Week 3 is here and it’s time to look at some of the key matchups in the Monday Night game featuring the Green Bay Packers at the Seattle Seahawks. On paper, this has the makings of an evenly-matched contest that will likely come down to who wins the turnover battle.
The Packers are the better overall team but CenturyLink Field and their raucous crowd, aka the 12th man in Seattle, has turned many super powers into chumps. Let’s take a look at what I see as the keys to who comes out of this one with the “W”.
Russell Wilson vs. the Packer front 7
Rookie QB Russell Wilson won the starting job in training camp over newly acquired and former Green Bay Packer Matt Flynn. Many were surprised as it seemed Flynn was the clear-cut choice to start after deciding to leave Green Bay where he had become a solid backup QB and had that monster game in week 17 of last season.
Flynn signed a hefty free agent contract with Seattle and was on his way but he finds himself, once again, on the sideline carrying the clipboard. Wilson played very well during the preseason. He was 35-of-52 (67.3%) for 464 yds, 5 TDs and just 1 INT. Wilson also had 10 rushes for 150 yds and a TD. That was enough to put him under center when the Seahawks opened the 2012 season.
Wilson has, at times, played beyond the typical rookie tendencies. In watching the game vs. the Dallas Cowboys last week, Wilson was fundamentally sound and well-composed against a pretty good Cowboy pass rush. He plays within the system and we can’t forget all of the success Seattle Head Coach Pete Carroll had at USC with his quarterbacks. Wilson is not even a full year removed from his playing days at the University of Wisconsin and is still on the low end of his NFL learning curve.
Carroll has helped assemble a team and created an offensive system that doesn’t put it all on Wilson’s back. Very composed and with a good pocket presence, Wilson is proving to be a key to the defensive game plan. He plays it safe for the most part, and takes what the defense gives him. Many of his completions last week were shorter routes with a few shots downfield. Those high percentage throws can prove detrimental to the defense. If Wilson is able to sustain long drives and tire the Packer defense, it will shift favor toward the Seattle side.
The Seattle passing game isn’t designed to blow anyone away. Seattle ranks 31st in passing offense with 136 yards/game. But Wilson is making plays both with his arm and his feet. He’s not an easy sack. As he did in college, Wilson moves around and runs well. He maintains his pump fake until he passes the line of scrimmage and keeps defenders on their heels. Now, Wilson has been sacked 5 times so he doesn’t always bail out and run when in trouble as many mobile rookies tend to do. If the Packer front 7 can get some pressure on him, they can try to get Wilson to hurry his throw. That’s when the Packer DB’s go to work and take the ball away.
The flip side of that pass rush is containing Wilson in the pocket. When he runs, he runs very well . He has rushed 12 times for 48 yards so far this season and is the team’s 2nd leading rusher. If the pass rush pushes too far into the backfield, it will create lanes for Wilson to escape and pick up key yards and keep drives alive. OLB’s Clay Matthews, Nick Perry and Erik Walden have to be mindful of maintaining their lanes and that the Seattle O line is going to let them release up field in hopes that they over pursue. Perry especially and being a rookie will need to resist the temptation to push himself right out of the play. Hopefully he is studying film and OLB coach Kevin Greene has coached him well for a QB like Wilson.
In the passing game, the Seahawks don’t have the flashiest of WR’s with Sidney Rice and Braylon Edwards being the big-name guys. But Wilson has spread the ball around well having completed to 9 different ball carriers in his 2 games. Rice is the team’s leading WR with 7 catches. Seattle uses quite a few 4 and 5 wide sets so we will see a fair amount of the Packer nickel coverage. Pressure from the front will create opportunities on the back end.
If the Packer DB’s are able to cover well downfield, expect to see Packer Defensive Coordinator Com Capers send his LB’s after Wilson and dial up the blitz. Wilson is only 5’11” and when in the backfield, rushing defenders need to get their hands up and try to disrupt the passing lanes. Matthews has been able to bat down quite a few pass attempts during his rush and that would come in very handy in killing the Seahawk drive and getting the defense off the field.
Marshawn Lynch vs. the Packer defense
Packer fans are very familiar with Seattle RB Marshawn Lynch, although it’s an interesting story. Back in 2010 and with Ryan Grant having suffered a season-ending injury in the opener, the team seemingly needed a running back to pick up the slack. Lynch, then with the Buffalo Bills, was rumored to be on Packer GM Ted Thompson’s radar to acquire in a trade. After a week 2 game that brought Lynch and the Bills to Green Bay and as the trade deadline approached, no deal materialized. Finally he landed in Seattle and some Pack fans were scratching their head wondering why he wasn’t brought in.
Lynch is a big back and tough to bring down. Packer defenders MUST wrap and tackle. There will be no arm tackles on Lynch in this game, or any game for that matter. He runs hard and keeps his feet moving on every play. Lynch has a very powerful base and can move the pile. The Seahawk O line is marginal and Lynch masks this slight weakness with his gritty running style.
We have heard time and time again about the Packers’ struggles with tackling in recent seasons. That issue needs to be resolved this week or the guys in Green & Gold will be reading “Lynch” on the back of a Seahawk jersey as he scampers toward the end zone. The key is sound fundamentals and keeping the pad level low. Packer defenders have to have a gang tackle mentality and put several hats on Lynch when he has the ball. They need to be safer than sorry. Seattle likes to run out of the I formation and straight up the gut. Lynch will challenge Packer NT BJ Raji and ILB’s AJ Hawk and DJ Smith as he tries to bust up the middle and get to the 2nd level.
While you never want to see DB’s get burned trying to cheat the run, it will become important that they are stout in run support. S Jerron McMillian has shown a good ability to get up and help stop the run and that could become a key this week. Safeties Woodson, Burnett and McMillian will have “clean up” duties this week and need to ensure that Lynch isn’t running free downfield. If Seattle favors the run and has any struggles in the pass game, look for the Pack to try and take Lynch out of the equation and make Wilson win on his own. Lynch is benefiting this year and is staying fresh in games because of backup RB Robert Turbin. A fresh Lynch and a tired Packer defense could be a bad formula come the end of Monday night’s game. The Seahawks rank 7th in the NFL with an average of nearly 150 yards/game on the ground so this is an area of heavy focus for the Packer D unit.
Aaron Rodgers vs Seattle secondary
Seattle’s defense, much like their offense, isn’t very flashy. The ‘hawks feature very gritty, hard-hitting defenders who are led by their best unit, the defensive backfield. They feature long time starter in CB Marcus Trufant and 2 young safeties in Earl Thomas and Cam Chancellor. Both safeties are hard hitters and very physical. They can and will lay some wood on a WR coming across the middle or in traffic.
Seattle’s defense is deceptively quick and play their spots well. They are well coached. The Seahawks play a lot of zone but as with any zone, there are going to be holes and opportunities to make plays. The Packers just so happen to have an opportunistic quarterback in one Aaron Rodgers. If given time, Rodgers will have almost always an option to throw to and should be able to keep the offense moving downfield.
The Seahawk D hasn’t faced a mobile QB yet this season so there could be some opportunities for Rodgers to pick up yards via the ground. A solid run game will set up some shots down field and the Pack are due for some explosive pass plays. Mixing in some good under routes or curls can be effective in methodically moving the ball. Rodgers would be wise to try and get the ball in the hands of Randall Cobb and let him make plays with his speed and skills. That can keep the Seattle DB’s on their heels and having to think about all angles of the Packer offensive attack. If Rodgers can take what the defense gives, he will move the ball.
The key is for Rodgers not to get too greedy and be patient in letting the opportunities develop. The Seahawk pass rush is average so that puts added pressure on their secondary. They ran quite a bit of nickel versus Dallas and I didn’t see anything too flashy from the nickel backs. Packer 4 and 5 wide sets should get some opportunities to beat coverage downfield. Seattle uses a single high safety in the nickel and tends to press the WR’s at the line. A well placed lob can get a quick completion if the Packer WR’s are able to separate before the safety help arrives. Rodgers should be able to help look safety help off and create a 1 on 1 matchup to give his WR’s a chance when Seattle is in the nickel. Seattle DB’s did blitz a few times and got after the ball after the catch. Side note for the entire offense: Ball security is a key against this physical group.
Special teams have proven to be a strength for both teams this year. Green Bay has scored 2 TD’s on ST’s thus far and Seattle got a strip fumble and turnover on the opening kickoff last week. They also blocked a punt that was recovered and returned for a score early in the game. Seattle’s punter is former Packer Jon Ryan who is solid in directional kicking and pinning teams deep as is Packer P Tim Masthay. The field position game is always important and both teams will have to cover and contain extremely well downfield.
The Pack had some success last season in covering downfield to force quite a few fair catches inside the 20 or better yet, down the ball inside the 10. Masthay puts some good hang time on his kicks and almost always gives his crew time to get down to and surround the ball carrier. Ryan has a good pooch punt and both offenses could find themselves regularly staring at 80+ yards to go for the score.
The Seahawks feature returner Leon Washington, who can break one at any time. Washington has already broken off a 52 yard punt return and an 83 yard kickoff return in this young season. He’s a small and speedy individual and the Pack will need sound fundamentals to keep his yardage at a minimum. The Packers’ Randall Cobb has a punt return for a touchdown and had a kick return for a touchdown last season. He flashes great speed and can explode through an opening and be on his way.
Both teams have solid place kickers. Packer Mason Crosby has made all 3 of his FG attempts while Seattle PK Steven Hauschka has hit on 5 of 6 attempts. Hauschka missed his only attempt beyond 51 yards. Winning the field position game and forcing Seattle into long FG attempts plays into the Packers’ favor.
Packers vs the 12th man
It’s no secret that Seattle features one of the, if not THE loudest venue in all of the NFL. CenturyLink Field has long carried a reputation for being an extremely hostile place for visiting teams to play. Dubbed the “12th man”, the Seattle crowd is incredibly in tune with when to bring the noise. When Seattle is on offense, you can virtually hear a fan in the nosebleeds ordering a beer. When on defense, the camera is practically shaking. It’s deafening and I’m talking about what I hear on TV! The Packers need to strike first and if possible twice before Seattle can. They have to deflate the crowd and make it a non-factor.
The Pack will surely come in and use a silent count in anticipation of a very loud and rowdy Monday Night crowd. The O-line and offense must communicate well and avoid hurting themselves with a lot of pre-snap penalties. The Pack tend to crank up the noise in the Don Hutson Center to prepare for loud road crowds and this week will be no exception.
It bears repeating: communication is key. The Packer offense has to come out strong and confident. This will calm the line and reduce any jitters and keep the Seahawks from getting under their skin. It’s easy to become frustrated early when things aren’t going the right way and all of a sudden, a shove after the play leads to some yellow laundry on the field. The Pack have to play disciplined and focus on their reads. Any way to block out the distracters has to happen in a stadium like this one.
That it’s a Monday Night game and each team is looking to get above .500 for the first time this season only increases the hype. The Packer offensive motto this week: early and often. With as much success as the Packers have had in recent years, the Seattle crowd will be amped up in hopes that their Seahawks can overpower the visiting Packers.
Enjoy the game!——————
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: