Game day is upon us! The Green Bay Packers and Seattle Seahawks will kick off the 2014 NFL regular season at 5:30pm PST. This marquis match up has drawn a good amount of attention from media around the league and is a good test right out of the gate, for both teams.
Last season I moved from “Key Matchups” to a “Keys to the Game” format and I’ll stick with that this season as well. As many of you already know, I’m not a bit X’s and O’s guy. That’s our own Jay Hodgson. For me, some of these elements are bigger picture and involve the team’s mentality more than the execution.
With that said, here are the keys for the Packers to have a decent chance to leave Seattle with a victory.
It’s a Football Game
As we have heard many players describe their experience playing in a Super Bowl, the theme is recurrent. There is a lot of build up and emotions leading up to kickoff. The first few minutes are in hyper overdrive and then they settle into the game and things become a bit more normal.
The Packers need to remember this. The atmosphere at CenturyLink Field is going to be electric. It’s already the loudest venue in the NFL and the Seahawks are coming off of a Super Bowl season. There’s no drowning out all of that noise, but hopefully the offense has prepared well and will stick to executing their game plan. They can’t let Seattle dictate the pace.
Defensively, the Seahawks are one of the best in the league, if not the best. Think back to the 1996 Packers team that won Super Bowl XXXI and how intimidated opposing offenses were before they even took the field. The Packers can’t get caught up in the hype and all of the talk about the Legion of Boom.
This is where the leadership of quarterback Aaron Rodgers is invaluable. Rodgers brings a sense of calm and confidence in the huddle and this will likely be most helpful in the case of rookie center Corey Linsley, who is making his first NFL start. Rodgers can’t snap the ball to himself and ensure no mental errors, but his demeanor should help. After all, if you’re in the huddle against a tough opponent and your most important player is Aaron Rodgers, things could be a lot worse, right? Seahawks outside linebacker Bruce Irvin provided some bulletin board material for the Packers this week by saying he will be praying for Linsley and that it’s going to be a long night. I don’t know how often Irvin rotates in and out of the defense, but someone should remind him that he’s listed as a backup on the depth chart. Will most of his preaching come from the sidelines?
Hopefully once the first few plays run off and guys get their first licks in, things will settle in and the Packers can focus on being the Packers.
Find Percy Harvin, Follow Percy Harvin
This has become a mantra for me over the past few seasons. I tend to single out one player on the opposing team that I think is going to present the most trouble for the Packers. Seattle has several of those guys: quarterback Russell Wilson, running back Marshawn Lynch, cornerback Richard Sherman, safety Earl Thomas, to name a few.
I’m going with Harvin because he’s exactly the type of player the Packers seem to fail to contain year after year. Fast, quick, shifty, elusive. Harvin is all of those things. He’s also a savvy receiver and has reportedly built up a good chemistry with Wilson after a full off season together.
Don’t forget, in addition to being a receiver, that Harvin returns kicks as well. He had the big return for a touchdown in the Super Bowl against the Denver Broncos and any lack of discipline in bringing Harvin down or letting him slip behind the defense will spell disaster for the Packers.
The Packers run a lot of nickel coverage and will likely do so in this game as well. With Harvin in the slot, it’s going to be up to corner Casey Hayward and safety/corner Micah Hyde to shadow him. Both are young defensive backs and it only takes one mistake for Seattle to capitalize. We could also see cornerback Tramon Williams in the slot if his familiarity with Harvin from Harvin’s days in Minnesota serves well.
Protect The Franchise
Last visit to CenturyLink resulted in Rodgers being sacked eight times in the first half. Three of the five offensive lineman who will start this game were also in that game: Guards TJ Lang and Josh Sitton and right tackle Bryan Bulaga. Bulaga, in particular, was manhandled. He is also coming off of two injuries that forced him out the last year and a half.
The noise is likely going to force the line to look in towards the ball for the snap. That half of a second could prove costly against a stellar pass rush. Rodgers still moves around well, but he can’t be on the run all day. The other asset here is an improved running game and Eddie Lacy. If the Packers can establish Lacy early on, that will both quiet the crowd and help the Packers dictate the tempo.
With Green Bay set to run a fair amount of no huddle, the idea would seem to be shorter passes to keep the offense moving, eat up some clock and keep the Seattle defense on the field longer. The Seahawks pursue and tackle very well so the short pass may be the only option to move the chains.
Discipline on Defense
Every year, it seems we hear more and more about what new tricks Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers has up his sleeve and how we will surely see a new and improved defense. I think most would settle for one that just did all of the basics and little things well.
With a mobile quarterback and a brusing back in Lynch, the Packers need to pursue well and tackle, tackle, tackle. Wilson is very elusive and uses his feet to extend plays, not just take off and run. Getting penetration to the pocket can sometimes be more of a curse than a blessing in Wilson’s case, if there are wide open running lanes he can escape to.
Lynch runs hard. Probably harder than that. Swarming to the ball and multiple defenders on the takedown is a must. I know that gone are the days of Erik “the revolving door” Walden on the edge and letting a back break tackle and rumble into the end zone, but the Packers have to be sound in the fundamentals, especially on defense. We already talked about Harvin as a returner and as a receiver, he belongs part of this conversation as well.
The worst thing the Packers can do is let themselves fall into an early hole. That could easily be the result of a big return by Harvin or forbid a defensive touchdown. Green Bay can hopefully set the tone early and keep some amount of pressure on Wilson and minimize the big play.
The Packers can win this game, there’s just the small matter of doing it. This is the toughest game on their schedule, at least on paper so they’ll have to come out of the gate fast and near perfect. The good news? Rodgers is at quarterback and he is capable of both.
Head coach Mike McCarthy undoubtedly has been game planning for this game since the schedule came out and he can’t afford to let Seattle head coach Pete Carroll outcoach him. If he sticks to his game plan and the players execute, there’s a good chance that this game comes down to the wire.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: