It just occurred to me as I sat down to write this piece that it may be the last one that I write while the Green Bay Packers’ 2014 season is still alive. Those of you who have already seen our game predictions post know how I picked this game to turn out. I haven’t been shy about how I feel about the match up. Not much has swayed that throughout a week of comments and interviews by a Packers team that thinks its chances are better than average to get one of the biggest underdog wins in team history.
Unfortunately, the game isn’t played in the media, it’s on the field. CenturyLink Field, arguably the toughest venue to play in over the last three seasons. The Seattle Seahawks call it home and it’s quite a venue. Early last season, a world record was set for the decibel level achieved during a ‘Hawks game there. The stadium is specifically constructed to trap noise. A noise that mostly comes when the opposing team is on offense. It has become a factor that visiting teams are drilled about all week leading up to their game. While I think the Seahawks present many challenges to the Packers this week, the crowd noise is one of the least of them. Green Bay will be ready for it and while it’s hard to ignore, I don’t see it factoring into the outcome.
On the Packers’ side, the two guys who will likely factor in that outcome are pictured above.
Aaron Rodgers is the unquestioned leader of this Packers team and as he goes, so go the dreams of his teammates and fans alike. There’s no more questioning whether Rodgers is enough of a leader, whether he can come from behind to win, and if he is tough enough. Despite two tears in his calf, Rodgers will be under center (or should I say behind center?) this Sunday. After he’s played and finished the last two games with the injury, there was absolutely no doubt he’d play in this one. But let’s not take this for granted. On his “Tuesday’s With Aaron” show on ESPN Milwaukee, Rodgers seemed to indicate, throughout the conversation, that when he’s out there that the injury is on his mind and he feels it with almost every move he makes on the field. Still, it didn’t prevent Rodgers from throwing for over 300 yards and three touchdowns against the Dallas Cowboys to help the Packers get to this point. Maybe that’s the reason some of the Seahawks defenders have said they don’t buy the fact that Rodgers is still affected by the calf strain. Perhaps they’re trying to convince themselves that the real Superman (versus the one they sent packing last week in the form of Carolina’s Cam Newton) won’t be slowed by the injury and will still be able to do what Rodgers does: move around and extend plays. Any defense would be foolish not to prepare for Rodgers’ mobility when he’s healthy. With everything riding on this game and that Rodgers was able to lead the Packers to the top offensive scoring output this season, Seattle is taking no chances. Still, these comments about Rodgers embellishing his injury seem unfounded. The way he went to the ground after throwing a short touchdown pass to Randall Cobb against the Detroit Lions isn’t something most good actors can portray let alone Rodgers himself trying to add flair to his ailment.
As much of a perfectionist as Rodgers is, he’s too busy trying to drop the pigskin in the perfect spot to re-create the perfect play from practice that week to try and psyche out an opponent by playing opossum. No one can be truly perfect, especially in an NFL playoff game, but Rodgers will need to be as close to it as humanly possible if the Packers are to have a legitimate chance of knocking off the defending champion Seahawks in their own building. That would be a tough task for a 100% healthy version of Rodgers. Still, do you really want to bet against him? Seems every time most do, he only goes out and has one of his best showings.
As far as Eddie Lacy goes, he’s going to have to elevate his play this week. Lacy has been mostly everything the Packers have needed over the last half of this season. He added the receiving portion of his game to the mix this season and some of that would come in very handy against Seattle. Anything to get the ball in his hand in space and a few steps to work up a head of steam as he rumbles north towards pay dirt. Whatever the Packers’ offensive game plan is this week, I hope there’s a lot of “Lacy” on the call sheet. They can’t afford to give up on the run too early and have to find ways to adjust and get production from the ground game. If they can’t, the defense is going to tire fast and see a heavy dose of Seattle’s own beast in Marshawn Lynch. So while Lacy doesn’t face Lynch himself, it would be a lack of productivity by Lacy that could lead to the Packers defense dealing with a larger does of Seattle’s run game.
The Green Bay offensive line has played well this season and has gotten stronger as the year went along. They might not all be completely healthy, but they’re all healthy enough to play this week. The same starting five linemen who started in Seattle week one. For the Packers, that’s a heck of an accomplishment when you consider all of the injury issues this team has had in recent year. Expect the line to readily accept the challenge that is Seattle’s defensive front. And expect the Packers run game to work every now and then. That’s why they can’t get away from it completely. Mix in some James Starks, just for good measure. He’s never been shy during the postseason and if effective, will create some issues for the Seahawks defense to have to figure out.
That Seattle secondary might still call themselves the Legion of Boom but I don’t see them as the juggernaut they were last season. Richard Sherman can be thrown on and the Packers should think about doing so when the window is open. It will be only slightly in Sherman’s case, but there will be openings. Kam Chancellor brings the pain when he gets a shot in the open field, but he can’t cover. So make him get into coverage. Cornerback Byron Maxwell was battling illness earlier this week and Tharold Simon may have to step in. All the bravado and confidence in the world doesn’t cover a receiver so either Maxwell or Simon will have to physically do it. Hey, it’s just Jordy Nelson after all. He only set a Packers record for receiving yards in a season this year and had double-digit touchdown catches. No biggie. The Seattle defensive line is missing its two big tackles but their linebackers are some of the best in the league so is that enough of a trade off to make the losses a wash?
So far, sounds like I’m giving the Packers a fighting chance to win this game, doesn’t it? That’s because we haven’t really discussed Lynch and Seahawks quarterback Russell Wilson yet. Lynch, plain and simply put is a GAM. Look up the term if you don’t know what it means. Bill Michaels and Gary Ellerson use it quite a bit on the Green & Gold postgame show on 107.5 FM The Fan. What it translates to for the Packers defense is that they must, I repeat, must swarm to him every time he touches the ball. Every. Single. Time. Lynch is a big back and tough to bring down. With the Packers’ tackling issues this season, one guy getting there first isn’t going to get the job done. Lynch is going to get some yards, the Packers just need to keep it at “some”. Missed tackles are going to lead to lots of yards and points for Seattle. We’ve seen Lynch go into his trademark “beast mode” and destroy everything in his path. He did it against a very good Arizona Cardinals defense late in the season and conjured up memories of his game-winning romp against the New Orleans Saints in the 2010 playoffs. You can’t really take Lynch out of a game, but the Packers have to limit him and commit to stopping the run.
What helps this is that Seattle doesn’t have great receivers. Golden Tate left in free agency. Percy Harvin was traded mid-season. Jermaine Kearse, Doug Baldwin and Ricardo Lockette remain after an injury to rookie Paul Richardson recently ended his season. Richardson had also been handling some of the return duties on special teams as well. Veteran tight end Zach Miller was lost earlier this season but Luke Willson has filled in admirably in the passing game. Still, this is an area where the Packers match up well with the ‘Hawks and if the corners can manage more on their own, Green Bay can commit safety Morgan Burnett to run support, something he has been fantastic at all season long.
While those receivers may not be much to worry about, Wilson is. When he drops back to pass, there may be nowhere to go with the ball, but if the Packers defense forgets for a milisecond about Wilson’s ability to escape the pocket and take off, they’ll instantly regret it. So even when it’s a pass, it’s always a potential run. Defensive backs are taught to backpedal off the snap and play pass first. There will undoubtedly be some peaking into the backfield on Sunday. It’s human nature when the task facing the Green Bay defense is so daunting. This is where preparation and discipline come into play. I expect to see a healthy dose of Clay Matthews manning the middle and keeping an eye on Wilson. The Packers have to match speed with speed. Rush smart and keep Wilson in as much of a confined area of the pocket as possible. Make him win with his arm. It’s his feet that are what really kill his opponents. Hopefully Brad Jones is nowhere near Wilson all day lest we get another untimely roughing the passer penalty. It’s the Packers defense against the Seattle offense that has me more worried than anything. This is what I can’t get past in terms of why I see Seattle ultimately getting the best of the Packers this time around.
Packers head coach Mike McCarthy is clearly committed to seeing a different result in this game than he saw in week one. The team has been described as loose this week and they chose to arrive in Seattle on Friday versus the typical Saturday. They’ll conduct their usual walk through practice in Seattle on Saturday. Try something different to get a different result. Can’t say McCarthy isn’t trying some new tricks for a dog that’s been in this role for nine seasons. I think we can also assume that, despite the insistence that the Packers didn’t avoid Sherman’s side of the field in week one, that we’ll see a ball or two thrown that way when it makes sense this time around. Might we also see a tight end running up the seam? While Jermichael Finley ain’t walking through that door, Brandon Bostick might potentially be a less scouted look in this space. It’s time to attack and stick to what this team does well and hope the players can execute it. If not, they went down doing it how they do best.
It’s simple: execute, force turnovers, don’t turn the ball over, kick well, punt well, don’t turn the ball over, stop the run, contain Wilson, get off the field on third down, don’t turn the ball over, control the clock, score in the red zone and again, don’t turn the ball over. If the Packers do all of that, they can score a huge win and live to see the final 60 minutes of the 2014 NFL season.
OK, maybe it’s not that simple. But it’s not impossible.
Jason Perone is an independent sports blogger writing about the Packers on AllGreenBayPackers.comFollow Jason Perone: