Packers (4-3) at Buccaneers (0-7)
Kickoff: Sunday, noon
TV: Fox (Sam Rosen, Tim Ryan, Chris Myers)
Series: 51st regular-season meeting. Packers lead, 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.
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.
Rodgers has five consecutive games with a 100-plus passer rating. He missed practices on Wednesday and Thursday because of injuries to both feet. ... Freeman was the 17th overall pick last April. The Packers are 4-0 against quarterbacks making their NFL starting debut since 1980. ... The Buccaneers are the NFL's only winless team. Packers linebacker Clay Matthews III and Bucs tight end Kellen Winslow are two of only five sons to have followed their father into an NFL end zone. ... The Packers rank ninth on offense (16th rushing, ninth passing) and tied for fourth on defense (ninth rushing, ninth passing). The Buccnaeers rank 28th on offense (24th rushing, 23rd passing) and 28th on defense (30th rushing, 15th passing).
Packers: Out — LB Brandon Chillar (hand); TE Jermichael Finley (knee); WR Jordy Nelson (knee); C/G Jason Spitz (back). Questionable — WR Jake Allen (quad); FB Korey Hall (calf); T T.J. Lang (oblique); S Derrick Martin (concussion). Probable — T Chad Clifton (ankle); WR Donald Driver (neck); QB Aaron Rodgers (feet); CB Charles Woodson (hip).
The Packers placed Spitz on injured reserve on Saturday because of continual low-back issues, a few days after coach Mike McCarthy said they'd give him a chance to get healthy.
Spitz started four games and, according to STATS, was penalized twice for 15 yards and allowed two sacks. Two of the starts came at center after he had beaten out Scott Wells in training camp. When left tackle Chad Clifton was injured, Spitz moved to left guard as part of a shuffled line.
Spitz missed practice on Oct. 15 because of back spasms. He felt well enough to be active against Cleveland on Oct. 25, when he played on the extra-point and field-goal units. Last season, Spitz and Daryn Colledge played every snap.
The injury is bad timing for Spitz, who, assuming a collective bargaining agreement is reached, would be an unrestricted free agent at the end of the season. Without a new CBA, he will be a restricted free agent.
Receiver Biren Ealy took Spitz's place. Ealy was signed to the practice squad on Oct. 26, and with Nelson out and Allen questionable because of a quad strain, the Packers might have been especially thin at receiver for today's game.
The Packers can ill afford to get too comfortable in the Florida sunshine and lay an egg against the league's only winless team. A week after probably costing itself a shot to contend for the NFC North title — it's essentially three games behind the front-running Minnesota Vikings — Green Bay's season would be in dire straits if it falls to 4-4 at the halfway mark.
Not having quarterback Aaron Rodgers healthy is a concern, but he's expected to fight through injuries to both feet to make the start. The Packers can lessen his physical burden, as well as the mental toll on an offensive line that has been mostly responsible for Rodgers' league-high 31 sacks, by pounding the football at will against Tampa Bay's anemic run defense. The Buccaneers rank third from the bottom in the league, allowing an average of 162.4 rushing yards per game. Problem is, Green Bay has sputtered more often than not on the ground, so Rodgers still might be needed to provide a spark through the air.
Defensive coordinator Dom Capers has been criticized, including by a few of his players, for not being as aggressive as his 3-4 scheme is advertised. In the wake of another tepid performance against Brett Favre and the Vikings, the opportunity is ripe for an all-out assault on Freeman in his first start at quarterback. The Packers can take all kinds of blitz-happy risks because the Bucs don't pose a threat running the football. If Green Bay doesn't shore up its kick coverage after being overrun by Minnesota's Percy Harvin, fellow rookie Sammie Stroughter could perpetuate the Packers' problems on special teams.
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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 firstname.lastname@example.org, 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.