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This Week In Defense: Seahawks vs. Packers, NFC Championship Game

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Narrative Of The game:

This game was weird from the get-go, for me. The national media was talking up the Packers, but even as they did, it ended with them still saying Seattle would win. If you talked to the local media it was mixed about how much the Seahawks might dominate, and for myself personally, in the back of my mind was feeling like the offense was due for a tough performance after the long string of good games they had put together.

I had also just felt that Russell Wilson was due for a tough one in the back of my mind, and it was a tough thought to shake. I didn't think the defense would struggle, and for most all of the game they played how we expect them to.

The Plays:

Let's take a little look at some of the best plays of the day.

[First Quarter 11:28 2nd and 10 Pass incomplete, intended for Jordy Nelson - broken up by Byron Maxwell.]

This is the kind of play I was focused on as Byron was back. He's been a revelation at corner -- in both nickel and outside -- this season. He's been targeted more with Richard Sherman being so good at locking up his side of the field.

On this play, it's just a simple streak pattern for Nelson, but Byron gets great leverage against it and is able to control Nelson as he tries to fight through him for the ball. Maxwell nearly has the pick here, and with so many folks picking him as a huge weak link, I needed to show you this play (that takes place just before Sherman's interception). It's nice to have Maxy back.

[First Quarter 9:00 3rd and Goal Run by Eddie Lacey for no gain tackled by Bruce Irvin with assist from Malcolm Smith]

This play is made by Bruce Irvin's patience holding his leverage. First, look at the formation: Irvin is split wide against the overload of the Packers, almost inviting the run to go right there to his side. Tony McDaniel hammers that edge, and Bruce, who got kicked out on a run earlier, holds his ground and gets inside to force Lacy to stay home.

Malcolm Smith fires in to stop forward momentum.

Bruce then gets off the block just enough to help finish the play, and it saves the touchdown here and forces a tough choice for the Pack.

Aside: I think people are being really dumb about this set of calls by Mike McCarthy, to be honest. You can't go for it here, in my opinion, for a couple reasons. One, Aaron Rodgers' health makes it so a throw into this short space is harder, and it's harder to gauge his chance of success, meaning you will probably only run here.

Reason two: throws in this area lead to tough quarterback hits the most often, and with the way Seattle ate up the last two plays it looked like they were dominating the line of scrimmage there. Anyone saying it's a simple decision down there is probably media or a huge Madden dork. Just saying.

[First Quarter 5:48 3rd and Goal Pass complete to Randall Cobb for a gain of 4 yards tackled by Earl Thomas]

You see this empty set a lot, with this throw often being the result. The Packers go empty with an overload left, and throw right. Earl Thomas reads the play right away, and breaks on Cobb, who has no chance to really get going.

Two different types of plays, same result of a field goal. This is also a key play to look at as the Pats love this formation the most when passing on 3rd downs. Both Maxwell's play from earlier, and now this one, should give us a good feel for how Seattle can contest the Patriots.

[First Quarter :13 2nd and 5 Pass complete to Randall Cobb for a touchdown - Thomas in coverage.]

Earl Thomas moves down on a guess, as Aaron Rodgers scrambles around. This allows Randall Cobb to leak behind him as Earl gets picked by the clutter of players. Really, this is the only screw up by the defense on the day.

This would have been a free play anyway, but Earl does this from time to time. It's not terrible when you realize he probably recognized Cobb working across from the left and that's where Aaron wanted to go -- he just winds up getting himself picked off by a natural screen in the process. A bit of bad luck here.

Thus concludes the worst first quarter this season for both offense and defense.

[Second Quarter 10:31 3rd and 3 Run by Lacey left side. Gain of 1 - tackled by O'Brien Schofield.]

This play was interesting when you look at the formation with Randall Cobb in the backfield. DeMarcus Dobbs is the star here, as he stalemates a double team to force Eddie Lacy to slow up. O'Brien Schofield comes from the far end of the play to scrape and make the stop.

This play is all about good angles of pursuit. Bennett has a shot, but can't quite make it, but that's ok. I have liked Schofield's fundamentals in run defense, especially this year. He isn't quite Chris Clemons, but he's done a great job in some key spots for the team against the run.

[Second Quarter 8:31 1st and 10 Pass intended for Jordy Nelson - intercepted by Byron Maxwell.]

In context of the previous play, this was a nice rebound by Byron Maxwell, who had just surrendered a 23-yard slant to Jordy Nelson. DeShawn Shead took a terrible angle of pursuit on that pass, allowing for a huge gain, and Byron was probably just reeling a little bit, which is why Rodgers guns for him here.

The result is an obvious miscommunication by Nelson and Rodgers, as Rodgers throws inside versus Nelson's outside route. This was well-played by Maxwell, who had to come back and go to the ground to pick this off. Bouncing back is key to a good defense and this one had to do a lot in this first half to keep their team in it.

Aside: Troy Aikman keeps saying it's Cobb that has the miscommunication with Rodgers, but I watched this play 20-25 times and I can't see how the throw is intended for Cobb here, it's far too high and outside for Cobb to play even if he runs the route Aikman says he's supposed to. To be fair, Aikman only has a couple looks at it so I'm not calling him out, just pointing to a few details on what causes me to have a different call on the result.

[Third Quarter 11:49 3rd and 7 Pass complete to Randall Cobb for a gain of 4 yards - tackled by Jeremy Lane.]

Several of Aaron Rodgers throws have been inaccurate, or have been leading guys into the ground in the game. He fails to hit Cobb in stride here, and if he had, the chains would likely have been moved. After a tough three-and-out for the Seahawks, the Packers ran twice, earning 3 yards and ending with this wounded pass from Rodgers.

A lot of Rodgers' shorter throws, that called much more for velocity than touch, were going low on him, perhaps not getting much swing into his throws. He definitely was injured as a passer too, not just a runner.

[Third Quarter 4:04  1st and 10 Pass complete to Randall Cobb for 2 yards tackled by Jeremy Lane.]

A really slow-developing play, and one I took note of, as a lot of these plays are meant to spin forward to our next opponent in the Patriots.

This is designed to be a quicker throw to Cobb but if it is, Lane picks it off. Lane sees this play the whole way once Cobb breaks. So many times you see a defender by habit take two or three steps back in coverage and that play becomes easier to make. More often than not, too, you have corners that can't tackle in space 1-on-1. There are so many similar concepts the Patriots will use here, I think it's worth observation despite the calfless Rodgers.

[Third Quarter 3:09 3rd and 8 Aaron Rodgers sacked by Cliff Avril - loss of 7 yards.]

The Seahawks didn't have much pressure on Rodgers in this game, and I'm not sure what the biggest contributing factor was to that result, but Cliff Avril and Michael Bennett team up for a sack as they have all year. Bruce Irvin draws a bit of extra attention and the result is a line that doubles each edge, and leaves the middle wide open. Avril times his twist with Bennett getting doubled, and then finds Aaron, who is scrambling right and manages to get him from behind. The remarkable part of this play is that Rodgers managed not to fumble the ball; that is of course, Avril's blindside sack calling card after all.

[4th Quarter 5:04 1st and 10 Run left by Eddie Lacey loss of 4 yards - tackled by Kevin Williams with an assist by Bennett.]

Michael Bennett should have had Lacy for a six-yard loss here. He flashes in so quick I actually missed it six times trying to catch it, despite Joe Buck calling it out on the broadcast. Woah, Williams bats clean up, but how many times in this situation do you see teams miss the play and give up 4-7 yards

Dallas sure did, and teams often do. This was the first of three dominant plays on run defense, which forced another amazing line drive kick from the Packers. This situation was amazing and this is when I said, "Okay, I'm ready for this."

Overview Of The Game:

I look at this game, and say other than two plays, (the touchdown to Cobb and the 32-yard run to Starks), the Packers never really seemed to have the defenses' number. The late field goal was disappointing, and typical of the season. It's hard to really point to anything other than pass rush as an issue, and some of that has to do with Green Bay having seen the 'Hawks twice this year.

Several of their looks were blocked well, and the gimmicks, when not mixed with "showing" blitz can leave something to be desired. All that said, every time they needed to bow their necks, they did.

Russell Wilson's worst NFL game ended in a victory and that defense is the biggest reason why. A few more touchdowns and it's lights out.

Game Ball:

DeMarcus Dobbs:

I wanted to give this to Kevin Williams originally, but this Dobbs guy stepped into some 4-5 key spots and killed double teams from the center and left guard of Green Bay.  Having a guy that can play that well against a combo that had been crushing it to close the year, this is the best choice for game ball I could find.

Needs Work:

The first game of the year talked about it, but shortly after the Rams game, the 'Hawks retooled their approach to pass rush. Pass rush is key to beating any QB, but it's proven to beat Tom Brady in the big game twice, whether you gimmick it through movement, show blitz and back out -- however you do it -- getting guys to Tom Brady should be the biggest bullet point on the agenda board.

**Most humble thanks to Jennifer Chen who gets these GIFs spot on every week