Behind Enemy Lines: Matchups

We wrap up our Behind Enemy Lines series with the four key matchups and why the Packers will (or will not) return from warm and sunny Tampa with a victory.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS OFFENSE VS. BUCCANEERS DEFENSE

WR Greg Jennings vs. CB Aqib Talib: Jennings had a big game in the Packers' loss at Tampa Bay last season, catching six passes for 109 yards and two touchdowns. Talib and Ronde Barber took their turns in one-on-one coverage on Jennings in that contest. The Packers like to move Jennings from one side to the other depending on the formation, so perhaps the Bucs will settle on having just Talib, who normally works on the left side, stick with Jennings the whole time. Talib is a physical corner in press coverage and has good closing speed in space. He has four interceptions this season. Jennings will be familiar with Talib's style, since the Bucs use the same system that Green Bay ran under current Bucs coordinator Jim Bates and his successor, Bob Sanders.

RT Mark Tauscher vs. Bucs DE Jimmy Wilkerson: Mark Tauscher, 11 months removed from a torn ACL and about four weeks removed from re-signing with his longtime team, will make his season debut. Without the benefit of any preseason work, will Tauscher have to knock off some rust? Behind a porous and injury-plagued offensive line, quarterback Aaron Rodgers has taken an alarming 31 sacks in seven games. Rodgers enters this game nursing one sprained foot and a sprained big toe on the other foot. Wilkerson is one of the handful of players that Bucs coach Raheem Morris pointed to as playing at a high level. Wilkerson, who had just one sack from 2003 through 2007 with the Chiefs, leads the Bucs with 5.5 sacks after posting five sacks last season. Wilkerson, who had three sacks against Philadelphia three weeks ago, has half of the Bucs' 11 sacks.

MATCHUPS TO WATCH: PACKERS DEFENSE VS. BUCCANEERS OFFENSE

Linebackers vs. TE Kellen Winslow: The Packers see Winslow for the first time in his six-year career — he missed the entire 2005 season while with the Cleveland Browns, who played a game at Green Bay. Trying to contain a playmaking tight end has been an Achilles' heel for the Packers, and the 6-foot-4 Winslow has been a focal point in Tampa Bay's otherwise sputtering offense. He has four touchdown catches in his first season with the Bucs and probably will be a security blanket for rookie Josh Freeman in his starting debut at quarterback. The Packers won't have Brandon Chillar, their best linebacker in pass coverage, after he suffered a broken hand in the previous game. Starter A.J. Hawk, who has been replaced in passing situations by Chillar, is expected to be an every-down player against the Bucs. Hawk was exploited repeatedly in coverage last season after Nick Barnett suffered a season-ending knee injury, and he rarely has played coverage this year. Green Bay should be able to get away with covering the Bucs' unimpressive receiving corps man up, so that would free one of the safeties (Atari Bigby or Nick Collins) to shadow Winslow over the middle.


QB Josh Freeman
Joe Murphy/Getty Images
Coordinator Dom Capers vs. QB Josh Freeman: Capers tried to dance around the question, but his answer hinted at his game plan against Freeman, who will be making his first NFL start on Sunday. Capers said the last thing he wants is for the rookie to get comfortable in the pocket. That means trying to confuse the quarterback. Sometimes, he'll show blitz but not blitz. Sometimes, he'll hide the blitz. And other times, he'll show the blitz and then bring it. On the other hand, the Packers have precious little tape on Freeman, so the scouting work may or may not be relevant to what the Buccaneers will run on offense. Plus, the Bucs had the benefit of a bye week to try to match the offense to Freeman's skills. Freeman was drafted in the first round for a reason. He has a ton of talent, but will he be ready to square off against a veteran coordinator?

THE PACKERS WILL WIN IF ...

there's no hangover from last week's loss to the Vikings. The Packers have played three of the NFL's worst teams already this season and blew them all out. So, history shows the Packers won't be looking past the Bucs.

THE PACKERS WILL LOSE IF ...

... Aaron Rodgers looks like a quarterback playing on two bum wheels and without the benefit of a full week of practice. What Rodgers has done best this season is keep plays alive with his feet and avoid turnovers. As long as Rodgers stays upright and keeps the ball out of the Bucs' hands, Green Bay should be 5-3 by Sunday evening.

THE BUCCANEERS WILL WIN IF ...

... Freeman plays to his potential. Freeman is a big, strong, strong-armed quarterback who can make all the throws. If he gets time, he's got the weapons to hurt the Packers. Winslow is a big-time tight end and receiver Antonio Bryant made the Pro Bowl last year.

THE BUCCANEERS WILL LOSE IF ...

.... they don't get a touchdown from their defense or special teams. The Bucs picked off Rodgers three times in the last meeting, and Jermaine Phillips returned a fumble for a touchdown. This year, the Bucs' Sammie Stroughter has returned a kickoff for a touchdown and Clifton Smith is averaging 27.9 yards on kickoffs.

PREDICTION

Bill Huber (5-2): The Buccaneers are the NFL's only winless team, but they have considerably more talent than the Browns or the injury-ravaged Lions. Still, barring Rodgers going down, it's hard to imagine the Packers losing. Outside of red-zone offense and passing defense, the Bucs rank in the bottom third of the league in practically every meaningful stat. The Packers will have to give this game away.


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Bill Huber is publisher of Packer Report magazine and PackerReport.com and has written for Packer Report since 1997. E-mail him at packwriter2002@yahoo.com, or leave him a question in Packer Report's subscribers-only Packers Pro Club forum. Find Bill on Twitter at twitter.com/packerreport and Facebook under Bill Huber.


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