Tale of the Tape — NFC Favorites, Seahawks and Packers, Clash In Week One
Here we go again. Aaron Rodgers and Richard Sherman. Russell Wilson and Clay Matthews. Pete Carroll and Mike McCarthy. Few opposing fanbases can claim nearly equal heartache as those from Green Bay and Seattle when these two teams face off. Matt Hasselbeck was going to take the ball and score until Alex Bannister ran the wrong route. Rodgers was sacked eight times in one half by the Seahawks back in 2012, before taking the lead late, only to have Wilson ultimately snatch the victory with a hail mary throw that most people believe was an interception. Green Bay got plenty of interceptions in the NFC Championship a few years back in Seattle, only to have the Seahawks mount a historic playoff comeback to a return trip to the Super Bowl. Seattle had played 85 straight games without losing by more than 10 points, and NFL record, before the Packers blew them out last year.
The pain has been severe on both sides. Two teams with legitimately high hopes enter this game. One will leave with validation. The other will leave with more heartache. Let’s take a look at the matchups within the matchup to see how this one will shake out.
The way this works: Each offense will be pitted against the opposing defense and compared on an array of key statistical attributes based on their respective rank in the NFL. The tables that follow show the rank of each unit for each of these categories.
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Seahawks Offense vs Packers Defense
Rodgers’ star shines so bright, it tends to hide the flaws elsewhere on this team like defense. This was not a good group last season. Matthews is not the dominant player he once was, and his supporting cast varies in both experience and talent. Lineman Mike Daniels is arguably their best defender, with young All-Pro safety Ha Ha Clinton-Dix and pass rushing Nick Perry, being the other defenders of note. Their young linebacking crew has some upside in Jake Ryan and Blake Martinez. Gone is Julius Peppers, who was quietly a key cog on that defense. In his place will be young players like Dean Lowry and possibly someone like newly signed Ahmad Brooks.
What Green Bay has that no other team does, is Dom Capers as their defensive coordinator. He is a polarizing figure among Packers fans as he is blamed for some of their most agonizing defeats, but he also boasts one of the best track records in the NFL when it comes to slowing Wilson down. Two of the worst statistical performances of Wilson’s career came in two of the past three matchups with Capers’ defense.
Packers key advantages on defense
Green Bay has a solid run-stuffing defensive front. Daniels is a handful, and Perry is underrated as a run defender. Ryan and Martinez are at their best against the run. Clinton-Dix is a bruising safety who is happy to crash the line and add an extra defender. The Packers were an average run defense last season. Their rank in rushing yards allowed is misleading as teams ran less against Green Bay, either by design or because they were playing catch-up. The Seahawks, for example, ran just 26 times versus 39 pass attempts in the game last year due to falling behind so quickly.
Perry is the Packers best pass rusher, with Daniels more of a pocket collapser. Peppers was a big part of the pass rush, and will be missed. Still, the Seahawks line is going to have a tough time in pass protection in their first game with some new faces and on the road in a rough environment. False starts and holding penalties could be the Packers best friend in holding this Seahawks offense down.
Wilson has a career passer rating of 77.2 when facing the Packers. That is his lowest rating against any team he has faced more than twice in his career, and that does not include his NFC Championship game in which he had a 44.3 rating and threw four interceptions.
Some Packers players implied they had a scheme for how to slow down Wilson after the blowout last year. This game will be a key indicator if that is the case. His 10 interceptions in 5 career games against the Packers is more than he has thrown against any team. He has had only one game where he has averaged over 7 yards per attempt against the Packers. This game is a great barometer for where Wilson is relative to where he has been.
Green Bay went on a tear to end the season, winning six in a row. Most gave credit to Rodgers for leading the way, but the biggest change to how the team played was in turnover created by this defense. They went from forcing 1.0 turnovers per game in their first 10 games, to forcing 2.5 in their last six. That includes the six they nabbed against the Seahawks. This game will not go Seattle’s way if they turn the ball over more than once.
Seahawks key advantages on offense
Seattle ran the ball effectively against the Packers last year (5.2 yards per run), but simply could not utilize their advantage as they slipped farther and farther behind. Wilson missed a couple key throws early that he normally makes that easily could have been touchdowns and changed the complexion of that contest. He has been missing very few passes of late.
Part of the Packers decent run defense last season was Letroy Guion in the middle. ProFootballFocus.com rated him as their best run defender (+11.5). He is no longer with the team. In his place, youngster Kenny Clark takes over at nose tackle. He was rated much lower (-0.3) against the run, and will be squaring off against Justin Britt.
Lowry takes over for Peppers, giving the Packers two unproven players on their line. Expect the Seahawks to try and overpower Green Bay on the right side with Germain Ifedi, Mark Glowinski, and Justin Britt. Eddie Lacy will get plenty of chances to make Packers fans miss him.
Seahawks runners in the last matchup were Rawls, Alex Collins and Troymaine Pope. They have to like their chances better with Rawls, Lacy, C.J. Prosise, and Chris Carson. Prosise, in particular, presents a challenging match-up the Packers have not had to face with Seattle. Oft-injured, Prosise has made an impact in every game he has played.
Paul Richardson replaces Jermaine Kearse who was held to one catch for seven yards in the last game. This Packers defense was atrocious in defending the pass last year, and were the worst in the NFL in stopping teams on third downs. Demarious Randall and Quinten Rollins simply were not very good cornerbacks. It does not look like rookie Kevin King will get many snaps. This Seahawks passing offense should have a very clear advantage with the weapons they will flash.
Packers Offense vs Seahawks Defense
Let me first preface this by saying that Rodgers is a great quarterback who does some remarkable things on the football field, and deserves most of the praise he receives. Now I am going to tell you why the legend of his final six-game flourish was oversold. The Packers averaged 262.1 yards passing over their first 10 games when they went 4-6. They averaged 263.0 yards passing in their final six games. They converted 45% of their 3rd downs in the first 10, and 46% of their 3rd downs in the final six. What really changed in that span was not that Rodgers started playing out of his mind, but a flip of the turnover margin.
Green Bay has been averaging 1.6 turnovers per game in the first 10 games, and cut that to a microscopic 0.2 per game in their last six. At the same time, the defense was doing the exact opposite, going from 1.0 takeaway per game to 2.5. The Packers had only one giveaway in their last six games, a truly remarkable streak which Rodgers definitely deserves some credit for, but not without recognizing the role the defense played.
Rodgers did not make that many more plays or pile up that many more yards than he normally does. He cut down his mistakes and benefitted from better field position from opponent mistakes.
Packers key advantages on offense
Rodgers is the big one, especially at home. He is a master at drawing opponents offsides, and Michael Bennett is master at being drawn offside. Rodgers also loves to catch teams in substitutions and quick snap the ball for a 12 men on the field penalty or just catch the defense off-guard. He also uses this tactic to force teams to stay in personnel groupings he thinks favors his team. For example, if a guy like Sheldon Richardson needs to come off the field for a rest, Rodgers will do his best to keep him on the sidelines by going no-huddle for that drive.
These are considerable advantages from a savvy quarterback, who not only is smart enough to force the issue, but talented enough to turn them into big plays. Offsides might be the most important issue to eliminate because it allows Rodgers a free play without consequence.
Green Bay also has a decent offensive line with two great tackles in David Bakhtiari and Bryan Bulaga. There was some question as to whether Bulaga would play due to an ankle injury, but signs are pointing to him making it back. Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, and Jahri Evans are competent players in the middle, if unspectacular. They make it difficult to get pass pressure on Rodgers.
Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb are known quantities at receiver, but it was Davante Adams who tortured the Seahawks last year. He had 4 catches for 104 yards and a 66-yard touchdown while giving Jeremy Lane and DeShawn Shead all they could handle. Adams is a sudden route runner, who created a ton of separation out of his breaks. Lane and Shead looked overmatched against him. Look for the Packers to test rookie Shaquill Griffin with Adams early and often. Griffin has looked vulnerable against underneath routes due to being so focused on covering the deep ball. This will be a superb test for the future star.
Nelson had modest yardage numbers with only 41 yards on 6 catches, with a long of just 11 yards. He made some tough catches in key moments, though, including two of the three touchdowns from Rodgers.
A new weapon this year is tight end Martellus Bennett. He went over 100 yards against Seattle with the Patriots last year and is easily the best tight end target Rodgers has had since Jermichael Finley. Given the Seahawks history of trouble defending this position, Bennett will be a key factor. Look for newcomers Bradley McDougald and Terence Garvin to possibly have a role to play in limiting Bennett.
Seahawks key advantages on defense
Rodgers has been nearly perfect in his last two games against Seattle with 5 touchdowns and 0 interceptions. He has completed 76% and 78% of his passes in those games, and been sacked just three times. Missing from those games were Kam Chancellor in the first and Earl Thomas in the second. Both are set to play this weekend.
In the three games where Chancellor, Thomas, and Sherman were all available, Rodgers has thrown a combined 2 touchdowns, 3 interceptions, and posted a passer rating of 73.2.
Part of Rodgers success has been great protection from his line. Gone, though, are T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton, who were Pro Bowl guards. Taylor and Evans are okay replacements, but not anywhere near the players Lang and Sitton were. The Seahawks line also now features Richardson in place of Tony McDaniel. Expect Seattle to be in nickel much of the game, which means the foursome of Cliff Avril, Frank Clark, Michael Bennett, and Richardson will be out there quite a bit. David Bass, Nazair Jones, and Marcus Smith could also play important early roles.
The Seahawks defensive line is better than the Packers offensive line. They have to show it in pass pressure, and in limiting the run game. It will be difficult, maybe impossible, to win this game if the defensive line does not create havoc.
Seahawks kicking vs Packers returning
Packers kicking vs Seahawks returning
The Seahawks welcome back Tyler Lockett, and Carroll has said the team plans to use him as a returner if he plays. The Packers special teams coverage units were less than stellar last season, and that could play a key role. Blair Walsh gets an early chance to regain his footing against a familiar foe.
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