Aaron Nagler and Ryan Wood talk about the upcoming matchup with Seattle, what it means for the Packers season, and give the latest from McCarthy and the locker room. (Dec. 5, 2016)
GREEN BAY - The Seattle Seahawks played their first game in seven years without Earl Thomas 10 days ago and were stunned by the Buccaneers, 14-5, in Tampa.
Thomas returned from the hamstring injury Sunday in a 40-7 romp over Carolina in Seattle but suffered a fractured tibia on defensive snap No. 17 that ended his season.
The Seahawks will have had a week to come to grips with the loss of possibly the NFL’s best safety when they meet the Green Bay Packers on Sunday at Lambeau Field.
“They’ll be hurt by Earl Thomas,” said an executive in personnel who ranked Thomas as the Seahawks’ third most valuable defensive player behind Michael Bennett and Richard Sherman. “He brings a lot of leadership and toughness to that group.
“But Seattle is a resilient team. Sometimes it doesn’t make sense how they win. But the resiliency to them goes from Carroll on down.”
Coach Pete Carroll has a 3-1 record against Packers coach Mike McCarthy since replacing Jim Mora in 2010. The Packers, a 2½-point underdog, won the last meeting, 27-17, in Game 2 last year at Lambeau Field.
“Yes, this is a close game,” the scout said. “Seattle’s offensive line is so bad. But when Green Bay’s had success, like against Philadelphia, teams had corners that couldn’t match up. Seattle has corners that can match up.”
On Tuesday, three personnel people all picked the Seahawks by scores of 20-17, 24-20 and 27-21.
“Seattle’s offense is getting back to their formula of running the ball with (Thomas) Rawls back and play-action pass,” an NFC scout said. “Being able to run will diminish the glaring weakness of their offensive line, which is pass protection.
“Green Bay does have enough athletes up front to help corral (Russell) Wilson. Seattle in the red zone with (Jimmy) Graham is a difficult matchup. Green Bay might be forced to kick field goals because Seattle’s red-zone defense is very good.”
An AFC personnel man said Aaron Rodgers should go deep down the middle with Thomas out “if he has time to throw.”
Seattle’s multipronged pass rush should challenge the Packers’ offensive line, which has protected well most of the season.
“It’s one thing if a team has one or two rushers,” one scout said. “Seattle has three or four when they get in that nickel. You have to be good at all five (offensive line positions). Even your better guys might not be a great matchup.”
Darrell Bevell, a Packers assistant from 2000-’05, is in his sixth season as play-calling coordinator. He’s unpredictable in his calls, and the scheme is among the NFL’s most diverse. Opponents must prepare for the zone run game, the screen game, the read option, bunch sets of receivers, multiple TEs and play-action pass. The Seahawks’ run rate is 39.7%. They rank tied for seventh in giveaways (10), 15th in yards (357.9) and 20th in points (22.0).
Doug Baldwin (5-9½, 192), a four-year starter, improves every year. Short but sudden, he explodes out of his breaks and thinks every ball is his. His competitive spirit and intelligent route-running make him a hard man to defeat. Jermaine Kearse (6-0, 209), a three-year starter, probably provides more vertical dimension than Baldwin but isn’t nearly the overall threat. Kearse likes dirty work, especially blocking. According to Sportradar, Baldwin and Kearse each have just one drop. Tyler Lockett (5-10, 182) has blazing speed (4.35) that is put to use deep and on jet sweeps. He’s dangerous. TE Jimmy Graham (6-6½, 265) is now fully integrated in the scheme after five seasons in New Orleans. He has lost some of his 4.53 speed but is a matchup nightmare in the red zone and on third down, especially from out wide. He has 35-inch arms, jumps well and must be accounted for every play. Backup Luke Willson (6-5½, 252), iffy with a knee injury, is a solid player with 4.55 speed. Rookie Nick Vannett (6-6, 257), a third-round pick, is the best blocker of the three and can threaten the seam, too.
The best of a poor group is C Justin Britt (6-6, 315), a second-round pick in 2014 who started at RT as a rookie and LG last year. His short arms (32½) are better suited for center, he moves well and is strong and smart enough to hold things together. Rookie RG Germain Ifedi (6-5½, 325), the 31st pick, is big, strong, physical, athletic and long-armed (36). However, he plays too high, blows assignments and doesn’t seem very aware. LG Mark Glowinski (6-4½, 310), a fourth-round pick in ’15, isn’t bad combo-blocking to linebackers. If isolated against better interior rushers, he’s vulnerable. When veteran LT Bradley Sowell (6-7, 309) was hurt after six games, the job went to George Fant (6-5, 296), a rookie free agent who played four years of basketball and just one of football at Western Kentucky. Fant runs 4.84 to go with a 37-inch vertical jump, long arms (34 7/8) and a workmanlike approach. He also has two bad shoulders, lacks strength and is a liability at this point. After 30 starts the Seahawks gave up on RT Garry Gilliam (6-5½, 315) early in Game 11 and inserted Sowell. A five-year veteran, the ex-Cardinal with 19 starts has good feet but lacks anchor and remains mistake-prone. Rookie Rees Odhiambo (6-4, 315), a third-round pick, could play at either tackle.
At long last Russell Wilson (5-10½, 215) has overcome the knee and ankle injuries that prevented him from running but not playing. Now absent from the injury report, he’s run for 109 yards in Games 11-12 and just 79 in Games 1-10. His improvisational skills are remarkable. He sets up deeper, anyway, to see over linemen, and at times actually scrambles backward. He has a high release, an accurate arm, tremendous poise and courage, and great leadership traits. His passer rating of 93.7 ranks 14th; his career mark of 100.3 is second to Aaron Rodgers (103.5). His Wonderlic score was 28. Trevone Boykin (6-0, 213), a rookie free agent, is the backup.
Thomas Rawls (5-9, 215) is a quick, determined, downhill runner with 4.50 speed. He raced 45 yards for a TD on Sunday night. In a way, his thrust upon contact is reminiscent of Marshawn Lynch. He runs a little upright and there is some stiffness. However, he hits the hole hard and has jump-cut ability. Talented rookie C.J. Prosise (shoulder) is out, leaving rookie free agent Troymaine Pope (5-8, 205) as No. 2. He runs 4.55 and has OK ability. With veteran FB Will Tukuafu (concussion) out, longtime Raider Marcel Reece (6-0½, 235) was signed Tuesday. He’s 31 and always was more of a receiver than blocker.
Kris Richard, in his second season as coordinator, follows in the footsteps of Gus Bradley and Dan Quinn coaching a simplistic Cover 3 system. The Seahawks use eight men at the line in a 4-3 front while relying on four-man rushes (and numerous well-run stunts) for pressure. According to Sportradar, Richard’s blitz rate of 22.4% ranks 24th. The Seahawks rank first in points (16.2), eighth in yards (330.3) and tied for 14th in takeaways (16).
DE Michael Bennett (6-3½, 274) missed five games following arthroscopic knee surgery before making little impact in a 36-snap return against Carolina. From Game 1-6, he looked like a candidate for NFL defensive player of the year. As a rusher, he has it all. When inside, he’s too quick for some blockers. He plays hard, too. DEs Cliff Avril (6-3, 260), a Lion from 2008-’12, and Frank Clark (6-3, 270), a second-round pick in ’15, also win one-on-one battles. Avril, 30, has yet to lose a step and is playing very well. He gets off the ball fast, has speed (4.59) to turn the corner and just has a pass-rushing knack. Clark plays with such natural leverage that he’s equally dangerous rushing over a guard. At 4.71, he isn’t as fast as Avril but he might be even more explosive. Cassius Marsh (6-4, 250), a fourth-round pick in ’14, isn’t fast (4.80) but makes some plays because of his athleticism and extreme effort. The rotation inside includes former Brown Ahtyba Rubin (6-2½, 310), rookie Jarran Reed (6-3, 311) and Tony McDaniel (6-6, 305). Rubin is comparable to departed NT Brandon Mebane. With great upper-body strength he stops the run and shows surprising range. Reed, a second-round pick, doesn’t contribute much to the rush but he is strong and stout. McDaniel, 31, has been getting washed more frequently at the point lately and seems to have lost his stinger.
MLB Bobby Wagner (6-0½, 245) and SLB K.J. Wright (6-3½, 246) never leave the field. They rank among the NFL’s elite linebacking duos. Wagner, a second-round pick in ’12, is a five-year starter with terrific speed (4.46) and big-play ability. He’s tough, a superior athlete and an ever-improving tackler. He has the tools for man coverage but at times has to overcome moderate instincts. Wright, a fourth-round pick in ’11, is a six-year starter and might be enjoying his finest season. High-cut, rangy and long-armed (34 7/8), he’s outstanding covering TEs and in zone drops. Consistent might be the best adjective for his entire game. There’s a massive drop-off to LB Mike Morgan (6-3, 235), who doesn’t play much.
How the Seahawks align without all-pro FS Earl Thomas (leg) is the key. Previously, they inserted FS Steven Terrell (5-10½, 197), a ’14 free agent now with his third team. He can run (4.38). His instincts, patience against play-action and willingness to run support are questionable. Another option would be to shift RC DeShawn Shead (6-1, 220), a former safety, to the back end. Shead has developed rapidly as a press corner with strong hands and good understanding of routes. His speed (4.56) has been OK. In that event, nickel back Jeremy Lane (5-11½, 190) would replace Shead outside and then return to the slot in nickel. Lane is a tad undisciplined but has starter’s cover ability. Then former Raider Neiko Thorpe (6-1, 198), who runs 4.44 and fits Seattle’s style, would enter outside. LC Richard Sherman (6-2½, 195) has few, if any, equals. He runs just 4.55 but challenges every throw, uses his long arms (32 5/8) to jam and is a fierce tackler. SS Kam Chancellor (6-3, 225) is another Pro Bowl-type player because of his intimidating hitting and savvy in short-area coverage.
K Steven Hauschka, a six-year regular, has missed four extra points but is tied for sixth in FG percentage (.897, 26 of 29). His career mark is .872, and his kickoffs are adequate. Former Packers P Jon Ryan, 35, has held the job since ’08. He’s tied for 15th in net average (40.3). Possessor of a powerful leg, he will outkick coverage. Tyler Lockett, an elite dual returner, ranks fourth in kickoffs (26.3) and tied for 11th in punts (8.8). Thorpe is the leader of coach Brian Schneider’s excellent core units.
Seeking a replacement for departed Golden Tate and Percy Harvin, the Seahawks traded picks in the fourth, fifth and sixth rounds to Washington to move up 26 slots in the third round of the 2015 draft and select Kansas State’s Tyler Lockett. His rare burst helped him make the all-rookie team. This season, after a semi-slow start due partly to injuries, Lockett broke out Sunday night against Carolina with a 75-yard TD on a jet sweep, a 46-yard kickoff return and a 40-yard reception. He’s a threat to score every time he touches the ball.
Try as they might, coach Pete Carroll and GM John Schneider have never solidified the offensive line since taking over seven years ago. Gone are the five adequate starters (LT Russell Okung, LG James Carpenter, C Max Unger, RG J.R. Sweezy, RT Breno Giacomini) that helped win the Super Bowl after the 2013 season. In fact, the only player expected to start Sunday that started last season is Justin Britt, and he’s adjusting to a position change from left guard to center. Eight players have started games. Two and possibly three rookies will be in the lineup against Green Bay.
A referendum on the Seahawks’ decision in mid-November to release their leading rusher, Christine Michael, and go with Thomas Rawls and three rookies will be conducted Sunday at Lambeau Field.
In the first two games, Michael and Rawls basically were splitting time. Last year, Rawls replaced Marshawn Lynch down the stretch before suffering a fractured ankle in Game 13. Michael became the starter, and after some solid performances entered the off-season as No. 1 while Rawls recuperated.
Rawls went down again with a fractured fibula in Game 2. For the next six games Michael was the featured back, but the Seahawks weren’t satisfied. Rookie C.J. Prosise received 17 carries to Michael’s five in Game 9.
With Rawls set to return in Game 10, the Seahawks cut Michael and he was claimed on waivers by the Packers.
The Seahawks regarded Michael as a talented but undisciplined ball carrier who wouldn’t adhere to his keys in the zone run game favored by line coach Tom Cable and coordinator Darrell Bevell.
Time after time Michael was making an excessive number of cuts instead of following the design of the outside or inside zone play. The edge might be open for what seemed a likely gain of 6 yards when Michael would suddenly cut inside for a loss of 2.
When a ball carrier in the Seattle scheme isn’t in sync with his linemen, the men up front aren’t able to set their blocks. The delicate choreography that makes the scheme work fails.
Michael also didn’t endear himself to his coaches and teammates in Seattle by choosing to run out of bounds at the end of carries. Lynch never did that, and Rawls doesn’t do it, either.
In two appearances (13 snaps) for the Packers, Michael has carried 10 times for 23 yards. He remains the Seahawks’ leading rusher with 117 carries for 469 (4.0) and six touchdowns. His seven TDs also lead the team.
Coming out of Texas A&M in 2013, Michael ran 40 yards in 4.47 seconds, posted a vertical jump of 43 inches, handled 27 reps on the bench press and scored 11 on the Wonderlic intelligence test.
“Rawls is a more natural runner,” an executive in personnel said Tuesday when asked to compare him with Michael. “Better vision. Michael has talent but isn’t very good. He has speed and looks the part, but I don’t see the vision.”
Certainly, Michael will be trying to show the Seahawks that they shouldn’t have gotten rid of him.