Sunday, April 22, 2018
Tampa Bay Buccaneers

Bucs-Packers: What to watch in Sunday’s 1 p.m. game in Green Bay

TAMPA — The Bucs head north to Lambeau Field for just the third time in the last 15 years, facing the Packers on Sunday.

Tampa Bay has just one win in their last 15 trips to Wisconsin, but now’s an opportune time, with Aaron Rodgers sidelined by injury and Green Bay dropping five of six games. Here are things to watch in Sunday’s 1 p.m. game:

GET A RARE WIN AGAINST A YOUNG QUARTERBACK

So many times this season, the Bucs defense has struggled against the over-35 QB crowd, with losses to Tom Brady, Carson Palmer and Drew Brees. Sunday offers a break from that. Packers quarterback Brett Hundley, 24, is playing in his 12th career NFL game.

Tampa Bay’s recent history against young quarterbacks is surprisingly bad. Over the last seven years, when facing a QB playing in his first 16 career games, the Bucs are 1-14, with seven straight losses.

That win came in 2013 against the Bills and then-rookie EJ Manuel, who threw four interceptions in a 27-6 loss to the Bucs. In the other 14 games combined, those young quarterbacks have combined for 21 touchdown passes and just four interceptions.

Most NFL teams struggle with young quarterbacks. Over the last calendar year, in the last 100 games where a team has a quarterback still playing in his first 16 career games, those teams are just 29-71 overall.

OWN FOURTH DOWN. SERIOUSLY.

You laugh, but it’ll come up on Sunday: The Bucs defense, however terrible it might be on third down, is among the NFL’s best on fourth down, while the Packers are nearly the NFL’s worst fourth-down defense.

Teams are 1-for-7 on fourth down against Tampa Bay this season — the lone conversion was that fourth-and-16 conversion on a 28-yard catch by Austin Seferian-Jenkins late in the win against the Jets. The Bucs are tied with the Jaguars for the lowest fourth-down conversion rate in the league.

Green Bay’s at the other extreme -- they’ve allowed eight fourth-down conversion in 10 attempts this season, the only misses a fourth-and-30 heave on the final play of the first half against Minnesota and a fourth-and-10 throw late in their win against Chicago.

ANOTHER ROOKIE RUNNING BACK

The Bucs passed on using a high draft pick on a running back in April, and they’ve been reminded of that several times this year. By Sunday, they’ll have faced seven of the top 12 rookie running backs by yards this season.

The Saints’ Alvin Kamara, Panthers’ Christian McCaffrey, Vikings’ Dalvin Cook, Bears’ Tarik Cohen, Jets’ Elijah McGuire and Giants’ Wayne Gallman have all faced the Bucs, who now face Green Bay’s Aaron Jones (370 yards) and Jamaal Williams, who has at least 18 carries and 57 yards in each of the last three games.

AVOID THE BIG 150

Can one of Green Bay’s talented receivers -- say Davante Adams, who has seven touchdown catches -- be the latest player to get 150-plus receiving yards against the Bucs?

Three players have topped 150 against Tampa Bay this season —the most allowed by any NFL defense this season. Minnesota’s Stefon Diggs went for 173, New Orleans’ Kenny Stills for 180 and Atlanta’s Julio Jones for 253 last week.

Mike Smith’s defenses have allowed opponents to get 150-plus receiving yards five times in his 27 games. Compare that to seven such games total in the previous 12 seasons from 2004-15.

REMEMBER CAMERON BRATE?

The Bucs tight end has gone quiet — four catches for 37 yards total in his last four games, this after catching at least four passes in each of the six previous games.

Perhaps the healthy return of Jameis Winston rekindles a connection. Brate had touchdown catches in four straight games earlier this season. Asked about his dropoff, Dirk Koetter said Thursday that "he hasn’t gotten many balls thrown to him," and that "we’re not mad at him."

What’s tough is Green Bay’s defense — until last week against Pittsburgh, they hadn’t given up a tight end touchdown all season. They’ve allowed just 417 yards to tight ends, second-fewest in the league.

Contact Greg Auman at [email protected] and (813) 310-2690. Follow @gregauman.

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