Playing on the road in December against the Green Bay Packers is not something to be taken lightly, and strange things have happened in games between these two teams. However, those strange things have been benefiting Seattle lately so I am hopeful. Here are 3 Keys to walking out of Green Bay with a W and a great chance at the 2nd Seed in the NFC Playoffs –
1. Cut Out the Middle Man
Losing Earl Thomas for the rest of the year means playing without one of the best players at his position, and one of the best and most talented overall players in the NFL. Nobody can come in and fully fill ET’s shoes, he plays a unique type of Center Field at the back end of the Seattle Seahawks Defense that he is possibly the only player in the NFL that can fully handle. However, Steven Terrell has a lot of speed and athleticism and is very familiar with the Seahawks scheme. Terrell was torched early on coming in against the Panthers after Earl came out, but he settled down after a drive or two and played a very solid game. Having had a full week of practice as a starter, Terrell should settle in better and be ready from the first drive. It will also help him that Kam and DeShawn Shead are another week healthier in the Secondary. If Terrell can play his version of the deep drop Safety that Earl normally plays and provide a ceiling on passing plays, this is still a Top 5 Defense.
Up the middle isn’t just about Terrell replacing Earl though. Up the middle is also about Linebackers, Kam Chancellor, and whoever is playing the nickel slot DB (don’t be shocked to see some Tyvis Powell here) playing coverage a bit differently as it may shift to a deep zone and man under set to prevent double inside vertical receivers from exposing Terrell. Look for the underneath middle coverage to shift to either a stacked zone or seeing more man to man underneath. You could even see a bit of dropping a Lineman like Bennett or Marsh into some zone to help out, as the coverage scheme will have to change a bit.
2. Push Them Around
When the Seahawks are at their best this year, it has been when a mauling interior Offensive Line has been overpowering Defensive Linemen and pushing them around the field in the run game. If that is something that can happen again, it will mean just a bit more as the play-action deep shots have the ability to tear up this Green Bay Defense. This game will help us know if the bad performance against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers was the result of injuries including Justin Britt being out for the game, or if it was the result of a young Offensive Line playing on the road against a solid Defensive front. Well, the 3-4 front of the Packers includes a lot of very talented players and will provide a good test.
If the Seahawks Offensive Line plays like it did down in Tampa Bay, that will make it hard to get a win as well as make it difficult to see the team winning on the road in the playoffs. However, if it was a health issue and they can play at or near the level they did pushing around a talented interior Defensive Line against Carolina in Week 13, it not just sets up a good chance at a win this week but gives much more hope for a potential Super Bowl that would require a neutral site win and likely at least one road win with Dallas front running the NFC. The interior of Glowinski-Britt-Ifedi pushed around very talented players in Star Lotulelei and Kawann Short and though the Offensive Tackles still gave up some sacks and plays were not perfect, it gave a place for Russell Wilson to step up in the pocket to extend plays and some holes for Thomas Rawls to attack. Rawls is the other part of pushing them around, as he is such a physical and punishing runner who softens up the Defense throughout the game. When Ifedi returned and the middle of the Offensive Line was at full strength the run efficiency according to Football Outsiders jumped from the high-mid 20’s to the low 20’s. With the line coming together and Rawls getting healthy over the last few weeks they have jumped all the way up to 17th. I know 17th doesn’t sound amazing, but it represents a much more balanced Offense where Russell Wilson is allowed to operate without the pressure of everything being on his playmaking ability. Rawls is a decisive cutter who plays perfectly to a zone run scheme like what Seattle employs, making sudden cuts and following his blockers in such a way as to get the most out of almost every run. If the line can play physical and Rawls is turning things into 2nd or 3rd and medium or short, that is when the Offense can really shine.
3. Hit Our Shots
How does the Offense shine on those 2nd or 3rd and medium or short downs? With play-action, with seam passes, with boot plays and run-pass options. With new found 3 Tight End sets using Graham split wide as a slot receiver the team can run two very tall players up the middle and stress the Defense while settling a player like Doug Baldwin or Tyler Lockett underneath and finding the soft spot. We also have seen that Lockett is healthy again, which allows him to take the top off the Defense like he did with his 40 yard catch last week. This is a chance to exploit the biggest weakness of the Green Bay Packers, who struggle to cover Wide Receivers as they have been devastated by injury so far this year. On average they give up over 175 yards receiving to Wide Receivers. The Packers rank in the bottom 2 in the NFL at defending WR 1’s and 2’s, and if run game gets going and allows for a few deep shots, it could get very ugly very fast.
If the Defense can stop the big play and the run game sets up the big play for Seattle, it could actually be a fairly lop sided win despite the conditions in Green Bay. If the Defense struggles I still would bet on the Seahawks pulling out the win. The only cause for worry is if the Offensive Line cannot do their part. If they struggle, Seattle will struggle to score points and then you are hoping the Defense can play a nearly perfect game against the Packers in Green Bay with Aaron Rodgers and missing Earl Thomas.