Seahawks vs Packers Preview: Who Will Emerge Victorious?


This Sunday, the Seahawks will battle the Packers in yet another chapter of this modern rivalry between two of the most dominant franchises in recent years. Who will reign supreme? (or should I say, “snow supreme”).

Going into Sunday, the Packers lead the all-time series 9-7. Green Bay emerged victorious during their last battle (Week Two, 2015), but several legendary games have featured these teams. The controversial “Fail Mary” game in 2012 single handedly caused the NFL to cave and restore order by bringing back the normal, (still) non-full time officials and the 2014 NFC Championship game is one of the greatest games in Seahawks history.

Despite an array of questionable decisions, poor execution and failure to run the football had the Seahawks on the brink. But, Between Jon Ryan’s touchdown pass, Beast Mode, Luke Willson’s improbable two point conversion and Russell Wilson’s typical magic, the Seahawks showcased their resilience, grit, and tenacity. They pulled off an improbable comeback to advance to their third Super Bowl history.

The next installment of the game will (hopefully) not be as dramatic or heart attack inducing as the last one. But it’s the Seahawks, so you never know what’s going to happen. In all seriousness, the Seahawks and Packers are two franchises heading in opposite directions this season. The Seahawks are on top of their division, and they can clinch the NFC West with a win and a Cardinals loss. Once in the midst of a dominant reign of terror in the NFC, Green Bay will have to crawl and scratch their way out of an abyss for a slim chance at a wild card.

These team’s histories have crossed paths several times. Seahawks general manager John Schneider got his start as a scout under Ron Wolf in Green Bay. In fact, his previous contract included a clause where he would be able to opt out if the Packers GM job ever opened up. Before that, Matt Hasselbeck, the best quarterback in Seahawks history (Pre-Wilson), was acquired from Green Bay by former Packers head coach and then Seahawks GM Mike Holmgren. 

In addition, Rodgers will be handing the ball off to Christine Michael Sr, who is still the Seahawks leading rusher this season. The Seahawks cut him a few weeks back, and the talented 26-year-old landed in Green Bay. He will have a shot at revenge this week. It’s worth noting that in his first Seahawks revenge game, Michael failed to impress, registering five carries for 20 yards. Nevertheless, Michael appears to have gained Green Bay’s trust and is in line to see plenty of action on Sunday.

The Packers have ridden their limited route concepts, insufficient secondary and injury riddled front seven to a 6-6 record and third place in the NFC North. After a losing streak, they bounced back and pounded a reeling Eagles team last week. Despite their struggles, Green Bay is not a team to take lightly, especially at home.

They boast the greatest quarterback of his generation, who should never be counted out of a football game. Rodgers hasn’t lost at Lambeau in December since 2008. Their recent two game winning streak has them looking like the Packers teams of old.  While he isn’t having his typical season complete with otherworldly stats and herculean highlights, Rodgers still ranks 4th in total QBR this season. By comparison, Russell Wilson is 14th and MVP candidate Derek Carr is 17th.

If the Packers hope to have a shot, not only must Rodgers execute, but they need to win some other key battles. Their front seven is a walking hospital room, but they still have the talent to give the Seahawks fits. Defensive lineman Mike Daniels is one of the most underrated players in the NFL. Between him and Julius Peppers, Seattle’s young offensive linemen could have their hands full. The team that wins in the trenches could be the team that emerges victorious.

Before last week, the Seahawks had struggled to ignite a smoldering run game… until Thomas Rawls happened. A healthy Rawls used his crisp jump cuts, silky smooth elusiveness, and back-breaking power to leave the Panther’s run defense in the dust, gasping for air. Aside from one ill-advised interception, Russell Wilson carved up Carolina’s secondary, completing 72% of his passes to go along with 277 yards through the air. After the offensive disaster a week before, this was a welcome sign for a team in need of a boost.

Next, the Seahawks travel to Lambeau Field, where frigid temperatures, heavy winds, and Green Bay’s 7th ranked rush defense will be awaiting them. Russell Wilson’s monstrous hands and experience in the cold will help, but it’s vital that the Seahawks can sustain drives and move the ball on the ground if they want to have a shot at leaving the frozen tundra victorious.

First, Green Bay’s porous pass defense should allow Russell Wilson plenty of opportunities for explosive plays. Green Bay’s pass defense is allowing 8.2 yards per attempt, which is dead last in the NFL. In fact, the Packers entire secondary has fewer career interceptions than Richard Sherman alone. Green Bay’s defense is 12th in the league in explosive plays (a 10-yard rush or 25-yard pass) allowed.

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Thomas Rawls’ bruising style has left him susceptible to injuries in the past. On Sunday, his day ended prematurely after taking a shot from Thomas Davis. Rawls is healthy now, but can it stay that way? And when he is healthy, can he produce big numbers on a week to week basis? The sample size says yes, but Green Bay’s ice-covered, snowflake blanketed turf and Seattle’s turnstile tackles say otherwise.

Last Sunday, the Seahawks carried the ball 29 times for 240 yards and 3 touchdowns against Carolina. It felt like the Seahawks we all know and love. They had almost doubled their previous game high in rushing yards. Wilson was scrambling more, and Thomas Rawls was shedding tackles like it was November 2015 again.

With the injury to Packers outside linebacker Nick Perry, Green Bay’s run defense weakens, specifically on the edge. His absence should give the Seahawks numerous opportunities to execute the zone read on Sunday.

Jump starting the run game early will open up some opportunities for some other Seahawks to get going, including tight end Jimmy Graham. The North Carolina native and Miami (FL) basketball player may not have a ton of experience in cold weather games, but the dynamic weapon should have a plethora of opportunities to impact Sunday’s game.

First, Green Bay’s not so dynamic linebacking corps has been thoroughly decimated by injuries and misfortune. Linebacker Nick Perry, Green Bay’s leader in sacks thus far, is out. His backup, rookie Kyler Fackrell, has been hampered by a hamstring injury and will not play. Fellow linebackers Blake Martinez and Clay Matthews are questionable after dealing various ailments. LB Jake Ryan showed up on the injury report throughout the week, but he’ll be good to go for Sunday.

During last season’s game against Green Bay, Graham was put on a milk carton, catching one ball for 11 yards on two targets. To be fair, he had not yet established any legitimate chemistry with Russell Wilson. This year has been a different story.

Graham has experienced a career revitalization this season after a devastating patella tendon injury ended his season last year. Even when Green Bay’s linebackers are healthy, none of them have the size or athleticism to match up with the 6’7, 265-pound wrecking ball that is Jimmy Graham. The snow may limit downfield passing, so Graham is the X factor for a Seahawks offense that needs to move the ball to ensure that Aaron Rodgers stays on the sideline. Expect a heavy dosage of targets for Graham on Sunday.

On defense, the Seahawks high powered unit faces some questions heading into the week. After Earl Thomas’ injury, this season looked lost. By this logic, this season rests in the hands of Steven Terrell. I don’t know if you guys know this, but Terrell is really fast. It’s this quality that makes Terrell, not Kelcie McCray or Jeron Johnson, the immediate replacement for Earl Thomas.

Nobody in the NFL can perfectly replace Thomas. Because of him, the Seahawks are the best in the NFL at defending the deep middle part of the field. With Thomas on the field, the Seahawks only allowed two completed passes in that region. Say what you will about Terrell’s role in the Ted Ginn touchdown reception, but I doubt Cam Newton would have taken that chance if Thomas was looming over the middle.

Thomas’ elite speed, instincts, range and closing speed allows the Seahawks to deploy him as the single-high safety in Seattle’s cover 3 scheme. To put that in layman’s terms, Thomas patrols the deep middle of the field, and his job is to limit big plays. As a result, the Seahawks are able to put an extra defender (usually Kam Chancellor) in the box as an extra run defender. Basically, Thomas is what makes Seattle’s secondary tick.

The Seahawks occasionally try to stick someone else deep, but because no one can match Thomas’ speed and instincts, QB’s can slice and dice the defense over the middle of the field and down the seams. In addition, Thomas’ killer instinct and warrior mentality will be missed in the locker room.  

Terrell lacks Thomas’ range and football IQ, but his speed gives Pete Carroll hope that Seattle can stick with the single-high look. This will help the Seahawks stay equally as potent against the run and maintain some continuity on defense. Terrell has stuck on the Seahawks roster since 2014, so he knows Seattle’s scheme as well as anybody. He’s disciplined, speedy and he’s capitalized on his limited opportunities. If any team can mold Terrell into a quality defensive back, it’s the Seahawks.

It’s inevitable that the Seahawks stingy defense will falter a little bit with the absence of Earl Thomas. You cannot replace Earl Thomas. Given what we’ve seen so far, Terrell puts them in the best position to make the best of a poor situation.

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Even though there is a common misconception that Aaron Rodgers is notorious for being a maestro down the field, the reality is that Rodgers isn’t that efficient throwing the deep ball. Most of his famed deep shots come from the free plays after drawing a defense lineman offsides.

He’ll inevitably test the deep ball against the Seahawks, as Cam Newton did last week, but it’s not his strength as a passer at the moment. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, Aaron Rodgers passer rating falls to 66.4 on throws 20+ yards in the air. He’s 12th in the NFL in Air Yards and 23rd in passing yards per attempt. In addition, Rodgers’ adjusted net yards per attempt (ANY/A) of 6.71 is 15th in the league. None of these stats scream dominant.

The number one thing that the Seahawks have to do is limit Aaron Rodgers’ effectiveness.As he goes, the hopes and dreams of the Packers go. Now, this is easier said than done. Rogers has regressed this season, but at his peak, he’s still one of the most accurate  quarterbacks in NFL history, capable of causing mass destruction with his supernatural arm. In order for him to be thrown off his game, it will require disruption from the Seahawks defensive front.

The Seahawks struggled to get Cam Newton to the ground last Sunday. They failed to record a sack and only mustered up 4 quarterback hits. Still, the Seahawks relentless pass rush is 4th in the NFL in sacks, so don’t expect the drought to continue. This week, they’ll have a refreshed and reenergized Michael Bennett, who’ll be hungry to wreak havoc after a lengthy absence.  

However, Green Bay’s offensive line excels in pass protection. Left tackle David Bakhtiari is one of the best in the business. The Green Bay offensive line might be without right guard TJ Lang and/or center JC Tretter, but they are still incredibly capable as a unit.

The Seahawks defense needs the sacks, as Green Bay’s offense is incredibly efficient on third downs. They have converted a remarkable 47.9%, which is good for 2nd in the NFL. This may not bode well for the Seahawks, as their defense is allowing opponents to convert 42.86% of their third downs. This is increased away from Century Link Field, where 46.43% of third downs are converted against the Seahawks vaunted defense. It is imperative that the Seahawks can get off the field on Sunday.

Just as long as Bennett and the Seahawks don’t get too eager. As mentioned above, Aaron Rodgers is the best in NFL at drawing defensive players offside and capitalizing on the free play that follows. CB Richard Sherman even mentioned this during his press conference, saying that Rodgers “makes a living on free plays”. Michael Bennett is one of the most disruptive defensive players in the NFL, but the trade off is that he jumps offsides A LOT. I’d be a very rich man if I had a dollar for every time Bennett jumped early. In order to limit Green Bay’s offense, both against the run and the pass, they must stay controlled and disciplined.

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Bottom line is, for the Seahawks to win, they must disrupt the flow of the game for Green Bay’s star quarterback. This means staying disciplined while pressuring him early and often. On offense, jumpstarting the run game is crucial, as it opens up the game for Russell Wilson to make plays and keeps Aaron Rodgers off the field.

For Green Bay to keep their season alive, their wide receivers need to make plays and help out Aaron Rodgers. The history between the teams, combined with the implications of this game make it intriguing. Add in that both teams must do this while battling the elements of Green Bay in December, and you have the makings of an instant classic. Remember to layer up in solidarity.