Here’s a preview of what to watch for when the Green Bay Packers host the Seattle Seahawks for a 3:25 p.m. kickoff Sunday.
1. Can the Packers hang with a contender?
Let’s be honest here. The last two weeks, the Packers have beaten up on a couple of teams that aren’t going anywhere this season. Of course, after losing four games in a row, the Packers needed to start stacking victories for any hope of playing in the postseason. Plus, they can only play the teams on their schedule.
That schedule delivers a bonafide contender to Lambeau Field this Sunday when the Seattle Seahawks come to town, playing some of the best football in the league. Yes, they are a different team on the road and yes, they struggled down at Tampa Bay. But this team also went into Foxborough and pulled out a tough-fought victory over the New England Patriots.
The Packers making the postseason will be a moot point if they are completely overmatched when they get there. How they play against Seattle will go a long way in letting us know if this team is truly getting better or has just given their fans some fool’s gold with victories over lesser opponents.
2. Who gets the call from Mike McCarthy in the running game?
While coach Mike McCarthy continues to praise running back James Starks publicly, what the veteran has put on tape the last few weeks is hard to ignore. Simply put, the Packers are wasting plays when they put the ball in Starks’ hands.
McCarthy seemed to concede this point after Starks tried bouncing outside on a critical short-yardage play against the Texans. After that, McCarthy went to a committee of Christine Michael, Ty Montgomery and Aaron Ripkowski.
How he splits up carries against the Seahawks is anyone’s guess, but the tape, and the numbers, would suggest giving Montgomery the bulk of the work in the backfield would do wonders for a team that is struggling mightily when it comes to running the football.
3. Can the Packers' offense take advantage of Earl Thomas’ absence?
A lot will be made this week about the Seahawks losing safety Earl Thomas for the season to a broken bone in his leg, and for good reason. Thomas is a true difference maker who allows the Seahawks to play their version of Cover-3 almost exclusively. His range and ability to diagnose plays from deep center field frees up fellow safety Kam Chancellor to roam down near the line of scrimmage.
Without Thomas, the temptation will be there for McCarthy to push the ball downfield and attack the middle of the field. This is a temptation he desperately needs to avoid.
The best way for this Packers team to attack Seattle, with or without Thomas, is to utilize the quick-rhythm passing game we’ve seen at times this season. If McCarthy comes out trying to gun it downfield, you can expect to see lots of Aaron Rodgers holding the ball, running around, trying to make something happen.