Last week, everyone focused on Aaron Rodgers’ calf muscle.
And this week, Seattle is either focused on it or is resigned to the hypothesis that the injury is a fable.
But Rodgers isn’t the most important factor in Sunday’s NFC Championship Game. Without a doubt, it’s the Seahawks’ Russell Wilson.
The mark of a great quarterback is how well they do on third down and how well they navigate the red zone. Last week Wilson was 8-for-8 on third down with 199 yards and three touchdowns as Seattle destroyed Carolina. And in the red zone he was technically 1-for-2 while engineering touchdown and field goal drives. The last possession was a Wilson kneel-down to put the Panthers to bed, placing the Seahawks in the NFC title game for the third time in franchise history.
The 26-year-old Wilson has become what everyone thought he wouldn’t. But he has overcome questions about height, arm strength and even not being black enough. He was a Pro Bowler his rookie season in 2012 with a touchdown to interception ratio of 26-10 and it’s only gotten better since. He followed that up with a 26-9 season last year and a 20-7 line this year.
The main thing that opposing teams always used to be afraid of was his versatility. Armed with a power running back like Marshawn Lynch, his read-option became even more deadly and he’s even tougher to tackle in the open field.
But it’s gotten tougher. His accuracy has improved. He completed over 65 percent of his passes eight times this year and he only has two interceptions on passes of 21 yards or more.
In order to crack the Wilson code, you cannot blitz consistently. Like Rodgers, he picks up most of the blitzes pre-snap and after a quick audible, he forces teams to scream “Uncle!”
In order to stop a guy like this, the self-proclaimed “Grunts” up front must get a push on the pocket. Guys like Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion and Datone Jones need to make Wilson and the pocket move, then it’s up to Julius Peppers and Nick Perry to close out the job.
Of course it all hinges on the most underappreciated aspect of this defense this season: the cornerbacks. Dom Capers generally has Tramon Williams or Sam Shields cover without any safety help and they’ve played very well. Against a mediocre receiving corps, expect the secondary to force a few coverage sacks — as long as Wilson isn’t allowed to stray too far from the pocket.
Wilson turns into a magician the way he secretly hides the ball before making a split-second decision on whether to place it into Lynch’s waiting arms or to tuck and run. And if you need a reboot on the virtues of the read-option, go watch some more footage of Colin Kaepernick gliding to the end zone.
But the Packers have the horses this time. The defense continues to get better and the edges are stocked with long-armed play-makers.
The chess match between Capers and Wilson is what wins this game. Capers knows he cannot tip his hand too early by bringing out his full arsenal of exotic blitzes. And Wilson knows that he cannot try and do too much because his height and arm strength could cause him to get in some precarious situations.
This is a winnable game for the Packers as long as they can get inside the mind of Wilson.——————
Cory Jennerjohn is from Wisconsin and has been in sports media for over 10 years. To contact Cory e-mail him at jeobs -at- yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter: Cory Jennerjohn