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Packers Have Become Well-Versed In The Bucs' Defense


When offensive tackle Chad Clifton and the rest of the Packers' offense breaks down tape of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers' defense, they observe a very familiar scheme.

"Each time you watch them, each time you play them," Clifton said. "You know what you're getting."

Defensive coordinator Monte Kiffin has run the same defense for 10 consecutive years.

The Buccaneers defense may not have changed greatly during the last decade, but it has proven to be successful. They bring the NFL's No. 1-ranked defense into Lambeau Field on Sunday.

"We're not very difficult to figure out," 11-year-veteran Buccaneers linebacker Derrick Brooks said. "Sometimes less is better."

Indeed the Buccaneers have ranked among the top 10 defenses in the NFL for the last eight years.

Their cover-2 scheme calls for two safeties to divide half the field, preventing the deep ball. The front seven features quick but small players, who can penetrate up the field and pressure the quarterback. The defense has worked so well that most of the NFL teams use aspects of their design from time to time.

"Basically every team copied some form of what they do," offensive tackle Mark Tauscher said. "They're kind of the pioneers of switching things up from being big, heavy linebackers to these quick, athletic linebackers that make a ton of plays."

The Packers may know their system, but the knowledge goes both ways. From 1976 until 2001, the Packers and Buccaneers both played in the NFC Central. While the Packers saw the cover-2 defense twice-a-year from 1995 to 2001, the Buccaneers marveled at quarterback Brett Favre in all of those games. They also have played against some derivation of the Packers' West Coast Offense since Green Bay began running it in 1992.

"We're familiar with them, and they're familiar with us," running back Tony Fisher said. "They're going to know our offense pretty well, and we're going to know they're defense pretty well."

The Buccaneers, of course, have added wrinkles to their scheme over time. After watching film quarterback Aaron Rodgers noticed the Buccaneers bring a safety to the line of scrimmage more frequently than he expected from a Cover-2 defense.

One thing, however, that has remained the same is Brooks, who typifies the small, quick, athletic linebacker of the Tampa-2. An eight-time Pro Bowler, the 32-year-old has surpassed 100 tackles in seven of the last eight years.

"He looks like he's 22," head coach Mike Sherman said. "Their linebackers are extremely fast. They're disruptive with their front four. They do a great job of chasing the football."

Because they have such small and quick players and their zone defense eliminates deep passes, the game plan against the Tampa-2 has usually emphasized running the football.

That's what the Packers did in their last meeting -- a 20-13 win in Tampa's Raymond James Stadium on Nov. 16, 2003. Ahman Green ran for 109 yards on 21 carries while Najeh Davenport ran for 70 yards on 13 carries.

"We went right at them," running back Tony Fisher said. "And it was effective."

The Packers likely will employ a similar strategy this year and try to use their weight advantage. Of the Buccaneers' starting defensive linemen, only Anthony McFarland is listed at 300 pounds while the Packers' guards Adrian Klemm and William Whitticker weigh 318 and 338 pounds, respectively.

"We've got to play physical," Clifton said.

But the Bucs own the NFL's top-ranked rushing defense, allowing 40 yards-a-game. They have also added a familiar Packers nemesis to their interior -- former Minnesota Vikings defensive tackle Chris Hovan -- during the offseason.

Hovan, a 296-pound nose guard with a non-stop motor, meshes with their disruptive interior players. His physical conditioning has wowed the Buccaneers coaching staff, and he has complemented veteran defensive tackles Anthony McFarland and Ellis Wyms, who missed a combined 18 games last year due to injuries.

"The inside of our defense is stronger than it has been," Buccaneers head coach Jon Gruden said.

Tampa also has a strong and experienced secondary. Cornerback Ronde Barber has played in the system for nine years while cornerback Brian Kelly has played for eight.

"Those guys are able to break on the quarterback's drop and almost run the routes before the receiver," Rodgers said.

The Buccaneers defense will look like it has in the past. And both teams have holdovers from their NFC divisional days, including Barber, Kelly, Brooks, Favre, Green and Donald Driver. Although they stopped playing against each on a bi-yearly basis in 2002 the rivalry will continue on Sunday.

"It's the battle of the Bays," Clifton said.

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