3 things to watch Sunday in Seattle
Seattle defensive end Michael Bennett told reporters last week that he feels the Seahawks have the best defense in the modern era of the NFL. It's difficult to argue with him.
Seattle has finished first in total defense (267.1 yards per game) and passing (185.6 ypg) in each of the past two seasons. Richard Sherman's shutdown ability mixed with Kam Chancellor and Earl Thomas ranging on the back end makes Seattle the toughest secondary to throw on in the league.
Byron Maxwell likely will be back across from Sherman after missing last Saturday's 31-17 win over Carolina with an illness. Meanwhile, it's Bennett and fellow end Cliff Avril's job to keep the heat on Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers, who continues to nurse the strained left calf muscle he's been dealing with for most of the month.
What Rodgers has lacked in mobility, he's made up with pinpoint efficiency in completing nearly 75 percent of his passes over the past three games. The ability to get production from No. 3 receiver Davante Adams and rookie tight end Richard Rodgers went a long way in last Sunday's 26-21 win over Dallas. They'll need both to contribute again with Seattle on high alert to contain Jordy Nelson and Randall Cobb.
The Seahawks prefer to get to the quarterback with a four-man rush, putting the onus on Green Bay's offensive line to subdue them and give Rodgers as much time as possible in the pocket. Seattle coach Pete Carroll concedes that Green Bay may have the most explosive offense in the NFL, but they'll need a better game plan than during the Packers' 36-16 loss in September.
The Packers avoided throwing in Sherman's direction in the first matchup and failed to find a spark while working with half the field. Ultimately, the game comes down to how Rodgers is able to operate against Seattle's pressure. One small adjustment Rodgers said he'll make is removing the ear plugs from his helmet, which were meant to lessen the noise inside CenturyLink Field. He didn't feel they worked in the opener.
A lot has changed on defense since the opener against the Seahawks. The biggest changes have involved scrapping the 4-3 quad defense and Clay Matthews' occasionally lining up at inside linebacker. But will it be enough to contain Russell Wilson and Marshawn Lynch?
A combination of jet sweeps and zone-reads resulted in the Packers' defense giving up more rushing yards (207) than passing (191) in the opener. Percy Harvin's midseason trade to the New York Jets removes a threat from the Seahawks' offense and special teams.
However, the offense mirrors Wilson's unique makeup as a dual-threat quarterback. He finished 16th in the league in rushing with 849 yards. Like Rodgers, he inflicts the most damage to a defense when he gets outside of the hashes. In those situations, he has the option of pulling the ball down for a gain on the ground or extending for a big pass downfield.
That creates a challenge for the Packers' pass rushers to properly diagnose when to jet rush to get Wilson down and when to contain him to the pocket. Matthews has the necessary athleticism to spy him occasionally, but you can't do that for 60 to 70 plays.
The team's NASCAR dime package could also be a resource so long as the inside linebacker doesn't lose contain up the middle where Wilson also can hurt teams.
"You can't just sit there and spy him all day," Packers defensive coordinator Dom Capers said. "I think one of the very best things he does is he has a real good pocket presence and a feel, and he's a guy I don't know what the percentage of the time is, if you four-man rush him, he knows where that seam is and he'll take that seam and start to slide."
If you want to beat the Seahawks, you better bring your run game. Dallas accomplished the improbable feat in October, upsetting Seattle at home 30-23 thanks in part to DeMarco Murray rushing for 115 yards and a touchdown on 28 attempts. It was only the Seahawks' third loss at home since 2012.
A month later, Kansas City maintained its own home advantage against the Seahawks with Jamaal Charles rushing for 159 yards and two touchdowns on 20 carries, though Seattle was without middle linebacker Bobby Wagner.
The Seahawks' third-ranked defense held the Packers to 21 carries for 80 yards and one touchdown in Week 1. Eddie Lacy, who exited in the fourth quarter with a concussion, rushed 12 times for 34 yards (2.8 ypc). Twenty-four of those yards came on his first three carries of the game.
The Seahawks have since lost their top run-stuffer, Brandon Mebane, to a torn hamstring. But they unearthed another free-agent gem in former Minnesota veteran Kevin Williams, who's helped stem the tide. The Packers ran early and often against Detroit's top-ranked line en route to controlling the tempo in the trenches in the NFC North title game. Lacy seems to be benefiting from the lighter early-season workload. With Rodgers ailing, he's responded with 201 yards on 45 carries over his last two games.
He briefly exited against the Cowboys with an asthma attack, but that's only flared up in colder weather. He was limited in practice this week with knee soreness, but doesn't believe that will be an issue against Seattle.
"I'm not concerned. I'm chllin," Lacy said Friday.
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