There is so much to connect between the Seattle Seahawks and Green Bay Packers by now, you’d think the Seahawks had been relevant to them for longer than just this century. It started with Mike Holmgren leaving Green Bay for Seattle in 1999, bringing some important people with him, and continued with John Schneider making the same trip following his promotion to Seahawks GM in 2010.
Things heightened in 2012 when Schneider drafted a quarterback from the University of Wisconsin, and the two teams made history months later during perhaps the most infamous Monday Night Football game of the 2000s. In 2014, they played in one of the most dramatic conference championship games of all-time. Then the Packers got a modicum of revenge last year by becoming the only team to beat Seattle by double-digits in the last five seasons.
I mean, Green Bay has faced the Seahawks in the playoffs more times than they’ve faced the Chicago Bears in the playoffs; the Packers and Bears have played 191 regular season games against one another compared to 16 games between them and Seattle.
The two teams meet for the 17th time on Sunday, and it will be the fifth meeting between Aaron Rodgers and Russell Wilson. Wilson has won three of the previous four, but the Seahawks haven’t won in Lambeau since 1999, including the 27-17 loss last September. I don’t want to say Green Bay “desperately” needs a win, because people will accuse me of baiting the opposition into a fight, but they do. If the Packers lose they fall to 6-7, and if the Detroit Lions beat Chicago, they’ll improve to a 3-game lead with three games left to go.
To get us more prepared for what to expect from the Packers, I sent five Qs over to Jason Hirschhorn of Acme Packing Company (and fellow contributor at SportsOnEarth) and in kind, he sent back 5 As that corresponded to those Qs. Thanks for the connection, Jason.
Q: I've been critical of the Packers for a few years now. I just felt like after that NFC Championship game, ownership (which I guess is the fans?) should have stepped back and evaluated the whole situation from Ted Thompson to Mike McCarthy and many of the players and said "Is this the answer? Are we getting as much out of the Aaron Rodgers years as we should be getting?" Then this past summer I wrote about how the drafting had been poor since 2010 (notice the SportsOnEarth writer showdown with Jason’s article below!) and it was just an opportunity missed considering that Green Bay should have been back to the Super Bowl by now. My question is: How do the fans feel? If the Packers don't complete the comeback from a 4-6 start to make the playoffs and win some games there, is the future of McCarthy and Thompson in doubt? Should it be?
A: I don't think Ted Thompson's recent drafts have unfolded as poorly as you seem to believe. For example, his 2013 draft has outperformed every other from that year and all but a few drafts over the past decade. His other classes also compare well to most of the league. While it's fair to point out that the returns haven't matched his draft mastery of 2005-'10, the Packers have still come out ahead.
Certainly, some fans hope Thompson steps down or receives a pink slip this offseason. Those fans, at least in my view, have no idea how good they have it. No team in the NFC has fielded quality teams as consistently as Green Bay over the past decade, and they should continue to contend for titles whether their seven-year streak of postseason berths ends this year to not.
Transitioning to the second part of the question, while I consider Thompson's job safe, a playoff-less season could have ramifications for the coaching staff. The Packers played well below expectations for most of October and November and Mike McCarthy deservedly has taken blame for it. Injuries have also contributed to their struggles, and that context needs to be considered when the team reviews itself after the year.
Ultimately, because the Packers did adjust to their injury-depleted roster over the past few weeks and McCarthy has guided the team to so much success in his 11 years, I expect him to survive the season. Changes to his staff remain a high possibility, though, such as the potential ouster of defensive coordinator Dom Capers.
Q: Aaron Rodgers 2009-2014: 8.4 yards per attempt, passer rating of 109. Aaron Rodgers: 2015-present: 6.8 Y/A, rating of 95.3. Statistically, Rodgers was the next in line from Johnny Unitas, Dan Fouts, Steve Young, Peyton Manning. Then a dip at age 32. We know Jordy Nelson was out last season but what else has been the cause for this? Is it just that Nelson isn't the same? Is the scheme a lot different? The touchdown/interception ratio is still amazing but why shorter gains on the throws?
A: I think you're right to focus on the receivers as a reason for Rodgers' statistical slide. Though multiple members of the Packers declared Jordy Nelson "back" following his explosive performance last week (eight catches, 118 yards and a touchdown), he has regressed from the All-Pro form he displayed in 2014. He rarely takes the top off of defenses like he once did, and these days he does more damage from the slot rather than the boundary.
The rest of the receiving corps doesn't feature a player that can perform like the old Nelson. While Davante Adams has enjoyed a breakout campaign and defenses now roll their coverage towards him, he performs best on routes of short and intermediate depth, particularly slants. Randall Cobb once beat defenses deep on a somewhat regular basis, but he has lost some burst and can't seem to separate as well.
At the same time, Rodgers' ball placement and decision making dipped significantly early in the year. Throws to the flats and short over the middle -- layups for him during his best seasons -- frequently went off target. That particularly issue has dissipated over the past few weeks, but that still accounts for some of the statistical decline you referenced in the question.
Q: The Packers are allowing an NFL-worst 28 yards per kick return this season. The Seahawks have this guy Tyler Lockett and we'd like to see him take one to the house, if possible. Is special teams a big concern this year? Has it been getting better or worse as the season goes on?
A: The coverage units specifically have indeed given the Packers problems after showing improvement a year ago. To some degree, injuries have played a role in that area as many of the back-of-the-roster guys that previously spent most of their time focusing on special teams now have to play roles on offense and defense. As a result, special teams have trended backwards over the last two months.
But that only excuses so much, and coordinator Ron Zook deserves a considerable amount of blame for how his units have performed. While I wouldn't expect a touchdown return this weekend, the Seahawks offense should start drives in good position most of the time.
Q: Former Seattle running back Christine Michael led Green Bay with nine carries last week but gained just 19 yards. I was also critical of him during his time with the Seahawks this season and not surprised when the team let him go after Thomas Rawls returned. It seems like the Packers have praised him a bit from what I heard, do you expect him to be the lead back on Sunday and to hold onto the job? How'd he look to you vs the Texans?
A: While Christine Michael led the Packers in carries last week, Ty Montgomery received considerable more snaps at running back. The team has eased Michael into the offense, so perhaps the difference in workload decreases this week against the Seahawks, but I still expect Montgomery to serve as the lead back once again.
As for how Michael looked on his snaps, he seemed decisive more often than not and picked up the yardage blocked for him. Of course, a better back creates yardage beyond that, but he hasn't shown that ability yet in Green Bay. Perhaps a matchup with his former team motivates him to have a #RevengeGame, but that narrative rarely plays out.
Q: The Seahawks haven't won in Lambeau since 1999, but the Packers have dropped home games to the Dallas Cowboys (fair, I'm sure Seattle would struggle vs the Cowboys) and Indianapolis Colts. Is there a little more hope for opposing road teams in Green Bay this season or were those just bad games? Does the weather adversely affect the Packers one way or another if it's going to be freezing this week?
A: Those games came during the lowest point of the Packers' season. The team played without any of its top-3 cornerbacks, either of its top-2 running backs, multiple starters on the offensive line during that stretch, and lost Clay Matthews and both of their inside linebackers for games as well. While the team had other issues as well -- I refer you back to the question about Rodgers and special teams -- those absences proved to be back breakers.
The Packers have rebounded over the past two weeks on both sides of the ball and shouldn't preform so poorly this weekend. At the same time, the Seattle ranks no worse than the second-best team on Green Bay's schedule. Even in bad weather -- the current forecast projects below-freezing temperatures and snow -- the Seahawks have enough talent to win at Lambeau.