The Green Bay Packers did it. They stopped Marshawn Lynch.
If they were going to beat the NFC’s Super Bowl team the past two years, the Seattle Seahawks, the one thing they had to do was keep Lynch from controlling the game by breaking tackles, eating up big chunks of yards and setting up the Seahawks’ play-action game.
After Matt Forte gashed the Packers for 141 yards on 24 carries in the opener last week, there was good reason to question whether the Packers could handle Lynch. But they did — Lynch finished with only 41 yards on 15 carries, an average of a measly 2.7 yards a carry — and the Packers walked off Lambeau Field with one of their more satisfying regular-season wins in a few years, 27-17 over a Seahawks team that beat them in such devastating fashion in the NFC Championship game last season.
“We did a good job of priority No. 1, Marshawn Lynch,” coach Mike McCarthy said succinctly after the game.
Much of the credit has to go to the Packers' interior defensive line, namely B.J. Raji, Mike Daniels, Mike Pennel and even Datone Jones, just returned from a one-game suspension. Raji especially dominated the interior line play more often than not, and Pennel was getting plenty of push down in and down out as well.
The run defense stymied Lynch to the point that the Seahawks abandoned him for much of the second half, instead relying on quarterback Russell Wilson’s ability to stretch the field horizontally. With Lynch a threat to run one direction, Wilson is expert at keeping on read options and bootlegs, and going the other way.
That tests a defense’s ability to contain the width of the field, and at times in the second half it looked like it might take out the Packers. Wilson attacked the Packers with his legs in the third quarter, beating them with read-option runs, bootlegs, keepers and scrambles.
He did almost all the damage in the Seahawks’ two drives to start that third quarter that put them up 17-13 after the Packers dominated the game but not the score in the first half.
But then late in the third quarter, the Packers eventually went to to their base 3-4 personnel, which included their two best run stoppers on the line (Raji and Pennel) on the field together for one snap, and Pennel and Jones in the nickel on the next snap. Wilson threw instead of running, and the Packers’ defense got off the field without any damage done.
"To hold them and their zone-read offense, especially Marshawn and keep him in check, that’s the way that team moves," said Clay Matthews, who played the entire game at inside linebacker, including in dime personnel.
That ended up being the game, because McCarthy and play caller Tom Clements went to a spread offense that then put the game away. Whether it was an improvised in-game adjustment or something they came into the game thinking they might go to in the second half, it worked.
Using a four-receiver, one tight end personnel grouping for much of the fourth quarter, quarterback Aaron Rodgers secured the win by spreading and shredding the Seahawks. After going 0-3 against the Seahawks since 2012, playoffs included, Rodgers finally outplayed Wilson from start to finish. His 116.9 rating was about 25 points higher than Wilson’s 91.8 and accurately illustrated the difference in the two quarterbacks’ performance.
But what helped the Packers most was that they put the game into Wilson’s hands, rather than Lynch’s. In his previous three games against the Packers, Lynch had pounded through them for 365 yards on seven carries (5.2-yard average per carry). That included 157 yards on 25 carries in the NFC Championship, when Lynch took over the game in the final few minutes and overtime.
But his night was tough from Seattle’s second snap of the game, when Raji knocked by center Drew Nowak, the De Pere native, and dropped Lynch for a two-yard loss.
That’s the way most of the night went for Lynch, who rarely had a chance to get any head of steam going so he could do what he does best, which is plowing through tackles for extra yards that are punishing and demoralizing. When he’s able to do get to tacklers with some momentum, he’s probably the hardest running back in the NFL to take to the ground.
But by halftime, Seahawks offensive coordinator Darrell Bevell basically abandoned Lynch and put the game in Wilson’s hands. It got Seattle back in the game, but it wasn’t enough to beat the Packers at Lambeau.
“We’re 2-0, it feels good,” McCarthy said. “You sleep better when you win.”
— firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @PeteDougherty.