Tampa Bay won that game, largely thanks to what defensive coordinator Todd Bowles and the rest of the Buccaneers defense did to Aaron Rodgers. Tampa Bay found different ways to pressure the Packers quarterback, and the result was one of Rodgers’ worst regular-season performances. He finished the afternoon having completed 16 of 25 passes for 160 yards, no touchdowns and a pair of interceptions. The 35.4 NFL passer rating he posted that day was the third-worst effort of his career in a single game.
Over the summer, Rodgers talked about facing Bowles and his defenses over the years. In an appearance on forgive my takehighlighted how taking on Bowles presents a number of different challenges:
I think Todd Bowles is doing a good job over the years. I think he is a very good coach. You can always tell, plus, which coaches are the best based on how the league adjusts… And then there are some teams trying to do what Coach Bowles does with the pressure package.
And earlier this week, Rodgers again discussed the challenges of facing a defense led by Bowles. “They always look similar as far as the front is going to change, the pressure is going to change,” Rodgers said Wednesday. “The looks are going to be, there are a lot of different things that are thrown at you. But they are always adapting their staff.”
In fact, that was the case on Sunday, when Bowles and the Buccaneers threw everything they could think of at Rodgers and the Packers’ offense.
This afternoon, at least, the veteran quarterback found a way to return some of that stuff.
In the first quarter, the Packers faced a third down in Tampa Bay territory, and lined up Rodgers at shotgun. Tampa Bay responded with this look before the snap:
Tampa Bay shows pressure up front, putting Devin White and Lavonte David in the A-Gaps. Green Bay places running back Aaron Jones in the top lineup, three yards behind the ball and between center and right guard. With more defenses implementing read blitzes out of these packs, where the middle linebacker opens up to drop into coverage while the other linebacker continues his blitz route, teams are putting reinforcements into this lineup as an added layer of security.
As you’ll see, center Josh Myers opens to the left and Jones drives to the right A-Gap.
However, both David and White go into cover. However, that doesn’t mean the Buccaneers aren’t applying pressure. Instead, he goes off the edge, as the Buccaneers fall into a zone of two depths:
What does Rodgers do in response to pressure from the rim? He throws a quick pass to Randall Cobb, who turns the 1-yard pass into a 17-yard gain:
The catch and run gave the Packers another series of attempts, and they would end the drive with a touchdown to take a 7-3 lead.
That was the score early in the second quarter as Green Bay faced another third down, this time a third and 8 at its own 31-yard line. This time, Bowles really got creative, but Rodgers again found a way to work around the issues raised by the Buccaneers.
This is what the quarterback saw before the snap:
The Buccaneers not only have six defenders along the line of scrimmage, but safety Antoine Winfield Jr. is also lurking on the right edge. In response, Rodgers slides tight end Robert Tonyan, lined up wide right, into the formation to help as a blocker:
In fact, Tonyan stays to help with pass protection on the right wing, which is a good thing since the Buccaneers put pressure on that side. But his overall defensive scheme on this play is, for lack of a better word, wild:
As in the example above, the Buccaneers spin into two-depth coverage at the snap. Keanu Neal, lined up outside left tackle, slides to the left side of the offense as White and David drop into the bottom half. All the pressure comes from the right side of the offense.
How does Rodgers handle this look? Just when it seems like time is running out in his pocket, he finds… Tonyan. Protection initially holds, but Rodgers has to move in the pocket and is looking for an option downfield. Seeing this, Tonyan steps out of the backfield and makes himself available to his quarterback at the end of the down:
Thanks to this bit of improvisation and awareness from Rodgers and Tonyan, the Packers kept the momentum alive. They would settle for a field goal, extending their lead to 10-3.
(Also, a big tip for our very own Justis Mosqueda, who highlighted this play on social media on Monday morning).
In the fourth quarter, however, it appeared that Bowles had finally dialed in the right combination of pressure.
That’s when Rodgers did what he does so well.
Simply beat you with a flick of the wrist:
Logan Ryan jumps free from the rim and has a clear path to the quarterback. But Rodgers spins to the right and with a flick of the wrist connects with Allen Lazard for a 26-yard gain. The series would eventually come to a halt, setting the stage for a final drive from Tom Brady and the Tampa Bay offense, but this play offers another example of how Rodgers overcame the challenges presented by Bowles on Sunday.
And for our second hat tip to the piece, shout out to Nate Tice, who does a great job covering the NFL for The Athletic. The former college quarterback noted that the offensive lineman can be heard trying to figure out this blitz as the play unfolds. Turn up the volume!
Heading into this game, Rodgers knew he had to find ways to handle what Bowles threw at him. Throughout the summer and this week, the quarterback spoke about the challenges of facing his defense. Bowles threw him some creative looks, even getting Rodgers to throw an interception in the third quarter, but that day, Rodgers found a few ways to return them.