me to feel better about the matchup with Detroit. He should be fine.

I am more worried about the matchup of Sitton versus Suh. Josh Sitton had the worst game of all the linemen. Technically, he was called for three penalties, though one was declined. His play has declined from last year, but the Packers need a resurgence from him this week.

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