Buccaneers-Packers Preview

The last thing the offensively challenged Tampa Bay Buccaneers

need to see is a Green Bay Packers defense that is coming off a

much-needed dominating effort.

Hoping for another shut-down performance, the Packers look to

move to 10-0 and continue their best start since 1962 while trying

to hand the reeling Buccaneers a fourth consecutive loss Sunday at

Lambeau Field.

While Green Bay’s offense continues to play at an extremely high

level behind Aaron Rodgers, the Packers finally put forth the

stifling defensive game they had been looking for in Monday’s 45-7

home rout of Minnesota.

The Packers (9-0) yielded at least 424 yards in each of their

previous three games before keeping the lowly Vikings to 266. They

held Adrian Peterson to 51 yards with a touchdown on 14 carries and

sacked rookie Christian Ponder three times.

“I think we’ve known that we can play at this level, it’s just a

matter of getting it done,” said linebacker Clay Matthews, who had

two of his five sacks Monday.

Green Bay defenders have taken their generous play prior to

Monday personally at times. That unit has felt it has not held up

its end of the bargain while the Rodgers-led offense continues to

roll over the competition, with the Packers averaging an NFL-high

35.6 points per game.

“We’re mad,” cornerback Charles Woodson said. “We’re mad about

the way we’ve been performing. The way our offense has been playing

and carrying this team, we want to be a part of that too. We don’t

want it to just be one-sided.”

Woodson and his defensive peers have a chance for another stingy

showing against Tampa Bay (4-5), which has been outscored 88-43

during a three-game skid. The Buccaneers’ 156 total points this

season are 12 fewer than the Packers have scored in the first half

alone in 2011.

Tampa Bay and Cleveland are the only teams in the league not to

have scored an offensive touchdown in the first quarter all

season.

“It’s not getting any easier,” Tampa Bay center Jeff Faine said.

“We’ve got a very, very huge challenge at Green Bay. We’ve got to

play smarter and more disciplined. It’s unfortunate we’re in the

position we’re in, but we’ve got to dig ourselves out.”

Trying to improve offensively is only half the battle for Tampa

Bay. Stopping Rodgers is perhaps an even more daunting issue for a

Buccaneers defense that allowed scoring plays of 80 and 78 yards in

last Sunday’s 37-9 home loss to Houston.

Rodgers, meanwhile, was an efficient 23 of 30 for 250 yards

Monday, throwing four touchdowns for the second straight game. The

reigning Super Bowl MVP has completed an astonishing 72.9 percent

of his passes in 2011 and has thrown 11 of his 28 TDs – and no

interceptions – over the last three contests.

His passer rating of 130.7 is on pace to easily break Peyton

Manning’s NFL record of 121.1 in 2004.

“It’s amazing,” veteran Packers receiver Donald Driver said. “He

gets better and better. Every week he seems to be breaking another

record. And sooner or later, he can’t do anything but break his

own. You have to take your hat off to him. If he’s not the guy

that’s going to win MVP this year, then something’s wrong.”

Rodgers, however, is 31 of 62 for 431 yards with four touchdowns

and six interceptions while losing both career starts against Tampa

Bay. He threw three of those picks, including one taken back 35

yards for a fourth-quarter score by Tanard Jackson, in the Packers’

38-28 loss in Tampa in the last meeting Nov. 8, 2009.

Buccaneers quarterback Josh Freeman threw for 205 yards and

three touchdowns in that contest but was picked off three times

against the Texans last weekend. Freeman, who has been bothered by

a sprained thumb, has thrown nine touchdowns and 13 interceptions

in nine games, compared to 25 TDs and just six picks in 2010.

“I feel like I’m a better quarterback this year than I was last

year,” Freeman said. “As crazy as that may sound, looking at the

numbers, I feel like I’m throwing the ball as well as I ever have,

it’s just things aren’t going my way.”

Trailing almost throughout their losing streak, the Buccaneers

haven’t run the ball much lately. They’re averaging just 16.3

carries for 68.0 yards during their skid, with LeGarrette Blount

totaling 106 yards on 23 carries in two games since returning from

a knee injury.

Tampa Bay is looking for a fourth consecutive win over the

Packers. It snapped a 12-game skid in Wisconsin with a 17-16 win in

its last visit Sept. 25, 2005.