Keys to the game: Seahawks vs Packers

San Francisco has a 4-0 record against Green Bay in the last two seasons. Two home victories, two road victories. In those four games they’ve averaged 33 points.

The Divisional round in 2012/13 was a major eye-opener. Green Bay’s archaic scheming was no match for Colin Kaepernick and the read option. They had no idea how to stop it, none at all. Aaron Rodgers kept them in a game that should’ve been a total blow out. Kaepernick ran for a quarterback record 181 rushing yards and two touchdowns. The Packers looked old-fashioned, outdated and conceded 45 points on a miserable night.

They spent an entire off-season trying to fix the problem. When they faced Seattle in week three of the 2013 pre-season, they were as intense as any team I’ve seen in a meaningless sporting event. They had the 49ers in week one of the regular season and were determined to make amends. This was a chance to face a similar opponent, to test out all of the summer’s work.

They lost to the Seahawks that night. They lost to the 49ers 34-28 in week one.

Anticipating a heavy focus on the read-option, Jim Harbaugh brilliantly put the game on Kaepernick’s arm. Never known as an accomplished passer, he carved open the Packers for 412 yards in the air and three scores. A career best.

He ran seven times. The Packers probably planned for 17.

It highlighted Green Bay’s inability to adjust to an element of surprise. For what it’s worth the following week Kaepernick had a miserable turnover-laden night in Seattle.

Dom Capers is a highly respectable NFL coach and the current defensive coordinator of the Packers. He’s come in for criticism over the last two years because his defense has looked flat out bad.

According to Football Outsiders, Green Bay had the #31 ranked defense in the NFL last year. Even with Aaron Rodgers missing a large portion of the season through injury, the offense still ranked in the top ten (#9).

If the Packers had even an average defense, imagine how frightening they’d be?

With Capers still clinging to his job, they’ve only made two significant off-season additions. They drafted safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix in the first round of the draft and signed free agent Julius Peppers, who turns 35 in January.

Peppers is a generational great with 118.5 career sacks. Yet he only had seven last year on a rotten Bears defense despite playing in all 16 games. Dix meanwhile has been battling for a starting spot with Micah Hyde and according to the teams depth chart — won’t start in Seattle.

The Packers were 28th on pass defense according to Football Outsiders, but 30th against the run. Losing B.J. Raji to a torn bicep won’t help the cause.

Peppers and Clay Matthews will still cause plenty of problems this year, possibly starting in week one. Russell Okung needed extra reps in the final pre-season game to get up to scratch and rookie Justin Britt starts at right tackle. The last two times Seattle started an OL rookie this early, it didn’t go so well on debut. J.R. Sweezy and Michael Bowie were both given a baptism of fire.

You do get the sense, however, you can be creative against this Packers unit and keep them off guard. San Francisco has shown that. The Seahawks will want to establish the run of course and they could have some early success there. But this is still a Caper’s defense that has had major issues adjusting in-game. It won’t be a surprise if Russell Wilson and Percy Harvin are the X-factors in week one, perhaps more so than Marshawn Lynch. They are the two players most capable of providing the unexpected.

Even if Seattle scores points, they’ll still need to keep a lid on the Packers offense. In the four recent defeats to San Francisco they still scored an average of 25 points. In week one last year they managed 28 points at Candlestick — the most San Francisco conceded at home in 2013 and the second most overall (one point short of Seattle’s tally vs the 49ers in week two).

The Niners conceded 48 points to the Packers in two games last season. Seattle might need to exploit possible weaknesses in Green Bay’s defense to win the game. It could be a high scoring contest, maybe even a shoot-out.

Eddie Lacy is a fantastic running back but the key is Rodgers. In Green Bay’s last visit to Seattle (2012) you could see the difference between a pressured Rodgers and a quarterback allowed to get into a rhythm. In the first half he was sacked eight times and scored zero points. In the second half Seattle couldn’t get near him as the Packers upped the tempo and found a way to slow down the pass rush.

Is it optimistic to think he can play four quarters at that level on Thursday? Perhaps, especially against a defense that has taken giant strides since 2012. But if there’s one QB who can do it, it’s probably this guy.

Seattle’s new defensive line couldn’t wish for a better test.

It is a new defensive line — even if many familiar names remain. It’ll be a little strange looking at an early down without Red Bryant’s massive presence or Chris Clemons working the edge. There’s no Clinton McDonald supplying a vital interior rush. The combinations are going to be different, the looks will change. Pete Carroll made reference to a kind of evolution in the immediate aftermath of Bryant’s departure. For us observers, there’s an element of mystery to this.

For starters they have to get to the QB. Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril are as good as any pass-rush tandem in the league, but against a likely up-tempo passing attack they’ll need to work the substitutions. Can O’Brien Schofield continue his pre-season form? Can Cassius Marsh and Jordan Hill have an impact?

There were times over the last month where the defense looked a little sluggish against both the run and pass. However, key players sat out (Bennett, Bobby Wagner) and they’ll always benefit from a home crowd in Seattle.

What could be key is the return of Bruce Irvin. He had a monster performance against the Packers in 2012 and could see more reps at the LOS especially in rush situations. He could be a surprise impact player on defense.

Something else that maybe works in Seattle’s favour is the Green Bay offensive line. Center Corey Linsley makes his first start following an injury to J.C. Tretter. They’ve also lost tackle Don Barclay to an ACL injury.

Their starting line is: LT David Bakhtiari, LG Josh Sitton, C Corey Linsley, RG T.J. Lang, RT Bryan Bulaga.

If there are questions about Seattle’s defensive line after an off-season of tweaks, there are certainly a few questions that need to be asked about Green Bay’s offensive line.

Nevertheless — as with a lot of up-tempo passing games, the need for an elite offensive line is somewhat diminished. Rodgers’ quick release, superb handling of the offense and ability to find a mismatch makes for a terrific attack. He’ll make plays, but can the defense make more?

One final point on Seattle — the performance of Russell Wilson and the offense during pre-season was a major plus-point. There’s no reason why that can’t continue into the regular season — especially if Harvin remains healthy.

It’s easy to forget that in 2012 he was the most outstanding skill-position player in the NFL for several weeks. The defense has to account for him wherever he lines up. The threat of a bubble screen can free up space over the middle. A faked end-around can drag defenders out of a congested LOS freeing up running room for Lynch. His ability to run deep will create 1-on-1 opportunities for Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse.

Seattle can improve on 2013. That’s the scary thing for the rest of the NFL. The offense has major growth potential with Harvin in the line-up.

Let’s see if they can take the next step — starting tomorrow.


  1. Tien

    Great column Rob and I think I agree with you. It’ll be interesting to see if we can pressure Rodgers tomorrow but even if we can get to him a few times, I just don’t see see us shutting him/them down completely…that offense is just too potent with him at QB. I”m also a little worried about our ability to stuff the running game. On the other hand, unless our OL gets overwhelmed tomorrow (possible but not probable IMO), I can see Wilson, BeastMode, and our WRs totally carving up that Packers D also. Here’s to an entertaining shootout with the Hawks emerging with a W!

    • bigDhawk

      Barring catastrophic injury, we only lose if GB is somehow able to score at will and this becomes a 56-52 type shootout. Otherwise this will be about whether GB can score enough to keep up with our offense in the Clink. I think that unlikely. Our defense may give up more points than last season but our offense will score that much more, especially at home.

  2. Mylegacy

    If we lose it’ll be because:

    1) Rodgers – he’s simply gifted. Wilson with more experience.
    2) Lacy – Beast Mode of the Tundra. If Lacy romps Rodgers will carve us to pieces as the LBers and Kam have to over play for the run leaving GB’s receivers more than enough room. I put Rodgers #1 – because he deserves it – BUT – if Rodgers uses Lacy like Wilson uses DaBeast we might not be able to stop it.
    3) Our DLine – with Rodgers in a no huddle – Bennett and Avril on the wings might just be too light on the ends to stop a determined running assault. I know that’s how I’d attack us.
    4) the OLine will be greatly improved from last year – now a bit – and later for sure. BUT – Okung is still not in shape, Britt is gifted but not there yet. Carp, Unger and Sweezy might be needed to get DaBeast running room up the gut what with GB’s new two man rushing ends. It’ll be interesting to see how the two of them do against the run.
    4) Sherman and the DBacks. While there were a great number of great plays by these guys in pre-season – there were far too many bad ones – including several by Sherm. My mind keeps hearing “regression to the mean.”

    I expect we’ll win – but – this we are far from perfect team – playing a team that may be uniquely equipped to do us in. I expect 14 will not be as easy a run as 13 was. Go Hawks!

    • Michael M.

      “Bennett and Avril on the wings might just be too light on the ends to stop a determined running assault.”

      This could very well be the case, but don’t forget about Kam’s ability to help out in that particular area…

  3. CC

    I expect GB to run it up the middle a lot – our run D has some questions.
    I expect Rodgers to get the ball out quickly and to throw some screens to slow down the pass rush and I think GB will score a couple of touchdowns.

    But, I also expect to see a much faster and efficient offense by Seattle. The one that was in full gear at the end of the 2012 season. That offense had it clicking, passing, rushing – and trick plays. With Percy doing everything, Russell making places and Beast Mode – this offense is dangerous. I don’t think GBs defenders have the speed to keep up with our offense.

    31-14 SEAHAWKS!

  4. JeffC

    Admittedly I’m pretty nervous, because the preseason was too up and down and the young talent on the dline really didn’t step up like everyone expected. I love that Schofield brought it big time at the Leo, but my hope was that we didn’t need him to, that Mayowa was going to seize the job and be a pass rushing terror. I was hoping that all the superman stories and low body fat % on Scruggs would translate on the field, and has it? I hoped that Jordan Hill would flash a little Clinton McDonald for us, and he did so on one play.

    The main worry going in to the preseason was the oline, but coming out of preseason, we really don’t know what we’re getting with the dline.

  5. Colin

    The defense might not be as good this year, but the offense should be leaps and bounds better. It’ll be hard to repeat if there’s any injuries- defensive and offensive line doesn’t have much at all behind the 1’s. But at the end of the day, this team is better as a whole than the one that started in Carolina a year ago.

    Seahawks 35, Green Bay 24

  6. MarkinSeattle

    Green Bay will be one of the top teams this year, so we should expect a tough game. It is easy to look at how we were playing at the end of last year a d assume that is the baseline for this team. It is easy to forget that Pete rested guys who were slightly injured so that they were fully healthy at the start of the playoffs, while other teams continued to play their dinged up guys, which resulted in more serious injuries or at least a lot of fatigue down the stretch.

    I expect our D to be slow rushing the passer, although not as slow as the start of last season. I also expect us to not be as effective against the run. We have a lighter DL, which means less protection for our light LB’s. On offense, I expect Wilson to be more accurate, as the beating during the season took a toll on him. I also think that our OL will be better, but it won’t be fantastic yet. I do think that Harvin will draw safety help, which will lighten the box for Lynch on most plays. I also see us taking more deep shots due to Harvin drawing extra attention.

    Bottom line is that I think we give up between 20-27 points to GB. As for points we score, I think we can get at least 28, but we will see how Britt handles game speed and the exotic blitzes Capers will bring.

  7. Austin

    Not sure how someone can say GB is a bad matchup for Seattle considering they have struggled with physical teams the past couple of years. Packers defense was 31st in DVOA last year with a healthy Raji and only added two pieces to that unit. 35 year old Peppers and Dix the rookie who isn’t starting. I think the Seattle offense surprises people. Harvin/Wilson will be creative and have huge roles in this game. Can’t take them lightly and they are a top 3 team in the NFC I just think this is strangely a coming out party for Seattle again, if thats possible coming off a Super Bowl win.

    • CD

      Agree, last time we faced a team like this we gave up 8 points and put up 43. The O is usually behind the D at this point of the season, takes a few weeks to click so that could be an advantage as well.

      Pete has always had these guys up for games, that is why we not longer chalk up road games as a loss.

      I, like Rob will be up at 1:30 am GMT watching, not looking forward to work tomorrow.

    • JeffC

      I’m not sure it’s a bad matchup as much as it’s Aaron Rodgers and Eddie Lacy, so our dline will have to get pressure and not get bulldozed to death. I still don’t think we’ve seen it proved that Red Bryant has been adequately replaced.

  8. AlaskaHawk

    Feeling the pre game jitters. Will our offense perform? They looked good during preseason. I’m not expecting a big game out of Marshawn and the other running backs, mostly because our offensive line is still gelling. I’m expecting a lot more yardage in the air as RW and our wide receivers are on top of the pack 🙂

    Defensively it is hard to guess which team we will get because they have tried so many different players in the preseason. Also will we get the brilliant defense that anticipates plays and tips or strips the ball? Or the not so brilliant team that takes chances and gets caught out of position? Or the defensive line that gets worn down and starts missing tackles?

    Like the rest of the commentators, it seems like there are more questions on defense then on offense. It is a funny feeling considering that our defense carried us to the Superbowl last year.

    Final score Seattle wins 38 to 20.

  9. Mylegacy

    Above I covered, “If we lose it’ll be because” and here I’ll explain why (imho) “If we win it’ll be because”….

    1) Mebane. With a rookie center, one who has never even had one snap in battle with Rodgers, playing in h*ll on earth, with millions of blue clad devils screaming in his ears…I expect their “new” center to get beat big time, enough times, to seriously disrupt GB’s plans and Rodgers rhythm. ALSO – Mebane has developed into a real good bull rusher against passes and this kid against him is going to be over matched all day.
    2) The overall cohesiveness of a defense that is so much more than the sum of it’s parts other teams can only marvel at it.
    3) DangeRuss will make a move to the next level. Even we – who have followed his every move, every play and every step will be surprised by his growth to the next level.
    4) Harvin. He’ll prove to be disruptive even when he’s chatting up a cheerleader on the sidelines. Harvin – by himself – is so much more than the sum of his own parts.
    5) Last year we had a defense that was irresistible, unbeatable, and just plain filthy. This year we have an offense that is going to be otherworldly. If Okung and Unger were in just a bit better game shape and Britt was just a few more games experienced – I really believe the offense would be unstoppable.
    6) The 12. Say no more.

  10. KHawk

    Had to check all the dates/times on your guys posts. Many posters were freaky accurate on how the Hawks and Packers played out.

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