Sports

Packers vs. Seahawks: Preview, Keys, Prediction

The Green Bay Packers (6-6) seek their third consecutive win and face their toughest test to date as they welcome the Seattle Seahawks (8-3-1) to Lambeau Field for a crucial December contest. Details on the matchup:

  • The game will be televised nationally on FOX with Joe Buck, Troy Aikman and Erin Andrews on the call. Wayne Larrivee and Larry McCarren call the action for Packers flagship 620 WTMJ, carrying the broadcast over the 50-station Packers Radio Network. The game can also be heard across the country on SportsUSA Radio, with Wayne Randazzo and Hank Bauer on the call.

  • This is the 17th regular season meeting between the two teams, with Green Bay holding a 9-7 advantage. The Packers also hold a 2-1 edge in playoff action.

  • The Packers won the most recent meeting, 27-17, in week 2 last season.

  • Green Bay has won six consecutive home games against the Seahawks and holds a 9-3 record in such games.

  • Aaron Rodgers has thrown multiple touchdown passes in seven straight games.

  • With the win over Houston last week, the Packers improved to 19-3 in December home games under Mike McCarthy.

Here’s how Green Bay’s offense stacks up against the Seahawks defense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 24.6 ppg (11th)

Seattle: 16.2 ppg (1st)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 360.3 ypg (13th)

Seattle: 330.3 ypg (8th)

Passing

Green Bay: 261.2 ypg (10th)

Seattle: 231 ypg (t-9th)

Rushing

Green Bay: 99.1 ypg (24th)

Seattle: 99.3 ypg (14th)

And how the Packers defense matches up with the Seahawks offense:

Scoring

Green Bay: 25.2 ppg (23rd)

Seattle: 22 ppg (20th)

Total Yardage

Green Bay: 347.2 ypg (13th)

Seattle: 357.9 ypg (15th)

Passing

Green Bay: 254.3 ypg (18th)

Seattle: 256.4 ypg (14th)

Rushing

Green Bay: 92.9 ypg (9th)

Seattle: 101.5 ypg (20th)

When Green Bay is on offense…

After seemingly righting the ship two weeks ago, the Packers offense struggled at times to move the ball effectively against the Texans in snowy Lambeau Field last week. They can ill afford such struggles this time around. Weather forecasts are calling for anywhere from three to eight inches of snow in Green Bay Sunday. On top of that, the Packers will face the NFL’s top scoring defense. You know that old cliché about points being at a premium? Yeah, this game is pretty much the definition of that one. There will be no room for negative plays and third downs – where the Packers struggled last week but have excelled overall – will be crucial.

Given the weather forecast, Green Bay will no doubt be eager to establish some kind of run presence. It will be interesting to see how reps in the rushing attack are split between Ty Montgomery, Christine Michael and James Starks. Montgomery was the most effective option last week, and it seems Starks just can’t figure out how to put his foot in the ground and run vertically, a flaw that is magnified on a slick playing surface.

Michael is the most intriguing option given what we saw against Houston. Despite gaining just 19 yards on nine carries, Michael’s burst and downhill running ability was evident. That, plus another week in the playbook, should afford him more chances this week against his former club.

Not to be forgotten, Aaron Ripkowski could play a role in the running game as well. Quarterback Aaron Rodgers recently indicated that Ripkowski has earned the chance for more playing time, and the second-year fullback his second touchdown in as many weeks against the Texans.

It remains unclear whether T.J. Lang and JC Tretter will return this week. Both were limited participants in practice throughout the week and are listed as questionable for Sunday’s game. If they are still a week away, the Packers will continue to roll with David Bakhtiari, Lane Taylor, Corey Linsley, Jason Spriggs and Bryan Bulaga across the board. The offensive line will be tasked with controlling a dangerous Seattle pass rush. Michael Bennett will be in his second game back from an arthroscopic knee surgery that halted what was an outstanding start to the 2016 season. Frank Clark and Cliff Avril also present a significant threat. Add linebackers K.J. Wright and Bobby Wagner to the mix, and the Packers will have their hands full in both phases of the offensive game plan.

In the passing game, Green Bay will surely look to attack wherever the absence of all-pro safety Earl Thomas, who is out for the year with a broken leg, is felt. Steven Tyrell was Thomas’s replacement against Carolina last week, but don’t be surprised if Pete Carroll & Co. have used this week to draw up a scheme that gets the best possible combination of defenders on the field. That could mean moving cornerback DeShawn Shead to safety and placing Jeremy Lane in his spot. That leaves, of course, Richard Sherman at the other corner and Kam Chancellor at the other safety.

Giving Aaron Rodgers time to make decisions will be key. If the Seahawks roll with Tyrell in place of Thomas, Rodgers will no doubt pick on him as the default “center fielder” in Seattle’s Cover 3 scheme. In that scenario, the slot receivers become critical and Rodgers will need time to let things develop. If Shead moves back and Lane plays corner, I would expect Rodgers to target Lane quite a bit. Given Richard Sherman’s propensity for playing only on the defensive left, the Packers should have some leeway in how they decide to matchup against the best corner in the league.

Don’t expect the Packers to get back to their quick-hitting, rhythmic ways against a Seattle secondary that is more physical at the line of scrimmage than anyone else in the league. Not that it would have been simple anyway given the weather, but it is almost impossible to successfully execute quick timing routes against the Seahawks. I would expect the Packers to play around with formations and try to dictate matchups while getting the ball into the hands of their playmakers in creative ways. That isn’t to say Green Bay needs to reinvent the offense, but they’ll need to do a few things Seattle isn’t expecting.

When Green Bay is on defense…

Success for the Packers defense will begin and end up front against the Seahawks. Seattle’s offensive line is one of the worst in the league, and the Packers will need to expose that weakness in two ways.

In the running game, Green Bay will rely on Mike Daniels, Letroy Guion and cast of others on the interior to penetrate and clog things up. Whether that results in lost yardage or just makes it easier for the linebacking corps to read and react to the run, it would be a huge step in neutralizing a Seattle rushing attack that looked awfully good against Carolina last week. Thomas Rawls will be the only legitimate running threat, but he is a hard and decisive runner.

When it comes to the passing game, those same interior players for Green Bay will be counted on to fluster Seattle quarterback Russell Wilson. If and when they do so, it becomes the responsibility of Julius Peppers, Clay Matthews and any other edge rusher to make sure Wilson doesn’t escape the pocket. Make no mistake – both parts of that game plan are essential. The diminutive Seattle signal caller is deadly both in and out of the pocket. When given time to stand, step and throw, Wilson can slice apart a defense with the best of them. If allowed to escape, he’ll find and open receiver or use his legs to beat you. The Packers cannot afford to miss opportunities to put him on his back.

With Nick Perry (hand) out for at least this week, the Packers lose a step in their pass rush. The middle of the defense should get a boost, though, as all signs point to Blake Martinez making his return to the lineup alongside Jake Ryan at inside linebacker. Clay Matthews, who played most of his snaps with one arm last week, has apparently improved enough in practice this week that the Packers are confident he can play at close to his normal level. Even with a healthy duo on the inside, don’t be surprised if Matthews gets a little run in there as well.

Green Bay’s much-maligned secondary will be tested against Seattle. The Seahawks receiving corps is led by two smaller pass catchers in Doug Baldwin and Jermaine Kearse. Both are dangerous in their own way, but Baldwin is the biggest threat. Add to that mix burner Tyler Lockett, who will no doubt test the Packers’ vertical pass defense. Green Bay’s safeties will have their hands full, too, with tight end Jimmy Graham – Seattle’s proverbial “matchup nightmare.”

Keys to the Game

Tough up front. This game will almost certainly be decided in the trenches, on both sides of the ball. Offensively, that means protecting the quarterback. Defensively, it means inflicting bodily harm on the quarterback. Aaron Rodgers must be afforded the time and space to make decisions against a Seattle secondary that doesn’t generally provide a lot of openings in the passing game. Meanwhile, the Packers front seven needs to make Russell Wilson uncomfortable. Green Bay has forced Wilson into mistakes in the past, and they’d do well to force him into a few more on Sunday. They can make his job even tougher by neutralizing the run game and making the Seahawks one-dimensional.

First and second down. Hey, look, another key that applies to both sides of the ball. Long yardage situations are always tough to overcome, and they become even more so in bad weather conditions. Seattle’s defense is one that can send you from 1st & 10 to 3rd & 17 in a blink. If the Packers can focus on using first and second down to create manageable third downs, they’ll not only move the ball, but control the clock as well. Defensively, it’s about getting the Seahawks off schedule. Seattle’s offensive scheme is diverse, but clearly structured. The Packers need to crack that structure.

Turnovers = Points. This is such a cliché key to the game. Nevertheless, it will be important on Sunday. Last week, we saw the Packers force a fumble on the first drive of the game, only to give the ball back just as they were knocking on the doorstep of a touchdown. Against a relatively poor team like Houston, you can get away with squandered opportunities. Against a perennial contender like the Seahawks, you most certainly cannot. It will be tough enough to force a turnover against Seattle, so the Packers will need to capitalize when it does happen.

Prediction

The Packers have won just one of the past four meetings in the NFL’s youngest rivalry. You could point to the records in this game and see Seattle as an easy winner. You could stack up the Seahawks’ defensive stats against those of the Packers’ offense and do the same. There’s probably a reason the Packers are an extremely rare home underdog this week. For all their struggles and faults, though, the Packers have put themselves back into the thick of the NFC playoff picture and their two-time MVP quarterback is still playing at a level unheard of for 95% of other quarterbacks in the league. On top of that, for the second straight week we will witness one of the great phenomena in sports – football in the snow at Lambeau Field. Sure, Seattle is a team built for cold weather. Snow, however, is an equalizer. Will the Packers win the game solely because of it? No, but it will definitely help. Packers 20, Seahawks 16.