I’ll come clean, I’m writing this paragraph two days before the first Seahawks game of the season. I’m writing it now because outside of a blowout or catastrophic injury, the outcome of this game won’t change my opinion of either team this year. The Packers are just about as tough to beat in Green Bay as the Seahawks are in Seattle, and whether the ‘Hawks win or not, I believe these two teams will be meeting in the NFC Championship Game in January. Seattle is fielding a Super Bowl caliber roster this season, as is Green Bay, and while this game may end up determining home field advantage (a big deal), it likely won’t define either team’s season.
Okay, now that it’s Sunday evening, let’s talk about this. The Seahawks were a tale of two units today, a dominant defensive effort spoiled by offensive ineptitude and an enormous disparity in 3rd down efficiency. A game like this is an interesting litmus test for Seahawks fans, and scoreboard outcomes have a tendency to color impressions of the entire effort. The Packers won this game 17-9, which is both impressive and disappointing if you’re a Seahawks fan.
First, some perspective. For whatever reason, the Packers have always had Russell Wilson’s number. They seem impervious to his magic, and his career numbers against them are down right replaceable. An overstatement? Consider this: coming into this game, Wilson’s career line against the Pack is 84-147 (57.1%) for 976 yards (6.6 Y/A), 8 TDs, and 10 INTs for a career passer rating of 67.2, his worst against any team. His numbers today: 14-27 (51.8%) for 158 yards (5.8 Y/A), with no TDs or INTs for a rating of 69.7. More of the same from a generational QB unable to crack the Dom Capers code.
It was a ghastly start for our heroes, with the Seahawks blocking a grand total of zero players on their initial three-and-out, followed by Aaron Rodgers carving their defense up by completing five of his first six passes. A score looked inevitable until the least likely thing on the entire planet happened: Rodgers, who had thrown 251 consecutive passes without an interception, was picked of by rookie defensive tackle Nazair Jones (???), when Rodgers’ pass nearly got stuck in Jones’ facemask. Naz, finding himself immediately on a Hall of Fame track, raced the length of the field for a touchdown. That’s when the bullshit started.
During the return, Davonte Adams grabbed Jeremy Lane by the facemask and threw him to the ground. Lane responded by leaning on Adams with his forearm, I guess. It was an egregious enough assault in the eyes of the ref that he threw Lane out of the game like some amateur hour clown. As if that wasn’t enough, Cliff Avril got called for a phantom block in the back and just like that, the Seahawks’ first score of the season was wiped out and they were left with rookie Shaquille Griffin playing the rest of the game at corner vs the most talented passer in NFL history. He did fine, better than fine really, but more on that later. It was a call that defied reason or accountability, and that official can shampoo my crotch.
The erasure of the TD proved to be enormous, and Seattle’s offensive ineptitude would continue for a while. They quickly punted the ball back to Green Bay and ended up relying on a useless 7-yard completion to Jimmy Graham to finish the 1st quarter with positive yardage. The Packers, meanwhile, continued to rack up small chunks of yardage, staying on the field for the majority of the first half. In the first frame, the Packers netted 98 yards and 7 first downs, while the ‘Hawks had just 3 and 0 respectively. In fact, the atrophy would continue until the very last drive of the half. That’s when the Seahawks, with a grand total of 18 plays, 25 yards, and 5 punts to show for their first 5 drives, went 74 yards on 7 plays to hit the half with a 3-0 lead, thanks to a big pass play to Doug Baldwin, a desperate Wilson scramble, and a short Blair Walsh field goal.
During all of this, a beleaguered Seahawks defense kept attacking in relentless waves, pressuring Rodgers on nearly every dropback and plugging each gap whenever the Packers tried to run. It was a remarkable effort, shutting out an offense that is as unstoppable at home as any team in the last decade. They added three first half sacks, and held the Packers to less than 20 yards rushing in the first two quarters. Michael Bennett, Frank Clark, Cliff Avril, and Sheldon Richardson kept the heat at constant boil, forcing Rodgers off his spots and haranguing him at every turn. Bobby Wagner, KJ Wright, and Terence Garvin were excellent in run support and adequate in coverage. The secondary was its usual stick self. It takes a heroic effort to shut out an Aaron Rodgers-led offense for an entire half at home but that’s exactly what we saw from a defense that enters the season as heralded as any in recent memory. Heroism, however, takes its toll.
The second half saw more pressure but fewer sacks, (just one), and more big plays. After allowing one play of 20+ yards in the first half, the Seahawks gave up five in the second. I don’t care how talented you are as a unit, it’s tough to stay dominant against the highest-rated passer of all time and Rodgers’ quick release, combined with the connection he has with one of the most talented receiving corps in the world, gradually wore them down.
The Seahawks defense never broke all the way down, mind you, but it’s tough to stay on top when your opponent is running 3 plays for every 2 your own offense does. In all, the Packers averaged just 5.0 yards per play, only a smidge better than the 4.7 that Seattle mustered. But again, the difference was in the volume. Green Bay ran a staggering 74 plays to Seattle’s 48, and that’s just too big a disparity to overcome. Slowly, frustratingly slowly, Green Bay’s first downs eventually became touchdowns. First it was Ty Montgomery on an off-tackle run. Not much later, it was the most dynamic QB-WR combo in the NFL getting loose against zone coverage, with Rodgers hitting Jordy Nelson for a long score down the middle of the field.
The Seattle defense was desperate for relief, a respite their offense couldn’t manage to provide. Time after time, Seattle’s offense petered out while the D sucked wind. The run game was non-existent, outside of a couple Wilson scrambles (not reflective of their rushing execution) and an inspired Chris Carson run. On designed run plays, the ‘Hawks gained a total of 50 yards on 16 rushes, a woeful start to a campaign dedicated to re-establishing the ground game.
Wilson, constantly harassed by Packers defenders, looked skittish and was off-target on a number of throws, including a first half bomb to wide open Tyler Lockett that would’ve been a much needed touchdown had he completed it. Despite all their struggles, Seattle still managed three great opportunities to score touchdowns. Unfortunately all of those 7s became 3s, as the offense fizzled in the red zone and had to settle for Walsh handshakes instead of endzone dances to get all their points. It was the difference, as each team scored thrice- the difference being that two of Green Bay’s were TDs while none of Seattle’s were. Nearly a of this falls on an unacceptable performance from the offensive line. Just like always.
*Russell Wilson was uncomfortable all game, looking hesitant with the trigger and missing some open receivers, including a wide-open Tyler Lockett on what would’ve been a long TD in the 2nd quarter. Granted, much of that had to do with the poor blocking up front, but a skittish Russell is a pretty average QB. He looked very good, however, when the offense incorporated moving pockets and designed roll-outs. Doing so relieves a lot of the pressure from Wilson and puts him in an ever-dangerous run/pass position. I’d love to see more of it, as effective rollouts hold pass rushers accountable, even in more traditional pockets.
*When an OL sucks, it’s hard to be too critical of skill position players. That said, this was a not-good game from Jimmy Graham. He managed 3 catches for 8 yards, all of the bailout dump-off variety, and dropped a crucial 3rd down pass that hit him right in his big sexy hands. I still love Graham, and think he’s primed for a big year, but this was a bad game for him and that badness was consequential.
*The run game sucked. There was a lot of offseason bluster about getting back to establishing the rushing offense in Seattle, and for all of the shortcomings of Tom Cable’s OLs over the years, they’ve almost always been able to run block. Not today, though. Thomas Rawls was out, but it didn’t matter. There wasn’t any room for anyone anywhere, with the only designed run of note coming as the result of a crazy one-step cutback from Chris Carson in the 3rd quarter. Eddie Lacy plodded to a grand total of 9 feet on 5 carries against his former team, CJ Prosise managed 11 yards on 4 carries, and Carson was able to jigger 39 yards out of his 6. It all added up to a pitiful effort that’s sure to get better. I hope.
*As ineffectual as the offense was, the defense was sensational. Against the most efficient passing offense in the league, one that’s near impossible to sack or turnover, the Seahawks caused total mayhem for the majority of the game. They hounded Rodgers, holding him to a below-normal 7.4 yards/attempt while snuffing out the Green Bay run game to the tune of 3.0 yards per carry.
*Earl Thomas is alllll the way back, baby. He was everywhere he needed to be and most of the places he wasn’t. He led all players with 11 tackles, a near-interception, and three monstrous hits that defied the way physics should apply to a 5’10”, 200 lb human. It was just further proof that he is in fact, something other than human. As long as Russell Wilson and Earl Thomas are healthy, the Seahawks are in the Super Bowl conversation.
*‘Quille Griffin (don’t call him Shaq) got picked on hard. If there’s a more vicious “jumping in” of a player in the NFL than at Lambeau vs Aaron Rodgers with Richard Sherman on the other side, I can’t think of it. That said, he performed remarkably well. Sure, he gave up some completions, but he never got burned, broke up passes, and recorded an astounding 10 tackles. Jeremy Lane’s ejection was a shameful joke, but it wasn’t the reason Seattle lost. I have full confidence in the rookie moving forward.
*3rd downs have been Seattle’s bugaboo, on both sides of the ball, for a few years now. Today was more of the same and, honestly, I believe the biggest difference in the game. Seattle was a woeful 3 for 12 on 3rd downs while Green Bay went a crisp 9 for 16. It was the difference between 48 plays and 74, 20 minutes of possession and 40. I don’t know what the answer is; apparently Seattle doesn’t either.
Look, there were a dozen ways the Seahawks could’ve been better today. They didn’t block, Wilson was rattled, and there was no run game to speak of. They were also sensational on defense, and I’m comfortable saying this will be the fewest points the Packers score at Lambeau all season. The ‘Hawks weren’t going to go 16-0, nor do they need to. Hell, I’ve got them for 11 wins this season and this wasn’t gonna be one of them. I think today was the toughest game on their schedule and an 8-point loss, while unsavory, is not only palatable in my opinion, it was a couple calls away from being good enough for what would’ve been universally deemed a gritty win.
If it doesn’t get better, we’ve got a problem, but one game does not a season make. Maybe I’m overly optimistic, and if I am, you can smugly tell me so come December, but this is a team that’s won 5 division titles in the last 7 years, with 5 10+ win seasons, 2 NFC ‘ships, and a ring, and still fields the heart of those rosters. If you’re pessimistic now, man, I don’t know what to tell you. Next up is the home debut against a 49ers team that just got thumped by the Panthers. Something tells me you’ll have a different taste in your mouth when you read this article next week.
There’s a ton of season left. Onward, upward.
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