Looking past this weekend for one moment, the Seahawks face the Green Bay Packers in 11 days, and later will, once again, travel to the lovely rock-hard frozen tundra of Soldier Field on the second day of December to take on the Chicago Bears, so tonight's matchup between the NFC North rivals actually does offer more than entertainment value or fantasy football curiosity.
The Packers get their second straight tough test at Lambeau this week against the Bears, four days after a tough defeat to everyone's favorite San Francisco 49ers. The Niners stuck to what I imagine will be Seattle's ideal gameplan next weekend -- rushing for 186 yards on 32 carries, grinding clock, maintaining possession, and taking the ball out of the hands of probably the best player in the NFL right now, Aaron Rodgers. San Francisco possessed the ball for 33 minutes to 27 by the Packers despite running a nearly identical amount of plays (62-61). They leaned on Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter, picking up 5.8 yards per carry, and took calculated shots downfield to pick up chunks of yards in the pass game. They exposed some issues in Green Bay's secondary that Seattle will use to gameplan, and Alex Smith was extremely efficient, feeding Michael Crabtree, Randy Moss, Vernon Davis and Mario Manningham the football. Smith finished a ridiculous 20 for 26 for 211 yards and two touchdowns.
On the other side of the football, the Niners sacked Rodgers three times and added five QB hits, and Navarro Bowman picked him off once. Seattle will surely be looking at the tape in an effort to shut down this Green Bay offense as much as possible. The Packers didn't barely bother to try and run the ball against San Francisco and I doubt that will change a whole lot when they travel to Seattle. Cedric Benson rushed 9 times for 18 yards and Rodgers actually led his team in rushing with 27 yards.
In what I expect will be a similar output here in Seattle next weekend, assuming it's anywhere near a close game, Rodgers threw the ball 44 times -- targeting his tight end Jermichael Finley 11 times, Greg Jennings and Randall Cobb 9 times apiece, Jordy Nelson 7 times, & James Jones was thrown to 6 times.
The Packers' offense, overall, is multiple and versatile, and for lack of a better word, scary. They use Jermichael Finley as a movable chess piece all over the formation, and with the emergence of Randall Cobb as a WR/RB - Percy Harvin type of weapon, they can really throw a lot of different looks at you, with the obvious advantage being that Aaron Rodgers can feed the ball to his weapons with more velocity and better accuracy than just about any quarterback in the league, even on the run (especially on the run). The Bears feature a top-tier 4-3 defense and they have a lot of talent on that side of the football, so it will be interesting to see how they look to scheme against Green Bay tonight, because some lessons may be there to be learned for Seattle.
Conversely, though the Seahawks needn't worry about Chicago for some time now, this should give Seattle fans a first glimpse into what to expect down the road. The Bears have a vastly underrated offense, which is led by the oft-underestimated albeit grumpy and unimposing Jay Cutler. Make no mistake though - Cutler has elite arm talent and though he's not as good at anticipation as some of the top quarterbacks in the NFL, he makes up for it with velocity and range, and he's certainly not afraid to let it rip into tight quarters.
He's reunited with his receiver buddy from the Denver days in Brandon Marshall, and doesn't have any qualms with feeding him the pill. Marshall saw 15 targets last week and caught 9 of them, finishing with 119 yards and a touchdown. Rookie Alshon Jeffrey is similar in style to Marshall - that is - a huge human being - and added 3 catches for 80 yards and a score. In some ways, this Bears' offense has similarities to that of the Seahawks, in that they look to create mismatches on the outside with their big receivers and are not afraid to take shots down the field. Cutler is not afraid to throw the ball up to his receivers to go make plays, and that's what we've learned might be a hallmark of Russell Wilson as a QB.
Also similar to the Seahawks, the Bears like to run the ball. Which, I assume, they'll look to do against the Packers tonight. Keep an eye on Matt Forte and Michael Bush, and it should be interesting to see if the Pack can bounce back from their Week 1 rush defense nightmare.
All in all -- I'm looking forward to this game -- not just because it's a football game on a Thursday night, but it's a great scouting opportunity for those of us that aren't afforded the time to go back and watch every single game on NFL Rewind each week. What are you going to be watching for?