Packers vs. Seahawks: 3 keys to Thursday's game
New-look D-line vs. Lynch
Gone are Ryan Pickett, Johnny Jolly and B.J. Raji, so the Packers turn to Mike Daniels (6-0, 305), Letroy Guion (6-4, 315) and Datone Jones (6-4, 285) to pick up the slack for the run defense. The Packers are conceding about 100 pounds combined, but coach Mike McCarthy feels the line's athleticism will more than make up for the decline in overall girth. They'll have their hands full in today's opener with hard-charging Marshawn Lynch, the focal point of the Seahawks' fourth-ranked rushing offense from a year ago. Lynch is a strong north-and-south runner who's rushed for at least 1,200 yards and 11 touchdowns in each of his last three seasons. His 75 missed tackles generated in the run game last season were 17 more than second-place Adrian Peterson, according to Pro Football Focus. The key for the run defense will be to make the 28-year-old running back change direction in the backfield. That's where he can be had. If he keeps his pads square in the hole, Lynch is a nightmare to tackle. Daniels, Guion and Jones need to rely on their technique and athletic ability to eat space like Pickett and Raji did at the run defense's peak in the 2010 season. With Raji out for the season with a torn biceps, there's confidence Guion will be able to manage the post at nose tackle despite playing only nine preseason snaps. He and undrafted rookie Mike Pennel also will be asked to pick up snaps in the "big" nickel subpackage used on obvious rushing downs. "I really don't get this 'we're smaller,'" McCarthy said. "We may weigh less, but I don't think our D-line is smaller. We've got some long-levered guys. Definitely the anchors we have on the edge of our 3-4, we've never had this kind of depth. From a personnel standpoint, I feel very good about the people, and the ability to rotate different players will be a key."
The last time the Packers saw Russell Wilson he was a rookie quarterback starting his third NFL game. Now, he's a respected leader who brought Seattle its first Super Bowl title in February. His subpar stature (5-11, 206) afforded the Seahawks a bargain in the third round of the 2012 NFL draft. Wilson plays above his height and isn't afraid to scramble when plays break down. Actually, that's when he's most dangerous. The job of Clay Matthews, Julius Peppers and the rest of the Packers' pass rushers is to keep the pressure on, but also not to get too far upfield and allow him to sneak out. In his only home loss as a starter against Arizona last December, the Cardinals did an excellent job in that capacity, limiting him to 11-of-27 attempts for only 108 yards with a touchdown and interception. Wilson handles the blitz well, so generating a push behind a four-man rush will be vital. According to Pro Football Focus, Wilson's passer rating under pressure (77.2) was nearly 40 points lower than when he faced a clean pocket (114.5). Despite his elusiveness, he takes his share of sacks. His 44 last season tied for third-most. "Just like any other NFL quarterback," Daniels said, "you've got to tackle him, you've got to disrupt him."
O-line's new axle
The Seattle Seahawks are salivating at the prospect of Brandon Mebane and the rest of their defensive line lining up across from rookie center Corey Linsley, who'll snap to quarterback Aaron Rodgers for the first time in a game tonight. "I'm going to pray for him," Seattle linebacker Bruce Irvin told USA TODAY. "It's going to be a long night, man. We've got to just take advantage of it." Linsley, a fifth-round pick out of Ohio State, was thrown into the starting lineup in the wake of a knee injury to JC Tretter that could keep him out for the first half of the season. Linsley has done everything right to this point. His ability to bench-press 500 pounds in the weight room seems to translate in his ability to push NFL linemen. Still, you can bet the Seahawks will try their share of inside twists and stunts to try to get Linsley off his point. Whatever experience he lacks, the Packers believe veteran guards T.J. Lang and Josh Sitton will counteract. It also doesn't hurt to have Rodgers orchestrating your offense. If something goes awry, they also could push Sitton into that spot, but the locker room believes Linsley can handle his own against a defense that led the NFL last season (273.6 yards per game).