The Seahawks and Packers have enjoyed a great rivalry from afar throughout Russell Wilson’s career. Seattle has either broken Green Bay’s hearts or downright dominated at CenturyLink Field, while the Packers have made Wilson and the Seahawks play pedestrian football at Lambeau.
For the first time in the 2019/20 season, they’ll face one another. This Green Bay team is different than past editions, represented best by Aaron Rodgers’ presence as a passenger rather than as the conductor.
Let’s roll through the five Ws and dissect Seattle’s divisional round opponent.
Why... the Seahawks will win
In a brilliant display of self-awareness in Philadelphia, Seattle put the ball in their best player’s hands, and Wilson led them to victory. Wilson, as he usually is, was phenomenal: 18 of 30 passing for 325 yards and a touchdown, plus another 45 yards on the ground.
Wilson’s impression of MVP-era Steve Nash—singularly brilliant while also rising everyone around him up—saw DK Metcalf put together the best playoff debut ever by a wide receiver, with seven catches, 160 yards and a touchdown. Tyler Lockett was the steady presence he always is, with four grabs for 62 yards, and David Moore remained a wildcard with two catch-and-runs for 57 yards. If the Seahawks are to win, they need to replicate that formula and a pass-run split greatly favoring the efficiency of passing.
Packers lead man in the secondary Jaire Alexander is a rising star in the league, but has given up big plays in 2019. Kevin King’s long-term future is in flux, but currently, he’s opposite Alexander and similarly susceptible to the deep pass. As a defense, they allowed the 10th most catches of 20+ yards in 2019 (56) and the 2nd most completions of 40+ yards (15) in the regular season. Alexander’s completion percentage in coverage is an excellent 47.5, but his yards per target (seven) is bloated by the deep passes he’s allowed. King’s yards per target is a hideous 9.9, and a middle-of-the-road completion percentage of 55.4.
This bodes well for the league’s best deep passer and his trio of vertical threats in Lockett, Metcalf and Moore. It should come as no surprise, but Seattle’s chances at victory rests in Wilson’s hands.
What... the Packers do well
This bizarro Green Bay outfit have run the ball extremely well in 2019. Gone is Mike McCarthy’s stubborn refusal to turn the lead role over to Aaron Jones, and as a result, Jones has thrived. The third-year back led the league in touchdowns and has averaged a touchdown per game at home throughout his career. As a team, the Packers’ are an average rushing squad, but Jones was exceptional, ranking 4th in DYAR and 7th in DVOA. Meanwhile, the Seahawks have allowed 100 yards on the ground in five straight games and will face a tailback who has a dynamic force about his game that is similar to Alvin Kamara, Lamar Jackson and Christian McCaffrey, all of whom thrashed Seattle this year.
Jones’ exceptional play has been needed, because Rodgers has needed to simply tag along. The greatest thing aiding Green Bay’s fraudulent reputation as a contender is the Week 17 performance fresh in our minds, when they were taken to the brink by the Fightin’ David Bloughs. Rodgers’ performance, when he looked like a kid at summer camp attempting archary, firing arrows to anywhere but the target, ranked as the NFL’s second-worst game of 2019 by completed air yards over expectation, at a hideous -104.
Rodgers is one of the most talented quarterbacks of all-time, but he has been a shell of himself in 2019. The Packers are likely to continue to ride Jones on Sunday, and exploit a run defense that ranks 26th in DVOA.
Where... the Packers can be exploited
Sticking with the theme of Green Bay’s lethargic passing game in 2019, they can be exploited—and defeated—in a shootout. All three of the Packers’ losses this season came when their opponent scored more than 24 points. Their defense, particularly against the pass, has been great—10th in DVOA—but the offense has to hold up their end for Green Bay.
That’s welcome news for a Seahawks squad that topped 24 points 10 times in 2019, and six times on the road. Seattle has proven repeatedly this season that they can score with anyone. If they can get the Packers into a track meet, then the game will have gone their way: Not only will it get Green Bay away from their best player on offense in Jones, but it will ensure the Seahawks get out of their own way and allow Wilson to carry them the whole way.
Who... you should know on the Packers
Everyone is well aware of the Packers’ two free agent signings in Za’Darius Smith and Preston Smith, and rightfully so. The former became an unstoppable, physical force and a legitimate Defensive Player of the Year candidate in 2019; the latter is the perfect compliment, a quick twitch rusher who can finish the opportunities created up front. However, along Green Bay’s defense line, it all starts inside with Kenny Clark.
The Packers’ first-round selection in 2016, Clark has developed into one of the league’s most complete defensive tackles over the course of his rookie deal. The former UCLA Bruin tied his career high in sacks this season with six, and blew his former career-high in pressures out of the water (from 28 to 40). Crucially for the Smiths, Clark was also among the most double-teamed defensive tackles this year. Clark produces, and creates for those on either side of him.
Assuming he plays, Clark will have a massive effect on both sides. For Green Bay, he’ll free up Preston and Za’Darius Smith to frequently get 1-on-1 in favorable matchups. For Seattle, he has the potential to completely destroy their attempts at a running game, as Fletcher Cox did a week ago.
When... Davante Adams wins off the line, safety help will be needed
And it will happen. Often. Adams has developed into one of the league’s true technicians. He is brilliantly crisp in and out of his breaks, runs clean routes and off the line of scrimmage he can be downright devastating.
A personal favorite of mine, Davante Adams (@tae15adams) is a FREAK at the LOS, perhaps the best release guy in the NFL.— Austin Gayle (@PFF_AustinGayle) May 18, 2019
His first step is lethal, so sudden. He has a rare combination of WR skills, for sure. pic.twitter.com/eVJIvqN9VW
Both Shaquill Griffin and Tre Flowers—largely as a result of the scheme—are best at closing at the catch point or negating yards after the catch. Adams will find success against both (as well as Ugo Amadi) at the line of scrimmage on Sunday, shaking free of coverage as he so often does. When he does, the Seahawks need to be able to count on their newfound safety blanket in Quandre Diggs to provide help over the top. Adams’ ability to shake free of his man in the short area sees him produce a large amount of big plays and yards after the catch. Seattle’s corners do a very steady job of containing the latter, but it will be on Diggs to prevent the former.
The Seahawks lost out on the NFC West and a home playoff game on wild card weekend in Week 17, but received a matchup against the hampered Eagles and now the unconvincing Packers as a consolation. Now, Seattle has a great opportunity to set up Seahawks-49ers III with a win on Sunday.