The Green Bay Packers are back on track.
After the opening day letdown against the San Francisco 49ers, the Packers rebounded nicely last Thursday against the archrival Chicago Bears with an impressive 23-10 victory. The Packers sacked Bears quarterback Jay Cutler seven times and intercepted him four times. Clay Matthews continued his resurgence with 3.5 sacks, although he arguably could have had more.
Monday night, after a quasi-bye week with having 11 days between games, the Packers play their first road game of the 2012 regular season and make a trip out west to face the Seattle Seahawks at CenturyLink Field.
Last week, the Seahawks handily defeated the Dallas Cowboys 27-7. Marshawn Lynch ran for 129 yards (with 100 yards coming in the second half) and rookie quarterback Russell Wilson was much better than he was in Week 1 finishing 15-20 for 151 yards and one touchdown. More importantly, Wilson did not turn the ball over.
Let’s take a closer look at this week’s opponent
Scouting the Seahawks
When the 2012 regular season schedule was released, many members of Packer Nation had this game circled as a big one. It was expected that former Packers backup Matt Flynn, who signed with Seattle in the offseason, would get to face off against mentor Aaron Rodgers in a classic student/teacher battle.
Unfortunately, Wilson wanted nothing of it. The rookie out of (ironically) Wisconsin beat Flynn out in training camp and the quarterback duel Packer fans wanted to see suddenly went up in smoke.
This isn’t to take anything away from Wilson, however. Despite his 5’11” stature, Wilson is a mobile quarterback and as he displayed last week is very efficient with the ball and he is not making the stupid mistakes other rookie quarterbacks usually make in their first few games.
Wilson’s targets include Golden Tate and Sidney Rice. Rice gave the Packers fits when he played for the Vikings with Brett Favre at quarterback, but the receiver has had trouble staying healthy ever since. He is expected to play in this game. Tate is a speedster and could also provide trouble for the Packers’ young secondary.
While Wilson still learns the ropes, the workhorse of the Seahawks offense is Marshawn Lynch. The Seahawks got off to slow start running the ball last week, but with Lynch going over 100 yards in the second half, the running back and his offensive line with Russell Okung (also expected to play Monday) can wear a defense out in a hurry.
As for Seattle’s defense, it’s one of the up and coming defenses in the NFL. It’s a young defense with the average age being 26, but they’re also efficient. Last season they ranked ninth in yardage and seventh in points allowed. This season after two games, they rank sixth in yards allowed, second in rush defense and third in scoring defense.
They don’t any really big names, but chances are many will know them well by the end of the 2012 season. Chris Clemons is their best defensive lineman having accumulated 11 sacks in both 2010 and 2011. Red Bryant, Alan Branch and Brandon Mebane round out the Seahawks defensive line.
Their linebackers are very raw. With rookies Bobby Wagner and KJ Wright, the only veteran starting in the Seahawks’ 4-3 is Leroy Hill. Hill is not exactly a master of the blitz with his career high sack total being only four. The Packers could easily expose the inexperience of the Seahawks linebackers with Jermichael Finley in the middle of the field, should the tight end be able to hang onto the ball.
The Seahawks secondary is also young. Richard Sherman and Brandon Browner at cornerback combined for ten interceptions last year despite both of them being rookies. The Seahawks don’t face decent passing games very often especially with them being in the NFC West, so we will see how good they are during the game Monday night when they go up against the Packers’ elite receivers.
At safety are Earl Thomas and Kam Chancellor. They both combined for six interceptions last year. They are trained in Pete Carroll’s defense to be ball hawks so the Packers will need to have their heads on a swivel against them.
Keys to a Packers victory
1. Someone besides Matthews needs to get to Wilson
The entire league is on notice that the Claymaker is back. This means Matthews will be facing consistent double teams from the Seahawks much like he did in 2011when his season sack total fell to six.
This means we might finally get to see if the Packers’ restocking of the defense will truly pay off. Nick Perry and Erik Walden will be key to getting to the mobile Wilson and forcing the rookie to throw from the pocket. Jerel Worthy, who got his first NFL sack last week, also will be a big part of the Packers pass rush this week.
2. Don’t let Lynch wear you down
As stated above, the Seahawks wore the Cowboys defense down last week and Lynch ran for 100 yards in the second half vs. only 29 in the first. In order to prevent this, Dom Capers may have to rotate his defensive line to keep the players fresh. They may want to keep BJ Raji in there but the Freezer seems to grow less effective in games when he is on the field for nearly every snap.
3. Attack the Seahawks over the middle.
If Cedric Benson can find a way to get past the Seahawks defensive line, it would help Aaron Rodgers and the passing game immensely. Rodgers could force some favorable matchups on the sidelines against the secondary, but with such inexperience at linebacker the middle of the field could be a gold mine for the Packers.
This once again means a potential big game for Finley. Patience is wearing thin with the mercurial tight end and this week’s non-controversy had nothing to do with it. Finley has got to hang onto the ball. We’ll let last week’s punch-out slide as it was a great defensive play, but he is such a matchup issue for defenses that he if can just make those catches, the Packers passing game would be back to its old lethal form.
Packers 28, Seahawks 21
I initially thought this wouldn’t be much of a challenge for the Packers, but after watching what the Seahawks did against Dallas, my concern level went considerably up.
It will be another balanced day for the Packers offense as they continue to get Benson involved in the ground game. Rodgers may not put up gaudy numbers consistently like last year, but a more balanced attack will pay dividends down the road for the Packers.
The defense can force Wilson into some rookie-type throws and force some interceptions, which could be the difference between a win and a loss.