Packers stymied in Seattle
SEATTLE — The gap between the Green Bay Packers and the NFC's elite never was more apparent than Thursday night's regular-season opener.
The Seattle Seahawks looked like a team ready to defend its Super Bowl distinction in dominating the trenches on both sides of the ball. This time, Aaron Rodgers couldn't bail his defense out in a 36-16 thrashing in front of 68,242 at CenturyLink Field.
The defeat extends the Packers' losing streak to six games against San Francisco and Seattle since 2012, the NFC's Super Bowl representatives the past two seasons.
The Packers unveiled their 4-3 defensive look on the second play from scrimmage, but the excitement was quickly quelled by a litany of missed tackles, untimely penalties and explosive plays. In the team's first game without Ryan Pickett, B.J. Raji and Johnny Jolly, the Packers' run defense conceded 210 yards.
Seattle running back Marshawn Lynch bulldozed through the Packers' defensive front for 110 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries. Receiver Percy Harvin added another 41 yards on four carries as the Seahawks finished with a robust 5.6-per carry clip.
The Packers' rushing offense wasn't able to return the favor, struggling for a 3.8-yards per carry average on 21 attempts against the NFL's top-ranked defense from a year ago. Eddie Lacy, who suffered a concussion in the second half, finished with 34 yards on 12 carries, his fewest yards since a 16-yard showing last Thanksgiving against Detroit.
If that wasn't enough, four of the Packers' six penalties resulted in first downs for Seattle.
"Playing the style of football game that we (sought), we did not accomplish that by any means," Packers coach Mike McCarthy said. "It really started with running the football. We weren't quite where we needed to be there and definitely did not stop the run. Our fundamental inconsistencies throughout the game coincided with some timely penalties anytime we were able to combat momentum swings."
With Seattle cornerback Richard Sherman playing only on the right side, the Packers featured Jordy Nelson on the left side of the field. He was targeted 14 times, but his longest catch was only for 16 yards. Running mainly out of a muddle-huddle look, Rodgers resorted to a lot of dink-and-dunk passes to finish first half with a 4.8 yards per completion.
In struggling to establish the run, the Packers' no-huddle offense grinded early on amidst the howling of CenturyLink Field. However, special teams helped them out when Davon House bumped into Earl Thomas on a punt following the Packers' second series.
Since he was initially engaged by Sherman, the ball was given to the Packers, who scored six plays later off a John Kuhn 1-yard touchdown run where defensive lineman Mike Daniels reported eligible as a fullback. It gave Green Bay its only lead of the night, 7-3, with 1:30 left in the first quarter.
The rhythm of the offense never was where McCarthy wanted it to be, but losing right tackle Bryan Bulaga to a knee injury didn't help matters on the first series.
The Packers survived to trail 17-10 at halftime, but things fell apart in the second half. On the first play of their first possession, Rodgers overshot an outstretched Jordy Nelson. Nelson missed the catch, but Seattle cornerback Byron Maxwell didn't, returning it for a 21-yard gain.
Although the defense rebounded with a three-and-out to force a Steven Hauschka 20-yard field goal to make it 20-10, Bulaga's replacement, Derek Sherrod, struggled. When the Packers tried to go for it on foruth-and-5 from the Seattle 45, defensive end Cliff Avril beat Sherrod badly to sack Rodgers and end the threat.
The defense forced a Jon Ryan punt, but Sherrod whiffed on Michael Bennett at the start of the next series, resulting in a strip sack of Rodgers that bounced into the end zone. Sherrod recovered for the safety and Lynch scored on the next drive to put the Seahawks ahead 29-10.
Outside of a late fourth-quarter drive, Rodgers didn't look like himself in completing 23-of-33 attempts for 189 yards, a touchdown and interception. His 81.9 quarterback rating was 30 points lower than the economical Russell Wilson (19-of-28 for 191 yards and two touchdowns).
It was only the third time in the last three-plus seasons Rodgers failed to throw for more than 200 yards in a game that he played from start to finish.
"This is the Seattle Seahawks. They're a great defense," Rodgers said. "You don't expect to be able to move the ball effectively every down on every drive. But you need to make the most of your opportunities, especially when you get in the red zone you've got to score touchdowns. We had some decent drives, had some opportunities. That stretch in the third quarter, the interception and the safety, kind of put us in a bad spot, put our defense in a bad spot, but you've got to score more points."
Despite all the offseason changes, the defense still was inconsistent even with a 4-3 package being sprinkled in.
A lot of their struggles were reflected in the play of inside linebacker Brad Jones, who nearly had an interception on the first defensive series only to see his night quickly go south. He missed a handful of tackles, but also received two costly flags after tight ends beat him off the line.
Julius Peppers didn't put too much heat on Wilson, but he and Matthews combined for an 11-yard sack in the final minute of the second quarter that was then wiped out because of an illegal contact call on Jones.
The second, a holding call on third-and-6 in the fourth quarter, erased the Packers' last hope for a comeback. With the drive extended, the Seahawks marched down the field on a 13-play, 80-yard drive that ate up 7 minutes and ended with Derrick Coleman's 15-yard touchdown reception from quarterback Russell Wilson to make it 36-16.
Meanwhile, the mustered one 10-play, 82-yard series in the second half that ended in a 3-yard touchdown pass to Randall Cobb to breakup what otherwise would have been a run 19 unanswered points for Seattle through the final 33:41.
"We came out in the third quarter and shot ourselves in the foot too many times," guard T.J. Lang said. "We had a turnover there, let up a safety and failed to convert on a fourth down. It set up our defense in bad situations. Give credit to those guys. They're a hell of a team. They're obviously still the team to beat in this league."
The Packers broke out their new-look scheme on the second play of the game, a 4-3 defensive look where Julius Peppers and Mike Neal lined up as outside linebackers and Clay Matthews moves around in his rush.
They deployed it 14 times in the first half before switching mostly to dime subpackage near the end of the half. Regardless of what look they were in, the Packers struggled to stop the Seahawks' run.
After averaging 8.1-yards per carry in the first half, Seattle finished with more rushing yards (207) than what Wilson threw for (191). The attempt to incorporate more personnel also resulted in some errors. On Lynch's 9-yard touchdown in the second quarter, there appeared to be only 10 defenders on the field.
"I want to spit on the way I played," defensive lineman Mike Daniels said. "And I can only speak for myself. It was a pitiful performance. I know I can do way better than that. I will watch the tape, make the corrections – and there's a lot I need to make."
Wilson scrambled seven times for 29 yards, but brought some bad memories of the Packers' struggles with the read-option. On a few occasions, Seattle was able to misdirect the Packers' defense to create odd-man advantages on both sides of the line.
When it was over, two Wilson kneel downs were all that kept the Packers from allowing 400 total yards.
Since a dominating 15-1 record in 2011, the Packers have fallen a few steps behind San Francisco and Seattle atop the NFC. On Thursday night, they missed another chance at making up some ground.
"You're talking about two good football teams. We've got to worry about the Green Bay Packers. This game will always come down to fundamentals. I'm disappointed that our preparation did not carry over this evening."
-firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @WesHod.