Packers-Bucs: Game plans, matchups to watch

Tampa Bay defense has yet to allow a touchdown

It sounds simple enough: "We've got to put the ball in the end zone," Packers quarterback Brett Favre said matter-of-factly Wednesday.

Reaching paydirt has been a chore for the supposedly surefire offense in 2005, never mind that it doubled its touchdown total (one) of the previous seven quarters while in catch-up mode late in the fourth quarter of Sunday's 26-24 loss to Cleveland.

A maddening failure to mount anything of significance from the run game coupled with untimely penalties that have taken them out of manageable third downs have the Packers desperately seeking an offensive explosion.

Problem is, it all might be wishful thinking for another week. Tampa Bay is the opponent, and its peerless suffocating defense has yet to have an opponent break into a touchdown celebration.

To get themselves in position to have even a whiff of the end-zone grass at Lambeau Field, Favre said it's imperative the offense finally establishes a rushing attack to be reckoned with. The Bucs, though, are yielding an average of a microscopic 40 yards per contest in that regard.

Therefore, it stands to reason the defense will have to keep the Packers in the game. That will be a huge challenge in itself because the league's early-season rushing leader, Cadillac Williams, will be seeking some more holes to drive through. Plus, the Packers have yet to produce a takeaway this season.

It will be power vs. power with the Packers' surprisingly stout run defense trying to uphold its No. 7 league ranking against the NFL's top run producer, rookie Cadillac Williams.

Buoyed by Williams, who's merely churned out 276 yards through the first two games, Tampa Bay has become the ground-dominating offense once familiar to the Packers. The Bucs have averaged a gaudy 168.5 yards per game.

The Green Bay defense, which is permitting an average of only 78.5 rushing yards per game, will once again key on the run after holding Detroit's Kevin Jones to 87 yards in Week 1 and Cleveland's Reuben Droughns to just 50 yards in Week 2. A common denominator in both instances was the Packers didn't allow Jones and Droughns to rip off a long run.

The big gains have been a part of Williams' arsenal thus far.

"We've tackled pretty well this year, and we're going to need good tackling to bring this young man to the ground," head coach Mike Sherman said. "He breaks tackles, and he's a very vicious, powerful runner. We have to play a very physical football game against him and their offensive line."

-- Green Bay's inability to get anything of note out of its run game prompted Detroit and Cleveland to sit back in two-deep coverage on pass plays.

Come Sunday, the Packers will get a heavier taste of the Cover 2 from the top-ranked Bucs defense that was the forerunner of the scheme. If Ahman Green and Co. are stifled once more, it will be on Brett Favre's right arm again to generate offense through the air, which might not be a good thing if the short-handed unit struggles initially.

"If you fall behind, it can be difficult because (the Bucs secondary does) have a tendency to take away vertical throws," Sherman said.

The Packers lost their main vertical threat, Javon Walker, to a season-ending knee injury in the opener. So, if the pass is called for, expect a lot of movement over the middle of the field with shallow to intermediate crossing routes utilizing Donald Driver, Robert Ferguson and Antonio Chatman.

Coach Jon Gruden finally has what he has tried to achieve for three previous seasons in Tampa Bay - balance on offense.

RB Cadillac Williams gives the Bucs an identity and a player to build the entire attack around.

As teams begin to gamble on defense to stop the run, they will become vulnerable to the play-action pass. And Gruden is just waiting for the right coverage to spring WR Joey Galloway deep.

"So far, we've only played two games," Gruden said. "We've always sought balance, and right now we've been able to achieve balance, but we've got to sustain that for a long time. We've got a long way to go. We made plenty of mistakes against Buffalo. We'd like to improve in all areas, but we're off to a pretty good start and balance is a goal, yes."

Defensively, the Bucs lead the NFL in overall defense and are first against the run. Credit the return of DT Anthony McFarland and the play of free agent nose tackle Chris Hovan.

"Everybody is just trying to make some plays, just trying to get off the ball," McFarland said. "We're putting a big emphasis on that - upfield pressure defense. That's what we're trying to do. We haven't quite gotten to where we need to be yet, but we'll get there."

-- Packers DE Kabeer Gbaja-Biamila vs. Bucs LT Anthony Davis. KGB is among the best pass rushers in the NFL, and Davis, making his third NFL start, faces his biggest test of the season.

-- Packers RB Ahman Green vs. Bucs run defense. Tampa Bay ranks first overall and against the run, allowing just 40 rushing yards per game. But Green is no stranger to the Bucs. Green is averaging 4 yards per carry.

-- Packers QB Brett Favre vs. Bucs secondary. Tampa Bay enjoys playing Favre because he will give the defense several chances to produce turnovers. That said, the future Hall of Fame QB knows how to attack the Bucs from the days of the old NFC Central.

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