Keys to the Game (Oct. 18)

Bill Huber

The Green Bay Packers (4-0) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (3-2) at 3:25 p.m. Sunday at Raymond James Stadium in Tampa Bay. FOX televises the game.


Green Bay — Matt LaFleur, second season (17-3). Tampa Bay — Bruce Arians, second season with Buccaneers (59-41-1 overall in eight seasons; 10-11 with Buccaneers).


Packers lead 32-21-1 and won the last three matchups.

When the Packers have the ball

This will be the biggest challenge to date for Green Bay’s offense, which is No. 1 in the league in scoring and has moved the ball exceptionally well on the ground and through the air.

Tampa Bay, which operates out of an attacking 3-4 alignment, is eighth in the NFL with 22.4 points allowed per game. The Buccaneers are 11th in opponent passer rating and have been an impenetrable force vs. the run. They have allowed 2.68 yards per carry, which leads the NFL by almost two-thirds of a yard, and given up less than 50 rushing yards in each of their last three games.

That run defense suffered a major blow when run-stuffing defensive tackle Vita Vea suffered a season-ending injury vs. Chicago. Now, longtime standout Ndamukong Suh is joined by Rakeem Nunez-Roches and William Gholston on the line. If the Packers are going to run the football, it will be because of their success blocking that group.

“I don’t know if there was a better nose tackle out there,” Arians said of Vea. “He was getting sacks. He was getting pressure up the middle. (He) got hurt on a great hustle play on the side going back and forth and it was really friendly fire that got his leg. He was playing really, really well.”

Running the ball will be critical because the Bucs can bring an enormous amount of pressure through their front. Outside linebackers Shaquil Barrett and Jason Pierre-Paul might be the best tandem of pass rushers in the NFL.

Last season, Barrett led the NFL with 19.5 sacks and added six forced fumbles while Pierre-Paul contributed 8.5 sacks. This season, Pierre-Paul has a team-high four sacks while Barrett has three. Barrett will rush almost exclusively against right tackle Billy Turner. While Barrett and Pierre-Paul provide the sacks, Gholston (seven) and Suh (six) lead the way in quarterback hits.

At inside linebacker, Devin White (40 tackles) and Lavonte David (39) are the leading tacklers. They have speed to burn and a nose for the football. David is an elite coverage defender, as well.

When quarterbacks have had time, they’ve had success with a 70.9 percent completion rate but seven touchdowns vs. six interceptions. The secondary is formed by cornerbacks Carlton Davis and Sean Murphy-Bunting and safeties Antoine Winfield Jr. and Jordan Whitehead.

In passing situations, Murphy-Bunting moves to the slot and Jamel Dean enters. Davis is tied for the NFL lead with three interceptions and leads the team with six passes defensed.

Murphy-Bunting has been by far the weakest link. Dean broke up four passes against Chicago. Whitehead is in constant attack mode. He leads the team with five tackles for losses. He and Winfield each have two sacks.

When the Buccaneers have the ball

The free-agent addition of six-time Super Bowl-winning quarterback Tom Brady made the Buccaneers instant contenders. While he hasn’t been great, he’s been an enormous upgrade over Jameis Winston, who threw a franchise-killing 30 interceptions last year. Brady has led the team to an 11th-ranked 27.8 points per game.

Brady, who has 12 touchdowns vs. four interceptions, is just 16th with a passer rating of 96.8.

He’s been challenged by a revolving door of players at the skill positions. Receiver Chris Godwin, who led the team with 86 receptions for 1,333 yards and nine touchdowns last season, has caught only 11 passes this season. He missed time with a concussion and then the last two games with a hamstring injury. Arians is hopeful he’ll be back this week. Plus, tight end O.J. Howard is out with a torn Achilles.

If Godwin is back, the Buccaneers will line up with Godwin and Mike Evans as the receivers, Rob Gronkowski and Cameron Brate as the tight ends, and Ronald Jones, Leonard Fournette and LeSean McCoy as the running backs.

Green Bay’s cornerbacks turned in a strong performance vs. Atlanta receivers Julio Jones and Calvin Ridley last week. They’ll have to do it again.

The 6-foot-5 Evans leads the team with 22 receptions, 271 yards and six touchdowns. He’s scored in every game. Godwin has 4.42 speed in the 40 to get behind defenses. If healthy, Kevin King presumably would line up against Evans while Jaire Alexander would square off against Godwin.

At tight end, Gronkowski came out of retirement to join Brady. Perhaps the best tight end of the era, he hasn’t done much as a receiver or a blocker. He’s caught 12 passes for 140 yards and hasn’t scored.

Jones is the main man in the backfield with 359 rushing yards. He has averaged 4.9 yards per carry for the season and has back-to-back 100-yard games. Fournette is the former Jacksonville bruiser. McCoy, once an elite player, is more of a receiver (nine catches) than runner (two attempts).

Up front, it’s left tackle Donovan Smith, left guard Ali Marpet, center Ryan Jensen, right guard Alex Cappa and right tackle Tristan Wirfs, the team’s first-round pick. It’s a strong unit, with Marpet being the best of the bunch. According to Pro Football Focus, Smith has given up three sacks.

Special teams

Kicker Ryan Succop is 9-of-11 on field goals; he’s 7-of-7 from inside of the 40 yards but 2-of-4 from beyond. He’s in his 12th season. Last season with Tennessee, he made just one of his six attempts but is 82.2 percent for his career.

Punter Bradley Pinion is averaging 46.7 yards per punt and is 11th with a net average of 42.0 yards. He also handles kickoffs, with 26 of his 29 kicks producing touchbacks.

Jaydon Mickens handles returns. He is averaging 22.0 yards per kickoff return and 6.8 yards per punt return. He returned a punt for a touchdown in 2017.