By Carmen Vitali
FOX Sports NFC North Writer
The game was supposed to be about Aaron Rodgers and Tom Brady. Two of the best quarterbacks to ever play the game met head to head, perhaps for the last time, this past Sunday when the Green Bay Packers visited the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Naturally, it was a defensive showdown.
Since the game, many of the narratives have been about how ‘boring’ or ‘bad’ it was. And sure, if you’re only watching the flashy side of the ball, you probably felt that way. But the lack of offensive firepower was a credit to two of the best defenses in the league and they deserve their shine. Both teams are top-10 in the NFL in most major defensive categories and Tampa Bay is letting up an average of just nine points per game. Green Bay is surrendering only 15.
Bucs quarterback Tom Brady, who was playing without multiple starters on his side of the ball, was held to a passer rating under 100 for the third straight game. The Packers’ defense was able to exploit the weaknesses on this Buccaneers’ offense and perhaps none took advantage more than nose tackle Kenny Clark and the Green Bay defensive line.
Clark ended the day with two sacks, two tackles for loss and two quarterback hits. Brady was taken down a total of three times on the day, and Clark had something to do with the sack he didn’t get credit for, too. Brady was pressured 10 times in the game, three by Clark. In fact, all but one were by players along the defensive line, including the outside linebackers.
And that pressure threw Brady off his game, prevented the Bucs from getting into any sort of rhythm and allowed Green Bay to win a game over one of the best teams in their conference despite scoring just 14 points.
So let’s put a spotlight on it. I promise, the closer you look, the less ‘boring’ it really is.
Both of Clark’s sacks came on third down, the first of which took place on the first series, as Green Bay bullied the Tampa Bay offense into settling for a field goal on their first drive of the game.
It’s third-and-5. The Bucs are in 11 personnel, but running back Leonard Fournette is split out as a receiver in a four-wide look. Tight end Cam Brate is tight to the line but he releases into his route immediately, leaving the Tampa Bay offensive line – with their third-string left tackle thanks to an injury to both Donovan Smith and Josh Wells – to block for Brady on an obvious passing down.
Clark is part of a two-down front with both tackles mirroring each other in the 4-technique. This puts the interior of the Bucs’ line on their heels a bit, having to wait to see who engages first. Clark was lined up over Tampa Bay’s left tackle, Brandon Walton, who is starting his first game ever. However, Clark rushed inside, engaging the left guard, rookie Luke Goedeke, as he tried to get past Goedeke’s outside shoulder. Clark has more advanced hands and they showed up here, as he swiped away the young player’s attempt to maintain leverage. Meanwhile, outside linebacker Rashan Gary took on Walton as Brate blew right past him into his route. Walton struggled with Gary’s sheer power, as Gary backed Walton nearly into his own quarterback. This caused Brady to step up and he ran right into the path of Clark’s hand, which he had free after manhandling Goedeke. It’s enough to get Brady to lose his footing and fall.
It’s worth noting here too that Jarran Reed had drawn a double team, taking on both center Robert Hainsey and right guard Shaq Mason, meaning Clark and Gary both only have one guy to beat. It’s a great example of the line working together, as they did on each of the sacks of Brady during Sunday’s win.
Need more proof?
While Gary did Clark a favor by sealing off the pocket, forcing Brady to step up into pressure, Clark returned it later on. The Packers again exploited Tampa Bay’s lacking left side on the Bucs’ first series of the second quarter. While Gary is the player who gets home, he was aided by what Clark did on the play.
It’s third-and-12, another obvious passing down after Walton incurred a penalty on the previous play, and the Bucs are again in 11 personnel, Brate is offset from the line and Clark is shading the center away from the tight end. Gary is all the way out in a wide-9 alignment but watch what Clark is able to do. He draws a double team from both the center and left guard, and with both of those players occupied, even though Gary is chipped by Brate, with his speed, he is able to run full force through Walton. By the time Goedeke knows what’s happening, Gary is already taking Brady to the ground. Clark bought Gary time on the play and one little inside move later, he’s sacking a fellow former Michigan Wolverine.
The last sack of the day on Brady was not only a matter of the defensive line working together, but the entire defense. Take a look below at the sideline angle.
It’s second-and-22 for the Bucs. Of course they’re going to throw it. Tampa Bay sends two receivers deep while giving Brady bailout options. One is to Brady’s left where Scotty Miller is running a hitch. It would require Brady to throw the ball before Miller comes back and Brady doesn’t seem to trust it, so he holds the ball. He doesn’t see Brate wide open in the flat and he’s not given enough time to see that cornerback Eric Stokes has passed his man off to the safety whose back is turned, because the pressure ends up getting there first. Brady didn’t have time for the routes to develop beyond their initial iteration, resulting in Clark getting his second sack of the day. This time it was after he got past the center and right guard, but this also warrants a big shoutout for Reed, who exploited his matchup with the left side of Tampa’s line to get to Brady first. Clark then finished the job.
It was a great effort by the Packers’ defensive front. Just because there was no offense to speak of doesn’t mean this game wasn’t worth watching.
Carmen Vitali covers the NFC North for FOX Sports. Carmen had previous stops with The Draft Network and the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. She spent six seasons with the Bucs, including 2020, which added the title of Super Bowl Champion (and boat-parade participant) to her résumé. You can follow Carmen on Twitter at @CarmieV.
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