Sat, 06 Mar 2021

5 Bucs to Watch Against Green Bay in the NFC Championship

Buccaneers
24 Jan 2021, 18:26 GMT+10

Tampa Bay Buccaneers The Buccaneers are going up to the Frozen Tundra to keep their Super Bowl hopes alive. Here are five players who could have a major impact on the game. Carmen Vitali

In a matchup that means this much, there are no shortage of storylines and rest assured, if you're a football fan, you're tuning in to see yet another quarterback duel for the ages between both Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers at historic Lambeau Field.

I mean, is there a better venue for what is sure to be an instant classic? I'd venture to say not. And the winner gets to go to Tampa (or home, as the Buccaneers know it) to play in Super Bowl LV.

We'll get more to the quarterback matchup in a second but there are also a few others that you might want to keep an eye on as you settle in to see yet another Battle of the Bays.

Here are five (ish) Bucs to watch on Sunday at 3:05 ET in Green Bay.

1. NT Vita Vea

He's back! The big guy is back! After suffering an ankle fracture in Week Five against the Chicago Bears, Vea has been activated from injured reserve and the plan is for him to be active on Sunday in Green Bay.

*Squeals*

Now, it would be unrealistic to expect the same sort of workload for him as he comes off such a major injury. Vea is that rare every-down lineman because of his skillset, with the Buccaneers able to use him in a variety of fronts whether they're in their base or nickel package. He had two sacks in four and a half games before his injury earlier in the season, indicating that he had indeed taken a step in his pass rush ability, a goal of his in the 'offseason', and then he's always been stout against the run. He can do everything you would ever need an interior lineman to do - and then some. That will be especially fun to watch against this Packers' offensive line that has undergone some shuffling throughout the season. If the Bucs can get pressure from the interior, they can really disrupt Rodgers and the entire Green Bay offense. But in Vea's first game back from injury, with a supporting cast of interior men that have done an excellent job in his absence, let's not expect too much from Vea. The sight of him out there at all is just something to behold.

2. QB Tom Brady

Ok, so Vea was the big news for Bucs fans this week but the story that's making national headlines is getting to see Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers in the same game with so much on the line.

The pair have never met in the postseason before thanks to Brady's two-decade residence in the AFC. Many thought if these two were going to meet in a knockout round, it was going to have to be for the Lombardi itself. But now that Brady is in the NFC, we got to see Brady and Brees last week and now we get Brady and Rodgers as Rodgers is riding what is likely a league MVP season, and Brady not far behind him numbers-wise with a brand-new team.

What Brady does have on Rodgers is playoff experience. Actually, he has that on all of Green Bay's quarterbacks that have been to a Super Bowl. Brady has as many playoff wins as Bart Starr, Brett Favre and Aaron Rodgers combined. He's got 14 game-winning drives in the playoffs, compared to a total of five from the three. And, yes, the Packers were just in the NFC Championship a year ago, but Brady has been to 13 other conference title games. This will be his 14th, albeit first in the NFC. He's got a 9-4 record in those games, having made nine trips to the Super Bowl in his astounding career. Should he be successful this time around, it would be his 10th, yes, but he would lead his team to play the big game in their home stadium for the first time in NFL history. So yeah, there are still a lot of firsts riding on this game and the Buccaneers seem more motivated than ever behind their decorated captain.

3. RBs Ronald Jones & Leonard Fournette

These two got quite a bit of (equal) work last Sunday against the Saints and it worked out pretty well for the Bucs' offense. They had their most balanced game of the season with 33 passes and 35 runs as Tampa Bay amassed over 120 yards on the ground. It allowed the Bucs' offense to eat up some time on the clock when they needed to, especially after getting the ball back thanks to a Mike Edwards' interception with just over four minutes left in the game. All they needed were a couple first downs and to waste a little bit a time with the Saints out of time outs. They were able to do that and then boom, victory formation - they won the game.

They should be so lucky to have that happen again.

Though this time around, the Bucs may have to run the ball out of necessity with the weather forecast in the Frozen Tundra. It won't be terribly cold - they're predicting around 30, which is honestly great this time of year in Green Bay. But it is supposed to snow. And snow means slippery conditions that you'll have to account for, likely in the form of a beefed up ground game with visibility potentially affected. Not to mention, the slickness of the ball. Luckily, Brady is used to these kind of conditions from his nearly two decades in New England - so he'll likely rely heavily on his running backs to help him navigate. With an offensive line that has had quite a bit of success this season creating holes for them, these two will definitely be players to keep an eye on as this game develops.

4. CB Carlton Davis

As one of the leaders of the 'grave diggers,' Davis has wielded the shovel this entire season for the Bucs' secondary. He led the way last week in shutting down wide receiver Michael Thomas in New Orleans, holding the Saints' number one receiver without a catch the entire evening.

Davis will get another test this Sunday as he and the Bucs' defense will be tasked with containing Davante Adams, Green Bay's leading receiver and the NFL's receiving touchdown leader, catching 18 passes in the end zone in the regular season. He's up to 19 including the playoffs. Rodgers loves this guy, though. Probably because he has a 136.1 passer rating when targeting him. Adams has the most touchdowns including both the regular season and the postseason since 2014 with 69. Sitting right behind him? Wide receiver Mike Evans with 60 - which is made more impressive considering this is Evans' first trip to the playoffs.

But it'll be up to Davis and the secondary to help Evans gain some ground on Adams and how the Bucs' choose to handle that matchup will be interesting to see.

5. ILBs Devin White & Lavonte David

The Packers have acknowledged how tough of a challenge both David and White present as the captains of this Buccaneer defense. Both will be crucial to the Bucs' defensive success up in Green Bay, whether it be stopping the Packers' ground game or getting pressure on Rodgers themselves. White had himself a game last week in New Orleans, totaling 11 tackles, one for loss, an interception and a fumble recovery. What's more, is he called his shot - saying on the sideline he was going to 'put the dagger in them' before snatching an interception off Brees, which helped the Bucs do just that.

It'll start with the run game, making sure Aaron Jones, AJ Dillon and Jamaal Williams don't get going for Green Bay. Jones was the league's fourth-leading rusher with 1,104 yards in the regular season. Dillon, though a rookie, is an extremely physical runner who has been productive for them as of late. The linebacking duo will likely also have to make some sort of impact, just like they did in New Orleans, as far as takeaways go. No, Rodgers doesn't really throw interceptions. He threw a league-leading 48 touchdowns against just five interceptions in the regular season. But hey, Brees was supposed to be hard to pick off too and White managed that. David got in the way of a Saints' receiver to help Mike Edwards make the final pick of the game last weekend.

So hey, if the Bucs' secondary are grave diggers, perhaps it will be David or White that deliver the fatal blow in the first place.

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