The research for this article started with the premise that the Green Bay Packers offense is irrepressible. Aaron Rodgers is the best quarterback, and possibly best player, in the NFL. The wide receiver corps is stacked from top-to-bottom. Jermichael Finley is a tight end with rare talent. Anyone that has seen Rodgers operate knows he specializes in back-shoulder throws that appear almost impossible to defend. He also can defeat good coverage by running the ball himself. The running game has been modest, but it is hard to be critical when there is touchdown potential in every single throw. There is plenty of evidence to support just how dominant this offense is, but how does it perform against top-flight defenses? It was surprising to see how few great defenses have lined up to try and stop the Packer attack. The few times it has happened have resulted in less-than-explosive results.
Green Bay scored over 30 points eleven times in 2011 and over 40 points six times. They averaged 35.0 points per game. Insane. Were the results the same when facing a Top 10 defense? They did not face one. They did not go up against any of the Top 10 teams in opponent scoring. They did not face a Top 10 team in opponent yards per game. They did not face a Top 10 team in yards per play. The best two defenses they faces were the Chicago Bears and Kansas City Chiefs.
The Bears ranked 14th in yards per play, 14th in points against, 17th in yards against. The Chiefs ranked 11th in yards against, 12th in points against, and 15th in yards per play. One important place where the Chiefs and Bears did rank in the Top 10 was opponent passer rating, where the Bears ranked 8th and the Chiefs were 7th.
Green Bay and Chicago played twice last season, and once already this season. The Packers won all three games by an average of 12 points, or slightly less than their seasonal average of thirteen. The Packers scored an average of 28 points in those games.
The Chiefs were the one team to beat the Packers in the regular season. Kansas City was one of only two teams to hold the Packers under 250 yards passing in 2011. The other, San Diego, lost by one touchdown in a game when they lost the turnover battle 3-0.
Moving into this season, the Packers faced their first true Top 10 defense in the 49ers. San Francisco’s 2011 defense was 6th in yards per play, 2nd in points against, 4th in yards against, and 5th in passer rating against. The Packers lost. It should be noted that the 49ers and Chiefs were the only two teams in the last twenty-six Packer games, dating back to 2010, to go without a turnover. Good defense and low turnovers should sound familiar to Seahawks fans.
The Seahawks ended 2011 with a defense that was 7th in yards per play, 7th in points against, 9th in yards against, and 6th in opponent passer rating. It should be noted that the team’s opponent passer rating number was even better after Richard Sherman entered the lineup.
Still, watching the Aaron Rodgers run that Packers offense makes stopping it seem impossible. Rodgers has started 71 games since 2008, including the post-season. His passer rating has been over 95.0 in all but 23 of those games. Only six quarterbacks in the NFL (Rodgers, Drew Brees, Tom Brady, Tony Romo, Mathew Stafford, Matt Schaub) had a passer rating over 95.0 last season. Two of those 23 sub-95.0 games for Rodgers came in the first two games of this season. The Packers have gone 9-14 in those 23 games.
Rodgers only had two such games in 2011. Guess who they were against? The Bears and the Chiefs. This year, they were against the Bears and the 49ers.
It is hard to imagine slowing down this Packers offense, but there are some signs this Seahawks defense may be well-equipped to take on the task.