The Packers’ opponent this Sunday, the Tampa Bay Bucs, is a perfect example of the impact the NFL scheduling process can have on a team’s record.
A year ago, the Bucs were hot in pursuit of a playoff spot, behind a second-year quarterback that had burst onto the scene to become recognized as one of the elite passers of the future. Everything about the Bucs’ arrow was pointing upward.
The Bucs team coming to Green Bay this weekend, however, is very different from the 2010 bunch. The Bucs are 4-5 and a loss away from can’t-lose time. Their young quarterback, Josh Freeman, has fallen on hard times; his passer rating, which was right behind Ben Roethlisberger’s and near the top of the league last year, is two points beneath Tarvaris Jackson’s and near the bottom of the league this year.
What the difference, Bucs Coach Raheem Morris was asked? It was a question to which its presenter already knew the answer; to Morris’ credit, he answered truthfully. He said the difference is that this year’s schedule is tougher than last year’s.
Of the Bucs’ 10 wins in 2010, only one of them was against a quality opponent, the New Orleans Saints, but that was on the final weekend of the season and the Saints’ playoff position had already been decided. Simply put, the Bucs rode a soft schedule to resurrection, and that was fine because it didn’t get them into the playoffs but it did allow them to envision better times ahead.
In contrast, the Bucs’ schedule this year has been a rack. Six of their nine opponents to date are playoff contenders. They got walloped in San Francisco, 48-3, and crushed by Houston last Sunday, 37-9. Now comes the piece de resistance, a date with the 9-0 Green Bay Packers in Lambeau Field, where the temperature on Sunday is forecast to be a very unTampa-like 37 degrees.
The 2010 Bucs aren’t the first team to ride a soft schedule. The 1972 Dolphins rode one to a perfect record. Nobody, however, will ever accuse the 2010 Packers of playing a cupcake. They won it all and against the toughest schedule the league had to offer.
Here’s the good news for the Bucs: After Sunday’s game, the schedule softens appreciably.
Now here are 10 things the Packers have to do to beat the Bucs.
1. Up the tempo—The Bucs are 31, 29, 28 across the board in defensive rankings. The more plays, the better.
2. Rush the quarterback—He’s got a bad thumb and probably some doubt. Don’t let him get comfortable and confident.
3. Welcome them to Green Bay—The Bucs have played in nothing but warm weather and domes. Be physical.
4. Stop Blount—LeGarrette Blount is a punishing runner with a 4.3 yards-per-carry average. He’s formidable.
5. Spread it around—A struggling secondary should be forced to cover everyone, instead of being allowed to concentrate its efforts on one or two guys.
6. Break their spirit—On a cold day and at the end of a punishing stretch of six consecutive games against top teams, the Bucs’ resolve needs to be tested.
7. Ride the wave—These are the best of times for the Packers franchise.
8. Focus—On Sunday, not Thursday.
9. Run the ball—It’s getting late in the season, which is the run-the-ball time of year. The running game needs to wake up a little.
10. Protect the quarterback—He’s “The Man” that drives this train, and he must be protected from danger at all times. Additional coverage - Nov. 17