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Green Bay Packers Week 14 Preview: Seattle Seahawks

Packers take on Seahawks - NFL Jason Goldblatt via


Packers, Seahawks Rekindle Rivalry Sunday Afternoon

Over the past five years a lot has happened in the budding rivalry between the Green Bay Packers (6-6) and Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1). Unfortunately, not much has gone the way of the Green & Gold.

Between the infamous “replacement ref” game in 2012 and the Packers 2nd half collapse in the 2014 NFC Championship game, the Seahawks and quarterback Russell Wilson have proven to be big-game kryptonite for Green Bay.

Before their 27-17 win last year in week 2, a game Seattle played without safety Kam Chancellor due to a contract dispute, Green Bay was 0-3 against a Pete Carroll led Seahawks team.

Now with their possible playoffs aspirations on the line, the Packers need to repeat last year’s result to keep pace in both the divisional and wild-card race.

They will be slightly aided in their efforts, like last season, due to a missing member of the Legion of Boom.

No Earl Thomas, But Plenty of Firepower Left in Seahawks Defense

For the second straight year the Packers won’t have to worry about one of the All-Pro safeties in the Seahawks secondary, this time being Earl Thomas.

Thomas sustained a broken leg against the Panthers on Sunday Night, causing him to Tweet out his doubts about ever returning to the field again. Third year man Steven Terrell is expected to be his replacement.

Terrell will have some enormous shoes to fill against Green Bay.

One of the main reasons why the Seahawks defense is on pace to lead the NFL in points allowed for the fifth consecutive season, an incredible feat in the modern era, is because of the versatility and intelligence of Thomas at the free safety position.

Over the years Thomas’ ability to cover ground and read pre-snap formations has allowed Seattle to play with an 8th-man in the box, mostly the hard-hitting Chancellor at strong safety, and dominate at the point of attack.

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With Chancellor creeping up around the linebackers, Thomas was usually left relatively alone in the middle of the field covering deep passes. This is not applicable to most defenses because not many safeties could read and cover that much real estate.

Incredibly, using this unique scheme the Seahawks have given up just four deep passes over the middle in their 12 games this season (Per NFLGSIS). A true testament to his talent.

As a whole, with Thomas leading the way the Seattle defense ranks in the top-10 of just about every defensive passing category there is. Coming into Sunday 10th in passing yards allowed per game (231), 5th in QB rating allowed (79.9), 3rd in touchdown passes given up (11), and are tied for 4th in interceptions (11).

Terrell fits the Thomas prototype perfectly in terms of body-type and athletic ability, but it remains to be seen if his mind is ready to take over the crucial free-safety role.

Seattle head coach Pete Carroll isn’t afraid to adapt, but I don’t think he will be shying away from using the same formations as he has the whole year. He’s the type of coach that loves to instill confidence, and he will project that to Terrell by giving him the chance to prove himself.

The Green Bay offense will probably look to take advantage of this, possibly sending tight-end Jared Cook or wide-out Jordy Nelson deep over the middle early to test the waters.

There is an element of risk attached to this gameplan.

If they try and go after Terrell they may be leaving the already hobbled Rodgers an easy target for the dangerous front seven of Seattle. The more Green Bay focuses on the home-run ball the more Rodgers has to create on his own if things aren’t open, and the Packers can’t afford to leave him vulnerable to big hits.

Two players in particular he must avoid are defensive linemen Michael Bennett and Cliff Avril.

Bennett looked to be in top form through the seasons first four weeks, recording three sacks and four tackles for loss before injuring his knee and getting sidelined. In his return against Carolina last week he didn’t see much action, but he wasn’t really needed in their 40-17 victory.

He’s one of the league’s best pass rushers, most eccentric personalities, and dynamic forces. If he gets the chance to make a play, he will.

Avril, a former Lion, ranks 3rd in the league with 10 sacks in 2016 and has seen a resurgence in Seattle. His speed rush is elite, and there aren’t many tackles that can handle his first step.

The stout Packers offensive lineman will have to maintain their terrific run of quality outings if Green Bay wants to be victorious.

As a reference to how good they’ve actually been, per PFF, they lead the league in pass blocking efficiency (86.3) and QB hits (5) while allowing only 18 sacks compared to 38 last season (calculating those that are caused directly by the offensive line).

As talented as the down-lineman are for Seattle,  the Packers may have a bigger problem in their duo of elite linebackers, Bobby Wagner and K.J. Wright.

Wagner, who leads the league with 127 tackles, has incredible speed for the position and is capable of covering most slot receivers in man coverage. The Packers tight-ends may have a difficult time getting vertical against Wagner and Wright, but have the size to muscle their way into good spots.

Of course you can’t talk about the Seahawks defense without mentioning corner Richard Sherman.

Sherman thrives in Seattle’s simplistic Cover 3 system because of both his ball-hawking skills and his ability to read quarterback’s like not many can. His 6-2 frame and absurdly long arms make up for his average speed, and has carved out a reputation for making impact plays (and letting people know about it).

Of the Seahawks 11 interceptions this year, Sherman has caught four. He isn’t your typical “shutdown corner”, but his instincts when the ball is in the air are unparalleled.

In the past, Rodgers has avoided him all together in their match-ups, but in last year’s win he threw an early game touchdown in his direction. The two have a mutual respect for each other and their interactions are always noteworthy.

Packers Defense Must Expect the Unexpected

In truth, for Green Bay to come out of this game with a win it’s going to take a herculean effort from their defense, or more likely just a bad day from the Seattle offense.

For much of 2016 this has been the case for the Seahawks.

The Seattle defense is so stingy it’s almost a guarantee no one is getting into a shoot-out with them, but their offense has been so hit or miss that sometimes it hasn’t mattered.

In their four non-wins this year they have lost by an average score of 13.5-8.5, compared to 28.75-17.5 in wins. All four of the non-wins have come in road games.

Offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell has always liked to diversify his play-calling, for better or worse. He utilizes the zone run game, the read option, multiple screen passes, and loves the deep play-action pass.

With quarterback Russell Wilson, there is really no ceiling to the different types of sets they can run. At any moment he can pass, run, or sometimes even catch passes for huge gains.

Wilson is one of the most elusive and hard to contain guys in the league, able to make nothing into something in a heartbeat. Bad news for a Packers defense that will now be without their leading sack man, Nick Perry, the rest of the season.

Pressure on Wilson will be vital on Sunday as the Seattle line is very poor and undermanned. Perry’s presence would’ve been ideal, but without him banged up Clay Matthews will need to fight through shoulder pain and get off the edge to him.

However, once Green Bay moves the pocket the real game starts.

Wilson is so talented at making off-balance and unorthodox throws that once he gets outside, the Packers secondary has to be at it’s best.

With dangerous threats like Doug BaldwinJermaine Kearse, and the speedy Tyler Lockett at receiver the corners will be tested.

Baldwin has turned himself into one of the best slot guys in the game right now. If matched up with Micah Hyde he could put a shellacking on the Packers all day long. Hyde has struggled all year in man-to-man coverage, and he’s yet to face someone as talented as Baldwin.

Lockett is often used in unique and creative ways. As well as being a dynamic kick returner, he also capable of taking a reverse or bubble screen for six at the drop of a hat.

As always though, their greatest test will be stopping the opposing team’s tight-end.

The Seahawks tight-end, Jimmy Graham, was once the most feared player at his position when he played for the Saints. But after years of neglect in Seattle, he’s finally getting his targets, a scary thought for the middle linebackers for Green Bay.

Also a scary thought for the Green Bay defense is the emerging playmaking ability of running back Thomas Rawls.

Against the Panthers on Sunday, Rawls took 15 carries for 105 yards and two impressive scores in one of his first games back from injury. He runs eerily similar to former Seahawks great Marshawn Lynch. In other words, he won’t go down easy.

The Packers leading tackler, Jake Ryan, and the rest of the front seven will have to put a hit on him as often as possible and not let him go untouched past the line of scrimmage too often.

Seattle is the definition of big-play offense. They rely on outsmarting their opponent with unexpected play-calls such as wide-receiver passes, end arounds, and deep play-action passes on first down. This is what leads to them putting up minimal points on occasion. If you can shut down their gadget plays, you have a chance.

Final Thoughts 

If you would’ve told Packers fans three weeks ago that coming into the second week of December they’d only be one game out of the wild-card, most would’ve scoffed at the idea.

Now it’s a reality.

Aaron Rodgers rallying cry before the Eagles game in Week 12 has brought new life into the fan-base and his team. Now, the biggest obstacle imaginable stands in their way.

So many of the recent heartbreaks experienced by Packers fans in the past couple years have come via the Seahawks, and this game has the potential to be another.

However, this Sunday the Seahawks will be without their 12th man, and the Packers will still have their number 12. A man who just happens to be undefeated at Lambeau Field in the month of December since 2008. I like those odds.