[Editor’s note: Each week, former Broncos G.M. Ted Sundquist looks at three of the best games of the coming weekend.  For Week Four, his first game is the renewal of what Chris Berman used to call — and likely will remind the audience of at least 84 times this weekend — the Bay of Pigs.] 
The “Battle of The Bays” follows a week in which both clubs learned a lot about themselves, albeit in different manners.  Tampa Bay took on a tough Chicago defense and found that when forced to win through the air, they could do it on the arm of QB Brian Griese. Griese led two late drives, one to tie the game at the end of regulation and one to set up a game-winning field goal in overtime.
Green Bay, on the other hand, was brought back to earth by the physical Dallas defense. QB Aaron Rodgers had sailed through his first two tests as the heir to Brett Favre, but the Cowboys brought heavy pressure, sacked the young QB five times, and disrupted the Packers’ passing for most of the game. Now the two meet in Tampa trying to influence the pendulum of momentum; the Bucs hope to maintain it, the Pack plan to reverse it.
Brian Griese slid into the starting position against an Atlanta team that is still trying to create an identity. The veteran QB was efficient enough to build an early first-half lead and guide the Bucs through the second half on the legs of Warrick Dunn and Earnest Graham. The Bears presented a different challenge. One of the best in the League versus the run, Chicago shut down the Tampa ground game and forced Griese to beat them through the air. The Bucs were without vet WR Joey Galloway and heavy emphasis was placed on slowing down Ike Hilliard. Up stepped Antonio Bryant and Michael Clayton. The two had combined for only four receptions over the first two weeks, but would add 15 catches for 192 yards in the Bucs’ late game comeback and eventual win.
KEY #1 will be the consistency factor of this revamped receiver corps versus a Packers secondary that was bruised (but not necessarily beaten) by the Dallas big-play offense. Green Bay is 22nd in net passing yards allowed and has been suspect on 3rd downs. They’re also ranked in the bottom third in big plays of 10 and 20+ yards through the air. If the Packers front 7 can step up on first down and stuff the run (which they’ve struggled to do at times), the Bucs have been a predominant pass team in 2nd and medium/long situations and almost entirely so on 3rd down. Griese will need to know he has options other than the reliable Hilliard and can now look to Bryant, Clayton, and the recently unsuspended Jeremy Stevens at TE. The Packers secondary is on top of their game at the moment in pass defended efficiency (team tied for 4th), but will be without starting DC Al Harris (lacerated spleen) and DC Charles Woodson is hampered by a toe injury. The Bucs are a top 10 team in converting 3rd and long (much improved over ’07). The Packers are solid (upper ½) in stopping such situations. Tampa will benefit more from ball control, keeping Green Bay’s defense on the field in the late September heat/humidity.
On defense the Bucs will be well served in getting some pressure on QB Aaron Rogers. Prior to the Cowboys game, Rogers had ample time to throw and rarely had defenders in his face. The on-coming pressure from the Dallas defense piled up the sacks and dropped Green Bay’s completion percentage below 60% for the first time in ’08. Rogers’ overall efficiency drops in the wake of the blitz as well. Will Tampa build upon its last two outings (combined 7 sacks) or will the Green Bay O-Line hold firm?
KEY #2 will be the amount of pressure (both sacks and hurries) that Tampa’s defense will be able to engineer upon Green Bay. The Bucs rush only the front 4 almost 80% of the time and a lot has been placed on 2nd year DE Gaines Adams. Adams will benefit from an active interior of Chris Hovan and Javon Haye. If Tampa struggles to collapse the pocket, they have been one of the more suspect teams in the NFL to the big-play pass with an opponent rating of 121.5. Greg Jennings is off to a blistering start and Donald Driver can haul in the long ball as well. The Bucs will try to force Rogers to find the outlets and swarm with the LB’s on 3rd down where Tampa has held their opponents to 34% (9th in the NFL). Look for Green Bay to try and re-establish the ground game that seems to have left them since Week 1 versus Minnesota. The Ryan Grant/Brandon Jackson combo is more capable of establishing control than what’s been displayed the past two weeks. To do so, the Green Bay O-Line will have to control Hovan and Haye. Last week, I pinned the chances of the Bucs stopping Bears rookie RB Matt Forte on the shoulders of these two DT’s. The duo combined for 12 tackles and freed up the Buc LB’s to have their own big day. Green Bay struggles to run off guard inside and prefers to get the ball on the edge. They run around the ends as much as any team in the League. But this plays into the hands of the Bucs defense with their speed at LB and in the secondary support of the run.
Look for KEY #3 to be the ability of ROG Jason Spitz (or backup Tony Moll) and ROT Mark Tauscher to create some interior movement in the run game. Spitz could return to his normal position if Scott Wells starts at OC this week. Tauscher has been one of the more successful run blocking OT’s this season and coupled with TE help might be able to create a little room for Grant and Jackson to the right. Don’t look for Brian Griese to throw the ball 67 times this week. Even football has a pitch count. Green Bay’s defense will probably have to contain a renewed emphasis on the run game by Earnest Graham and Warrick Dunn. Chicago’s ability to smother opponents on the ground didn’t allow for the Bucs to ever really establish the run. The Packers have shown definite signs of weakness in shutting down the opposition’s rushing attack, and Tampa will probably look to exploit this, especially on 2nd down.
KEY #4 for me will be the play of MLB Nick Barnett (limited by an elbow strain) and WLB A.J. Hawk against the run. If Barnett and Hawk can actively fill to the hole and create some “stuffs” at the LOS, the Packers might very well create 3rd and short situations and just the place where the Bucs have struggled to convert in ’08. Tampa Bay is tied for 26th in the League in converting 3rd down with four or less to go and the Bucs are not one of the better power running teams in the NFL. Coach Jon Gruden goes almost exclusively to the pass on 3rd down and this allows for physical Green Bay DC’s to press and reroute the Buc receivers. Timing is everything to Griese.
KEY #5 will be the head-to-head match up of PK’s Mason Crosby (GB) versus Matt Bryant (TB). Whether Bryant chooses to play this week is still up in the air due to the tragic death of his infant son this week (prayers are with his family). Crosby is tied for the League lead in touchbacks with 6, Bryant has 2. Both are solid in FG’s and PAT’s, with only Crosby missing once in Week 1. In a close game, neither can afford a “push” or a “hook” to cost his team points (ask Martin Gramatica). Hidden yards of field position can be found in the ability to consistently put your opponent on his own 20 and Crosby hits at a 31.6% clip. Certainly if Bryant doesn’t play even more pressure is put on this important key to the game.