Tampa Bay safety Antoine Winfield Jr. has had a hot start to his rookie campaign and could present some trouble for the guys in green.
Understandably, all eyes will be on the quarterback matchup between the Green Bay Packers and Tampa Bay Buccaneers Sunday afternoon as two of the premier talents in NFL history will duke it out mano a mano for only the third time in their career. However, another matchup worth paying close attention to is that between the Packers’ offense and Buccaneers’ rookie safety Antoine Winfield Jr.
Winfield Jr. has been sensational after being selected in the second round of the 2020 NFL Draft out of the University of Minnesota. The diminutive safety – who stands at a mere 5-foot-9, and is grit personified – is ranked as the sixth-best safety in the league according to Pro Football Focus.
The former Golden Gopher excels at defending the run as well as getting to the quarterback, two areas where the Packers’ offense has performed well through their first four games; Green Bay boasts the NFL’s fifth most-potent running game with 150.8 yards per game and have allowed Aaron Rodgers to be sacked only three times, which is tied for fewest in the league with Ryan Tannehill and the Tennessee Titans.
Tampa Bay enters Sunday allowing the fewest running yards per game (58.4) and Winfield Jr. is a primary catalyst for their dominance; he is a great wrap-up tackler who doesn’t often miss in the open field, regardless of the elusiveness of the opponent. In this clip, Winfield Jr. easily takes down Carolina Panthers’ running back Christian McCaffrey, preventing a would-be touchdown.
However, Packers’ running back Aaron Jones presents a bit of an unstoppable-force-versus-immovable-object corollary for the standout safety as he boasts the fourth-most rushing yards after contact (211) in the NFL. (That’s the equivalent of 3.2 yards after contact per rush, a whole yard more than McCaffrey, for reference.) It’s possible that the team that comes out on top in the Battle of the Bays will be whoever wins the matchup between these two.
Winfield possesses great burst and a nose for making plays. In this clip, he times the snap perfectly, allowing him to get to Denver Broncos’ quarterback Jeff Driskel unabated.
Winfield Jr.’s speed off the edge will be difficult for the offensive line to contain, meaning the Packers may have to keep Jones and Jamaal Williams in the backfield to block or audible to a quick pass when he shows blitz. Other potential antidotes include switching up the snap count and relying on RPOs to throw Winfield Jr. off the scent.
Rodgers is one of the best in the NFL at making things difficult for opposing defenses as he excels at deceiving with his eyes and pre-snap antics and with his ability to improvise in the pocket. Winfield Jr. acknowledged this in a press conference earlier this week.
“The challenge is staying in position and doing our jobs. We’re going up against a great offense, one of the best offenses in the league right now, so our goal is to just go in there and do our job. ’12’ is their guy, he’s the one who runs the show, so we got to do our best to contain him and do our job.”
Containing Rodgers won’t be easy for the Buccaneers – who are average at best at defending the pass – especially with Davante Adams expected to return from his hamstring injury. Winfield Jr. will be tasked – and a tall one at that – with assisting in deep coverage and preventing Rodgers and his receiving corps from completing big plays.
Rodgers versus Brady will garner all the headlines and be the focus of the bulk of the narrative heading into and out of Sunday, but Antoine Winfield Jr. provides as much of a threat to the Packers’ chances of victory as anyone on Tampa Bay’s sideline. The Packers will have their hands full trying to prevent him from having a large impact on the outcome of the game.