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Butler's Breakdown: Packers vs. Buccaneers


If as fans your mood is down and you're feeling low and everything around you seems dark, that's because the Green Bay Packers have dug themselves a hole.

But cheer up, because even at 4-5 it's not too late to throw away the shovel and start climbing back toward the playoffs.

The Tampa Bay Buccaneers might not look like the team you want the Packers to face in this situation, but I think otherwise.

Just like the Packers, Tampa Bay has fallen on hard times. Both teams are 4-5. Both teams have lost leads at home. Both teams are in desperate need of a win.

But if the Packers want to turn things around, there's no better way than to get a crucial win on the road against a rival opponent in a tough place to play.

Just look back on that win at the Metrodome and remember how that win had the potential to catapult the Packers on a second-half winning streak. They let one get away last weekend against the Philadelphia Eagles, but it's not inconceivable for lightning to strike twice in one season.

Since the Bucs moved into Raymond James Stadium, the Packers are 0-5 in Tampa. So a win this week would be something special.

I know that on TV they're going to make a big deal about all the Warren Sapp and Chad Clifton stuff from last season, but that altercation has to remain in the past.

Too much is at stake this week to be thinking about anything but a win. As GM/Head Coach Mike Sherman and quarterback Brett Favre said this week, the Packers have bigger fish to fry.

Or, bigger brats to cook. However you want to put it.

Just like every week, the key for the Packers offense is to run the ball. And this week, let's add to that: the Packers to run and protect the ball.

It's no secret that a failed ground attack and costly turnovers have been the key ingredients in the Packers' losses in Tampa in recent seasons. So that's the area the Packers need to focus on.

If you saw any of the Carolina-Tampa Bay game, you saw how Stephen Davis had his way against the Bucs' touted defense.

The Packers offensive line has been great all season and will really be juiced up Sunday. If they can control the line of scrimmage -- which will be no easy task -- there's no reason Ahman Green can't duplicate Davis' performance.

Simeon Rice is a great defensive end, but he loves to penetrate into the backfield, so screens and draws should be effective to his side. The Bucs are tough up the middle with Sapp and Anthony McFarland at the tackles, but those guys are subject to traps and misdirection.

And if fullback William Henderson can get through the line, he should be able to handle the Bucs' smaller linebackers to let Green roam free.

Just remember that the Bucs defense is going to make some plays, but they'll give the Packers some opportunities, too.

I've been saying for weeks now that the Packers have to capitalize on those opportunities, and that's of the utmost importance against Tampa.

The Buccaneers secondary is a little banged up this season. Strong safety John Lynch is still coming back from injury and their corners need to be tested, but don't think the Bucs can't make plays.

Favre has gone up against this defense many times. He needs to prove Sunday that his broken thumb isn't a problem and that he can stay patient and not turn the ball over by forcing passes.

A few weeks ago I broke down the Cover 2 attack. Tampa Bay runs the traditional Cover 2, but likes to add a wrinkle, sometimes rushing five guys. For opposing quarterbacks, seeing that extra guy step up in the box can make it look like a blitz is coming.

If the quarterback makes the wrong calls at the line of scrimmage, he might unload too fast and fire into underneath coverage for interceptions. Favre has to make sure he doesn't make those mistakes.

I think you'll see wide receiver Javon Walker be more of a factor this week, either going down the sideline against their corners or working over the middle.

How ever the Packers move the ball this week, whether it's with a steady running game or big plays, they have to put points on the board. Like they did against Seattle, they need to score early and often.

Defensively, the Packers need to slow down the Bucs by stopping the rushing attack led by Michael Pittman.

The rotation of Gilbert Brown and Grady Jackson should help the Packers do that. Those guys are loads on the inside and the Bucs like to run the ball between the tackles.

Jackson has matched up with the Bucs before and has beaten them when he was with the New Orleans Saints. Now in his second week with the Packers, he should be more comfortable within the defensive scheme than he was last week, and he should also bring some much-needed confidence to the field.

Rookie linebacker Nick Barnett has no reason to think the Packers can't win at Tampa because this is his first trip there. His amazing speed could hurt him this weekend if he's not patient, because the Bucs like to run a lot of misdirection.

Barnett has to be careful not to go too far too fast!

One of Tampa's biggest weapons offensively is Keenan McCardell who is questionable with a hamstring injury. He's an explosive player who can make highlight reel catches.

On play-action, he's their go-to receiver and stopping him will help the Packers get off the field on third down.

Wide receiver Keyshawn Johnson has good hands and is a proven blocker, but he doesn't have the speed to be dangerous downfield.

As a result, expect the Packers to be aggressive and rush anywhere from four to six players at any time.

If quarterback Brad Johnson feels the heat, he's been known to throw interceptions. If not, he can pick defenses apart.

The Packers must force turnovers this week, and I suspect that they will. By doing so, they're not only getting the Tampa Bay offense off the field, hopefully they're setting up the Packers for more scores.

On special teams, this looks to be another exciting match up.

Tampa Bay has one of the top-5 special teams units in the league, and they're willing to take chances with fakes.

Considering that the Tampa crowd could be a touch frustrated with previous performances at home, don't be surprised if the Bucs look to make a big play on special teams to get the fans back on their side.

Meanwhile, the Packers are trying to add some spark to their kickoff return game by replacing Antonio Chatman with Robert Ferguson.

Ferguson has a bigger body better built for kickoff returns, and Chatman will still do his damage with the punt team.

Right now the Packers have an average starting point of about the 28-yard line after kickoffs, but if Ferguson can give them a few extra yards it could improve the offense's potential dramatically.

Just like the Packers, the Bucs are a better team than their 4-5 record suggests, but given the strength of the Packers' running attack this season, there's no reason the Packers shouldn't win this game.

Forget about previous struggles there. Forget about Clifton and Sapp.

Even though that hit generated a lot of media attention, this isn't the first time a team has wanted revenge against a former opponent.

I can remember a time Tampa beat us at their place and started taunting our sidelines. I can remember them hitting Favre late and pushing our receivers around after the play.

I can also remember a game against the Vikings in which Cris Carter put his finger into Darren Sharper's facemask and Frank Winters also got a poke in the eye.

In both of those cases we really wanted revenge the next time we faced those teams.

And I can still remember then-head coach Mike Holmgren before the rematch against the Vikings reminding us that the best way to get back at them would be with a win.

So, late in a game at home, already with a big lead, we looked to add points to the board and run up the score.

What Coach Holmgren had said was right, and I know Coach Sherman follows the same philosophy.

As fans, you'll probably be rooting for Sapp to take a lick from the offensive line. Well, that would feel good, but imagine how much better it would feel to punch the Bucs where it really hurts: in the win-loss column.

That's the goal this weekend. And I'm predicting a knockout.

*LeRoy Butler played 12 seasons for the Green Bay Packers, helping them to two Super Bowls and earning NFL All-Decade Honors for the 1990s, before retiring in July 2002. This season Butler is providing exclusive analysis to with a breakdown of the upcoming game on Saturdays and a column and Q&A session on Tuesdays.

Butler's autobiography, 'The LeRoy Butler Story ... From Wheelchair to the Lambeau Leap,' is available on his website,*

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