Here We Go Again: Green Bay Packers Visit Seattle Seahawks
Thursday, January 15, 2015
It’s fair to wonder how this game might turn out differently than the first meeting, which saw the Seahawks dominate the visiting Packers all the way to a 20-point margin of victory. Here’s what the season taught us about the last two teams standing in the NFC:
As expected, the Packers have an extremely potent passing attack, led by arguably the NFL’s best quarterback, Aaron Rodgers. Rodgers is the odds-on favorite to win his second NFL MVP award in a few weeks. The Packers led the NFL in total points with 486. The Seahawks ranked 27th in passing offense (down slightly from last year’s 26th ranking) and ranked 10th in total points, with 394.
Different story on the ground. Season-long, the Seahawks ranked No. 1 in rushing, thanks to the stellar output of Marshawn Lynch (1,306 yards) and the NFL-leading rushing output by quarterback Russell Wilson (849 yards). The Packers finished 11th.
Rodgers offered a mere five interceptions all season, of which four were deflections off of his receivers’ hands. Like Rodgers, Wilson is routinely protective of the football, having tossed only seven interceptions on the season. However, his touchdown pass count (20) pales in comparison to Rodgers’ 38.
The Packers led the NFL in turnover differential (+14), continuing their tendency to be very careful with the football on offense, while collecting a leading (tied for eighth) amount of turnovers on defense.
The Seahawks forced 20 fumbles (collecting 10) and swiped 13 interceptions for 23 total turnovers. The Packers defense forced 14 fumbles (collecting nine) and swiped 18 interceptions for a total of 27. The Packers defense also racked up more sacks than did the Seahawks with 41 compared to Seattle’s 37.
While the Seahawks, as the No. 1-ranked defense give up the fewest yards and points, the Packers have the more opportunistic defense.
At this stage of the season, the two teams’ personalities are defined: the Seahawks faced off last week against their mirror image team, the Carolina Panthers, and proved to little surprise that they are the better team of run-heavy, defensively dominant smashmouthers captained by an agile and mobile quarterback.
The Packers are a contrast in style with a more stationary quarterback (especially so with Rodgers nursing a calf injury) that can scheme defenses into mistakes that lead to long passing gains. Defensively, the Packers defense remains suspect but has transitioned from an early season liability to a final regular season ranking of 15th overall, according to the NFL’s rankings.
Their chief differences lie in their running attacks, their quarterbacks’ styles of play and the effectiveness of their defenses.
The Packers, with their 11th-ranked rushing offense cannot hold a candle to the top-ranked Seahawks on the ground, correct? The Seahawks’ defense is too stout and the Seahawks’ own rushers are too good. This game can be won in the trenches.
Well … take this pop quiz. Over the past seven games, which team’s lead running back (Green Bay’s Eddie Lacy or Seattle’s Lynch) had more rushing yards (693 to 552), more total yards from scrimmage (808 to 678) and a higher average per rush (5.09 to 4.71)?
The top performer in all three of these metrics is Lacy.
With no disrespect to Lynch, who put together a better season than last year’s Super Bowl campaign, the hotter running back right now is Lacy. Lacy, it should be noted, didn’t collect his stats on cream puffs, either. In week 17, Lacy tallied 100 yards on the NFL’s top run defense, the Detroit Lions — the only back to top 100 yards against them all season.
The point? Both teams will be able to run the ball out of the backfield. Green Bay will continue to have a more lethal passing offense. The difference maker — as it has been all season long — will be Russell Wilson’s running ability.
Two factors make this the dominant edge that will determine the outcome of this game: No. 1, Rodgers is hobbled. His ability to do damage with his legs is severely compromised. Thus far, he hasn’t lost his ability to execute the Packers’ passing game, having just scorched the Dallas Cowboys for 316 yards and three touchdowns in the Divisional round of the NFC Playoffs.
But his inability to escape is apparent, and it makes the Seahawks’ rushers jobs much simpler. Wilson, on the other hand, has not only emerged as the NFL’s best rushing quarterback, but he gets to show his wares again against the NFL team best known for not having an answer to the read-option: Green Bay.
While it should be noted that the Packers have improved dramatically on defense since their week nine bye (they retooled in their off week and have since more effectively deployed a few key defenders, Clay Matthews, Sam Barrington, Micah Hyde and Morgan Burnett most notably) they still have not faced a quarterback with the kind of wheels Wilson has.
The X-factor is Wilson. While the Seahawks defenders can virtually forget about edge containment when rushing Rodgers, the Packers defenders have no choice but to temper their rushes while remaining prepared for Wilson’s escapability. Not only will Wilson be able to scoot for first downs when receivers are covered, he will have a few more beats to scan the field for his receivers as the Packers maintain gap & containment discipline.
The Packers’ defensive backs mix up their coverages but generally prefer man coverage vs. zone. This is a key for Wilson, as he will be freer to run for first downs when the Packers are in man coverage (with their backs turned to the quarterback). If the Packers are truly focused on eliminating Wilson’s rushing damage, they’ll have to play zone — not the preferred style of their defensive backs.
Can the Seahawks expect to eat up as many yards after contact the second time around? The Packers missed a season-high 18 tackles in the week one matchup (according to ProFootballFocus.com). Most of them occurred during their attempts to tackle Lynch. Over the past three games, the Packers have been charged with four missed tackles (Dallas), four missed tackles (Detroit) and three missed tackles (Tampa Bay). Green Bay’s defense wasn’t ready for the week one game against the fast and physical Seahawks. Having shored up their defense as the season progressed, expect Green Bay to have fewer breakdowns and allow fewer cheap yards.
Despite the growth both teams have gained throughout the season, we’re right back where we started. While the Packers may be given credit for a more robust running attack and improved defense, the Seahawks must also be given credit for a more effective passing attack than the numbers show.
With both teams’ skill sets fully defined at this stage of the season, the difference will likely come down to execution and mental toughness. Both teams have proven they can win with their styles of play, sporting identical 13-4 records. This game probably won’t conclude as a last-team-with-the-ball-wins finish. Rather, the first team to get behind due to mistakes (turnovers, dropped passes, blown tackles), well, your plans for February will open up considerably.
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