Note: This is a guest post by Curtis Allen and the latest piece in a weekly series. Curtis looks at the Seahawks and their opponents and discusses key factors…
This game has all the makings of a highlight game for the Seahawks. Every time they have played the Packers in recent years, the stakes, the game play and the outcome have all been memorable and had a definite impact on both franchises.
That is no less true this season. The Seahawks are coming off a bye at 3-5, staring down an offseason of seismic changes and are returning their franchise quarterback to the field after a 1-2 stretch that has put into sharp focus what is most important to their continued success.
Of note is the home team has won every game since 2008 in this head-to-head
Can the Seahawks break that streak and get a win in Lambeau Field? A loss would tumble them to 3-6 and may well mean they would have to run the table in order to secure a playoff spot. A win elevates them to 4-5 and would give them some badly needed momentum and confidence for the stretch run.
How can the Seahawks secure a win against Green Bay on Sunday?
Let Russell Wilson remind you why he is your most important player
This is uncharted territory for the Seahawks.
Yes, Russell has played with injuries in the past, even serious ones. This is different. He has missed time. The offense has sputtered and the team has dropped winnable games in his absence. Pete Carroll has even admitted Wilson would have made the difference in those games.
He is back now. Let him make a difference in this game.
It is his first game back after a serious injury. On the road, in cold conditions. Against a tough opponent with their playoff lives on the line.
There will be a strong temptation to ease him in and keep him out of harms’ way as much as possible in this game. To have a conservative, run-centric game plan that lets Russell work his way back onto the field.
That may be a good idea for the first series. Let Wilson get a feel for live game action again. Taking snaps, handing the ball off, and making a simple throw or two.
After that though, they have got to let him play the balance of the game as if his finger had not been hurt.
His value to the team is too high and the stakes are too important to not make full use of him. We have seen the results of Pete Carroll reining in the passing game, relying on the defense and special teams to win the field position game. They need to put the ball in Wilson’s capable hands in order to win this game.
The Packers are obviously preparing for Russell to be 100% but that slight mental inclination that his finger will hold him back could give the Seahawks a window to take advantage of, particularly early in the game, when the unknown could be a real advantage.
One opportunity for effective play that will seemingly go against instincts to protect Russell is to have him run if he sees an opening.
Quarterback runs have proved a useful weapon against the Packers defense this season. They have allowed 18 first downs and 6.71 yards per carry to quarterbacks so far this year.
- Jared Goff gained 42 yards on four carries and two first downs in Week Two
- Justin Fields gained 43 yards on seven carries and three first downs in Week Six
- Taylor Heinicke burned them for 95 yards on ten carries and five first downs in Week Seven
This strategy is not without precedent. In their last meeting (the divisional round of the playoffs in 2019), Wilson single-handedly kept a battered Seahawks team in the game with seven carries for 64 yards and five first downs in addition to his throws.
Watch Wilson take advantage of the openings to move his team down the field in that game:
Cue the video to 6:19. On a third and six, Russell surveys the field and then takes off for a 22-yard run to jumpstart the offense in the third quarter. Notice Preston Smith is closing quickly. If Wilson decides to try a throw there — that is a sack and the drive is over. Instead, the drive is sustained and the Seahawks score a touchdown.
Look at 8:11. Wilson gets a 9-yard run on third and one from the Packers 11-yard line for a first down to keep that drive going, which resulted in yet another touchdown. Notice that he did not wait. He saw the opening and took it decisively. On that drive alone, Wilson had 26 rushing yards and three first downs.
There is an argument to be made that not only is this an effective way to attack the Packers defense but it could also actually protect Russell in a sense. That tender finger is out of harm’s way, being tucked in carrying the football. I think we can all trust him to know when to slide or step out of bounds on a run and keep himself from injury.
Will everyone from Pete Carroll to Shane Waldron to Russell Wilson himself have the guts to play this game aggressively?
Fortune favors the brave.
This is Russ’ team now and they are going to go as far as he can take them this year.
There is another key reason why this a good strategy overall…
Aggression on offense is necessary to compete in this game
The Packers play a high-quality brand of complementary football, with an offense that has plenty of weapons and flexibility. They get a lead and allow the defense to play aggressively to keep teams from implementing their full game plan.
Practically every stat the Packers have put up this year on both offense and defense strongly supports the conclusion that the Seahawks need to come out of the gate with an aggressive mindset on offense and establish some forward momentum as early as possible.
An incredible fifteen of their twenty-one sacks have come when leading the game. Seven of their nine interceptions have come when leading.
The Packers defense is allowing only a 52.5% completion rate on third down passes, regardless of how many yards to gain there are, one of the lowest rates in the NFL. Comparatively, they are allowing a 67.8% rate on first down and a 69.3% on second down. Currently, the gap between the rates allowed on first or second and third is the highest in the NFL.
The offense would do well to take advantage of those rates on first and second down and make use of the pass to set up the run, rather than the other way around. Having short yardage third downs allows the offense to run their entire playbook rather than be restricted to lower-percentage plays against a tough defense.
Playing ahead of the chains with a pass-heavy approach in order to limit third down distances (or altogether) is a sound strategy for another reason.
It will help the offense move the ball down the field and get into the red zone – where the Packers are currently one of worst defenses in the NFL. They have allowed touchdowns on 76% of opponents’ red zone trips, good for 31st in the league, barely beaten to the bottom by the Detroit Lions. They have shown improvement of late but the body of work this season points to the Seahawks having a full range of offensive options in the red zone.
Therefore, there is real incentive to aggressively move the ball down the field.
Another statistical incentive to build up some momentum in the first half? The Packers defense has demonstrated a strong ability to make halftime adjustments.
Every measurable defensive statistic shows they perform better in the second half of the game, from QB Rating Allowed (99 first half / 82 second half), to interceptions forced (2 / 6), to sacks (8 / 13).
And that is before we talk about what a closer Aaron Rodgers is on offense.
The Seahawks cannot afford a slow start in this game.
A simple ‘test your jab and punt for field position’ mindset early in the game gives the Packers opportunities to set up their offense and employ strategies to strike at the defense later in the game.
Use the offense to attack them early in the series and early in the game.
Disrupt Aaron Rodgers
The Packers offense is a sight to see with Rodgers at the helm. Working with a runner like Aaron Jones and a wide receiver of Davante Adams’ capability gives this offense real versatility and allows Matt LaFleur to flex his creative muscles to set up and attack the defense.
Of note is Rodgers’ average time in the pocket before a throw – it has decreased the last three seasons, from 2.6 seconds in 2019, to 2.5 last year and now so far in 2021 to a miniscule 2.2 seconds. That is in the bottom-five for starting quarterbacks in the NFL.
Do not be fooled, though. It is not a matter of the pass rush being effective or his pass blocking being poor. Rodgers is right in the middle of the pack for total pressures and pressure percentage.
Where are the short times coming from then? That is by design.
Rodgers’ field of targets has been slowly pulled back by LaFluer, so he quickly gets the ball out closer to the line of scrimmage. The Packers employ a generous amount of creativity getting the receivers open, so Rodgers avoids the pass rush by reading the defense, communicating with his receivers pre-snap and making a quick throw.
Davante Adams is an absolute weapon in this area. The Packers will literally line him up all over the field. He has been in the top-15 for targets for all three receiver positions for years now. He and Rodgers have fantastic chemistry.
Everyone on the field needs to know where #17 is before the ball is snapped.
Have a look at Rodgers’ rating chart. He is doing exceptionally well in passing behind the line of scrimmage and within the 10-yard window:
The Packers use these quick plays at times in lieu of a running game. It is a way to stretch the field and test how the defense reacts, in order to feel out some options for later in the game.
Therefore, providing disruption is a process.
The defensive backs and linebackers must be ready to close quickly on receivers in the flat. If they can limit these plays to just a couple yards per attempt — and even occasionally make a tackle for loss — that reduces that option’s effectiveness and makes Rodgers look for his second and third reads.
When he does, the pass rushers must be ready to pounce and provide pressure. Rodgers is not particularly known as a mobile quarterback in comparison to some of the ultra-athletic players around the league but he buys time with his feet and finds open receivers as well as anyone.
The front four defenders must limit the time Rodgers has to scan the field. They cannot rely on blitzing in this game to provide pressure. If they can get pressure with their standard package, that will allow them to have one more defender patrolling that five-to-fifteen-yard pocket downfield and keep Rodgers from turning a potentially negative-yardage play into something spectacular.
Carlos Dunlap needs to kick off his second half with a bang. He provided a huge boost to the Seahawks’ pass rush last year in the second half. When he is on his game, he does so much more than just rush the passer himself. He draws attention and provides a physicality that opens opportunities for the other rushers. The defense badly needs a big game from him.
This game is crying out for Darrell Taylor to have a big impact. David Bakhtiari may not be ready to play at left tackle, as he was just activated off Injured Reserve. There is an opportunity to create some real problems for Rodgers if the Seahawks can get him onto the field regularly for this game.
They need his power:
I may watch this play more than my personal library of… Dan Marino throws.
— Mitch Levy (@Mitch_Seattle) September 14, 2021
And his ability to disrupt plays:
It’s Taylor’s second sack through the first three games.
— RockyTopTalk (@RockyTopTalk) September 26, 2021
It is not just Rodgers that the Seahawks will disrupt if they can keep him from establishing a rhythm. It is their whole offensive system.
LaFluer, Rodgers and Adams work together to gain yards early, while seeing how the defense reacts. They build ‘layers’ of plays, which allow them to anticipate how the defense will line up and handle their formations later in the game.
With their near-mind-meld type connection, Adams and Rodgers can create all kinds of problems if they are allowed to get into a rhythm.
Do not let them.
Win on Special Teams
Special Teams have been quite the adventure for both teams this year.
The Seahawks had two missed field goal tries cost them the game against the Saints.
The punt coverage units have not been as much of a weapon as they have been in recent years as well. Decisions to punt deep in enemy territory have proven ineffective as they typically become touchbacks, for a net punt of 18-20 yards and gives the opposing offense some breathing room.
The Packers had three missed field goal tries against Cincinnati, with Mason Crosby mercifully making the fourth try to win the game in overtime.
They benefitted from a muffed punt by Rondale Moore in the Arizona game and were equally struck by a punt hitting Malik Taylor’s foot for a critical turnover in the Kansas City game last week. Crosby also missed a 40-yard field goal try and had another try blocked in the loss.
It has been so wild for both teams, I’m inclined to say, “whoever makes the least amount of mistakes on Special Teams wins the game.”
It may well come down to that.
Jason Myers rebounded with a good effort against Jacksonville, with one field goal try made and four extra points made. Michael Dickson averaged 45 yards per punt, including a 59-yard punt as well. They must keep up that level of play this week. Mistakes are not an option if they want to win this game.
One area the Seahawks may be able to exploit is on kickoff returns. The Packers are the second worst kickoff coverage team in the NFL so far this season, allowing an average of 27.5 yards per return (the Seahawks are second-best with only 18.2 yards).
Deejay Dallas has done an adequate job, but the Seahawks might consider giving Tyler Lockett or D.J. Reed a chance at a return if they feel the team needs a jolt.
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