The Seahawks play the Packers on Friday in what has traditionally been the 'dress rehearsal' of the preseason in Week 3. To give you a preview of the matchup, I traded scouting reports with Evan "Tex" Western of SBNation's Packers' blog Acme Packing Company. Huge thanks to Tex for the in-depth responses - and make sure you head over to Acme Packing Company this week to learn more about the Packers' preseason and upcoming year.
My questions in bold italics, followed by Tex's answers:
The Packers playoff loss to the Niners exposed some weaknesses on the defense and I've heard that one of Ted Thompson's biggest goals over the offseason was to get tougher and more physical on defense. Is this true, and if so, what has TT done to better matchup against some of the top NFC teams?
Honestly, I think the "toughness" argument is a convenient talking point and has become extremely overblown. Let's look back at the Divisional Round game against San Francisco - that wasn't toughness that let Colin Kaepernick run all over our defense, that was Erik Walden and others blowing their assignments and Dom Capers admitting that he didn't prepare enough for the read option. If you ask me, they don't come any tougher than Clay Matthews, and plenty of other players on that defense are pieces that any defensive coordinator would love to have. On offense, I think the reliance on the passing game makes the Packers an easy target for the "finesse" label, as the teams that are labeled as "tough" tend to be power running teams with big road-graders on the offensive line. Rodgers was sacked 51 times last year, and got up after every one. He too is as tough as anyone.
But, even if you are a believer in the toughness cliche, the Packers appear to have addressed the fundamental factors that might sway you. They added an ideal pass-rushing defensive end in Datone Jones and a powerful running back in Eddie Lacy who excited everyone last Saturday (more on him in a bit). They also picked up a few under-the-radar acquisitions that might make you think they're a bit tougher; tight end Matthew Mulligan (formerly of St. Louis) is the kind of in-line blocker at that position that the Packers haven't had in years. I will go to my grave saying that preparation and execution matter more than "toughness" in every football game, but the Packers certainly added some players who would help them adhere better to the definition of a tough team.
Aaron Rodgers has looked brilliant (from the little I've watched) thus far in the preseason. What kind of outlook do you have for the offense this season? Have the Packers changed their approach or schemes - are they running more with their new backs or going with what they did for the most part last season?
Contrary to popular belief, the Packers actually had the 11th-most rushing attempts per game in the NFL over the second half of last season, so it's not like they completely abandon the run in favor of the pass. It's just that they weren't all that effective with it, ranking 18th in yards per carry over that time. However, when you have Aaron Rodgers and his stable of receivers, the passing game will always be your biggest offensive threat and it will be your primary focus. The 2012 Seahawks game was a train wreck in terms of balanced offense, though, as they ran thrice on 30 plays in the first half while almost getting Rodgers killed.
The key this year will be one of two things: either use the run to draw a safety down into the box and out of the 2-deep shells that frustrated Rodgers and company in 2012 or, if defenses insist on continuing to use 2-deep coverage, being more effective running the ball inside to pick up big chunks of yardage. Lacy is the kind of back who can shed tacklers at the line of scrimmage and run through them, rather than having to run around them, and Packers fans have been giddy about his arrival since he took the practice field. Meanwhile, DuJuan Harris is a smaller scat-back whose quickness and cutting ability can be a good complement to Lacy. I think you'll still see the Packers run around 40-42% of the time, but look for those runs to be much more effective than they have been over the past few years.
Losing Greg Jennings would be a big blow to most teams but the Packers' seem to still have a very strong receiving corps. What receivers outside Jordy Nelson, James Jones, and Randall Cobb should Seattle fans be watching?
Well, don't expect to see much of the big three on Friday. Nelson is on the shelf for the entire preseason after undergoing surgery to repair a nerve in his knee, Cobb has been nursing an arm injury, and Jones has been present only for limited snaps early on in the preseason despite being healthy. Jones will probably play most of the first half with the starters this week, however. Keep an eye on Jermichael Finley, though. The talented but inconsistent tight end had a big first quarter last week (4 catches for 78 yards) and needs a big season with it being a contract year.
There are a number of intriguing prospects farther down the roster, however. Second-year man Jarrett Boykin looks to have a lock on the 4th receiver spot, and though he doesn't have top-end speed, he reminds me of Greg Jennings just a bit in his crisp route-running. A few young wideouts are battling for one or two more spots, and the names to watch here are Jeremy Ross (10), Myles White (19), and Tyrone Walker (83). Ross was a return specialist last year, but has been given an opportunity to take a full-time receiver spot in training camp and has thus far failed to impress. White has speed but struggles a bit with his hands; Walker is much like Boykin with good route-running and shiftiness but not top-end speed. At this point, I think Walker has the upper hand on a roster spot over the other two, but with two weeks to go it's tough to tell.
How is the 2013 Draft class shaping up? Any surprise rookie standouts in training camp and preseason?
Mike McCarthy said on Tuesday that he has been very impressed by this rookie class. We'll all be excited to see Datone Jones for more than one snap on Friday, as he tweaked a knee on the first snap of the first preseason game. Eddie Lacy had a bit of a coming-out party against St. Louis on Saturday, as he ran through blockers and showed off his well-documented spin move.
The biggest surprises, though, come from a pair of mid-round picks. Fourth-round tackle David Bakhtiari took over for the injured Bryan Bulaga at left tackle and has impressed at the position since his first snaps with the starters. With Bulaga gone for the year, the Packers need a steady presence on that side in pass protection, and the rookie has not flinched. Packers fans all over are grateful that McCarthy and company did not have to move Marshall Newhouse back to start on the left side.
The other guy to watch is fifth-round cornerback Micah Hyde, who has been getting a ton of reps with Casey Hayward and Tramon Williams missing much of training camp with injuries. Hyde has put together two solid games, and he has shown a knack for excelling in coverage from the slot and in tackling receivers in the open field. He's already practically a lock to make the team, but now they have him returning punts, which will further solidify his spot on the roster.
What is the backup quarterback situation in Green Bay right now? The starters will likely play for a good chunk of this game, but who else can Seattle fans expect to see?
In short, it's a mess. Graham Harrell comes into the third preseason game as the backup almost by default. He's maddeningly inconsistent - he'll have 15 fantastic passes at practice, but two or three that are absolutely dreadful. Vince Young was signed about two weeks ago and barely has had any time to grasp the Packers' challenging playbook. Even though his athletic ability is off the charts compared to Harrell's, he's struggling to grasp the finer points of Mike McCarthy's system, as one might expect from a guy who has been around for a short time.
B.J. Coleman is the wild-card, as last year's 7th-round pick has been expected to make a big jump in year two. However, his practice reps have been even more inconsistent than Harrell's, and to even be in the running for a backup job he'll need to look like a Pro Bowler on Friday.
In short, the Packers are screwed if an injury were to shelve Rodgers for any length of time. But then again, isn't that the case with most NFL teams and their starting QBs?
BONUS: Are you still mad at us?
Some fans might be mad at the Seahawks. I'm not. I'm still angry at the NFL that they put replacement refs in a position to make a call in the end zone on a hail mary, and I've never been a fan of Pete Carroll in general, but ultimately the Packers had opportunities to stop that final drive before then, and they didn't. It was still an interception, but it's not the Seahawks or the fans' fault that the call was missed. So no, at least one Packers fan holds no ill will towards the Seahawks or their fans.
Seahawks vs. Packers Preview: Q&A With Field Gulls - Acme Packing Company
We pick the brains of our friends from the SBNation Seahawks blog as we preview the Green Bay Packers' third preseason game.