Please forgive my hiatus for last week’s Green Bay Packers vs. St. Louis Rams contest. I was temporarily brainwashed to think that my post would write itself. But I digress. . .
This week’s pre season game has the Seattle Seahawks visiting Lambeau Field to face the Packers on Friday. As John Rehor of Packers Talk has said, this is not a rematch of last year’s Monday Night Football debacle. Dubbed the “Fail Mary” game, it incited a lot of controversy and left many Packers fans wanting vengeance against both the man (the Seahawks) and the machine (Roger Gooddell and the NFL). But alas, as John said, it’s not a rematch. It’s just a pre season game.
Still, week three of the NFL pre season has long been considered a dress rehearsal for the upcoming season and the starting units typically see their longest stint on the field during this game. It’s more of a true litmus test to see how a team looks and how prepared they are for the upcoming regular season. While there may be some chatter from the players and media, the Packers need to drown that out and focus.
During the offseason, the Seahawks got busy in acquiring more pieces to complete their team and get even better than last year when they came within inches and seconds of advancing to the NFC Championship game. They traded a first round draft pick for receiver Percy Harvin to give quarterback Russell Wilson another solid target. Harvin promptly injured his hip and had to have surgery, which will prevent his Seattle debut until some time in November, if at all. Seattle also brought in former Lions defensive end Cliff Avril to help with their pass rush and former Vikings cornerback Antoine Winfield to add some experience to their defensive backfield.
Seattle comes into this season as not only a favorite to win the NFC West, but they are also considered by many to be front runners for the NFC and the Super Bowl. This should provide a solid test for the Packers, who also figure to be in the mix for a deep playoff run. Let’s drill down on the keys for the Packers in this week’s game and also some of the position battles that are still in full swing.
Protect Aaron Rodgers
It’s not a real game, but real injuries can still occur. The Seahawks play with a swagger and something tells me they don’t plan on letting up at all this week. After racking up eight sacks in the first half of last season’s game, the Seahawks will want to test Green Bay’s pass protection, especially with two young tackles in that of Don Barclay and David Bakhtiari. Both have been steady so far during training camp and Seattle’s defensive front will pose an excellent gauge of where each stands against a more formidable pass rush.
Also key in protection will be Green Bay’s running backs. Eddie Lacy got the start last week and appeared to pick up some nice blocks against the Rams. DuJuan Harris will make his debut this week and hasn’t played a snap in live action yet. Throw in that both are young and hopefully they are both mentally and physically ready for what Seattle brings.
With one of the better secondaries in the NFC, the Seahawks won’t likely allow many openings for Rodgers to hit his receivers. The Packers will need to establish the run and neutralize pressure with effective play action. If successful, there may be a shot or two downfield and Packers fans are dying to see a long ball connection from Rodgers. He can surely throw it deep, but not if he’s on his back.
Contain Russell Wilson
After last season’s playoff loss to the San Francisco 49ers, the prevailing thought is that the Packers can’t stop a mobile quarterback. Until they show that they can and people can see it with their own eyes, there will be doubt. It’s a pre season game so there wouldn’t figure to be a lot of trickery and fancy offensive play calling, but it’s still Pete Carroll’s team. Anything is possible and after the Seahawks put up over 40 points while giving up only 10 last week against the Denver Broncos, the Packers need to treat this one like a regular season game.
Keeping Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson in check and seeing some success in the pass rush by someone not named Clay Matthews would be ideal. Defensive coordinator Dom Capers tends to keep things vanilla during the pre season so it’s uncertain how much added pressure he will bring, but a strong performance against a good offense would provide a needed boost of confidence for Green Bay.
While we haven’t heard much about how often the Packers are spending time defensively preparing for mobile quarterbacks, it’s safe to assume that they have worked on it at least some. With pistol offenses coming in the first two weeks of this season (49ers and Washington Redskins), the Packers have had to install this into their training camp practices. The team also sent its coaches out to meet with other coaches in the college ranks who have vast experience in defending the pistol. We may get an idea of just how much was learned and implemented during this week’s game.
After a perfect three-for-three outing in last week’s Rams game by Mason Crosby, he missed three-of-four in practice on Wednesday this week. Crosby has been extremely inconsistent over the past year and is making the decision as to who to go with at kicker a very tough one for Head Coach Mike McCarthy.
Until Crosby improves and gains my confidence back, this is one of the few times you’ll hear me say that hopefully Crosby gets quite a few opportunities in this game. Should he trot out and, say, hit four-of-four attempts (preferably at least one beyond 50 yards) and also be efficient in kickoffs, he can probably buy himself another week amongst the Green Bay faithful. Not that they will be any more confident in Crosby, but at the very least, they won’t attempt to stuff him in a locker and hope he stays there all game long.
Giorgio Tavecchio just doesn’t seem to have the leg strength to push himself past Crosby, but the coaching staff may feel differently in a few weeks’ time. I have a feeling that the Packers are headed into regular season week one with Crosby handling the placekicking duties.
DuJuan Harris has been named the starting running back by McCarthy, even though he just practiced for the first time this week. Meanwhile, Lacy impressed in his debut last week. Harris may get the first few carries, but he will be quickly challenged by Lacy to be the team’s top back.
Johnathan Franklin has been quiet in this position battle and while some thought he could be the team’s top running back, that won’t be anytime soon. Franklin appears to need a bit more time to adjust to life as an NFL back, especially running between the tackles. He’s athletic enough and in an effort to get him on the field, the Packers have given Franklin some reps in both kick and punt return. Still, he does not seem to be a front runner for either spot. A few plays made would help Franklin’s growth into the Green Bay offense.
James Starks and Alex Green are seemingly fighting for the right to either be traded or stay on as the last running back on the roster. Starks began the pre season with some decent runs in practice and during the week one game against the Cardinals. Still, he has not really separated himself from Green and the team will need to decide which of these two can be a bigger contributor and stay healthy. If either can put together a solid series or two, it may prolong that debate, at least some.
And lastly there’s what to do with John Kuhn. I don’t think Kuhn’s performance in these next two games will figure as much into the decision to keep or cut him as much as the team’s need for his blocking abilities and overall experience in the offense. I’m one who believes Kuhn stays and he would help himself out with a few solid runs or blocks this week.
This is a crowded grouping, currently, but given that injuries caused them to be short-handed last season, this is a good problem to have at a critical position. You have Ryan Pickett, BJ Raji and CJ Wilson, who are the current starters. Mike Neal has been seeing time at outside linebacker and so there is a plan in place to get him on the field despite all of the big bodies here. Behind the starters, you have rookie Datone Jones, Mike Daniels, Johnny Jolly and Josh Boyd as the primary contenders.
Jones hurt his ankle again in practice this week and no announcement has been made as to whether he will play against Seattle. Daniels has been good in practice, but has not flashed in a game situation. Jolly had a tremendous showing against the Rams and is making his case to stick. Boyd has played sparingly and mostly at the end of these games so his future with the team seems a bit more of a question mark. Being a fifth round pick and with the value that General Manager Ted Thompson places on his choices, I would be surprised if he cuts ties with Boyd this soon.
One player that we have not heard much, if anything, about is Pickett. While he has been steady since arriving in Green Bay in 2006, is age starting to catch up with him? When effective, there are not many better 3-4 defensive linemen, but there are many young bodies competing for valuable spots and at some point, the team will have to move on.
Earlier I mentioned the need for an effective pass rush and some of this falls on the defensive line. A strong showing in this game by any of these guys would further cement their place on the team and possibly move them up the depth chart.
Casey Hayward is back and is a welcome site in the defensive backfield. This is Hayward’s first live action this pre season and no better time to get his football legs under him than this week when he would figure to see more snaps than in any other game. Hayward is penciled in as one of the team’s starting cornerbacks along with Sam Shields.
Tramon Williams has been out for some time and may not return until the regular season begins. That leaves Micah Hyde and Davon House as the primary candidates for the fourth and fifth spots. Hyde has been consistently impressive since day one of camp. Beyond his play at corner, Hyde has also been taking reps at punt returner. He’s a lock to be on this year’s team and he could be a big contributor sooner than later if he continues his ascent.
House was quiet last week after a dismal performance against the Cardinals. He still needs to step up and be a play maker if he wants to regain one of the top spots on the depth chart. If Williams returns and plays well, House could find himself relegated to special teams.
Speaking of special teams, keep an eye on Jarrett Bush. Is this the end of the road for Bush? He is said to be one of the hardest working guys on the team and his contributions on special teams have been notable over the past few seasons. But with young guys like Hyde and House knocking on the door, can the Packers afford to keep the aging and one-dimensional Bush around? It’s a foregone conclusion that the team can’t afford to have Bush in the secondary and in coverage, so where do they stash him? He may stay on based solely on the fact that the Packers usually keep six corners and the other undrafted rookie corners (Brandon Smith, James Nixon, Loyce Means) have not been all that impressive.
Enjoy this non-rematch and I’ll be back next week with the keys to the Packers last pre season game of the 2013 season!
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: