Game Preview: Packers at Buccaneers

Read on to find out everything you need to know about Sunday's game between the Packers and Buccaneers.

Green Bay Packers (4-3) at Tampa Bay Buccaneers (0-7)

GAME SNAPSHOT

KICKOFF: Sunday, 1:00 ET

GAMEDATE: 11/08/09

SURFACE: Grass

TV: FOX (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers)

SERIES: 51st regular-season meeting. Packers lead series, 29-20-1. The Buccaneers have won the past two encounters, including 30-21 at Tampa Bay last season, and six of the last nine meetings dating to 1999. Tampa Bay owns a 6-1 home record in the series since Raymond James Stadium opened in 1998. The former division rivals' only postseason matchup was in a 1997 NFC divisional playoff, which the Packers won 21-7 at Green Bay.

PREDICTION: Packers 28-13

KEYS TO THE GAME: The Bucs' best chance to be competitive is through a strong pass rush. Problem is, they have only 11 sacks on the season. Packers QB Aaron Rodgers is expected to play, but his mobility could be hampered by injuries to both feet and he has been sacked 31 times already. Green Bay will attempt to stay out of obvious passing downs by hammering away at the league's 30th-ranked run defense. The Packers are solid against the run and will focus early on RB Cadillac Williams. The Bucs want to protect rookie QB Josh Freeman in his first career start, but he'll have to stretch the field a bit to give Williams a fighting chance.

FAST FACTS: Rogers has five consecutive games with a 100-plus passer rating. ... Freeman was the 17th overall pick last April.

GAMEPLAN: Not much of a secret here. The Packers are going to blitz rookie QB Josh Freeman. They're going to come from all angles and they're going to disguise basic coverage.

Freeman knows it and he's going to need help from his offensive line and especially the running game.

The Bucs can't put Freeman into third-and-long or predictable passing situations. The longer they can keep the game close, the better the young rookie will perform.

Freeman also has to hit some big plays down the field to prevent those corners from squatting on the quick routes.

"It's not bad being able to adjust. It's just a matter of getting him out there and giving him the reps and the looks," WR Antonio Bryant said. "One thing about quarterbacks in this league is that guys come in as rookies and you don't appear open to them in the league. They are used to being in college and throwing to wide open receivers. The difference in here is being open is just the difference of a step or two. It's about allowing him to have the confidence to throw the ball in anticipation to us receivers being open."

Defensively, the Bucs will have their hands full with Packers QB Aaron Rodgers and his receivers, led by Donald Driver and Greg Jennings. The Bucs secondary has played better of late, but Tampa Bay has to get heat on Rodgers, who has been sacked 31 times and has a habit of hanging onto the ball too long.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH:

Packers CB Al Harris vs. Bucs WR Antonio Bryant. The Bucs receivers have to do a good job of beating bump and run coverage on the outside because the Packers are going to bring some blitzes against rookie QB Josh Freeman. Bryant is healing up from a knee injury that slowed him early this season.

Packers QB Aaron Rodgers vs. Bucs DE Jimmy Wilkerson. Rodgers has been sacked an alarming 31 times in seven games this season and enters Sunday nursing sprains in each foot. Wilkerson leads the Bucs with five sacks.

Bucs QB Josh Freeman vs. Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers. Freeman is making his first NFL start and has to resist the urge to force the ball into coverage. Capers is a savvy coordinator who knows how to bring pressure and disguise coverages.

INJURY IMPACT:

The Bucs are pretty healthy at this point in the season following their bye week. CB Aqib Talib sprained his ankle in practice Tuesday and was limited Wednesday. G Jeremy Zuttah injured his shoulder Wednesday and was limited. WR Antonio Bryant (knee) had full participation in practice Tuesday.

PERSONNEL NEWS

Bucs:

--WR Antonio Bryant was limited in practice Thursday with soreness in his left knee. He had hoped the bye week would help that condition, but it is still a problem. But he is expected to play Sunday.

--CB Aqib Talib has an ankle sprain and was limited in practice Thursday. He is expected to play Sunday.

--G Jeremy Zuttah has a shoulder injury but had full participation in practice Thursday and will start against the Packers.

--CB Elbert Mack has an ankle sprain and was limited in practice Thursday.

--WR Michael Clayton has a wrist sprain but had full participation in practice Thursday.

Packers:

--QB Aaron Rodgers, as expected, didn't practice for a second straight day. Rodgers is nursing a sprained toe and a sprain of the other foot. The plan is to have him practice in some capacity Friday. He should be OK to make the start Sunday at the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.

--WR Donald Driver missed another day of practice. He is recuperating from a neck injury stemming from a stinger he sustained in the last game. The team is hopeful Driver can practice Friday. If he doesn't practice this week, head coach Mike McCarthy said Driver still could get the go-ahead to play Sunday.

--CB Charles Woodson returned to practice on a full-time basis Thursday after being given a day off to rest a sore hip that he's had the past couple weeks. Woodson, who leads the team with four interceptions, will be fine to make the start Sunday.

--TE Jermichael Finley has yet to get back on the field since suffering a knee sprain two games ago. It's looking more and more likely that Finley will miss another game.

--WR Jordy Nelson isn't expected to play for the third straight game because of a knee sprain. Nelson is considered ahead of Finley in the recovery process.

--C Jason Spitz continues to be bothered by recurring lower back spasms and hasn't returned to the field. He hasn't been able to contribute on the offensive line in the last three games. Scott Wells will remain the starter.

INSIDE THE CAMPS

Bucs:

The Bucs had a plan to bring Josh Freeman along slowly. In fact, coach Raheem Morris had hoped not to have to use him this season.

But at 0-7, the Bucs want to give Freeman a chance to develop quickly.

Freeman, 21, will make his first NFL start Sunday against the Green Bay Packers.

"What he's done since he's been here, since he took over the second quarterback ... once we had the quarterback competition end, he's really taken over as the second guy," Morris said. "So he's been the second guy since that point, he's been able to stand there and watch everybody and learn. He's been able to watch people have success, he's been able to watch people have failure, he's been able to come into the meeting rooms, he's been able to come in here early and have his quarterback schools during the whole process. What he's really done in the huddle is start to take over. You started seeing it in the scout team huddle.

"You've seen him go into the scout team huddle, you've seen him command, you've seen him lead men. And now you're starting to see it progress over into the first-team huddle, and now his voice is getting stronger and it will get stronger and stronger as the week progresses. The whole thing with him is just patience, letting him develop into that guy which he'll become."

Freeman will be the youngest quarterback to ever start a game for the Bucs. He got his feet wet two weeks ago, playing two series against the Patriots. He went 2-of-4 for 16 yards and was sacked twice.

But Morris, who coached at Kansas State in 2006, thinks Freeman can handle the pressure. Remember, he started as a 19-year-old true freshman.

"For me, it was kind of just a waiting process, and it was a patient process for me because I've seen him do it. I've seen him go into the game," Morris said. "I've seen him come in, young, green, in college. I've seen him do it that way, wait a couple weeks, go in there, go through a learning curve his first game, get in there the second game, really lead us to a win vs. Oklahoma State.

"I don't know if it's going to happen that fast because this is the National Football League. It's the hardest position to play in the world, I like to think. He's going to go out there and my whole deal is going to be patience. You let him go out there, you let him go through the process, you let him go through everything he needs to go through, develop a relationship with the receivers. You see all the great quarterbacks in the league and they go through the process as well. Then they all end up having some wideouts or some tight ends or some backs that they develop a relationship with and they carry it through for the next five to 10 years. That's hopefully what he can do when he gets in there."

Packers:

As the Tampa Bay Buccaneers get ready to don their throwback bright orange uniforms for the first time, the Packers also will be turning back the clock in the matchup Sunday at Raymond James Stadium.

The moves haven't officially been made, but all indications are Green Bay will have veteran bookend tackles Chad Clifton and Mark Tauscher on the field together for the first time in 11 months.

Clifton and Tauscher received plenty of the reps at left tackle and right tackle, respectively, with the starting offense for the second straight day in practice Thursday.

"(They) have put together two good practices," head coach Mike McCarthy said. "We're going to take the whole week's work (with them). But, we're definitely further ahead than the past two weeks, as far as their availability and the production."

Clifton hasn't played in four of the last five games because of a recurring right ankle sprain. He would regain the starting spot that rookie T.J. Lang filled the past two weeks.

Tauscher is considered game-ready for the first time since he suffered a torn ACL in his left knee Dec. 7 last season. Since re-signing with the Packers on Oct. 12, nine months after he underwent reconstructive surgery, Tauscher's workload in practice gradually increased, and he's expected to unseat first-year starter Allen Barbre at the spot Sunday.

Clifton, 33, and Tauscher, 32, were mainstays in Green Bay's starting lineup since their rookie seasons in 2000.

"It's comforting because those guys have been playing at a high level for a long time," quarterback Aaron Rodgers said. "It's nice seeing their faces in the huddle. ... It's good having those guys back. Those guys bring a lot of character to our team, and when they're healthy, they're very good players. They've shown that in the past."

The Packers are hoping that this latest change on the line -- it would be the fourth different starting quintet this season -- can mollify what has been ailing them through seven games. Rodgers has been sacked a league-high 31 times.

"It's a whole unit thing," Tauscher said. "Obviously, the pressure and the emphasis is on the offensive line because the number is so high. As a whole group, no doubt about it, we need to play better up front."


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