The Hit Job editors Julian Rogers and Jessica Ridpath preview the week two matchup between the Seattle Seahawks and the Green Bay Packers.
When: 5:30 p.m. PT Sunday, Sept. 20
Where: Lambeau Field, Green Bay, Wis.
Rogers: It’s old news now, but let’s revisit the final play the Seahawks ran against the St. Louis Rams. That single play was quite a statement of Seattle’s current abilities. If there’s any team that was meant to hand off the ball to Marshawn Lynch on fourth and one, it was Seattle. Unfortunately for the 2015 Seahawks, they neglected to field a formidable enough offensive line to execute football’s most basic play when it counted most.
Several deficiencies revealed themselves in the Seahawks’ overtime loss to the Rams. Fears of an untested, patchwork offensive line (six sacks allowed; only 73 Lynch rushing yards) were well-founded. Also exposed: the Legion of Boom. The LOB appeared out of sorts and slow to adapt to the Rams’ Nick Foles-led (297 yards, 1 touchdown, 0 interceptions) offensive attack. Looking ahead to this Sunday night’s matchup against the 1–0 Packers, there’s bad news and good news.
The bad news for the Seahawks is the aerial attack they struggled with in St. Louis is a shadow of what they’ll see in Green Bay. Aaron Rodgers’ former and once-again best friend, wide receiver James Jones (2 touchdowns), along with resilient No. 1 receiver Randall Cobb (1 TD) will look to take further advantage of the suddenly porous Seahawks secondary. Now the good news.
The first Seahawk to board the team plane headed for Wisconsin will be Lynch. After looking at the damage Chicago’s Matt Forte rang up (24 carries, 141 yards, 1 TD, 5.9 YPC) against the inept Packers run defense on display in their week one contest in Chicago, Lynch will be forgiven for not withholding his excitement at getting his shot at the Packers.
Jess, do you see the Seahawks’ two exposed flaws continuing to haunt the blue birds in Green Bay and beyond?
Ridpath: As a fan, of course I want to say no. But I think last week’s down-to-the-wire battle against the Rams made it clear that this is not the same team that made it to the last two Super Bowls. Certainly the Hawks got some impressive play from their receiving corps, and tight end Jimmy Graham provided a spark in the second half. But I think my nine-year-old, Dylan, summed it up perfectly when the Seahawks were down by 11: “I can see why they would want Graham. But I don’t think it was worth it to give up Max Unger.”
Week one wasn’t a complete disaster for the new front line. But with youngsters Drew Nowak (C), Justin Britt (LG), and Gary Gilliam (RT) each playing new positions, it was obvious that they aren’t yet capable of playing Seattle-style ball. Russell Wilson dropped back to pass an unprecedented 54 times, while his line allowed 17 quarterback hurries and six sacks — not to mention Lynch’s meager 73 yards. I hate to say it, but the usually dynamic duo won’t be able to keep pace with Rodgers’ explosive offense unless Nowak and company find their rhythm — ASAP.
Likewise, the LOB must get their groove back, and strong safety Dion Bailey needs to shake off his stumble as if it never happened. I think the lukewarm secondary will get a boost from the rest of the defense, however. Defensive ends Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett and linebacker Bobby Wagner each logged momentum-changing plays last week — “like the linemen and linebackers were the LOB,” Dylan noted.
Julian, I know you’ve questioned Seattle’s defense with the new configuration of the LOB. How do you think the Packers will try to capitalize on the shaky start we saw from the secondary last week?
Rogers: Can we get Dylan to make our picks for us this week? He sounds like he really knows what’s going on.
As for the Packers, they need to focus on shaking off their own shakiness to prepare for the Seahawks. I won’t over-dramatize Seattle’s week one stumble: It was a three-point loss in overtime. They put 31 points on the board against a very stingy defense. While Lynch was not able to make much headway on the ground against the Rams, his output will probably be close to double that against the Packers. That’s not hyperbole: Forte put up 141 last week and Lynch ground out 110 yards and two TDs in 2014 week one, and 157 yards and one touchdown in the NFC Championship game.
Both teams have fresh targets painted on them for this grudge match. Ominously (?), the Seahawks’ target has become the LOB. The continuing absence of Kam Chancellor looms large. Chancellor’s presence and ability to get the Seahawks aligned in the proper assignments was notably missing as the Seahawks revealed gaps in coverage. As we saw, Bailey is having a hard time filling Chancellor’s shoes strictly as a player, while Earl Thomas is experiencing growing pains as the quarterback of the defense.
Seattle’s very active front seven had some success against the Rams’ offensive line. The Packers’ offensive line is more experienced and talented than what the blue birds faced last week in St. Louis. Rodgers will have more time than Foles to find his receivers — and that’s tough on any secondary.
The Packers’ strategy will likely be more of the same as they showed against the Bears. Expect a fair amount of no-huddle, which will allow Rodgers to use his vast experience to pick his preferred matchup. Any of the Packers’ top three receivers: Cobb, Davante Adams and Jones could be the target on any given play. He will spread the ball out, hoping to get more than the mere 23 attempts he was afforded in Chicago. Watch Rodgers go after Bailey whenever he can get him in single coverage.
Jess, offensive line coach Tom Cable expressed optimism over the Seahawks’ offensive line — particularly noting their second-half improvement — in his post-game quotes. Are you buying it?
Ridpath: Cable said exactly what he needed to say to keep these young guys motivated. But I do think there’s more than wishful thinking in his comments. In particular, he noted that facing the Rams’ powerhouse defense in week one provided an early trial by fire that will accelerate the front seven’s learning and growth as a unit. And they definitely showed that they’re capable of learning quickly — going from 132 yards on 34 plays (3.8 YPP) in the first half to 211 yards on 45 plays (4.6 YPP) in the second.
Importantly, Seattle doesn’t face St. Louis again until the end of the season, and their schedule for the next several weeks won’t bring them a defense that’s quite so formidable. That sets them up nicely for rapid improvement — which is an absolute must if they are to prove wrong Pro Football Focus’s ominous claim that the Seahawks’ O-line could cost them a shot at Super Bowl.
Julian, the Seahawks and Packers opened the season against division rivals, with different results. What will be different between the NFC’s two (supposed) top contenders this time around?”
Rogers: The Seahawks and the Packers may not be division rivals, but they are rivals just the same. The two organizations share a long history. Recently, they’ve seen each other almost as often as their division rivals. Make no mistake about the importance of this game: The winner will almost certainly have a leg up in playoff scenario tiebreakers.
The Packers struggle when Rodgers has limited passing attempts against a clock-eating offense. Certainly, this isn’t news to the Seahawks (see above), who will continue to use Lynch’s rushing ability to make their way to the goal line, while Rodgers remains on the sideline. The Bears effectively limited Rodgers’ big play opportunities and it nearly worked for them — they only lost by one score — a better result than their most recent contests against the Packers.
The difference this week compared to last season is (on offense) the presence of Graham and (on defense) a more vulnerable Legion of Boom. It’s also fair to note that the Seahawks’ offensive line is, at this stage, less formidable than the 2014 version. The Packers will be looking to exploit these two factors. We’ll see how they adjust to the new threat that is Graham.
Coincidentally, the Seahawks’ and the Packers’ special teams are looking much improved by two newcomers: Tyler Lockett (57-yard punt return TD) and Ty Montgomery (35-yard average on 3 kick returns) — both 2015 third-round picks. Both teams have new reasons for optimism in the return game they did not possess a season ago.
The Packers are without top receiving threat Jordy Nelson (injured reserve) which makes a huge difference in Rodgers’ ability to take the top off of the Legion of Boom. The Packers adjusted to their new personnel reality by attempting far fewer long passes and played a lot of no-huddle against the Bears. Expect more of the same on Sunday night.
Going “no huddle” won’t be new to the blue birds, but fewer long bombs will be. This sounds like a plus for the Seahawks, but there is no NFL quarterback more skilled at exploiting matchups than Rodgers. Dion Bailey and Cary Williams, he’s looking at you. Also you, Earl Thomas, if you are slow to align the pass coverage. Otherwise, the Packers are almost identical on offense. Defense too, for that matter — with a few notable exceptions.
The Packers were missing three key run defenders during last week’s gashing: strong safety Morgan Burnett (out with calf injury), inside linebacker Sam Barrington (left early with foot injury) and defensive end Datone Jones (suspension). Morgan’s return to the lineup is as yet unknown. Barrington was just placed in injured reserve to make room for Jones. If the Packers intend to get the ball back into Rodgers’ hands, they’re going to need these players and more to stop Lynch in ways they have yet to master. Missing some key defensive pieces will not help their cause.
The Packers are also working in some young newcomers, just like the Seahawks. The return of James Jones to the green and gold means fewer opportunities for Montgomery on offense. However, they are relying heavily on a handful of first- and second-year players on defense: defensive lineman Mike Pennel, 2015 first-round draft pick cornerback Damarious Randall and 2014 first-round draft pick safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix.
The biggest change this year as these two teams set to face off is the venue. The Packers are extremely difficult to beat at home, going 9–0 last season (including one playoff game). My prediction: Packers 30, Seahawks 26.
Ridpath: Well, there’s not much else to say after that long-winded … I mean, comprehensive breakdown. I’ll forgive you for hogging our word count this time — but only because I know you’re among the many who’ve been eager to see this rematch since Seattle stunned Green Bay in last year’s NFC Championship game.
That said, given the obvious advantages the Packers have heading into Sunday — including the ever-important home-field mojo of Lambeau — I’m surprised you landed on a narrow four-point spread. The football writer in me can’t help but be somewhat persuaded by your monologue. But the fan in me believes the Seahawks will win. Today, I’m a fan. My prediction: Seahawks 24, Packers 21. (And today, Dylan is a football analyst. His prediction: Packers 34, Seahawks 27.)
More from The Hit Job:
The grudge match: Seattle Seahawks at Green Bay Packers
NFC champions and would-be NFC champions face off again in week two
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