4 Downs: Packers prosper by avoiding Sherman

Pete Dougherty
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Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin
Packers receiver Davante Adams (17) catches a long touchdown pass against Seahawks cornerback Jeremy Lane (20) Sunday at Lambeau Field.
Green Bay Packers wide receiver Davante Adams (17) catches a long touchdown pass against cornerback Jeremy Lane (20) of the Seattle Seahawks at Lambeau Field, Sunday, December 11, 2016. Jim Matthews/USA TODAY NETWORK-Wisconsin/@jmatthe79

Every week I’ll share four observations the day after the Packers' game. Here they are after the Packers’  38-10 win over Seattle on Sunday.

First down: The Seahawks looked like a tough matchup for the Packers not only because of their strong defense overall, but because they had Richard Sherman, one of the league’s best cornerbacks, leading a pretty good group of cover men. The Packers mostly avoided Sherman — by my count, without having yet watched the TV video, they targeted his man twice. But they gained favorable matchups everywhere else throughout the day, often finding a receiver against a linebacker for key plays. Davante Adams beat nickel corner Jeremy Lane for a 66-yard touchdown on the game’s third play. Randall Cobb beat linebacker K.J. Wright on a crossing route for 25 yards early in the second quarter. Ty Montgomery sprung wide open when Wright tripped trying to cover him on a 24-yard catch and run, and on the next play, Jordy Nelson beat Wright on a nine-yard touchdown. Adams later got behind DeShawn Shead, the other outside cornerback, for a 26-yard gain, and a few plays later was behind Shead again for a possible 50-yard touchdown against a blitz, though Aaron Rodgers overthrew him by a whisker. Sherman did his job for the Seahawks, but the Packers almost always found a good matchup somewhere else.

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Second down: We saw Sunday what the Packers missed when cornerback Damarious Randall was out while recovering from groin surgery. Randall had more than his share of rough times before he got hurt — he was getting beat on some big plays and giving up completions when he was trying to read the quarterback and jump routes. But he also has the ability to make breaks on and play the ball better than anyone else in the Packers’ secondary, so even when he’s giving up completions, there’s a better chance he’s going to make a big play later in the game. On Sunday, he made a spectacular interception in the second quarter that was one of the game’s most important plays. It came late in the first half, with the Packers ahead 21-3 but Seattle driving for a possible touchdown in a two-minute drill. Quarterback Russell Wilson scrambled and threw a difficult long pass back across his body to Doug Baldwin downfield. Baldwin for a moment looked wide open for a 40-yard touchdown pass that would have kept the Seahawks in touch with the Packers going into halftime. But Randall came over from his zone coverage on the left and made a leaping catch of the slightly underthrown ball. It took points off the board and gave the Packers a huge lift going into halftime.

Third down: This game has to be among the finest moments for the Packers’ offensive line this season. The Seahawks didn’t blitz much but still have some formidable pass rushers in Michael Bennett, Cliff Avril and Frank Clark. Rodgers’ mobility also was compromised by a sore hamstring and then a calf injury he sustained on the game’s third play. But more often than not Rodgers had all the time he could have hoped for to find open receivers, and the one sack he took was a coverage sack that he said was his responsibility. The Seahawks had only three official hits on him — one on Ahtyba Rubin’s sack, the other two by Avril. That’s outstanding pass protection against one of the league’s premier defenses.

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Fourth down: It was easy to miss, but Mason Crosby had about as good a game on kickoffs as a kicker can have. His placement was exceptional. His first six kickoffs were all outside the numbers, including a couple that were about halfway between the numbers and sideline. The closer the ball is to the sideline, the more the coverage team can squeeze a return man to that side of the field, which leaves less field to cover. Two of the kicks were touchbacks, including one that was only a couple yards from the sideline in the corner of the end zone. And on the one kickoff that was at the numbers, Crosby made a textbook tackle on the return, a play that on first glance appeared to have been made by a regular cover man, not the kicker.

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