I will write a comprehensive preview of each team that has a legitimate shot to make a playoff push out of the NFC in the upcoming season. The purpose of these pieces is to analyze how the Seahawks have performed against each opponent and how they stack up heading into 2016.
The Green Bay Packers and Chicago Bears have had a storied NFL rivalry for decades, but I’m not sure if there’s another franchise that the Cheeseheads despise more than they do the Seahawks. Since Russell Wilson entered the league, Seattle has owned the competition for the most part. Wilson’s third career game ended with the infamous Fail Mary, resulting in a controversial victory for Seattle.
After winning Super Bowl XLVIII, the Seahawks opened the 2014 season at home against the Pack and thumped them by a score of 36-16. That year’s NFC Championship was quite a different battle, but resulted with the same team putting a check in the win column. After trailing 16-0 at halftime, Seattle utilized some trickery to get back in the game and rode Marshawn Lynch’s beast-wake into overtime. The bonus period was where Wilson decided that enough time had elapsed and proceeded to send the Packers back to their couches for the following seven months:
After identifying that Jermaine Kearse had single coverage against Tramon Williams, Wilson checks to the game-clinching play. Kearse, in great position over the top of Williams, doesn’t even need to move his arms as the ball floats down right into his bread-basket.
After being behind by an enormous deficit, Seattle stunned Green Bay and sent them packing.
The Packers did end up getting one back in 2015. In Week 2, the Seahawks travelled to the fabled Lambeau Field and, despite a lead in the third quarter, fell to the stingy Pack. An inability to run the ball was what ultimately did Seattle in, as they couldn’t sustain drives throughout the game, leading to a reliance on the passing attack. Luke Willson did have this beautiful one-handed catch though:
Despite solid coverage from the linebacker, Willson sticks an arm out and somehow hauls in the errant pass from Russell.
Let’s take a look at what the Packers do well and not so well.
The Packers have had a great passing attack for a long time, as they’ve been blessed with elite quarterback play for over two decades. Last year was a bit of a drop-off, but with Jordy Nelson returning from injury, there is no reason not to expect the same high-flying Green Bay offense of 2014.
Defense hasn’t been Green Bay’s strong suit recently, but they can definitely elevate their level of play at times. They have characteristically fielded a subpar run defense, despite Mike Daniels and Clay Matthews plugging up holes in the middle. Seattle couldn’t exploit Green Bay’s ground weakness in 2015, so they will have to be better in 2016.
Who to Stop
While Nelson is the better overall receiver and has the better rapport with his quarterback, Randall Cobb is the wideout who has hurt the Seahawks most. Thriving in his role as a second receiver, Cobb has two touchdowns (despite one being in garbage time) in his last three appearances against Seattle and earned 116 yards through the air in their most recent contest.
Cobb is largely a slot receiver, similar to Doug Baldwin. He makes his money on the inside and has the ability to be a dynamic threat for the Packers. Watch this one-handed touchdown grab against the Bears from 2014:
Observe as Cobb quickly sprints upfield and easily gets over the top of the nickel defender. An overthrow spurs the need for the spectacular catch, but it is clear that Cobb was in great position in any case.
Whoever covers Cobb in Week 14, be it Sherman, Lane, Shead, etc., will need to be wary of the shifty receiver’s ability, as he can be both a chain-mover and red-zone weapon for the Packers.
Is there a position that Matthews can’t play? After lining up at outside linebacker and becoming one of the NFL’s best pass rushers for most of his career, Matthews shifted to inside linebacker in 2015 and continued to make plays. With a knack for forcing turnovers and making big plays, the Seahawks need to always have an eye on #52.
Matthews is a well-rounded and exceedingly intelligent player. Watch as he picks off Jay Cutler while playing on the inside:
It looks as though Matthews knows where Cutler is going with the ball from the snap. His initial jump puts him right in the throwing lane for an easy pick and a 50-yard return.
While he really hasn’t done much against Seattle recently, it is prudent to always account for Matthews and his shiny mane.
You might be wondering why there has been little to no mention of Green Bay’s all-world quarterback in this article. That’s because the best generally is saved for last. This is no exception.
Rodgers is the most physically gifted quarterback in the NFL. A two-time MVP with great mobility. An elite arm. A master of inducing and taking advantage of free plays.
Just when teams think they have Rodgers bottled up, he destroys them time and time again. Hail Marys aside, his ability to navigate the pocket and escape pressure is otherworldly:
Rodgers evades the interior rusher, swings back and forth while the right end is engaged with the left tackle, and finally runs outside and fires a dart into the back of the end zone for the touchdown. Getting pressure on Rodgers is absolutely essential, as Seattle’s eight sacks in the 2012 victory demonstrate.
While Rodgers has struggled for the most part against the Seattle defense in recent years, he is the most dangerous player on the Green Bay Packers and one of the most difficult guys to game-plan for in the league. It will be interesting to see how the Seahawks handle yet another bout against Mr. Rodgers in his neighborhood*.
*I will not apologize for this.
Ha Ha Clinton-Dix:
While Eddie Lacy could easily be the choice here, I’m going with the player who has inflicted more pain on Seattle recently. After two seasons of experience, Ha’Sean Treshon Clinton-Dix has established himself as a solid safety in this league. While he is a surprisingly adept run defender, he has been inconsistent in pass defense.
Ha Ha has the potential to take his coverage ability to the next level in 2016. Rebounding from an embarrassing early-season touchdown and intercepting Russell Wilson twice in an NFC Championship Game certainly shows off said potential. He also totaled nine tackles against the Seahawks in 2015.
The Seahawks must be wary of Clinton-Dix roaming in center field no matter how much progress he makes or doesn’t make. If he can elevate himself into the discussion of top-tier free safeties, Ha Ha will likely be in Seattle’s sights heading into Week 14.
Who Needs to Step Up
While a potent pass rush is key to neutralizing Rodgers, discipline when anticipating the snap count is just as crucial. We all know that Michael Bennett has had his trials and tribulations when it comes to jumping offside. Fortunately for us, his almost-inhuman jumps off of the snap are due to his anticipation efforts. But Mike (great name) has to be more careful than ever when facing Rodgers, as he has burnt us before with deep touchdowns on free plays.
The first score of the 2015 matchup in Lambeau happened to be a 29-yard touchdown to James Jones on a free play where Bennett jumped offside and allowed Rodgers to take a shot into the endzone. Mike needs to be more disciplined than ever when facing Rodgers, and I expect he will be in 2016.
In the past two meetings between the Seahawks and Packers, Baldwin has feasted. Racking up 106 yards in the NFC Championship (including two crucial third down conversions) and 92 yards with a touchdown in the 2015 game, Doug has been Seattle’s most valuable weapon against the Green Bay defense.
The Packers are undoubtedly going to score points at some time during the 2016 contest and they have a slew of young, capable cornerbacks bent on NFC domination. Doug must, once again, step up and help lead the Seattle offense on long scoring drives to pick up a win.
The Offensive Line:
As has been referenced above, the Seahawks lost the 2015 matchup against the Packers largely due to an inability to run the ball and keep Aaron Rodgers off of the field. This falls mainly on the offensive linemen, as running backs were being dropped in the backfield on a regular basis. It is difficult to move the ball when a defense is keying in on stopping the run, but a top rushing attack underperforming against a run defense as ‘meh’ as the Packers', there is no excuse.
The insertion of Mark Glowinski and Germain Ifedi as guards will likely help generate interior push against Mike Daniels and company. The fact that the game is so late in 2016 is a plus, as the Seattle line will have time to grow comfortable alongside each other inside the zone-blocking scheme.
If the offensive line can provide room for Thomas Rawls, C.J. Prosise, and Alex Collins, Seattle has a great chance to come away victorious in this matchup.
The Packers are a very hot-and-cold team, so there is no telling what might happen come December 11th. But let us not forget that the Seahawks are always pretty damn solid in the midst of a playoff push.
A December victory against an NFC titan at Lambeau Field? Yes, please.