Two of the best quarterbacks of all time will square off in a star-driven showdown of two viable Super Bowl contenders. However, as much as fans may want to keep their eyes glued on Tom Brady and Aaron Rodgers, the Week 3 affair between the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and Green Bay Packers features several other position battles that hold plenty of promise.
So, which matchups should have the most significant impact on the outcome of the game? Here are five to watch, starting with a lopsided one in terms of an experience standpoint.
Packers DT Kenny Clark vs. Buccaneers C Robert Hainsey
The battle in the trenches between one of the league’s top interior defensive linemen and a tackle-turned-center making just his third NFL start will play a major role in the outcome of Sunday’s game.
Two-time Pro Bowler Kenny Clark gets a chance to prove why he’s regarded as one of the best players at his position by going up against Robert Hainsey, a former collegiate tackle who’s been pressed into starting duties due to Ryan Jensen’s knee injury.
Green Bay’s veteran nose tackle brings a terrific combination of strength and quickness that can cause significant problems for opposing offensive linemen.
Can the 6-foot-4, 306-pound Hainsey handle a powerful, experienced player like Clark? Or will Green Bay’s defensive anchor overwhelm his 24-year-old adversary? For Tom Brady’s sake, Buccaneers guards Luke Goedeke and Shaq Mason will hopefully provide Hainsey with some well-timed help. Otherwise, it could be a long (and frustrating) day for TB12 and Co.
Packers CB Rasual Douglas vs. Buccaneers WR Russell Gage
While Jaire Alexander is easily Green Bay’s best cornerback, don’t be surprised if Tampa avoids him altogether. Plus, with Julio Jones and Chris Godwin unavailable because of injuries, the Packers certainly should have an easier time defending the pass.
But if Brady intends on moving to 3-0, he’ll need to find a way to make at least a few big plays with one of his only healthy receivers: Russell Gage.
Best out of the slot, the former Atlanta Falcon hasn’t made a major impact through the first two weeks of the season. Fresh off signing a three-year, $30 million free-agent deal, Gage has caught seven passes for a mere 41 yards (5.9 yards per reception).
If the Packers continue to deploy veteran Rasul Douglas as their No. 3 corner, it will be interesting to see how much success Gage has in getting open. A year ago, Douglas surprised everyone in Green Bay by intercepting five passes, including two pick-sixes.
So far, quarterbacks have completed all five attempts in his direction so far. And you can bet Brady would rather target Douglas than deal with Alexander or 2021 first-round pick Eric Stokes. Ultimately, the matchup between Douglas and Gage will be one to monitor.
Packers ROLB Rashan Gary vs. Buccaneers LT Brandon Walton
It could be a rough day at the office for Gisele Bundchen’s husband if his trusted blindside protector can’t get healthy by the end of the week. Longtime starting left tackle Donovan Smith could miss his second straight game because of a hyperextended elbow, and with backup Josh Wells also unavailable due to an injury, Tampa may have to rely on Brandon Walton to protect the GOAT.
Needless to say, Buccaneers fans should have serious concerns about the state of an offensive line that is nowhere near as strong as it was a year ago. Walton, who went undrafted in 2020 out of Florida Atlantic, stepped in at left tackle during his team’s 20-10 victory over the New Orleans Saints last week.
However, if the 24-year-old opens Week 3 as a starter, he’ll have his hands full all night in the form of 6-foot-5, 277-pound outside linebacker Rashan Gary.
Coming off a breakout campaign in which he set career-highs in sacks (9.5) and quarterback hits (28), the 2019 first-round pick has recorded sacks in each of the Packers’ first two games. Gary’s raw power and improved pass-rush arsenal make him a threat to get to the quarterback on every snap.
Expect Green Bay defensive coordinator Joe Barry to create one-on-one matchups for his most talented pass rusher to exploit–starting with Walton.
Packers RBs Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon vs. Buccaneers LBs Devin White and Lavonte David
Talk about a ton of talent. On one side of the ball, you have the dynamic running back duo of Aaron Jones and AJ Dillon. The former brings quickness and elusiveness as a runner and excellent pass-catching chops, too.
Meanwhile, the latter’s thick legs and burly frame make him tough to bring down on first contact. Easily a top-three running back tandem, Jones and Dillon will have to be at their best against the Buccaneers, who counter with a frightening pair of inside linebackers.
Despite being 32 years old, Lavonte David still brings tremendous value to Tampa’s top-ranked scoring defense. A tackling machine who also makes plays in the passing game, he’ll have to show he still has the speed to keep up in coverage.
While fellow linebacker Devin White undoubtedly has the explosive athleticism to do that, he can’t afford to miss tackles at such a high rate. Through two games, the former top-five pick has missed 13.6% of his tackle attempts—easily the highest mark of his career.
Can the Packers dial up the right balance of downhill running and creative passing plays based around their two talented tailbacks? Or will the Buccaneers’ fast and physical defense hold Jones and Dillon in check?
Packers RT Elgton Jenkins vs. Buccaneers OLB Shaquil Barrett
Iron sharpens iron. That phrase will come to light on Sunday when Packers right tackle Elgton Jenkins faces Buccaneers pass rusher Shaquil Barrett. And whoever wins the majority of those matchups should help his team inch closer to securing a well-earned victory.
Finally recovered from an ACL tear, Jenkins played all 68 offensive snaps in Green Bay’s 27-10 win over the Chicago Bears. However, the versatile lineman allowed one sack and earned an uncharacteristically low grade of 58.5 from Pro Football Focus in his season debut. Aaron Rodgers desperately needs Jenkins to revert to the form that helped him earn Pro Bowl honors in 2020.
After all, the Buccaneers boast an elite edge rusher in Barrett, who’s totaled 39.5 sacks in 48 games since he arrived in 2019. With two sacks so far, the veteran looks poised to break the double-digit mark for the third time in four seasons.
If the dangerously quick defender gets the best of his adversary in critical moments, Rodgers and the Packers could head back to Wisconsin with a 1-2 record and significant problems to solve on offense.